Paul Dunmall Octet: Great Divide (2004)
One must respect the impressive experience shared among the players on Great Divide. In various groups led by Paul Dunmall and Elton Dean, as well as Keith Tippett's Mujician, the musicians in Dunmall's current Octet have committed a lot of fine music to record. Great Divide continues in this offbeat tradition, offering a series of pieces framing wide-open improvisation within loosely structured contexts. Rather than convening all eight musicians for unremittingly dense interaction, Dunmall prefers to compose heads for the group which rapidly fragment into explorations by four or five of its members at a time. Key moments of harmonic or rhythmic formality serve as an electric ground for the group, shaping the collective voice in subtle ways that define mood, drama, and pulse.
For the most part, the rhythm section of Rogers and Levin (and also, frequently, guitarist John Adams) plays a support role for the solo improvisations by the horns. Tony Levin in particular deserves recognition for his energetic work on the drums. While he can and does swing lavishly at times, he more often breaks out into a roiling free-bop simmer. Levin's relatively dense and dynamically varied hits spur the other players to new levels of energy and cohesion. Witness Gethin Liddington's particularly fine trumpet solo on "Part Four"where Levin rides alongside, tossing up crashes and rumbles at emotional high points. When the piece implodes into a quieter, more deliberate collective improvisation, Levin tones his accents down to chamber-music levels.
Tenor player Paul Dunmall is generally not one to steal the spotlight. But when he steps forward on "Part Five," he reveals a surprising level of intensity and focus. During this part of the recording, the other players each come in and out to offer counterpoint, balance, and a taste of dissonance. (No one's scared of a little noise here.) Keith Tippett's piano playing rises and falls with the tidal energy of Dunmall's emotional shout. Then, as the music progresses, a reflective series of rolling piano arpeggios announces the arrival of trombonist Paul Rutherford's more pensive voice on the scene.
While Dunmall has always had a certain flair for composition, it's really the improvised interactions among these players that sparks the greatest interest on Great Divide. That's fitting, given the volume of their shared musical experience. The last track adds another eight players to the mixand with sixteen voices all shouting at once, this crowd recalls some of the densest free jazz experiments on record (Ascension, anyone?). It stands in stark contrast to the sparser, more personal pieces from earlier in the record. But lest you have any earwax buildup, rest assured that this "Passage Through the Great Divide" will jar it loose in no time flat.
Track Listing: Part One; Part Two; Part Three; Part Four; Part Five; A Passage Through the Great Divide.
Personnel: Paul Dunmall: tenor sax; Simon Picard: tenor sax; Paul Rutherford: trombone; Hilary Jeffries: trombone; Gethin Liddington: trumpet; Keith Tippett: piano; Paul Rogers: bass; Tony Levin: drums. Guests: Elton Dean: alto sax; Lee Goodall: alto sax; Evan Parker: tenor sax; Howard Cottle: tenor sax; Oren Marshall: tuba; Jon Corbett: cornet; John Adams: guitar; Mark Sanders: drums.