Philip Gibbs/Paul Dunmall/Tony Hymas/Paul Rogers/Neil Metcalfe/Tony Levin

Mumuksuta
Duns Limited Edition DLE 066

Paul Dunmall/Chris Corsano

Identical Sunsets

ESP 4058

Van Hove/Dunmall/Rogers/Lytton

Asynchronous

SLAM CD 283

Straddling the sometimes artificially constructed divide that separates Jazz and Free Music is London-based woodwind player Paul Dunmall. He is able to creditably comport himself no matter the sonic situation in settings ranging from solo gigs to large ensembles. Three recent CDs demonstrate these skills in varied settings, only one of which is a bit louche.

One-quarter of the cooperative British quartet Mujician, Dunmall performs in top-form on Asynchronous, a live date with a similarly constituted band. Here Dunmall on tenor saxophonist is joined by Mujician-mate Paul Rogers, with his distinctive 7-string bass, as well as veteran Antwerp-based pianist Fred Van Hove, and English drummer Paul Lytton, a long-time collaborator of saxophonist Evan Parker. Young American drummer Chris Corsano plays with musicians inside and outside of Free Music, including Icelandic vocalist Björk. His no-holds-barred duet on Identical Sunsets, with Dunmall playing tenor saxophone and border pipes, can stand alongside the drummer’s other memorable CDs with Parker or American saxophonist Paul Flaherty.

On then other hand, with Dunmall moving among soprano and tenor saxophones, and bass clarinet, and surrounded by musical mates with whom he plays regularly, Mumuksuta should have been better than it is. Rogers and Mujician drummer Tony Levin are on board, and the sextet is filled out by guitarist Philip Gibbs, who has regularly worked with the saxophonist since at least the turn of the century; flautist Neil Metcalfe, who is part of both the London Improvisers Orchestra and Parker’s Transatlantic Art Ensemble; and pianist Tony Hymas, who has composed and performed notated string quartets, vocal music and music for dance, as well as working with leaders even more varied than Corsano’s, including vocalist Cleo Laine and bassists Bruno Chevillon. Mumuksuta’s shortcoming is that, not unlike many improv sessions, the band seems to puff, pull, push and propel timbres without much cohesion all during the first track. It’s not until Levin advances a hint of groove that the performance concentrates into a multi-faceted, if a bit overlong work.

With Identical Sunsets however, the time rolls by more productively as Corsano and Dunmall set up parameters following an interlude of multiphonic valve-pressured drones from the pipes and buzzes from drumsticks applied vertically to cymbals. Once the ground is furrowed, budding improvisation takes root with multiphonic expansions and contrapuntal pulsations from both men, each subsequent set seemingly fiercer than the one that preceded it. The saxophonist shrieks and shreds irregular tongue flutters as discordant ghost notes smears are wedged together rock-solidly and ricochet against the drummer’s hearty rebounds, drags and clip-clops. Lining up rough tongue squeezes, and melismatic runs pushed still further with diaphragm extensions, Dunmall’s creative furor is such that at points the drummer almost seems absent. And that’s just on “Living Proof.”

Luckily Corsano regroups with increased vigor on “Better Get Another Lighthouse” and elsewhere. Projecting an intermezzo of loosened lugs and intermittent bass-drum thuds, the percussionist paradiddles his snares, then answers those motions with hollowed thumps from the toms. Ultimately he builds up to cymbal slaps and hocketing resolutions, adding a few verbal cries. While these pressurized patterns are in the air, Dunmall extends and reaffirms his reed power with glossolalia, guttural snorts and glottal punctuation. Wisps of half-forgotten tunes appear for seconds during his chesty vibration and then vanish. By the climax the saxophone’s false register shrieks and screaming sound shards bond seamlessly with Corsano’s percussion rebounds.

If Corsano’s drum rumbles inflate with rock music’s heritage of beefy backbeats, then Lytton’s percussion discussion spread over his kit and various add-ons. is the epitome of European finesse. Although eminently capable of thick pounding when called for, say to counter fiercely accelerating licks from Van Hove, the drummer’s usual approach joins rasps, drags, strokes and flaps on a woodblock, unattached cymbals and drum tops, and with a judicious application of shuffle beats and rim shots calms down the fortissimo friction from other players.

