"I think what's actually happened in free improvisation...there's nothing that's barred. We want to use it all. We want everything. We want melody, we want time, we want abstraction, we want no time, we want the whole package so that you are truly free to play what you want.
Musicians do not usually tend to have mottos or slogans but the above statement just about encapsulates the career of saxophonist Paul Dunmall. One of the second generation, using the term loosely, of British free improvisers, Dunmall is a champion of the form as it enters its amazing sixth decade.
Dunmall, born in 1953 in Welling, Kent, spent his formative years, after having turned professional at age seventeen, playing jazz but also the progressive rock popular at the time with a band called Marsupilami. He moved to America in 1973 and spent three years at the Divine Light Mission Ashram through which he played with Alice Coltrane.
When he returned to London in 1976, he began to meet the earlier generation of British improvisers and learn, really for the first time, of his musical heritage, initially from hearing drummer Louis Moholo's album Spirits Rejoice (Ogun, 1978) with Evan Parker, Keith Tippett, Kenny Wheeler, Harry Miller, Johnny Dyani and Nick Evans. "I felt great because I had done the hard slog by learning my craft in all sorts of bands, Dunmall recalls. "Learning how to play the saxophone properly, playing in horn sections, learning how to play like that, studying the American side of jazz and then getting drawn into the free improvisingI didn't belong to any camp. I was my own man sort of thing and I could play with all these different sorts of people.
It has been stated by others that free jazz is very much about community and Dunmall seems to agree: "I found they [older British jazz players] felt, well there's not that many of us around, here's someone else who's a really good player who's helping us. They could hear that I was from the American tradition but they could hear also that I was doing my own thing.
Dunmall, had started down the path to free improvisation years before, though he might not have known it. "I've done it from day one honestly, he says. "It just seemed natural to me that you play what you want. Playing what he wants or as he puts it, "see what happens, has led to some very fruitful relationships with a host of other like-minded players, perhaps most notably with drummer Tony Levin, bassist Paul Rogers and pianist Keith Tippett, both independently and as the collective group Mujician.
Dunmall met Levin after the drummer had heard the saxophonist play at a festival. Rogers and Dunmall met when they were on the same gig in the early '80s. Tippett and Dunmall taught at the same summer music camp. Chance encounters that have led to over 25 years of making music together, making but never discussing. "Since day one we said let's never talk about what we're going to do, Dunmall states. "So we never discuss the music, never have. And sometimes we haven't worked for long periods, three months, six months, we haven't done a gig and what's happened, we've walked on and it's just been as though we were together yesterday.
Mujician came together in 1989 after Paul Rogers' return from a stay in America. Dunmall got a gig, for what at that point was called the Paul Dunmall/Keith Tippett Quartet. All four participants were enthusiastic about the results and started thinking about names. Tippett had used the name Mujician on a trio of solo piano releases for FMP, the moniker coming from an auspicious mispronunciation of her father's profession by Tippett's daughter. The group made The Journey, their first recording for Cuneiform, in 1990 and seven more have followed, including this year's There's No Going Back Now.
Speaking about the band's development, Dunmall observes, "The latest stuff we've been doing amazes me how it turns on a sixpence. The music's going on one direction and it shoots off at a right angle in a split second. I don't know how that's possible but it does it. It seems to be happening a lot. All of a sudden, it is absolutely full on roaring and it stops and a pin drops.