Mark Dresser Solo Bass: Unveil

©Laurence Svirchev

Virtuosity in the jazz world is a given. Jazz players are what they are because they have  mastered virtuosic technique and don’t want to live under the rigidly-exacting thumb of a concert task-master. They take their creative fancy elsewhere and go farther to that highest of art forms, improvisation.

It would be an empty statement, however, to imply that virtuosity and improvisational ability is not variegated. A case in point is Mark Dresser, an artist who goes further, much further, than the farther mentioned above. Dresser’s imagination seems limitless in the of fields of virtuosic technique, ensemble playing, and most importantly, in storytelling. For a case in point concerning Dresser’s ensemble playing, witness his playing with Anthony Braxton (Anthony Braxton Quartet (Victoriaville) 1992- Victo CD) or Gerry Hemingway (Perfect World, Random Acoustics RA019).

Unveil reveals Dresser the composer and improviser in the solo context. In listening to Unveil this commentator hears Dresser’s use of time, space, color, and motion as a musical kinship to the likes of Italy’s Calvino, Columbia’s Marquez, and Cormac McCarthy of the United States. Such authors have boldly taken the realities of everyday life and history and created out of them stories whose shimmering molecules quaver readers into zones of existence previously unsuspected. The printed words of those authors jump off the page and the senses that detect reality become logarithmically amplified, revealing minute components of emotion, color, action in spectacular detail.

Take the title composition “Unveil”. It opens arco, the long, slow strokes allowed to decay to near-silence. The music immediately puts a listener into a dark mysterious zone in which time moves like walking through molasses. Trepidation fills the air because of the tension-release cycle. The section ends with foreboding slash: danger is present. Now begins a very low pitch, bass saxophone-like, and on top of those pitches Dresser drags drags a string across the instrument’s bridge. The pace increases, a tyrannosaurus rex emerges and it is thudding the earth, gnawing all in its path. That’s what this commentator saw when he closed his eyes. The cinematography of Dresser’s music is indeed powerful.

“Unveil’s” sonics range from the deepest of bass to that of the cello. The composition goes through roughly five distinctive chapters, the dark mood never really vanishing, only reaching a stark finality with the ending slash, a Dresser trademark.

“Clavuus” takes the listener in a completely different direction. The listening evidence is that there are two bass players in the cut, or there are at least two combined tracks. Dresser plays two simultaneous and completely independent lines, one sound in the nominal bass range, the other sounding like a cello played in conjunction with a reverb peddle. “Clavuus” is a mind boggling dance that left me questioning my ability to believe that only one musician was playing. Bill Shoemaker’s notes make it clear, however, that “Unveil” is the only edited multi-track cut. The listening evidence, however, makes the case for Dresser being a kind of Art Tatum of the bass.

There is something else going on in the music. Dresser has long explored how to enhance and make heard the harmonics, not only of the length of string that is struck, but as well the harmonics of the instrument that is not struck and the entire string. His bass has coiled pickups embedded in two strategic places on the fingerboard and this allows him to express as many as three simultaneous pitches on one string and control the volume of each pitch.

In Dresser’s world, these inventions have nothing to do with geekdom. Dresser’s technological enhancements to the bass are analogous to increasing the bit-rate in digital photography from eight to thirty-two. The resulting increase in the color palette makes a huge difference to the subtlety of color rendition the eye can perceive. The ear is a marvelous device and a trained ear will readily and consciously sub-divide and appreciate the kinds of magnified musical intensity.

But that is not so much the point. The most important thing about Unveil is that a listener who lets the music take him to the heart of his own imagination will enjoy a marvelous journey.

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