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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Paul Dunmall at the Cardiff School of Music

Paul Dunmall, Phillip Gibbs, Ashley John Long - Now Has No Dimension (FMR, 2016) ****
Paul Dunmall Phillip Gibbs Ashley John Long, & Trevor Taylor - Cardiff (FMR, 2016) ****

Saxophonist Paul Dunmall's versatility is simply phenomenal. I first heard him with drummer Tony Bianco in their tribute to John Coltrane, where he is a fiery player, pushing the instrument to its limits. What is so striking about Cardiff and Now Has No Dimension is just how much of an experimental and textural player he is as well.

These two titles were recorded during two different, but close, dates at the Cardiff School of Music in Wales and they both feature the trio of flutist, saxophonist and EWI-ist Dunmall, guitarist Philip Gibbs, and bassist Ashley John Long, while Cardiff also features FMR label head Trevor Taylor on vibraphone, percussion, and electronics.

Cardiff was recorded in February of 2016. The first track is 'I',m' - the first two letters of the words 'Improvise' - which kicks off the recording with a great deal of musical tumult, showcasing the synthesized sounds of  Dunmall's  EWI. While all four musicians are credited with various electronics, their musical landscape isn't overrun with it, rather the technology comes in the form of quirky samples and mesmerizing textures. Track two, 'Imp', begins with the acoustic magic of the combination of flute and vibraphone whose interactions seem to almost float by, as does an eerie human whistle that punctuates the atmosphere. On track three, 'Impro', the electronics play a key role as a string of samples provokes frenetic percussion and burbling guitar. As the track progresses, they are joined by the saxophone and vibraphone, and the electronics become an equal player in the musical space.

The instrumentation on Now Has No Dimension lends it a different overall sound, though the exploratory approach is similar to Cardiff. Recorded at an earlier show in January 2016, the group here is a trio, without the electronic and percussive colors that Taylor provides. Additionally, Dunmall sticks to the acoustic horns during this concert. Both recordings present lithe interconnected passages and fleeting bursts of intensity, and here the trio is very much in tune with each other. Passages, like on the opening title track where Dunmall takes to the upper registers of the soprano sax and Gibbs tight sweeps of the strings, arrive like frothy waves, and the end of the track 'Harmonised' is a mesmerizing swirl of bowed bass and oscillating burbling guitar. The bassist seems to have more a prominent place here, upfront on tracks like 'Pearls from Oysters', where his bowing provides an intriguing underlayment for Gibbs' fretwork. On this penultimate track, the saxophonist plays the most 'jazz' like solo of the concert - an energetic high point, especially when Gibbs returns with some striking chomping and Long with percussive bass accompaniment.

Both Cardiff and Now Has No Dimension are recommended listens - the earlier trio date is slightly more conventional in its instrumentation but no less uninhibited than the later electronic leaning quartet.