Saturday, February 11, 2006

Elton Dean: 1945- 2006...





I was going to post some more Eric Dolphy – but it can wait a week or so. I was down in the Artist's Quarter yesterday afternoon for a quiet drink and a read of the paper when I discovered – sadly – another obituary and another loss to the British jazz/improvised music scene. Elton Dean, gone from us at 60 on the 7th February. I also discovered something in the write-up by John Fordham here...
that I didn't know – Elton was originally from Nottingham. And following up a bit of research when I got home – Long John Baldry, see here...
with whose band Bluesology he played in the sixties, and who died last year, came originally from Haddon in Derbyshire. As a local East Midlander, back on the home ground now for a few years (but not for much longer if all goes well...) I felt maybe just a bit closer to these guys as an admittedly more obscure provincial boy who also went to the big city. Baldry I saw many times in London years back, especially when he was running some of the all -night folk sessions at Les Cousins – and maybe the old 51/Colyer Club although I 'm a bit amnesic about that one. Young blood running high on wild cocktails of adrenalin, drink and drugs... a long time ago... Elton Dean I don't think I ever saw live – but I heard him on radio and records consistently down the years. He was one of the few interesting constituents of 'Soft Machine' – a band I never liked, finding their take on jazz rock just too lumpy after hearing Miles and 'Bitches Brew.' Never was into that particular scene grouped around that band – and for all that he was and is no doubt a sterling and affable man, Robert Wyatt especially has always put me off – can't stand his whiny voice. Hey – shoot me. John Fordham's piece also imparts the amusing information that the appalling Elton John took his stage name from the monikers of Dean and Baldry. Dear God... But Elton Dean was a fascinating character, coming off that particularly English 60's treble – whammy of jazz and rhythm and blues and rock – which I wrote about in an earlier blog here... I like the freeforming moves across the territories of blues, jazz, rock and improv that he represents and was so adept at – open ears and mind, not closed up into any particular ghetto, the comfort of which in a hostile world where creativity does not always get its due is within easy reach and easier to cope with sometimes than challenging the barriers of one's peers. Eclecticism is not always a good move, musically, of course. A healthy dash of purism can be just as astringently uplifting... Circumstances and nerve and grace and luck determine which avenue to take at the correct tme... For the sake of argument, say, the area described between Miles Davis's later musics and Cecil Taylor's career. (The mirror image maybe is the distance between most fusion music and, for all the undoubted skills contained therein,the Wynton Marsalis neocon camp...)

I gather that Elton did not play so much over here these later days – which comes as no surprise: to make a living in the United Kingdom from challenging music is a difficult and sometimes impossible road to venture down. Plus ça change...

The two tracks I've selected come from a recent album: 'QED.' Quod erat demonstrandum, which if my rusty Latin tells me as : 'That which was to be demonstrated.' So I offer two of these proofs, more aesthetic, perhaps, than strictly mathematical, of the very considerable worth of the late Elton Dean:

'Sheepdogs.' A duet with Paul Rodgers on bass – performed within the jazz end of the spectrum, a free-ranging piece, fluent squalling vocalised saxophone, going in and out of more lyrical passages. Recorded live, at the Red Rose club.

'New Roads' is a trio recorded in the studio: an interesting line-up of Alex Mc Guire on the Hammond organ, Tony Bianco on drums and Elton on sax and Fender Rhodes. The two keyboards carry much jazz ideology with them – organ and sax playing grits and greens soul jazz (often for economic reasons) was a staple line-up in many clubs in the States during the fifties and sixties – and no doubt beyond. The whole jazz rock scenario of course sprang in great part from Miles Davis's experiments with adopting electronic instruments – much of the denseness on those 'Bitches Brew' and beyond tracks come from the mixture of electronic keyboards – Chic Corea and Keith Jarrett et al. There is an element of those epochal sounds here, mixed in with the orthodox jazz heritage – yet there is not much backbeat or conceding simplicity for it's own sake – this is also not some Jimmy Smith retread. Electric jazz, if you will, but not of the tedious kind that unfortunately followed Miles' experiments (you know who I mean). It rocks...

The diversity of playing scenarios that Dean adventurously participated in throughout his musical life are reflected in a small way by these tracks. A tantalising snippet of his most recent playing (at the end of an amazing live concert recording by Mary Schneider) can be caught during the next few days on Jazz on 3's latest show, available here...
featuring his latest (and sadly last) band Soft Bounds, with Hugh Hopper, Simon Goubert, Sophia Domancich. Lots of high energy playing – with a touch of the Coltrane quartet, perhaps (no bad thing) except maybe that bass and piano are more audible and integrated into the whole.

A great loss to the scene and condolences to his family and friends...


Good article about Elton Dean here...


Download
Sheepdogs

New Roads


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2 comments:

Happy In Bag said...

Thanks for your insights. Sad news. Great post.

kek-w said...

Ah, shit....I didn't know Elton Dean was dead. Shame...