PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Mark Dresser Seven: Ain't Nothing But a Cyber Coup and You

Photo: Jim Carmody / Courtesy of the artist

Jazz bassist Mark Dresser's latest, Ain't Nothing But a Cyber Coup & You, is a New Jazz blend of daring improvisation and challenging composition.

Ain't Nothing But a Cyber Coup and You
Mark Dresser Seven

Clean Feed

10 May 2019

Mark Dresser's resume as a bass player is a paragon of the New Jazz. He played extensively with Anthony Braxton in the 1980s and 1990s and recorded for Knitting Factory Records back when that name really meant something. He was part of the John Zorn gang, recording for Tzadik Records, and he played with contemporaries such as Tim Berne, James Newton, Ray Anderson, and Dave Douglas in various formats. At the same time, Dresser is from the West Coast and has played plenty with folks like Nels and Alex Cline, recording for the terrific California label Cryptogramophone. Like so many of the musicians working in this form, he has some roots in classical music, but he is also perfectly comfortable collaborating with more straight-ahead players on their adventurous projects—for example, Dresser held down the bass chair with soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom's band for quite some time.

So, when I say that Dresser's latest, Ain't Nothing But a Cyber Coup & You, from his Mark Dresser Seven, is a New Jazz blend of daring improvisation and challenging composition, I realize that the leader has been pushing this genre forward for a long time.

The band reaches across genres and eras just like Dresser's career. Veteran reed expert Marty Ehrlich shares the front line with trombonist Michael Dessen (whose own work explores improvisational settings, electronics, and serious composition), flautist Nicole Mitchell (associated with Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and that legacy), and violinist Keir GoGwilt (not particularly associated with "jazz"). In the rhythm section, Dresser is with young pianist Joshua White (with a classical background and Southern California jazz experience) and the veteran drummer Jim Black, who powered so many great bands in New York along with folks like Chris Speed and who is still playing brilliantly today.

The result is a group that is prepared to handle Dresser's off-kilter compositions and take them in just about any direction that beckons. The band's sound is unusual—with Ehrlich's reeds, Mitchell's flute, and GoGwilt's violin flying about in the upper register and the trombone rumbling beneath. When the band operates as a more traditional ensemble, with a clear head arrangement such as on the Arthur Blythe tribute "Black Arthur's Bounce", the combination of sounds is somewhat peculiar, the blend of highs and lows sounding more like a circus band or a classical chamber group than like a jazz band, with the timbres of the instruments never quite merging.

On "Black Arthur", though, that all makes plenty of sense. Black creates a slapping groove along with the leader, and the violin and horns take turns entering the fray with freedom before the written melody emerges. Blythe fans will easily recognize the feeling of motion from the classic Lenox Avenue Breakdown recording, and Mitchell's flute combined with Dessen's low brass is reminiscent of that album's mix of James Newton's flute and Bob Stewart's tuba. The ensemble is designed to sound somewhat ragged and funky, and the players get in lots of fun and daring play over the strong beat.

This approach recurs throughout Ain't Nothing But a Cyber Coup. "Embodied in Seoul" also begins with more than five minutes of free exploration before the written melody enters, a set of graceful phrases articulated by the four lead instruments but played over a restless rhythm section: Black tumbling freely, White improvising atonally, and Dresser keeping a furious time underneath. The prelude the "melody" is more tentative and exploratory as if the band were scavenging for the material it will need to put together the ensemble interplay that is upcoming.

"Let Them Eat Paper Towels" (presumably a reference to our U.S. president's attitude toward "his" own Puerto Rican citizens—the title of the album also seeming Trump-related) begins with another atmospheric free improvisation, with the textures of flute and violin, particularly, engaging in intriguing duet interplay. White enters playfully to bring the band into a hopping groove, which leads to one the most attractive melodies on the recording. Violin, clarinet, and flute blend gorgeously here, with Dessen joining the ensemble quietly from the bottom. The sound seems to borrow just a bit from klezmer bands and a smidge from old New Orleans collectives, but the flute and clarinet solos that emerge are distinctly modern. The pattern over which the players solo changes for violin and then trombone, but then the theme returns and you feel as if you've almost heard a traditional jazz performance. After which the band plays even more freely than before, with Mitchell (on piccolo) and Black engaging in a dashing duet that brings the whole band back to a groove again—and one more statement of the melody.

Each of the full-band tracks is preceded by a solo improvisation by Dresser, playing his bass with "McLagan tines", an innovation that creates a strange, lovely tone. This idea works best, perhaps, in moving from "Pre-Gloam" to "Gloaming". The introduction is odd but singing, with Dresser creating a flute-like tonality that rattles and buzzes his strings with an otherworldly air, then beginning the main tune playing some ringing harmonics that set up the most precious tune of the set. GoGwilt comes out first, playing in duet with the leader, tracing a melody that is tender and just grows in beauty as piano, trombone, and flute enters with a gorgeous arrangement of lines that support it. They all move across a set of composed harmonic changes, converging on a section that sounds composed is its unity and logic. White's solo is brief and lyrical, leading to a buttery statement from trombone and Mitchell's best moment on the recording, a sumptuous alto flute statement.

Also lushly beautiful is "Butch's Balm", a track dedicated to Butch Lacy, who played piano for Sarah Vaughan. If many of the tracks on Cyber Coup delight in the way that free improvisation can suddenly come together into a playful theme, "Butch's Balm" ends the session on a more organic note, with a single mournful mood slowly layering into an ensemble theme.

If slightly more conventional sounds become this group, then it's the title track: an actual rollicking swinger. White's piano introduction might have Cecil Taylor and Don Pullen in its bones, and Jim Black enters with that snapping rock feeling in his snare attack, yes, but the band attacks the written head arrangement like it is a territory band from Kansas City. Ehrlich's clarinet solo is fantastically swinging, and the duet between clarinet and violin is as exciting as jazz can be, albeit with a backbeat. Dessen and White solo brilliantly as well, with the piano/bass/drum action sounding like the basis for an entire album of piano trio music on the cutting edge. "Ain't Nothin But a Cyber Coup & You" ought to be on some kind of jazz playlist as one of the most thrilling tracks of the last decade.

The Mark Dresser Seven is capable of this wide range of feeling and sound, from joy to mourning, from conversational free playing to sumptuous ensemble sounds. If Ain't Nothing But a Cyber Coup & You has a flaw, then it is that the project doesn't have a pointed thesis statement. As lovely as the short introductions are, this "album" is more like six different approaches to how contemporary New Jazz can sound, with seven consistent voices in conversation but not one consistent group sound or ensemble identity.

And maybe that sums up "jazz" in 2019—there isn't and shouldn't be one approach that prevails and dominates. The Mark Dresser Seven can, seemingly, do it all. But hearing them do it all on a single recording both dazzles and spreads things a bit thin.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.