Sunday, 14 March 2010

The music's coming back #1 - Elton Dean

Sometimes music comes along that changes your way of thinking, it even stays with you without you noticing it. A couple of pieces - LPs, concerts and the like - have stayed with me and kind of directed (or re-directed) my listening experience and eventually the music I play. In fact the first thing that influenced me was when my parents gave me a small 'dansette' (check out the link if you don't know what a dansette is) at the age of 6. There were two records with it, Rod McKuen 'Sloppy the Cat' and a sounds recording of the series 'The Lone Ranger'. I still remember these records even though they wore out years ago. Anyhow, I'm going to write about a few of these little by little, and after all let's hope I keep bumping into them.

Here's the first in the series - not necessarily in chronological order.

I saw this band at Lincoln Art College back in 1978 when I was studying there. My brother had offered me a copy of Harry Miller's Family Affair. I hadn't really understood the music, but it's underground nature (to me at least) appealed to me and I listened to the album from time to time hoping to find a way in. The way in was via Elton Dean's Ninesense as I was about to discover. This group (the concert and the people playing the music) changed my whole life and I ended becoming a professional musician - whatever that means. The music on these albums stayed with me and I listened to umpteen vinyl copies whilst at music college and in later years. Every-time I heard the first album (Happy Daze) I was amazed at how it kept it's freshness. The solos are without pretensions and the group playing is just sublime ....... and very powerful. Harry Miller, Keith Tippett and Louis Moholo are such a strong sounding rhythm section, very original in their approach. As one reviewer on Amazon put it : 'the rhythm section was awesome! Moholo, Miller and Tippett were exceptional in their ability to generate excitement.'  The first track on Happy Daze 'Nicrotto' is a track which when played live - I hadn't heard the album at that point - sounded as if the band were just tuning up, or doing a sound check. The whole group kind of build up over one chord with a very long crescendo. This creates a kind of wall of sound which then gently includes an ostinato like melody which changes with the chords. The other tunes are equally spectacular and maybe slightly more accessible Seven for Lee, Sweet F.A. and Three for All. These are more swinging tunes Seven for Lee being a hypnotic ostinato riff in 7/4.

The main thing I remember from this concert was the complete power of the ensemble and the way they (looking back on it) switched between free and more mainstream type of playing without making any concessions to either (check out Alan Skidmore's great Coltranesque solo on Sweet F.A.).

I even got a chance to hang with the band afterwards at there hotel in central Lincoln - due to being with a couple of nice looking girls who came along with me to the gig.

The second (in fact the first) album Oh, for the Edge is also excellent but due to the live recording the sound quality isn't so good (although good for the period). It almost translates the power of Ninesense live as I saw it. The tunes are slightly less of a standout, but that's maybe just a matter for the individual to decide. When I saw the group they were 'touring' the Happy Daze album which is way this music has stayed with me in a different way.

As for the music - stylistically - the best way to describe it is modern/free. The music passes from very free moments to strong melodic riffing and solos. Of course anybody who knows anything about the UK jazz scene in the 60s/70s will recognize the players and probably will also of heard this mythic band.

Those who are interested by Soft Machine, Brotherhood of Breath, Mingus etc should get themselves a copy ....... don't hesitate.

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