Concert review: Profound Sound Trio

CBSO Centre, Birmingham, UK

They started and finished their continuous set with intense, tumbling pieces that had the same individual instrumental ingredients delivered in remarkably similar fashion. But what a difference! At the beginning it was like watching three musicians, each locked in their own little world, pouring out their own ideas for, it seemed, their own satisfaction. There could have been invisible walls between them; there could have been one between them and us.

On the left, Henry Grimes plucked urgently and nervously at the strings of his double bass to produce a low burbling thrum; in the centre Andrew Cyrille had set up a constant flurry around the drum kit that, likewise, formed a fairly uninterrupted swathe of strikes and scrapes; to the right Paul Dunmall poured out torrents of notes from his tenor saxophone in a stream broken only momentarily by the regular pauses needed for an intake of breath.

On and on they went, in isolation. Or so it seemed to me.

But just over an hour later they did the same kind of thing, except this time what I heard was a band – the three musicians still doing what they do best and, more specifically, the only thing they do, but now doing it in tight-knit accord with each other. Both pieces were a bit like the musical equivalent of a monochrome Jackson Pollock paintings (in dark grey upon dark grey, perhaps), except that the first time it had just been a murky mess while the second time light played across the surface, the layers gleaming. The difference is hard to express, but easy to feel. It’s the difference between wanting to leave and being glad I’d stayed.

In between, Dunmall played clarinet and came worryingly close to playing a tune; Grimes did one of his unfathomable arco solos, read a poem which linked the now to to the origins of the world, and played violin. His violin playing reminds me of no one so much as John Cale playing viola with the Velvet Underground.

The most magical moment for me came when Cyrille started a groove (or as near to a groove as free jazz gets) with stick on stick, varying the pressure of the hit and so producing an almost melodic variation in note and tone. He built this motif up and spread it subtly to the rest of the kit while Grimes held a rhythmic scrape and saw on violin and Dunmall conversed with the two of them on soprano. The sound of Dunmall’s bagpipes – again it’s a torrent of notes but this time uninhibited by the need for breaths – added a nice earthy and strangely British touch to what had been music not of any particular country or even of this earth. It’s somehow stranger than that – a kind of intergalactic buzz, rattle, screech and squeal of the spheres.

The encore was almost a blues, almost that jazz that is – what would you call it? – “fenced in” rather than “free”?

Categories: Live review

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9 replies

  1. In Belfast we did not get bagpipes, or a poem, or an encoure and Andrew Cyrille was on the right instead of the middle. But we did get an hour and a quarter of music in which you caught glimpses of what these men have dedicated their lives to. Easier to admire than to love, yes, but you are still glad that someone is doing it all the same. Did not buy a cd at the end though…

    • Absolutely agree that it is a cause for celebration that this music exists and that these musicians dedicate themselves to it with such undying commitment, despite the fact that it must be one of the most difficult ways to make a living. And it was clear from the audience reaction that there are those who can love this music, too. I have struggled to do the same but so far without success. I guess I have just not managed to understand the language sufficiently, or have not been graced to have the scales removed from my eyes (ears?). Ah well, there is still time…

  2. Two things struck about this gig and indeed about the rest of the tour. One is that the playing of Henry Grimes and Andrew Cyrille drew on all their past experience, both in more structured contexts as well as in free jazz . Both players played in mainstream contexts before coming to free jazz and both played a significant role in defining the role of their instrument in avant music. Thus, for me, the music was a natural development from the jazz of the 50s and 60s and in a sense as natural a development from bop and hard bop as Miles Davis’ move into modal jazz. Clearly very different music of course. The other was how well Paul Dunmall fitted into that context and it was wonderful to hear him interact with these two giants of free jazz. I should declare an interest here: I, acting for Birmingham Jazz, set up the tour!

  3. First, I’d like to quote Rainer Maria Rilke: “Works of art are of an infinite loneliness and with nothing to be so little reached as with criticism. Only love can grasp and hold and fairly judge them.”

    Next, I’m bewildered at all the negative comments in the above review, and not only that, but in Mr. Bacon’s posting the very next day after the review, he wrote, “I have struggled to [love this music] but so far without success. I guess I have just not managed to understand the language sufficiently, or have not been graced to have the scales removed from my eyes (ears?).”

    So knowing that you can’t (yet) really hear it or appreciate it, why write such a nasty review about it? Why use terms such as “nervously,” “burbling,” “unfathomable,” “scrape and saw”? The remark “Cyrille started a groove (or as near to a groove as free jazz gets)” is pretty nasty too, as well as totally wrong. And it wasn’t that the trio wasn’t playing as a group for the first hour of the concert, but rather that it took you that long to start hearing it as a group.

