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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Devin Gray - RelativE ResonancE (Skirl, 2015) ****

From the outset, this rhythm section can do Henry Threadgill’s Zooid.  Devin Gray (drums) and Chris Tordini (bass) have that thing down pat.  Reedman Chris Speed and pianist Kris Davis are mixed in (mostly) separate channels and this works well, as they frequently play counterpoint with each other over the top of the amazing structural base.  I wish the soloists were completely isolated in separate channels. In the left channel you'd get something wonderful from a Davis trio – and then cut out the left channel and you could hear an amazing Speed-led group.  But we'll just have to be satisfied with the brilliant quartet.  

I’ll confess that I will check out anything with Kris Davis on it.  She’s an incredibly well-rounded player with a real understanding of what makes a composition, a group improvisation, and an arrangement work.  She is a perfect fit here.  Gray has written arrangements for each instrument that present a balance, not only between composition and improvisation, but between each player's contribution to the overall picture.  

On “Notester” the Zooid groove disappears, making for a more challenging – but no less enjoyable – listening experience.  Tordini and Davis lock especially well here to support Speed's flights.  Things get appropriately humid on “Jungle Design,” which also has a house-of-mirrors feel about it.  It's the first and only time the “balance” ideal becomes a bit claustrophobic.  “Transatlantic Transitions” returns to Zooid funk about two minutes in; and Davis and Speed lead the band through abrupt twists and turns.

The written bits – on the entire disc – are intricate and fascinating, like studying the insides of a finely crafted timepiece.  Delicate precision is key to the execution of this music.  Throw in a wild card like free improvisation and...  How do they make this work so well?

Nowhere is the tight balancing act more evident that on the title track, which compresses everything that is great about this band - and these songs - into 3.5 minutes of brilliance.  The interplay between Gray and Tordini leads the group to ecstatic – and briefly, improvisational - heights.  Who knew the avant garde could be so perfectly symmetrical?

By Paul Acquaro

Devin Gray's RelativE ResonancE is a well crafted experience. This new set from the NYC drummer and composer features Chris Speed’s precise clarinet, Kris Davis' adroit piano, Chris Tordini's supportive bass and Gray's skittering percussion. Together they create a package that is both sleek and full of energy.

If you only listen to the opening few minutes you may be tempted to think that RelativE ResonancE is a fairly straight-ahead jazz album. However, by the time you have reach the third track, 'Notester’, the room has opened up, revealing the swirling musical cosmos. Overlapping and concentric, the melodies and  rhythms coil around each other, building with intensity and emotion.

It seems that the combination of Davis and Speed is the linchpin. Speed's focus is key - he chooses his notes well and plays them with unwavering conviction. When Davis accompanies, like with the small splashes of sound on 'Jungle Design (For Hannah Shaw),’ or the syncopated comping on ‘In the Cut', it is always well executed, and when she leads, like on the chase between the group that begins 'Transatlantic Transitions', it is captivating. Gray and Tordini, of course, support the music expertly - for example the title track 'Relative Resonance (for Tadd Dameron)' is a showcase for the tight connection between the two musicians. Tordini is prominent in the mix, and his taught bass line outline the interaction between the drums and clarinet.

The songs often become knotty, circular events, and it is within these patterns and intertwining melodies that some excellent music is being made. RelativE ResonancE is an accessible avant-garde album with a vibrant pulse and a lot going on within ... listen again and again as it reveals itself.