The Power of Three

Mark Dresser, Joshua White and Kjell Nordeson ignite at UCSD

Contrabass master Mark Dresser is involved in a dizzying array of ensembles -- from his east and west coast quintets, to the ongoing trios he co-leads with drummer Matt Wilson and pianist Myra Melford; saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and percussionist Gerry Hemingway; and series of duos with pianists Diane Moser and Anthony Davis.

Naturally, the ever-searching bassist has formed a new San Diego trio with piano powerhouse Joshua White and the new to San Diego master-drummer Kjell Nordeson. The Mark Dresser Trio made their concert debut Dec. 3 at the Loft, UC San Diego’s ultra-hip all-ages nightclub, with two sets of explosively kinetic material that explored dynamics in ways that are seldom experienced.

Dresser has developed a two-handed tapping/hammer-on system which effectively suggests that he has four hands on the instrument. He opened a brand-new piece, “Nothin’ But the One,” in that mode, while White painted with suspended harmonies over the insistent symphony of rimshots and clicks from Nordeson, whose energy is stoked by tiny sounds and micro-gestures. Suddenly, White nagged a two-note fragment like a stenographer with OCD drawing the group into an ecstatic vortex in which Dresser toggled open-string counterpunches with eerie, creaking overtones. Nordeson juggles with extremes of texture and volume, and his approach to the music is absent of cliché.

Dresser’s mournful double-stop pattern unveiled a gorgeous dedication to the trombonist Roswell Rudd, a piece with prayer-like intimations that led into a ponticello bass solo that was wrenching in its naked emotion.

Joshua White began his original, “Memories of Motion,” with short fragments of almost inaudible jumbling, coursing into jagged lurches that served as a one-way ticket into a maelstrom of hyperactive plinks and hammered skeins. At the zenith, Dresser’s windmill attacks and Nordeson’s carpet-bombing kick drum seemed destined for a prolonged cacophony, until the drum solo brought the volume into a precise and intense reverie characterized by intricate strokes on muted snare and a tiny set of bongos perched atop the floor tom.

The first set ended with the wild ride melody of “Flac,” a sort of hallucinatory klezmer theme, where Dresser’s intimate choreography with his instrument, at turns tender and brutal, jostled against a hyperlyrical piano solo and the fractal geometry of Nordeson’s complex blend of shock-and-awe bass drum and cowbell subdivisions.

One of the most exciting nights in San Diego jazz history.  

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

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