Mark Dresser needs no introduction. From his work in the ‘80s with the now “classic” Forces in Motion Braxton Quartet to his ‘90s work with Zorn and Threadgill and as part of the Dave Douglas String Project, Dresser seems to be always at the center of what’s happening next. Here are two new trios, new releases on Clean Feed, with Dresser at the heart of them. On “Beautiful Enabler” he is joined by Gerry Hemingway, so we actually get the rhythm section from that great Braxton quartet, but now supporting altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa. They call themselves Mauger, and this is one strong trio, playing without any flash or dazzle, but just laying out some solid post-Free Jazz at the highest level. Mahanthappa has an acrid tone with a bite, but he is never lost in technique. His solos are tonal and attractive throughout. And what a backing duo he has! Normally you would think the spotlights would be on the saxophonist in a trio like this, but Hemingway is truly another melodist, and Dresser of course keeps up the polyphony while walking and strolling the trio along. Complex but clear and emotional, edgy but tonal, always telling a story, this is perhaps as good as post-Free Jazz gets.
“House of Mirros” is entirely different. Dresser may be among the premier Jazz bassists of our time, but here he is backing a pair of trained Classical players involved in Contemporary Music. Ed Harkin is a master of the trumpet, with a clean and elegant sound without any Jazz inflection. The percussionist Steven Schick has of late been recording the lightning wonderful music of Xenakis, so he’s not a timekeeper as much as a colorist. Dresser leads the two of them off into the world of Free improvisation. In the end, Dresser becomes the main melodist of the trio, though the results clearly stay in the “New Music” realm. For me the main interest on “House of Mirrors” is in hearing Dresser work in this context. I have to say, I probably would have liked “House of Mirrors” more if I had not heard the exceptional Mauger trio immediately before. Go find The Beautiful Enabler and give House of Mirrors a listen when you get a chance.
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