PAUL DUNMALL MOKSHA BIG BAND

I Wish You Peace
Cuneiform RUNE 203

Unquestionably a 50th birthday present to himself – and his listeners – there’s a tendency to hear I WISH YOU PEACE as an attempt by British saxophonist Paul Dunmall to sum up his musical experiences after a half century of life. Yet it’s a much a reflection of the present and future as the past.

Writing the three-part suite at a time when the war in Iraq was in full battle mode, Dunmall’s spiritual preoccupations seem a bit overcome by bellicose motifs in this recording, initially premiered on BBC Radio 3. Still the title reflects the reedman’s desire for humankind to achieve a non-war-like serenity.

As for the band’s name – Moksha is a Hindu word meaning the final liberation of the soul. It references the sort of transcendental conscientious Dunmall and others first experienced in the 1960s and have migrated to the 21st Century. Like certain orchestral showcases for saxophonists recorded at the time by Pharoah Sanders, John Coltrane and Archie Shepp, “I Wish You Peace” is very much a concerto for Paul, with the ever-inventive saxophonist taking the greatest amount of solo space.

The most prominent secondary voices belong to Dunmall’s associates in small groups. The rest of Mujician, bassist Paul Rogers, drummer Tony Levin and especially - pianist Keith Tippett make the most obvious contributions, as do Philip Gibbs on guitar and autoharp, drummer Mark Sanders and guitarist John Adams who often play in the saxophonist’s trio. Giving Dunmall the space to improvise, conductor Brian Irvine is along to direct the horns: Gethin Liddington and David Priesman on trumpets; Hilary Jeffery, Paul Rutherford and Chris Bridges on trombones; plus Simon Picard and Howard Cottle on tenor saxophones.

Part Two makes the most use of the other players. Parting the smeary horn and brass hocketing, Tippett offers up a brief improv that bounces between a montuno section and near bop, while Dunmall’s concise tenor statements unfold on top of bounces and flams from Levin and Sanders. Later, either Gethin Liddington or David Priesman trade snaking restrained trumpet lines with variegated, cross dynamics from the pianist. Hummingbird swift chromatic runs and slurred high-pitched variation are then exhibited by one of the brassmen, almost a cappella. Subsequently Gibbs or Adams moves up front for Wes Montgomery-like thick octave runs. When the guitarist’s output turns more abstract with counterlines and thumb pops, Dunmall, who has been involved in offbeat theme development throughout, turns to exploded multiphonics, as the two turn into a 21st Century Jim Hall and Sonny Rollins duo. Massed horn interludes sneak in and out of the audio picture just behind the two, climaxing in unison dissonance.

Part Three’s finale is somewhat similar, with seemingly every instrumentalist twisting, turning and screaming at top volume before the piece is cut off. Earlier, however, this cut has exhibited the most 1960s-like echoes. Tippet slathers prepared piano stops from inside his instrument, one of the guitarists produce a vague sitar-like tone and the section’s beginning is almost electronic, featuring a droning strings section with a ponticello bowed bass line on top.

Comparable to his work on Part Two and unlike the warm, Coleman Hawkins-like tenor tones he floats in the first part, Dunmall’s solos are in 1960s mode as well. Howling and pitch shifting, he works his way from screaming altissimo to the bottom of the bow snorts with almost Tranean intensity using smears, doits and glottal punctuation. Along with these staccato flutter tonguing, the section features high-frequency piano comping, chiming and shuffling extended chromatic guitar lines, and times when the other horns combine step by step into a unison climatic harmonic interface.

With textures and timbres often felt as well as heard, Dunmall’s three-part suite manages to replicate the cacophony of war in such a way that the individual expression of the composition gives hope that peace will arrive. What a birthday celebration it is.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. I Wish You Peace Part One 2. I Wish You Peace Part Two 3. I Wish You Peace Part Three

Personnel: Gethin Liddington, David Priesman (trumpets); Hilary Jeffery, Paul Rutherford, Chris Bridges (trombones); Paul Dunmall (soprano and tenor saxophones); Simon Picard, Howard Cottle (tenor saxophones); Keith Tippett (piano); John Adams (guitar); Philip Gibbs (guitar and autoharp); Paul Rogers (bass); Tony Levin and Mark Sanders (drums); Brian Irvine (conductor)