Paul Dunmall Moksha Big Band I Wish You Peace Review

Album. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

One of England's top tenors gathers together a 15 piece band.

Bill Tilland 2002

A typically expansive, eclectic and challenging set by England's own saxophone colossus, but this one is special for several reasons. Firstly, it was conceived as a celebration of Paul Dunmall's fiftieth birthday, with Dunmall writing music for a large jazz group and soliciting the participation of some of his long-time associates, including his three colleagues in the Mujician quartet; Keith Tippett on piano, Paul Rogers on bass and Tony Levin on drums.

Secondly, as Dunmall observes in the CD notes, the drama of the Iraq war inadvertently insinuated itself into the composing process, and while it would be presumptuous to identify this or that musical element as being triggered by Dunmall's reactions to the war, the program does include some overtly spiritual references. These begin with the CD title and the appropriation of the Hindu word Moksha ("the supreme final liberation of the soul") as part of the bands name.

The first of the three long tracks (which are simply called Parts One, Two and Three) begins with a tamboura-like drone and some sinuous modal blowing from Dunmall, which in the early going evokes the thoughtful meditative lyricism of Charles Lloyd more than the ecstatic intensity of John Coltrane. However, when the full band enters with a somber legato motif at around the six minute mark, Dunmall quickly heads for the high country, his frenzied flurries punctuated by percussive stabs from Tippett's piano and the rolling boil of drummers Levin and Mark Sanders.

All the classic Coltrane-isms are here in spades the sheets of sound, the hoarse cries, the honks and ecstatic squeals although Dunmall's use of the Coltrane vocabulary has long since transcended imitation, and as he demonstrates here, he is one of the most eloquent and natural energy players on saxophones today.

Part One is Dunmall's feature, but he yields to his bandmates for much of Part Two, which begins as a friendly freeform conversation between the two trombones and then unwinds, so to speak, into a relaxed and relatively conventional post-bop groove featuring Simon Picard (I assume) on tenor and a ringing, almost Gillespie-like trumpet from Gethin Liddington. Dunmall jumps in briefly, stirring the pot and raising the energy level, but then gives way to a mellow duet between trumpet and tuned percussion.

The high point of this section is Dunmall's extended dialogue with John Adams on electric guitar. Adams scatters his staccato splinters of sound in colloquy with Dunmall's smears and growls, as Dunmall walks a fine line between shamanistic testifying and a more muscular, gritty swagger that can be traced back to Sonny Rollins. The section ends almost whimsically with the band fixating upon a repeated bop riff and then finishing with an extended atonal blast.

More surprises await the fortunate listener in the third and final section, starting with Paul Rogers' marvelously melodic upper-register arco bass work and some curious wobbling and squiggling from the two guitars. Dunmall adds fluttery runs on soprano sax, cushioned by the leisurely meandering of the full band. The dirge-like theme gradually grows more intense, and when Dunmall switches from soprano back to tenor, individual members of the band begin to break away occasionally with their own flurries and bleats, led by Dunmall's impassioned wailing.

The exhilarating close is very much in the late style of Coltrane's Meditations; a swirling, overwhelming maelstrom of sound which is all at once terrifying and liberating. When this birthday journey finally ends, some serious musical and emotional ground has been covered.

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