Hit And Run
FMP CD 116

Alien Art
DUNS Limited Edition 008

Despite equal billing for all three musicians, except for its final five minutes, HIT AND RUN isn't a trio session at all. Instead it features bassist John Edwards doing yeoman service in duets with two of his British countrymen who happen to be some of the most accomplished reedists on the planet: John Butcher and Paul Dunmall.

Each of the meetings, however, is as different as the bearded, heavyset Dunmall and slimmer, clean-shaven Butcher are from one another. Dunmall's "Gaulstones" is a gaudy free-for-all featuring him on two different bagpipes and soprano saxophone; while Butcher's "Rhymes" is divided into four shorter rhymes, with him moving effortlessly from soprano and tenor saxophone and back again. What they share in common is excellence.

Dunmall's bizarre title is a reference to the circumstances of the duet. Edwards was pressed into service, after the reedman's regular duo partner, bassist Paul Rogers, was laid up in his home in France following a gall stone attack. Rogers was on his feet though, nearly two years later in Bristol, England for the concert that makes up ALIEN ART.

On the first CD, interestingly, enough, the bagpipe ends up being the most sonorous instrument on its title track and only trio outing. A low-caloric desert after the man-sized, more than 35 minute helpings of woodwinds and bass than proceed it, the piece features Dunmall tooting away on pipes, Butcher's warbling split tones and Edwards using guitar fingerings to match them both in fervor. Resolving itself as quickly as the incident it's named for, at the finale the high intensity track almost develops into a wee Scottish reel.

Earlier on, Dunmall suggests what would have happened if circular breathing had been adopted as enthusiastically by traditional Scottish musicians as improvisers. Certainly the instrument's chanter and bag gives him a lot more leeway for the almost infinite technique he had developed for the pipes over the proceeding decade.

To counter this virtuosity, Edwards appears to be calling on not only his playing experience with multiphonics maven Evan Parker, but earlier percussive methodology developed in art-rock bands. Like American William Parker, he seems to prefer the darker, more threatening bass regions, either sawing away with his bow or yanking the string hard enough to create basso overtones.

Not likely to be mistaken for a member of the Black Watch who limits himself to "Amazing Grace", Dunmall often suggests such non-Western instruments as the shehnai and the musette in his playing, creating two melodies at once, the first with the chanter and the second with the drone. Questions sometime arise as to whether a sound originates from this distinctive pipe command or from Edwards' percussive playing.

The bassist does get a section to express himself first arco then pizzicato, but only after the bagpipes have held one tone seemingly ad infinitum. That bull fiddle solo is also a prelude to Dunmall bringing out his soprano, which in this context suddenly sounds so establishment, even though he introduces double-timing, slap-tonguing and liquid sprints up and down the horn.

There's no mistaking that Butcher is playing saxophones on the almost 37 minutes of the next track, but his technical mastery of the soprano and the tenor is such that sometimes you can't pinpoint a pitch to its origin. Dissonant to the point that you're always conscious that he's playing a metal instrument, Butcher completely controls the sound centre, using flutters, reed bites, slap tonguing and even duck quacks to move things along.

These attacks bring out reverberating overtones from Edwards in the bass' highest register, but when Butcher turns to shrill pitches that sound as if they're produced by the mouthpiece alone, Edwards starts to bang away at the bass strings. Thumps and bumps from the instrument, turn it into percussion, while Butcher twins a min foghorn then creates what appear to be ferocious lion snarls, reed kisses and mouthpiece buzzes. Pure release and depletion suggest themselves in equal measures at the end.

Flash forward to Bristol in 2001 and you find double-barreled Dunmall reunited with his Mujician playing partner Rogers. More of a light-fingered bassist than Edwards, Rogers' playing is also closer to his folk and jazz roots. Whether it's true or not, Bristol's Victoria Rooms sound a lot smaller than Berlin's Podewil, where the first CD was recorded; certainly the performance here is more claustrophobic.

This time Dunmall, especially at the beginning playing soprano, takes a lot more of the air, filling every sound hole with some phrase or another; Rogers functions more as an accompanist. As the saxophonist introduces circular breathing and English ballad motifs that lead him to echoing split tones and violin-like tones, the bassist turns to bowing in an elevated register to sound more than one string at a time.

Negating its appellation, the CD's title track features Dunmall back on bagpipes, but with such naturalness that any alien appearance is banished. Using the penny whistle-like chanter to approach jazz duet territory, his instrument's attachments allow him to hold notes even longer, creating natural overtones and multiphonics. Soon he's producing his own backing ostinato, conjuring up mythical highlands, as Rogers ranges up and down the face of the bass. Eventually, however, the bassist begins to bow some classical sounding themes, too reminiscent of the concert hall setting, before he accelerates into jazz movements.

With Dunmall back on sax, the two undertake a protracted call-and-response routine, with the saxophonist biting his reed more than his lip and Rogers' fingers able to suggest the string bass, a supple guitar and wooden body percussion.

Both CDs are worth investigation, with both recommended to those who can't get enough of Dunmall's inventive reed investigations. In terms of variety, though, three musicians at the height of their powers trump two.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Hit: 1. Gaulstones Rhymes: 2. Knotted 3. Plotted 4. Dotted 5. Spotted 6. Hit And Run

Personnel: Hit: Paul Dunmall (border and Northumberland bagpipes, soprano saxophone); John Butcher (soprano and tenor saxophones); John Edwards (bass)

Track Listing: Alien: 1. One Noise Away 2. Alien Art 3. Big Knows

Personnel: Alien: Paul Dunmall (bagpipes, soprano saxophone); Paul Rogers (bass)