ELTON DEAN

Moorsong
Cuneiform Records rune 143

During the past 30 years, British saxophonist Elton Dean has had a curiously twin musical career. Best known to some for his membership in jazz fusion groups like the Soft Machine and others associated with so-called Canterbury Rock, he simultaneously maintained an association with some of the most adventurous improvisers, including keyboardists Carla Bley and Keith Tippett and saxophonists Paul Dunmall and Dudu Pakwana.

MOORSONG shows off both sides of his Jekyll and Hyde personality, with the fusion Mr. Hyde getting most of the space. This is particularly unfortunate, since BLADIK, his last North American outing, featuring Tippett, Dunmall and trombonist Roswell Rudd plus his explorative Dr. Jekyll persona was an exceptional free form blowout.

Recorded in three different sessions, the simpler material is clustered on this disc's first five tracks. Resembling the sort of foot tapping "jazz-lite" that the likes of saxophonist David Sanborn, guitarist Eric Gale and keyboardists Bob James turned out by the gross — no pun intended — in the 1970s and 1980s, these tunes could be superior background music. They're certainly heavier on groove than guts.

Chief offender seems to be drummer Genockey, one of those relentlessly busy percussionists who must comment on absolutely every note the other musicians play. Bassist Baker gets his licks in on each song as well and is probably responsible for what sounds like "lead guitar" solos on most of these tracks.

Then there's organist Maguire, who is proudly described as playing a Hammond organ in the booklet, but the likelihood of him being mistaken for Jimmy Smith are fairly remote. Not adverse to spewing out endless washes of notes like so much whipped cream on top of the plain cake of a tune, he truly sounds as if he's playing a circus calliope on his own "Full Fathom Five". In fact, by the time the longest tracks, "Willy The Knee" and "Baker's Treat" pass their allotted pop single three minutes, you wish the whole rhythm section would take an extended break.

Stalking the songs like a dissatisfied Mr. Hyde, Dean doesn't appear to rouse himself on the first five tunes. When he "gets hot" by double timing and overblowing as on "Willy" or "Bedrock Ruse", it's the studied pseudo excitement rock band sidemen, can bring to any situation. Finally, as each player lines up to solo on the more than 10 minute "Baker's Treat" you begin to feel as if you're trapped in some pub at last call, with the musicians extending every bar until closing time.

Things pick up immeasurably on the last three tunes, which appear to be instant compositions. For a start, percussionist Mark Sanders, who has served an apprenticeship with the likes of Evan Paker, is aboard on "Reel Welders" and "Soldering On". Not only does he accent the material rather than hammering away at it, but he even forces some less hackneyed accompanying lines out of Baker. Gently tinting some passages seems to be six-stringer Hewins' game plan, yet even in full guitar hero mode his contributions lean more towards the probing than the bombastic.

Introducing what sounds like a soprano saxophone for the first time on the CD, these improvisations redirect Dean towards storytelling, rather than section work. "Soldering On" is particularly convincing, with continual staccato saxophone tones subtly showcased by percussive patterns and string vibratos. Tellingly, the title tune, a spacey, serpentine Dean-Hewins duo, is dedicated to Syd Barrett. Singling out Pink Floyd's visionary early guitarist, who didn't follow the rest of the band into arena rock, delineates how the saxophonist may have conceived of this session.

It's a shame that the inspired music on the final tunes couldn't have been extended to CD length. As it is, MOORSONG will appeal most to Dean or Soft Machine/Canterbury Rock completists or maybe those excited by a Hyde to Jekyll transformation. There's far better Dean on disc.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. John's Fragment 2. Willy The Knee 3. Baker's Treat 4. Bedrock Ruse 5. Full Fathom Five 6. Reel Welders 7. Soldering On 8. Moorsong

Personnel: Elton Dean (soprano and alto saxophone); Mark Hewins [track 6 - 8](guitar); Alex Maguire [tracks 1 - 5](organ); Fred T. Baker [tracks 1 - 7)(bass); Liam Genockey [tracks 1 - 5](drums); Mark Sanders [tracks 6-7] (percussion)