Review of 'Duets' by Rob Nairn for Bass World - International Society of Bassists Vol. 42, #3 2020
Updated: Jun 25, 2020
This new fascinating CD of Mark Dresser with the multi-talented Davide Barbarino was recorded in Sicily in 2016 and 2017 in a series of different acoustics (exploring at opposite ends of the island: the Palazzo Branciforte and Orto Botanico in Palermo, and Museo dei Viaggiatori in Palazzolo Acreide).
Barbarino is a multi-reed player, producer and visual artist; in each capacity he works in a number of different mediums. Musically he works in electro-acoustic composition, improvisation and ethnomusicology, and has collaborated with an impressive number of musicians like Dresser, Barre Phillips, Tim Hodgkinson, Frank Gratkowski, Michel Doneda, and John Tilbury.
Dresser needs little introduction; he is one of the monsters of contemporary bass - a consummate musician whose career trajectory is as impressive as it is diverse. A prolific recording artist and composer, he has also been the go-to collaborator for people like Dave Douglas, Misha Mengelberg, Evan Parker, Tim Berne, Henry Thradgill and John Zorn. From the Anthony Braxton Quartet to Arcado String Trio, his silent film soundtracks, his CD’s on Tzadik, Knitting Factory Records and Cryptogramophone (and Deutscher Grammophon) and host of other labels, from Los Angeles to New York and back again to UCSD, he has been a pathfinder and relentless experimenter.
Dresser can be found on over 80 recordings, including an impressive catalogue of duo CD’s with artists like Simon Nabatov, Vinny Golia, Remi Alvarez, Denman Maroney, Roswell Rudd, Susie Ibarra, Ray Anderson, Frances Marie Uitti, Mark Helias.
These recordings are the first documents of the ‘ McLagan tines’ adaption to Dresser’s bass: a series of tuned metal tines (like on an Mbira or Kalimba) attached to the bridge by luthier Kent McLagan (who also custom-made the neck pickups in Dresser’s bass). You can see Dresser using these very clearly in the 2017 video of the concert in the Orto Botanico (which also features Barre Phillips) on Barbarino’s websites. It was filmed by Keja Ho Kramer who also took the photos of the cover artwork.
All the tracks on this CD seem to end before you want them to; the two musicians get into some fueled and energized extemporizations, layering sound almost like overdubs and finding some unique and fluid structures that seem to fill and use very effectively the differing acoustics of the venues. They are masters of the art and seem to revel in each others’ sounds.
Review by Rob Nairn