Mark Dresser Seven ‘Sedimental You’ (Clean Feed) 4/5

mark-dresser-sevenClean Feed records are a small independent label based in Lisbon, Portugal. To quote from their website:
“It all began in 2001, with ambition, passion and some lunacy. What about now? Well, the only certainty is that this bunch of Portuguese jazz fans will continue to want the improbable, believing that’s the only way to be reasonable in this spaceship called Earth.”
So here’s the latest helping of the “improbable”.
A collection of seven works for seven instrumentalists. It might be helpful if I quote further from the Clean Feed website:
“This collection of compositions seeks to balance gradient levels of sound such as bitonal harmony, microtonality, timbre, spectral harmonics and variable pulse with more traditional aspects of melody, harmony, counterpoint, rhythm and form”.
Mark Dresser goes into greater detail regarding the music and its inspiration on the label’s web site, and does so far better than I could, so I will confine myself to giving you some background information and some thoughts from simply listening to the music.
Mark Dresser is a bassist and composer who has worked with many of the leading lights of what has come to be known as “new” jazz composition and improvisation, including Anthony Braxton, Tim Berne, Gerry Hemingway and John Zorn. He’s made more than sixty recordings. He has been composing and performing solo double bass and ensemble music since 1972.

For this recording, Mark is joined by a cross-section of the new and more established names on the East and West Coasts of America: Michael Dessen, trombone, Nicole Mitchell, soprano and alto flutes, Joshua White on piano, Marty Ehrlich clarinet and bass clarinet, David Morales Boroff, violin and Jim Black drums and percussion. A somewhat unusual collection of instruments making for an unusual tonal palette. At times sounding a little like a chamber group at others a band much larger than the sum of its seven pieces.

The definition of ‘sedimental’ is formed of or from sediment. Does this help us when listening to this new release? Well, no, not really. it turns out that ‘Sedimental You’ is a deconstructed version of “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” written in 1932 for band leader Tommy Dorsey. Those expecting the familiar Dosey-style rendition will be wrong-footed immediately. The pianist alone playing the melody, which surfaces only intermittently, and the rest of the band burbling, scraping and squeaking around him. I’m oddly reminded of the “Livery Stable Blues” here by the Original Dixieland Jass Band with their imitations of farm yard animals. Or even Tom Waits’ “The Piano Has Been Drinking” but for a seven piece band, the familiar melody coming into focus briefly and then being submerged by the other band members. But this is strangely compelling music. This is the third longest track on the album at over twelve minutes. This is serious music but with a certain degree of humour at its heart and a sense of theatricality.

In terms of influences, I can hear elements of Ellington in some of the voicings, Monk too, and Mingus in the sheer energy and excitement of the music and even Sun Ra.

This is an album that rewards repeated listening. In the same way that Ornette Coleman’s early experiments with ‘Free Jazz’ remained accessible due to not jettisoning entirely the usual musical signposts of tempo, and melody, some harmonic footholds are retained always providing the listener with musical reference points.

There are lyrical interludes amongst the maelstrom. Try “Will Well”, “I Can Smell You Listening” and “Two Handfuls Of Peace”. The whole ensemble acquit themselves well, but I must make particular mention of flautist Mitchell who is a revelation.

Open your ears and your mind and you will not be disappointed.

Alan Musson