Music in the Big Key

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Copyright © 2009 Paul Dunmall, Beni Williams, & Philip Gibbs. All rights reserved. International Copyright secured. Published by Duns Limited Edition, 2009.

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Today I will go once again Into life, into haggling, into market, And lead the army of my songs To duel against the market tide. 1914

Wind is song Of whom and of what? Of the sword's longing To be the word. People cherish the day of death Like a favorite daisy. Believe that the strings of the great Are strummed by the East these days. Perhaps we'll be given new pride By the wizard of those shining mountains, And I, of many souls captain, Will wear a white snowcap of reason. 1918-1919

Two poems by Velimir V. Khlebnikov – ‘The King of Time’ 2

MUSIC IN THE BIG KEY

Figure 1. The ‘Big Key’ – with saxophonic trajectory marked in blue.

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CONTENTS

Foreword . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Prefatory Note . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 1. Core Statement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 2. Exposition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 i Re-imagining music in the Big Key . . . . . . . . . 10 ii Playing and practice inside the Big Key . . . . . . 18 iii Crossing the boundary zone . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 iv Operating in the outer space of the Big Key. . . . 36 v Time and the Big Key – the ‘Big Rhythm!’. . . . . 44 3. Commentary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53 4. Interview . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55 Appendix . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64

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Foreword

Paul Dunmall’s ‘Big Key’ – an all-embracing musical vision At many points in his career, renowned British saxophonist Paul Dunmall has been asked about his approach to improvisation – what his „concept‟ is; how and why he plays the way he does. That is a very big, important, and dauntingly difficult question for any serious artist. Accurately answering it has been on Paul‟s „to-do‟ list for quite some time. The question has arisen in all sorts of performance contexts: whether in leading his own diverse ensembles; in collaborating with respected European and American jazz, folk, and classical musicians; or in working with the seminal British improvisation group „Mujician‟. It is immediately clear from any of the Live performances or from the wealth of studio work, that his unique and forceful playing is driven by an equally strong and uncompromising idea. And it is this elusive thing, the core idea behind the playing, the creative thought giving rise to specific lines and phrases that comprise an instantly recognisable style – known in jazz as an individual player‟s „concept‟ – that most intrigues anyone with more than a passing interest in the field of improvised music in general, and improvised jazz in particular. More than any other question, it is this that most exercises the mind of critic, musicologist, and enthusiast alike. For the aspiring player, an effective answer – one that can be realised through practice – is akin to the Holy Grail. It should perhaps come as no surprise, then, to those familiar with his constant activity, increasingly prolific recorded output, and sheer dedication to his art over more than thirty years as an internationally sought-after player, that Paul Dunmall has found little enough time to fully explain his bewilderingly rich and varied mode of expression. Firstly, because he‟s usually too busy employing it, letting the music do the talking, so to speak; secondly, because it is always developing and expanding into new areas; and thirdly, because it‟s a huge and intensely personal subject. So it almost came as a surprise when, during a recent break in his performance schedule, a way of clearly explaining his concept finally suggested itself – out of the blue. As it often is with answers to near unfathomable questions, metaphor finally came to his aid, and the „Big Key‟ was born – a simple, powerful metaphor for Paul...
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