The Mark Dresser Seven has now made two excellent records. The first was Sedimental You, in 2016, also on Clean Feed. A septet is a nice size for a band, big enough for scale, small enough for agility. The Dresser Seven includes several respected members of what might be called the refined avant-garde: Dresser (bass); Marty Ehrlich (reeds); Nicole Mitchell (flutes); Jim Black (drums). The others are less familiar names (for now): Joshua White (piano); Michael Dessen (trombone); Keir GoGwilt (violin).
The new album has six new Dresser compositions, all with unusual asymmetrical shapes and highly provisional rhythmic infrastructures. Dresser leverages the resources of his compact orchestra to create intriguing blends, all of which approach, but stop short of, stridency and cacophony. When solos come, they are variously compelling. Mitchell and Ehrlich are voices of reason within Dresser’s unstable forms. White, an exciting emerging player, operates closer to the edge and sometimes spills over.
Two pieces, the title track and “Let Them Eat Paper Towels,” recall the protest songs of Charles Mingus, because they combine raw anger and mordant wit. Dresser calls them responses to “our national reality-horror-show of corruption, malice, xenophobia and class warfare.” Appropriately, they contain intense internal musical conflict.
But two pieces operate in very different emotional domains. In the midst of an album full of nervous energy, the pastel impressionism of “Gloaming” suddenly appears, with lyrical ensemble backgrounds for rapt solos by everyone except Ehrlich and Black. “Butch’s Balm” is a eulogy for pianist Butch Lacy, Dresser’s friend of 40 years. It is an immersion in the colors of darkness, its rendering of loss stark and devastating. White pays homage to his brother pianist in the tolling of his solemn chords, and Dresser, on arco bass, mourns.