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Thursday, April 4, 2024

Paul Dunmall - Bright Light A Joyous Celebration (Discus, 2023)

By Nick Ostrum

Paul Dunmall is a tough musician to keep up with. Since 2010, he has released 86 albums (according to, and I am certain that leaves out a good number of live digital-only releases. What keeps him interesting is not just his raw creativity and talent but his relentless stream of collaborations, especially within the British scene. Many of these are with the usual luminaries: John Edwards, Marc Sanders, Phillp Gibbs, Paul Rogers. He also, however, has a penchant for sharing the stage with musicians from later generations. That brings us to Bright Light A Joyous Celebration, on which Dunmall is joined not only by the venerable Hamid Drake, but also younger musicians such as vibist Corey Mwamba (who admittedly is already a household name for many), reedsmen Soweto Kinch and Xhosa Cole and bassist Dave Kane.

Enough virtual ink has been spilled regarding Dunmall’s playing over the years. He has impeccable tone. He is a figurehead for an important stream that developed out of early energy music. He writes incredibly catchy melodies. (Four out of five tracks on Bright Light A Joyous Celebration are penned by the man, himself.) He plays with, rather than in front of, his collaborators, helping to elevate them while they keep him on his toes. Together, they keep the music fresh and moving. As much as any other project of Dunmall, this is one captures a unit rather than a leader and his band. Mwamba shines, especially on the introductory track, You Look Away, about 8 minutes into which he engages in an impressive jangly run, buoyed by Kane’s teetering strut. It can often be a challenge to disaggregate which tenor is playing when, but, because of that, I can say with confidence that Kinch and Cole have chops. They can toe up to Dunmall, dance around his snake-charmer soprano, hold their own court sessions, and harness that early free jazz spirit that imbues this music, no matter how contemporary it is. Kane and Drake, the latter not only one of the most precise drummers around but also one of the rhythmic, form an airtight rhythm section, especially when Mwamba adds his intermittent intercessions. That pulsing drive results various extended periods of riveting grooves, especially in the sole collective composition I’ve Had A Lot. By the time one gets through the end of the final and titular track, Bright Light A Joyous Celebration, another free bop beast, however, the listener might justifiably question why the celebration had to come to an end. Certainly, they have heard a lot by this point. Whether a lot is enough, however, is another question altogether.

A Bright Joyous Celebration is available as a CD and download on Bandcamp.