The Beautiful Enabler is the debut recording of the collective trio Mauger, which features the enviable talents of alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Gerry Hemingway. According to Hemingway, "the group gets its name from a letter scramble of the first two letters of each of our names and is a preposition defined, "in opposition to, notwithstanding" which seems appropriate to creating art in our time."
Mark Dresser and Gerry Hemingway share a working relationship that dates back to 1975, with a stint together in the early eighties as members of composer Anthony Braxton's classic quartet. Their finely tuned rapport borders on the telepathic on these loosely structured tunes, as they hone in on the other's next move with the skill of seasoned chess players.
New to this veteran partnership is Rudresh Mahanthappa, widely known for his longstanding association with progressive pianist Vijay Iyer. While Dresser and Hemingway are adept interpreters of the most esoteric compositional concepts (Braxton's, for example), Mahanthappa and Iyer have made such intricate methodology their calling card, as demonstrated on the recent Tragicomic (Sunnyside, 2008). Hearing the saxophonist let loose in this unfettered setting is surprising and poignant; it is easily his most exploratory playing on record.
Consisting of two tunes from each member and one collectively composed improvisation, the album's seven skeletal frameworks inspire selfless interaction from the trio, who demonstrate careful listening skills and a magnanimous approach to soloing.
Dresser's contrabass is notoriously resonant. His kaleidoscopic arco work offers breathtaking harmonies that invoke the sonic density of a small string section, generously supported by Hemingway's nuanced cymbal work and subtle accents. Hemingway uses well-placed silences for dramatic effect, contrasting them with rousing polyrhythms and churning free-form interludes.
Mahanthappa's tart alto careens through this percussive mosaic with circuitous glee. Inspired by his cohorts' advanced techniques, he draws from an expansive sonic palette of false fingerings, oscillating multiphonics and acerbic overblown notes that he seamlessly incorporates into oblique, intervallic cadences.
Lyrically accessible, Dresser's tunes, "Flac" and the title track, recall the plangent euphony of fellow associate Marty Ehrlich with their bittersweet melodies. Hemingway's opener "Acuppa" is equally vibrant, setting the stage for a vigorous solo from Mahanthappa, whose own tunes veer from the mournful ballad "Intone" to the escalating turbulence of "I'll See You When I Get There." "Bearings" and "Meddle Music" reveal the trio at their most adventurous, uncoiling splintery shards in carefully delegated collective improvisations.
A snapshot of three masterful improvisers at the top of their game, Dresser, Hemingway and Mahanthappa demonstrate true clarity of expression on The Beautiful Enabler. Competent jazz albums are commonplace, but a session this good should not be overlooked.
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