Introduced on her 2015 Clean Feed album Save Your Breath, Kris Davis' Infrasound octet is a monster band capable of delivering a gargantuan punch. Creative jazz pianist/composer Davis is joined here by drummer Jim Black, organist Gary Versace, and electric guitarist Nate Radley, and as if they weren't enough to rattle the windows, peerless clarinetists Ben Goldberg, Oscar Noriega, Joachim Badenhorst, and Andrew Bishop add the deep vibrations of their bass and contrabass instruments to the ensemble. Then, for added oomph, Davis enlisted rock veteran producer Ron Saint Germain (Bad Brains, Sonic Youth, Living Colour) to engineer and mix the session. The album's opening moments display Davis' Infrasound conception at its most acute, as "Union Forever" (aka "Union" on the 2012 album of the same name by Paradoxical Frog) begins with a circular spiraling motif layered in counterpoint; after a brief retreat, the group's phrasing becomes more clipped and knotty, accentuated by Black's powerfully incisive drumwork in bold contrast to the rounded tones of the clarinets. As the electric instruments enter, "Union Forever" becomes downright Rock in Opposition-tinged avant-proggy, but the octet remains improvisational at heart, with dark chording beneath a moody Noriega clarinet feature as the music escalates in urgency, retreating and then ramping up into a dissonant and powerfully pounding finale with second soloist Versace abandoning all sense of restraint in his keyboard attack.
Massive pummeling chords and Badenhorst's deep roaring beast of a bass clarinet mark the conclusion of the 12-minute "Whirly Swirly" (rearranged from Davis' 2014 trio recording Waiting for You to Grow), emerging out of the tune's cavernous drifting center and an opening free vs. funk battle with Versace on bass keys, Radley increasingly unmoored, and Davis repeating an off-kilter riff like a needle stuck on Monk. "Jumping Over Your Shadow" and "Always Leave Them (Wanting More)," two of the four Davis compositions premiered here, begin in expansive spaces for timbral exploration -- including avant jazz's de rigueur bass clarinet multiphonics and reed pops in the former -- and proceed through all manner of rough and tumble into tightly focused conclusions. Black, Versace, and a deeply bluesed-up Goldberg form a choppy little trio on "Jumping" before piano, guitar, and clarinets appear, stunningly tight, in harmonically advanced angular accents to the groove; "Always Leave Them" pits Davis, Radley, and Black in skittering free jazz mode against long bass clarinet harmonies before the tune wraps as a dark processional not unlike Belgian avant-proggers Univers Zero in tone. Some listeners might hear even more avant-prog stylings in Versace's quirky, Miriodor-ish organ motif on "The Ghost of Your Previous Fuckup," but improvisation also reigns in the track's full-ensemble cacophony, Davis and Black's wildly energized duet, and Bishop's didgeridoo-like contrabass clarinet. In a somewhat curious but affecting move, Save Your Breath's 15-minute closing track shares the album's title but stands as an outlier of sorts, floating in deeply immersive ambience and gradually taking more explicit form as something quietly and mysteriously alluring.