Mark Dresser Quintet to Play Jazz Live

Cutting edge jazz bassist to play San Diego City College's Saville Theatre

I don’t do concert previews very often, but when I do, it’s for an event that I consider to be vital to the evolution of music. I did exactly one (that I can recall) last year, for the Gary Peacock Trio, and that ended up as my No. 1 pick for 2016.

2017 bursts out of the gates with another show that I am positive will reverberate in the memory banks of witnesses for months to come. That show takes place on Tuesday, Jan. 10, when Jazz Live, the flagship concert program from KSDS Jazz 88 goes rogue with a performance by the Mark Dresser Quintet in the Saville Theatre on the campus of San Diego City College at 8 p.m.

Jazz is an art form that constantly seeks to balance the forces of tradition with those of innovation, but neither of those forces can remain healthy without the constant tug of the other. The rich tradition of this music derives its true value from those who constantly push the envelope.

In this way, icons and iconoclasts are but two sides of the same coin. Dresser executes radical music that pushes the way ahead, yet his aesthetic is firmly rooted in the tradition of innovators like Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Anthony Braxton, with whom he played for 10 years.

Amazingly enough, this is the bassist’s first appearance as a leader on the Jazz Live stage.

“I’ve only done that gig once,” Dresser said in a Skype call from New York City, where he was about to perform with drummer Jerry Granelli at the Stone in the East Village. “I was a sideman in Joe Marillo’s band. That was an unforgettable experience because I broke a string during our set, and all of a sudden, this electric bass sort of floated up through the audience. It turns out [well known bassist] Gene Perla was in town, and passed me his bass while he changed my string! That was in the late '70s.”

I asked Dresser for his thoughts on the band he’ll be bringing Tuesday night, beginning with flutist Nicole Mitchell: “She’s a virtuoso with an expansive spirit. She has such a positive energy and an incredible ear. She can read anything and her skills as an improviser are amazing.”

Concerning his long-time musical partner trombonist Michael Dessen, Dresser was equally enthusiastic. “He’s such an important collaborator. I’ve developed so much music with him. He’s an amazing trombonist, and he’s become a linchpin in the development of my music.”

Joshua White is also crucial to the band. “He’s an extraordinarily gifted pianist,” said Dresser. “He’s got his own sound and he’s really coming into his own as a major player on the scene. I love playing with him. He’s got amazing ears and facility, and he’s always ready to take the music wherever it can go.”

Rounding out the quintet is Swedish transplant Kjell Nordeson, of whom Dresser said: “Kjell is a really versatile and gifted drummer. He’s equally adept at free improvisation and contemporary classical music. He’s a really good cat, and a solid musician.”

Jazz 88 emcee Vince Outlaw said, “I personally am excited to hear a very forward-looking quintet of San Diego-based, but world-renowned and traveled, musicians. An installment like this further rounds out the full spectrum of jazz we music lovers should continue to advocate for.”

Dresser’s music is at the forefront -- the absolute cutting edge of the art form, and as a bassist, he has no equal, simply because he has created and mastered an entire vocabulary of sounds at which others have only hinted. Don’t miss this opportunity to see the master up close and personal. If you can’t make it in the flesh, tune in to 88.3 on the FM dial, or go to to stream it live.

Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years. Follow him on Twitter @robertbushjazz. Visit The World According to Rob.

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