It’s funny reading, on the press release, of the “triumphant presentation” of the Paul Dunmall/Henry Grimes/Andrew Cyrille trio that occurred in New York the day before this CD was recorded (June 15, 2008), since I’ve just listened to the album documenting that particular concert finding the music rather confused, lacking artistic consequence and, in general, overhyped. Ancient And Future Airs is another matter altogether, a set where mental lucidity is constantly tangible, the interplay definitely benefiting from this clear collective vision.
In the lengthy “Ancient Airs” the Paul Dunmall/Tony Malaby forward couple - two tenor and a soprano sax, plus the ever-cherished bagpipes - is at times utterly spectacular, swapping accurately hurtful power shots reminiscent of the first Diego Corrales – Jose Luis Castillo fight (if you haven’t seen that one, get a copy then thank your reviewer later) but, in the calmer sections, conversing like old friends at late night, all arguments finally settled in favour of an evocative deliberateness not intoxicated by the fumes of dishonest technical deception. Not to mention the almost savage spirit of their extensive solos, “exhaustion” an unidentified word in this occasion.
Whereas Mark Helias represents a paradigm of functional acoustic link, his purpose apparently consisting in reminding everybody about the possible contaminations deriving from a schizophrenic autonomy (though he cannot certainly be defined as an unadventurous player: check the splendid solo around the 34th minute), Kevin Norton’s vibes – more than his corroborating drumming – squeeze small droplets of metallic colour on the timbral canvas, different hues added to an already complex, if entirely logical picture of passion and intelligence.
The encore (“Future Airs”) is a short yet momentous demonstration of how restraint and control can work wonders in jazz, the artists maintaining an utopian farsightedness as they manage to keep seditious tendencies at bay, a captivating de-escalation of energy into the original state of quietness. A classily sensitive conclusion for an inspiring recording.