Bassist Drew Gress consistently delivers, whether he's playing straight-ahead or outwardly adventurous music. He maintains a vigorous touring and recording schedule with a swath of the jazz community. Though creatively challenging, this approach has limited the time he has to develop his own music. With 7 Black Butterflies, his third CD as a leader, Gress makes a compelling musical statement with structured and purposeful composition, supported by focused improvisation.
While the tunes are often complex, both rhythmically and harmonically, they flow naturally, and Gress confidently allows his musicians to extrapolate and color the passages. It helps to be surrounded by consummate improvisers with deep, interconnected playing histories like these. Here he taps longtime collaborators alto saxophonist Tim Berne and drummer Tom Rainey, altering the mix with the additions of trumpeter Ralph Alessi and pianist Craig Taborn.
The tunes are dynamic, taking unexpected turns. The textured unfolding of "Rhinoceros builds intensity to a chaotic flourish, while the boppish groove and unison horns of "Bright Idea buoy a series of solos from the ensemble, with each player emphasizing elements of the written music while Rainey and Gress prod or rein in the tempo. The deceptively simple-sounding "New Leaf spotlights a lyrical Berne, his wilder tendencies tempered to support the lush tune. The slower tempo of "Zaftig takes off behind Berne's solo, with Rainey matching wits with the saxophonist, until Taborn and Alessi restate the sparse opening theme for resolution. "Low Slung/High Strung is set up by Taborn's angular piano pattern, which Alessi and Berne swirl around with oblique counter lines, quickening their pace and threatening to lose control before dropping out entirely. As Taborn rebuilds the intensity, Rainey's drum break signals the horns to return for a powerful finish.
A reflection of Gress, 7 Black Butterflies contains bold ensemble playing and sophisticated improvisation, kept accessible by a strong melodic sense and clarity.
1. Rhinoceros (8:24); 2. Bright Idea (8:53); 3. New Leaf (5:48); 4. Zaftig (8:37); 5. Bas Relief (0:58); 6. Blue On One Side (6:17); 7. Wing & Prayer (6:12); 8. Low Slung/High Strung (9:00); 9. Like it Never Was (4:28)
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