Red Dhal Sextet

Red Dhal Sextet
FMR CD364-1014

The closest thing to a multi-country super session, if such show biz-like tropes weren’t verboten in the more egalitarian Free Jazz Scene, the Red Dhal Sextet impressively tackles a set of instant compositions with the finesse needed to create high quality improvised music.

Recorded in Berlin, the sextet is pieced together from other bands. German alto saxophonist Frank Paul Schubert, Australian bassist Mike Majkowski and Greek drummer Yorgos Dimitriadis – all residents of the German capital – often play together in trio formation. Another Berliner by adoption, trombonist Hilary Jeffery is part of groups such as Zeitkratzer and plays in the octet lead by British tenor saxophonist Paul Dunmall, who is also featured here. Pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach has been part of countless European Jazz combos since the mid-1960s, most notably his own trio with saxophonist Evan Parker and drummer Pal Lovens.

Technical finesse leads to improvisational smarts however, so each band member functions as part of a well-oiled machine throughout. Well-oiled doesn’t mean smooth however, and when Schubert. Dunmall and Jeffery operate at full tilt; agitated textures consistently speckle the interface. Self-effacing, Dimitriadis keeps the program flowing almost soundlessly with rhythm insinuation rather than bravado. More upfront, Majkowski aids in the six numbers’ chromatic motion. He and the drummer also have several moments of partition, when one or the other engages in dialogue(s) with one or the other of the saxophonists.

Thoroughly grounded in pre-and-post Free Jazz, von Schlippenbach knows when subtle Jazz-like comping is the perfect strategy to knit together disparate sound shards from the horns. At the same time his keyboard smacks, waving cadenzas and note substitutions sustain individual tunes’ shapes. One moment he can be clanking out a variant of straight-forward Free-Bop, the next enlivening the session with agitated, supra-tremolo chording that extend Cecil Taylor’s innovations. That’s most obvious on “Purple Dhal” as he mixes it up with the bassist’s floating slides, leaving it to Jeffrey’s plunger tones to create the connective ostinato. Meantime Schubert and Dunmall prolong the tumult with note sprinkles, timbral slurs and juddering bites.

Free formations arise as frequently from the trombonist’s narratives as those from the playing of the two reed men. With all the horns blowing at once, as on “Red Dhal”, the effect is of controlled chaos. Spurred by the pianist’s passing chords each saxist marks his territory with spurts of near-liquefied tone stuttering, intertwining for multiphonic accelerations, but with enough skill to reveal moderate timbres in saxophone-bass or saxophone-drums duos.

Attaining a distinctive crimson patch on “Scarlet Dhal”, the six finally bring their improvising ingredients to a boil, serving up spicy revelations from each man. Dimitriadis’ clatters are the first layer, surmounted by piano line sprinkles, Majkowski’s sharp jabs plus brays and lows from Jeffrey are then topped by moderated and melding reed textures. Reaching a sonic climax here, it’s easy to agree that the session has imparted a filling musical repast.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. White Dhal 2. Orange Dhal 3. Purple Dhal 4. Red Dhal 5. Turquoise Dhal 6. Scarlet Dhal

Personnel: Hilary Jeffery (trombone); Frank Paul Schubert (alto saxophone); Paul Dunmall (tenor saxophone); Alexander von Schlippenbach (piano); Mike Majkowski (bass) and Yorgos Dimitriadis (drums)