Saxophonist Elton Dean is probably best known for his stint in the classic Soft Machine line-up of '69- '72, but had already established himself as a significant free player with pianist Keith Tippett on records including You Are Here...I Am There
and Dedicated to You But You Weren't Listening
, as well as with his own group, Just Us.
After leaving Soft Machine, dissatisfied with the more fusion-oriented direction it was taking, he formed a number of groups that were important landmarks on the British free jazz scene, including the Elton Dean Quartet and, perhaps most importantly, Ninesense, his groundbreaking nonet that combined heady arrangements with a more exploratory sensibility. Sadly, the group recorded only two albums in its short four-year existence, neither documenting the group with displaced South African trumpeter Mongezi Feza, who passed away tragically at the age of thirty in '75. Fortunately Hux Records has found and released Live at the BBC , documenting two sessionsone from '75, with Feza, and the other from '78, with Harry Beckett in his place.
Ninesense incorporated a certain African sensibility, most notably on "Dancin'," from the '75 session, which features a joyful solo from Feza that highlights why his death was such a tragic loss. While the piece has a clear structure, there's plenty of room for the group to expound, especially pianist Tippett, whose jagged and loose accompaniment lends a sharp edge to the more straightforward rhythm section work of bassist Harry Miller and drummer Louis Moholo, two other South African ex-pats who show that it is possible to swing yet be completely loose at the same time. The less-than-aptly named "Soothing," with Dean's scorching saxello work, revolves around a rubato fanfare by the horn section before dissolving into a more aggressive free stance that, while a feature for Dean and trombonist Radu Malfatti, is held together by Tippett's outer-reaching work, again remarkably in synch with Miller and Moholo. "Sweet Francesca" swings along in a relaxed fashion, with Tippett playing a surprisingly lyrical solo, demonstrating his lineage to McCoy Tyner. The '75 session concludes with "Bidet Bebop," a more insistently rhythmical piece that features a powerful tenor solo from Alan Skidmore.
"Nicra," from the '78 session, is an extended expressionist free piece, beginning with everyone coaxing odd sounds from their instruments before the horn section emerges with a rubato fanfare that dissolves into fifteen minutes of pure anarchy. The piece segues into "Seven for Me," a composition that Dean has recorded under many guises over the years, featuring a catchy 7/4 bass riff and contrapuntal horn theme that Miller and Moholo manage to imbue with a skewed sense of swing for Dean's powerful saxello solo, supported by more chaotic playing from Tippett.
Live at the BBC returns to public perception a group that, in its short existence, was at the vanguard of a particularly vibrant period in British jazz. Kudos to Hux for continuing to unearth such gems and give them the profile they so richly deserve.
Personnel: Mongezi Feza (pocket trumpet on "Dancin'", "Soothing," "Sweet Francesca," "Bidet Bebop"), Marc Charig (cornet, tenor horn), Harry Beckett (trumpet on "Nicra," "Seven for Me"), Radu Malfatti (trombone), Paul Nieman (trombone on "Dancin'", "Soothing," "Sweet Francesca," "Bidet Bebop"), Nick Evans (trombone on "Nicra," "Seven for Me"), Elton Dean (alto saxophone, saxello), Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Keith Tippett (piano, celeste), Harry Miller (bass), Louis Moholo (drums)