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Drew Gress: The Sky Inside

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Well-traveled bassist Drew Gress, equally at home in new-music and straight-ahead environs, deploys on this project the same band heard on 2008’s The Irrational Numbers and 2005’s 7 Black Butterflies; two of the group’s core players, saxophonist Tim Berne and drummer Tom Rainey, longtime Gress associates, also appeared on 2001’s Spin & Drift, the first Gress solo album to be released in the U.S.

The approach Gress takes on the new CD-adventurous compositions that juxtapose tightly structured sections with open passages, some jolted with electronics effects-is similar to that taken on his earlier recordings, although the work benefits greatly from the musicians’ considerable experience playing together as well as the maturity of the leader’s writing. Moments of great beauty and occasional dissonance are here along with brilliant improvisations, all stitched together in a manner that’s eminently logical if often surprising.

At nearly 12 minutes, the title track is the disc’s most ambitious, opening with Berne and trumpeter Ralph Alessi playing unaccompanied figures, shifting to an atmospheric ballad section featuring pianist Craig Taborn’s herky-jerky lines, moving to a propulsive back-and-forth between rhythm and horns, and closing with a final passage that might be mellow if not for Rainey’s fast-scrambling drums, which carry nearly to the end. Opener “No Saint” has Gress and Taborn doubling a circling bass pattern and Berne and Alessi playing in counterpoint before moving to unfettered solos, while “In Streamline” migrates from a relaxed piano-trio piece to a more moody tune, with the horns offering long unison lines. Other moments pop out: Gress’ beefy solo on “Kernel”; the building and rebuilding funk-ish grooves of “Jacquard,” suddenly dropped in favor of ethereal solo keys; and the often-manic intensity of “Zaftig Redux.” Bracing stuff.