MARK DRESSER/GERRY HEMINGWAY/DAVID MOTT

Reunion Live
Intrepid Ear IE 002

Nearly 15 years after drummer Gerry Hemingway and baritone saxophonist David Mott recorded Outerbridge Crossing, one of the percussionist's most notable early quintet sessions, the two were reunited for a concert at the 1999 Guelph (Ontario) Jazz Festival. On hand was longtime Hemingway associate bassist Mark Dresser and together the three turned out this notable disc.

Fiendishly exciting in person, laser light exposes some weaknesses that were probably masked by live performance movements. Together and separately each man has moments of glory. But on "Deep Into The Unfathomable", the almost 42-minute tour de force that makes up much of the disc, there are a few dead spots, which mostly can be attributed to Dresser.

That's the agony and ecstasy of music improvised on the spot, and it's actually a compliment to the three that they sound so much like a working trio during most of the disc.

Of course that shouldn't really be a surprise considering their collective backgrounds. The drummer may be the most in-demand inside/outside percussionist ever. In any given month he's as apt to appear someplace in Europe powering a group otherwise made up of Germans, Dutchmen or Britons, as he is to be touring with his own combo in North America. Hemingway's first came to notice as a member of reedist Anthony Braxton's quartet, where the bass chair was held by Dresser. Since then Dresser, a Californian turned New Yorker, has worked in a head spinning variety of settings, from playing in the most outside groups to anchoring more mainstream sessions.

Least known of the three, Mott is a well-schooled academic and serious composer, who has been a professor of music at Toronto's York University since 1978. He hasn't abandoned playing though, and over the years in Toronto, he has worked and recorded with a variety of other musicians from pianist David Lopato to the 40 Fingers saxophone quartet. Despite lack of stateside fame, he more than holds up his side of the triangle on the disc.

Although his soloing is probably as conventional as anyone gets here, it doesn't mean that Mott neglects any part of the horn. Most of the time on "Deep Into" he plays a straight legato melody and with repeated notes elaborates what could be various textural themes throughout. In the tonic most of the time, he's creating an instant composition, not free improv or energy playing.

At times he will begin double timing and find his movements matched by ascending percussion flurries from Hemingway or the isolated metallic scratch of a drumstick on a cymbal. Drawing Dresser into the equation, you might hear echoes of hoary old "Harlem Nocturne".

Other times he will sluice into the tenor, then the alto and then the altissimo range of his axe, though, he doesn't spend any longer in protracted scream mode than he does creating basement rattling bass reverberations. Furthermore, at the end of the first tune he begins literally shouting and speaking through his horn with cries and micro syllables. Functioning as if there hadn't been a decade plus gap between their last playing situation, Hemingway responds in kind by rooting through different parts of his kit and at one point worrying the cymbals and at another beating the snare with his palms. Dresser rises to the occasion and produces a low, rhythmic tone that is as steady as that usually produced by master timekeeper Paul Chambers.

The bassist shines here and elsewhere when he doubles Mott's baritone phrasing with grace notes from the bottom of the bass so closely that you could be hearing two baris or two basses. Another time he compliments an extended Hemingway workout on toms, snare and cymbals with some elegantly bowed notes that sound almost Middle Eastern.

On his own though, with only static breaths from Mott as backup, he seems to lose himself in minute arco scratching in the bridge region. Despite some doubled notes he nearly curtails the tune, and it's up to Mott blasting out cushioning lines and Hemingway boiling away on he toms to ride to the rescue like The Lone Ranger and Tonto.

The encore, "Run like Hell Until You Stop", is a powerful sprint that almost lives up to its name and provides a digestive to the parts of the main course that went unswallowed. Hemingway knocks out protracted snare work, Dresser holds the pace and Mott leaps from mellow mid-range to continuous tongue slaps.

If only Dresser's energy level had reached the heights of the others throughout, this would have been an exceptional disc instead of just a very good one.

Those who follow the careers of the bassist and drummer will definitely be interested in finding this special CD and those who haven't yet been exposed to Mott's mastery — or those who have — will seek it out as well. Because it's put out by the Guelph Jazz Festival itself, probably the best source for it is www.guelphjazzfestival.com.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Introduction 2. Deep Into The Unfathomable 3. Run like Hell Until You Stop

Personnel: David Mott (baritone saxophone); Mark Dresser (bass); Gerry Hemingway (percussion)