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Paul Dunmall/John Adams/Mark Sanders: Ghostly Thoughts

Paul Dunmall is coming on. For years, the English saxophonist has racked up impressive credentials with, among others, Mujician, London Jazz Composers Orchestra and Elton Dean. Yet, recordings under his leadership, such as the striking Desire And Liberation, are a recent development; combined with co-op efforts like Ghostly Thoughts, they promise to raise Dunmall’s stock as an adventurous improviser who hasn’t forsaken his jazz roots.

Dunmall’s collaboration with electric guitarist John Adams and drummer Mark Sanders substantially deflates the silly elitist notion that jazz is no longer relevant to the pursuit of improvised music. This is not to suggest that Ghostly Thoughts is an album preoccupied with the idiom in any of its manifestations. Many of these improvisations begin in the prescribed non-idiomatic manner, as fragments of sound orbit about each other, coalescing into progressively longer strands that provide the primarily textural elements of continuity for the improvisation. Yet, at some point in the process, an element of jazz heat enters into the mix, triggering Dunmall’s post-Coltrane squalls on tenor and baritone, Adams’ riveting runs and Sanders’ groundswell of cross rhythms. The resulting music is engrossing, as it is propelled by palpable emotions rather than arcane concepts.

Not only does Dunmall reiterate his prowess as a latter-day tough tenor on Desire And Liberation, he also proves to be a smart, literate writer. His charts for this seven-part work discreetly tap a variety of sources, including Mingus-like use of counterpoint and a Russell-esque employment of solo-punctuating chordal blasts. He has an impressive ability to launch his soloists, of which he has a formidable contingent: his Mujician mates (pianist Keith Tippett, bassist Paul Rogers, and drummer Tony Levin), fellow LJCO tenorist Simon Picard, trumpeter Gethin Liddington, and trombonists Annie Whitehead and Chris Bridges. There’s no mistaking Desire And Liberation for anything other than a strong jazz album, one of the best to come out of England for some time.

Originally Published