June 11, 2010
Keith Tippett Septet
A loose kite in a gentle wind floating with only my will for an anchor
Ogun OGCD 030
Elton Dean’s Ninesense
Happy Daze + Oh! For The Edge
Ogun OGCD 032
Although the principal lure of these two reissues may be the availability of prime slices of 1970s and 1980s British Free Jazz, unexpected revelations appear while listening. The facility of the session leaders and most sidemen on these discs by pianist Keith Tippett’s septet plus the ensembles led by saxophonist Elton Dean is widely known. But one musician whose talents seem to have slipped below the radar since that time is Welsh jazz trombonist Nick Evans.
Evans, who during those years was a valuable addition to bands ranging from bassist Graham Collier’s sextet, the Soft Machine, the Brotherhood of Breath (BOB) and alto saxophonist Dudu Pukwana’s Diamond Express, is an ardent foil on both discs. Throughout the four-part suite which makes up most of Tippett’s CD, his smears and plunger techniques punctuate the development of horn different strategies. At another point, he expresses himself with gospelish ejaculations, blending with the double-tonguing and sibilant stops of tenor saxophonist Larry Stabbins, best-known for his stints with the London Jazz Composers Orchestra. Similarly on the other CD, Evans often uses his chromatic smears or burnished tone elaboration to duet with Dean or Tippett.
Looser than the other session, and consisting of six tracks from a 1976 octet, and four from 1977 – which add Radu Malfatti as second trombonist – the entire Dean CD can be heard as a miniaturization of the work he and others were doing with BOB. Despite the presence of expatriate South Africans, drummer Louis Moholo and bassist Harry Miller, though, there are no overt influences from that country’s musics. Instead the emphasis is on jazz and blues, with Mongezi Feza’s “Friday Night Blues” the most obvious example.
A contrapuntal showcase it features Miller walking, concluding martial beats from Moholo and Dean stretching his alto tone into an approximation of Hank Crawford’s at his funkiest. Similarly the tempo on “Seven for Lee” quickens into unrelieved tension as low-pitched polyphony churns steadily, only parting long enough for a stuttering, musette-like solo from Dean as well as brassy stream-rolling blares from trumpeter Harry Beckett’s open horn.
Throughout, call-and-response strategies from the horns, Moholo’s blunt rolls and cymbal pops, plus connective piano vamps provide power to impel heavy-duty swinging, although the time is left elastic enough for the soloists’ full expression, alone or in formation. Tippett’s high-frequency key-fanning is matched with bowed bass lines for example; or braying brass blasts meet up with the pianist’s swirling and strummed chording.
“Forsoothe” is one interlude constructed out of strangled cries from the brass plus continuously moving squeaks and peeps from the reeds. These successfully combine into denser and thicker textures, relived only by brassy smears from Evans which churn underneath double-tongued trills from Dean’s saxello. Without copying any particular saxophonist featured in Charles Mingus’ Jazz Workshop, Dean’s tongue expansions here are still Mingusian in execution. This relationship to the American bassist is also expressed six years later by Dean and Tippett, not only most obviously in Tippett’s dedication to Mingus, but in allusions to the American’s compositions and arrangements during the course of “A loose kite in a gentle wind…” suite.
Despite modal styled percussive playing from the pianist that recalls McCoy Tyner; staccatissimo vibrations and trills from Dean that are equally Trane-like; multiphonic tonguing from Evans and quirky Kerry Dance-like terpsichorean pulses from the whole ensemble, the pieces don’t really lock into place until the two middle sections, even when performed full-blast, as it is during the suite’s nearly 28½ minute first section.
Oddly unlike Part 1, which has enough flattened keyboard patterns, soaring brass flourishes and speedy rhythmic tutti passages – plus enough false ending to suggest an unfinished symphony – Parts 2 and 3 are both more descriptive. More reflective in execution, Tippett uses Part 2 to create Duke Ellington-like mini-concertos for selected soloists, with Dean, cornetist Mark Charig and himself taking the Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart and Ellington roles. Tippett’s variants are the most atonal, with internal string twanging, choked arpeggio runs and chordal patterns skirting the progressively louder horn parts, while following and foreshadowing Charig’s and Dean’s more lyrical work. Sequentially developed, the brass man’s exposition is near bel canto and contrasts with the multi-hued tones that have been parceled out to other members of the band. As for Dean, playing alto saxophone, despite the occasional near altissimo squeak, he shades his solo in mid-register to most properly harmonize with the band.
Instructively as well, the contours of Stabbins’ tenor saxophone solo in Part 3 with its sibilant stops and sharp single note emphasis, plus the stop-time smears from the brass also bring Mingus to mind. However Tippett confirms his compositional originality later in the piece. Unlike any Mingus trope, the steady bass and drum patterning here move the tune from andante to allegro as the sax lines became less stable and more violent and are finally answered by heraldic high-pitched cornet work and cunning trombone blasts.
Leaders such as Tippett and the now deceased Dean, as well as others, including Collier and bassist Barry Guy, helped outline a distinctive path for modern British jazz starting in the late 1960s. But sessions like these recall that the transformative skills of their sidemen were as necessary for this step forward as the leader’s musical visions.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Loose: 1. A loose kite in a gentle wind floating with only my will for an anchor 1 2. A loose kite in a gentle wind floating with only my will for an anchor 2 3. A loose kite in a gentle wind floating with only my will for an anchor 3 4. A loose kite in a gentle wind floating with only my will for an anchor 5. Dedicated to Mingus*
Personnel: Loose: Mark Charig (cornet and tenor horn); Nick Evans (trombone): Elton Dean (saxello, alto saxophone*); Larry Stabbins (tenor and soprano saxophones); Keith Tippett (piano); Paul Rogers (bass) and Tony Levin (drums and percussion)
Track Listing: Happy: 1. Nicrotto* 2. Seven for Lee* 3. Sweet F.A.* 4. Three for All* 5. Dance 6. Forsoothe 7. M.T. 8. Friday Night Blues 9. Prayer for Jesus
Personnel: Happy: Mark Charig (trumpet and tenor horn); Harry Beckett (trumpet and flugelhorn); Nick Evans and Radu Malfatti* (trombone); Elton Dean (saxello, alto saxophone); Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone); Keith Tippett (piano); Harry Miller (bass) and Louis Moholo (drums)