Reviews that mention Michael Dessen

September 1, 2018

Jason Robinson’s Janus Ensemble:

Resonant Geographies
pfMentum PFMCD 115

Using all the sonic colors available from an 11-piece ensemble, San Diego-based tenor saxophonist Jason Robinson has composed a seven-part suite that articulates straightforward swing without sacrificing exploratory touches. While recruiting some exceptional talent, Robinson’s writing emphases its uniqueness with a non-expected orchestration that includes three low-brass players, four reeds divided between saxophone and clarinets, two percussionists. plus double bass and guitar. While the expansive arrangements are sometimes enlarged enough to reflect Stan Kenton orchestra at its most restrained, the bedrock riffs and rhythms relate back to more subtle organization of the pre-war Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington bands. MORE

August 6, 2016


Virtual Tour: A Reduced Carbon Footprint Concert Series

By Ken Waxman

Ever notice that people are never shown watching TV images on television programs? That’s because the concept of a viewer watching a screen showing someone watching another screen moves into the surrealistic realm of a René Magritte painting. This is one drawback of Virtual Tour. Intriguing in conception, the idea is that four San Diego-based musicians – pianist Myra Melford, bassist Mark Dresser, trombonist Michael Dessen and flutist Nicolle Mitchell – play in real time via high-speed uncompressed audio and high definition video connections alongside three separately linked ensembles in Amherst, MA, Stony Brook, NY, and Zürich, Switzerland. Oversized video screens are on stage with each, which at points provides some arresting close-ups of intricate solo explorations or intense responses to each other’s playing. This is especially obvious during lick trading from Dessen and fellow trombonist Ray Anderson in Stony Brook, But throughout the 193 [!] -minute program there are many shots of one group or another waiting to play following solos taken elsewhere. That is visuals of people watching other people on TV. MORE

August 16, 2014

Michael Dessen Trio

Resonating Abstractions
Clean Feed CF 291 CD

The Astronomical Unit

Super Earth

Gligg Records 071

With double bass and drums for grounding, the third instrument in an improvising trio can be anything from the traditional piano to any other one, in this case a trombone. But with the subsequent limited sound picture lacking a true choral instrument, canny participants have to creatively compensate. This isn’t a problem for the two ‘bone-bass-drum ensembles here – one German-Australian and the other all-American. However each trio has evolves a different solution to the problem. MORE

March 23, 2014

Marty Ehrlich Large Ensemble

A Trumpet in the Morning
New World Records 80752-2

Given a rare opportunity to show off his composing and arranging skills in a big band context, multi-reedist Marty Ehrlich accepts the challenge here. But in re-casting material for more than a dozen musicians he demonstrates the superiority of some of his compositions over others. It’s not that there’s any second-rate music here. But the tunes composed for college and high school ensembles maintain their academic and pedagogical roots. They’re pleasing yet simplistic performances without the depth and compositional sophistication of the other material. MORE

September 9, 2013

Mark Dresser Quintet

Clean Feed CF 279 CD

By Ken Waxman

Double bass master and educator Mark Dresser is known for his ability to stunningly interpret the most advanced notated and improvised music – often in a solo context. However on this, his first quintet date in decades, he shows he can compose and play sounds that are affecting and swinging without neglecting his matchless technique.

While the line-up of trombone, alto saxophone, piano, bass and drums may read like that of a standard bop combo, each of the sidemen is so accomplished instrumentally that the results are out-of-the-ordinary. The most obvious departure from the norm is that Denman Maroney plays so-called hyperpiano throughout, allowing him to expose in-and-outside the frame multiphonics along with expected patterns. Alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, who co-wrote “Not Withstanding” with Dresser, is in the Mauger band with the bassist, and his knowledge of Carnatic music helps negotiate the shimmering changes of Dresser’s “Rasaman” honoring a sitar-playing colleague. Trombonist Michael Dessen is established in mainstream and avant contexts; while Tom Rainey and Michael Sarin, who split drum duties, are both sympathetic, un-showy accompanists. MORE

October 25, 2011

Michael Dessen Trio

Forget the Pixel
Clean Feed CF 222 CD

Joe Fiedler Trio

Sacred Chrome Orb

Yellow Sound Music YSL 566653

Perhaps there’s more than a kernel of truth in those clichés about energetic New Yorkers and laid-back Californians. How else could one explain the massive variance between performances on these discs, each featuring a bassist, a drummer and a trombonist-leader playing original compositions by the brass man? In a way it’s a difference between lively and listless.

It’s not that Forget the Pixel is that enervated. It’s just that a certain sameness seems to permeate the seven compositions by trombonist Michael Dessen. Dessen, an academic with an interest in new technologies as well as telematic performances in multiple locations, adds computer wave forms to this disc in order to enhance the low-key proceedings. The results curve and undulate nicely, but not enough to alter the air of lethargic moderation that permeates the disc. Besides some rapid capillary movements from Dessen in the JJ Johnson lineage however, the most affecting overall performance is the title track. Here at least brushes-directed ruffs and bounces, spelled with an occasional martial beat, from drummer Dan Weiss, coupled with speedy stops as well as sul ponticello slides from bassist Christopher Tordini provide back-up for the trombonist’s slurs, puffs and squeezes. MORE

February 13, 2006


Cosmologic - III
Circumvention Music 045

Five years on in its evolution as a band, it’s evident that Cosmologic is heading towards a musical crossroads. Nurtured in the rich cross-fertilization of sonic ideas that evolved from San Diego’s Trummerflora Collective, the band’s improv chops were stroked by interaction with the likes of trombonist George Lewis and reedist Vinny Golia. Added to this were influences ranging form so-called serious music, theatre troupes, rock bands, straight jazz and electronica.

COSMOLOGIC III still has the same free flow and invention of the band’s earlier CDs, but as notable as many of the eight tunes here are, now that it’s at chapter three, the combo itself and its members lack certain individuality. Trombonist Michael Dessen’s move to the East Coast a couple of years ago may have something to do with this, although taken in isolation his solos are still powerful, as is his comfortable interaction with reedist Jason Robinson. MORE

June 9, 2003


Circumvention Music 035


Quartets prominently featuring a trombonist, Gianluca Petrella’s Italian/English combo and the all-American Cosmologic co-op share more similarities than differences.

Proving once again improvised music’s universality, this congruence wouldn’t be that apparent at first blush. After all, Cosmologic’s members are youngish academics as involved in electronics, chamber and World musics as jazz, while the Europeans are veterans of the Continental jazz scene. One, British bassist Paul Rogers, is practically a grizzled graybeard, best known for his membership in Mujician, the longstanding Brit improv band featuring veteran pianist Keith Tippett. Still, both groups’ sound comes from that general unspecified mode with as many echoes from outwardly directed freebop as out-and-out Free Jazz blowing. MORE