On New Math trumpeter Russ Johnson and pianist/flutist/percussionist Mick Rossi expand the limits of improvisation and invention. Their duets are musical poetry slams, a blueprint for performance jazz, with three-digit numbers identifying the songs on this envelope-shredding disc. “2.70” begins with a wailing trumpet salvo from Johnson that sounds like a Dixieland ululation, with Rossi’s piano trilling behind him. An elephantine burst is the opening sound of “3.30.” Johnson provides the dramatic, fragmented backdrop as Rossi articulates the landscape. On “1.22” Rossi goes outside the box by literally going inside the box to turn the piano into a multidimensional percussive instrument.
“1.50” is the most straight of the compositions, if you will, with various shifts in tone and rhythm. “2.20” is a clay flute bird flight by Rossi, and the sputtering trumpet and foreboding piano of “1.13” marks the sound of something—a building? a relationship?—breaking apart, crumbling, spiraling to its end. Perhaps to enhance the “new math” theme, the duo include two songs on the disc unlisted on the CD sleeve, the first a blend of yeoman percussion and trumpet; the last cut an almost classical, recital-like duet.
In Johnson’s hands, the trumpet is an organic entity. His tone is edgy, sometimes rough, embodying the raw emotion that defines the disc. Rossi gives all of his instruments depth and color. New Math is challenging but stunning terrain, spare but beautiful, affecting to the emotions.