The Beautiful Enabler
Clean Feed CF 114 CD

Somewhat of a departure for bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Gerry Hemingway, this co-op band with alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa features probably some of the most straight-ahead playing they’ve recorded since before they teamed up as the rhythm section of the well-regarded Anthony Braxton Quartet in the mid-1980s.

One could suggest that the presence of Mahanthappa, whose past work with bands lead by bassist Hubert Dupont or pianist Vijay Iyer has been more oriented towards the contemporary mainstream players created this situation. But one shouldn’t forget that Hemingway has done his share of straight-ahead work with the likes of pianists Fred Hersch and Michel Wintsch among others, as has Dresser. Gigs in drummer Greg Bendian’s bands, work with flautist Jane Ira Bloom and other less-than-experimental gigs are part of the bassist’s c.v.

Paradoxically as well here, Mahanthappa’s own composition “I’ll See You When I Get There,” brings out some of the most non-traditional phrasing from all three men, including quick-tongued, fluttering lines from the saxophonist. Taking the CD as a whole, the suggestion is that it has been released in the sequence in which the tunes were recorded. Listening to it this way, it appears that the three loosened up and began experimenting during the session as their confidence in one another’s interactive abilities grew. Thus by the time Hemingway’s “Meddle Music” comes around at the end of the program, you find that expectations set up by the foot-tapping rhythm and tonality of “Acuppa” that begins the disc, are realized without the program slipping into rote sameness.

“I’ll See You When I Get There,” for instance sets off Dresser’s scraped and striated string intonation against descending note clusters which characterize the saxophonist’s solo. As lower-pitched harmonics from the bass join with Hemingway’s pops and rolls, Mahanthappa augments his pitches upwards into multiphonics. Soon accented and emphasized note flurries are unleashes, with the reed interlude given additional resonance from Dresser’s broken-octave arco lines and the drummer’s hectic bonding beats.

Additionally if the initial trio interface sounds as if the three are ready to slip into “Bag’s Groove”, conventional grooves are stretched than dispensed with entirely by the time the tile track and “Meddle Music” come around. Mahanthappa’s exposed intervals are particularly wide on the former composition as reed cries meet Dresser’s brushed string stops which amplify as well as accompany. Angling his runs only slightly away from the melody, the saxophonist’s note clusters swell to super-sized at the climax, foreshadowing bravura techniques on the subsequent tune.

Each man operates at the height of his powers during the CD’s final tune. Dresser with wide-ranging sweeps and stropping stops; Hemingway with pounding back beats and cradled reflective tones; and Mahanthappa with flutter-tonguing, foreshortened breaths and expanded smears. Not only is his output spiky, but his unexpected texture liberation confirms a push towards the unconventional.

A CD that marks disparate players’ output gelling into a group sound, The Beautiful Enabler’s climatic re-ordering of the trio’s musical priorities, indicates that a more memorable outing could be in the offing.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Acuppa 2. Bearings 3. Flac 4. Intone 5. The Beautiful Enabler 6. I’ll See You When I Get There 7. Meddle Music

Personnel: Rudresh Mahanthappa (alto saxophone); Mark Dresser (bass) and Gerry Hemingway (drums)