Mark Dresser Septet's "Sedimental You"
The next day's mail brought a new stack of shiny silver discs from the Portuguese indie Clean Feed, including this newie from the estimable bassist-composer Mark Dresser, who's best known for the decade (1985-1994) he spent in Anthony Braxton's greatest quartet. The album was co-produced by David Breskin, the former Musician/Rolling Stone scribe who produced the albums that put Ronald Shannon Jackson on the map for lots of fans, and more recently has done the honors on some of Nels Cline's most indelible works, including this year's Lovers. (Breskin also penned a cycle of 285 poems about the recent election that's worth reading.)
Reading Dresser's liner notes, I discovered that three of the pieces on Sedimental You have political themes. The opening "Hobby Lobby Horse" takes its title from the retailer in whose case the Supreme Court ruled that certain businesses can be exempt from the law on religious grounds. "TrumpinPutinStoopin" eerily predicts the election result (the album was completed in March), while "Newtown Char" was inspired by mass shootings in Connecticut and South Carolina. Elsewhere, Dresser pays tribute to his friends and collaborators Roswell Rudd ("Will Well"), Alexandra Montano ("I Can Smell You Listening"), and Daniel Jackson ("Two Handfuls of Peace").
Beyond their programmatic content, the multi-layered compositions on Sedimental You are structurally intriguing. "Hobby Lobby Horse," for instance, juxtaposes its melody with odd-metered rhythmic phrases, and challenges soloists to navigate a form that's strewn with "surprise interruptions." Interesting instrumentation, with a front line consisting of two reeds (flutes and clarinets), trombone, and violin, makes for a fascinating tonal palette. The title track is a skewed take on the Swing Era chestnut "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" that Tommy Dorsey could never have imagined, although Willem Breuker or John Zorn might have. The Rudd dedication has some of the album's most gorgeous writing, with an orchestral intro giving way to a piano-bass duet and solos of lapidary beauty from flautist Nicole Mitchell, clarinetist Marty Ehrlich, and violinist David Morales Boroff. The violinist's work on "Will Well" and on the bittersweet Montano dedication that follows is particularly poignant.
The album's tour de force, "Newtown Char" was intended to continue in the spirit of Trane's "Alabama," but Ehrlich's bass clarinet and the ruminative ensemble recall both Dolphy's "Something Sweet, Something Tender" and Mingus' aforementioned "Meditations." Then the solos over pointillistic backing take the piece to another plane entirely. Pianist Joshua White and trombonist Michael Dessen have some of their finest moments here, with agile support from the leader and drummer Jim Black. The Jackson dedication closes the proceedings on a hopeful note. Overall, this is the most satisfying album of new jazz compositions I've heard in many moons -- music to sustain us in the coming mean season.