Mahogany Rain is due out out in February on 577 Records, and is an reissue of an album originally issued on Duns Limited Editions. It features a quartet of Julie Tippetts on voice and various small percussion instruments, Keith Tippett on piano and also on various percussion instruments, Phil Gibbs on guitar, and Paul Dunmall on soprano and tenor saxophones. There is just the one track and at 63:45 minutes it is a long and intense listening experience, but one that is extremely worthwhile.
The mood throughout is gentle and contemplative, and even occasionally rather melancholy in a very beautiful way, and there is so much going on in the various episodes of the improvisation that I found it held my attention throughout. The Cd begins with percussion that creates an attractive repeated rhythm that is picked up by the guitar and then by the soprano saxophone. Paul Dunmall then develops this line to create an elegant melody before first Keith Tippett enters on the piano and then Julie Tippetts enters on wordless voice to create a stunning passage in which Dunmall and Julie Tippetts swop phrases. This interaction between Dunmall and Tippetts in which they pick up on each others phrases, and expand them is one of the most attractive features of the CD.
The music continues through a large number of different epsisodes which flow fluently from one to the other; we have passages of soprano saxophone interacting with the piano, ululations on voice accompanied by soprano saxophone, a passage in which Tippetts creates a kind of twittering sound with Gibbs generating a similar line on the guitar, plus many episodes with all four music playing off each other. Dunmall mostly plays the soprano saxophone, but there is one short passage in which he produces a deep rumbling sound on the tenor saxophone accompanied by percussion and effects on the piano. It all comes to a very warm conclusion with all four musicians interacting with each other.
This album was originally recorded and issued in 2005 on Duns Limited Editions (DLE044), and was part of a huge collection of 67 albums recorded privately by Paul Dunmall, and brought out just on CDRs for sale at gigs and by mail order. The whole catalogue can be seen here. The list is both a fascinating insight into the activity of one of the most prolific of the free improvisers in Europe, and one who likes to archive all the various collaborations he is engaged in, and also a highlighting of the need for improvising musicians to take control of getting their music out on CD, given that most established record labels are unwilling to do so. Dunmall was an early pioneer of what has become the major means of getting more experimental music known.
It seems that the CDRs sold well at gigs, and that there was also a steady sale by mail order, especially from Japan. But now two record labels, FMR Records in the UK and 577 Records in USA, are taking an interest in this catalogue and reissuing certain items. FMR Records has reissued undistracted, an album from 2004 (DLE040) which features two players from the classical world, trumpeter Jonathan Impett and pianist Andrew Ball, both of whom had an interest in free improvisation, and made this recording with Dunmall, Paul Rogers and Phil Gibbs. Both prove to be brilliant improvisers, and bring an approach that draws on their classical skills and language. The result is a fascinating album. FMR Records have also brought out Brothers In Music, which is a collaboration between Dunmall, Gibbs, bass player John Edwards and concertina and bagpipe player Simon Thoumire. This was recorded in 2004 (DLE 039) and reissued in 2021. Dunmall at the time often worked with folk musicians, and toured regularly with Danny Thompson.
As well as the Mahogany Rain album described above, 577 Records has brought out Onosante, originally on DLE006. It’s a brilliantly interactive album with Dunmall, Tippett, Gibbs and Pete Fairclough on drums, and Dunmall has described it as’ a mini-masterpiece of improvised music‘.
I have been listening to several of those Cds that are still available. There is some amazing music on them. For example, High Birds Vols 1 and 2 recorded in Amsterdam in 2006 (DLE 058 and 059) with Dunmall on soprano saxophone with Alan Purves on percussion, Rozemarie Heggen on double bass and Hilary Jefferey on trombone, moves between folk and improvised music creating a soundscape that captures the sound of birds. Manjah (2001, DLE 007) is a very successful collaboration with Indian percussionist M. Balachandar who plays the mridangam, the wide Indian drum. Equally successful is Mahakali (2008, DLE 064) which has Dunmall playing with classical pianist Evelyn Chang.
Two albums particularly interest me: Music On Two Pianos (2006, DLE 052) has Dunmall and Phil Gibbs playing duets on piano. Neither are particularly accomplished pianists, but have sufficient musicality and improvisational skill to create some really interesting music. The quality of the pianos clearly helped! The other is Etchings, a duo recording with drummer Tony Orrell which was filmed and brought out on DVD (2006 DLE DVD01). There were two cameras but the one filming Orrell didn’t work properly, so Orrell took the film of Dunmall, and enhanced it with a Korg Entrancer thus creating a series of changing manipulated images of Dunmall as he played; these fit very well with the music. The music itself is great: Dunmall plays the saxello, an instrument that originally belonged to Elton Dean, and the tenor saxophone, interacting with Orrell on drums and with a backing track Orrell created for the recording. In the video we can both hear and see Dunmall thinking about the drum accompaniment and the backing track, and reacting to them.
While several of the CDs are of what we expect from free jazz, e.g. the 4-CD album Deep Joy with Paul Rogers and Tony Levin, and an excellent recording with four giants of the New York free scene, William Parker, Roy Campbell, Daniel Carter and Hamid Drake (Blown Away, DLE053, 2006), it is significant that many present more experimental work, i.e. collaborations with classical musicians, Indian musicians, improvising with a backing track, a solo bagpipe album. In the period, the first decade of the 21st century, Dunmall was often participating in The Rare Music Club, the cross-genre programme set up by Keith Tippett in various venues in Bristol, meeting and playing with classical musicians, folk musicians and generally with musicians open to free improvisation. There is some amazing and unique music in these CDs and it is great that some of it will be available on established labels. However, Dunmall has in recent years returned to his first love, free jazz, working with both experienced players such as Mark Sanders, Liam Noble, Hamid Drake, and also young recent graduates on the Birmingjam scene, such as Steve Saunders, James Owston, Richard Foote, Chris Mapp. The recent video of a quartet with Dunmall, Steve Saunders, Dave Kane and Miles Levin is a good example of where he is at today. As Paul puts it himself ‘it’s traditional melody, good tone and technique that wins the day for me now’ .