Mauger – The Beautiful Enabler (CF 114)
Bob and Ellen Weller – Point of Contact (Circumvention Music)
In the few years since his departure from daily life in New York, bassist Mark Dresser’s activities have been very well documented. Two new discs feature him in trio format, one with East Coast musicians, including longtime partner drummer Gerry Hemingway, and the other with fellow San Diego improvisers.
Mauger is a collective trio comprised of saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, Dresser and Hemingway. Dresser and Hemingway have a 30-year history, having first worked together in the late ’70s and most notably in the quartet Anthony Braxton led from the mid ’80s until the early ’90s, with Marilyn Crispell on piano. In terms of energy level and musicianship, The Beautiful Enabler shares much with that quartet. The most striking characteristic is the players’ ability to make complex music grounded in spontaneity. All three members brought challenging compositions to this project, but the skillfully executed ink also serves as a setup for the stunning pyrotechnics that the trio produce in performance.
The opening track is Hemingway’s “Acuppa” and the lead-in is a melodic bassline around which the rest of the trio wraps fragmented melodic and textural constructs, finally arriving at a robust swing feel for Mahanthappa’s solo. The latter’s explorations into alternate fingerings are the focal point on his piece “Intone,” with some swirling microtonality that sets up the ensuing abstract ensemble interactions. There are characteristics of the Dresser-penned title track that recall contemporary chamber music, with a form that features sections of notated material interspersed between open improvisation. Dresser and Hemingway are experts at integrating total freedom with difficult notated material and this provides a different environment for Mahanthappa’s work, which usually involves compositions that have more structured improvisations. Nonetheless, the trio functions with a profoundly deep level of interaction.
Point of Contact features the husband-and-wife duo of Bob and Ellen Weller, who have operated together in many contexts, often with members of the San Diego-based Trummerflora Collective. With Ellen on a variety of woodwinds and Bob using unlikely string preparations inside the piano, the timbral palette is quite vast throughout the record and the sensitivity of the interaction is meaningful and engaging. The influence of Paul Bley and Jimmy Giuffre is often apparent, with a subdued patience that brings a measured pace, though contrasting tempi and radical shifts in density await around every corner. The tracks that include Dresser expand the sonic and rhythmic spectrum, though the two Wellers do a wonderful job of creating rhythmic drive and textural intrigue on the duo and solo cuts. Ellen’s flute playing is colorful, with unexpected turns and vocalizations on the solo track “Mandlebrot” and the duo with Dresser, “Cassini Huygens”. “Concatenation” is a trio track with a great groove from clarinet and bass and noisy string rumblings and cascading dissonances from the piano. On “Aftermath,” the prepared piano makes for some highly engaging flurries of sound, contrasting with the cool tone of the flute.