Thursday, August 13, 2015

Paul Dunmall and Tony Bianco - Homage to Coltrane (Slam, 2015)

Over the past five years saxophonist Paul Dunmall and drummer Tony Bianco have produced some of the finest interpretations of the music of John Coltrane available by developing some of his most famous themes and crafting their own unique improvisations out of them. Their momentum reaches critical mass with this astonishing double live album where they have simply outdone themselves. They open with the majestic theme to one of Coltrane’s most towering achievements, “Ascension,” developing epic roiling saxophone and thrashing drums, with Dunmall blowing over the top as a testimonial to this extraordinary music. Peals of saxophone and rolling drums celebrate the joy of freedom. “Resolution,” a key point in A Love Supreme has the duo making a humble reading of the opening section before digging down into the deep and fertile soil of the music. Bianco’s nimble drums meet flurries of saxophone, and they are able to improvise at length, reveling in the open space that they are able to create. “Central Park West” is an earlier John Coltrane composition, written and recorded during his tenure with Atlantic Records in 1960. They musicians take the melody into a yearning and emotional space, building their own story upon it, before moving to a raw and fast improvisation. Their momentum carries them through the music with great strength.  One of my favorite John Coltrane performances is “Transition” and Dunmall and Bianco do it proud, coming out boiling hot with the saxophone sailing up and down, shortening and narrowing their music into a focused beam, carving their own path through the music. The hard won spirituality of “Pslam” concluded Coltrane’s epic masterpiece A Love Supreme. The duo takes the haunted reverential sound of the original and spins their own improvisation out at great length, starting slowly and thoughtfully, contemplating the seriousness of the song, but then gaining speed and approaching full blast, making way for a very impressive drum solo before Dumnall’s saxophone returns to the solemnity of the feel and concluding the piece. Disc two begins with a medley of “Ogunde>Ascent” which is very free, as the drums push as hard as they can with potent saxophone running point buy his side. Things move ever more powerfully as the music is taken way out on a high wire as Dunmall plays up and down the length and breadth of his instrument while Bianco’s drums pummel ecstatically, making for a truly heroic performance. Another early classic, “Naima” is taken much faster than the original, it is hard to tell, but it seems like a radical re-imagining of the song. It is fascinating to hear them to develop a punchy improvisation and then state the melody at the end of the performance rather than at the beginning. “The Drum Thing” from the Crescent LP is a monster performance, developing a feeling of intense longing as the drums build potency and loud cries of saxophone linger in the air. Bianco’s drum solo gives a respectful nod to Elvin Jones before developing his own rhythm, faster and louder, relentless and when Dunmall returns the music is simply overpowering and transcendent, sounding like a full band with just two people. On the Slam Records website, Dunmall is quoted as saying "with the release of my 3rd tribute CD to Coltrane I feel my wonderful journey focusing on his music is complete. It has been a very joyful experience and given me a great sense of fulfillment and satisfaction." I hope this is not the case, but if it is indeed true, they have gone out at the highest point imaginable with this staggering album cementing their unimpeachable legacy as one of the greatest of all Coltrane interpreters. Homage to John Coltrane -

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