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Mujician - There's No Going Back Now

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Artist: Mujician

Album: There's No Going Back Now

Label: Cuneiform

Review date: Jul. 31, 2006

The quartet of saxophonist Paul Dunmall, pianist Keith Tippett, bassist Paul Rogers and drummer Tony Levin has been a going concern since 1988, producing long and short form improv that sits comfortably but firmly just outside of jazz. This newest offering might be the group’s strongest, given the sheer diversity of material and approach abounding over the disc’s one epic 45-minute track.

Every member of the group has paid mainstream dues—Dunmall with everybody from Johnny Guitar Watson to Polly Bolton and Tony Levin holding down Tubby Hayes’ drum chair being only two of the most prominent examples of membership association. Tippett and Rogers have certainly had much to say in the fluid vernacular of Euro-free improv and beyond, both as solo artists and leaders or in other high-power configurations. Consequently, every Mujician album over the last 14 years has been a unique statement, an amalgam of experiential dialectic that can produce beautiful, harrowing, humorous but always provocative music that shows these four master improvisers to also be formidably dynamic listeners.

Whether they exist or not, I can hear no edits on this disc. The music unfolds in waves of varying intensities, and the listener is plunged unceremoniously into one of these at the outset. Tippet lets fly an arrow-straight pair of shockingly beautiful and heavily tensioned chords, Rogers answers with a quick groan of alacrity; Levin’s bells tinkle ascent, Dunmall twitters into vibrant fluidity as only he can, and we’re off.

To attempt to summarize the next three-quarters of an hour would be futile, not to mention ridiculous. While all play with overwhelming energy, Dunmall outdoes himself here. I wrote recently that Dunmall has forsaken extramusical “new thing” squeaks and smears for a more meditatively melodic approach. No Going Back brings all the noise back in spades, and the results are mesmerizing and disturbing as his full-boar shrieks shred any attempt at civilized accompaniment, the others pushing harder and with more intensity to keep up with him.

All is not hell and venom however, and some of the quietest and most transcendent moments find Tippett inside the piano, plucking and tinkering, as is his wont, in a manner that produces a new kind of chordal playing, overtones being the building blocks of the ethereal harmonies. The others sample and hold each gesture, running with it to create new flights of fancy that keep the huge structure viable and vibrant. Along the way, Rogers’ impeccable arco work makes several welcome appearances, and Levin’s drumming is as sensitive, multi-timbral and powerful as ever.

It’s refreshing to hear the group back into long-form again, and I hope that the trend continues. Again, and as always, Cuneiform must be thanked, profusely, for bringing this stunning quartet’s work stateside, and I can only hope that we might get a chance to see them perform here very soon. This new disc is no replacement for the live Mujician experience, but it is certainly well worth hearing for any serious fan of improvised music.

By Marc Medwin

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