Touching Extremes review by Massimo Ricci


Mark Dresser/ Ed Harkins / Steven Schick – House of mirrors (CF 117)
The pedagogical book of rhythms written by new music-trained trumpeter Ed Harkins is the starting point for what’s found in “House of mirrors”, a venture started in 1999 with a long-distance exchange between himself and Mark Dresser, a musician who – not satisfied with having reinvented the lexicon of the double bass time and again – here plays one enhanced by a “surrealist pick-up system” designed by Kent McLagan, which allows him to highlight the sweet and sour spots of an instrument that, for its very nature, is frequently comparable to a bear that must be tamed with both sweetness and heavy manners. Initially the pair worked separately on the material, generated by the bassist’s attribution of pitches to the rhythmic specimens; but when Dresser joined Harkins in 2004 at the University of California in San Diego they were able to push the limits of their research even further by including percussionist Steven Schick (of Bang On A Can All-Stars renown), thus concocting a matchless blend of improvisation and structured exploration of angular melodic matter adding up as a remedy against the depressing feel of insincere irrelevance typical of many projects fusing jazz and contemporary idioms. Indeed the metrical designs upon which these scores were assembled are something to regard highly: forget about regular cadences or, heaven forbid, swing and prepare the ears to the continuous alterations of an unstable molecularity, despite the warm tone of the trumpets (whose array comprises piccolo, reed, 2-bell, slide and modular versions, plus a mellophone), representing a reassuring presence of sorts amidst curious circumstances and sudden disappearances. Music that does possess an involuntary sense of dry humour, alternating mathematical precision and an apparently illogical convertibility to peculiar kinds of relaxed moods, the whole immersed in first-rate methodological mastery.

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