As the UK saxophonist turns 70, he juggles abstraction and song forms with a starry cast including Xhosa Cole, Soweto Kinch, Corey Mwamba, Dave Kane and Hamid Drake
Plenty of saxophonists learning the game in the 1950s made John Coltrane their lodestar for his famous ferment of spiritual gravitas and storming improv intensity – but his best disciples took that sound as a call to freedom, not idolatry. The modestly masterful Kent-born saxophonist Paul Dunmall reveres Coltrane’s emotional eloquence to this day, but has also been profoundly affected by the very different, ’trane-influenced digressions of his UK sax contemporaries John Surman and Evan Parker: Surman’s lyrical affection for global folk musics, Parker’s contrasting drive toward a powerful jazz language independent of conventional tonality and form. The open imagination of UK improv-piano genius Keith Tippett, a longtime playing partner, has also been a gamechanger.
From those sources and many more, Dunmall has cultivated a gift for juggling abstraction and songlike shapes, punchily boppish tunes and free-collective maelstroms – stories that are sketched all over Bright Light a Joyous Celebration, made in his 70th birthday year. He’s joined here by saxophonist Xhosa Cole (the 2018 BBC young jazz musician of the year), freebopper, rapper, poet and MC Soweto Kinch, subtly harmonious vibes-player Corey Mwamba, Midlands bassist Dave Kane and former Don Cherry African-American drums maestro Hamid Drake. The grittily repeating hook of You Look Away finds Dunmall in early-Coltrane hard bop mode, but jazz’s old and new stories enthrallingly flank him in Kinch’s off-the-register alto wails and the gruff warmth and directness of Cole’s engagingly old-school tenor sound. I’ve Had a Lot diverts quiet vibes musings into a skipping, sax-riffing folk-dance that launches Dunmall’s airborne soprano, before wailing Cole and Kinch choruses precede Drake’s closing drums tumult. The title track, whooping with the clamour of 60s South African townships, is the highlight of an exultantly conversational set inscribed with a multitude of post-Coltrane jazz stories.
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