Thursday, November 03, 2005


This week I picked out two trios at random, one English, one American. The English trio (and duo) are much more collective affairs, surprisingly maybe, given Paul Dunmall's strengths as a soloist. Both trios have also dispensed with bass. Compare and contrast, as they say...

The English group, fetched up on the independent label that George Haslam runs: Slam, consists of Paul Dunmall, John Adams and Mark Sanders on tenor, electric guitar and drums respectively, who recorded the cd 'All Fried Up' in March 1998. I've given two tracks, a short one by the trio and a longer one by Dunmall and Adams without the drummer. There is the odd taste of Coltrane in the saxophonist's playing, which is probably unavoidable, coming out of the tradition and also playing in Alice Coltrane's band when he was resident in the US for three years – but Dunmall has his own firm stamp, has developed his style over the years to fit the diverse contexts he plays in and still remain his own man. (Alan Skidmore, say, would be your candidate for full-throttle Coltraneing in a Coltrane tribute band - a bit unfair, maybe... come to think of it, they played together in a two hard tenor group back in the eighties if I remember correctly...). Dunmall has honed his playing into an individual, free blowing style and can be heard in many different line-ups – he has also recorded a large amount of material most of which is still
available –
here's a good selection that demonstrates his musical fecundity...

He is also a player I have admired since he made his bones in a long tenure with 'Spirit Level' way back, right through to his later incarnations with the likes of Keith Tippett, the London Jazz Composers Orchestra - and not to forget the bagpipe explorations...

'Totally Fired Up' starts with Dunmall in frenetic, hard-squalling mode – a literal echo of the title? - underpinned by choppy chords from the guitar and Sanders' sure-footed drums – this is a democracy of horn, guitar and drums, equally sonically balanced, that ends abruptly on a couple of deep, blatted tenor notes.

The second track, a duo: 'Captured a Rapture'. They start slowly – Dunmall plays long notes low down and ruminative as Adams starts to build a framework eventually picking a faster lattice work of notes round him, progressing to swift chording alternating with single note runs – an abstraction of traditional 'comping.' Dunmall speeds up – yet Adams matches him as they build longer lines that cross and inflect, parallel and veer. Two instruments and no rhythm section – yet there are not many gaps – a very full sound world invoked here. Dunmall goes into the higher register as the track progresses and the lines combine and contrast to end almost abruptly again on a bunch of ascending chords.

The Americans: Jimmy Lyons leading his partner Karen Borca on oboe and drummer Paul Murphy on a track from the recent retrospective 5 cd set on the Ayler label.

Jimmy Lyons was known much more for his long tenure with Cecil Taylor than for being a leader – yet the release of the boxed set that this track comes from demonstrates many other facets of his work, outside the wild and wooly world of Cecil. "Jump Up" was recorded in Geneva in May 1984 with bassoonist Karen Borca and drummer Paul Murphy and could almost be an Ornette Coleman tune or a speeded up Albert Ayler number, briefly stated by the alto and bassoon before Lyons launches into a fast, fluid boppy solo over the busy drums- the long rat-tatting snare patterns of which remind me of Sunny Murray. One thing you notice very quickly is his ability to articulate accurately even very short note durations at speed. If he smears a note – it is intentional emotional colouring rather than a slip of the embouchure and fingers. This is Charlie Parker taken into the dimensions of 'free jazz' – some hint of what might have been if the Bird had lived? One wonders... Lyons came strongly out of Bird but by this time had long established himself as a master saxophonist, an underrated one due to his years with Taylor no doubt – yet Cecil had a great deal of respect for the man, regarding him as his 'right arm' during their long and fruitful association up to Lyons' tragic death in 1986. And Taylor's band must have a been a hard school to survive in – it is to Lyon's credit that he developed such successful saxophone strategies to play against the sheer density and speed of the pianist's sound world. These were in place early on... If you listen to the sessions recorded at the Cafe Monmartre the shadow of Bird is still very strong – but Lyons more than holds his own. Contrast Archie Shepp when he recorded with Taylor – he sounds uneasy and floundering.
Karen Borca complements the alto player well, plays a longer solo, long fluid lines, a deeper sound, coming close at times to resembling a baritone sax. The drummer plays back a bit behind her, in contrast to his busy work behind Lyons. The drum solo is interesting in that it continues the rhythmic feel of the track – long, fast almost smooth lines – a very linear approach compared to Taylor's music. Marsh is rolling long patterns on toms and snare that reflect the horns playing. This particular trio is also contrasted to the Dunmall et al track by its emphasis on solo work – almost a traditional conception of brief head, solos then reprise the head. Bop taken on further by different means? A conscious homage? I figure that Lyons's solos are not so different in his work outside Taylor's group from those he played with the pianist - give or take a few contextual re-adjustments - which says a lot about the metalanguage of the saxophone that he developed so successfully. And the speed of thought melded to ferocious technique necessary to be comfortable in both worlds. Lyons' work repays much study and the Ayler cd set is a belated tribute to an undersung master.

Two different trios, then, led by underrated musicians, one dead, the other still going and blowing strong. Check out the bagpipes sometime (I kid you not - brilliant!)

Paul Dunmall Trio:

download – all fried upmp3 -

download- capture a rapturemp3

Jimmy Lyons Trio
download - jump upmp3


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