    And then we have another Peter Bacon review of the same trio in concert, written about six months ago, in which he wrote, “This music not only has the elemental sound of human beings, the blood pumping, the synapses snapping, but it has that astronomical scope too, the crackle, shudder of space. All three make sounds that contain multiple layers of timbre, tone and overtone, which on the surface might sometimes feel like chaos, but if it is chaos, it contains all manner of truths and beauties.”

    Mr. Bacon, you had it right that time.

    There can’t be two Peter Bacons in the U.K. writing about this music, since both were postings on the jazzbreakfast site.

    Mr. Bacon, please take your 28/11/09 review down, or at least rewrite it.

    Peace, love, music, and justice,

    Margaret Davis Grimes

    • Dear Margaret, there is indeed only one of me. Both reviews are accurate of my reaction to the music on the night, which is the only reaction one can go by. I do not consider the second review “nasty” as you put it but an honest and necessarily subjective response to the music. I think you attribute negative qualities to the words “burbling”, “nervously”, etc, which are not intended. I respect your loyalty and deeper understanding of this music than I have, and I think I have been honest in making reference to the fact that if my response is not as effusive and positive as it might be, that the shortcomings are mine and not the music’s. I think as you understand jazz and free improvisation as deeply as you do, you must also acknowledge that it not a risk-free activity. It is only as good as the musicians can make it on the night. They are not superhuman or infallible and surely it is an expression of their humanity that some nights the music will go better than others. Just as I uphold the right of all musicians to play what is in their hearts I uphold the right to respond to it from the heart. I will not rewrite or take down this review. I hope you might forgive me for any slights you imagine are in my review – they are certainly not intended. I remain a huge admirer of what Henry Grimes, Andrew Cyrille and Paul Dunmall do, and I wish them and you every success in the future.

  4. I haven’t much time to continue this and have already said what I want to say. But I’ll just add that Paul Dunmall himself listened to the recording of the Birmingham concert and Emailed his bandmates on December 7th, “Just listened to the Birmingham concert!!! What an outstanding piece of music that is, with the poetry, bagpipes etc. All the sections are fantastic.”

    And I can also tell you that I was there, and listening hard, and nobody’s playing was nervous, nobody burbled, nothing was unfathomable, nobody scraped and sawed, and many, many great drummers in so-called “free jazz” have a groove, and Andrew Cyrille always does.

    Mr. Bacon, contrary to your opinion, it is not your job to write about people’s music according to the vagaries of your moods, but rather to report from a deep well of knowledge and understanding what actually happened at the concert.

    Best wishes,

    (Oh, P.S., bagpipes are not British. They probably began in Africa and were heard in the 2nd century A.D. in Rome, where Nero is reported to have played them. From there they spread across Europe but did not appear in British history until somewhere around the 15th century.)

  5. We would both like to express our appreciation for the evening of wondrous music that The Profound Sound Trio gave us at the CBSO Centre. We were present at one of those nights when we really do breath the air of another planet.

    Having listened to improvised music since the mid 70s, we have come to see these live experiences as opportunities to go into a world where we are receptacles of sound and forms that energise and uplift; like some of that ole time religion, brothers and sisters.

    The range of music played that night was astounding and the mixture of roots and routes was remarkable and visionary. What we had here was three men playing together, at the interface between individual and community. If there was more of this in the world, we would all be in a better place.

  6. I attended the Profound Sound Trio concert in Birmingham in November, 2009. As I had anticipated I found it a truly memorable and wholly captivating experience from the very first shaping of sound to the very last. For me it was life affirming, it was an inspiring education for the mind, it brought forth a warming joy from my heart and immersed my body with compelling sounds that had a wonderful physical reality.

    I am so grateful to the three musicians who through their musical awareness, creative imagination and energy, dedication, talent and humanity took me with them through the unendingly fertile landscape of their collective and individual conjuring. They enlightened me to a world whose intensity, impact and potential for beautiful organisation is far and away beyond my powers of literal description.

    I could not begin to describe the totality of the experience any more than I could ballet dance in a rusty suit of armour.

    The music they made that night made the hairs on the back of my neck tingle and any sense of normal clock time and scale I had disappeared or was kneaded and amplified into miniature eternities as I was so captivated and drawn into each successive instant, and then the instant is absorbed into a collective continuity of instants and realised into unfolding bigger and bigger moments, phrases, rhythms, tunes, themes, soundscapes each musician being the living creative embodiment of themselves in sound and their responses to each other.

    The memory of the music still continues to feed me.

    My twelve year old son also found it an enthralling musical experience and like me was riveted from start to end.


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