Mikolaj Trzaska / Paul Dunmall: London, England, October 15, 2012
October 15, 2012
Three for the price of one? How could you resist. London boasts a sizeable Polish population, and it seemed like a large part of them had braved the cool Monday evening to visit Cafe Oto for a visit by Gdansk-born reedman Mikolaj Trzaska. But in a night of unabashed, spontaneous creation, he wasn't all that was on offer. Trzaska has been featured on over forty recordings, dating back to the early '90s, but is only now achieving a higher profile outside his European heartland. This evening he appeared alongside two familiar denizens of the capital's improvised music scene, drummer Mark Sanders and bassist Olie Brice, under the moniker Riverloam Trio. But Sanders, having driven down from Birmingham for the gig, also brought along one of the UK's most accomplished improvisers, reedman Paul Dunmall, to increase the permutations possible across three sets.
Dunmall and Sanders have forged a strong connection, playing and recording together many times over the years, with Deep Whole (FMR, 2008) being just one of the more outstanding outcomes. However their pairing tonight was something else again, being the premiere of a unique duet. Bagpipes have long fascinated Dunmall. He has waxed three albums for solo pipes to date on his own Duns Limited Edition label, and he often gives them brief outings in concert, alongside his more usual saxophones. Having explored the possibilities with Sanders in a studio session on Pipe And Drum (FMR, 2012), there was now the chance to see how this translated into the live arena.
Without formality-a quick "Are you ready?" the only introduction-the two embarked upon a hypnotic symbiosis of skirling pipes and rolling polyrhythms. One of the sometimes off-putting characteristics of bagpipes is the continuous drone against which the piper pitches his melodic airs, but under Dunmall's direction, the dissonance turned into a positive as he coaxed multifarious squeals and microtones from his nimble fingering. "Flower of Scotland" it wasn't. Amid the folk-inflected lines, hypnotically insistent patterns emerged which Sanders matched with an uninterrupted, though buoyant, tattoo.
Each time he performs, Dunmall seems to have added another set of pipes to his arsenal. In a thirty minute set he gave a run out to four different instruments, along with a double reed chanter, to amplify both visual and auditory interest. But it was the multiphonics which contributed the edge to what was otherwise a primeval and evocative utterance. Sanders had clearly adapted his style to blend with the unbroken legato stream from the pipes. As such, there was no room here for the subtle mixture of space and tone color play which otherwise forms such a prominent strand in his expression. Nonetheless, their first live showing will be remembered as a singular and enjoyable experience.
Next up was the Riverloam Trio, on the first leg of a short European tour. Having been together since 2010, the Trio has an excellent calling card available through its eponymous debut, a double LP package on No Business Records (2012). Tonight's show easily lived up to the promise of that document. It was clear that the three men have developed a special bond and a group conception which prizes an almost conversational interaction full of passion, depth and emotion. Together they formed a notably selfless trio, reveling in assured colloquy.
Trzaska announced their arrival with a strident clarion call on alto saxophone, which generated a pithy dialogue with Brice's assertive, anchoring kernels, before Sanders too pitched in. As the intensity levels edged into the red, the Pole became increasingly animated and mobile, swinging his horn up to the ceiling and back down to the floor between his legs in an ever widening arc. He boasted an attractively vocalized, full tone on alto, deployed in clipped phrases to answer and anticipate his colleagues. Tonal distortion intensified the visceral weight of the exchanges. Among the most obvious reference points were reed volcanoes such as Peter Brotzmann and Mats Gustafsson in their less extreme moments, as well as their frequent collaborator Ken Vandermark, similar in his co-option of repeated motifs. But by this stage Trzaska is his own man, not beholden to anyone else.