Shi Jing 9 a.m., Feb. 22
Michael Dessen Trio: Resonating Abstractions @ Space4Art
Unveiling a new, seven-part suite, trombone virtuoso Dessen led his ace trio into a remarkable ebb and flow of organic intensity.
A less than voluminous audience gathered at Space4Art last night for the Michael Dessen Trio, perhaps because of competing options--who knows? It brought to mind George Foreman's observation that the problem with jazz is, "The better it gets, the less people like it."
No matter. Those who did attend were treated to one of the finest examples of improvised music as an organic, fluid art form.
Dessen began his seven-part suite Resonating Abstractions a cappella, pursing plaintive cries with a golden, centered timbre as bassist Christopher Tordini rumbled deceptively simple lines and drummer Dan Weiss built a wall of ricocheted accents to grow a wave of tension that suddenly subsided into a still pool of calm. As the trombonist navigated between moments of aggressive ascension marked by wide glissandi and turgid low tones, Weiss produced a constant, skittering dialog of sticks clicking on the edge of his kit and even the music stand. All activity ceased as Tordini began a languid solo that maximized the sonic beauty of his instrument with pregnant double-stops, open string pulls and creaking nuance.
Dessen returned in near silence to wind contours around the short, thematic fragments of the bass until they both slipped into a melodic unison as Weiss began a series of opposition dynamics with asymmetric bursts--drawing the trombonist into a cycle of braying, stuttering and profane gurgling before turning the moment back to the drums--setting the horn aside and conjuring a cloud of undulating electronic sounds over Weiss' ghostly malleted cymbals. Slowly, the drummer surfaced with an inexorable groove crafted from hands-on-toms and whispered hi-hats that led into a loping bass display that kicked off a new section.
All three jumped on an odd-metered anthem with kaleidoscopic drumming, bone/bass unisons floating over shimmering cymbals that flashed across the soundstage like sunlight through a spinning prism. Tordini emerged, alone, to unravel short "A Love Supreme," type lines one layer at a time with raw pizzicato and rattling strings that reminded me of Charlie Haden. Dessen joined with angry discourse and wild timbre manipulations as the three musicians engaged in independent soliloquies that only tangentially connected.
Suddenly there was a dovetailed conjunction of fragmented, nervous squall, made all the more dramatic by Dessen's squealing, sputtering lap-top electronics which toggled between extreme violence and Prozac sighs. Weiss began a delicate choreograph of flowing arms with brushes kissing the drums as Tordini entered with rubbery glissandi.
The sense of ebb and flow was nothing short of astonishing as each moment of caterwaul eked into episodes of loaded silence. Particularly noteworthy was the total submission, and submersion of each player to the music as an organic being.
As one final scene of struggle coalesced, Weiss got as agitated as Sunny Murray, then as quiet as Paul Motian when Dessen cued a gorgeous thematic retreat where volume and intensity crystalized into a glorious send-off.
Beautiful and disturbing, intelligent and visceral, Dessen's title, Resonating Abstractions couldn't have been more appropriate. Three virtuosos mapping a vivid sonic adventure into realms that only art can ascend.
Kudos to Bonnie Wright and her Fresh Sound series for daring to make it all possible.
Photo by Bonnie Wright