Drake’s in the park

Martin Longley sighted Chicagoan drummer Hamid Drake, playing next to Cannon Hill’s lake.

The Paul Dunmall & Hamid Drake Quintet
Cannon Hill Park


This gig was part of a short three-date tour, assembled by Birmingham promoter Tony Dudley-Evans. Our own Paul Dunmall’s free jazz and improvising eminence has now cloaked the entire globe, so his regular Stateside tours have helped forge relationships with some of his finest American counterparts.

The Chicagoan drummer Hamid Drake is one of these sonic allies, and a further collaboration between the pair is destined for natural success, both of them being powerful and thoughtful in equal proportions. Dunmall has penned an extended work for this gig in the intimate, and very nearly sold out Hexagon Theatre, music that retains a free-form mien even though set within a pre-determined structure.

Besides special guest Drake, Dunmall had also co-opted a trio of younger players, two of whom are stalwarts on the Birmingham scene. Percy Pursglove (trumpet), Steve Tromans (electric piano) and Irishman Dave King (bass) all played a strong role in the communication of Dunmall’s sonic conception.

Drake dips into abstraction, when he’s not discovering some fresh funk anti-rhythm to power a part of the music, before switching the beat into another type of beast, then slipping back towards the free-form skin-for-its-own-sake explorations. Percy Pursglove acted in close harmony with Dunmall, until the themes broke off into soloing. There seemed to be more detailed instructions, when compared to many other Dunmall works, its movements carefully flowing and progressing. Pursglove and the leader came together again when they both hoisted their bagpipes to form a formidably bleating free jazz vanguard, upending the reality of the horn section with their wheezing skinfuls.

Dunmall also tooted a brief solo on wooden flute/whistle, intensifying the improvising shepherd vibrations. Tromans was extremely Miles-electric in his attack, joyfully mangled via his distorto pedal-settings, frequently impressing with the extremity and imagination of his soloing adventures. At one stage, Drake moved to a frontal chair, hoisting his large North African bendir, or frame drum, cutting back into a sparse, quietened sequence. Dunmall wasn’t attaining his accustomed level of ripping expression, as this appeared to be a deliberately considered, and more texture-varied sequence of compositions.

Consequently, there was a perpetually building sense of tension, dispersed via a series of folkloric investigations, which lowered volume levels, and opening up the pores to contemplation. The set has now been broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Now programme, and surely this was a fortuitous choice between the three prospective gigs, given the raised quality of this particular performance.

Photograph: Garry Corbett