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PAUL DUNMALL border bagpipes, soprano & tenor saxophones


Digital studo recording - Bristol
by Jonathan Scott - 2003 March 31
Total time 59:39

All previously unissued


Excerpts from sleeve notes:

Paul Dunmall and Paul Rogers have been making music together since the 1980s as a duo, as half of the co-operative quartet Mujician, and in larger groups organised by Dunmall, Keith Tippett and others. Although their first duo recording goes back to 1989, there has not exactly been a plethora of duo releases since then, so this new CD is more than welcome.

Each of the improvisations on AWARENESS RESPONSE features one of Dunmall's principal instruments - bagpipes, tenor and soprano saxophones respectively. The bagpipes are Border pipes from the south of Scotland. They are very different from the more familiar Highland pipes, being softer toned, and having arm-operated bellows to fill them. They are similar to the Northumbrian pipes from the English side of the border.

This is the earliest duo recording to feature Rogers playing his A.L.L. bass built by Antoine Leducq. It has six playing strings which cover most of the cello range as well as the double bass range. The body is much more slender than that of a double bass, so it uses a dozen sympathetic strings to boost the volume.

The bottom line is that the music is magnificent - a good way to hear their individual capabilities, as well as the way they react to each other.



Excerpts from reviews:

"The duo album sees Rogers playing playing an A.L.L bass featuring six playing strings that give him access to most of the cello range, as well as twelve drone strings that help to boost the power of the instrument. It's a magnificent sound, and sits well with Dunmall's pipes and saxophones. The level of empathy here is extraordinary and the long Priceless Response must rank among both musicians' best recorded performances, tense, taut and emotionally draining creative music."

RICHARD COOK and/or BRIAN MORTON - 'The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD' 2004

"Paul Dunmall and Paul Rogers have been playing together a lot, for a long time. They have been mostly seen and heard together as part of the free improv quartet Mujician, but they have also recorded a few albums as a duo. AWARENESS RESPONSE could very well be their definitive statement as a working unit. Very strong, compelling, with high levels of listening and virtuosity, it represents one of their best recordings as individual musicians.

Digitally recorded, this hour-long album consists of three improvisations. Rogers plays his A.L.L. bass, his main instrument. This bass possesses a wide range (both double bass and cello) and a very rich sound (put that on the count of 12 sympathetic strings) that has been masterfully recorded by engineer Jonathan Scott. But it would be nothing if it weren't for Rogers' phenomenal playing: warm, busy, shape shifting. Each piece features Dunmall on a different instrument. Pressure Response has him playing the Border bagpipes. These pipes don't sound the way you expect bagpipes to sound. They are much softer and flexible, so to speak, their tone often evoking a violin or clarinet. This piece is the set¹s highlight, thanks to a dialogue running deep and an episode where Dunmall switches to drone mode, offering a pedal tone over which Rogers soars. Dunmall picks up the tenor sax for Priceless Response, the longest piece of the set. Still a very convincing effort, it is a slightly colder, less involving piece. Precious Response, with Dunmall on soprano sax, comes back to a more elemental performance and features some stunning exchanges, especially in the quieter passages. This CD is essential to followers of either musician and comes highly recommended for free improv fans."


"This trio of improvisations features Dunmall on three of his chosen instruments, bagpipes, tenor and soprano sax, while Rogers plays the custom-built A.L.L. bass, a six-string version which also incorporates a dozen sympathetic strings giving it a fairly distinctive sound and range. First, to dispel any misconceptions about bagpipes, Dunmall's are Border pipes, from the south of Scotland, and have a slightly softer tone than the traditional Scottish variety, though in Dunmall's hands their sound is frequently transformed into something not entirely recognisable but wild and untameable.

The pipes are employed on the first track, Pressure Response where they pour forth a torrent of sound that is, at times, close to the sound of furiously bowed bass. Rogers keeps pace utilising strumming, pizzicato and arco techniques. The two players often mesh into a dense unstoppable whirlpool where their voices mesh as one, emphasising the kind of togetherness they have honed and perfected. There is also a more reflective passage, towards the conclusion, where Dunmall sets up a drone against which Rogers draws plangent, elegiac responses as well as darker tones reminiscent of the cello's range. It is a bold excursion that combines some of their interests in folk musics and free improvisation whilst exploring the combined tonal possibilities of these instruments.

Their tenor/bass improvisation sounds a little more restrained than I'd expected, as though they are holding something in reserve and displaying another kind of dynamic, which is fine by me. I was just preparing myself for a tree-levelling blast from the sax when what manifests is something more lyrical, though still charged with a tense, edgy atmosphere much of the time. Instead of the onslaught presented in the previous track they tend to break this piece down into busy sets of unison explorations, allowing a certain amount of space to enter into their dialogues. Again, the empathy is uncanny.

