Saxophonists Paul Dunmall and Evan Parker and drummer Tony Bianco have history with one another. Dunmall and Bianco are "friends as well as colleagues", having played together since 1999, often as a duo but also in trios and quartets. Two of their duo recordings were tributes to John Coltrane, one being the subject of an appreciative email from Parker to them — an indication of common ground between the three. Parker and Dunmall have gigged and recorded together since the mid-nineties. Although Extremes is this trio's first album together, in the past there have been a couple of "near misses" employing the same format of two saxophones plus Bianco on drums; Utoma Trio (Emanem, 2000) combined Dunmall and Bianco with tenor saxophonist Simon Picard, while on Relevance (Red Toucan, 2010) Parker and Bianco were joined by saxophonist and flautist Dave Liebman. Yes, no doubt about it, Bianco, Dunmall and Parker all belong on the same Venn diagram and this trio had a sense of inevitability about it.
When Bianco and Dunmall phoned Parker and asked if he would record as a trio with them at Bianco's place, he replied that "it would be a nice way of spending an afternoon". Little did he know that the room they recorded in at Bianco's Garden Cottage was rather small. After the three of them had fitted into the room and recorded the album's thirty-two minute opening track, in late June 2014, Parker whispered to Bianco, "That was extreme." From that comment, the track and the entire album had their titles, "Extreme" and Extremes. Given the content of those thirty-two minutes, it is impossible to argue with Parker's judgment. Throughout, Dunmall and Parker both play most of the time, calling and responding to each other, sending and receiving simultaneously, driving one another forward. The end result is that their two separate voices intertwine and meld into one composite in which their individual contributions are just distinguishable. Bianco also plays throughout, providing propulsion and support, the glue that helps hold it all together. It is thrill-a-minute stuff that makes exciting listening, Extreme? Yes, Evan, it sure is but "intense" or "exhilarating" would have been just as right.
In comparison to the maelstrom of "Extreme", "All Ways" comes as light relief. Its five-and-a half minutes are taken at a more sedate pace while the playing is mellower and more intimate, allowing the saxophonists' phrases and exchanges to be lingered over and savoured. Given its location on the album, for the listener it functions like a sorbet that helps to clear the palate between two rich courses. The third and final track, the twenty-four minute "Horus", features extended solos from each of the saxophonists punctuated by shorter dialogue sections on which the two saxophonists exchange phrases but avoid going head-to-head as intensely as before. Again, the support from Bianco is perfectly judged. Altogether, this is an extremely impressive outing for all three players. Bravo!
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