With few bassists in jazz making electric their primary axeand a recent AAJ interview with Canada-born, New York-based Chris Tarry finding him playing more acoustic bass than ever beforeon the follow-up to The Chris Tarry Group's debut, Sorry to Be Strange (Cellar Live, 2006), the bassist's focus remains on the electric variety. He claims, "I never set out to make the electric bass sound like the acoustic bass. My goal was to make it function like the acoustic, and find concepts that would make that work. I thought, 'Why is it that no electric bass players can swing that well?'
There certainly are electric bassists who can swing (think Jaco Pastorius), but they are a relative rarity. Conventional swing by no means dominates Almost Certainly Dreaming, but the episodic "An Unlikely UFO swings hard during pianist Henry Hey's fiery solo, with Tarry and drummer Dan Weiss keeping the engine room stoked throughout.
Almost Certainly Dreaming benefits from a consistent line-up (other than Hey's replacement of charter member Jon Cowherd) that has more than a few miles under its belt, making it even more electrifying than Sorry to Be Strange. Tarry's seven originals were written with these musicians in mind, and covers significant stylistic territory. While there's no weak link in this chain, Toronto, Canada-based saxophonist Kelly Jefferson is the least-known of the bunch, and his fervent playing on the entire album, but especially on Tarry's dark-hued but gradually intensifying "Radio Princess and Hey's loosely funkified "Same Clothes, Different Day suggests more people ought to be paying attention.
It would be a mistake to call Almost Certainly Dreaming a fusion album, but it does possess a fusion attitude, all the more evident when Hey deserts acoustic piano for an overdriven Rhodes on "Same Clothes. Guitarist Pete McCann may be a capable acoustic guitarist on the folk-tinged but idiosyncratically lyrical "Prettiest Town of Goderich, but it's his raunchy tone and raucous (and reckless) abandon on tracks like the metrically challenging "In the Beginning that gives this album no shortage of teeth.
Weiss continues to prove himself one of the most flexible and listening drummers on the New York scene, busily driving the Spanish-tinged "Bedford Celebrities, while shifting from high velocity swing to powerful backbeat on "An Unlikely UFO.
Like Sorry to Be Strange, this is not a bassist's album, overloaded with bass solos. Tarry remains a team player more interested in composition and group dynamics, although his lithe melodism on "Prettiest Town is undeniably virtuosic.
As detailed as the writing is, it's even more open-ended than that of Sorry to Be Strange. Almost Certainly Dreaming demonstrates rapid growth and increased cohesion for a group that's swiftly forging an identifiable identity defined by inventive writing and playing that, while often visceral, doesn't place style ahead of substance. If they're this good in the studio, let's hope the next step is a live recording.
Bedford Celebrities; An Unlikely UFO; Radio Princess; Same Clothes, Different Day; Prettiest Town of Goderich; In the Beginning; Almost Certainly Dreaming; Alien Blueprints.
Chris Tarry: electric bass; Henry Hey: piano and Rhodes; Kelly Jefferson: saxophone; Pete McCann: guitar; Dan Weiss: drums.
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