work being done in the area of free jazz/improv/spontaneous composition, call
it what you like, continues to provide me with some of the most stimulating
and rewarding listening. So it is extremely gratifying to hear the
continually challenging music of Paul Dunmall and associates being documented
alongside the next generation, in the shape of Welsh improvising quartet Full
I Wish You Peace
was conceived as Dunmall's 50th birthday celebration and this big band is an
extension of his staggeringly powerful octet whilst exhibiting elements of
his smaller group work in the process. It covers a range of settings
featuring players he has worked with many times plus one new one, trumpeter
David Priseman. So, inevitably there are shades of earlier work, such as 'The
Great Divide' especially its augmented section which saw the ensemble swell
to 16 musicians.
Dunmall, in the liner notes, says that he was writing this music when 'the
war in Iraq was in full flow', so the title took on a greater significance
and the project became more than simply a personal celebratory statement. But
it would be misleading to read it as a kind of anti-war diatribe, instead as
the name 'Moksha' says, it is about supreme liberation and is imbued with a
spiritual intensity akin to that which Dunmall's great inspiration, Coltrane,
From its mysterious opening with autoharp and percussion setting up a drone,
it is obvious that this is no ordinary 'big band'. This lays a foundation for
the leader’s meditative tenor sax and Paul Rogers' purring bass. Wraith-like
piano lines, courtesy of Keith Tippett, contribute to an atmosphere of
expectation but it is the tenor which most captures listener’s imagination,
quietly but insistently probing. Gradually, as is often the case in Dunmall’s
writing for larger ensembles, the horns glide in with a stately motif against
the tenor saxophone’s increasingly urgent attack. This contrast is
particularly effective, bringing together the elements of composition and
free improvisation, all driven by Tony Levin’s powerhouse drumming. It is
free jazz at its most controlled and exhilarating, another trademark of any
work Dunmall and company are involved in.
‘Part Two’ commences with a small scale improvisation showcasing the
trombones of Paul Rutherford and Hilary Jeffery in a busy exchange of
mercurial ideas. The track inevitably
builds in momentum as Tippett’s dancing piano darts around the deft drumming
and sturdy, propulsive bass. It's easy to hear the spirit of Mujician in this
section until it is further augmented by the incisive trumpet of Gethin
Liddington. There is more agitated trumpet later in the movement but this
time juxtaposed with what sounds like either a marimba or thumb piano. An
inspired duet that is merely one more notable section in a 21 minute piece
which moves seamlessly from small group interactions to the full throttle
barrage of the entire outfit. What unites the work is undoubtedly the passion
and sensitivity of all involved; they think as one and there is strong sense
of listening apparent in the way they feed off each other's statements.
The start of 'Part Three' echoes the beginning of the suite with the autoharp
accompanied this time by Rogers' arco bass singing across the breadth and
depth of its range, becoming more abstract as it progresses. Tippett's
prepared piano jangles and adds both percussive and melodic colour before
Dunmall's tumbling soprano takes off on further expressive and intense
explorations. Subtly the written and improvised materials merge again as the
colossus edges towards an ecstatic crescendo.
Near the close a ghostly fragment from the somewhat cliched wartime tune
'We'll Meet Again' drifts fleetingly behind the improvisations returning the
listener to the sentiments of the title. Music may not be able to deflect
those bent on war but it will always stand as an alternative that enriches
rather than depletes the human spirit. This recording is an outstanding
example of that.
By contrast, I recently heard an executive from one of the major record
labels saying that 'the public' didn't want to hear 'difficult jazz' and then
compounding his stupidity by saying that the works of Coltrane and Miles
Davis are no longer 'in vogue'. Without wanting to unravel the semantics of
either 'difficult', 'jazz' or 'vogue' this is plainly a slice of economic
spin. But such an attitude doesn't bode well for more adventurous work that
dares to set foot outside of a narrow mainstream.
However. I find it continually satisfying to come across new improvising
musicians like those featured on Full Circle’s extremely assured and
exhilarating release. They are new, in that I haven’t heard them before and
they are relatively recent arrivals on the jazz scene but I suspect more will
be heard from them, narrow-minded company executives notwithstanding.
They operate in a mainly acoustic arena with just a few electronic
embellishments and feature the multi-instrumental talents of Deri Roberts on
saxes, trombone, didgeridoo and flute. His contributions are balanced by
impressive, frequently tumultuous piano from Dave Stapleton, diverse percussion
courtesy of Elliott Bennett and the unusual combination of double bass,
acoustic guitar and electronics from the hands of Matthew Lovett.
The cd features a mixture of live and studio recording and all sections are
equally compelling, for example ‘Part 7’ where the dense undertow of piano
rises against the agitated flute before calming into a stretch of lyrical
interplay with the percussion. Plucked bass and the muted growling of the
didgeridoo set up a different tonal scenario before the cascading piano
builds once more.
'Part 1' is taken from a live gig and demonstrates how group improvisation
can make use of colour and energy without being in any way 'difficult'.
Roberts' soprano is fluent and luminous, while once more the piano explores
both sparse and more substantial textures. Parts of the piece reminded me of
Stan Tracey and Mike Osborne in one of their spectacular duo improvisations.
Additionally the drumming brings a powerful momentum to the track.
More fragmentary sounds open 'Part 2' with scraped strings and minimal piano.
This is another live example of how subtlety can be an essential ingredient
of improvisation. When the tenor enters and joins forces with the keyboard
and guitar it is a timely reminder that warmth and passion can equally
feature in this type of jazz, just as much as any other strata of the genre.
The didgeridoo makes another atmospheric appearance on 'Part 5' along with
edgy piano, some of which sounds treated in a similar way to Keith Tippett's
methods. The zither-like string effects strike a delicate contrast to that
other guttural voice.
I could just as easily enthuse about any of the joint compositions here but
instead I'll simply recommend this remarkable release as an exciting meeting
of four like-minded players who clearly have all eyes and ears on the music
and not the opinions of lackwits looking for a fast return on investment.
This music is the real thing if you want to hear honest and impassioned jazz
played with love, commitment and a sense of adventure.
© Paul Donnelly