Paul Dunmall's Bebop Starburst is an album-length, five-part suite that is neither nostalgic nor antiseptic in its treatment of bebop's legacy. Instead, the British composer/post-modern-tough-tenor creates something of a moving MRI, revealing the connective tissues between the time-honored genre and subsequent extensions of the jazz virtuoso tradition. True to its name, the resulting music is explosive and exciting.
The piece begins and ends with short charted statements; the opener is eyebrow-singeing bebop, while the closer has a post-storm tranquillity, a simple mid-tempo figure that would have fit in nicely to a late '60s Mike Westbrook chart. In between are three lengthy sections (two exceed twenty minutes) in which adventurous improvisations are punctuated by incisive riffs and thematic fragments. It proves to be a bold structure that yields many surprises.
As was the case with the Octet's '96 debut, Desire and Liberation (Slam), Dunmall's colleagues are a strong lot on this Evan Parker-produced date. The saxophonist's colleagues from Mujician-pianist Keith Tippett, bassist Paul Rogers, and drummer Tony Levin-continue to give the extended improvisations a strong, flexible backbone with a pungent mix of layered textures and rhythmic drive. The banter among Dunmall, tenorist Simon Picard, trumpeter Gethin Liddington, and trombonists Annie Whitehead and Chris Bridges is even more quick-witted and nuanced.
Most importantly, Bebop Starburst suggests that Paul Dunmall's Octet has the requisite chemistry to become a perennial powerhouse on the international scene.