Manuel Dunkel & Proton String Quartet – “Meeting Point”


Manuel Dunkel - "Meeting Point"On previous albums, saxophonist Manuel Dunkel displayed an ability to play it straight from both past and post-bop perspectives.  On 2004’s Manuscript, Dunkel’s quartet kept things more in the mainstream jazz arena, and illustrated his ability to draw evocative tones from patient expressions.  On 2010’s A Step Forward, Dunkel’s quartet turned up the heat, hitting notes that sang of modern post-bop jazz sounds, though hinting at roots of that music with quick turns of phrases and a rhythm section that could turn on a dime.

On his latest recording, 2013’s Meeting Point, Dunkel brings those elements together.  Furthermore, he adds the Proton String Quartet to the mix, providing a new dimension to his music as his sound evolves creatively.  It’s what puts this recording over the top, eclipsing previous efforts.

Your album personnel:  Manuel Dunkel (tenor & soprano saxes), Seppo Kantonen (piano), Ville Herrala (bass), Mika Kallio (drums) and the Proton String Quartet: Teppo Ali-Mattila (violin), Ilkka Lehtonen (violin), Maarit Holkko (viola), and Veli-Matti Iljin (cello).

The balance between the saxophone quartet “side” and the string quartet “side” is most fascinating in the way their negative correlation expresses itself.  On opening track “Sustaining,” Dunkel’s languid sax lead is offset by urgent coaxing of strings, and when the sax quartet speaks in clipped phrases, the string quartet offers up long slow washes of harmony.  On “Le Calife,” Dunkel’s sax rides the turbulent drafts of Kallio’s drums, while strings provide a smooth jet stream just beneath the expanse of the solo.

“Fortitude North” develops a little swing, as Herrala walks down Dunkel’s opening salvo.  When Dunkel states the melody, strings hit the gas pedal on the harmony, then slams on the brakes, inching forward to add some emphasis to the rhythmic chatter.  On piano, Kantonen works the seams between the two, while running in a direction opposite that of bass.  The sense of intersecting lines heading it opposite directions adds some welcome tension to a tune that verges on a season of swing.

Of course, it’s not all a matter of counterbalancing… the expressions in tandem offer plenty to get excited about.  The opening of “Stones” sees the octet skipping determinedly forward, and then all as one, leap off a cliff and begin to soar.

“Range of Moods Pt.2” and “Kevätkoivu” slip into ballad form, letting strings tell a love story while Dunkel adds that tone of heartbreak inherent in all romantic expressions.  But “Outlines” is a different kind of demeanor.  Raucous right from the start, the ensemble speeds through an upbeat tune, featuring a nice turn by Kantonen on piano.

The album ends with “Sustaining 2,” a reprise of the opening track.  And where the first rendition of this song slowly built drama right from the start, the reprise has a sense of finality, both Dunkel and Kantonen offering up shorter and crisper statements on sax and piano, drums still pronounced, but with less insistence.  Strings, intriguingly, add a soft layer of dissonance in the background, which contrasts greatly with the rest of the ensemble, yet, strangely, serves to enhance the tempered wind-down.

A nice example of how to add an element of strings to an existing sound without changing everything up, and, also, just an enjoyable recording that I find myself coming back to from time to time.

Released on Texicalli Records.

Jazz from the Vantaa, Finland scene.

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