Mahogany Rain and Duns Limited Editions

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‘.

the mridangam

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’ .

Many of the recordings on Duns Limited Edition are available on YouTube, click here. For Etchings, click here. For his recent video recordings go to the Fizzle Birmingham YouTube channel.

A Review Of The Year

Earlier this month I wrote a summary of the Fizzle and TDE Promotions year of activity in Birmingham, concluding that the experimental scene in the city is doing well and is full of optimism. Here I would like to share some more general thoughts about the jazz and improvised music scenes, and point to some new trends.

There are quite a few aspects of the so-called ‘new normal’ that are welcome. The reduction in the number of American and European bands touring the UK has meant that the focus in programming has become increasingly on the ‘local’ by which I mean concentrating on both British bands in general, and on bands from the region that promoters work in. In Birmingham Fizzle and TDE Promotions have moved to a programme with many double bills with a band from the Birmingham or the West Midlands, and a band from another city or region, e.g. London, Leeds or Manchester. This is not to suggest that I am opposed to promoting international bands; it was great to finish the season in Birmingham with the Dutch trio Under The Surface.

Interestingly, once we got back to live gigs, audiences have been very good, and, at least up to the new wave of the virus, better than before the pandemic. I have the feeling that the smaller gigs in small intimate spaces have fared much better than the larger gigs in concert halls. This is probably due to an increased interest on the part of audiences in more experimental jazz and improvised music, the wide variety of music that comes under those headings, and the intimacy of the experience in a small venue.

On the topic of audiences, I was happy to read Joost Lijbaart’s description of the tour by Under The Surface on Facebook. Of UK audiences he says:

Touring, and especially touring in the UK is great. I feel a curious, extremely polite and friendly audience with lots of humor, never complaining about anything and having a ‘no nonsense’ attitude. People who go for the experience instead of the quality of the chair they are sitting on.

I found this very heartening and hopefully an accurate description of the jazz community. Look up Joost Lijbaart on Facebook for his reflection on the tour.

Moor Mother

A counter example to the move to ‘local’, was this year’s London Jazz Festival which had a strong international programme as well as a healthy focus on British jazz. I enjoyed Irreversible Entanglements with Moor Mother as well as the two major collaborations between jazz players and orchestras: Soweto Kinch with the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) in White Juju, and Yazz Ahmed with BBC Concert Orchestra playing arrangements of her repertoire for jazz quintet and orchestra. It was also great to hear NYJO tackling Sam Eastmond’s arrangements of material from John Zorn’s Masada Songbook

One other welcome change is that gigs now start earlier; initially this was the result of the curfew on clubs and pubs, but early starts at The Vortex and Ronnie Scott’s in London mean that it is possible to hear the first set, and catch a train back to Birmingham the same night, not even on the last train. Likewise, Jazz At The Spotted Dog now starts a good 75 minutes earlier than it used to.

Soweto Kinch

These changes, more local focus in programming and earlier starts for gigs, might seem relatively minor, but there are signs of more significant changes. A move towards residencies and away from one off gigs is welcome; clearly the concerts with Soweto Kinch and the LSO, and Yazz Ahmed with the BBC Concert Orchestra mentioned above were examples of projects that involved a sustained period of development and rehearsal. Similarly the Composers Collective project in Birmingham I described in my previous post involved three days of developing three new extended compositions.

The use of streaming and video recording became much more sophisticated during the lockdown periods, but many promoters and musicians have stopped thinking about new possibilities for this medium now that it is again possible to put on live concerts. While the return of live gigs has clearly shown that live is so much better than streamed, it is to be hoped that promoters and musicians continue to try new ways of taking advantage of the possibilities of streaming and filming. The links by video between the Berlin Jazzfest and the three music scenes of Cairo, Sao Paulo and Johannesburg was an extremely imaginative use of the possibilities of the technology, but one that also served the aim of linking a major European festival with three scenes in the developing world.

One very welcome aspect of the UK scene is the flexibility of young British musicians. A lot of attention has been given to so-called ‘new London wave’ and bands such as Sons of Kemet, Ezra Collective, Nubya Garcia Quartet and their very successful mixing of elements of sound system music with jazz. But we should not forget other players who move easily between more straightahead and free-er contexts. Here I am thinking of players such as Laura Jurd, Elliot Galvin, Tom Challenger and many more. Also worthy of mention on this point is the number of young Birmingham graduates who have joined Paul Dunmall in totally free jazz gigs and recordings: Steve Saunders, James Owston, Jim Bashford, Chris Mapp, Tymek Jozwiak and Richard Foote. Xhosa Cole also showed in his October gig with Neil Charles and Mark Sanders that he is equally at home in a totally improvised set as in a straightahead context.

Finally six Cds I really enjoyed:

Alexander Hawkins Togetherness Music Intakt

Mujician 10 10 10 Cuneiform Records

William Parker Mayan Space Station AUM Fidelity

Trondheim Jazz Orchestra & Ole Morten Vagan Plastic Wave Odin

Andrew Woodhead Pendulums Leker

Splinters Inclusivity Jazz in Britain (bandcamp)

A Review of The Fizzle and TDE Promotions Year

As we come to the end of this strange year, it is good to look back on some of the positives of the year.

