MARK DRESSER

Aquifer
Cryptogramophone CG 111

Realistic appraisals of the improv sector’s fragile economy mean that even the most accomplished musicians are freelancers, with the idea of having a long-running aggregation like the Modern Jazz Quartet now regarded as pure fantasy.

That’s often unfortunate. For when you compare the empathy, professionalism and exceptional creativity that results from being able to work in even a semi-permanent ensemble like the one featured on this CD, you see what’s lost when players are forced into pick-up or one/off groups.

Certainly while leader bassist Mark Dresser and his associates are likely unable to turn in a substandard performance, the particular music on these nine cuts is clearly superior to that created in everyday situations. Helping this is that hyperpianist Denman Maroney has been able to interact with the bassist in many band and duo situations over the past decade, while electro-acoustic flautist Matthias Ziegler performs with Dresser in a chamber music setting.

What musicians have lost in congruence, they’ve gained in seasoning however. A flute specialist who plays unique instruments manufactured to his specifications, Ziegler moves between so-called classical music and jazz, having played with percussionist Pierre Favre and pianist George Gruntz as well as being principal flautist with the Zürich Chamber Orchestra and Collegium Novum Zürich. Maroney, who usually prepares his piano with a variety of solid objects, has written music for and played with dance and theatre artists as well as improvisers such as guitarist Hans Tammen.

Dresser, of course, has been one of the most in-demand bassists anywhere, especially after his nine-year tenure in Anthony Braxton’s quartet in the 1980s and 1990s. Since then he has written accompanying music for experimental and silent films, developed the giffus or electro-acoustic microphone for the bass, and played with musicians ranging from saxophonist John Zorn and drummer Andrew Cyrille to composer Bob Ostertag and violinist Laurie Anderson.

That the three bring all their knowledge and training to bear on this date is a given. How they mix and match various styles and conceptions without letting the seams show is even more remarkable. Using the cadences of contra bass flute, reverberating low bass tones or the vigor of struck and stopped piano keys they easily function without a percussionist, made clearest on “Modern Pine”, a swinging, mid-tempo bop ballad honoring drummer Ed Thigpen.

Not that every end product has to reflect the subject, though. “For Bradford”, which is named for cornetist Bobby an early Dresser mentor and Ornette Coleman associate, mixes Ziegler’s reverberating South Indian flute sound with a quasi-walking bass pattern from Dresser and Maroney turning out traditional bop lines with one hand, while plucking the piano strings with the other.

The flautist can transmute to the mainstream as well. On “FLAC” his mid-range comfortable attack resembles the kind of tone certified cool jazzers like Bud Shank and Paul Horn used to produce, with the pianist indulging in some Brubeckian baroque mannerisms until the mallets and rubber blocks appear to make the strings reverberate. Throughout, Dresser uses the bass’s natural percussive qualities to hold down the bottom until the three unite and stop on a dime.

Discerning experimentation is certainly part of the mix. “Sonomatopoeia”, the longest track at nearly 12½ minutes, features the sound of rubber blocks or bottles battering the piano strings, while Ziegler cross-blows his mouthpiece to produce subterranean resonances. You can almost feel the weight of Dresser’s four strings as he produces a repetitive, all encompassing tone that appearing to be buzzing around the other two instruments. Is that why when Maroney turns to the regular keyboard he seems to be playing “The Flight of the Bumble-Bee”? Elsewhere the pianist appears to be trying to get his primacy back on the title tune when his knife-sharp metallic stops and plucks, sounding as if an army of metalloids was attacking full force, threaten to take over the piece.

Showing more focus than on some recent star sideman projects, Dresser, who wrote all but one of the tunes, appears to have created the perfect music and found adroit partners with which to express his vision.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. FLBP 2. Digestivo 3. Threaded/Spin X 4. For Bradford 5. Sonomatopoeia 6. Pulse Field 7. Aquifer 8. FLAC 9. Modern Pine

Personnel: Matthias Ziegler (electro-acoustic soprano flute, alto flute, bass flute, contrabass flute and piccolo); Denman Maroney (hyperpiano); Mark Dresser (bass, giffus)