Since emerging in the mid-'80s alongside artists like woodwind multi-instrumentalist/composer Anthony Braxton, drummer Gerry Hemingway, and trombonist Ray Anderson, bassist Mark Dresser has combined a frightening command of his instrument that includes all manner of extended techniques with a remarkably musical approach that often makes greater sense of the more outré artists with whom he's often been associated. With a deep tone and at times intensely physical approach, he's also proven himself capable of playing in contexts as wide-ranging as the lyrical openness of soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom's quartets, the more in-the-centre space of Joe Lovano's trio, and the structured new music leanings of Left Coast contrabassist Steuart Liebig.
Arguably his most longstanding and enduring relationship has been with self-titled "hyperpianist Denman Maroneyhyperpiano referring to the variety of prepared piano techniques that Maroney uses to expand the textural potential of his instrument. Since meeting in '89, they've recorded eight albumssome under Dresser's name, others under Maroney'sand their latest, Time Changes, is a collaborative effort credited to both. Between Maroney's prepared piano and Dresser's extended techniques, the two are capable of extracting a wider range of sonics than one might imagine, this time augmented by Michael Sarina drummer on the Downtown New York scene since the early '90s and a flexible player who deserves greater attentionas well as, on four tracks, mezzo soprano Alexandra Montano.
The title refers to the trio's flexible yet constructed compositions, most notably Dresser's "Aperitivo, which, according to Dresser, is based on a blues form but is rendered almost unrecognizable through his and Maroney's harmonic alterations, not to mention a constantly fluctuating tempo that keeps the listener on his or her toes throughout. Montano's wordless vocals also take the piece away from the obviousness of its roots. Similarly, Maroney's "M.C. takes a relatively straightforward set of changes and twists it through a series of complex tempo variations that give the whole piece a staggered effect.
Utilizing an innovative custom-built pickup system in the fingerboard of his bass, Dresser expands the aural breadth of his instrument on "Ekoneni, which begins with abstract motions from all parties, but ultimately resolves into a more straightforward rhythm, although Maroney's use of some form of sliding appliance on the piano strings keeps things from ever being too direct.
It is, in fact, Maroney and Dresser's expansion of their respective instruments' sonic possibilities that takes the programme of Dresser and Maroney originals, all based on complex and precisely structured formswith the exception of two free improvisationsand opens them up to greater breath and breadth. If one can forget about the clearly detailed arrangements and just absorb the music without consideration, the set takes on a surprisingly effortless and alluring complexion.
When Dresser recently played a series of duets in Ottawa, Canada with fellow bassist John Geggie, his ability to combine improvisational élan with finely detailed composition was in clear evidence. Time Changes is further demonstration of his and Maroney's ability to construct contexts that demand strict adherence to form and a more exploratory aesthetic.
Visit Mark Dresser and Denman Maroney on the web.
Personnel: Mark Dresser (bass); Denman Maroney (hyperpiano); Michael Sarin (drums, percussion); Alexandra Montano (voice)