Matthew Lickona 8:30 a.m., Oct. 20
Mark Dresser's night at the museum, volume 1
Leading a string-heavy quartet, the bassist dazzled a packed house.
There are some nights when the music is just so good, it defies description. When contrabass virtuoso Mark Dresser opened his 3 night residency at the San Diego Museum of Art with NYC pianist Denman Maroney, drummer Kjell Nordeson and wunderkind violinist David Boroff on August 15, a packed house drank in two sets of cutting edge music that soared into a higher dimension.
From the moment the concert began with Maroney reaching inside the piano to activate banks of undulating sonic fog -- soon answered by eerie ponticello bowing from Dresser and Boroff, and a series of muffled, soft-mallet explosions from Nordeson -- an otherworldly atmosphere enveloped the soundstage. Maroney's "prepared" piano conjured the short-attack characteristics of a steel drum one moment, and a cosmic banjo the next, while Nordeson chose his points of entry judiciously, maximizing their effect by what he left out as much as what he inserted. The piece turned out to be one of Dresser's "chestnuts" from an earlier era, "FLBP," and one hell of an auspicious beginning.
A brand new composition followed, "Harold's Birthday," is a dedication to his father and it opened with the bassist striking odd-interval double stops before locking into a majestic melodic unison with Boroff, who's solo lunged and lurched over the constantly shifting meters with a wicked gypsy vibrato. How good is this kid? I tried to imagine how Leroy Jenkins, Billy Bang, Jean Luc Ponty or Michel Sampson would have fared in this context at the age of 18, and I believe this young man is a singular talent. Maroney followed, mostly in a conventional piano mode, balancing melodic invention with repetition and dissonance in masterly fashion.
"Gartmans," was next, introduced a cappella by Dresser, who loaded his sonic canvas with manipulated overtones, split-tone pizzicato and windmill assaults before leading the band with a mournful, staggered ostinato. Nordeson made indelible contributions with the smallest of gestures --intricate cymbal washes, rimshot soliloquy's and incessant clicks on "little-instruments", including the tiniest set of bongos I've ever seen. There was an incredible group interplay that reminded me of a gypsy ensemble from the Planet Ornette, then the bassist exploded with arco textures bold and orchestral as Boroff wound sympathetic structures for a wall of stringed sound.
Maroney's simpatico with Dresser was highlighted on "Aperitivo," where his dazzling keyboard work showed how well he dances Dresser's dance, setting up a bass solo that attacked the strings with a brutality not often seen outside of prison movies.
"Ediface," was a feature for everyone, from the leader's strummed triple-stops to an a cappella violin spot that made me think of Jerry Goodman doing Bartok, a Maroney feature that sounded like a haunted player piano and an all-out assault from Nordeson. From there, the group launched into a melody more inventive than organized religion before plunging into dense thickets of chromatic harmony over juggled, jangled and juxtaposed rhythms.
Maroney's long, "slide-piano" introduction to "Parawaltz," evoked the sounds of wolves howling in the lonely expanse of nature while Dresser's solo was heartbreaking and directly connected to an emotional center of universal human implications.
Closing with the elastic lament of "Modern Pine," each phrase dripped content from the gutbucket as Maroney swung mightily over a walking, stumbling and jogging bass that morphed into a solo of Mingus-like surety.
Dresser's next concert will feature six contrabassists!.
Photo by Barbara Wise