Saturday, October 13, 2007

Drew Gress Quintet - 04/10/2007@CC Luchtbal, Antwerpen

Tim Berne - as
Ralph Alessi - tp
Craig Taborn - p
Drew Gress - b
Tom Rainey - d

It's hard not to expect great things from the above line-up. It's equally hard not to assess their concert as an indication of the current location of contemporary jazz, or at least a couple of its strands. So any lingering doubts and disappointment must be measured against those expectations. You know how it is: great musicians, some creative thinking, a few great moments. You leave not quite elated.

This was an all-star band, but also the leader's group: Drew Gress's long suites charted long-form courses through series of themes and a variety settings for solos. They were well played, but the sequences initially felt arbitrary and the melodies inexpressive. The second set consisted only of two even longer suites, but somehow they moved more convincingly, for example connecting a reconstituted Hard Cell's (Berne/Taborn/Rainey) free-ish manipulation of basic intervallic motifs to flowing post-bop.

The smaller moments were generally more engaging than the larger ones: the semi-spontaneous formation of duos and trios, the mingling of straight time and free rumbling, Tim Berne and Ralph Alessi repeatedly blending to produce buzzing overtones, Tom Rainey limiting himself to a ringing pattern on a single tom, Alessi handling a motif as he might a Rubik's Cube.

This quintet doesn't particularly strive to hide its identity as a jazz quintet. Occasionally they issued intriguing mixed signals by grappling with the past, as when the antiquated romance of Alessi's cup mute and Berne's dollops of vibrato perched atop dissonant, wide-interval piano plinks. At times, Tom Rainey's extraordinary playing rested on nothing solid, held together by centrifugal forces that could dissipate at any moment. Similarly, Craig Taborn is one of those people who somehow manage to reconcile exacting math-funk with wide-open free jazz and a linear bop sensibility.