The title of bassist Mark Dresser’s latest album refers to the layers of musical qualities inherent in the compositions. In seven pieces, he strikes a balance between bitonal harmony, microtonality, timbre and harmonics, along with “traditional” building blocks like melody and rhythm. The instrumentation guarantees that the sound will tug at the ear, with an unconventional blend of flutes (Nicole Mitchell), clarinets (Marty Ehrlich), violin (David Morales Boroff), trombone (Michael Dessen), piano (Joshua White), bass (Dresser) and drums and percussion (Jim Black).
The title track uses the Tommy Dorsey classic “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” as the base of a new structure in which every measure has a different length. The original feeling of the song might exist a few layers beneath the group, courtesy of Boroff. But on top of it, White stabs at the piano and Dessen blows his horn more like Roswell Rudd than Dorsey. Speaking of Rudd, that trombonist receives an homage with “Will Well”; Dresser bows a rich, graceful solo in the bass’ upper range, sounding nearly like a cellist.
“Hobby Lobby Horse” and “TrumpinPutinStoopin” reveal Dresser’s awareness regarding certain social issues, and “Newtown Char” addresses the shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Charleston, S.C. Ehrlich’s opening bass clarinet solo sets the tone with a wide range of colors, including some violent outbursts. The group eventually locks into a vamp, atop which Mitchell makes her flute growl and yell.
With inspiration coming from a variety of remote subjects—all detailed in Dresser’s liner notes—the album straddles complexity and emotion, freedom and deep structure, with bits of subtle humor sprinkled in. No matter how intricate the structure, all the music has an immediate impact.