Precious Response, the final track, pitches the fluttering lightness of the soprano against the grainy bowed bass to exceptional effect. Whilst Dunmall flits between calm and agitation, bending and sustaining notes, Rogers creates a writhing undertow of circular rhythms and angular bowing that contrasts and complements. They move comfortably between the pensive and the more vigorous, each constantly reacting with split-second timing to the other.

As an example of how this duo work it is exemplary, demonstrating the wealth of approaches and ideas present in their playing. The only way it can be bettered is by seeing them do it live."


"Three long tracks, with Dunmall on border bagpipes, tenor and soprano sax respectively. Rogers is on ALL bass, a six string instrument extending into the cello register, which has a dozen sympathetic strings to enhance the volume produced by its slender body. On Pressure Response Dunmall plays pipes, the softer toned variety from the Borders rather than the Highlands. I would guess it's hard to impose a personalised tone on this reedy-sounding instrument, and certainly the tenor sax track that follows, Priceless Response, more beautifully captures the British master's rich, breathy sound. This is a superb duo performance, with Dunmall tending towards rapid, broken up flurries of notes."


"Paul Dunmall's appropriation of the pipes follows in the footsteps of both Sonny Rollins and Albert Ayler, but if you're looking for a player who uses the instrument as more than a curio then, in my opinion, he outdoes them both. Dunmall neuters the instinctive association [with the Celtic roots of the instrument] and treats the instrument as more of an empiric sound source. This plan works beautifully, and the opening track of AWARENESS RESPONSE is a stunning 20-minute improvisation with looped bagpipe lines locked into the rich, unfolding textures of Rogers' bowed bass. Rogers' A.L.L. bass was specially designed to encompass not only the entire bass range but also to add the top register of the cello, and his fulsome sound proves that this invention was more than mere gimmickry.

In the second improvisation, Dunmall swaps to his tenor saxophone and the music immediately becomes more 'jazz'. Dunmall's lines are fat and generous, and are shot through with abstracted funk turns and imaginative flurries. Rogers slaps and plucks his way through an incredible palette of animated accompanying figures, his extended range allowing him unique license to toss brightly hued lines back at Dunmall's gruff inventions. For the final improvisation Dunmall swaps again, this time to soprano saxophone, and brings the album to a close with delicate fanfares and conversational whispers. Dunmall's approach to microtonal inflections and his urgent sense of rhythmic momentum are entirely personal, and he's escaped the cul-de-sac of being Evan Parker Mini Me. Terrific."


"Three long improvisations from two parts of Mujician. Paul Dunmall is a master on tenor and soprano, perhaps only equalled in improvised music by Evan Parker, while Paul Rogers is as adept on bowed as on plucked bass. My difficulty with this record lies with Dunmall's bagpipe playing and it's a personal thing. To my ears, bagpipes make a sound as specific to the context of their invention as the balalaika or the bazouki, i.e. their native folk music. But that's my opinion and given Dunmall's capacity for imagination and invention others will no doubt disagree and Rogers' bowed bass on this first track is superbly rich and evocative. For the rest, Priceless Response, with Dunmall on tenor is a master class of the improviser's art. Indeed, it even reminded me of Joe Henderson's STATE OF THE TENOR - although from a very different musical world, there's that same command, authority and clarity of vision. Precious Response features Dunmall on soprano and its opening moments set the hesitant flute-like sounds of the saxophone against Rogers' assured, almost Baroque-sounding arco bass. Exploratory and searching and teasing and playful by turns, it's obvious that Dunmall and Rogers know each others playing so well and yet this merely adds to the thrill of each empathic reunion. Reservations aside, superior improvisation."


"Three long improvisations carrying a heavy bag full of heart, intelligence, sense of purpose and lots of techniques bordering on the incredible. Dunmall uses a different voice for each piece; while he's always exciting on tenor and soprano sax in a continuous exudation of apparently incessant melodic roasting and reflective instancy, it's his bagpipe work that leaves mouths agape: potentially overwhelming, his phrasing on this instrument is roller coasting to say the least. Paul Rogers is probably my personal favourite as far as bassists are concerned in the New Music department, a choice made easier by his wonderful instrument - the A.L.L. bass, with additional resonant strings. Rogers confirms his stature with each new work, not resting on (well deserved) laurels, instead questioning himself in search of that genial loophole that keeps him distant from quibblers and pretenders. The pair make for three highly enjoyable discussions where the ears are constantly rewarded and not a single note gets lost in indifference."


