By Ken Waxman
Refining his compositional and improvising dexterity with a series of affectionate or acerbic compositions is veteran bassist Mark Dresser, whose adept septet is able to being out every nuance of Dresser’s creations. Furthermore the 11 accomplished creations confirm that his years as music professor at University of California, San Diego haven’t blunted the talent that initially made him a valuable contributor to notable projects of Anthony Braxton and John Zorn.
Consisting of mostly West Coast and academic associates, the ensemble is nearly faultless in performance as well. Its’ make up encompasses established improvisers like clarinetist/saxophonist Marty Ehrlich, flutist Nicole Mitchell and percussionist Jim Black as well as slightly younger stylists such as trombonist Michael Dessen, violinist Keir GoGwilt and pianist Joshua White. Other uncommon features of Ain’t Nothing But a Cyber Coup & You are six brief intermezzos played unaccompanied by Dresser on McLagan Tines, seven graduated steel rods with articulations midway between double bass resonation and metallic whistling.
The CD gets off to a rousing start with “Black Arthur’s Bounce”, a celebratory memorial to the distinctive lope of the late saxophonist Black Arthur Blythe. Prodded by slap bass notes and contrapuntal trombone plunger tones, trembling flute fills and piano glissandi serve as Greek chorus to the expressive, slinky theme and multiple variations on it from Ehrlich’s alto saxophone. While the piece presages the unforced swinging motion that characterize most of the disc, Dresser’s other threnody for a deceased musician-friend, pianist Butch Lacy (the concluding “Butch’s Balm”) is practically its converse. With harmonized horns and strings creating a cortège-like, semi-classical motif, violin angles and flute variables express the sad and sweet emotions related to Lacy.
Despite this outlier, most of the session’s weightier compositions reflect a jaundiced take on contemporary American politics. The title tune sneaks wisps of Jazz and Pop standards into a speedy sequence that uses almost player piano clips and cascades, near-Ragtime clarinet trills and drum pitter-patter to fluidly mock the moral and literal corruption of the Trump administration. More of the same, “Let Them Eat Paper Towels”, is a replication in sound of the US’s 45th president’s thoughtless lobbing paper products to Puerto Rican victims of Hurricane Maria. Slightly col legno and with a Latinesquer cast, Dresser’s downward string strains here reflect the locals’ frustration while musically abstracting a local anthem. Meanwhile the clarinet and violin peeps which begin the piece give way to a Jazz-like motif where drum claps, trombone and flute echoes and clarinet flutters are countered by tight sul tasto sweeps from the bassist that lead the other instruments to a properly bellicose response to the incident.
Although informed by memorials to fallen comrades and the circus of an unstable American government, this date confirms that high-quality art can be inspired by life drawbacks such as these. Plus it confirms Dresser’s continued skills as a player, bandleader and composer.