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Improvisers Summit Convenes at 98 Bottles

Four dangerous improvisers combine their considerable skills.



    Progressive jazz and improvised music fans, be advised: A concert of potentially monumental proportions is coming your way. On Sunday, June 24, the Improvisers Summit will assemble in the Back Room at 98 Bottles in North Little Italy.

    Four of the best musicians on the planet make up the Improvisers Summit. Two currently reside in San Diego: contrabassist Mark Dresser and the young piano phenomenon Joshua White. Joining them are trombone virtuoso Michael Dessen, who lives in Irvine, and drummer Gerry Hemingway, who recently moved to Switzerland.

    Dresser and Hemingway have developed an empathic relationship forged by more than 30 years of working together, 10 of them as the rhythm section for the iconic Anthony Braxton Quartet. White has been tearing up the Southern California jazz scene and last year placed second in the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in Washington, D.C. Dessen is a fearsome trombone master who has received critical acclaim for his recent trio recordings on the Clean Feed Records label.

    Dessen, in New York making a record with reed-master Marty Erlich's Large Ensemble, sent me his thoughts on the upcoming gig:

    "Gerry rarely performs in San Diego -- he's a riveting, intense and incredibly imaginative musician. Mark and Gerry have a long history together, so they connect on such a visceral level," Dessen noted. "I love playing with the two of them because there's a tremendous well of ideas there that they've cultivated over the decades. And I'm excited to see what happens with Joshua in the mix. There are a lot of young players out there with very sophisticated technique -- but what's extraordinary about Joshua is that he's already harnessing that technique toward something deeper."

    Along with Dessen, White is a charter member of Dresser's West Coast Quintet and uses the trombonist in one of his groups as well. I asked him about performing with Hemingway for the first time.

    "I've never had the pleasure of working with Gerry before, but I was exposed to his playing at the first UCSD jazz camp I was at," White told me. "I got to hear him play with Anthony Davis and Waddada Leo Smith, so it will be great to get together and just see what happens."

    "I'm definitely looking forward to getting together with these guys," White added. "I love playing with Mark -- that's always an experience. Whether we're playing some of his written compositions or open-ended and abstract, or even jamming out on standards, we always try to focus on the moment. With Michael -- it goes without saying -- he's got such a great personality as a person and a musician -- he's such a strong player and he's got such definite ideas."

    Expect sparks to fly. This could easily qualify as the concert of the year.

    Robert Bush Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.