The third one's a true charm as bassist Drew Gress and companypianist Craig Taborn, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, saxophonist Tim Berne and drummer Tom Raineyexcel on The Irrational Numbers. Once again, the accent is on Gress' compositions and how they seamlessly blend the written with the improvised. Add to that the stunning sound engineered by David Torn and you have the best new recording of the year.
The album starts with "Bellwether," the moody and dense writing sounding like it could have been for the score of Taxi Driver. After this brief prelude, "Chevelle" pulses forward with intelligence, everyone part of the exposition. It's a magnificent exercise in listening and responding. The lovely and yet slightly nutty "Fauxjobim" opens with delicacy associated with Brazilian balladry, but Berne and Alessi make much more of it with their collaboration.
There's a knockout closing experiment as "True South," inspired by Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever," finds the men in free fettle, Gress playing an electronic instrument that was built for him. This is odd music that is never simply odd but always beautifully challenging and deeply intelligent.
Guitarist Dave Allen made his recording debut in 2006 with Untold Stories and Real and Imagined also suggests new tales. The inspiration is evident from from the opening tune, "Slipping Glimpser." Willem de Kooning said, ..".when I'm slipping, I say hey this is interesting!... I'm really slipping most of the time, into that glimpse. I'm like a slipping glimpser." The title tune is particularly illustrative. Somehow the members of the quartetAllen, Gress, saxophonist Seamus Blake and drummer Mark Ferberseem to be simultaneously anchoring a tune that drifts in and out of shape. And even when it seems close to falling off the edge, it recovers with startling clarity. It begins in the realwith a quietly pulsing theme that evolves into more dreamlike figures as Allen punches, in union with Gress, some mysterious single notes. The musicians quietly buoy each other until Ferber's drums fade them out.
Gress seems to help propel much of this music, understanding Allen's vision and effecting it with grace and a very personal style. The album closes (and seems to reopen) with a tune whose theme rocks back and forth in a woozy pulse. The whole structure constantly throws us slightly off balance yet also keeps our feet on the ground. And that's the beautiful sense that pervades the whole album.
Tracks and Personnel
The Irrational Numbers
Tracks: Bellwether; Chevelle; Your Favorite Kind; Fauxjobim; Neopolitan; Blackbird Backtalk; By Far; Mas Relief; That Heavenly Hell; True South.
Personnel: Drew Gress: bass, electronic instruments; Tim Berne: alto saxophone; Ralph Alessi: trumpet; Craig Taborn: piano; Tom Rainey: drums.
Real and Imagined
Tracks: Slipping Glimpser; Always Beginning; Musing; Mantra; Real and Imagined; Intimate intricate Distance; Perpetuum Mobile; Playground (Part 1); Untold Story.
Personnel: Dave Allen: guitar; Seamus Blake: tenor saxophone; Mark Ferber: drums; Drew Gress: bass.