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Drew Gress - 7 Black Butterflies

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Artist: Drew Gress

Album: 7 Black Butterflies

Label: Premonition

Review date: Jul. 17, 2005

One usually uses a rather small and delicate net to capture butterflies. But bassist Drew Gress casts one that’s is quite broad and sturdy on 7 Black Butterflies, strong enough to bring together highly contrasting elements and bind them in place. His wide reach is impressive, sometimes more so than what he catches. For while he convincingly renders eerie textural exploration, fleet bebop motion, and poised balladry across the album’s nine tracks (none of which have anything to do with insects), his efforts in these diverse areas are not equally rewarding.

“Rhinoceros” gets the album off to a great start with trumpeter Ralph Alessi blowing distant, muted queries over the spooky, metallic sounds that Tom Rainey coaxes from his cymbals and Craig Taborn plucks from within his piano. Then a walking bass line ushers in a series of increasingly assertive variations on a strong, imploring melody. “Bright Idea’s” title could almost be sardonic – “let’s play some bop!” It’s the solos, especially Taborn’s, that steer it past the pedestrian. “New Leaf” slows things down to a stately pace, but alto saxophonist Tim Berne’s turn is anything but balladic, and contrasts satisfyingly with the more delicate ensemble passages.

On “Zaftig,” things go awry. Rainey’s brief introduction, heard through subtly dislocating echo effects, is promising, but from there the tune turns into a too-lush ballad that takes a long time to go nowhere in particular. “Wing & Prayer” is similarly over-upholstered. Perhaps Gress simply has too much romance in his soul for this embittered critic. David Torn’s unusual production, on the ballads and elsewhere, is a mixed blessing. To his credit, he doesn’t let this sound like just another jazz session. His interventions range from subtle effects to sudden, incongruous overloads of distortion. But sometimes the soft parts are too soft, and the stealth assault sections seem more showy than musical. I think Gress is on his way to capturing an exciting blend of traditional and contemporary sounds with this album, but he could have tossed a couple of these fish back.

By Bill Meyer

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