The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
Born in 1953 in Welling, the saxophonist Paul Dunmall left school at 15 and spent two years repairing musical instruments at Bill Lewington's shop in Shaftesbury Avenue.
Perhaps that experience instilled in him an intimate love of the craft and detail of music, for he turned professional at 17 before heading to the US to join an ashram full of experimenting musicians.
During his US sojourn he played alongside Alice Coltrane, and after three years he returned to London to find a thriving avant-garde scene.
He joined both folk groups and improvising ensembles, blowing with pathfinders like John Steves and Alan Skidmore and the London Jazz Composers Orchestra before in 1988 becoming the sole horn of the quartet Mujician, with pianist Keith Tippett, drummer Tony Levin and bassist Paul Rogers.
Dunmall has led groups big and small. His 2003 album I Wish You Peace - a defiant musical statement against the invasion of Iraq - featured his 14-piece Moksha Big Band and another epochal album, The Great Divide of 1999, was cut by an octet.
But in 2002-3 he made a trio of albums for the Emanem label with small groups including some of the genuine doyens of international free jazz.
The first of these is Hour Glass, a double CD comprising two improvisations of just over an hour each.
The title piece has Dunmall on tenor, with the plunging bass of Rio de Janeiro-born Marcio Mattos and Tony Bianco on drums.
Dunmall begins with a rumbling, visceral succession of choruses as Mattos's bow saws across his deep, deep strings and Bianco's sizzling percussion boils beside them.
It is a startling, discomforting sound, measuring the elusive moments as they pass so irrepressibly.
Not many jazz pieces last for an hour, and Bianco wrote that "it's like you have to sometimes be in contact with the whole piece form the beginning to the end and try to make it stand together without losing the spirit."
I think they achieve this, as the hour passes in travelling rapture, and a powerful sustaining sonic shape too as the trio come home.
The second improvisation is The Tepees Dive Deeply, with Rogers massively playing his ALL bass with six playing strings plus an additional 12 "drone strings," and Bianco still on drums.
Dunmall's soprano is intense and full of fire throughout and the total sound resonates with a borrowed indigenous defiance.
I often wonder what the late, great native American tenorist Jim Pepper would have made of it.
The folk music-driven energy of Dunmall's artistry is powerfully realised throughout the 2003 In Your Shell Like album, where he brings into the mix Stevie Wishart, a hurdy-gurdy player who also recorded with veteran soprano saxophonist Lol Coxhill on their Alone And Together album.
Dunmall plays tenor and soprano, but also his Border bagpipes, letting loose their softer, more soothing sound than the Highland pipes.
It all makes a dramatic and unique recorded concoction, with veteran amplified free drummer Paul Lytton striking the heartbeat of his relentless invention.
The opener Shells And Other Things is like no jazz you would have heard before, with the pipes sounding over a whirring wind-like timbre, making landscape and soundscape meet over a bleakly beautiful northern moorland - unique music, devised in unexplored parts of the imagination.
Wishart sits out for the surging drums/tenor duo Nothing To Do With Shell, but she returns for The Ears Have It, which begins with some extraordinary scuttling percussion from Lytton and haunting soprano birdsong from Dunmall, with Wishart playing a distress obbligato before the pipes come gurgling in.
Unprecedented jazz sounds!
Awareness Response from 2003 was a third astonishing album, this time with the comradeship of Dunmall and Rogers.
There are three tracks and Dunmall plays his bagpipes on the first, his tenor on the second and his soprano on the third.
In such a marathon hour-long duo session both musicians are exposed, their artistry all but naked, each clothed only by their mutual sounds.
But they create with such power and trust, with Rogers's ALL bass covering the earth with his huge spreading sound - hear him on Pressure Response, for example - and the howling, lyrical, agonised yet consoling pipe and horn play of Dunmall, that as you listen to these two Londoners in a Bristol studio, you begin to feel a pride in this unique achievement of British jazz.
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