A Songbirds Temple
FMR CD 572-0120

Best-known for leading his own bands as well as long-time membership in the Mujician quartet, saxophonist Paul Dunmal has long been in the forefront of British Free Music. At the same time Dunmall, who years ago spent time in a Divine Light Mission ashram while playing in a big band with Alice Coltrane, believes in spiritual understanding through meditation. Sessions such as this one touch on both of his preoccupations. This is especially obvious in track titles such as the one which gives this CD its name, and the concluding “Bhagavathar”, honoring the 19th century mystic and Carnatic music composer.

Dunmall’s strong, expansive and multifold improvisations appear to owe much to the influence of Alice Coltrane’s husband John. On the five tracks here his appropriate accompaniment is from players with a similar orientation. Member of numerous bands, British drummer Mark Sanders plays with exploratory saxophonists such as John Butcher and Evan Parker, while American pianist Angelica Sanchez has worked extensively with saxophonist Tony Malaby, who is involved with the same sort of committed sound as Dunmall.

Stretching out emphasized textures on “A Songbirds Temple”, the saxophonist’s andante exposition undulates alongside melodic accents from the pianist and popping drum rolls. Sanchez’s touch becomes more pressurized and Dunmall’s treble slurs and snarls become thicker as they squeak towards glossolalia. Yet at the same time her key clipping and swirling passages keep the narrative steady and grounded no matter how many reed bites and split tones threaten to rip it apart. Except for Dunmall’s alto flute trilling on “Bhagavathar”, which mate mid-range tongue flutters with processional keyboard accompaniment, the other tracks follow similar exercises in polyphony. Metronomic keyboard patterning and pinpointed cymbal and drum top smacks encourage the saxophonist to dig into examinations of every note and tone, even to spewing duck-like quacks and rooter crowing. Still the most dramatic demonstration of this strategy occurs on “Many kinds of Tigers”, where rather than in inflated smears, timbral examination is expressed in pointillist bites. Meanwhile, Sanchez’s chording creates a connective silky groove, and the finale is signaled with a dazzling cymbal crack. Simultaneously spiritual in concept, scientific in analysis and spectacular in execution, this specially organized trio offers a carefully refined program of inspired improvisation.

-Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. A Songbirds Temple 2. Ever Renewed Horizons 3. Many Kinds of Tigers 4. Just Past Jupiter 5. Bhagavathar

Personnel: Paul Dunmal (tenor saxophone); Angelica Sanchez (piano) and Mark Sanders (drums)