During the lockdown period early in the year we continued the programme of video recording at Sansom Studios, and over the year we have recorded a further five videos building on the success of the first video with Paul Dunmall, James Owston and Tymek Jozwiak recorded in October 2020. We recorded a new trio CollapseUncollapse led by Mark Sanders working with Chris Mapp and Andrew Woodhead, a second trio featuring Paul Dunmall, this one with Neil Charles and Mark Sanders, a jazz and spoken word project led by Lee Griffiths with Charlotte Keeffe, James Owston and Mark Sanders, a duo project with Sarah Farmer and Annie Mahtani and finally a Paul Dunmall Quartet with Steve Saunders, Dave Kane and Miles Levin. This final one has just been launched on the Fizzle YouTube channel. All six videos are still available on this channel and I will list the links at the end of this blog.

CollapseUncollapse

Interestingly, two of the sessions were so successful that two of the groups, CollapseUncollapse and the Paul Dunmall Quartet decided to make an further audio recording for issue on CD. They will be out in due course.

All these videos were filmed with high production values at Sansom Studios. At the beginning of the lockdown period many musicians put out self-produced recordings made at home often with relatively low production values, but it soon became apparent that viewers expect and will only access a high quality product. The move to recording in a studio or in a venue with professional sound and visuals rapidly became the norm.

There has been some controversy about the amount of video recordings that were launched during the various lockdown periods; some have argued that putting them out for free undervalues the work of the musicians, while others have argued that watching a recorded video can never match the quality of experience of listening to a live event. While the latter point is undoubtedly true, we are proud that we have provided work for musicians and the studio and its recording and filming staff, have paid the musicians and technicians good fees, and helped in the creation of some brilliant music that would not have been heard otherwise. We have received nearly £1000 in donations from the audiences; this has always been put towards setting up the next video.

Many promoters and venues have recorded videos or live sessions that they keep up online for a short period, or in some cases of live recordings take down as soon as the session has finished. We have kept all our videos up on the Fizzle Channel and have had nearly 4000 views. We intend to keep them there for an indefinite period as we are proud of them, and believe that audiences will continue to access them.

With the easing of the Covid regulations we were able to return to presenting live events. Since late May we have put on a total of 18 gigs, 7 at Centrala Space, 5 in the Hexagon Theatre at mac, 3 Paul Dunmall Invites sessions in the Eastside Jazz Club at Birmingham Conservatoire, 1 at The Gap in Moseley, 1 in the Main Theatre at mac, and 1 as a co-promotion with Andrew Woodhead, the Pendulums launch at St. Paul’s Church in the Jewellery Quarter.

All these concerts were highlights, and it has been noteworthy that attendances have been really good with something like a 100% increase in audience size with quite a few new attenders as well as the regulars. Our audiences are an interesting mix of people some of whom attend more mainstream jazz events, while others seem to be followers of either contemporary classical music, or experimental music of different genres. There has been some drop off recently as competition from other events has increased, and as people have become anxious about being in enclosed spaces with groups of other people.

Have we returned to the situation as it was before? I would suggest that there have been small but significant changes. We have run a much more local programme with many bands coming from Birmingham, and virtually the whole programme has been based on British bands. That this has been accompanied by an increase in audiences is interesting and encouraging, and it has been good to tap into the thriving experimental scenes in Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester as well as London. Nonetheless, it was good to present a Dutch group, the excellent Under The Surface, last week at our final gig of the year, thus maintaining some links with the European scene.

We helped establish the Composers Collective, a project with the aim of enabling composers to develop new work in a workshop situation leading to a live performance. Three composers, Aaron Diaz, Georgia Denham and Anna Palmer were commisioned to write new pieces; these were developed over two days of workshop in August and then premiered at The Gap Cafe in Moseley. The concert was also filmed and this will be out in the New Year.

Chris Sharkey

It is perhaps invidious to highlight particular concerts, but I would like to mention the opening concert after lockdown with a duo of Mark Sanders and Chris Sharkey, plus a quartet led by Bruce Coates; it was so good to be presenting live music again. Then I’ll mention the evening in the Hexagon Theatre at mac of duos and a trio with Xhosa Cole, Neil Charles and Mark Sanders, and the final concert with the Sarah Farmer/ Annie Mahtani Duo and the Dutch trio Under The Surface. The Paul Dunmall Invites series has also been a highlight with the opportunity for Paul to work with different improvisers, and to create some wonderfully exciting music.

