PAUL DUNMALL/PAUL ROGERS/KEVIN NORTON

Go Forth Duck
CIMP #296

PRESENT TENSE WITH PAUL DUNMALL
Infinity Calling
Foxy Productions Foxy 203

Fusion, jazz’s equivalent of the f-word, has its negative reputation because of the bombastic technique exhibited by most of its practitioners, especially those from the rock side of the fence. So when a quick-witted, almost highbrow CD like INFINITY CALLING comes along, you’re loath to describe it as a fusion effort, even though the three members of the Bristol, England band Present Tense don’t shy away from the label.

Not that anything from guitarist Philip Gibbs, percussionist Marco Anderson and synthesizer whiz Ben Williams is particularly restrained, but the three are aided and abetted by the saxophones of Paul Dunmall, one of that country’s most accomplished improvisers in any idiom. He confirms that reputation on GO FORTH DUCK, a non-electric, non-fusion effort whose three overlong selections match Dunmall on reeds and bagpipes with long-time associate Paul Rogers on six-string bass and American Kevin Norton on vibes, percussion and drums.

On his solo sessions, with his octet and as part of the co-op Mujician with Rogers, the reedist has shown that he can play at great length without lacking ideas or stamina. He has to on the quartet CD to hold his own among a panoply of electric and percussion instruments.

Gibbs, who often works with Dunmall in lower-key situations, shows that he can emit as many fuzztones and distortions as any ProgRock idol, strum with yeoman’s strength in the rhythm guitarist’s roll, and create funky bass-guitar-like vamps when needed. Distorted, spaceship invader lines are often his stock in trade, especially when they meet up with polyrhythmic rumbles, smacks and rebounds from Anderson.

Someone whose background includes stints in rock bands, the Happy End Big Band, as a session player for pop and Bhangra dates and as house writer for an ad agency, the drummer easily moves from tempo shifting output to more abstract rumbles and pops. His triggered loops and sonic landscapes provide many of the panoramic background textures, as do Williams’ synthesizers and sequencers.

Not content with relying on burbling synthesizer washes and electronic wiggles to decorate and frame the compositions, Williams uses the organ settings of his instruments to solo as well. The results are varied. Sometimes the Morse code pulsation remains in cushioning mode; other times, as on “Augermentative”, he provides Jimmy Smith-like, soulful pulsation, letting out his pedal stops and slurring away.

This casts Dunmall, on tenor, in the soulful Stanley Turrentine role, but since the saxman at one point traded blues licks with Johnny “Guitar” Watson, he’s perfectly at hone, double tonguing and smearing — letting his solo spin out into snorts and a bouncy counter motif. Gibbs contributes chicken scratching rhythm work and Anderson busily paradiddles and press rolls.

Introducing Brian Augur-type rumbling organ lines, Williams and the others reorganize the nearly 17-minute title track around distorted lead guitar licks, heavy on the wah-wah pedal, plus steady two-handed, martial-style drum work. Despite — or perhaps because of — the thunder and lightning exploding behind him, Dunmall is unperturbed, growling whole notes out of middle register, unspooling tough tones, and squealing his way up to altissimo and shrill pitches above that, while sneaking into every crevice of the tune.

Present Tense isn’t all ghost town whistles, lowing Pharoah Sanders-like honks, backbeats and sizzle cymbal resonation, though. Anderson’s reverberating Tibetan bowl and unselected cymbals, extended with loops and cymbal scratches are front and centre on “C-Thing”, for instance. Soon legato tenor sax tones, swoops and obbligatos succeed those sounds, as percussive pings and accents provide the backdrop. Gibbs outputs echoing fills as Dunmall flutter tongues in front of a deep cushion of organ tones. Finally, as the saxman twitters and overblows, bowl percussion and circuitous keyboard tones return.

With this CD a fine — can one say — fusion effort, it will be interesting to see how Present Tense fares when Dunmall’s mixture of rubato dexterity and imperturbable smoothness is replaced by another soloist’s input.

Exposing another part of his personality on the other CD, Dunmall’s hard bopper-like ability to play all night, is put to a test on the title track. At more than 36½-minutes, it’s longer than most hard-bop LPs. However, he and his confreres manage to make the piece seemingly fly by in an instant, with no sense of boredom, repetition or overreaching. Still the mind-meld is so pronounced on this track, that it puts the other two numbers into the also-ran category.

Beginning with a moderato, shuffled arco bass line and clattering cymbals, a clear tenor line soon sinuously adds the timbres of a musette. A dusting of vibe mallet tones allows the buzzing of Rogers six-string to provide the bass line, as Dunmall smears and trills in coloratura range. Before the reedist turns to split tones, the bassist has gone from ponticello motion to exposing deep tones, as Norton, on drums, flams and bounces

Bustling with the same speed and energy he brings to INFINITY CALLING, the saxman then double tongues and vibrates new lines as he works his way around the reed, adding a grating, kazoo-like tone. With the bassist moving back-and-forth and side-to-side on his axe, Norton chimes in with metallic side shots and ride cymbal shakes as Dunmall extends and intensifies his reed patterns.

Moving from a bouncing spiccato pulse, Rogers works on the space beneath his instrument’s bridge producing deadened, shifting semitones. As the strings are both pulled and scraped, the percussionist offers up rim shots and tiny mallet tips on metal keys plus rolling snare and ride cymbal motions. These encourage Dunmall to introduce Trane-like overblowing. Soon the grainy smears become so jumbled and siren-like that they start to resemble some of Arthur Doyle’s more obtuse outpourings, like a man muttering to himself.

Ultimately the piece reaches a crescendo with thumping double stopping from the bass, flashing gyrations from rim tops and vibes from the percussionist and the saxman producing quacking granulated lines and squealing tongue slaps.

“Come Back Weirdness Day”, with its steady arco pulse and Uillean pipe bellows serves as intermission until the regrouping on the almost 24-minute “I Am Not a van (Ofocals)”. Alive with speedy bowing from Rogers, pitch vibrations from Dunmall and glissandos from Norton’s vibes, it still can’t measure up to the tour-de-force on track one. Perhaps it’s because the saxist plays whole passages in squeaky altissimo, that the bassist at one point sounds as if he’s playing the introductory riff to “Bag’s Groove” and that the drummer seems to be attacking his kit none too gently.

Granted that exceptional skills are on show, though, with Rogers, for example, simultaneously squealing his top strings and dragging his bow across the bottom ones so that single-handedly he becomes a string quartet. Yet the overall impression left is of motifs unraveling at a modest pace, with all the playing, including Dunmall’s doits, growls and smears a touch unfocused.

Probably by playing it in two separate sitting, one for track one, the other for the remaining two. GO FORTH DUCK will be more memorable. As it is, both CDs confirm Dunmall’s talents in disparate settings. They also confirm that done right, neither fusion nor abstract are four letter words.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Infinity: 1. Yo Bloop! 2. Infinity Calling 3. Augermentative 4, An Act of Mindless Charity 5. C-Thing 6. Memory Refit 7. Ring Fence

Personnel: Infinity: Paul Dunmall (tenor and soprano saxophones); Ben Williams (synthesizers and sequencers); Philip Gibbs (fretless and standard electric guitars); Marco Anderson (drums, percussion, Tibetan bowls, Reaktor loops and sonic landscapes)

Track Listing: Go: 1. Go Forth Duck 2. Come Back Weirdness Day 3. I Am Not a van (Ofocals)

Personnel: Go: Paul Dunmall (soprano and tenor saxophones and border bagpipes); Paul Rogers (A.L.L. 6-string bass); Kevin Norton (drums, marimba and percussion)