The Bourne/Davis/Kane trio played its first concert and released its debut album, Lost Something (Edition Records) in 2009; they first backed saxophonist Paul Dunmall in the same year, on Moment to Moment (SLAM, 2009). They then recorded their own The Money Notes (Foghorn, 2011), an album I credited then with: “playful invention (and) transformative sensitivity. …A piquant miso soup, if you will, to Moment to Moment’s hearty winter broth.”
Dunmall has played with most of the leading musicians on the international free jazz and improvised music scene, notably Keith Tippett, alongside whom he plays in Mujician. So he has both a practiced empathy with pianists and the experience and assurance needed to front a working trio that reportedly never practices, preferring instead to rely on instantaneous inspiration. The gravitas of Dunmall’s playing and the trio’s irreverent spontaneity combine to make their joint sessions into something neither would likely achieve alone.
This album’s opening cut, “Butterfly Song” is eleven minutes of open-form equanimity, Dunmall chewing ruminatively over melodic notions around which Bourne sprinkles highlights of ivory glister. Meanwhile Kane maintains a bass line of throbbing insistence, while Davis marks brisk time on cymbals and emphasises rhythmic accents. It’s a thoughtful, remarkable piece, played with unforced assurance and quiet intensity.
“Finding It” continues the introspective vibe, Kane bowing, the others sensitive to his lyrical brooding. Bourne’s pianism is initially sparing, incisive, but, as the performance slithers from muted intensity to an increasingly fervid accelerando his notes start to cascade, Dunmall plays flurries of tenor lyricism in the style of Sonny Rollins, and Davis’ drumming is crisp, charged with frenetic energy.
The first 3:50 of “Last Time To Dance” is concentrated cluster of frictional gestures and abstractions. Bourne plays inside piano and Dunmall tentatively essays some Evan Parker-style tenor. He takes a brief, softly blown solo before the full group reconvenes in a more directional frame of mind, then firms up, playing with a certain swagger, sounding hoarse, impassioned vocalisations through strained harmonics over Bourne Davis Kane’s increasing ardency.
Dunmall’s playing on the second movement of “Last Time To Dance” reminds me of David Murray. Drawing from the same lexicon they’ve each evolved a unique syncretism of styles, enabling them to channel Coltrane, Ayler or Rollins without mimicry, rearranging the morphemes of jazz with heartfelt emotion and creative expressivity.
The first of two shorter pieces, “Master” has Dunmall and Bourne alternating contemplative duets with Kane. Bourne plays with Bill Evans-like sensitivity here, so his angular phraseology on the tight-sprung post-bop of “Me We” is a sharp contrast.
At just under twenty minutes, “Strange Time” is the album’s most expansive cut. Dunmall opens on flute, initially with a late 70s world fusion vibe thanks to accompanying tom-toms and bells. Then Bourne takes over, imposing momentum, prompting Dunmall to return to tenor sax. Davis and Kane take charge of the inchmeal increase in pace and intensity, Dunmall playing now in altissimo yips amid a swarm, loosed by Kane’s sudden silence, of ivory tinkle, crisp cymbal hits and rim shots. Bourne’s piano then trickles, notes cascading through a soft cessation of effort to a lovely featherlight coda that has Dunmall once more on flute.
This is by turns a beautiful and energising session, a marked advance on the excellent but comparatively straightforward Moment to Moment; certainly one of the year’s best jazz releases.
In the past, Bourne’s projects have ranged from this type of jazz to the avant-funk Electric Dr. M (2003), to the 2009 Songs From a Lost Piano concerts, for which Bourne played only pianos salvaged from scrap. In January 2012, his Montauk Variations album of solo, predominantly melodious piano music—his debut on the Leaf label—was mooted as just the first in a string of new works that would feature him in diverse contexts, but for some reason only the John Zorn-inspired Bilbao Syndrome collaboration (Babel, 2012) materialised. Until now.
Mandalas in the Sky was released alongside Radioland: Radioactivity Revisited on Leaf, Matthew Bourne’s all-electronic, Kraftwerk-inspired collaboration with Franck Vigroux. His solo album of pieces for Moog Memorymoog synthesizer, Moogmemory, followed soon after.
Paul Dunmall tenor saxophone, flute; Matthew Bourne piano; Steve Davis drums; Dave Kane bass.
Buy Mandalas in the Sky direct from Babel.