English saxophonist Elton Dean retains the dubious distinction of having put the "Elton" into Elton John. (Yes, it's true. The zillionaire pianist formerly known as Reginald Dwight took his first name from Dean, with whom he performed decades ago.) Dean, who has extensively collaborated with pianist Keith Tippett, appears comfortable in a variety of styles. From blues to swinging jazz, from fusion to free improvisation, Dean does it all on Moorsong.
The first five tunes on Moorsong have a smooth, groovy (and at times quite funky) fusion feel. Dean's distinctive voice on the saxophone sets this quartet apart from the vast sea of organ-based improv groups. While he receives ample support from the other band members, he personally raises the music to a higher level. His relatively constrained melodic work on ballads like "Baker's Treat" does justice to the material, but Dean is at his best on the more up-tempo numbers. Here he freely exercises a vision informed by his experience in many different styles of music. By juxtaposing swinging melodies with punchy thrusts and the occasional squeal, he supplies welcome energy and surprise. Dean's boundary-stretching is the key ingredient which makes the fusiony aspects of Moorsong work.
The next two tunes on Moorsong, "Reel Welders" and "Soldering On," skip in and out of free improvisation. In this setting, Dean's quartet breaks loose, and the individual personalities at work gain clearer voices. These tracks explore space and texture while wandering in and out of a healthy groove. The final tune, an interactive free duet with Dean and guitarist Mark Hewins, places more priority on color and flow.
One must respect Dean's artistic integrity on Moorsong : by mixing the "alternative" sounds of collective improvisation with the more usual ballads and up-tempo fusion numbers, he emphasizes the continuum that they indeed represent.
John's Fragment; Willy the Knee; Baker's Treat; Bedrock Ruse; Full Fathom Five; Reel Welders; Soldering On; Moorsong.
Elton Dean: saxophones; Fred T. Baker: bass; Liam Genockey: drums; Mark Hewins: guitar; Alex Maguire: Hammond organ; Mark Sanders: percussion.