Label: Clean Feed, 2019
Personnel - Marty Ehrlich: alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Nicole Mitchell: flutes; Michael Dessen: trombone; Keir GoGwilt: violin; Joshua White: piano; Mark Dresser: bass; Jim Black: drums.
American bassist Mark Dresser reunites his magnificent Seven for a second album. Ain’t Nothing But a Cyber Coup & You is a showcase for musical expressivity, relevant messages, and sincere dedications. The original members were kept in their positions - Nicole Mitchell on flutes, Marty Ehrlich on alto sax and clarinets, Michael Dessen on trombone, Joshua White on piano, and Jim Black on drums - with the exception of violinist David Morales Boroff, who was replaced with Keir GoGwilt.
The album opens and closes with dedications to departed musicians who bumped into Dresser at some point of his career, leaving some positive impact. “Black Arthur’s Bounce” was written for saxophonist Arthur Blythe and its motion is set forward through Black’s funky beat and Dresser’s pedal. Joyful unisons lead to trombone-saxophone reciprocity, and the rhythmic flux is interrupted. The bassist’s slides and tone-perfect pizzicato provoke reactions: violin interjections, piano subversions, and horn remarks. The theme statement returns and how enchanting these lines sound! The solos succeed one another, filled with ‘outside’ risk and sublime rhythmic thrust. Ehrlich, who had also played with Blythe in the past, was particularly stunning, showing his true colors on the alto saxophone, an instrument he didn't return to.
The other tribute is for Sarah Vaughn’s former pianist, Butch Lacy. “Butch’s Balm” was half composed after his decease and it's an antithesis of the opening tune in terms of mood. Melancholy-tinged, the piece bears mournful piano voicings and ripples of percussion that stain the canvas with subtle granular textures. Bowed bass, wafting violin, and flute wails reinforce pathos as they join the lament.
Defined by its composer as ‘a kind of parametric waltz’, “Gloaming” is also very profound, meditative, and sentimentally strong. Violin melodies soaring on top of a two-voice bass line produce a beautiful effect and the texture gets richer with the additional instrumentation. Everything glows with meaning, hope, and serenity. Awe-inspiring!
The main compositions are intercalated with short solo bass demonstrations executed with the McLagan Tines, a bass adaptation with an odd sound, a signature of luthier/musician/engineer Kent McLagan.
“Let Them Eat Paper Towels” is indeed a great title derived from a response from the Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman to president Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Dresser’s melodies are obliquely connoted to Puerto Rico’s unofficial national anthem, in a throbbing, percussion-soaked salutation that intermingles folk and jazz with both tension and lyricism. The group puts forward a sort of indigenous dance in the final section with Mitchell taking her wild flute to a state of euphoria.
“Embodied in Seoul” and the title track denote opposite temperaments. Whereas the former is more abstract, presenting some ominous chamber vibes in a hybrid configuration of classical and avant-jazz, the latter feels both sportive and elastic through a clever combination of electro-rock rhythms, a jazz standard structure, burlesque-like melody, swing scintilla, and avant-garde impertinence.
Dresser’s music transcends any hint of convention and this delightful work comes filled with moments of gaiety and profundity, where everything emerges in full color.
01 - Black Arthur’s Bounce ► 03 - Gloaming ► 11 - Butch’s Balm