Jazz review: Mark Dresser Trio at REDCAT


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When it comes to diving into the avant-garde, is it possible to have too much of a good thing?

If any musician has earned the right to explore such a question it’s prolific bassist Mark Dresser. Currently based in New York City but a professor at UC San Diego and a favorite of the forward-thinking local label Cryptogramophone, Dresser’s collaborators have included Anthony Braxton, Joe Lovano and Osvaldo Golijov, and recently he has performed in ensembles with Myra Melford, Satoko Fujii and Rudresh Mahanthappa.


Over two sets at REDCAT Monday night, Dresser offered a sprawling, challenging survey of the many dimensions to his playing. Joined by ‘hyperpianist’ Denman Maroney and Matthias Ziegler on a variety of flutes, the trio touched on jazz, contemporary classical and chamber music, and unclassifiable improv excursions through the fringes of Eastern devotional music and raw sound.

Opening on constantly shifting ground with ‘FLBP,’ Dresser bowed throaty, spectral arcs across his strings as Ziegler coaxed a didgeridoo-like tone out of one his surprisingly large, customized flutes. Though there was no drummer on hand, Dresser and Maroney traded roles on percussion with the pianist reaching inside his instrument for a variety of scrapes, pulses and drones among the mallets and strings for an evocative sonic landscape.

The opening, with its twisting, unsettled core, set the tone; songs such as ‘Digestivo’ showcased the group’s more immediate impulses. As Maroney weaved through chunky, Monkish chords, Dresser and Ziegler revved and receded around an inside-out take on the blues. A later collaboration with artist Tom Leeser on ‘Sonomatopoeia’ was adventurous but more problematic. Opening with a blurred monologue about what seemed to be a near-drowning, the video gave way to a collage of repetitive seaside visuals and rapid-fire illustrations of CPR techniques that never fully coalesced into a narrative with the trio’s chaotic churn. Although the night was stuffed with enough exploration to feel almost overwhelming, the set-closer, ‘Modern Pine,’ marked a warm digestif after such a rich feast. A glimmering ballad from the trio’s 2002 album ‘Aquifer’ dedicated to the late jazz drummer Ed Thigpen, the song centered around Dresser’s strolling bassline and a warm, whispered harmony between piano and flute. As the trio accelerated into a head-bobbing groove leading into a stormy solo by Dresser, the bassist’s feet gently tapped out the rhythm, marking a path for everyone to follow.

-- Chris Barton