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Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Mark Dresser Seven - Ain’t Nothing But A Cyber Coup & You (Clean Feed, 2019) ****½

Double bass master Mark Dresser is visionary explorer of the bass, a profound but playful composer and a sharp commentator on the dark, current times, all at once and much more. Ain't Nothing But a Cyber Coup & You is the sophomore album of the Dresser Seven, following Sedimental You (Clean Feed, 2016), and features himself accompanied by the same lineup of long-time comrades - flutist Nicole Mitchell, reeds player Marty Ehrlich, trombonist Michael Dessen, pianist Joshua White, drummer Jim Black, and new addition, violinist Keir GoGwilt.

The visionary side of Dresser is distilled this time into five, brief solo bass improvisations aimed at expanding the timbral range and vocabulary of the bass, often sounding like an alien woodwind instrument. These pieces are performed on a unique bass adaption, invented by Dresser’s friend, luthier and fellow bass player Kent McLagan - The McLagan Tines - a set of seven graduated steel rods attached to a secondary bridge that touches the bass bridge, activating the resonant cavity of the bass.

Dresser notes that his new compositions embrace jazz tradition in a more direct manner than in the past, especially their energy and captivating melodies. He reflects on the seminal influence of Charles Mingus as as bass player-composer-bandleader who engaged with similar dystopian political landscapes from a place of hope and positive potential. And the spirit of Mingus does fuse the opening, propulsive piece, “Black Arthur’s Bounce”, dedicated to the memory of alto saxophonist and composer Arthur Blythe. More than forty years ago Dresser played with Blythe in the Los Angeles-based Black Music Infinity band, along with Bobby Bradford, James Newton and David Murray. Later Ehrlich also played with Blythe when Ehrlich arrived in New York. Erlich’s alto sax invokes the instantly identifiable tone and energy of Blythe, while the Seven builds strong, layered rhythmic patterns. The second Mingus-ian piece, the title-piece, is Dresser’s attempt to give “acerbic levity to our national reality-horror-show of corruption, malice, xenophobia and class warfare”. This song-like piece flows with irresistible, uplifting energy and offers great solos of Mitchell, White and Ehrlich on the clarinet.

Two pieces offer Dresser’s innovative, compositional ideas and address purely musical agendas. “Gloaming” is Dresser’s fourth piece that investigates the waltz form, using multiple levels of polyrhythm that expand and contract within shifting meters. This lyrical pieces highlights the expressive, contemplative bass solo from Dresser, which corresponds with like-minded solos of Dessen and GoGwilt. "Embodied in Seoul” was conceived originally for the 2018 telematic concert Interconnections For Peace between ensembles in New York City, San Diego, and Seoul, now rearranged again for the Seven and enables it to improvise on the fleeting melodic theme but eventually erupts as a harmolodic whole, with powerful rhythmic Black and Dresser himself.

“Let Them Eat Paper Towels” is inspired by the headline from New York Times column by economist Paul Krugman, written in response to President Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Its bass line abstracts the melody of “Que Bonita Bandera”, the unofficial national anthem of Puerto Rico, but sets the melodic core in a totally different atmosphere. The dark, melancholic and occasionally even chaotic tone reflects the tragic situation of this poor American territory. The last piece, “Butch’s Balm”, dedicated to Dresser’s late friend, pianist Butch Lacy, deepens even farther the emotional vein. This touching lament was inspired by a beautiful melody “of stark simplicity and pure emotion” that Lacy played to Dresser shortly before his death.

An inspiring celebration of provocative, cerebral fun.