Drew Gress: 7 Black Butterflies (2005)
Drew Gress throws his contender for year's best in with 7 Black Butterflies, a crackling collection uniting a stellar cast of players who live up to their collective reputation. With Tim Berne, Ralph Alessi, Craig Taborn, and Tom Rainey fully engaged, Gress holds an all-aces hand. His multifaceted compositions provide the tracks for this ride, while the quintet provides the vivid scenery. While Berne, Alessi, and Taborn usually inhabit worlds of sonic phenomena, the simple acoustic setting here spotlights the prodigious pure jazz power each player wields.
Opening with a dizzying panning hiss and Alessi's choked breathy notes, "Rhinoceros lumbers in on Gress' metronome bass. Alessi and Berne harmonize a classic theme only to evaporate, dub style. A tempo change has Taborn and Gress doubling for momentum, urged on by Rainey and Taborn's chording right hand. Alessi and Berne return to fan flames and blow the structure apart. A loose-jointed neo-bop line dances through "Bright Idea, opening for a rubbery solo by Gress. Berne spreads low-register alto butter around the prickly rhythm section, while Alessi flashes through rolling time signatures. Rainey simmers under Taborn's acute chords and melody line.
Taborn plays spaciously heartfelt music on the ballad "Zaftig. Berne moves the tune into a more frenzied direction, replacing wistfulness with passion. With a theme that seems to occasionally tease with a taste of "Salt Peanuts, "Blue on One Side tears along with Taborn and Berne driving, then Alessi plays an inspired and occasionally echoed duet with Rainey. Alessi and Berne slug it out on "Low Slung/High Slung, the clunky riff chugging with occasional ultra stereo dub effects, causing the horns to take flight. Taborn slows it, only to use his right hand to start fires.
Between nasty multi-time grooves and emotionally satisfying reveries, 7 Black Butterflies convincingly applies for a long-term residency in your CD player.
Track Listing: Rhinoceros; Bright Idea; New Leaf; Zaftig; Bas Relief; Blue On One Side; Wing & Prayer; Low Slung/High Strung; Like it Never Was.
Personnel: Drew Gress: bass; Tim Berne: alto saxophone; Ralph Alessi: trumpet; Craig Taborn: piano; Tom Rainey: drums.