All this is stunningly apparent during Asynchronous’ nearly 47-minute title track. Building on a foundation of thick stopping double bass lines, metronomic chording and swirling cadences from the pianist, plus wood pops and skittering textures from Lytton, Dunmall expels intense split tones with all his body weight behind them. Answered by continuous chording from Van Hove, the two continue to challenge each other in a broken-octave interface. As the saxman pumps out chorus after chorus of widely splayed guttural honks, the pianist moves from using contrasting dynamics on the keys to reaching inside the piano to stop, stroke and otherwise animate the strings. With Lytton maintaining some delicacy by rapping a small bell with a wire brush, Dunmall turns from nephritic pitch spreading to an unaccompanied version of boudoir slurs and tonguing. Establishing symmetry through Rogers’ passing thumps and the drummer’s flams and rebounds, Dunmall’s flashing altissimo runs and Van Hove’s kinetic cadences, the four reach a climax in due course. However while there is some tension-release at that point, it’s evident that they’ve paused to regroup. Soon, and until the conclusion, further connective and contrapuntal patterns emerge including pile-driver chording from Van Hove; ruffs and rebounds from Lytton; sul tasto runs and shuffle bowing from Rogers; and – surmounting all other textures – Dunmall spewing unconnected flutters and staccato tongue slaps.

Similar extended reed techniques enliven most of Mumuksuta; as do the others’ contributions. But it takes Levin’s toughened and resounding strokes, followed by Hymas’ concentrated note clusters to, on the second track, finally force the others to sharpen their textures. Before that it seems that “Yearning for Freedom” will remain just that, unfocused, meandering and inchoate. Luckily Levin’s Free Jazz variant of shock treatment rouses everyone from a collective stupor. Soon Gibbs is snapping single-line runs; the saxophonist’s expressive cadences burst out, fiddle-like sul ponticello squeaks arrive from Rogers’ hands and even Metcalfe, whose legato flute lines were previously almost jejune, shreds and sharpens his tone to strident peeps.

Even more appropriately, sounds on the remaining tracks, “One’s True Nature” and “From All Bondages” accurately reflect their titles. Levin’s flams and ruff in his solo concentrate the group improvisation as Rogers walks, Hymas comps, and Dunmall’s soprano saxophone cries are almost Country Blues-like. Unexpectedly the flutist too is emboldened, as he almost literally bites into his transverse instrument, squeezing out fierce flutters and octave jumps. Meantime Gibbs and Hymas intertwine guitar-picking fills and down strokes on wound piano strings.

Happily the final variant is even more spectacular, with Dunmall’s bass clarinet snorting out coarsened screams; rasgueado pulses from Gibbs; rubato cadenzas from the pianist; and the drummer managing to produce a conga-like rhythm. Appearing as if everyone wants a final lick before the end, taut variations of more extended techniques are exposed before low-frequency piano arpeggios signal completion.

Two hits and one near miss isn’t a bad record for someone who records as frequently as Dunmall. Perhaps more restraint and/or careful editing may have improved even the sextet CD.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Identical: 1. Identical Sunsets 2. Living Proof 3. Better Get Another Lighthouse 4. Out of Sight

Personnel: Identical: Paul Dunmall (tenor saxophone and border pipes) and Chris Corsano (drums)

Track Listing: Mumuksuta: 1.Yearning for Freedom 2 Desire to Free Oneself 3. One’s True Nature 4. From All Bondages

Personnel: Mumuksuta: Paul Dunmall,(soprano and tenor saxophones, Bb and bass clarinets); Neil Metcalfe (flute); Tony Hymas ( piano); Philip Gibbs (guitar); Paul Rogers (7-string bass) and Tony Levin (drums)

Track Listing: Asynchronous: 1. Asynchronous 2. Moves

Personnel: Asynchronous: Paul Dunmall (tenor saxophone and border pipes); Fred Van Hove (piano); Paul Rogers (7-string bass) and Paul Lytton (drums)