MARK DRESSER is a prodigious bassist born in Los Angeles in 1952. Not reticent to focus his music on the problems and injustices within his nation and the world, his new album, cut in 2015-16 in his birth city, includes a track he calls Trumpin Putin Stoopin’, cut during Trump’s presidential campaign, which turned out to be the worst of musical prophecies.
Dresser assembled a remarkable septet for the session which resulted in the album Sedimental You.
Flute virtuoso and ex-president of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians Nicole Mitchell is alongside the all-round reedman from St Paul, Minnesota, Marty Ehrlich.
Violinist David Morales Boroff and trombonist Michael Dessen are also present, with Joshua White on piano and drummer Jim Black.
Quite an ensemble this, to create the musical “layers” of sound reflecting the timbral geology of the album title, as well as the ingenious satire of US life and the tributes to several fine musicians which comes out of its seven tracks.
The opener, Hobby Lobby Horse, is a caricature of a very wealthy crafts store chair with an evangelistic message, operating from Oklahoma.
Dresser’s prolific and gymnastic bass digs under Boroff’s violin break, followed by Ehrlich’s juicy clarinet and Dessen’s gutteral trombone.
Then Mitchell’s soprano flute flies away like a disturbed and melodic insect before Ehrlich’s buzzing chorus, Boroff’s incisive bow, Dessen’s quasi-tailgate slides and White’s forays up and down his keys.
The soloists’ “sedimentary,” strataladen effect is explicit in the album title tune, particularly when Dessen and Boroff seem to be playing on two different storeys of the same sonic building, with Dresser holding its foundation and Black slapping its walls.
But the burlesque returns for the narrative of Trumpin Putin Stoopin’ with its layers of US incongruity fast becoming fact. Each soloist seems surprised at their own sounds, and the racy climax is as if grotesque absurdity has become the truth. It made me remember Mingus’s 1959 recording of Fables of Faubus, lampooning the actions of the racist governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, who blocked black students from entering Central High School in Little Rock with National Guard troops.
Will Well is a dedication to the gruff but glorious avant-garde trombonist Roswell Rudd, a tune composed jointly by Dresser and Rudd while he was recovering from a serious illness.
It made me think of Rudd’s husky chorus of We Shall Overcome on the original 1969 Liberation Music Orchestra album.
Will Well is much more complex. It has a beautifully essayed duet section between White and a bowed Dresser, clarinet, alto flute and violin weave in and out of each other, and Black’s drums and cymbals are a loving bedrock.
I Can Smell You Listening is a tribute to the singer Alexandra Montano (1961-2007), with whom Dresser had recorded an album in 2005.
The combined bows of bass and violin create a powerfully elegiac tone, magnified by Dessen’s slides.
White’s romping chorus changes the mood before the ensemble bites and the Dresser solo delves deep.
The mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012 and Charleston, South Carolina in 2015 prompted the track Newtown Char, in the jazz tradition of Coltrane’s Alabama and Mingus’s Remember Rockefeller at Attica.
Black’s snapping drums, Ehrlich’s bass clarinet, with White’s menacing keyboard runs and Dessen’s surly slides remind us what is at stake, and Mitchell’s crying flute warns us of the consequences of slack gun laws and the savagery that follows.
Dresser wrote Two Handfuls of Peace for his friend Daniel Jackson, late saxophonist of the bands of Ray Charles and Buddy Rich and veteran composer and mentor.
The title was one of his final requests to the bassman and the listener is left considering how these words need to radiate right across the US in 2017.
The track’s brevity and the gentle boldness of its theme, over Black’s bass drum, Dresser’s grounding beat and the harmonies that the seven brilliant musicians provoke, creates a very special messaging beauty.
Sedimental You is a jazz dispatch with its notes clearly on now-times, musically and politically.