One of the living legends of the acoustic bass, a relentless innovator and fearsome composer, Mark Dresser
has spent decades at the forefront of creative jazz. His Ain't Nothing But a Cyber Coup & You
is a follow-up to 2016's well-received Sedimental You
(Clean Feed), a septet record that combined Dresser's skilled songcraft with potent political commentary. As excellent as the former album is, this one is arguably even better, with an urgency and directness that reflect Dresser's heightened frustrations with the troubled times in which we live.
The line-up here is almost identical to the 2016 record, with flautist Nicole Mitchell
, clarinetist/saxophonist Marty Ehrlich
, trombonist Michael Dessen
, pianist Joshua White
and drummer Jim Black
all returning for duty. The one newcomer is Keir GoGwilt, who replaces David Morales Boroff
on violin. And it is truly an enviable ensemble, just the right size for Dresser to display his rich, multi-layered compositions while still remaining lean enough for spontaneity and surprise.
The album features six new pieces, along with several brief solo works from Dresser that utilize the McLagan Tines, a modification for the acoustic bass that allows Dresser not only to showcase his prodigious technique, but also to sketch preliminaries to some of the major pieces. Dresser has always brought a formidable logic to his compositions, but their occasional difficulty can at times attenuate their emotional impact. That is not at all the case on Cyber Coup
, where compelling melodic themes and rhythmic intensity propel the music forward and give it immediate accessibility. And with songs inspired by, among other things, the Trump administration's response to Hurricane Maria ("Let Them Eat Paper Towels"), the search for global peace ("Embodied in Seoul") and the need for political resistance (the album's title track), one can appreciate Dresser's desire to bring a more visceral approach to these pieces.
In addition, Dresser's connections to the jazz tradition are much more evident here. Right out of the gate, "Black Arthur's Bounce" possesses a fierce energy and ebullience that would make its dedicatee, Arthur Blythe
, proud, and Black's percolating, funky rhythms announce that this is music meant to be as enjoyable as it is impressive. It doesn't hurt that each of the players gets room to stretch out on feisty solos, with Ehrlich taking an especially gritty alto sax turn. Elsewhere it's the beauty of Dresser's writing that stands out, with GoGwilt's violin featured on "Gloaming," a subdued piece with some superb ensemble harmonies. "Let Them Eat Paper Towels" is similarly affecting, built around a melancholy melody adapted from "Que Bonita Bandera" (Puerto Rico's unofficial national anthem), some vigorous ensemble playing, and a jubilant up-tempo finish that signals resilience and hopeful strength. And the closing track, "Butch's Balm," offers another stunning Dresser melody for a mournful tribute to pianist Butch Lacy, one of the bassist's longtime friends and an erstwhile stalwart of the San Diego jazz scene.
But it may be the album's title track that captures the essence of the music most convincingly. With an undeniable tinge of anxiety and anger but a steadfast determination not to give in to despair, its tenacious groove and irreverent spirit evoke the politically-charged work of Charles Mingus
and Roland Kirk
. And it's no coincidence that this track also has the album's most fiery improvisations, with White's surging piano leading the way on a tour-de-force brimming with bursting energy and vitality.
A valuable reminder that jazz offers abundant resources for positivity even in the midst of struggle, Ain't Nothing But a Cyber Coup & You
is a superlative release, and one that may speak to this era as powerfully as any record in recent memory.
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.
Nicole Mitchell: flute, alto flute, piccolo; Marty Ehrlich: clarinet, bass clarinet, alto saxophone; Keir GoGwilt: violin; Michael
Dessen: trombone; Joshua White: piano; Mark Dresser: double bass, McLagan Tines; Jim Black: drums, percussion.