West Hill Records WHR 002

Paul Dunmall/Matthew Shipp/Joe Morris/Gerald Cleaver

The Bright Awakening

RogueArt ROG-0103

Almost eight years separate these two live quartet sessions featuring British tenor saxophonist Paul Dunmall, but the high level of in-the-moment improvisation is almost identical. Other than intensity, there’s little overlap between the two discs. The Bright Awakening was recorded during 2012’s Vision Festival and features Dunmall who has partnered with many UK sound explorers embedded among American practitioners with the same experience: pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist Joe Morris and drummer Gerald Cleaver. Flash forward to Café Oto in 2020 and the saxophonist plays with London-based associates of the same ilk: trumpeter Percy Pursglove bassist Olie Brice and drummer Jeff Williams. The American program is a single creation, while the slightly longer London one is divided in two.

At the Vision fest Dunmall begins with an ecstatic burst of overblowing which quickly evolves into multiphonic theme variations and detours into raucous altissimo shrills as Shipp’s dynamic keyboard roaming is seconded by Morris’ power pumps and Cleaver’s ruffs. With flattement and flutter tonguing the saxophonist illuminates theme variations from the highest to lowest pitches with his stretched notes are framed by the flexible pops created as the bassist slowly unwinds his strings. As reed tones take on a rustic woodiness, followed by nephritic emphasis and slavering glossolalia, Cleaver’s cymbal shakes and drum paradiddles introduce an interlude of sophisticated almost Bop-oriented chording from Shipp. Together these asides keep the evolving improvisation from crumbling into fragments. Increasingly confident with his backing, Dunmall accelerates to a sequence where he produces so many textures that he creates call-and-response vamps all by himself, extended his breath with each pass through. Shipp too begins frantically ricocheting notes every which way, though tellingly, neither loses track of the exposition. A penultimate section finds the narrative slowing down from andante to a near pastoral shuffle, the better to isolate lowing reed trills and individual piano notes. As woody buzzing from the bassist signals an approaching climax, hoarse saxophone cries and accelerating keyboard pumps create the final timbral decorations. Reflecting the introduction, each player breaks up his output into more abrupt bites, pressure or slurs.

Pursglove’s plunger tones and flutters are the harmonized foil to Dunmall’s straight-ahead theme introduction on “Tattarratattat - 1”, with Williams’ drum rumbles and Brice’s clenched string strums providing the bridging continuum. As the trumpeter sources buzzing snorts and squealing spits in counterpoint to Dunmall’s irregular vibrations and scoops, it’s the bassist’s sul tasto rubs and the drummer’s rolled accents that maintain consistency. So even as the two horns work up the scale in increments from grace notes to blowsy Bronx cheers on the trumpeter’s part and from percussive growls to thick multiphonics on the saxophonist’s, Brice’s col legno pops confirm the outline of the group’s broken octave narrative. With the same high quality evolution, the slightly shorter “Tattarratattat - 2” take the concept further, though with more mellow and melodic stretches. No one would confuse this for a mainstream session however, no matter how many airy puffs Pursglove projects or burbling airs come from the saxophonist. Harsh brays and squeaking flutters at various pitches and tempos dominate the horn strategy. They’re spewed out at every opportunity, and slide in and out of each other’s space, with Bruce’s string sawing adding staccato intervals. Yet the links among the four are so stable that a final boisterous group improvisation contains memories of the tune’s lyrical overtones.

Only one of these CDs is entitled Palindromes, and it doesn’t really fit the definition of sequences that read the same backward as forward. But the free-thinking and sophisticated sounds that dominate both discs mean that that the musical evolution heard maintains the same standard of excellence at the beginning and ending no matter which group is involved.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Bright: 1. The Bright Awakening

Personnel: Bright: Paul Dunmall (tenor saxophone); Matthew Shipp (piano); Joe Morris (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums)

Track Listing: Palindromes: 1. Tattarratattat - 1 2. Tattarratattat - 2

Personnel: Palindromes: Percy Pursglove (trumpet); Paul Dunmall (tenor saxophone); Olie Brice (bass) and Jeff Williams (drums)