MARK DRESSER/DENMAN MARONEY

Time Changes
Cryptogramophone CG 124

Digression on a theme, TIME CHANGES finds bassist Mark Dresser and Denman Maroney amending the voicing they’ve developed over the years to encompass other sounds.

Utilizing the unique textures available from Dresser’s mastery of extended techniques and the timbres from Maroney’s hyperpiano – a regular piano’s strings and soundboard “prepared” with all sorts of gizmos – they make space for understated percussionist Michael Sarin and mezzo soprano Alexandra Montano. Involved with performing contemporary works by Philip Glass and Meredith Monk among others, the New York-based mezzo, functions here as another instrumentalist. Experienced in musicals and operas, she adopts her tessitura to the demands of wordless vocalizing.

Absorbing most of the time, the CD’s only drawback – like too many recent sessions – is its length. A couple of the 11 pieces could have been shaved from the almost 68½-minute disc without losing compositional and improvisational senses.

As fastidious as a scientist, Maroney uses his collection of bars, bowls, bells knives, mallets, rubber blocks and bottles of various kinds to create polyphony and polyrhythms. Frequently he sounds both expected timbres by accenting the keys and harsh, complementary partials by stopping the counter-wound bass strings and unwound treble strings at certain predetermined nodes.

Two instances of this are his own “Harkemony” and the instant composition “Heap”. On the former, a schematic semi-blues, tool placement and pressure allow him to extend the primary note and its coarse vibrations. Sometimes it appears as if the entire instrument is made of metal and steel, not wood. On the later his plucking and sliding on multiple strings functions in double counterpoint with the spiccato attack from Dresser’s bass. At points you could swear that the bassist was manipulating a bottleneck on the strings of a National steel guitar, while Sarin –whose rhythmic skills have given him tenure with pianist Myra Melford and saxman Tony Malaby – uses rim shots and side slaps plus a panoply of unselected cymbal intonations to balance the other two’s output.

Isolated cymbal pressure and what sound like cymbals reverberating the nodes of the piano innards give the almost 10½-minute “One Plate” its distinctive shape. Following a jazz-like press roll from Sarin, Dresser’s unvarying ostinato provides the bottom for the tune, Maroney integrates his timbres to first excite the stopped actions to coarsen the action, then, surprisingly, shifts to near-bop syncopation built on descending right hand patterning. Bringing extra percussion into play to complicate the tempo, the drummer joins with Dresser’s walking bass to accompany the pianist’s Monkish key clipping. As Dresser bounds between fleet, slurred fingering and stentorian double stopping, Maroney varies his pitch and pattern. Tremolo variations on the theme slither among the dense bass and drum work, until the pianist concentrates his dynamics into a defining crescendo.

Pleasant-voiced, Montano’s agile warbling adds lissome coloration to four of the tracks. Soaring and lyrical, her scat syllable mouthing is a bit stiff. Because of this, on pieces like “Double You”, the other three bring a languid formalism to their playing. Bel canto vocalism seems to suggest emulating Bill Evans trio’s time sense.

Elsewhere though, her sympathetic lyrical quality allows Montano to subvert her pure textures to meld with spiccato sawing from Dresser’s bull fiddle and pumping node modulation from Maroney. “M.C.”, written by the pianist, has her metamorphose from a pseudo-Swingle Singer jive tempo at the top to a Latinesque line that eventually has her scatting and soaring along with rim shots from Sarin and tremolo licks from the composer.

Something different, those familiar with Maroney and Dresser – or dare one suggest it, adventurous so-called serious music vocal fans – will find much to admire here.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Aperitivo* 2. Pulse Field 3. Heap 4. M.C* 5. One Plate 6. Double You* 7. Harkemony 8. Lateral Mass 9. Kilter 10. Between 17th and Bliss* 11. Ekoneni

Personnel: Denman Maroney (hyperpiano); Mark Dresser (bass); Michael Sarin (drums and percussion); Alexandra Montano (vocals)