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Pictured: Improvisers Summit by TOM HARTEN

Last night, a Chuck Perrin/ Dizzy's production held in The Back Room at 98 Bottles, featured a spectacular performance by four masters in the field of free improvising--under the aegis of the Improvisers Summit.

This experience exceeded even the lofty expectations I had held since learning of the booking several months ago.

Drummer Gerry Hemingway has been at the forefront of the avant-garde for more than 30 years, as has the contrabass virtuoso Mark Dresser. Between them, they have played with virtually everyone in the milieu--including ten galvanizing years as the rhythm section for the legendary Anthony Braxton Quartet.

Trombonist Michael Dessen lived in San Diego for several years, where he co-founded the incendiary free-jazz co-op, Cosmologic with tenor saxophonist Jason Robinson, bassist Scott Walton and drummer Nathan Hubbard. Since then, he has moved north where he teaches at UC Irvine, and has recorded severally critically acclaimed trio discs for the CleanFeed record label.

Completing the quartet is the considerably younger ( he'll be 27 in August), indescribably talented pianist Joshua White, who proved with this performance, that he is ready to play with anyone. I've had the great fortune of being able to witness multiple live shows by Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, and Cecil Taylor, and I can assure you, Mr. White is a singular talent who is as capable of dazzling pyrotechnics, fearsome rhythmic directives and jaw-dropping lyricism as those mentioned.

Sunday's concert consisted of two sets comprised of one hour-long group improvisations each.


Mark Dresser, Michael Dessen by Michael Klayman

First Set

Hemingway began by rattling over the kit with brushes in a quiet display of rhythmic hyperactivity--answered by White's nervous, jangling clusters. Dresser set up a two-note motif that he pulled, slapped and choked while Dessen's warbling trombone drew him into a freaky exchange of eerie overtones that spun orbits around each other.

One of the most salient, and admirable aspects of this performance was the absolute adherence to dynamics exhibited by everyone involved. You have to be really listening to each other to pull that off. Both Hemingway and White would often lay out for considerable stretches--letting the music dictate when to reappear. White did just that when he injected a purely lyrical passage before abstracting it into mad energy then just as quickly leading the group into near silence.

There were very few instances of solos in the traditional sense--it kind of reminded me of the original Weather Report ethos of: "either we all solo, or no one does".

There were many episodes and moods created in the moment, and the volume, intensity, tempos and themes washed over each other like waves against the shore. Dresser had several moments in which he revealed some of his astonishing extended-techniques, like two-handed tapping and double glissandi--which totally defy the expectations of what the bass is capable of. Hemingway began one spot with tiny, super quiet gestures that grew in volume until his single stroke rolls and snare drum explosions ricocheted around the room like Sunny Murray on steroids.

Mostly, it was four independent, equal voices carrying out the most fascinating sonic conversation you've ever heard. One that ebbed and flowed --directed by the constant introduction of new rhythms, ideas, subjects and topics.

Occasionally, Dresser would introduce a blues-laced ostinato that would jolt the four into a wild, gut-bucket scenario in which Dessen would slay with his obscene chortling, rippling glissandi and plunger-mute distortions before White leapt in with stuttering left-hand clusters supporting manic trilling and racing scales.


Gerry Hemingway by TOM HARTEN

Second Set

It started with Dresser, in another one of his bluesy ostinati, punctuated by violent "thwacks" that would jerk your head back. Dessen went though virtually everything the trombone is capable of--and a lot that it isn't, too. Hemingway ratcheted up the tension with gun-shot snare drum chatter and pointed rolls on the tom-toms while tattooing wicked portraits on the ride cymbal.

Dresser's muscled alacrity and incredible timbre manipulations riveted the attention then White took over with rhythmically charged, serpentine lines. Suddenly, Dresser intimated a "walking" bass line, and the entire mood shifted into a wild melee of New Orleans meets Saturn second-line partying before the scene shifted once again into a pianissimo hush between White's tinkling ruminations and Hemingway's swirling brushes.

The effect of all of this was so magical, that in those quiet moments--even the sound of airplanes descending directly overhead seemed to be a part of the music--rather than an obtrusive interruption.

There were waves of intense caterwaul, where Dresser's arco took on the nature of mythical beasts and Dessen's braying conjured images of tortured donkeys--followed by near silences in which micro-gestures were exchanged and digested.

There was a cinematic, dream-like quality to it all, and when it was over-- a sure sense of the magical possibilities of human invention.

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