Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


by Ian Mann

December 24, 2023


“The Beholder’s Share” represents absorbing and often thrilling listening, with Bonney’s electronics representing a particularly distinctive component.

Alex Bonney / Paul Dunmall / Mark Sanders

“The Beholder’s Share”

(Bead Records – BEAD 48)

Alex Bonney – trumpet, modular synth, laptop, Paul Dunmall – saxophones, Mark Sanders – drums

In October 2023 the estimable Alex Bonney, trumpeter, electronic musician, photographer and much in demand sound engineer, was kind enough to forward me review copies of his two latest album releases.

The first of these was “Everything Unfolding From Emptiness”, a duo release on the Not Applicable record label featuring Bonney (trumpet, percussion, synthesiser) and the drummer / percussionist Will Glaser. This featured a series of atmospheric, and often very beautiful, improvisations recorded
over the course of a single day at Dilston Gallery, a converted church in Southwark Park, London . My review of this excellent recording can be found here;

Released at approximately the same time “The Beholder’s Share” is very different. It appears on Bead Records,  a specialist improv label first established in 1974 that functions as a musicians’ collective. The label is currently managed by the musicians Philipp Wachsmann, Matthew Hutchinson and Emil Karlsen.

“The Beholder’s Share” teams Bonney with two giants of the free jazz and improv scene, saxophonist Paul Dunmall and drummer Mark Sanders, musicians whose CVs are so extensive that I don’t intend to delve into their musical histories. These guys have played with just about EVERYBODY.

The prolific Dunmall has already released several other albums in 2023 and over the course of a long and distinguished career has appeared on approximately two hundred recordings. At the age of seventy he seems to be even more creative than ever and shows no signs of slowing down. Sanders is slightly younger, but has a similarly extensive back catalogue and is a similarly creative and in demand musician.

Compared to the luminously beautiful “Everything Unfolding From Emptiness” this trio recording is
closer in spirit to the hurly burly of conventional free improv. It features three lengthy improvised pieces, with Bonney’s use of synth and laptop bringing an unusual and distinctive additional element to the music.   

The thirteen minute “Resonance Refractions” commences with eerie electronic sounds, these subsequently joined by the soft rumble of Sanders’ drums and percussion. When Dunmall’s saxophone finally arrives it pierces the darkness in a manner similar to Jan Garbarek, albeit in a far more abstract soundscape than Jan is likely to explore these days. Bonney’s electronics provide a spacey backdrop to Dunmall’s sax ruminations, while Sanders’ cymbals provide additional shimmer and sparkle. Bonney switches to trumpet as the music gathers momentum and he solos above the polyrhytmic rumble of Sanders’ drums. The two horns then come together for a series of lively improvised exchanges, with Sanders providing punctuation and commentary from the drums. The exchanges become increasingly garrulous as the energy continues to build, making for thrilling and absorbing listening. After reaching a peak of intensity the temperature of the sax / trumpet exchanges begins to cool as a kind of musical reconciliation is reached. The piece eventually resolves itself with a brief return to the abstract electronica of the intro

The title of the eight minute “Arid / In Phase” was perhaps inspired by Bonney’s cover photograph, an image of the White Desert in Egypt that was captured in the summer of 2022. With regard to the music electronics again play a substantial role, again combining with the rumble of Sanders’ drums to provide a platform for Dunmall’s dramatic sax wailing and the pinched sounds of Bonney’s trumpet. But it’s not all sound and fury, the second half of the piece is a lengthy abstract passage featuring the sounds of glitchy electronics, extended sax and trumpet techniques and eerie cymbal scrapes and shimmers.

The album concludes with the near nineteen minute “Generating Worlds”, which commences with the combined sounds of sax and electronica, with Dunmall’s horn representing a human, vocalised cry in a chilly, alien, electronic soundscape. Drums and trumpet are subsequently added as the music gradually gravitates towards more conventional free / jazz improv with the electronics, and even the drums, eventually dropping out as Dunmall and Bonney deliver a short series of unaccompanied trumpet and sax exchanges. It’s only when these become increasingly animated that Sanders returns to the fold to provide a roiling rhythmic impetus in this bass-less instrumental format. Dunmall and Sanders embark on a brief duo episode that recalls John Coltrane and Rashied Ali, but the addition of Bonney on modular synth soon puts a different slant on things, providing a swirling, electronic backdrop for Dunmall’s increasingly impassioned sax blasting. Brief snatches of trumpet are briefly heard, while Sanders is a veritable human whirlwind behind the kit. The music continues to ebb and flow with Bonney’s electronics helping to create an increasingly dystopian atmosphere as Dunmall’s horn continues to wail in the wilderness.

“The Beholder’s Share” is a fascinating album, although I’m aware that it’s a recording that will only suit so many people’s ears. In many ways it’s a conventional free jazz / improv offering but there’s no denying the fact that Bonney’s electronics add a whole extra dimension to the music, while still remaining within the free jazz / improv tradition. In his case the term ‘electronic musician’ is totally justified, his synth and laptop contributions are an essential part of the fabric of this music and help to give it its own distinctive identity. Bonney also makes an excellent contribution on trumpet, while Dunmall and Sanders, two musicians who have worked frequently together and who can both be regarded as true doyens of the genre, are both superb throughout.

“The Beholder’s Share” represents absorbing and often thrilling listening, despite being somewhat challenging at times. The sound quality is excellent throughout with Emil Karlsen of Bead Records acting as producer. The album was mixed by Bonney and mastered by bassist / electronic musician Pierre Alexandre Tremblay.

“The Beholder’s Share” may not be quite as accessible as “Everything Unfolding From Emptiness” but it’s an excellent album in its own right, with much for the adventurous listener to enjoy, and with Bonney’s electronics representing a particularly distinctive component.

The Beholder’s Share is available from the Bead Records Bandcamp page;


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