Despite a long association, bassist Mark Dresser and trombonist Ray Anderson make an unusual pair. The quintessentially New York Dresser is known for his deep, soul-stirring improvisations (his suite “The Five Outer Planets” here hints at his enormity of scale); Anderson, despite being born in Chicago and an early tenure in Anthony Braxton’s quartet, is more a southern boy with a love for New Orleans jazz. The pair began playing as a duo nearly thirty years ago, however, and Dresser appears on four of Anderson’s previous recordings. Nine Songs Together
is their first disc of duets, and it finds them able to share a wide terrain of material and some themes laden enough with emotion that only a long-standing partnership such as theirs could save it from becoming maudlin on the one hand or sloppy on the other.
The disc was recorded on Dresser’s 51st birthday (in September of last year) and marked Anderson’s first session since the death of his wife of 22 years, dancer and poet Jackie Raven, in 2002. Furthering the emotive import, there are tracks dedicated both to Raven and to Anderson’s new fiancée. There was, no doubt, a lot on the players’ minds during the sessions.
As a result, the nine songs truly are together. Four of the pieces are penned by Dresser and three by Anderson (with their arrangements of “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” and “I’m Confessin’ That I Love You” rounding out the set). But selective tracking could have convinced you that there were at least twice as many songs on the program. The pair move seamlessly between resonant explorations and swinging jaunts, often within the same piece, and it’s a joy to hear each move into the territory more associated with the other. Anderson sputters, accentuates and holds low tones through the thicker passages, and Dresser’s familiar slapping, strumming and register-hopping provides a sweet, unusual setting for Anderson’s Dixie hops. A slide trombone and a contrabass hold the potential of being as slippery as an oiled-down willow tree, but they play simply and solidly. If there were a canon of trombone/bass duos, they would surely rank among the best. The fact that there isn’t, yet Dresser and Anderson sound so natural doing it, speaks volumes.
This review originally appeared in AllAboutJazz-New York