Paul Dunmall/Mark Hanslip/Philip Gibbs/Ed Ricart

February 26, 2014

Weeping Idols
FMR CD 356-0513

Edward Ricart Quartet + Paul Dunmall
New Atlantis CD 009

Having the talents of British tenor saxophonist Paul Dunmall and American guitarist Edward Ricart in common and recorded in the same year, these CDs confirm that the classification of the two sessions as Free Music is about as useful as noting that a Jeep and a Jaguar are both automobiles. Part of a double duo filled out by Brits Mark Hanslip on tenor saxophone and Phil Gibbs on guitar Weeping Idols is a four-track exercise in contemplative but often spiky improvisations with the balance subtly shifting among the four players. Chamaelon on the other hand, is except for Dunmall, all-American, with its six tracks spontaneously composed in a more aggressive manner, reinforced by contributions from bassist Jason Ajemian and drummer Andrew Barker as well as Herb Robertson on trumpet and so-called little instruments.

Weeping Idols’ drawback is that no matter how skillful the solo and group playing is, the fact that there are two tenor saxophonists and two guitarists participating makes it impossible to ascribe praise to individual musicians. Who for instance is responsible for the breathy swallowed reed notes on “Better than Words”, and who sharpens that interface with whizzing horn slurs? Or on “Bhutan”, is it Dunmall’s long-time playing partner Gibbs who comes up with the slack-key like rumble, or is it Rickert – whose name is consistently misspelled as “Richard” on the disc – who does so, and Gibbs who supplies the rhythm-guitar-like continuum on the same piece?

In a way these may seem like niggardly concerns. But considering that Cheshire-based Hanslip, despite having played with the likes of Stephen Grew and Tony Marsh is less frequently recorded than Dunmall; and that Washington D.C.- based Ricart, who has played with stylists like William Hooker and Ches Smith is in a similar situation here, the fact that music may be “better than words” doesn’t really help.

Overall each of the major improvisations depend on contrast and conflict, with the four players exposing various expansive or curtailed strategies which on “Bhutan”, for instance attain a climax of accelerated smear and cross tones; or on “Better than Words”, is grounded with chiming guitar tones after individual horn and string players have worked their way through thematic variations.

Although lacking a conventional rhythm section there are spikier and staccato sequences in a couple of Weeping Idol’s selections which if made more hard-edged would relate more closely to the near Jazz Rock of Chamaeleon. That way it would appear that the chesty saxophone honks come from Dunmall and the cascading electric flanging from Rickert Chameleon. Considering both the saxophonist and guitarist have so-called Fusion experience this shouldn`t surprise.

However the methodical chording of Ajemian’s bass and the wide-ranging clatter behind Barker’s drumming rarely become monotonous or thick enough to even approximate Jazz Rock. More importantly the abstract smears from Robertson’s trumpet exposed throughout and the time he introduces ragged wooden-flute sprightliness to “Beelining” sabotage any tendency towards Fusion that the saxophonist’s reed-bitten snarls and the guitarist’s slashing chord cohesion threaten to ignite.

Sadly there are points where Rickert’s plectrum showiness takes over and his slanting runs nearly drown out all the other players – even the drummer. Those sequences are when it’s evident that every member of the front line is seeing how aggressive and loud he can be via twangs, slurs and screams. But again this excess is eventually put into a context of Free Jazz stimulation not Jazz-Rock audience milking.

More satisfying of the tracks is also the lengthiest, “Forager”. Dynamically and disjointedly built up by all concerned a chromatic narrative is always present, even as Dunmall tongues out irregular vibrations, Robertson expells brassy smears and Rickert pushes oscillated string licks forward with knob twisting. As the bassist’s thick lines contributing to a climax that nearly sucks all the air out of the improvisation, it’s only with sheer professionalism that the tune ends as a showpiece not as impenetrable mass.

Instances of Dunmall’s and Rickert’s work which inhabit a netherworld that seem determined to try out novel methods of improvisation, both these CDs can be praised for their impudence. However the indulgent and the profound moments are nearly equal. Perhaps another run-though with both bands would be more satisfying. Plus Hanslip and Gibbs both deserve better showcases.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Weeping: 1. 4 Souls, 8 Eyes 2. Bhutan 3. Better than Words 4. Weeping Idols

Personnel: Weeping: Mark Hanslip and Paul Dunmall (tenor saxophones); Phil Gibbs and Ed Ricart (guitars)

Track Listing: Remembrance: 1. Forager 2. Real Orbital 3. Excavator 4. Blind Source 5. Elliptic Operators 6. Beelining

Personnel: Remembrance: Herb Robertson (trumpet) Paul Dunmall (tenor saxophone); Ed Ricart (guitar); Jason Ajemian (bass) and Andrew Barker (drums)