"Ultimately, synergy and intuition reigns supreme, evidenced by this powerful duet affair. For example, Dunmall rips into the border bagpipes during the nineteen-minute opening track Pressure Response. On this piece, the duo renders a cavalcade of polytonal note structures via an eventful series of exchanges and subliminal mini-themes. It's quite uncanny in sound and scope to complement a few intricately devised passages where the musicians expound upon each other's sense of the dynamic. Dunmall uses his tenor sax on the second number Priceless Response, yet picks up the soprano sax on Precious Response, for a series of vapid flurries atop Rogers' staccato lines and booming, bottom end. Here, you'll notice gobs of contrasting elements amid notions of whimsy and variable flows. Essentially, they find the groove (of the moment) and run with it, in exploratory fashion. And of course, the musicians' personalized characteristics make it all that much more interesting. Recommended."


"I tend to prefer Dunmall in smaller settings, where he can demonstrate how effective he is at spontaneous and focused construction. The duets with old pal Rogers testify to the power of this approach. It ain't often that you hear bagpipes in this kind of music, but Dunmall's crazed caterwauling on the opening track - darting and weaving between those incredible slashing noises Rogers makes - will knock you out. They certainly sound more idiomatic to that configuration when they enter drone territory, but the whole improvisation is pretty effective. On the second piece, with Dunmall on tenor, they trade in the expansive sound for a lightning-quick, mutated bop narrative (plus you get to hear Rogers' outrageous pizzicato technique). The soprano piece that rounds out the disc is a bit more typical, a bit more predictable, and therefore somewhat less satisfying."


"Featuring his main axe - the tenor - on the second track, Dunmall honks out scattered tone patterns as Rogers responds with guitar-like flat picking that glides from the centre up to the tuning pegs. When the saxman moves into reed-biting, squealing and squeaking with an intensity vibrato, Rogers follows suit, producing banjo-like flailing, rapid runs and careful finger picks. As the tenorist rasps out irregular pulses, circular trills and obbligatos, the bassist creates an accompanying pattern filled with double and triple stopping and circular strums. Using string snaps, slurred fingering and staccato stops, Rogers ends with a crescendo of rotating thumb picking that could have fit in with such British folk-rock bands of the 1970s as Pentangle - if it played free improv.

Throughout both men seem to be playing all the time, and this carries onto Pressure Response, Dunmall's bagpipe feature and Precious Response for soprano saxophone. On the later, under-the-breath trills and fibrous obbligatos soon lighten as Rogers creates voluminous, abrasive spiccato tones. Once the arco bowing take on locomotive power with ponticello accents, the saxist exposes trilling ghost notes that soon meld with Rogers' output. When Dunmall's swelling smears and twitters get louder and faster, they're pushed aside by triple stopped basso and forced intermittent timbres from Rogers that are as diffuse as they are continuous.

Arm-operated bellows for his south Scotland bagpipes give Dunmall viscous waves of sound on Pressure Response, to which Rogers responds col legno and sul ponticello. With one set of responses woody and the retorts booming as well, the textures become almost too thick here. Finally the bassist surmounts the vibrating, buzzing tones with an impressionistically tinged legato line that soars above the pipes' pressure."


"The result is overwhelming because you can listen in three compositions that are over fifteen minutes long each what these guys are capable of doing. In many places Rogers plays a lower bass line or lower sounds while Dunmall develops sounds that are sometimes more peaceful and sometimes more chaotic with his wind instruments. It is amazing to listen to these guys in an almost chaotic situation always retaining coherence in their playing while reaching new horizons with their instruments. This is what I call master improvisational music."


"First up comes Pressure Response, a nearly twenty minute sortie for border bagpipes. Scything arco scribbles and an ululating line that apes the tonal range of a bent soprano open the action. Rogers wastes no time in reaching dizzying harmonic heights, scraping and scuttling with bow as Dunmall's chattering pipes warble telegraph tones beside him. The tight helixical twinning begins to fray rather quickly and the two men carry on this particular portion of the conversation a bit too long. Once they uncover a nest of drawn out drones as their source of chosen common ground, focus returns and the sonic overlap achieved becomes almost hypnotic in its continuity. It closes the piece out to an extended segment of jaw-gaping beauty.

Priceless Response finds Dunmall uncapping tenor while Precious Response acts as a vehicle for his straight horn. Rogers sheathes his bow on the former, switching to callus-hardened fingers and putting his bass through a rigorous set of paces. Dunmall's tone on tenor is surprisingly light and buoyant as aerated phrases spin forth from his horn's bell like sand grains caught in a sirocco. He largely avoids overblowing, opting instead for a highly lyrical style oddly closer in places to Getz than Trane. Detours into relative repose crop up occasionally in the twenty-odd minute exchange and there are occasional compromises in focus. But the pair places the majority of weight on rapidly voiced interlocking lines that largely succeed in sustaining interest. Fluttery soprano contrasts strikingly with creaky obstinate arco bass for the closing conclave and again it's a bit surprising how lyrical Dunmall chooses to sound. Rogers once again shaves the rosin from his bow in another tour de force of spooling harmonic ribbons. All told this is another satisfying entry in an ever-evolving body of shared work that shows no signs of ending."



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