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This is the second recording for the Mark Dresser Seven, a chamber jazz group led by bassist Mark Dresser with an unusual front line of flute, reeds, violin and trombone. Their first CD was highlighted by satiric social commentary and tributes to deceased colleagues. This new one follows the same pattern.
Two tributes bookend the CD. The opener, "Black Arthur's Bounce," is named for the late saxophonist Arthur Blythe. It's a collection of jumping solos by Nicole Mitchell's flute, Marty Ehrlich's alto, Michael Dessen's trombone and Joshua White's piano held loosely together by the erratic funk-shuffle beat of Dresser and drummer Jim Black. The closing piece, "Butch's Balm," is for pianist Butch Lacy. It is a somber work where lines of sedate piano and whispering percussion combine with low trombone and bass notes to lead the entire septet in a lush, dignified lament.
Some of Dresser's compositions are intricate sonic constructions that leave room for the band members room to stretch out and bring the music vividly to life. On "Embodied In Seoul," Dresser's frantic bowing creates a creaking whirlpool that flute, trombone and bass clarinet quietly penetrate. This leads to the front line exploding into a noisy rush of sobbing and moaning, with White's trilling piano as a contrasting voice. Dresser starts "Gloaming" with precise pizzicato bass before violinist Keir GoGwilt swoons in, introducing a simmering collage of attractive melodies. White's piano sounds particularly introspective here, Dessen blows slow, grand lines and Mitchell is a haunting presence.
The two political compositions come off both sarcastic and angry. "Let Them Eat Paper Towels" concerns President Trump's lack of response to Hurricane Maria's devastation of Puerto Rico. It starts with bass, violin and piano making scrambling noises that sound like an approaching storm. Then the music snaps into a prickly, broken rhythm laid out by Black. A lively but ominous group melody emerges, twisting flute, trombone, clarinet and violin together before everyone steps out with solo statements. "Ain't Nothing But A Cyber Coup" is a more general statement about the current state of things, a noisy jumble of heavy piano and screeching violin that leads into a fast, cartoonish theme pitched somewhere between Raymond Scott and Frank Zappa. .
Between these pieces, Dresser plays short abrasive solos on the McLagen Tines, an instrument made out of arranged steel rods that can sound like a groaning bass or a windswept calliope. These solos make for atmospheric introductions to the longer group works, particularly the roaring growls of "Pre-Coup" and the ghostly whistling of "Song Tine."
Mark Dresser's writing for this group is complex but the musicians imbue it with energy and drama. They can work up intense improvisational sweats or create beautiful moments of tenderness and emotion. Jim Black deserves a medal for the way he keeps the swirling madness around him focused while White, Mitchell and GoGwilt, in particular, continually excel in their soloing. This is a fine second effort from a formidable band.
Black Arthur’s Bounce; Pre-Gloam; Gloaming; Pre-Maria; Let Them Eat Paper Towels; Far; Embodied in Seoul; Pre-Coup; Ain’t
Nothing But a Cyber Coup & You; Song Tine; Butch’s Balm.