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Last night, pianist Diane Moser and contrabassist Mark Dresser created together an astonishing series of duets in The Back Room at 98 Bottles.

There are few musical associations more intimate than the duo format. Especially when improvising is given a high priority, the amount of listening required to absorb your partner's intention, and respond, in real time is all consuming.

Dresser and Moser have a deep connection that dates back to the '70s--each is a superb musician with their own personal languages brought to the table, or in this case, perhaps altar is a more apt description--given the spiritual dynamic that seemed to be in play.

Opening with Moser's "Dancing With Sparrow," tinkling pastel piano harmonies and rhapsodic flourishes were offset by piquant bass lines that sang an independent course in the largely improvised rubato introduction. Upon arriving at the body of the tune, a distinctly Native American vibe was established, supported by Dresser's strong ostinato that cycled with a thunderous "thwack" as punctuation.

The bassist transitioned into his own composition, "Star- Melodics," with a pensive arco solo, which he altered to respond to the sound of jets landing overhead with microtonal double-stopped glissandi--eventually drawing down into quiet, mournful tremolos and the eerie sighs of ponticello bowing. Moser followed with rich clouds of luxuriant harmony bisected with the bassist's "worried", grainy, vibrato. At times the duo got so quiet, the air-conditioning unit ( which at times made the group a trio) sounded like waves of an angry ocean. The communication between the two never faltered, however--somehow, they integrated all of the distractions as sound-elements in the performance. Dresser's synthesis ballad, "Yeller Grace," an amalgam of "Yellow Rose of Texas" fused with "Amazing Grace," was next--and totally serious, despite the humor implied in the disparate pairing. Bass and piano courted the notion of beauty for its own sake--and I totally bought into it. Dresser's solo seemed to aim at squeezing the truth out of individual notes and phrases--and Moser set it all up with gloriously paced, rich, harmonies.

The stop/start nervous energy of the pianist's "If You Call Me, Then I'll Call You," featured Moser getting all fractured and jangling, while Dresser answered with meaty walking lines that occasionally skipped and stumbled, as well as a marvelous capacity to echo and mirror an improvised phrase at the speed of neurons firing. There were moments of Cecil Taylor-esque cacophony followed by the delicate hushes of extreme pianissimo dialog.

Moser's "Hello," featured flowing lyricism countered by the bassist's frequently audacious selection of notes and motifs. When it settled into a dark vamp, a sense of mystery became pervasive-- the pianist launched trills and rolling arpeggios into motion--drawing from a deep, spiritual well.

Dresser's tribute to the pianist, "Big Mama Heart," bounced off the floor with an irresistible rhythmic idea and killer, unison "hits". Moser set off agitated clusters and stair-stepped stabs of keyboard harmony that all connected, somehow, to the blues, while Dresser's sweeping left hand assaults on his strings made the lack of a drummer seem meaningless.

Closing with the bassist's joyous extrapolation of Zimbabwean market culture, "Ekoneni," brought the celebrative aspect of this sublime collaboration to a fitting conclusion. The audience couldn't help but rise to their feet in appreciation.

Photo by Jamie Shadowlight

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