The Paul Dunmall Quartet play Coltrane. The Vortex, London, June 2014.

Passing through London, I happened to check out my favourite London jazz venue, and it had an interesting gig coming up; and even better I was staying at a friend’s just around the corner.

And so it was in Monday night I sat down to listen to saxophonist Paul Dunmall lead a tribute to John Coltrane. Actually, not so much a tribute as an adoration: they reinterpreted and restructured Coltrane’s album “Sun Ship”, recorded with the classic quartet in 1965 at the same time as “Transition” but not released until after Trane’s untimely death.

I have Wikipedia to thank for those facts because whilst I have – and love – masses of Coltrane, I don’t have “Sun Ship”. Indeed, I’d never heard of it; I didn’t even know of its existence.

Still, I did know of Paul Dunmall, whose playing I like, and listening to an improvising band playing Coltrane in the Vortex – sounds good to me.

And it did sound good. It was an exhilarating experience. Two tenors – Dunmall joined by Howard Cottle – with Olie Brice on bass and Tony Bianco on drums. No one taking the piano role, then – an interesting diversion from the structure, leaving Bruce and Bianco holding it together whilst the two saxes, together or solo, roared away a multitude of directions.

The one constant was Bianco: Brice would sometimes drop out, leaving Dunmall or Cottle – or both – blowing away backed by drums alone. Bianco thundered on, full of energy throughout the evening (he must have been exhausted).

Dunmall introduced one number as a ballad, but it seemed as fast the others. There was little to differentiate one piece from another – each distinctly Coltrane, despite being completely of the moment, too.

Dunmall announced the last number, Ascension – a coruscating piece from the album of same name which features Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp alongside Coltrane on tenor (and John Tchai on alto, with others on brass). I thought Dunmall was joking: the idea of tackling Ascension after the drive and energy that preceded it seemed crazy. But the familiar, mantra like riff opened, and they were off again.

This was an evening full of powerful, driving music, a tribute to one of jazz’s greats through music that is fifty years old and completely contemporary.


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