The Squid's Ear Magazine

Modirzadeh, Hafez (Davis / Sorey / Taborn): Facets (Pi Recordings)

Using an unusual re-tuning of the piano, saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh enlists three inventive pianists--Kris Davis, Tyshawn Sorey, and Craig Taborn--for a set of melodically-oriented duos, Modirzadeh using alternate fingerings and embouchure adjustments to achieve intervals between major and minor, together freeing the improvisers to explore new tonal possibilities.

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product information:

UPC: 808713008722

Label: Pi Recordings
Catalog ID: Pi 87
Squidco Product Code: 30011

Format: CD
Condition: New
Released: 2020
Country: USA
Packaging: Cardboard Gatefold 3 Panels
Recorded at Parker West Studios, Brooklyn, New York, in December, 2019, by Jim Clouse, and at Firehouse12, in New Haven, Connecticut, in December, 2019, by Greg DiCosta.


Hafez Modirzadeh-tenor saxophone

Kris Davis-piano

Tyshawn Sorey-piano

Craig Taborn-piano

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Descriptions, Reviews, &c.

"Facets is saxophonist/composer Hafez Modirzadeh's latest radical entreaty against the cultural hegemony of the Western notion of equal temperament and his argument that musicians should be free to explore a variety of tonal possibilities, even on piano. His 2012 release Post-Chromodal Out! was the first documentation of this concept, where the piano was tuned to a variety of temperaments. Performed with pianist Vijay Iyer, The New York Times called that album "Dauntless... There's heady discipline at work here, along with the stirrings of a hard-fought individualism." With his new release, Modirzadeh has distilled the idea to a single re-tuning, which is performed in duets with three towering musicians in contemporary improvised music: Kris Davis, Tyshawn Sorey and Craig Taborn, each interrogating the piano's new possibilities with imagination and ingenuity. Modirzadeh himself utilizes alternate fingerings and embouchure adjustments on his instrument to achieve intervals between major and minor, and the pieces sway with an elasticity reminiscent of Persian poetic meter. With eight keys re-tuned and the remainder left in equal temperament, the music explores the coexistence of familiar with unfamiliar, and in the process, discovers new logic and mysterious beauty within.

Modirzadeh, who the San Jose Mercury News has called "visionary," described the imperative to re-tune the piano this way: "The standardized temperament for piano, as beautiful as it is, carries an unbalanced weight of influence over players and listeners, leading many to believe that there is no other resonance to work with but this one. This creates a value system that is unjust and ultimately limits the discovery of other, more personal tuning possibilities. By retuning the piano - the one instrument that imposes a dominant influence on the world's music - the musician is freed to explore all tonal possibilities." This urge is the culmination of a system he originally called "chromodality," which he developed to explore the harmonic possibilities of integrating Persian tones with Western equal temperament. The concept has since evolved to allow all intervals to co-exist, which empowers each musician to use their own distinctive voice to explore music from a full palette of tonal possibilities, irrespective of cultural background. The tuning Modirzadeh has chosen for this program was one that spoke to him personally after much testing and tweaking. Vijay Iyer says of Modirzadeh: "The scope of Hafez's synthesis of concepts across cultures is staggering. There is great detail in his critical engagement with traditional intervallic systems, tuning systems, and modes, and there is also a grand sweep to his vision across disciplines and historical eras. In spite of its technical complications, there is genuine heart to this music and a real spiritual clarity. Modirzadeh is not simply a 'scholar' or 'musicologist,' but a genuine artist, with a profound, lifelong stake in the unification of research, creative work, and personal inner quest that is expressed in his music."

Interested in hearing the different approaches that each musician will bring to the concept, Modirzadeh has been inviting pianists from various disciplines to engage with this music. For the recording of Facets, Modirzadeh chose three of the most acclaimed musicians in improvised music: Kris Davis is recognized as one of the foremost pianists in jazz. Her release Diatom Ribbons (2019) topped most year-end lists as best album of the year. For a quarter century, Craig Taborn has been similarly recognized as a master of sheer invention on the piano. Tyshawn Sorey, who is a stalwart with Pi Recordings, has won recent praise for the premiere for his new works with the Seattle Symphony and Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Primarily known as a drummer, he brings the same sensitivity and openness to discovery as the other pianists. They were sent the scores in advance, but their first encounter with the actual re-tuned piano was at their respective recording sessions. Each musician works from the same set of pieces, spending time exploring the novel resonances, before running through the entire book of compositions. Modirzadeh gave minimal instructions, preferring to allow each musician to shape the music as they imagine it. As Modirzadeh said in an interview: "It takes more heart than head, with the intention of something beautiful." He subsequently chose what he felt to be the most magical of these performances for this release.

