Paul Dunmall: Soultime Again

Saxophonist best known for free improvisation marks his 70th birthday with a big band set reminding that he's played soul and swing too


Paul Dunmall’s 70th birthday celebrations continue with this vigorous and vivid live set, his compelling quintet lining up alongside the 14-strong Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Big Band. Dunmall is now an honorary fellow of the conservatoire and runs a series of “Paul Dunmall Invites” concerts throughout the year. Over a balti after a quintet concert a couple of years ago, trumpeter Percy Pursglove suggested to Dunmall getting his written scores arranged for a big band, and recommended conductor and arranger Ed Puddick for the job. “And here we are!”

The compositions are all by Dunmall, with the exception of Puddick’s richly scored Freestyle, and all allow the quintet to play freely, with the written music arranged around them as if the big band were a sixth member of the group. It was Paul’s suggestion to end the concert with Sacred Hymn, “as it is such a powerful and uplifting piece and seems like the perfect ending, which hopefully leaves everyone with a good feeling”.

As if to confound expectations – given’s Dunmall’s musical legacy – of a largely freely improvised and freestyle concert, the opening Soultime harks back to Dunmall’s earliest gigs aged 15, when he played the music of Otis Redding and the Stax label in a soul band. Dreamtime likewise looks back, this time to the great swing bands of the 1930s and 40s, before it moves towards wider horizons.

An exploratory pizzicato solo from bassist Dave Kane introduces the complex It Dawned On Me, its different sections as revelatory as its title. The succeeding Call An Elephant is also aptly introduced, this time by Glen Leach’s rich piano solo, before developing in expansive fashion. Infinite Cry plays out as a rallying cry led by Dunmall’s eloquent, exhortatory tenor and features a quiet piano interlude from Leach, Warning a sprightly quintet-led big-band romp. And the well-chosen Sacred Hymn does indeed provide the perfect ending.

A dominant voice throughout is trumpeter Percy Purlglove, his clear tone cutting through the massed sounds of the big band, while drummer Miles Levin – son of eminent drummer and long-time Dunmall collaborator Tony Levin – drives the music along perfectly. The big band is exemplary, fitting in perfectly around the quintet. This is a strong album full of great music, and what a way to celebrate a milestone year.

Soultime; Dreamtime; It Dawned On Me; Call An Elephant; Freestyle; Infinite Cry; Warning; Silent Spring; Sacred Hymn (63.06)
Dunmall (as, ts); Percy Pursglove (t); Glen Leach (p); Dave Kane (b); Miles Levin (d). The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Big Band: Rebecca Wing, Nathaniel Evans (as); Ben Partridge, Matthew Maidment (ts); Luke Chakrabarti (bar); Timothy Rabbitt, Robin Skerrett, Charlie Humphrey-Lewis, James Routledge (t); Henry Hanssen, Ollie Plant, Elsaid Juka, Edward Simons (tb); Alexandra Hamilton (tu); Ed Puddick (arr, con). East Side Jazz Club, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, 27 May 2022.
Stoneyland Records SLR1937