Dawn 1970–1971 / Esoteric 2018
Entire output of Transatlantic jazz collective that sailed through uncharted waters in search of daybreak surprise.
Squaring the circle may remain a problem for aeons, yet rounding the triangle didn’t seem too complex an issue for this band who never dwelt on a concept of it being the most rigid shape – because the only solid thing they pursued was the suppleness of performance. Formed by English saxophonist John Surman and American ex-pats Barre Phillips and Stu Martin – a pair set to redefine the rhythm section role in a group – the group operated mostly in Europe, finding favors with fringe crowds and released two LPs on Dawn Records, but the small collective ran their course soon after and stopped before the excitement of the things they did evaporated. Well-preserved to always be ripe for rediscovery, it’s here now.
Starting off and signing off the ensemble’s 1970 debut – a self-titled double album barely able to contain the abundant ideas on display – with Martin’s drums is a great way to fathom the scope of what Surman’s brass and Phillips’ bass would imbue with multitude of melodies and movements, “Oh Dear” a fitting expression of surprises to come. Melding trad figures and avant-garde freedom, the trio often zipped from grit to elegance within a single number, delivering rock-hard yet mesmeric – funeral-to-carnival – lines for “Malachite” on their second record, “Conflagration” that saw the light of day in 1971, and often kept their interplay loose without losing sight of a tune however elusive it was. Even short cuts like the effects-testing “Billie The Kid” or the sax-only “Incantation” have a lot of meaning and energy to the instrumental hide-and-seek, let alone such inherently elegiac epics as “Green Walnut” or “Silver Cloud” whose mercurial tempos and wild licks are arresting.
Where “Foyer Hall” bristles with burlesque curlicues and rustles with cymbal splashes, the soundscape of “Caractacus” is belligerently hectic but, paradoxically, “6’s And 7’s” – its two versions anchor both records with increasing intensity – feels, despite the piece’s title, very much ordered, though rather deranged, and the similarly progressive grooves of “Veritably” drive the overall mood to triumphant heights. As Phillips’ strings emulate a cello, “In Between” must strive for a chamber experience, while the almost orchestral “Conflagration” – the track, augmented by Chick Corea’s ivories and additional reedmen, including Marc Charig and Harry Beckett – turns into a jolly jaunt, as do “Dee Tune” which opts for pretty frivolous direction and the equally effusive “B” which reeks of Balkan village festival. “Centering” could be the emotional pinnacle of the group’s oeuvre, were “Nuts” not so hymnal in its dynamic madness and were the lounge languidness of “Afore The Morrow” not stricken with drama.
It’s a truly rich experience, this collection, what with John Marshall joining in the skittering fun and Dave Holland lurking in there as well, so THE TRIO would reappear down the line, expanded to quartet, as MUMPS. Still, the immediacy of their start remains unsurpassed.