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Bassist Mark Dresser has always been a restless spirit. Whether it’s stretching the boundaries of his instrument or using telematics as a means of long-distance collaboration, he’s always looking for new ways to make a statement. Here, with his six stellar bandmates, that statement is decidedly political, but there’s plenty of exuberance and heartfelt emotion as well.
It’s not just the clever titles that reflect this age of constant anxiety; Dresser’s off-center rhythms and wobbly harmonies also suggest a sense of instability. “Let Them Eat Paper Towels,” a reference to President Trump’s behavior in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, opens with Dresser delivering rumbling bass lines suggestive of a gathering storm. The focal point of the rollicking title track is a dissonant two-note vamp that evokes the same sense of dread and paranoia that Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society explored on 2016’s Real Enemies.
The front line — Nicole Mitchell on flutes and piccolo, multi-reedist Marty Ehrlich and trombonist Michael Dessen — brings vibrancy and clarity to Dresser’s off-center compositions, as do violinist Keir GoGwilt, pianist Joshua White and drummer Jim Black. Dresser’s compositions tend toward the abstract, but it’s backed by plenty of hard-driving swing and melodic development. The infectious groove of “Black Arthur’s Bounce” acts as ballast against the tune’s dissonant harmonies. The shimmering chamber piece “Gloaming” is as beautiful a piece of music as you’re likely to hear all year. Building off of Dresser’s elegiac opening statement, GoGwilt and Mitchell’s interlacing phrases emanate a brightness that suggests a flight to the heavens. And it’s not all political commentary. Tributes to a pair of Dresser’s recently departed friends — saxophonist Arthur Blythe (“Black Arthur’s Bounce”) and pianist Butch Lacy (the gorgeously somber “Butch’s Balm”) — bookend the album.
We may be stuck, as Dresser puts it in the liner notes, in a “national reality-horror-show of corruption, malice, xenophobia, and class warfare,” but at least he’s given us a worthy soundtrack for the occasion.—John Frederick Moore