The music of drummer and composer Devin Gray
traverses terrains that will be familiar to those who've investigated artists such as Tyshawn Sorey
and Steve Lehman
. As complex and highly structured as Gray's music can be, there's a palpable human warmth throughout Relative Resonance
which makes the musicin spite of its ultra-busy, highly demanding naturekind of easy on the ears. This was also a hallmark of Gray's excellent debut recording, Dirigo Rataplan
(Skirl Records, 2012). While some of the pieces"Jungle Design" for exampleresemble contemporary classical music as much as they do modern jazz, there's also an undeniably funky, swinging undertow to Gray's playing. On the other hand, it's not easy to listen to the complete album in one sitting. Gray's penchant for collective improvisation requires that all 4 of the musicians here play pretty much non-stop. Combined with the inherently complex, multi- leveled nature of Gray's compositions, there's very little space in this music. There's just a tremendous amount of information in each of these tracks. It's almost overwhelming.
The vitality and viscerality of Relative Resonance
can't be denied, however, and the music here literally sparkles with wit and resourcefulness. The young drummer has consistently worked with the finest musicians on the New York new music scene. Once again, all of the members of Gray's quartet are leaders in their own right. Pianist Kris Davis
, who just took 2nd place in the Rising Star division of the 2015 DownBeat Critics Poll, has almost a dozen acclaimed recordings as a leader (or co-leader) to her credit and worked with a dizzying variety of fascinating musicians, from Ingrid Laubrock
and Tom Rainey
to Tony Malaby
and Mary Halvorson
. Chris Speed
needs almost no introduction herewe've all been listening to his music for well over two decades. Bassist Chris Tordini
is best known for his long-term collaborations with Sorey, Lehman, Michael Dessen
and Andy Milne
's Dapp Theory. All of these people are singularly well-equipped to operate with ease in Gray's tricky mirror-world sound spaces. With incredible focus and huge ears, they lock in on Gray's musical directives, producing a highly personal group sound within the strictures of a well-worn jazz combo instrumentation.
Performance-wise, each track contains several standout moments, many provided by the leader himself. "Transatlantic Transitions" contains several mind-boggling passages as both Speed and Davis dart back and forth, jumping from improvisational statements to playing in unison with Tordini's propulsive syncopated bass line. Speed's tenor has a vulnerable, soft-edged sound that contrasts with the frenetic complications and intertwining lines of Gray's compositions. Davis has a similar touch, though she's generally a more aggressive player. The pieces that stayed with me the longest were those most directly related to modern jazz: the title track, "City Nothing City," and "In The Cut." Here, the quartet's rhythmic gamesmanship and conversational interplay combined with the questing, inquisitive, risky nature of the compositions is no less bracing than Anthony Braxton
's finest work.