Drew Gress might be suffering from a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde complex. On one side, he's the mild-mannered, in-demand bassist whose exemplary fret work has supported other artists' recordingspianist Fred Hersch, The Claudia Quintet's For
(Cuneiform Records, 2007) and the Steve Lehman Quintet's On Meaning
(Pi Recordings, 2007), to name just a few. However, on the flip side, a ferocious alter-ego emerges when Gress is a leader, producing some of the most dynamically forward music in the current environment with The Irrational Numbers.
The truly monster quintet is reassembled from Gress' 2005 recording 7 Black Butterflies
(Premonition), with names synonymous with music on the edge: Tim Berne (alto sax), Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Tom Rainey (drums) and Craig Taborn (keyboards). They continue on adventurous sonic paths with Gress' power bass solo in "Bellwether," back-dropped against the sounds of horns and clever electronics, leading into the pulsing dance of "Chevelle" and the unusual ballad "By Far."
"Neapolitan" is the recording's pièce de résistance
; a stunning show of Gress' writing, and of musicians who are capable of pulling off multiple solo threads, shifting themes, changes in intensity, and blazing performances. More ideas are conveyed in its twelve minutes then in some entire recordings.
The nature of the music is even more atmospheric and enigmatic than its predecessor Butterflies
, due in great part to some tech-savvy production work by guitarist/film scorer David Torn. This work is especially noticeable on "True South" (which includes the theme from composer John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever"), which is beautiful, surrealistic and haunting.
Yet once again, it is the quintet's musicianship that transforms Jekyll into something more than human, as witnessed on the aptly titled "The Heavenly Hell." It contains Gress' muscular bass dueling with Alessi's bright trumpet. Then a heated argument develops between Berne's angular alto and Taborn's piano. Finally, Rainey's drum torrent enters the fray with the entire quintet exchanging intense solos. And like that fictional Hyde (after the nefarious concoction has been consumed), Gress is at it again with The Irrational Numbers
Personnel: Drew Gress: bass, electronic instruments; Tim Berne: alto saxophone; Ralph Alessi: trumpet; Craig Taborn: piano; Tom Rainey: drums.