Paul Dunmall Quartet
IN the brief sleeve notes to south Londoner Paul Dunmall’s Quartet recording Underground Underground, the saxophonist, born in 1953, describes how the foursome was originally formed to create a tribute to John Coltrane’s momentous Sun Ship album of 1965, as a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the great hornman’s death.
Rather than reprise the tracks from Sun Ship, Dunmall decided “to write some heads in the same vein as Sun Ship, so we could still capture that intensity and play with that Coltrane spirit but make it our own thing.”
The quartet of Sun Ship comprised ’Trane’s greatest unit, with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones on drums.
Dunmall’s Quartet has no piano but has a second tenor saxophonist in Howard Cottle, whose depth of experience over the years includes playing with South African Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath, the Caribbean-rooted ensemble Jazz Warriors and US eminences such as pianist John Hicks and trombonist Slide Hampton.
He has also been a regular alongside British-based stalwarts like saxophonist Evan Parker and trumpeters Harry Beckett and Kenny Wheeler.
This is a band who give a very powerful live experience, as I discovered when I heard them very close up at Hackney’s Cafe Oto, and they are founded on the intense rhythmic upsurge of London bassist Olie Brice and New York drummer Tony Bianco, who create a taut and pounding foundation for the two surging hornmen.
Coltrane loved to play with fellow saxophonists as his forays with Eric Dolphy, Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders on albums like Ascension, Meditations and Live in Seattle show, so Underground Underground continues that tradition with an ocean in between and half a century later.
The title tune makes a roaring beginning, with Dunmall, perhaps inspired by memories of playing with ’Trane’s wife Alice, in particularly strong fettle in his opening solo with the Brice/Bianco undertow pounding beneath him, urging him on. When Cottle joins him, their interplay is furious as if the living world around them is pouring from their horns.
The second track is called The Inner Silence Was Too Loud and it is the pugnacious sound of Cottle that makes the first solo.
He rises and falls in fanfares of breathy and stark lyricism as if he is creating a new worldly language built upon deep ancestral tones with a lineage rooted in the profound sounds of real life. His notes are a call for union and Dunmall’s comradely sounds join him in a syndicate of breath.
Sun Up invokes Coltrane directly and it is Dunmall’s sonic energy that breaks into the light, followed by Bianco’s urgent drums feast.
These are the sounds of the drummer’s Brooklyn, of Elvin Jones’s exemplar, of his time in Berlin in the early ’90s when he played with Ake Takase, Schlippenbach and Dudek, to London later in the decade where he partnered arch-trombonist Paul Rutherford and reedman Elton Dean. Then it is a billowing Cottle who brings the track home.
Timberwolf begins with a throbbing Brice solo, and it is he who is truly “underground” in his bass heartbeat.
This is the longest track, some 17 minutes duration and Brice’s earthen preface is radiant with a dark promise.
When the horns enter in unison, palavering with each other, they leave way for more springing Brice before Cottle begins his tenor reedsong, like a confessional, gushing with erstwhile unheard narrative.
Dunmall’s splurging horn solo follows, a flood of sound, impassioned and wildly beautiful.
The much shorter Hear No Evil, Play No Evil follows, slow and processional, with each horn in turn in notes of lamentation.
These musicians are from the generation which followed ’Trane and whose music has been blessed by his recorded sound, and transfigured by their own inventive techniques and imaginations.
In this way Coltrane still plays and will continue to play, as much in Hackney and Brooklyn as in Hamlet, North Carolina, where he was born or Philadelphia where he grew into his music. Coltrane lives!
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