The release of the Mark Dresser Seven’s “Sedimental You” (Clean Feed) at the very least serves to remind us of how the more worthwhile musicians are often not those who enjoy the highest profiles. While Dresser’s CV reads like a list of associations with leaders who’re putting out truly creative music as opposed, say, to jumping through technical hoops and displaying all the empty bravado that implies, his profile, like that of musicians throughout the history of creative improvised music whose names don’t appear prominently on covers or bills, is low. In that respect, as a bass player he might be something of a 21st century Paul Chambers, but as is so often the case with comparisons the cause of neither party is greatly helped by it. In his ubiquity, perhaps, Dresser has led many listeners to take him for granted. To do so is wrong, as this program emphasises in no small measure.
Superficially the instrumentation of flutes, clarinets, trombone, violin, piano, bass and drums is a conventional frontline / rhythm section split, but the characters of both the instrumentalists and the compositions undermine convention. In the first instance the likes of Marty Ehrlich (on clarinet and bass clarinet exclusively here) have been around for decades in the service of that creative improvised music the diehards cherish, and his ubiquity in turn might also have led some listeners to take him for granted, yet he still has the sounds of surprise at his fingertips, as he proves on the skittish title track which fiendishly ‘abstracts’ the venerable standard “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You”, and is an affair of tonal variety and colours at the expense of individual egos.
US political developments in the latter half of 2016 have cast “TrumpinPutinStoopin” in a different, less wholesome light, but still the music prevails. Dresser describes the piece as a ‘pas il Duce’ as opposed to a ‘pas de deux’, which is probably a reference far too subtle for the incoming President to pick up on or even understand (Benito who? Wasn’t he the guy who made the trains run on time?) but the neo-expressionist bluster of the music captures an essence not that far removed from what passes for his character.
Trombonist Roswell Rudd, a musician of such character that it’s obvious in everything he plays, rightly earns a dedication in the form of “Will Well” where time seems to stand still. Flautist Nicole Mitchell and violinist David Morales Boroff ratchet up the colours and drummer Jim Black puts out the seldom heard thing which is a restrained backbeat. The music’s austere beauty, which might just as easily be summarised as beautiful austerity, is rarely heard these days, which arguably tells us something of how nuance isn’t as common as it used to be.
As it is, those who are still dedicated to seeking out the less-than-obvious have the likes of this program to sustain them. Rarity’s lustre grows accordingly, and this music passes the repeat listening test with aplomb, yielding previously overlooked subtleties with every hearing.