Friday, August 09, 2013

Mark Dresser Quintet's "Nourishments"

Speaking of Rudresh Mahanthappa, the altoist is all over Nourishments, the new Clean Feed CD by the Mark Dresser Quintet. Formerly Anthony Braxton's bassist, Dresser currently performs in three different trios with Mahanthappa, pianist Myra Melford, and ROVA Saxophone Quartet founder Larry Ochs. He's also collaborated with filmmakers, visual artists, and...chefs? (The track "Canales Rose" is based on a 12-tone row and dedicated to chef Paul Canales.) His solo work has focused on the use of unusual amplification and non-standard techniques, and his statements abound references to "telematic performance" (think Skype) and "gradience," which he defines as "the blurring of boundaries between pitch and noise, meter and texture, form and feeling."

If such rhetoric makes your head hurt, be prepared to be surprised by Nourishments, a recording rooted in (but not bound by) jazz tradition and song form. Dresser is the most intentional of composers, and many of the pieces on this disc employ ever-shifting tempos in a manner inspired by the masterworks of Mingus, a similarity that's highlighted by the prominence of Michael Dessen's trombone as an ensemble or solo instrument (shades of Jimmy Knepper). The knotty angularity of Dresser's melodies is more reminiscent of Monk or early '60s Andrew Hill, though, and the fact that he and his collaborators are such individuated players ensures that the album sounds like anything but a sterile homage.

All the players are substantive voices who've had long associations with the leader, and are willing to subordinate their interpretive intelligence to the composer's intent. Besides Mahanthappa and Dresser, the other crucial ingredient is pianist Denman Maroney, who serves Dresser as well as Jaki Byard and Horace Parlan did Mingus. His "hyperpiano" approach (involving the placement of tools on piano strings) sounds like a Cagean trope, and isn't audible to these feedback-scorched ears, but no matter. This is some of the best post-bop small group writing you'll here anywhere, and the pieces are as engagingly alive as any current jazz of which I'm aware. An album that's as satisfying as a good meal, but also conducive to repeated listenings.


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