Paul Dunmall: The Golden Lake; High Birds, Vol. 1 & 2; Deep See & Occasional Rain


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Paul Dunmall/Tony Levin/Miles Levin
The Golden Lake

Paul Dunmall/Rozemarie Heggen/Alan Purves
High birds Vol. 1 & 2

Paul Dunmall/Tony Orrell/Jim Barr
Deep See

Paul Dunmall/Peter Brandt
Occasional Rain

As British multi-instrumentalist Paul Dunmall enters his 56th year, a new sense of expansiveness is entering his music. He has lost none of his fire but his sonic pallet has broadened and the arch-like structures of each improvisation have widened and softened, allowing more space and opportunities for reflection.

The Golden Lake's opening few minutes tell the tale. The most timbrally straightforward of Dunmall's recent projects, a new diversity is still in evidence. Awash in cymbals, a sense of timelessness is immediately established as father and son drummers Tony and Miles Levin paint in little metallic dabs and long wet strokes. When Dunmall enters, his playing is also replete with these gestures as short but precise stutters and staggers alternate with longer tones, swooped and swelled by turn. The three tracks find the drummers in tight synchronicity, especially as they swing their way through the first and third pieces. Dunmall's exhortations show blues inflections and stunning bebop lines, historically informed to match the drummers' obvious affinity with chronologically disparate developments in improvised music.

The fact that two of the four releases under discussion are on Dunmall's own label means that adventurousness is to be expected and the High Birds sessions do not disappoint. Much of the vast sonic variety is due to the inclusion of percussionist Alan Purves, who brings a unique voice to these two astonishing discs with his squeaks, gentle rattles and tubular bells. Also quite innovative in her approach is bassist Rozemarie Heggen, whose sense of timbre and timing is impeccable as she traverses the instrument's entire range. They push Dunmall to playing that veers between introspection and gusto. Each gesture is magnified and lengthened as he employs quick vibrato, sweeps, slides, emotive cascades and raspy gurgles—all extramusical tropes that he seemed to have eschewed long ago. However, they are entirely appropriate given the largely pointillistic and timbre-based explorations of the venture. Veteran Dunmall collaborator Hillary Jeffery graces the second disc with his own patented brand of multiphonic utterance, making these sessions some of the most fascinating and rewarding in the Dunmall catalogue.

The two FMR discs lean a bit more toward conventional genres, but there are surprises afoot at every turn. Deep See's "Deep See Diver" may be the biggest surprise of the lot; it begins as a slow, churningly deep blues, Dunmall getting to show off the lessons he learned in his days with Johnny Guitar Watson as bassist Jim Barr and drummer Tony Orrell slither and stomp around him. Yet, the same tune sports moments from each end of the dynamic spectrum, from blasts of New Thing fire to vistas of pregnant space punctuated only by braps and rustles in post-Spontaneous Music Ensemble mode.

Occasional Rain finds Dunmall playing melodica in addition to his normal array of saxophones and the results range from interesting to revelatory. His harmonic sense gets the vertical treatment as he blows chords and clusters, but when he begins to flutter-tongue the instrument, a layer of timbral interest is added. Bassist Peter Brandt plays considerably fewer notes than, say, Paul Rogers, with whom Dunmall has executed many fine projects, but Brandt is a bassist of taste; he knows when to play and more importantly, when to linger on a note so that the session is replete with beautiful counterpoint.

Tracks and Personnel

The Golden Lake

Tracks: The golden river; The golden lake; Possessing a thousand arms.

Personnel: Paul Dunmall: saxello, tenor saxophone; Tony Levin: drums; Miles Levin: drums.

High birds Vol. 1 & 2

Tracks: High birds 1; High birds 2; High birds 3; High birds 4.

Personnel: Paul Dunmall: soprano saxophone; Rozemarie Heggen: double bass; Alan Purves: drums, percussion, squeakology; Hilary Jeffery: trombone.

Deep See

Tracks: Deep sea diver; Cookle hen; Sausage or gregory.

Personnel: Paul Dunmall: tenor and soprano saxophone; Jim Barr: bass; Tony Orrell: drums.

Occasional Rain

Tracks: Blue skies; Philip Stetnor II; Blue rain; Orange rain.

Personnel: Paul Dunmall: melodica, saxello, tenor saxophone; Peter Brandt: bass.


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