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Friday, September 1, 2023

Paul Dunmall & Olie Brice - The Laughing Stone (Confront Recording, 2023)

By Guido Montegrandi

What is good about listening to good music, reading good books, watching good art and films (if you feel bold enough you can substitute all of the gerunds with ‘making’) is that you use your brain, you start thinking, making connection, moving from one thing to another, learning things, ending up with something new.

This Dunmall and Brice record is exactly that: you can hear good music; you can follow the suggestion of the cover, a wood engraving make by Paul Dunmall himself (who apart from being a fine musician is also a very good visual artist), you can look for the words of Basil Bunting’s Briggflatts, the poem from which “track and album titles (were) borrowed” (from the record notes).

Poem, engravings, music: connections.

Paul Dunmall (Reeds) and Olie Brice (Upright Bass) have played together in a couple of records and they seem to go along together quite well; on Brice site you can read “Paul Dunmall has been extremely important for me, both as an influence and collaborator. Playing with him pretty regularly over the past few years has been a complete honour and joy, and recording this duo session with him was a real dream come true… I’ll admit to be being quite pleased with my own playing on this one too…” and listening to their music I must agree with Mr Brice.

Dunmall, fom his part, has a long and varied career that dates back to the ‘60s and If you want to go deeper into it you will find a lot about his life and music and ideas in the May issue of the Wire magazine.

One final point before turning to the music. I have to confess that I didn’t know anything about Basil Bunting and his work but I got curious so I read the poem (even better, I listened to the poet reading his poem, a good point to start if you are interested) found it beautiful and decided to quote a few verse that contextualize the titles of Dunmall and Brice record thanking them for the discovery.

Now about The Laughing Stone

Some the laughing Stone disables
Whom giggle and snicker waste
Till fun suffocates them

[Briggflatts III]

The sound of the words spoken aloud is itself the meaning, just as the notes played on the proper instruments is the meaning of any piece of music. “ (Basil Bunting, A Note on Brigflatts, 1989)

Shuffle and Bark (Dunmall on tenor sax) starts with mellow short phrases and the two of them chasing each other in lines of broken melodies and rhythms. The sound of the sax leaves space for the melody to develop moving in the low mid register and the bass moves in a contrapuntal way, wedging into silences to create a rolling movement that goes all the way through the piece even when things start to get a bit faster, higher and more rhythmic.

Great strings next the post of the harp
Clang, the horn has its majesty,
Flutes flicker in the draft and flare.
Orion strides over Farne.
Seals shuffle and bark,
Terns shift on their ledges…

[Briggflatts V]

Dust Swirling (Dunmall on clarinet) the bowed bass creates a melody of its own and around it the clarinet develops its lines, When Brice goes pizzicato things become jazzier, more fragmented and the clarinet plays higher until it doesn’t and the two of them meet for a halftone finale.

Sycamore seed twirling,
O, writhe to its measure!
Dust swirling trims pleasure.
Thorns prance in a gale.
In the air snow flickers,
twigs tap,
elms drip.

[Briggflatts III]

As Ripples Skip in a Shallow (Dunmall on alto saxophone) a bass solo opens the piece with a rich harmonic sound that perfectly merges with the alto and its melodic scraps. The exchange is continuous with the two musician feeding new ideas to one another progressively moving afar from their starting point. Melodies are getting bigger and more intricate on both sides; the whole piece has a groove that takes us back to the early 70s. A bass solo closes the piece slowing things into silence.

,,, Sing,
strewing the notes on the air
as ripples skip in a shallow.

[Briggflatts V]

Lit Feathers Sweeping Snow (Dunmall on flute) the flute opens joined by the bass to create a chamber music feeling. The two players walks on parallel lines creating a densely saturated atmosphere. This is probably the piece where silence is given less space and contrapuntal melody has its full development.

till the morning star reflected
in the glazed crag
and no other light not of the sun
dawning from above
lit feathers sweeping snow

[Briggflatts III]

Let The Fox Have His Fill (Dunmall on tenor again). Both bass and sax display a neat classic free jazz groove, not a scream but an intense sequence that progressively focuses on fragmented sounds with Brice alternating bow and pizzicato. Towards the end the piece opens with Dunmall creating melodies just to drop them one after the other.

Let the fox have his fill, patient leech and weevil,
cattle refer the rising of Sirius to their hedge horizon…

[Briggflatts IV]

So in conclusion a fine piece of work in which the two musician really seem to enjoy themselves exploring sounds, harmonies and melodies and that offers something new each time we listen to them. Inspiring.

You can buy and download it on Bandcamp


Wendy said...

What a thoughtful review. It reminded me why Briggflatts, which I haven’t read for many years, was and is one of my favorite poems. The lines “Fifty years a letter unanswered; / a visit postponed for fifty years” have haunted me since I was young. I can’t wait to listen to this music.