August 16, 2011

Double Trouble
Reel Recordings RR018/019/020

Unbeknownst to most Jazz fans the musical influence of the South African Blue Notes combo and Brotherhood of Breath (BOB) big band extended much further into Jazz’s lingua franca than evidenced by the groups subsequently led by the original expatriates. Part of the appeal of Dreamtime, for instance, founded in 1981 by three Englishmen and two London-domiciled expatriates – one Italian and one American – is the many of the themes pulse with that mixture of Townships and experimental sounds which characterized the BOB.

At the same time Dreamtime was a dream project for improvisers because of the consistency of musicianship among the band members, as these three examples of their work indicate. Disc One from a 1984 Jazz Festival features the initial line-up of trombonist and chief composer Welshman Nick Evans; Brooklynite-turned-Londoner Jim Dvorak on pocket trumpet; Italian bassist Roberto Bellatalla plus Britons drummer Jim Lebaigue and alto saxophonist Gary Curson. All except for the drummer worked with different South African ensembles, with all the horn players in BOB, and Evans in one Soft Machine line-up that also featured alto saxophonist Elton Dean, who apparently worked with every one of the players at times. That’s the reason why the final disc, featuring the original band augmented by pianist Keith Tippett, a sometime Dreamtime member, is particularly affecting. It’s a DVD of the sextet playing at an Elton Dean Memorial in 2006. In contrast, the club date from 1991, which is Disc Two, could be termed Double Dreamtime. Here the original five members are joined by a homologue on the same instrument: trumpeter Kevin Davy; trombonist Paul Rutherford; saxophonist Paul Dunmall; bassist Marcio Mattos and drummer Mark Sanders; each of whom has extensive experience in British groups on their own or alongside different members of Dreamtime.

Including compositions by other BOB members like trombonist Radu Malfatti and bassist Harry Miller plus a group improv titled “Bushman’s Dance”, the quasi-South African inflections are strongest on CD1. The most common motif is a hard-hitting groove built on call-and response vamps that usually involve plunger work from Evans, smears from Curson and brassy insouciance from Dvorak. A piece such as “Duos/Dalbe 345”, composed by Malfatti, who long ago abandoned this style for microtonalism, has a head that could have been written for a South African band, and leaves enough space for individual expression. By the finale drum rolls evolve into parade-ground raps from Lebaigue with earlier variants based around a clean trumpet lead, widely vibrated double-tongued fluttering from the saxophonist and Evans’ guffawing glissandi. On the piece, Bellatalla’s brisk finger-styled line is the connection. This skill is showcased even more on “Traumatic Experience” and “Careful Driver”. The former is a semi-swing tune with Evans maintaining the moderato link between sectional polyrhythm from the bass and drum and staccatissimo heraldic trumpet and top-of-range sax lines. More of a Bellatalla showcase, the latter has a repeated bass line which expands into swift arpeggio runs with hesitant asides. Meanwhile strident peeps and squeaks keep the stop-time exposition linear.

Seven years later at a London club, the doubled personnel demonstrates pleasing multiphonics at points; but with two drummers and six horns elsewhere move Dreamtime’s harmonies closer to the swollen brassiness of groups such as Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago. Luckily High Life influences mated with some Iberian tarantella suggestions and solos in the Albert Ayler tradition prevent the group from losing itself in Pop-Jazz.

While other tunes may highlight gutbucket brass cries, hocketing reed slurs plus contrapuntal rhythmic shakes, two of the bassist’s compositions are more indicative of the magnified band’s style. Working off Dunmall’s pedal point smears and triplet laden brays from Dvorak and Davy, “Call the Devil” is expressed in polyrhythms and polyharmonies until the main Mediterranean-styled theme appears midway through. Fiesta-like brassy, yet moving from chromatic to broken octave, the accompaniment is characterized by a walking bass line, strokes and bounces from the dual drum sets and tremolo trumpeting. The final variant downshifts to a splintered tenor saxophone solo and door-knocking percussion work soaring beside a pile up of irregular grace notes from the other horns, and ends with Afro-Cuban vocal “umphs”.

Stop-and-go, contrapuntal and dyspeptic, “And So Tibet” moves from stacked altissimo reed ejaculations and anvil-like percussion wallops to an overture of tutti slides plus whinnies that scatter colors and rhythms every which way. Redirected towards an Aylerian parade-ground-like routine by bugling from one trumpeter, the rhythm undulates enough to open up more space for Dvorak’s pocket trumpet triplets which lead the other horns upwards into skyscraper tones. The finale features the high-pitched brass screeching on top of thumping bass lines and gradually fading with marching-band-like echoes.

As for the DVD, captured more than 15 years after the initial session, it’s more akin to a bagatelle or a visual souvenir than a major statement. In truth the lachrymose performance by the Dreamtime quintet and Tippett may be more valued by completists who wish to be caught up in the poignant moment. For others the two audio discs are preferable. They exhibit music from a group of improvisers who, while never reaching first rank, produce (d) high-class work nonetheless.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD1: 1. Trunk Call 2. Tip of the Iceberg 3. Careful Driver 4. Duos/Dalbe 345 5. Bushman’s Dance 6. Traumatic Experience CD2: 1. Sierra Maestra 2. Loopin’ 3. Frogs 4. Call the Devil. DVD: 1. Abide With Me 2. Trunk Call 3. Call the Devil 4. And So Tibet

Personnel: Jim Dvorak (pocket trumpet and voice); Nick Evans (trombone); Gary Curson (alto saxophone); Roberto Bellatalla (bass) and Jim Lebaigue (drums) plus on CD2: Kevin Davy (trumpet); Paul Rutherford (trombone); Paul Dunmall (tenor and baritone saxophones); Marcio Mattos (bass) and Mark Sanders (drums) plus on DVD: Keith Tippett (piano)