CD review

Paul Dunmall Sun Ship Quartet with Alan Skidmore and Kjaer/Solberg/Wastrell – John Coltrane 50th Memorial Concert at Cafe Oto

Paul Dunmall Sun Ship Quartet with Alan Skidmore and Kjaer/Solberg/Wastrell – John Coltrane 50th Memorial Concert at Cafe Oto
(Confront Core Series. Core07. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)

The sleeve notes to this live, double CD explain how the concert and its recording came about: a celebration of the music of John Coltrane of the fiftieth anniversary of his death in 1967, featuring musicians inspired by Coltrane. Introducing his Sun Ship Quartet, Paul Dunmall says “There’ll be lots of people in this room who think that John Coltrane was the greatest tenor saxophone player that ever lived. And I’m one of those!” You probably know if you’re one of those, too; if you are, this is a record you’ll want to hear.

The opening number comprises the opening set of improvised music by Julie Kjaer on flute, and Ståle Liavik Solberg and Mark Wastrell, both playing a variety of percussion. If the palette sounds limited, the music is rich and engaging. They play a single piece, May There Be Peace…, moving between various interactions and soundscapes.

John Coltrane’s LP Sun Ship was one of the last recorded by the “classic quartet”, and it wasn’t released until after his death. Paul Dunmall’s Sun Ship Quartet may be thought of as a tribute band, concentrating largely on this single, eponymous LP. This might sound like a narrow focus, but live they create an exciting, exhilarating and sometimes ferocious sound which is captured superbly on this recording.

The Sun Ship Quartet is made up of Dunmall and Howard Cottle on tenor saxophones, Olie Brice on bass, and Anthony Bianco on drums. The absence of a piano frees up the music. Suffice to say the saxophones dominate, but Brice’s bass and Bianco’s drums are the deep foundations on which the saxes can build. Bianco’s drumming is particularly propulsive.

Several of the saxophone solos are sax-bass-drums trios, featuring either Dunmall or Cottle; Sun Ship itself features an energetic tenor and drum duet, which leads into a solo by Bianco. There are some lovely quieter moments, particularly a couple of solos from Brice, which provide a welcome break from the full-on intensity of some of the music.

The quartet are joined by Alan Skidmore for their last two pieces, Attaining and Ascent. Yes, that makes them three tenors, though Dunmall plays soprano, too. Attaining is one of the slower, more spiritual pieces; Ascent is much faster, the saxophones emulating Coltrane’s “sheets of sound” style.

For the finale, all the musicians took to the floor to make an octet to play Ascension, originally recorded by Coltrane a couple of months before Sun Ship, with the quartet augmented by several additional musicians. The version recorded by Dunmall and his colleagues is a barnstorming performance, a worthy memorial to Coltrane and the impact he made on music and the inspiration he still is to others.

Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield.

Categories: CD review

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