Two Days In Birmingham: Three Gigs

paul dunmall again

These gigs took place on 9th and 10th January.  First up was the first of the Paul Dunmall Invites series at the Eastside Jazz Club at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, a series in which Paul plays the club on the first Thursday of the month and invites fellow improvisers to join him for a session.  The players on this occasion were Percy Pursglove, John O’Gallagher, Chris Mapp and Miles Levin.  Paul Dunmall is an excellent example of an improvising musician who has always created brilliant music, but has perhaps not had the recognition he deserves.  This session worked really well and the range of the music and the variety in the textures produced by the three horn frontline was very satisfying.  At times the three of them interacted together to produce very powerful, constantly changing statements, at others two of them stood back to cede the floor to the soloist.   The rhythm players, Chris Mapp on electric bass and Miles Levin on drums, provided a really strong basis for the improvisations of the frontline, occasionally also stepping back to allow full freedom to the soloist.  It was fascinating to observe how each member of the quintet was constantly assessing what was happening in the music and deciding when to come in, or what to add to the mix.  I was taken by a short passage about free music written by Richard Williams in his tribute to photographer Jak Kilby (Williams, 2020):

The idiom may be half a century old, but it will never be an easy-listening experience; it demands attention and commitment from the listener as well as from the player. What Jak Kilby and other lovers of free improvisation recognised early on is how risk is answered by reward to a degree unavailable in any other kind of music. In those moments it can reach the sublime, touch the infinite.

This first session of Paul Dunmall Invites had all these qualities.

The Friday 5pm Jazzlines session at Symphony Hall takes place in Halls of the International Convention Centre (ICC) while the Symphony Hall foyer is being refurbished.  Friday’s session was led by bass player James Owston, a young bass james owstonplayer who has recently graduated from the jazz course at the Birmingham Conservatoire.  James was been working with Paul Dunmall recently and recorded on the album Paul made with Steve Swell and Mark Sanders (So Perhaps: FMR Records FMR CD545-0719), but on this occasion was playing in a more mainstream style.  The first set featured a piano bass drums trio with Dave Ferris on piano and Kai Chaurensy on drums.  The repertoire was based around pianists and bass players of whom James is particularly fond: Fred Hersch, Bill Evans, Drew Gress and Charles Mingus.  The trio brought lots of energy to this material and there was a freshness in the way they interpreted the material that was very welcome.  All three players excelled, but I was really impressed by the fluency and imagination of Dave Ferris’ playing.  For the second set they were joined by saxophonist Vittorio Mura, back on a break from his studies in New York; it was clear that his stay there has resulted in a greater edge in his soloing.

sam jessonThen it was straight off to 1000 Trades pub where Birmingham Jazz were presenting the Magpie Trio led by drummer Sam Jesson with Tom Farmer on bass and James Allsopp on saxophone.  Sam Jesson is another graduate from the jazz course at Birmingham Conservatoire.  Interestingly, while at the Conservatoire Sam was mostly interested in the more ‘out’ styles of jazz, but here in the Magpie Trio he is focussing on a more mainstream repertoire with a focus on this occasion on material associated with the pianist Ahmad Jamal.  I really enjoyed their two sets, particularly the inventiveness that went into their interpretations of that material.  James Allsopp is a player that one also associates with more contemporary forms of the music, (Golden Age of Steam, Snack Family) but he is also an excellent interpreter of more standard forms, occasionally taking his solos out, but always coming back into the mainstream.  There was throughout a freshness in the trio’s music that was very impressive.

Two days of excellent music in Birmingham!  I should point out that I was the co-promoter of the Paul Dunmall Invites concert and am Programme Adviser to Jazzlines at Town Hall Symphony Hall.


Richard Williams Visions of The Abstract  The Blue Moment blog January 9th 2020.

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