Paul Dunmall Brass Project

Maha Samadhi
SLAM 2105

When discussing the many serious films – not sequels or knock-off copies – whose concept, setting or plot resembles classics from earlier decades, the perception should be how well the ensuing auteur handles the material. So it is with this suite created by Paul Dunmall. A rare foray into composition by the protean tenor saxophonist, the starting point for this single reed-and-brass-choir enterprise is John Coltrane Africa Brass LP of 1961.

An unabashed Trane follower, which several CD salutes to the revered saxophonist to his credit, Dunmall’s take on Brass Project is more like Quentin Tarantino’s recasting of action films than Brian DePalma’s Hitchcock-lite emulations. Consider the spiritual antecedents. Before the saxophone became known for his work with the Mujician quartet, Dunmall lived in an ashram for a time, playing in the One Love sect’s Divine Light Mission band, even once with Alice Coltrane. The libretto for Maha Samadhi though equally mystical, is closer to Coltrane’s late-life spiritual pursuits than Africa Brass’s secular swing. It’s based on the life of Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886). Another important difference is while a variety of brass players participated in the many sessions for Africa Brass, this CD’s seven tracks feature the core band of trumpeters Percy Pursglove, Aaron Diaz and Alex Astbury, trombonists Dave Sear and Josh Tagg, and tubaists Josh Palmer and Jo Sweet, augmented by Dunmall, bassist Olie Brice and drummer Tony Bianco.

Stripped of its transcendental back story, Maha Samadhi stands on its own as capably as any contemporary film noir amplifies the atmosphere of 1940s and 1950s classics. Although un-credited, arrangements for the tunes are often dazzling on their own. “Temple of the Mother’s Presence” for instance begins with beautiful pastel harmonies, while the title tune features rococo layers that add to theme description, rather than swaddling it in unneeded tonalities. Meanwhile “In the Cossipore Garden” allows the bassist’s strongman strums and the drummer’s engrossing kit exploration to be displayed like gems a jeweler’s widow, with muted and mellow low-pitched brass textures the cloth around them. Theme elaboration result from Brice foreshadowing and later accompanying of the horns’ cantilevered support. “In the Cossipore Garden” concludes with Tagg’s rigorously tonal solo challenged by Dunmall, who splinters his responses into sushi-sized bites and climaxes with jagged and juddering tones snaking against one another.

Other brass players such as Pursglove, with his shrill staccato barks on “Ecstatic, Unbearable Love” make their presence felt, but the focus throughout is on the saxophonist’s erudite concept extension. His influences are a bit too obvious on that same track when he twice quotes from “A Love Supreme”. However after constant glossolalia and split tones asides appear throughout, where every nuance of a tone is examined as if under an aural microscope, the concluding track is an appropriate coda to the exploration that precedes it. Wrapping foghorn-like, post-Trane saxophone drones, augmented by drum rat-tat-tats and double bass pumps into a package decorated with brassy grace notes, the session defines itself as both a salute to Coltrane and a gifted expansion of Trane’s vision, fuelled by 21st Century concepts.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Ecstatic, Unbearable Love 2. Temple of the Mother’s Presence 3. In the Cossipore Garden 4. Maha Samadhi 5. Infinite Cry

Personnel: Percy Pursglove, Aaron Diaz and Alex Astbury (trumpet); Dave Sear and Josh Tagg (trombone); Josh Palmer and Jo Sweet (tuba); Paul Dunmall (tenor saxophone); Olie Brice (bass) and Tony Bianco (drums)