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Friday, October 14, 2022

Elton Dean Quartet - On Italian Roads (Live at Teatro Cristallo, Milan, 1979) (British Progressive Jazz, 2022)

By Lee Rice Epstein

Like many jazz greats, saxophonist Elton Dean had his own versions of early and late quartets. One of his best known groups came in the 1980s and ’90s, with Paul Dunmall, Paul Rogers, and Tony Levin. However, a decade earlier, it seems he was touring with a quartet that would help catapult him forward. Unless I’m mistaken, the release of On Italian Roads (Live at Teatro Cristallo, Milan, 1979) marks the only official release of Dean with the all-star quartet of Keith Tippet on piano, Harry Miller on bass, and Louis Moholo-Moholo on drums. As it stands, that alone would be cause for celebration, but the high quality of the performance sets this one even further apart.

From the jump, the quartet plays with a brilliant, edge-of-your-seat ferocity. The set is made up of five Dean originals that have circulated on a number of quintet and related albums: “Oasis,” “Fara,” “Dede-Bup-Bup,” “That’s for Cha,” and “Seven For Lee” (possibly best known as part of the Ninesense repertoire). Dean’s blazing performance spans alto and, like David S. Ware, the little-played saxello, which has a keening wail. By the halfway mark of “Oasis,” the 20-minute opening track, Tippett sounds absolutely bonkers, smashing the high and low ends of the piano simultaneously. And Miller and Moholo are a roaring hydra, two heads with one purpose: rolling and thundering ceaselessly. “Dede-Bup-Bup” (which can also be heard with 3/4s of this group on the Ogun classic They All Be On This Old Road ) is a crunchy, swift reprieve. Then, the quartet launches into 25 minutes of straight fire music.

This particular quartet is something of a core Ninesense group (for those familiar with the large ensemble), playing a distilled take of that big-band’s blend of jazz, fusion and South African influences crossed with high-intensity improvisation. British Progressive Jazz has already released a stunning Keith Tippett set as well as an expanded Odysseus Suite from Dan Rendell , Graham Collier in 1968 with Harry Beckett and Ted Curson, and Michael Garrick with Joe Harriot from 1965. Uncovering these would be reason enough to support British Progressive Jazz, but they are doing an incredible job remastering these recordings. On Italian Roads has an immediacy to it, with a lovely balance between the four instruments, Miller’s bass fairly high in the mix, and nice separation of piano and drums. Anyone interested in post-Coltrane jazz should hopefully have Dean (and, for that matter, Dunmall) on their radar. And if you’re new to Dean, On Italian Roads is an excellent place to start.

Available on Bandcamp


Nick Metzger said...

A great set and a great review! As a rule you should never pass up an album with a Miller/Moholo-Moholo rhythm section.

Anonymous said...

There is a similar session with Dean/Tippett/Moholo and Chris Laurence. "They Were All on the old Road" (Ogun)