Josephine Davies’ Satori – In the Corners of Clouds [TrackList follows] – Whirlwind Recordings WR7430 43:41 [11/30/18] ****:

Satori is a Japanese Buddhist term for awakening; comprehension; understanding; or “seeing into one’s true nature.” Satori is also the ongoing, near-chordless trio led by saxophonist and composer Josephine Davies. On the trio’s sophomore release, the 43-minute, eight-track In the Corners of Clouds, Davies continues to evolve her creative impulses into original compositions which explore spontaneity and improvisation, and essentially, she finds new and interesting ways to realize her own, true jazz nature. In the Corners of Clouds contains almost all first takes. The extemporized intimacy of Davies (tenor sax), returning bassist Dave Whitford (who has worked with Steve Lacy, Marc Copland, Bill Frisell and myriad others) and new drummer James Maddren (a UK artist whose credits include the Marc Copland/Stan Sulzman Quartet; Phronesis; and other English bands) results in an openness and freshness which is also welcoming and not distant from emotionalism. Listeners will notice the lack of something specific in the setup. Davies explains, “It might be seen as limiting to have no traditional ‘harmonic instrument’ in this line-up—especially with the deeper frequencies of the tenor—but it actually throws melody to the fore, which I like. And if melody is happening you really can do whatever you want. We create so much space together that it actually encourages me to both compose and play in a different way.” In the Corners of Clouds was issued as a high-quality, 180-gram, 12-inch LP; as a six-panel digifile with a velvety soft-touch laminate finish; and as various digital download files. This review refers to the CD version.

The threesome open with “Wabi Sabi,” which is named after a Japanese philosophy which embraces and celebrates the beauty in imperfection. Davies states, “I’ll always go for the intangible or the emotional; that ‘creative something’—which is what I feel all the timeless albums have got. The enduring appeal of Satori is its freedom—a wonderfully exciting and valuable experience.” Thus, “Wabi Sabi” has a melody which seems sometimes split or fragmented, which reinforces Davies’ espousal of something imperfect. The stately piece moves in a gradual way, where the segments ride and then fade and rise again.

Eastern philosophy also permeates other cuts. The title track, “In the Corners of Clouds,” was inspired by two Haiku poems which use contrasting ideas: “arrived very quickly and fully formed.” The gorgeous piece has one of the album’s most singular melodic structures, almost song-like in its portrayal of the firmament. The reflective ballad “The Space Between Thoughts”— underscored by Maddren’s beautiful cymbals and ticking sticks, and Whitford’s elegiac bass—hints at Buddhist meditation. Listening to this while perusing some Gary Snyder poetry would make for a wonderful time.

One of Davies’ icons is John Coltrane. His influence is on two tunes. Coltrane’s ghost or spirit can be heard on “Song of the Dancing Saint,” where Davies crafts stretched, affective sax lines reminiscent of Coltrane, while Maddren and Whitford sustain a blues-tinted, persistent rhythm. There’s a stronger sense of Coltrane on the fervent “Cry,” where Davies propels her tenor up into a higher register and sculpts sax sounds which commendably echo Coltrane, while the bass and drums fashion differing rhythmic components which sway or bend the beat into entwined forms. Other CD highlights include the lively and elastic “Oddities”—where Davies adroitly interacts with the bass and drums—and the tangy “Lazy” where Davies utilizes overdubbing to create a tenor sax duet which adds harmonic contours. Satori closes with one of Davies’ favorite tunes, “Scattered,” which adjusts through divergent parts, sometimes contemplative and other times abandoning any specific organization. “Scattered” never traverses to free jazz but it shapeshifts a few times before concluding. Music which is touted as ‘chord-less’ (or nearly so) might seem difficult to those not familiar with how such material is produced. One thing which helps in this case is the way Davies employs her tenor saxophone in a rhythmic function: she doesn’t just play solos, she augments the rhythm. Another reason Satori can make ‘chord-less’ music work so well is Maddren’s use of two or more conflicting rhythms, which somehow accentuates the rhythm rather than clashing. Whitford’s interdependent rhythmic bass delineations also act as an equilibrium.

Performing Artists:
Josephine Davies – tenor saxophone, producer; James Maddren – drums; Dave Whitford – bass

TrackList:
Wabi-Sabi
Song of the Dancing Saint
In the Corners of the Clouds
Oddities
The Space Between Thoughts
Cry
Lazy
Scattered

—Doug Simpson