The program unfolds with "Facet Taborn," which was improvised by the pianist at the very end of his session after intense focus on the compositions. The otherworldly resonances are introduced, opening the door to further mysteries within. "Dawn Facet" and "Facet 27 Light" are interpretations of the same composition, first by Sorey, then by Davis. Modirzadeh's saxophone is gentle, vulnerable, as if opening himself to all possibilities from his partners. Modirzadeh calls "Facet 28 Nora" "the cornerstone melody of all Facets." His playing is delicate and loving, tender and haunting. "Facet 34 Defracted" is Davis's radical mash-up of Thelonious Monk's "Pannonica" and "Ask Me Now," compositions that Modirzadeh separately interprets in duet with Taborn. For Davis, "It all made sense when we started playing the Monk tunes. Monk had this effect where he would try to 'bend' the note on the piano by adding a note below the melody subtly for a moment, and I heard that connection right away between Hafez's tuning system and the Monk tunes he chose. It's like living in those bends that Monk was creating, committing fully to the microtones he was trying to achieve in that effect. I believe that if he heard these versions of his compositions, he would consider re-tuning his piano for good!"

As Iyer notes: "This album signals that we are entering a crucial new phase in this journey: a collective meditation, an unlocking of forms and truths. I can hardly imagine a clearer monument, to our cataclysmic year than this set of stark, intimate, heartfelt jewels by these four singular truth-seekers.""-Pi Recordings

Artist Biographies

"Saxophonist/theorist Hafez Modirzadeh has performed, recorded, published and lectured internationally on original cross-cultural musical concepts which include "Convergence Liberation" (in Critical Studies in Improvisation, 2011), "Compost Music" (in Leonardo, 2009), "Aural Archetypes" (in Black Music Research, 2001), as well as "Chromodality" (for Wesleyan University, 1992). Twice an NEA Jazz Fellow, Dr. Modirzadeh received a Senior Fulbright Award in 2006 to work with Flamenco and Gnawan traditions in Andalucia and Morocco, and again in 2014, to research Turkish Makam harmonization in Ankara. He is currently a Professor of Creative/World Music at San Francisco State University."

-Hafez Modirzadeh Website (

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"Pianist-composer Kris Davis has blossomed as one of the singular talents on the New York jazz scene, a deeply thoughtful, resolutely individual artist who offers "uncommon creative adventure," according to JazzTimes. The Vancouver-born, Brooklyn-residing Davis was dubbed one of the music's top up-and-comers in a 2012 New York Times article titled "New Pilots at the Keyboard," with the newspaper saying: "Over the past couple years in New York, one method for deciding where to hear jazz on a given night has been to track down the pianist Kris Davis." Reviewing one of the series of striking albums Davis has released over the past half-decade, the Chicago Sun-Times lauded the "sense of kaleidoscopic possibilities" in her playing and compositions.

Long favored by her peers and jazz fans in the know, Davis has earned high praise from no less than star pianist and MacArthur "Genius" Grant honoree Jason Moran, who included her in his Best of 2012 piece in Art Forum, writing: "A freethinking, gifted pianist on the scene, Davis lives in each note that she plays. Her range is impeccable; she tackles prepared piano, minimalism and jazz standards, all under one umbrella. I consider her an honorary descendant of Cecil Taylor and a welcome addition to the fold."

The newest album from Davis as a leader is Capricorn Climber (Clean Feed, 2013), with the pianist joined by kindred spirits Ingrid Laubrock (tenor saxophone), Mat Maneri (viola), Trevor Dunn (double-bass) and Tom Rainey (drums). Davis made her debut on record as a leader with Lifespan (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2003), followed by three progressively inventive and acclaimed albums for the Fresh Sound label: the quartet discs The Slightest Shift (2006) and Rye Eclipse (2008), then the trio set Good Citizen (2010). Davis's 2011 solo piano album on Clean Feed, Aeriol Piano, appeared on Best of the Year lists in The New York Times, JazzTimes and Art Forum. Davis wrote the extraordinary arrangements for saxophonist-composer Tony Malaby's nonet project Novela, with the album Novela released by Clean Feed in 2011 and appearing on Best of the Year lists in DownBeat and JazzTimes. The pianist is also part of the collaborative Paradoxical Frog with Laubrock and drummer Tyshawn Sorey; their eponymous 2011 album on Clean Feed was included on Best of the Year lists by National Public Radio, The New York Times and All About Jazz.

