David Gilmore, Numerology (Live at the Jazz Standard)
Putting Pythagoras to music
First off, the band is phenomenal and deserves its own roll call. On bass, Christian McBride. The drummer? Jeff ‘Tain Watts. You simply can’t concoct a more august and authoritative rhythm section. Alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon (winner of a MacArthur “genius grant”), pianist Luis Perdomo and vocalist Claudia Acuna are three of the brightest stars in Latin jazz. French percussionist Mino Cinelu and composer-guitarist Gilmore (not to be confused with Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour) round out a truly extraordinary septet.
And they need to be, because Gilmore is throwing some heavy charts at them. An associate professor at the Berklee College of Music, his ambitious agenda for Numerology is to delve into the theories of Pythagoras, who believed that numbers and their vibrations can unlock the cycles of life and learning. Put into practice, it yields music for polymaths, brimming with asymmetrical rhythms. New York Times reviewer Nate Chinen, who caught the live shows that comprise Numerology, counted out a knotty 21/8 time signature in “Seven: (Rest).”
To these less-learned but jazz-loving ears, it doesn’t feel that complicated. The shifting rhythms occasionally produce a feeling musically akin to walking on a trampoline. But the commanding talent on hand ensures that the grooves hold sway, the solos are frequently stupendous, and a context is established that allows you to appreciate the grand arc of Gilmore’s conception – the seven tracks actually fall into two movements of four and then three songs – instead of having to snatch up favorable bits.
The result is a fascinating mélange that roams from lilting chamber harmonies to blistering fusion jazz, with Afro-Cuban rhythms, bebop and prog-rock sifted in. Zenon and Gilmore are the primary soloists, and Zenon’s scalded alto jams are a consistent highlight, as they simultaneous up the intensity and concentrate the flow. Gilmore plays like a blend of John Scofield and Carlos Santana, and Acuna’s wordless vocals add a subtle but resonantly human touch to the harmonies. McBride, Watts and the underrated Perdomo alternately lock down and dexterously open the rhythms. Pythagoras would rate this five triangles.