July 9, 2001
The Great Divide
Cuneiform Rune 142
Solo Bagpipes II
DUNS Limited Edition 012
A heavyweight large ensemble work, THE GREAT DIVIDE allows British saxophonist Paul Dunmall to flex his writing, arranging and organizing muscles. Then for something completely different there's his solo bagpipes CD.
The orchestral session was created as a five-part suite featuring his long-standing octet, with a sixth blow out adding eight additional musicians. Cleaving midway between an ASCENSION-like, out-and-out free eruption and the more formal writing the saxophonist would have experienced in the London Jazz Composers Orchestra, the suite demands attention both for the strength of its soloists and its connective musical tissue.
Not that there would be any doubt about the solo strength, since included in the octet are the three others members of Mujician — Dunmall's most consistent employer — and BritImprov stalwarts like trombonist Paul Rutherford and tenor saxist Simon Picard. Guitarist John Adams from the saxophonist's working trio also adds his angular input to three parts of the suite and the final explosion, while familiar free improvisers like saxophonists Evan Parker and Elton Dean and drummer Mark Sanders fill out the big band.
Voiced the way progressive jazz arrangers such as Gil Evans approached similar-sized aggregations, Dunmall seems most concerned with balancing individual expression against large group dynamics. You realize this as you note that Adams' chording and main Mujician Keith Tippett's inside-the-piano mechanics can be clearly heard even within the orchestral passages. Another clue arises in "Part Three", when Paul Rogers' steady inventive sawing on his bass strings holds centrestage as the horn section gradually creeps up behind him.
These horn groupings become the leitmotifs holding the piece together, completing each section and cueing the next. Throughout the suite, different soloists step to the fore. They range from young trumpeter Gethin Liddington, whose tone is clear and almost classically "legitimate" — though he does slip in a quote from "Stranger In Paradise" midway through — to trombonist Hilary Jeffries on "Part Four". Double and triple tonguing, the bone master can call up the sound of mountain climbers shouting across the Alps or create horse whinnies with his plunger mute.
Occupied with advancing the beat, but never forcing it forward, veteran drummer
Tony Levin is most noticeable when his press rolls urge Picard from more restrained playing to stop time sheets of sound on "Part Two".
As for the leader, while a repeated piano ostinato and swelling orchestral harmony may presage the arrival of the tall, bearded sax slinger on "Part Five", he's certainly willing to meld his improvisations with others. Dazzling the locals with some hard swooping double timing, he's enough of a team player to let other posse members like Adams have their say. Finally he steps aside to allow Rutherford, assaying the role of an aging free jazz gunfighter that Richard Harris would play in the Western movie, to reprise some of the tricks that first made his reputation.
With nearly every one of the musicians simultaneously playing different lines that can be glimpsed through the cacophony of the final track, these 11 minutes serve as a fitting climax to all that came before. Mixing a sort of British reserve with a profusion of
orchestral crashing and burning, the massed musicians repeat crescendos and end on a high note.
A pulsating musical composition, not a university big band classroom exercise, the music adds lustre to Dunmall's stature as a composer. It's a sweet suite that deserves to be heard.
Far from the madding crowd, the other CD is aimed at much more specialized tastes. It showcases Dunmall's breath control and invention on an improv program performed on three different types of bagpipes. Instead of venturing into jazz bagpipe territory staked out by Philadelphia's Rufus Harley and others, however, he treats the chanter, drones and bellows the same as his other horns: as new sounds to manipulate. Thus the bag's natural overtones and continuum are extended with multiphonics, split tones and circular breathing.
On the jig-like "Loved ones", for instance, he manages to create a duet between two tones, one of which sounds like a penny whistle and the other deeper and darker. Whereas on "The day before freedom", there seem to be times when he's holding single notes almost indefinitely. Aylerian glossolalia appears on "A bag mistake", which despite its title is characterized by the appearance of a high-pitched, ocarina-style melody which is echoed and re-echoed by lower pitched chanter variations.
Then on the mammoth "The mountains love big pipes" — more than 15 minutes of his tones bouncing off imaginary mountaintops — Dunmall uses circular breathing to construct an assembly line of soprano saxophone-like notes, then contrasts them with a steadily shifting bass ostinato buzz. The end result is rather like one of those overpoweringly intense, late John Coltrane performances, which control rather than caress the ears.
That too is the caveat for this session. Saxophone reed honks and piercing clarinet glissandos are nothing compared to the bellicose, abrasive tones that can arise from the bagpipes. Deep listening is demanded here, but the uninitiated would probably prefer to do so in small doses.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Divide: 1. The Great Divide Part One* 2. The Great Divide Part Two 3. The Great Divide Part Three 4. The Great Divide Part Four* 5. The Great Divide Part Five* 6 .A passage through The Great Divide*
Personnel: Gethin Liddington (trumpet); Hilary Jeffries, Paul Rutherford (trombones); Paul Dunmall, Simon Picard (tenor saxophones); Keith Tippett (piano); Paul Rogers (bass); Tony Levin (drums) [plus on track 6]: Jon Corbett (cornet); Oren Marshall (tuba); Lee Goodall, Elton Dean (alto saxophones); Evan Parker, Howard Cottle (tenor saxophones; John Adams (guitar*); Mark Sanders (drums)
Track Listing: 1. Infinity within a semitone 2. No food to eat 3. The day before freedom 4. Loved ones 5. Wild tiger mind 6. A bag mistake 7. The expanding universe 8. Snatch us from the terrors of fear and pain 8. The mountains love big pipes
Personnel: Paul Dunmall (Gaida, Northumberland, border bagpipes)