Tony Grey: Chasing Shadows
It seems much less than four years ago that electric bassist Tony Grey released his scintillating debut, ...Moving, which excelled most in the way the writing highlighted the talents of each colorist the leader added to his expansive palette, however formidable the player's individual chops factor.
Grey applies the same tenets to an almost brand new cast, further indulging his propensity for working with gifted drummers. And what a drum record this is, with Chris "Daddy" Dave and Ronald Bruner combining time transmutation and power drumming with a voracious fervor that will earn them deserved notoriety and respect in jazzier realms.
Dave is best-known as bassist Meshell Ndegeocello's current drummer, but has a full-blown rep in the drum world as an master of techniques known only to him, including pushing and pulling of time, mad cross-sticking skills and freakish time displacement techniques, all executed while maintaining his phat pocket. The bassist and the band must totally maintain their focus when Dave dips into this bag, as displayed mightily on the tile cut.
Grey drops a swift raga over a drone to intro what begins a catchy melodic fragment voiced on lead bass and shadowed by Gregoire Maret's harmonica. The listener is drawn in by melody and simplicity, but not allowed to linger. At the exact moment this riff catches the ear, becoming almost-too-slick, the drummer drops a millibeat off his pulsating snare pattern andbam!the ears are glued to whatever is going to happen next. As Dave continues his permutations the ear will ponder whether the recording was synced correctly before realizing it's grooving too hard to be accidental. To make it workand it absolutely killsthe band has to ignore it, as Grey does so well during his solo, as "Daddy" messes with our collective heads even more.
However compelling, it's not as loomingly monstrous as the clinic on cross-sticked rimshots and out-and-out creativity that is "Dark Within," featuring Dave combining patterns derived from electronica, drum'n'bass, dub and reggae into his own jaw-dropping massive. Grey's simple dub tones support a deceptively tricky unison line by his usual employer, pianist Hiromi, on hand for this song's cameo, and guitarist Tim Miller, before the two engage in their own brands of controlled flame throwing. Not only does the song impart a sinister vibe, but Dave conjures a literally wicked groove.
Make no mistake, Ron Bruner, Jr. is a technically skilled power drummer, although his resume is somewhat counterintuitive, including work with some rather feisty smooth-jazzers and a stint with crushing punk-funkers Suicidal Tendencies. "No Man's Land" features Grey and Miller lobbing melodic volleys at each other in between their solos over Bruner's insistent snare and hi-hat, punctuated by prodigious tom fills a la Dennis Chambers. Bruner reveals he's intent on extending Chambers' style as he smashes the kit into submission in response to Elliott Mason's liquid linear invocations on bass trumpet. "Peace of Mind" provides Bruner's showcase, as he reworks a pastoral, Hornsby-esque type groove into uncharted territory, transforming it, on the turning point of a cycling bass figure, to function as outro rondele for a virtuoso beat down.
Oliver Rockberger, a holdover from Grey's previous record, plays piano and keys on all of the tracks save the previously mentioned "Dark Within." His solo on "Peace of Mind" is deserving of special mention, as he redirects an already-melodic nugget into even more melodic territory via a spontaneous improvisation, using his incisive scatting skills to inject a soul supplement into his gospel influenced, yet jazz-laced piano style.
Grey's solos throughout are more expansive here than his previous recording, prioritizing motific development and sidestepping obvious influences, developing a modern linear vocabulary that's non-guitaristic and Jaco Pastorius-avoidant, a la Matt Garrison and Gary Willis. It appears his near-constant touring schedule with Hiromi's band has continued to hone his chops and, along with the continuing influence and insight of his uncle, guitarist John McLaughlin, provided compositional inspiration. In short, Grey's confidence as a leader appears to be growing.
This is one of those sessions that's impossible to break down in terms of every special contribution by every participant. In and of itself, that's a testament to Grey's vision, one that should continue to make him an important player in shaping a new direction for the modern style of electric jazz formerly known as fusion.
Track Listing: Chasing Shadows; Walking In Walking Out; Guiding Light; No Mans Land; Don't Look for Love; Peace of Mind; Dark Within; One of Those Lives; Where Does It End.
Personnel: Tony Grey: bass; Chris Dave: drums (1, 3, 5, 7); Ronald Bruner, Jr: drums (4, 6, 8, 9); Martin Valihora: drums (2); Oliver Rockberger: piano, keyboards; Hiromi: piano (7); Tim Miller: guitar (4, 7); John Shannon: guitar (9); Lionel Loueke: guitar(6, 8); Elliot Mason: trombone (5), bass trumpet (1, 4); Gregoire Maret: harmonica (1, 3, 5); Bob Reynolds: soprano saxophone (2), tenor saxophone (8); Dan Brantigan: trumpet (3).