If John Coltrane
had lived he would have been 90 in July 2019. It's fair to say that there has been no saxophonist anywhere near as influential since his passing in 1967. To mark the 50th anniversary of his death, percussionist Mark Wastell
organized a concert headlined by two affirmed devotees of the great reedman, namely Paul Dunmall
, leading his Sun Ship Quartet, and special guest Alan Skidmore
, at London's esteemed Cafe Oto. This splendid double CD captures the entire proceedings, including announcements and applause.
An international trio convened by Wastell and completed by Swedish percussionist Ståle Liavik Solberg and London-based Danish reedplayer Julie Kjaer
on flute, begins the album with an indirect homage to Coltrane. A recording of the great man's voice reciting the phrase "May There Be Peace And Love And Perfection Throughout All Creation O God," taken from the posthumous issue Cosmic Music
(Impulse, 1968), gives the collectively improvised piece both its start and title. Kjaer's flute leaps and trills athletically over agitated percussion in a setting in which everyone allows a lot of space, both sonically and tonally. It forms a refreshing aural palette cleanser before the main course.
Dunmall's Sun Ship Quartet provides the night's meat and two vegies. It's the same outfit responsible for Underground Underground
(SLAM, 2016) which supplements the leader's longstanding association with drummer Tony Bianco
through the addition of bassist Olie Brice
, along with a second tenor saxophonist in Howard Cottle. They revisit the five cuts which comprise Sun Ship
(Impulse, 1971), one of the last recordings by Trane's "classic" Quartet, sticking close to the source in terms of structure, less so in terms of realization, although Dunmall's kinship seems more overt than normal.
Both Brice and Bianco have moved on from the 1960s in terms of the overall approach to free music, taking full advantage of the emancipation of rhythm section roles. Brice trades in counterpoint as much as cadence, occasionally echoing Dunmall's phrasing to confirm a shared agenda. Bianco explores his own personal path in an all action wall of sound forged from a stream of chattering motifs and splashing cymbals. Cottle plays Pharoah Sanders
to Dunmall's Trane, his hyperspeed outbursts and passionate reiterations proving a fine foil.
When Skidmore joins for the final two selections from the album, he spurs everyone to even greater heights. He tackles the lead-in on "Attaining," and then when his turn in the spotlight arrives, he escalates with poised intensity, interspersing off kilter lower register passages into his flaring runs. After Brice's lilting intro, Skidmore again launches into the simple repeated head of "Ascent" presaging another round of solos. Dunmall, this time on soprano, quotes from "My Favorite Things," snagging on the musical figure which underpins "favorite" as a springboard for a further explosive outpouring. The track ends with all three saxophonists intertwining aerobatically, and prompts the thought that more of this might have amplified impact even more.
Both bands combine for a ten minute rendition of "Ascension," which quickly opens up for a series of woodwind features. After what's come before, it acts as a closing digestif, fun but not adding significantly to the more than ample fare which preceded it.