In addition to her work as a leader, Davis has performed with such top figures as Paul Motian, Bill Frisell, Tim Berne, John Hollenbeck, Michael Formanek and Mary Halvorson. Davis started playing piano at age 6, studying classical music through the Royal Conservatory in Canada and formulating her desire for a life in music by playing in the school jazz band at age 12. She earned a bachelor's degree in Jazz Piano from the University of Toronto and attended the Banff Centre for the Arts jazz program in 1997 and 2000. The pianist received a Canada Council grant to relocate to New York and study composition with Jim McNeely, then another to study extended piano techniques with Benoit Delbecq in Paris. She holds a master's in Classical Composition from the City College of New York, and she teaches at the School for Improvised Music.

The Jazz Gallery has given Davis a commissioning residency to write for her trio with Rainey and John Hébert to take place in May 2013, and the Shifting Foundation awarded her a grant to compose and record a large-ensemble project. About her art, JazzTimes has declared: "Davis draws you in so effortlessly that the brilliance of what she's doing doesn't hit you until the piece has slipped past." "

-Kris Davis Website (

Have a better biography or biography source? Please Contact Us so that we can update this biography.

"Tyshawn Sorey (born July 8, 1980 in Newark, New Jersey) is an American musician and composer who plays drum set, percussion, trombone and piano.

Since graduating from William Paterson University, Sorey has been a sought-after musician in many different musical idioms. He is both a performer and composer, and has had works reviewed in The Wire, The New York Times, The Village Voice, Modern Drummer and Down Beat. In August 2009, Sorey was given the opportunity to curate a month of performances at the Stone, a New York performance space owned by John Zorn. He was selected as an Other Minds 17 (2012).

Sorey recently completed a Master of Arts in composition at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. In the fall of 2011, he began pursuing doctoral work in composition at Columbia University.

To date, Sorey has released four albums as a leader: That/Not (2007, Firehouse 12 Records), Koan (2009, 482 Music), Oblique (2011, Pi Recordings) and Alloy (2014, Pi Recordings). He has recorded or performed with musicians including Wadada Leo Smith, Steve Coleman, Anthony Braxton, John Zorn, Steve Lehman, Joey Baron, Muhal Richard Abrams, Pete Robbins, Vijay Iyer, Dave Douglas, Butch Morris and Sylvie Courvoisier, among many others."

-Wikipedia (

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"Craig Marvin Taborn (/ˈteɪˌbɔːrn/; born February 20, 1970) is an American pianist, organist, keyboardist and composer. He works solo and in bands, mostly playing various forms of jazz. He started playing piano and Moog synthesizer as an adolescent and was influenced at an early stage by a wide range of music, including by the freedom expressed in recordings of free jazz and contemporary classical music.

While at university, Taborn toured and recorded with jazz saxophonist James Carter. Taborn went on to play with numerous other musicians in electronic and acoustic settings, while also building a reputation as a solo pianist. He has a range of styles, and often adapts his playing to the nature of the instrument and the sounds that he can make it produce. His improvising, particularly for solo piano, often adopts a modular approach, in which he begins with small units of melody and rhythm and then develops them into larger forms and structures.

In 2011, Down Beat magazine chose Taborn as winner of the electric keyboard category, as well as rising star in both the piano and organ categories. By May 2016, Taborn had released six albums under his own name and appeared on more than eighty as a sideman."

-Wikipedia (

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Track Listing:

1. Facet Taborn 2:13

2. Dawn Facet 1:55

3. Facet 27 Light 3:05

4. Facet 28 Nora 1:54

5. Facet 29 Night 3:36

6. Facet 34 Defracted 3:46

7. Ask Me Now 3:50

8. Facet Sorey 5:12

9. Facet 31 Wake 7:13

10. Ebb Facet 3:54

11. Facet 33 Tides 3:27

12. Flow Facet 2:47

13. Pannonica 3:50

14. Facet BB 4:28

15. Facet 35 Ode B'kongofon 3:05

16. Facet 32 Black Pearl 1:44

17. Facet 39 Mato Paha 5:05

18. Ode Reprise 1:53

Related Categories of Interest:

Improvised Music
Free Improvisation
Melodic and Lyrical Jazz
NY Downtown & Metropolitan Jazz/Improv
Duo Recordings

Search for other titles on the label:
Pi Recordings.

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