Kris Davis Makes DownBeat Cover with New Village Vanguard Classic

With her band, Diatom Ribbons, the acclaimed jazz pianist makes a live record worthy of the Vanguard's lofty legacy—and a major cover story.

September 21, 2023

In the space of a few weeks, Kris Davis has released a landmark live album, Diatom Ribbons Live at the Village Vanguard, and hit newsstands on the cover of DownBeat with a major feature in the magazine. It's a pair of achievements Davis, who also serves as associate program director of creative development for Berklee's Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, doesn't take lightly. 

"It's a real honor to play and record at the historic Village Vanguard, that's for sure," says Davis, who has experienced decades' worth of the venue's history for herself. "I lived in New York for 20 years, and I saw so many incredible concerts at the club, from Paul Motian to Geri Allen," she recalls, "and it's humbling to know that I had the chance to share the same stage with so many iconic jazz artists." 

kris davis and diatom ribbons at the Village Vanguard entrance

Diatom Ribbons at the Village Vanguard. Left to right: Val Jeanty, Julian Lage, Trevor Dunn, Terri Lyne Carrington, Kris Davis. 

Image by Caroline Mardok

Davis took the Vanguard stage with her band, Diatom Ribbons, a stylistically diverse set of players whose varied approaches and backgrounds is a major asset for the ensemble. "We have Val Jeanty [on turntables and electronics], who's from Haiti, who's coming from this Afrofuturism approach to improvisation," she says. "Myself [on piano, prepared piano, and synth], who's more into free improvisation and bringing in contemporary classical influences; Julian Lage ’08 [on electric guitar], who is a wonderful jazz player, but is also very knowledgeable and experienced in playing country and bluegrass music; Trevor Dunn [on electric and double bass], who plays in a metal band [called] Mr. Bungle; and of course Terri [Lyne Carrington, on drums], who's done everything." 

The resulting double album, honed in 12 performances over six nights, is a thrilling roller-coaster of evolving grooves and sonic textures, encompassing everything from turntable-manipulated spoken word passages to multiple reworkings of Wayne Shorter's "Dolores." 

The project has rightly garnered major critical praise, including the cover story in September's DownBeat. (Davis was also voted Pianist of the Year in the magazine's 2022 Critics Poll.) 

"For sure, many pianists, ranging from such towering icons as Bill Evans, Bobby Timmons, McCoy Tyner, and Thelonious Monk to such eminent modernists as Brad Mehldau, Uri Caine, Jason Moran, Chucho Valdés, Geri Allen, and Junko Onishi have documented their stints at the Village Vanguard," writes DownBeat's John Murph. "And some of those albums have become part of the pantheon of best live albums in jazz history. Davis adds her scintillating new double-disc . . . to that distinguished legacy." 

"To be on the cover of Downbeat is incredible, of course," Davis says. "I really want people to hear this album, because I think it's one of my most creative and accessible albums, with some beautiful group interaction, and hopefully all the wonderful press the album has received will translate into people wanting to check out the music."

Related Categories