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Mark Dresser's final concert at the San Diego Museum of Art on August 29, was an ambitious and virtuosic affair -- combining the musical talents of Nicole Mitchell's flute, Myra Melford's piano, Michael Dessen's trombone, the leader's sonically expansive contrabass with graphic scores, paintings, photographs and audience guesswork.

"Canales Rose," unfolded slowly, first as a duo between the tinkling keys of Melford and Dresser's moaning arco; Mitchell joined on alto flute, with rich timbre and fluid ideas then Dessen completed the circle of introductory statements with plaintive sighs. Longer solos emerged, first with Melford's ecstatic lyricism, Mitchell's soaring, swooping, vocalized contours, Dessen's elastic curvatures and Dresser's rumbling, raking and double-glissandi.

Using a painting by Don Reich as a graphic score the next piece swirled in complex layers as Melford manipulated stacks of alnico magnets attached to the strings of her piano for resonant textures over the ponticello bowing of Dresser, the ghostly overtones of Mitchell and Dessen's chortling trombone. The audience was then shown four different paintings and invited to guess which one served as the inspiration.

A similar strategy followed, this time the group used one of Moses Hacmon's ethereal water photographs as source material for the short improvisation that found Melford activating something that reminded me of locust swarms while Dresser's bow sang and bellowed.

The second set began with "Rasaman," as trombone and bass darted about the theme before lighting on the yearning, stair-stepped melody. By the time Melford and Mitchell layered in, there was a delirium of ideas weaving around each other characterized by melodic effusion, especially from piano and flute. Mitchell would break long continuous strands of notes by singing between them, and the arc of her improvisations defied expectations at every turn. Dessen worked his way up to a target tone with short vibrato then pulled at that target until it cried out in response. All of this worked because of the forceful path-making of the leader, whose own solo cracked and snapped with controlled abandon.

Dresser began the Zimbabwean-inspired closer, "Ekoneni," with dancing allusions around the subject as each musician contributed short bursts of ebullient orbits into a dizzying conversation of rhythms.

Photo by Bonnie Wright

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