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Elton Dean’s Ninesense - The 100 Club Concert 1979

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Artist: Elton Dean’s Ninesense

Album: The 100 Club Concert 1979

Label: Reel Recordings

Review date: Jun. 21, 2012

Recorded in March 1979, in concert at the 100 Club, London, this album captures one of British jazz’s more renowned ensembles in peak form. When saxophonist Elton Dean formed his Ninesense in 1975, he recruited musicians from Keith Tippett’s Centipede and Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath, two collectives that Dean called home at one point. The result was a powerful, star-studded nonet. The rhythm section of Tippett on piano, Harry Miller on bass and Louis Moholo-Moholo was a formidable unit that also collaborated with Dean in his Elton Dean Quartet. Joining Dean in the front line were Alan Skidmore on tenor and soprano saxophones, Mark Charig on cornet and tenor horn, Harry Beckett on trumpet and flugelhorn, plus trombonists Nick Evans and Radu Malfatti. A lot of fire power there.

Of the nine members, six had played in Centipede, seven in Brotherhood of Breath, as well as in other groups on the active London jazz scene. Such familiarity bred a loose, relaxed atmosphere, one that is heightened here by the spontaneity of the live context; as Dean himself commented in a 1998 interview for Facelift magazine, “Jazz doesn’t work that well in the studio environment; it’s not a true picture if you start separating the instruments and changing individual sounds. The heart of jazz culture is the sound of musicians playing together and reacting to each other. The best way to experience jazz is in a live situation; to me, it just doesn’t work as studio music.”

The music here fully supports those sentiments. On eight compositions — seven by Dean, one by Evans — the band refreshingly avoids the formulaic jazz routine of theme-solo-solo-solo-reprise; they replace it with more free-flowing ensemble performances in which overlapping solos, call-and-response and dialogues occur more often than individual solos. Miraculously, for a group of this size, the players do not get in each other’s way or create a feeling of clutter. With the quality on display in the line-up, it is pointless to single out individuals for praise; the entire band was the star of this show, not any one player.

Although it seems to have been captured on a cassette recorder located at the front center of the audience, the quality of the recording is adequate, and its immediacy conveys the excitement of the occasion. The only minor flaw is that sometimes Tippett is hard to hear, as the piano was positioned at the far left of the stage, beyond the band; the pianist can be heard during the quieter passages but otherwise can get drowned out. In all other respects, this album is highly recommended as a valuable document from a classic period of British jazz.

By John Eyles

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