Mark Dresser isn’t the kind of guy to say, "I told you so." But his new album "Sedimental You" seems to scream out a warning about our disquieting historical moment, even though it was recorded months before the first primary in the 2016 election.
A singularly accomplished bass innovator in jazz, free improvisation and new music, the longtime UC San Diego music professor has assembled a talented cast for the Mark Dresser Seven, an ensemble boasting both similarly esteemed masters and rising young players.
The multigenerational cast includes New York altoist and clarinetist Marty Ehrlich, San Diego pianist Joshua White, New York drummer Jim Black, Boston-based newcomer David Morales Boroff on violin, as well as trombonist Michael Dessen and flutist Nicole Mitchell, who are both faculty members at UC Irvine.
Designed for these specific instrumental voices, Dresser’s seven original compositions move from loving, often exquisitely lyrical tributes to fellow musicians, like a beatific ballad for trombonist Roswell Rudd, “Will Well,” to spiky, incendiary responses to current events, like the funhouse carnival phantasmagoria of “TrumpinPutinStoopin” -- which could make for an apt 6 o’clock news soundtrack if you mute the television.
Each player takes several memorable solos, but it’s the interplay, the push and pull between Dresser’s structure and the freedom he encourages, that supplies much of the drama.
The album opens with the caustic, stop-and-start “Hobby Lobby Horse,” a galumphing number that embodies Dresser’s orchestral sensibility, and his gift for combining unmistakable voices. After several years of focusing on solo recitals and duos, it’s great to hear Dresser creating settings for an ensemble that can move in so many different directions.
Tropes with Matt Mayhall
Where Dresser and his confederates bring the heat, the debut album by versatile Los Angeles drummer Matt Mayhall is a decidedly chill affair. He’s a player who ranges widely across many scenes, touring with The Both — a group with Aimee Mann and Ted Leo and gigging with Liz Phair, John Doe and Dar Williams, with whom he’ll be hitting the road next month. He spent several years in Josh Haden’s alt-country/slow-core band Spain, but he’s just as likely to be found keeping company with jazz heavyweights like pianist Larry Goldings, Kneebody keyboardist Adam Benjamin, bassist Eric Revis, and guitarist Anthony Wilson.
On "Tropes" he’s joined by similarly well-traveled bassist Paul Bryan, who produced the album, and the consistently captivating guitarist Jeff Parker, whose own recent album "The New Breed" keeps me coming back for more.
In addition to drums and percussion, Mayhall also contributes on various keyboards and piano, the instrument he used to compose the music. Maybe that’s why the album has such a spacious, unhurried feel to it.
The opener, “On the Ceiling,” sets the chill mood, with Jeff Babko's oozing keyboard work adding to the gummy feel. Rather than building tunes from the groove up, Mayhall is all about texture and the slow burn. One of my favorite tunes is the power ballad “Dum Dum,” which adds New York tenor saxophonist Chris Speed into the mix, whose simmering horn part never comes close to boiling over.
There are so many drummer-led ensembles making interesting music these days it’s silly to say an album doesn’t sound like a drummer-led project, but Mayhall shines a generous spotlight on his collaborators, particularly Parker, who delivers some of his most beautiful and mysterious guitar work.
Farewell to Oliveros
Finally, I wanted to bid farewell to a brilliant sonic explorer who spent many years in California. Pauline Oliveros, the composer, tape music pioneer and founder of deep listening, died on Nov. 24 at the age of 84.
From her work as a founder of the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the early 1960s through to her teaching at UC San Diego and Mills College, she influenced countless musicians.
Her primary instrument was the accordion, and she taught several generations of musicians new ways of being and playing together, a practice she called (with her puckish sense of humor, since the name came to her while recording in an underground cistern) "deep listening." Thank you Pauline, for all the music and all the wisdom.