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Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Paul Dunmall, Paul Rogers, Tony Orrell - That​’​s My Life (577 Records, 2023)

By Ian Lovdahl

There's something invigorating about returning home after a long time away; reuniting with best friends and visiting old places, while excitedly preparing to make new memories. A native Michigander myself, I spent five years living among saguaros in Phoenix before moving back to the Mitten, and it felt amazing to once again wake up somewhere I called home. As the liner notes of this excellent live performance explain, "That's My Life" is an audio expression of that feeling of homecoming, and the two-song album explores with verve the musical relationship shared by these three players who first shared a stage in 1979 as the group Spirit Level.

Live in concert in their hometown of Bristol, the band kicks off with the eponymous track, an edge-of-your-seat 24-minute free jazz jam. For its intimidating runtime, it's shocking how quickly "That's My Life" flies by. There's a palpable sense of energy as the trio steps on the gas for the first part of the song; mostly dominated by Paul Dunmall's snaking soprano saxophone, his performance weaves amidst groaning double bass and collapsing drums, before striking fast with a flurry of arpeggiated notes. About halfway through, the atmosphere takes on a pseudo-spiritual vibe, until double bassist Paul Rogers unleashes into a mind warping solo of his own. The live bass casts a warm and organic presence that permeates the entire project, and Rogers' fuzzy tone adds a ton of personality to his playing. I think it has to be said that the audio fidelity of this opening track wavers throughout the first half, and I find it difficult at times to clearly hear Tony Orrell's kit; although it's a tad dodgy, the sound quality isn't a huge detriment, and after all, it's a live album, so it's not a big complaint.

The second song "Marriage in India", junior in length, finds itself bookended by a fiesty riff shared by the soprano sax and jaunty bass. A rambling kind of groove, the interplay sets up a nice opportunity to appreciate Orrell's glittering cymbals and hustling bass drum. As Dunmall finishes one more ferocious arpeggio, the sax takes a seat for several minutes to showcase an incredible double bass solo, and it's something beautiful to behold. Rogers' performance is sound poetry, evoking onomatopoeias with every pluck; angular harmonics "ping" and "pong" between the ears, and lower register notes snore like a bear disturbed during hibernation. Squishy and swampy reverberations from the low E mingle well with the unobtrusive percussion, providing a bed for the double bass to gurgle like a hungry stomach one moment, and like a shaken windchime the next. The musical creativity makes for a memorable few minutes of masterful control and no-holds-barred experimentation; and after the audience becomes acquainted with the sound of Rogers' finger callouses swiping against the strings, he picks up the opening riff again and the soprano returns for a skronk and drum tantrum to wrap things up.

Expressive and energetic, "That's My Life" takes the listener on a blistering thrillride of free jazz mayhem while successfully conveying the excitement of homecoming. The album's notes state that it's the product of ten years of anticipation, but it's clear as day in one's headphones that this band was having the time of their lives playing this music. It's that added layer of authenticity that elevates the record in my eyes (and ears) and fully expect to revisit it many times over the new year.