By Derek Taylor
Bassist/composer Mark Dresser does something strangely uncommon in the presentation of his new Clean Feed effort Sedimental You. Rather than leave specific processes and intent up to the conjecture of listeners he includes an essay with edifying annotations detailing the same for each of the seven original compositions. It’s a practice that all too many musicians farm out or avoid entirely and in the case of a project as rich and varied with compositional worth as this one it’s an instant boon. Dresser’s chosen crew is another clue to the quality of the proceedings, a septet garrisoned with colleagues old and relatively nascent with drummer Jim Black and reedist Marty Ehrlich filling the former column and the latter occupied by flautist Nicole Mitchell, violinist David Morales Boroff, trombonist Michael Dessen and pianist Joshua White.
Dresser’s program brings a sense of wry humor to topical content that could easily be considered tragic when viewed from a different lens. It’s a “laughin’ to keep from cryin’” response translated into musical terms although one also tempered with a progressive’s indignation and aggressive call to action. Dresser explains the album title as a nod to the stratified nature of his compositions, which seek to effectively stack advanced tactics like microtonality and spectral harmonics in equilibrium with conventional components like melody, rhythm and counterpoint. “Hobby Lobby Horse” puts the strategy into thrilling practice with a staggered and swirling metric structure serving as the connecting plaster for a revolving succession of staccato solos. Dresser’s bass booms from the center as a malleable fulcrum.
For the title piece, composer joins White, Dessen and Black in another febrile string of improvised statements with an atomized interpolation of “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” working as a refractory starting point. “TrumpinPutinStoopin” is another titular riff on the current political reality with Dessen leading the charge to a cartoonish theme with fascistic overtones. Once again Dresser’s instrument officiates from a positioning that pervades without dominating his colleagues, a lesson lost in perpetuity on the piece’s narcissistic dedicatees. “Will Well” and “I Can Smell You Listening” each carry dedications of a far more salutatory sort, the first referencing trombonist Roswell Rudd and the second scripted in honor of deceased singer Alexandra Montano. The orchestrations for each are intricate as they are involving.
“Newtown Char” returns the set to somber topicality with a meditation on the new and unconscionable normal that is school shootings. Ehrlich’s bass clarinet advances the piece through an unaccompanied preface aching with both beauty and acrobatically-evinced anger. The bowed strings and piano arrive in an uneasy choir of layered voices with the rest of the ensemble eventually joining in a collective dirge and onward to a groove grounded on Black’s bedrock back beat. Dresser closes the disc with “Two Handfuls of Peace”, another dedication to a departed friend. The emotional undercurrents of the music may run toward the dark and disaffected, but Dresser is careful to temper his righteous indignation with strong doses of compositional clarity and even humor. Rather than rage inchoately against the ever-encroaching actions of the dehumanizing machine, he and his colleagues register their shared chagrin through a mouthpiece built from intellect and artistry.