A word of clarification: TDE Promotions and Fizzle work very closely together; Fizzle in Centrala and with Flatpack Film Festival; TDE Promotions in the Hexagon Theatre at mac and Eastside Jazz Club, Other projects such as The Composers Collective involve both. TDE are my initials (Tony Dudley-Evans)

List of Videos

Paul Dunmall, James Owston, Tymek Jozwiak https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjbY7tTeH7k&t=13s

CollapseUncollapse https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THs_BSPWXLo&t=259s

Paul Dunmall, Neil Charles, Mark Sanders https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fdFuvs5QEU&t=3s

Lee Griffiths Phonome https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6X6hvEUrfM

Sarah Farmer Annie Mahtani Duo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YsZCVJ2Lis&t=15s

Paul Dunmall Steve Saunders Dave Kane Miles Levin https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CpvCjR8tvs&t=3s

Paul Dunmall: New Video

Paul Dunmall Invites 9th December EJC

The session of Paul Dunmall Invites last week at the Eastside Jazz Club (EJC) was one of the best yet. The invitees were on this occasion guitarist Steve Saunders, bass player Dave Kane and drummer Miles Levin. This quartet had made a video at Sansom Studios for TDE Promotions and Fizzle back in September, and this session was so good that Paul immediately booked the quartet for the Paul Dunmall Invites December event.

There were many interesting differences between the two sessions. On the recording there was a lot of collective improvisation with each member of the quartet playing off each other. This is very much a feature of the Dunmall approach to free improvisation; he listens to what is going on in the music, and has the ability to react to it and pick up particular phrases and rhythms from other members of the group. The other three players reacted in a similar way. I sat in as the ‘professional listener’, and Paul and I agreed that this had been one of the best sessions recorded at Sansom Studios.

Free improvisation really is different each time, and Thursday’s live session at EJC went in directions that were distinct from the studio recording. The collective improvisation was there, and was very strong, but Paul dropped out on a number of occasions leaving the trio to interact with each other. In these passages the exchanges between Steve Saunders and Dave Kane were particularly intense and exciting, and throughout Miles Levin added to this intensity on the drums. Paul would then come in at exactly the right moment, often taking the music in another direction. As ever in free improvisation, a structure emerged with a movement between the really strong dramatic passages, and those where the energy levels were lower.

This particular group of players is a mix of experienced and less experienced improvisers, Dave Kane and Miles Levin have been playing with Paul for many years, but Steve Saunders is a new discovery, and one who is rapidly becoming one of the most exciting improvisers in the city. Paul has an ability to find new young players, mostly graduates (recent or not so recent!) from the jazz course at Birmingham Conservatoire such as Steve, James Owston, Richard Foote, Chris Mapp and Jim Bashford, and bring them into the world of free improvisation.

Screenshot of the video

The video of the quartet’s session at Sansom Studios will be released at 8pm on Thursday 16th December; you can access it here. It has an interesting interview with Paul as well as some great music.

Final point: the quartet went back into Sansom Studios yesterday to record an album for release next year, and I am reliably informed (I couldn’t be there) that it was the best session yet! Details of label etc to follow.

The Paul Dunmall Invites continues next year at EJC. Follow this website or http://www.fizzlebirmingham.com for dates.

The Olly Chalk Olivia Murphy Duo

I had a very interesting conversation with pianist composer Olly Chalk this morning about the gig on Sunday where his duo with Olivia Murphy will be one half of the Fizzle gig on Sunday afternoon (2pm) at Centrala. The other half of the bill will be another duo, that between two very experienced and highly skilled improvisers, bass player Dominic Lash and Alex Ward, who moves between the clarinet and the guitar.

Olly is very much looking forward to playing with Olivia as both have been focussed on composition in the recent past, so a change by playing together in a freely improvised context really appeals. Olly and Olivia performed a duo together for Jazzlines filmed on the Symphony Hall stage during lockdown; you can watch that here. They found that for the first part of the improvisation they were improvising in parallel but separate ways, but by the end of the session the playing became much more integrated with each one playing off the other’s ideas. I find that in free improvisation in small groups, duos or trios, the music can either develop independently in a way that I have heard described as akin to two skiers coming down a slope in parallel, or it can follow a path in which each player picks up phrases from the others and ideas are thrown back and forth. Olly is looking forward to a more integrated improvisation with his musical partner Olivia.

Both have been heavily involved with composition or arrangement in recent months; Olivia has arranged tunes associated with Amy Winehouse for a tour with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO), and also premieres this week a set of compositions for the University of Birmingham Jazz Orchestra. Olly has been writing for his Houndsbleat group with Dan Kemshell, Tom Challenger and Will Glaser; for this he has written a very rich set of tunes which move between written material and free improvisation rather in the manner of various groups of Tim Berne’s. He has also been writing for a new as yet unnamed group that features flautist Ruta Sipola, electric bass guitarist Hugo Piper and drummer Corrie Dick; Olly suggested that the music for this group is less dense and in a sense more accessible.

Olly is a player who moves with ease between more structured contexts and free-er situations, and in this way follows a pattern that is very common amongst younger musicians. Interestingly, many of the graduates of the jazz course at Birmingham Conservatoire have followed this path, possibly as a result of the freedom to develop their own interests that the course offers in the third and fourth years. One of the many positives of this versatility is that players can bring an element of structure to their free playing and an openness to freedom in situations that focus on composition.

I look forward to seeing and hearing all this emerge in Sunday’s gig, which should be fascinating. There should also be an interesting contrast between the two duos. As I say, it’s on Sunday 5th December at 2pm in the Centrala venue, which now has a piano. Book ahead here, but there will probably be tickets available on the door.