Every time contrabass virtuoso Mark Dresser plays in town is cause for a celebration. When he does so in the context of his remarkable West Coast Quintet, the advantage grows exponentially. Dresser's group is loaded with top-flight soloists, each of whom receives ample opportunity to shine -- yet the true beauty of this group lies in their rich interpretive skills in the ensemble aesthetic required by the leader's multidirectional music.
The bassist began "Flocus," with probing sonics and creaky overtones, ultimately landing on the slinky ostinato that brought Joshua White's tinkling piano and Kjell Nordeson's quiet storm of percussive activity into the mix, above which tenor saxophonist Ben Schachter and trombonist Michael Dessen orbited with tangential melodies. Suddenly White and Nordeson engaged in an elliptical and violent exchange of pounding clusters and drumkit onslaught that dropped into near silence as tenor and trombone traded fat blats and ecstatic multiphonics.
The intense lurch of the metric-modulated blues "Digestivo," found White exploding with dense volleys of blue-noted mayhem, sounding like Jaki Byard morphing into Don Pullen. Schachter came out with brawny arcs out of the 'Trane/ Rollins/ Shepp axis, and Dessen extrapolated the tenor conclusion with a wicked swagger and blustery vibrato. Finally, Dresser danced through the interruptive minefield with dizzying double-glissandi and amplified overtones that evoked jaws-harp and steel-drum connotations.
The brand-new "New Town," began as a ruminative trio of tenor, bass and piano, traversing into nervous Twilight Zone harmonies punctuated by Schachter's piercing cries. White rippled with kinetic energy -- sending squalls of cyclic velocity against the manic ponticello bowing of Dresser.
Electrical sparks powered the madcap lunge of "Notwithstanding," featuring a spastic synchrony in the horns. Shachter's wild, orgiastic squeals were appropriately goosed by Nordeson's carpet-bombing, then it all dropped into silence for Dessen's impassioned braying. Nordeson's drum solo was utterly devoid of cliché-- beginning with industrial, piston-firing and ratcheting into a maelstrom of polyrhythms.
There were moments of extreme beauty, like the hushed solemnity of "Canales Rose," which birthed an unaccompanied White feature that erupted with seething velocity -- answered by the breathy purr of Schachter's arpeggios, while Nordeson shape-shifted from stillness into the chaos of fireworks on a hot plate.
As "far-out" as the music got -- it never stayed far from the blues, like the intense gut-bucket roar of the closer, "Shelly's Shuffle," which featured Dessen's semi-obscene plunger-mute chortling.
This is what jazz is supposed to sound like: grounded, not bound to the tradition, while racing into the future.
Robert Bush Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.