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Mark Dresser Seven – Sedimental You – Trem Azul/Clean Feed

A timely jazz treatise of current events (and more).

Mark Dresser Seven – Sedimental You [TrackList follows] – Trem Azul/Clean Feed CF385CD, 67:17 [12/9/16] ****:

(Nicole Mitchell – soprano and alto flute; Michael Dessen – trombone; Marty Ehrlich – clarinet, bass clarinet; David Morales Boroff – violin; Joshua White – piano; Jim Black – drums, percussion; Mark Dresser – contrabass)

Contrabassist Mark Dresser is a luminary in forward-thinking jazz. For ten years, he performed with the Anthony Braxton Quartet, and has worked with Anthony Davis, Jane Ira Bloom, Tim Berne, John Zorn and scores of others. As a leader, he has released close to 15 recordings and done numerous other projects, which include new music for classic films, theater productions, commissioned performances, and he’s been on progressive jazz/improvisation labels such as Clean Feed, Tzadik, Cryptogramophone and more. Dresser’s latest is the 67-minute, seven-track Sedimental You, which showcases his septet: Dresser on contrabass; drummer Jim Black; trombonist Michael Dessen; violinist David Morales Boroff; clarinetist Marty Ehrlich; pianist Joshua White; and flutist Nicole Mitchell.

Two things are paramount throughout Sedimental You. This is music conceived specifically for the seven instrumentalists, who bring substantial contributions and inventiveness. The other is the overt political nature of several tunes, something relatively uncommon in jazz (although, thankfully, not declining). Dresser clarifies in his liner notes his record’s name is not a mistake, “The CD title is not a misspelling of ‘sentimental,’ but rather plays with the idea of ‘layering’ musical qualities.” The socio-political scope can be experienced from the first piece, “Hobby Lobby Horse.” Dresser says the 13-minute composition, “is a musical response to the ‘religulous’ crafts store,” explicitly related to the company’s opposition to portions of the Affordable Care Act. “Hobby Lobby Horse” is a unique composition with variable play between the arrangement’s organization and the soloists’ autonomy (highlights include flute, trombone and violin improvisations), where accumulating phrases of 13 and 15 commingle with a contrasting and mounting melodic base. There’s an animated characteristic to the partisan “TrumpinPutinStoopin,” a shorter number which has a cartoon soundtrack-like arrangement. Imagine if Carl Stalling had created Ornette Coleman-esque music.

“TrumpinPutinStoopin” begins with a contrapuntal theme on trombone; then shifts to a fluctuating configuration with an open section for violin, flute, clarinet and bass; then mini cadenzas; and a boisterous close. The lengthiest cut, and the most emotionally charged, is the 14:15 “Newtown Char,” inspired by the mass-shooting tragedy in Newtown, CT in 2012 and the 2015 Charleston, SC church massacre. Dresser explains, “I wanted to compose a musical response to these events in the tradition of John Coltrane’s Alabama, a multi-dimensional piece of music.” He succeeds admirably. Although “Newtown Char” is placed near the CD’s end, it is architecturally and passionately the showpiece. Ehrlich’s elegiac and solitary bass clarinet opens: he is at once sublime and incensed, and gradually the melody develops as other instruments come in, linked to Ehrlich’s woody tone. Dresser’s long-form tune is evocative of Charles Mingus or Carla Bley’s larger band documents. Like Bley or Mingus, Dresser utilizes his larger group to achieve a significant and considerable statement.

Three compositions are dedicated to Dresser’s friends or associates. The beautiful ballad “Will Well” is a tribute to free and avant-garde jazz trombonist Roswell Rudd. Dresser reveals, “I composed this with [Rudd] in mind while he was courageously overcoming an illness.” The orchestral introduction acts as a prologue to a piano and bass duet, and then the full group enters. “Will Well” has memorable solos for flute, clarinet and violin. There is an enigmatic trait to the oddly-named, plaintive “I Can Smell You Listening.” Dresser illuminates how and why he chose the tune’s title, “The day after 9/11, I played music with the late singer, Alexandra Montano. Alexandra was fond of wearing patchouli oil. After a stunning improvisation, I jokingly said to her, ‘I can smell you listening.’” Dresser mentions Montano was a “person of great warmth and good humor” and both of those virtues permeate “I Can Smell You Listening.” The encompassing melody sometimes dwindles and then resurfaces or increases and diminishes. There is some fine group interplay, and the entirety is accentuated by Ehrlich’s gorgeous clarinet soloing. Sedimental You concludes with the the brief 2:37 “Two Handfuls of Peace,” which is an homage to the late Daniel Jackson, a multi-hyphenated musician who was Dresser’s mentor. The commemorative composition was stimulated by something Jackson said to Dresser. “When he was in hospice I telephoned him to ask if there was anything he needed,” Dresser discloses in the liner notes, “without missing a beat, he whispered in his deep way, ‘two handfuls of peace.’” There is much to notice during Sedimental You. There is the format which blends superior musicianship with exceptional music writing; the context of emotional and personal alongside political and universal subject matter; and traditional melodies and harmonies fused with aspects of bitonal harmony, microtonality, variable pulses, and explorative musical alignment.

TrackList: Hobby Lobby Horse; Sedimental You; TrumpinPutinStoopin; Will Well (for Roswell Rudd); I Can Smell You Listening (for Alexandra Montano); Newtown Char; Two Handfuls of Peace (for Daniel Jackson)

—Doug Simpson

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