August 20, 2001
PHILIP GIBBS/PAUL DUNMALL
Master Musicians of MU
Slam CD 241
Packaged and titled as it was some newly discovered field recording of hithertofore unknown Third World music, this CD is anything but. Granted there may be some unusual instruments on show along with some unexpected musical organization, but it's actually an improv session created by two players as British as Queen Elizabeth II.
Londoner Paul Dunmall is an exceptional reedman best known for his work as one-quarter of Mujician. Less-well known, Bristol-based Philip Gibbs is a guitarist who played with the likes of saxophonist Andy Sheppard in the 1980s, and a composer whose writing is influenced by gamelan music and the works of fellow composer Shapurji Sorabji. Recently, Gibbs' skills were displayed on two Dunmall CDs, the South Asian influenced MANJAH, and ONOSANTE, a more straightforward free session.
Nevertheless, as they prove once again on this thought-provoking disc, there's no quarrel with labeling the two master musicians. As for MU, it could stand for Musicians Union, of which both are fully paid up members.
Some might wonder how varied a reeds and strings duo could be. As exceptional as the talents involved, would be the response. Both men here work at varying time, tone, temperament and textures, helped not only by Dunmall's closet full of reed instruments, but also by the sound of Gibbs' electronic and acoustic guitars which at times resemble a sarod, a vina, a sitar and even a tabla.
If we were going to be ethnomusicological, perhaps the disc could be labeled a jugalbandi as duets are titled in North Indian classical music. But that's not quite right either, since the disc draws on jazz, improv and New music more than strictly "ethnic" sounds.
"Dweller on the Threshold", for instance, involves Dunmall's tenor saxophone and Gibbs' electric guitar. But the originality exhibited wouldn't cause anyone to confuse the track with the work of Sonny Rollins and Jim Hall or even Evan Parker and Derek Bailey. Basically, neither is the soloist, neither the accompanist. The guitarist's arpeggio chording is succeeded by bridge investigation as the saxophonist's ballad sound gradually morphs into a commodious dissonant tone that magnifies to such an extent that two simultaneous lines appear. Later, while Gibbs burrows away in the treble clef, Dunmall first turns to tongue fluttering than, eventually, to intense altissimo slurs.
"Vril" is performed on acoustic guitar and soprano saxophone. But again, despite the cliched instrumentation, no one will mistake it for smooth jazz. With Dunmall
limiting himself to the highest register of his instrument, Gibbs counters with some folksy strums up and down the fretboard which help prolong the drama. Although he's confined to the bridge, the guitarist is the melody man, while it's Dunmall who quacks, croaks and toots. Conversely "Call to Prayer" could be described as a quasi-raga, with the multi-tones of the double bamboo pipes approximating North Indian music, as Gibbs with nothing more than an acoustic guitar creates the drones of a tambura and the pulsations of a tabla.
Ethnomusicologically Dunmall often takes the border pipes and Cornemeuses way beyond the Celtic heartland. "Inside Out Man" finds him overblowing the pipes for unique tones and timbres, for instance, while on "Frenzy at the Delicatessen" the soprano Cornemeuse or bagpipe seems to migrate to the Maghreb with a distended tremolo. Hope the frenzy wasn't caused by mixing haggis with samosas, however.
For originality and musical distinction alone, Gibbs and Dunmall certainly justify the name under which the disc was recorded.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Tom O'Bedlam 2. Beyond the Black Stump 3. Ioanes 4. Call to Prayer 5. Inside Out Man 6. Dweller on the Threshold 7. Frenzy at the Delicatessen 8. Vril 9. So I must sharpen my sword-spike and then be off, nephew
Personnel: Paul Dunmall (soprano and tenor saxophones, tenor and soprano Cornemeuses, double bamboo pipe, border pipes); Philip Gibbs (electric and acoustic guitars)