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April 2008

Drew Gress
The Irrational Numbers
Palmetto Records

Gress not only has one of the most resoundingly deep tones and consummate feels of any upright bassist currently playing modern jazz (which explains why he’s in such demand), he is also one of the more accomplished composers on the scene. As a follow-up to his critically acclaimed 7 Black Butterflies from 2005, Gress returns with the same core group of alto saxophonist Tim Berne, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, pianist Craig Taborn and longtime rhythm tandem partner Tom Rainey on drums. Together they demonstrate remarkable chemistry in exercising their uncanny inside-outside aesthetic on energetic long-form pieces like “Chevelle” and “Neopolitan,” both of which strike an organic balance between disciplined playing and wide-open abandon by these great improvisers.

Gress’ relaxed yet commanding sense of counterpoint on the affecting “Fauxjobim” is a thing of beauty, while the brief opener “Bellwether” and the unaccompanied bass piece “Mas Relief” are perfect examples of the sheer power he conveys in each note he plays. Rainey, Gress and Taborn provide a loosely swinging undercurrent for some freewheeling conversational exchanges between Alessi and Berne on “Blackbird Backtalk,” the “jazziest” track on the collection. The closer, “True South,” is a strangely compelling dirge inspired by John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” that culminates with Gress soloing on an odd, unnamed electronic instrument. Producer David Torn adds subversive/subliminal touches throughout The Irrational Numbers, like soaking Taborn’s piano in reverb on “Fauxjobim” and “By Far” or tweaking listeners with little sonic treats that fly in and out of the mix, as on “Chevelle.” Another startlingly original outing by this extraordinary working band.

Originally published in April 2008
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