As technically formidable as he is forward-thinking, bassist Mark Dresser was raised in Los Angeles, but made the perhaps inevitable migration to New York twenty years ago. He hasn’t looked back, working in sophisticated, left-of-center musical endeavors, playing in Anthony Braxton’s quartet for several years, in addition to the Arcado String Trio, his quintet Force Green, and countless other gigs as a sideman. Through it all, Dresser has demonstrated an assured fluidity working in the gray areas between “jazz” and new music—contemporary classical division.
Of late, Dresser has been attached to film-related projects, under his own name. A few years ago, he wrote a new score for the expressionist silent film classic, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and has just released a recording of a score he wrote for another, stranger classic, Un Chien Andalou, a staple of surrealist cinema, made by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali. Both projects are released on Knitting Factory works. Next up is a film with a living filmmaker, Tom Leeser.
This is not to say that he has settled into the world of film music to the exclusion of other projects on his plate, but he confesses to some natural visual inclination. “I have always been told that what I do is real visual,” Dresser notes. “I tend to see textures and to describe things in visual verbal terms. What has been new for me is thinking narratively. Visual imagery tends to be so dominant, and just so clear. Music is just much more fuzzy, for lack of a better word, and that’s the beauty of it. It can evoke things on a whole other level.”
In his myriad of projects, both in the jazz and new music spheres, Dresser insists that he is “trying to avoid being eclectic. I’m trying to come from one voice, synthesizing all the things I love into one music. For me, it’s just music. It’s not that this is my jazz project and this is my film music. Unfortunately, the marketplace tends to define things in really clear terms. It’s Jazz-with-a capital-J, 4/4, etc. I just don’t see it like that.”
Looking back, Dresser explains, “I came to town in the ‘70s playing with David Murray and Stanley Crouch. I was certainly in a different place about what I was doing in my mid-20s than I do in my mid-40s. I think the major difference is that composing has become more a part of my life. But it’s always informed by my being a performer. That’s something I never want to lose touch with.”