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Mark Dresser Seven begins 29th Season of the Magic Triangle Jazz Series

The Magic Triangle Jazz Series began its 29th season with a surfeit of virtuosity on Sunday, September 10 when the Mark Dresser Seven filled Bezanson Recital Hall with a mind-bending evening of music. The veterans in the band: trombonist Michael Dessen, clarinetist Marty Ehrlich, flutist Nicole Mitchell, drummer Jim Black, and bassist Mark Dresser are known entities, acknowledged masters who have voluminous discographies and multiple performance credits in the Pioneer Valley. They all met our high expectations. The revelations were provided by pianist Joshua White and violinist David Morales Boroff, two young men who blew away this listener, and judging from audience reaction, others, with their outsized talent.


Our friend Jason Robinson, who first encountered White as a teenager at a San Diego jazz camp, has been singing his praises for years. But I was unprepared for the musical vision and blazing technique that the 32-year old White unleashed. Rapid torrents of block chords juxtaposed with delicate, heartbreaking passages of beauty left our jaws agape. When I asked him about his studies, he smiled and said he had bounced around a bit. Michael Dessen, part of the southern California contingent (Dessen and Mitchell teach at UC Irvine; Dresser at UC San Diego), remarked that most university jazz programs are not designed for musicians like White, not only because of his advanced skills, but because his vision is so much wider than most programs. White, who finished second at the 2011 Thelonious Monk piano competition, was riveting even when he wasn’t playing, slouched, folded in half, listening intently.

Boroff is a 23-year old undergraduate on full scholarship at Berklee School of Music, where he is studying with Simon Shaheen. Already fully formed, Boroff “hears everything,” says Dresser, who first encountered him in his native San Diego. Equally proficient producing rich tones and otherworldly creaks and screeches, the violinist seemed completely at ease playing with accomplished musicians some almost three times his age.


The concert featured music from Dresser’s new Clean Feed release, Sedimental You, a crowning achievement in a career filled with them. From his three previous Magic Triangle performances: duos with Mark Helias and Roswell Rudd, as well as a monumental solo recital, we knew Dresser was a monster on his instrument. Of course he played brilliantly. During one particularly riveting solo bass statement, Ehrlich looked out at his Hampshire College students, as if to say, “Can you believe what you’re hearing and seeing?” This concert showcased his considerable compositional skills.


Sometimes, like the opening composition, Hobby Lobby Horse, the tempo seemed to change bar to bar. Other times, like during the dark, gorgeous ballad, Will Well, dedicated to the great trombonist Roswell Rudd, Dresser provided a uniform bed upon which to improvise. After the concert, Batya Sobel and I both remarked about the piece’s deep, evocative opening chords. White’s solo, delicate and full of consonance, was all the more remarkable when contrasted to his previous one, a churning deluge of smashed keys.


All of Dresser’s compositions, performed in the order they appear on the record, have a story behind them. I wish he had explained them a bit, like he did the previous evening at Hartford’s Real Art Ways. No worries though, the liner notes on the CD give context for Dresser’s evocative pieces.


Dresser has a residency at The Stone, in New York, September 12-17, beginning with the Septet we heard in Amherst. The week also includes Deep Tones for Peace Bass Ensemble (Rufus Reid, Mark Helias, Linda Oh, Jorge Roeder, Ratzo Harris, Ken Filiano, Lisa Mezzacappa, Trevor Dunn, Dave Phillips, Thomas Helton and Mark Dresser), and appearances by Jane Ira Bloom, Hafez Modirzadeh, Mark Feldman, Craig Taborn, Peter Evans and other beacons of creative music.


I am hard pressed to think of another bass player who combines the instrumental virtuosity, composing chops, teaching skills, and organizational acumen as Mark Dresser. Having spent critical years in Connecticut in the 1980s, and having taught at Hampshire College in the early 2000s, Dresser has roots in southern New England. I am glad he includes regular stops in western Massachusetts so we can witness the continuing evolution of one of our national musical treasures.

Marty Ehrlich, extraordinary reed player, music scholar, storyteller and friend, returned to the Connecticut River Valley on December 16 to perform with his trio at the Blue Room in Easthampton, MA. T

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