Paul Dunmall, Tony Bianco and Dave Kane at the Vortex, London, UK
Paul Dunmall, Tony Bianco and Dave Kane
January 19, 2010
The band was smoking, they were burning, they were on fire. Just some of the expressions used to denote a truly affecting jazz experience, but not to be taken literally. So imagine the concern of the patrons in north London's Vortex jazz venue as smoke was spotted curling up from the amplifier of bassist Dave Kane not long into the first set. Not surprisingly the first signs were an acrid smell that some attributed to the candles, and the sudden inaudibility of the bass, immediately apparent to Kane though quite hard for the audience to detect behind the onslaught of drummer Tony Bianco's percussive whirlwind.
Both were here as part of a trio completed by saxophone master Paul Dunmall. Once the saxophonist became aware of Kane's predicament he was able to get the message across to Bianco. Musicians often retreat to a different realm of consciousness when in full spate, and this was certainly the case with Bianco who, with eyes closed and limbs mesmerically flailing, seemed oblivious to perceived danger. Once Dunmall's proximity had registered and the saxophonist was able to convey the problem, Bianco quickly drew the piece to a close, but still with enough presence of mind to mirror his opening gambit of playing with a shaker in one hand and his two sticks in the other, for a snapshot of how structure can be imputed to totally improvised settings. Happily another amp was soon found, and after a brief hiatus the trio was able to resume.
This pairing of American expat Bianco with the British reedman was a repeat of an appearance at the Vortex almost a year previous. On that occasion they performed as a duo, following the double booking of bassist John Edwards, so successfully it was difficult to see where a bassist might have fitted in. Tonight they did have a bassist, notwithstanding the burnt-out amp, in the upcoming talent of Leeds-based northern Irishman Dave Kane. Kane's reputation is growing, based on his partnership with pianist Matthew Bourne and drummer Steve Davis, who together with Dunmall released the excellent Moment To Moment (Slam, 2009), and his helming of the Leeds Improvised Music Association.
Bianco and Dunmall share a history going back some fourteen years since the New York-born drummer relocated from Berlin to London. In that time they have collaborated on numerous occasions, including the acclaimed Utoma Trio (Emanem, 1999), with the most recent being the blistering Spirits Past And Future (DLE, 2008) on the reedman's own imprint.
Typically for Dunmall this was a totally improvised outing without any prior discussion of destination, played out over two sets weighing in at almost 90 minutes. Much of the interest lay in the strategies adopted for working with Bianco's non-stop drumming style, which was the defining characteristic of the evening. Bianco has evinced an interest in deriving drone tones from his drums, which he achieved through fusillades of rhythms spinning around a still center, such that he paradoxically imparted forward motion yet remained in the same place, the aural equivalent of a runner on a treadmill.
Three intuitive solutions manifested themselves. Strangely the most obvious: to go with the flow and adopt an all-out power trio approach was used only sparingly. But once taken, it really delivered on the excitement, with Dunmall false-fingering to modulate and vary the tonality, speaking in tongues through overblowing, and availing himself of the middle and lower registers to thicken the density of his lines. To be heard amid this mayhem, Kane had to saw frantically or even resort to repeatedly striking the strings with his bow for percussive effect. More contrasting was the option of pitting sparse sustained notes against Bianco's polyrhythmic rumble, setting up a tension between Dunmall's ruminative tenor saxophone with its elemental yet bucolic cries, abetted by Kane's gentle almost subliminal plucks on bass, and the churning drums. Later, long-held soprano notes evoked a foghorn through the mist, while a spare pedal point from the bass proposed a calm amid the storm. However, the most frequent approach was one of measured tale-spinning, realized through call and response exchanges between the saxophonist and the bassist, atop the drummer's sonic gyre.