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Interviews

A Fireside Chat with Paul Dunmall

By Published: November 29, 2003
Born of the working class, Uker Paul Dunmall, like many of the Euros who are progressing improvised music, is well versed. Musically, ideologically, and instrumentally, Dunmall may seem avant-garde, but that is conventional paranoia. A member of the London Jazz Composers Orchestra and a founding member of the improv collective power group, Mujician, Dunmall, again like many of his Euro counterparts, has a wealthy discography that will stimulate the mind as much as it will subtract the bank account. Of late, Dunmall has been releasing quite a bit of music on his own DUNS label, an audible newsletter for his fans and continues to redo and undo what I think and think I know about this music. Dunmall sat down with the show on a recent East Coast tour with familiar partner in crime Paul Rogers and American Kevin Norton. As always, I bring our conversation to you, commercial free and uninterrupted, and before I forget, unedited and in his own words.

Fred Jung: Mujician plus Roswell Rudd has been in my CD player of late.

Paul Dunmall: Was that Bladik with Keith Tippett and Roswell Rudd? Yeah, Paul (Rogers), and Tony Levin. We did a gig. Roswell came to London and Elton suggested it and we did it with Mujician. Basically, we did one gig and then we did the recording session. It was great. It was really good and then Roswell went back to the States. It wasn't like an ongoing group or anything. It was just kind of one of those session things. It was great. It was really good. You got some good musicians there, so something was bound to happen.

FJ: And a duo session between you and Paul on your own DUNS label, Ja ja spoon.

PD: Oh, yeah, Ja ja spoon, fantastic. We've just another one, which I think Emanem is going to put out for us. That should be coming out in the next six months. We only just recorded it in March. I gave the masters to Martin (Davidson) a couple of days ago, in fact.

FJ: Does it feature your bagpipes?

PD: Yeah, we did three tracks, one with bagpipes, one with soprano, and one with tenor.

FJ: I'm a pushover for the bagpipes.

PD: You've got to work on it for quite a while. The fingers are different and so you do have to work on it. It took me quite a while because I started on the Northumbrian pipes, which is very, very different because that is all done with the fingers closed down. When you play that, you just lift one finger, whereas the tenor saxophone, all your fingers are off, basically, and you just push the button that you want.

FJ: And Ja ja spoon and other DUN releases feature your paintings as well.

PD: Yeah, it is just an outlet for me to do a bit of that. It is just another thing. It is just trying to be creative. It is coming from the same space because I hadn't really studied it like I had music. It is something that is very pleasurable, very enjoyable to do. I do a lot and then I pick what I like, what works. I actually think the Ja ja spoon is a good one. I was quite happy with that myself.

FJ: You have collaborated with Paul and Tony on so many occasions, it must be old hat by now.

PD: For sure, me and Paul were talking about it earlier. We have been playing for twenty-three years at least. The thing that we have, and the same with Tony, is that we don't have to worry. I don't have to think about anything. I could just play whatever I want and that would be fine, just like Paul does whatever he wants and it's going to happen. It is not like playing with someone new. You can really go deep with it. I suppose if you have been playing with someone for twenty-three years, something must be going on. Long may it continue.

FJ: How is DUNS doing?

PD: Fantastic. I'm not selling hundreds of copies. I don't print that many, but as a musical outlet for me, it is one of the best things that I have ever done. I can do a recording once a month and put something out. It is great. It is like a newsletter. That is what I am doing right now.

FJ: You are in the midst of a Eastern tour, how has it been?

PD: I came three years ago. I just did one festival and I left and then me and Paul came to do a duet last year. That was more revealing. I found the audiences fantastic actually. I don't know whether it is because the grass is always greener. They never see me and Paul play very much over here, whereas in Europe, we play a fair bit over there and so they see us a lot. But I found the openness of the people fantastic. They were really keen on the music and very supportive.

FJ: And the future?

PD: I was fortunate enough to do because I was fifty the other week, I was fortunate enough to do my fifteen piece big band, which I was lucky to do. The BBC funded that. Hopefully Cuneiform will put that out at some point. There is a few things I have recorded for my own label. I've just done a trio with two guitar players, Phil (Gibbs) and John Adams. A quartet has just come out with Neil Metcalfe on flute and Paul on bass and me and Phil. There's one with a classical player, Andrew Ball and Hilary Jeffreys on trombone. There is quite a lot really. There must be half a dozen recordings waiting to be sorted out and even more in the pipeline.

FJ: Is the big band the same personnel as The Great Divide?

PD: Yeah, it is similar. It is not exactly the same, although it is a similar kind of thing. I used it as a vehicle for me to get up and play on top of a big band. I also used it like Mujician, which was the quartet that we worked with for so long and the trio with John Adams and Mark Sanders. We've done a lot of things together. There is lot of connections, lots of threads. Getting Phil Gibbs involved and all the horn players that I have worked with. It was kind of a celebration of fifty. I've made it this far and an opportunity that doesn't come up often to actually do a big band. So it was kind of like The Great Divide double octet, but it was a bit more written than that. This is very rare. This is not a regular occurrence. This is the first time I have had enough money to do a project like that. I don't know whether it will happen again. It is so expensive to do that. I didn't have enough time really. I rehearsed in a day and then we recorded it. I keep that in mind when I write the stuff that I know that we don't have a lot of time. You are on a shoestring and you have hours to put a big band together. I think the way I wrote the piece, it worked very well all things considered. I am very happy with the results.

FJ: And the trio with Mark Saunders and John Adams is ongoing?

PD: It is still going. We are going to do another recording this year. That works very well and it has been a bit neglected, but I am definitely going to get that happening again. We're going to try and resurrect it a bit because it was a great trio. I really love playing in that band.

FJ: How many Mujician recordings are available?

PD: Well, I've got about sixty recordings, maybe more. There are more, in fact. I haven't got them all because a lot of the concerts were recorded. So there are a lot of live gigs that were recorded and we just done one for Paris radio. I am not sure if that's been broadcast or not. There is tons of stuff there and we've put five albums, five studio albums on Cuneiform. We've got a lot of live stuff, dare I say, possibly better. It is just what they are. There are some fantastic live gigs.

FJ: Any interest expressed in perhaps a box set?

PD: We did think about that. I have spoken to a couple of people about this. It is a bit of a headache to organize it and it is going to cost a hell of a lot of money to do a box set. For a record company to do it properly, it is a big commitment, but the music is there. We haven't really pursued it.

FJ: And tour dates on the West Coast or Chicago?

PD: Chicago has been talked about and it has been talked about for a couple of years now. I live near a place called Birmingham and it is twins with Chicago and the guy who runs the Birmingham Jazz Festival wanted to get the Octet to Chicago, but they couldn't afford it, then it was going to be a quartet, then it was going to be with me and Paul, then it was going to be me, solo. Now, it has ended up nothing. Ken Vandermark said that anytime I want to go out there, he can give us a few gigs and what have you, but the trouble is getting the airfare. I have had a few offers for the West Coast as well, but the airfare to get out there. It is a bit of a headache, but I am optimistic. I think we will get out there at some point. I would love to get out there. I lived out there for a while from '73-'76. I lived out in California. I lived in Venice (laughing). It was great. It was brilliant. I enjoyed myself. I haven't gone back since I lived there in 1976, so that would be quite a trip down memory lane. One other option is getting to Vancouver and getting the British Council to pay our flights down there and then we can come down into the West Coast. That is a possibility. That is something we are going to try and work on. I reckon we can easily get a week's work. It is knocking that airfare out. The British Council would pay for that if we went to the Vancouver Festival. It has been talked about. I just hope that we get the chance to do it.



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