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Walter Mencken noon, Oct. 18
Contrabass master Mark Dresser was the featured artist for the opening night of the soundON Festival, at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, produced in tandem with the San Diego New Music organization.
Joining Dresser were the San Diego New Music's ensemble-in-residence NOISE, consisting of pianist Christopher Adler, flutist Lisa Cella, cellist Franklin Cox, guitarist Colin McAllister, violinist Mark Menzies, with special guests Robert Zelickman on clarinets, and Justin DeHart on percussion.
Also on hand were two of the composers on the program: Evan Johnson and Judd Greenstein.
A quartet featuring Dresser, Cella, Zelickman and DeHart opened the evening with the wonderfully intense "Song & Dance," by Frederick Rzewski. Dresser's double -stops roamed the fingerboard while flute and bass clarinet wove layered melodies over the bell-like clangs of the vibraphone. The piece was broken into several sections--which all seemed to be introduced by a new Dresser ostinato. Each member got a unaccompanied solo, and they all shined--individually and as a unit.
Sometimes, there were four independent melodies going on at once--making the moments of unison even more dramatic. Lots of stop and start motion and very involved themes. This was a winner, all the way.
Menzies solo violin feature, "Clutch," by Evan Johnson, consisted of some furious, scratchy bowing, followed by an almost inaudible arco episode.
Johnson's "Quintet, camera lucida," featured Dresser, McAllister, Menzies, Cox and DeHart deliberately embracing atonality with de-tuned instruments, (the guitarist never fretted a note--concentrating on machine-head manipulations) and quiet groans, eerie ponticello stroking.
Dresser returned alone for the first of his three solo spots, "Multiplicity, MAD," an adventure in pizzicato bi-tonal tapping, wherein your visual information ends up at odds with what you hear. As each hand hammered-on in opposing directions--what should have sounded lower, registered higher--and vice versa.
The bassist's "K-Tude," was all about bowed harmonics--sometimes dramatized by his rocking back and forth on the volume pedal for tremolo effects--at any rate the range of gorgeous sounds produced was astonishing.
"Yellow Fog," by Erik Griswold, was a challenging, episodic piece that drifted in and out of tonality--getting denser and more tension-filled as it progressed. Cello and clarinet wove intricate lines that orbited, echoed, and ultimately opposed each other. Challenging--but satisfying in a hard to define way.
Dresser finished his solo features with "Bacachaonne," a fusion of Bach's harmonies with some of the stylistic innovations of the great Cuban bassist Israel "Cachao" Lopez. This one was a total tour-de-force, with fat double-stops, two-handed tapping, croaking amplified overtones and a vaguely flamenco undercurrent.
"Ausschnitte," by Johnson, was cast in three short sections, each of which began with Adler's rich piano musings, which decayed slowly while sliding string harmonics and pad-popping bass clarinet snippets decayed along with it.
Finally, "Change," by Judd Greenstein closed the concert. An extremely complex piece with many moods and episodes, "Change" was filled with a joyous stream of melodies that were assigned, split-up and tossed around between Adler's piano, Cella's flute, Zelickman's clarinet, McAllister's electric guitar, and Dresser's bass. There were glorious unison passages over static harmonies and effective use of dynamics.
Very impressive close to a very creative evening.
Photo of Mark Dresser by Peter Gannushkin