August 6, 2016
The Moscow Improvisations
Butch Lacy/Jesper Løvdal/Kresten Osgood/Mark Dresser
ILK Records 237 CD
Simon Nabatov/Mark Dresser/Dominik Mahnig
Leo Records CD LR 745
By Ken Waxman
Putting a lie to the canard that “those who can’t – teach”, bassist Mark Dresser hasn’t let his job in the music faculty at University of California, San Diego stop him from playing and innovating. Like a top-drawer business person who is also devoted to charitable works, Dresser is as likely to be found improvising with his peers as instructing a new generation of musicians. These CDs find the bassist in Europe, displaying the precipitous soloing and substantial rhythmic reinforcement for which he’s been known since he was in Anthony Braxton fabled ‘80s quartet.
The Moscow Improvisations is from a 2009 concert in the Russian capital. A co-op trio with the enigmatic name of Jones-Jones, it includes Bay area tenor and sopranino saxophonist Larry Ochs and Russian percussionist Vladimir Tarasov. More accomplished than ad hoc, the band operates during the five selections as if participating in Soviet-US trade talks during the glasnost era. With many textures literally hard-hitting, as Tarasov smacks his drums with the power and productivity of Alexey Stakhanov, who reputedly set ‘30s USSR coal-mining productivity records, the others’ responses relate to anarchistic freedom not Stalinist rigidity. Ochs’ altissimo reed-biting and crusty asides are taken to the limit on “Perpetuo Mojo Jones”; and evolve via theme variation to sturdy distinctiveness on the concluding “Dialectical Jones”. Meanwhile Dresser’s string augmentation goes through more twists and turns than pre-Second World War Soviet foreign policy. One dazzling display is on the extended “Jones Tolstoyevich Jones” where his cantering string stroking produces a spray of snapping tones by the end.
Those exploratory slaps and strums are put to good use on Equal Poise, where Dresser’s partners are Swiss drummer Dominik Mahnig and Russian-American, pianist Simon Nabatov. Recorded in Cologne’s Loft on the same day as a Dresser-Nabatov duo on Clean Feed, the drummer’s responsive actions extend this CD’s scope. It could hardly be otherwise with Nabatov, a polymath who blends Eastern European romanticism, Teutonic efficiency and Yank ingenuity. From “Full Circles”, the first track, the three explore an oceanic expanse where Oscar Peterson’s power, Pail Bley’s diffidence and Cecil Taylor’s dynamics are ports of call. The pianist bolsters the melody so it become bulkier yet brisker as it evolves; Mahnig’s whispering cymbal strokes prod without pushing; and Dresser’s sharpened accents uniquely bend the theme. With Nabatov able to let lose a kinetic waterfall of notes with the speed of an espresso brewing, the others’ rejoinders are equally caffeinated. “Minor Force”, the most expansive track, finds the bassist coupling his shrill, pulsating but descriptive string shakes to staccato pianism. With Nabatov mining his instrument’s darker regions while simultaneously advancing the theme with tremolo jumps, percussive clunks provide the levee-cresting moment as the piece achieves boundless animation.
Being-Playing is a confab between youth and experience, Americans and Europeans, but it’s a different as Copenhagen is from Cologne. Two of Denmark’s most accomplished younger improvisers, drummer Kresten Osgood and Jesper Løvdal playing alto flute, tenor saxophone and contrabass clarinet, make up the junior contingent. Dresser’s fellow countryman is pianist Butch Lacy, who the bassist knew 35 years ago in San Diego. After performing with the likes of Sarah Vaughan and Art Pepper, Lacy moved to Denmark in 1982, teaching at conservatories and composing for big bands. A preposterous cliché would be to say that the four play as if they’re a working unit. But still, Løvdal’s multifold instrumental skill creates the contingency needed to suture the other two players’ contributions to those of the pianist, who has been playing in a duo with the reedist for a decade. Popping flute lines doubled by thickening bass pumps on “Playing”, for instance, give Lacy space for a subtle swinging interlude with his key strokes cutting through the chunky narrative like a pen knife through parchment. “Lacy Dresser” meshes bass and piano strings to the extent that the pianist’s crinkling, discursive patterning builds up to a modal-styled accompaniment to the bassist’s chromatic progressions, targeted with an archer’s skill. The result: time suspension. “Wizard if Os” is the defining track, as Osgood’s paddling continuum and Lacy’s dense tremolos allow each player to vanish down the rabbit hole of free expression at points, only to reappear like Alice in Wonderland’s white rabbit ready to rush off again. Jarring as the Red Queen’s hectoring, continuous twangs from Dresser that combine banjo and guzheng-like timbres shove each soloist back to a clattering, but connective conclusion. After almost 15 years in academe Dresser hasn’t lost any of his skill or invention. He aptly demonstrates that truism on these discs.
Track Listing: Moscow: Ionization Jones; Perpetuo Mojo Jones; 3. Jones Tolstoyevich Jones; Jonesnost; Dialectical Jones
Personnel: Moscow: Larry Ochs: tenor and sopranino saxophones; Mark Dresser: bass; Vladimir Tarasov: percussion
Track Listing: Equal: Full Circles; Wind Up and Down; Sambar é Bom; Minor Force; Lithe Moves
Personnel: Equal: Simon Nabatov: piano; Mark Dresser: bass; Dominik Mahnig: drums
Track Listing: Being: Wizard of Os; Lacy Dresser; Being; Playing.
Personnel: Being: Personnel: Jesper Løvdal: alto flute; tenor saxophone; contrabass clarinet; Butch Lacy: piano; Mark Dresser; bass; Kresten Osgood: drums
—For The New York City Jazz Record August 2016