Michael Dessen’s Trio Honors Yusef Lateef
Like standing up straight, listening to long forms in a short form world is good for you. Sometimes you don’t realize how easily you’ve succumbed to the sound bite, the 3-minute song, lists and bullet points, until you engage with something that unfolds over time and requires your open mind and undivided attention.
Michael Dessen’s Trio with Chris Tordini on bass and Dan Weiss on drums, performed Somewhere in the Upstream, Dessen’s evening-length composition dedicated to one of his major mentors, Yusef Lateef. Friday’s concert at Holyoke’s ever-evolving Gateway City Arts concluded Season 4 of Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares.
As our senses slump from too much ear and eye candy and other empty cultural calories, how invigorating to listen to the slow reveal of sounds and moods delivered by three extraordinary musicians operating on one wavelength. After the Holyoke concert, Dessen’s 10-year old trio travels to Brooklyn to perform at I-Beam then visit Systems Two to record the material we just heard.
The music took us through periods of near stasis, where rhythm and melody changed incrementally at low volume, to sections of aggressive, hard swinging funk, to an unruly universe of other-worldly electronic sounds. The concert flowed without the usual interruption for applause between solos. The lack of clap was not because the playing was subpar, quite the contrary.
I listen to a lot of the best jazz drummers. I’m hard pressed to name anybody I’d put ahead of Dan Weiss. His crisp subdivision of beats, his unending invention, his constant ratcheting up and down of energy, made it hard to keep my ears off him. Weiss was the Jazz Shares Season 4 bookend drummer, beginning our season driving Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers Ensemble with a transcendent performance.
Bassist Chris Tordini certainly seemed to enjoy playing with Weiss. Their rapport felt natural and unforced. Tordini was able to establish deep flexible grooves with a few well-chosen notes, reminding me in that regard of Chicago lynchpin Joshua Abrams.
Michael Dessen, who spent about six years in the Valley getting his masters from UMass and teaching at Hampshire, is one of a handful of gifted improvisers on trombone. During the public afternoon conversation about Yusef that I had with Dessen and a dozen others at 340 Bridge St., we heard about weekly private lessons with Lateef, where discussion of music theory would co-exist with talk of Yusef’s Ahmadiyya Muslim practice and Dessen’s understanding of Zen Buddhism.
It was a long overdue treat for me to present my good friend Michael Dessen in concert, and re-connect him with Terry Jenoure, Jason Robinson, Matt Waugh and other old friends, including a long-lost childhood friend who lives locally and happened to see a concert flyer. What a beautiful coda to an amazing season of Jazz Shares concerts.
Here is what shareholder Tony Stavely jotted down during the concert:
Trio: Homage á Yusef Like a legato snake Who’d swallowed accents Grave and acute, the Trombone notes sallied forth, Pas de deux and do si do, With bursting bass tones And the most many im- Aginable agile drumstick strokes And kicks — all possible kicks — All around the room.