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When jazz is hitting on all of its cylinders, there is no more important art form on this planet. On May 10, the newest incarnation of the Mark Dresser Quintet demonstrated, in front of a packed house of vocal supporters, just how high this music can soar.

Opening "Flocus," with a loping gait, Dresser plucked the signposts over the relentless clicking of drummer Kjell Nordeson while tenor saxophonist Ben Schachter and trombonist Michael Dessen wove interlocking, yet independent melodies around each other. One of the striking features of Dresser's music is how ensemble-oriented it all is. The divisions of written versus improvised, solo versus group textures are often blurred past the point of easily discernable distinctions. Finally, Schachter broke free and fired crowded volleys of ideas into the ozone before Dresser's feature of short, chromatic phrases punctuated by windmill thwacks yielded to Joshua White's hard hitting clusters which keyed a sudden shift into a pianissimo chamber dynamic where the bassist's arco birthed a keening 'bone solo of wide glissandi.

"Digestivo," is a blues that is distorted by the leader's "metric-modulation" concept -- a device that gives the illusion of tempo acceleration/deceleration every measure -- so that the familiar "walking-bass" lurches from the gait of a 90 year-old to the skipping dance of toddler, and everything in between. White hit the ground running with splayed keys flying into stormy clusters while keeping the blues connotation close to the vest, and Dessen responded with plunger mute dialog that dipped into the gutbucket with wild growls and burbles. Schachter twisted dense lines into ecstatic squeals then Dresser plucked his strings hard enough to make them snap as he took a swaggering strut though the form.

White's unaccompanied intro to "Parawaltz," found a way to blend the lyrical with the ominous until joined by Schachter and Dessen's purring of the Charles Mingus-like melody. Dessen emerged first, translating the pensive image of a man alone in this world with yearning, warbled sighs before Dresser took his bow and made it moan, sob and boil over with the intensity of a violated hornet's nest.

"Mr. Not-So-T.C." had more moods than one could count, beginning with the leader's eerie overtones and harmonics, a breathy Ben Webster-ish section, then a cowpoke rhythm pedal tone that elicited the fragmented Coltrane melody from which it is based. Nordeson turned up the heat with crashing cymbals and arrhythmic hi-hats as the band lifted into a collective cacophony powered by White's jangling clusters, Dessen's yelping vibrato and Schachter's squalling multiphonics. Suddenly it was down to White, who spun energy into roiling vortices with enough volatility to spark a chain reaction.

"Notwithstanding," featured an impossibly tight Anthony Braxton-esque head in 13 that ricocheted off the bandstand into your ear like a gunshot. The tune lunged from violent episodes to throbbing grooves as Schachter took a 'Trane-ish intensity up a few notches while the band exploded behind him before dropping into a pin-drop quiet for Dessen's solo, which evolved from soft contemplatives to volcanic surges. Then, it was Nordeson, who developed an architectural display of free energy, sounding like a strange mix of Sunny Murray and Antonio Sanchez with blurred hands striking every surface of his kit and its strange accoutrements of tiny bongos and cowbells.

Nordeson kicked off "Flac," with wonderful asymmetry, as each part of his kit seemed locked into a conflicting discourse as the band tossed riffs around like live hand grenades, building to joyful-noise-climaxes and finishing with a flourish.

Easily the best concert of the year so far.

Photo by Bonnie Wright

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