In many ways, this is the kind of "typical" all-star, British, free improv session heard during the '90s: robust, muscular playing by an impressive cast. In concept, it's not very different from dozens of others; its special quality lies in both the intensity of the performance and in the choice of players, particularly the pairing of saxophonists Parker and Dunmall. The former, by this time, was an eminence grise of the movement, a veteran who, while still capable of surprising developments, had essentially established his language and who had already influenced a younger generation of players. Dunmall, while hardly a youngster, was in the process of cementing his own identity and his approach contrasts deliciously with his elder's. Parker tends to attack matters from a fairly intellectual stance, achieving his own brand of ecstasy, one suspects, through a rigorously applied system that, at its best, explodes from its own hermeticism. Dunmall appears to take a more intuitive, less formal approach, using a larger sound that comes across as pastorally romantic to Parker's urbanity. This makes for a fine tension as each player coaxes or accedes to the other, constantly shifting the balance of the general tenor of the improvisation. And this is without even mentioning the contributions of the extraordinary Barry Guy on bass, a musician of awesome sensitivity to the playing of his bandmates as well as one capable of producing sublime and innovative music of his own. If anything, one might have preferred a different drummer on the date. Although Tony Levin is entirely adequate, a Tony Oxley or Paul Lytton may have ignited just the right amount of extra fire and invention to propel this session into even higher realms. As is, Birmingham Concert is a fine release and is easily recommended to any fans of the musicians involved.
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