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Monday, January 30, 2017

Deep Whole Trio ‎– Paradise Walk (Multikulti Project, 2016) ****

By Colin Green

The Deep Whole Trio comprises Paul Dunmall (soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, bagpipes), Paul Rogers (A.L.L. seven string bass) and Mark Sanders (drums). Their name is a nod to the Deep Joy Trio – Dunmall, Rogers and Tony Levin on drums – who were also three-quarters of Mujician, a much-loved quartet of the Brit Improv scene. Sadly, both combos came to an end with the death of Tony Levin in 2011. The Deep Whole Trio have produced two previous albums, the first before Levin’s passing. (Just to confuse matters further, there’s also the Dig Deep Trio – Dunmall, Rogers and Tony Bianco (drums) – with two albums to date.) Paradise Walk was recorded at the Birmingham Conservatoire in November, 2014 and although the title evokes something idyllic, it’s taken from the entrance to the Conservatoire, a building set within a network of walkways and heavy traffic lanes, which is anything but, and is currently in the process of being rebuilt.

Dunmall’s improvising is characterised by a clear sense of movement and progression. He develops material using additive or subtractive rhythms and phrasing, melodic figures, harmonic cells, specific scales (western and non-western), and a textural flexibility – on occasions even referencing distinct genres – in a purposeful blend, so that that although his train of thought is never predictable, it’s always coherent.

The trio setting seems to bring out some of Dunmall’s most extended and intense playing, providing a platform to undertake what for him, amounts to a spiritual exploration through music. As he put it concerning this trio’s first album: “Great players inspire you and drive you ever upwards. Sometimes to places you thought not possible”. But up is not the only way to go. The album contains a number of lower-keyed, reflective passages played quietly, focussed but without the previous, more typical, fervour. That’s still present, but on occasions the music’s about something else.

This is clear in the first piece: ‘Mema’ (Middle-Eastern, Mediterranean and African), a set of musical associations reflected in Dunmall’s rapid alternating figurations on soprano; Rogers’ bowed bass, arpeggios and trills; and Sanders’ percussion, supplying emphasis more than pulse. These are subtle effects dependent on slight modulations in tone and niceties of texture, which might be lost with raised voices.

Rogers’ custom-made A.L.L. bass extends his range to the high notes of the cello and in addition to the seven fingerboard strings has twelve sympathetic strings running the length of the body under the fingerboard. It opens ‘A Road Less Travelled’, with notes drawn out across the range, deep-toned resonances and high-pitched chirrups, creating a faint afterglow and provoking cymbal scrapings from Sanders. He switches to pizzicato and Dunmall plays a brief motif they share before the saxophone takes flight in a succession of surges, each built from the last, in which the melodic germ continues to make its presence felt. Urged on by increasingly dense drumming and more bowed gestures on bass, when we reach the summit the trio slows to a graver pace as a fully-formed melody is proclaimed by Dunmall, in celebration of this new vista

On ‘Involuntary Music for Others’, after Sanders’ ceremonial introduction on metal percussion, Dunmall picks up the bagpipes. He prefers the Northumberland or Border pipes, softer and sweeter in tone than the better known, stentorian, Highland pipes with their wheezing drone. After a while, the bagpipes move from an oriental to a folkish feel – a significant strain in Dunmall’s music (try he and Rogers’ album Folks History (DUNS, 2009) – continued on arco bass, with an almost bluegrass hue to the glissandi, suggesting a common ancestry for so much music. Dunmall’s gruff, unaccompanied tenor sets the scene in ‘Absorption’. When his colleagues enter, the material is worked through with fresh vigour, building from within, rising and then dropping back down, giving way to a songlike solo from Rogers.

The title track, lasting some twenty six minutes, is a display of the accumulation and dispersal of energy. At the outset, each instrument becomes more distinct as they emerge from the bustle, for Dunmall and Rogers to play not so much in duet, as parallel streams. Rogers is the musician with whom he’s recorded most frequently, an empathy heard in how they support, augment, and even anticipate, each other’s shifts, however slight. Dunmall signals an increase in tension by his line becoming simpler and sculpting phrases, and Rogers absorbs shock waves as his bow skitters across strings, speckled with glassy notes from the top of his range, accompanied by lightweight percussion. Unsurprisingly, there’s something of everything from Sanders, who has an unerring sense of how a drama evolves. (I remember watching him perform with Ken Vandermark and Olie Brice at the Vortex a few years ago, and was mesmerised by his dexterity and the sheer range of his playing.)

The piece draws to a close with a return to the contemplative world: throbs and gentle ripples until imperceptibly, only a still surface remains which the trio stirs briefly, one last time.

The Deep Whole Trio from last year:


Martin Schray said...

Two very interesting articles for the Dunmall week - Bruce's highly subjective introduction and Colin's excellent analytical study. Dunmall is an artist who deserves more attention and he's sure more than a simple power player. The Deep Whole Trio is my favorite album of his latest releases. I'm looking forward to reading more about him.

Danny said...

Many people know, (too) many people don't, but every (yes, every) Dunmall CD in whatever combination he operates is a valued musical statement. Musical history will prove this bold statement as a correct one. Listen to his music.