Stride Magazine -


(Hux Records. HUX 046)
(Ayler Records. AylCD ­ 017/018)

Sometimes the coalition of musicians from diverse cultures produces something that transcends all barriers, crossing frontiers and creating a vibrant common language. I’m thinking in particular of meetings between players from South Africa and Europe, by which I mean the UK too.

Elton Dean’s band, Ninesense mixed Radu Malfatti and Nick Evans on trombones, Harry Beckett and Mark Charig on trumpet and cornet and had as its driving force the bass and drums of Harry Miller and Louis Moholo. That’s just part of this dynamic ensemble whose recorded repertoire has now been extended by the release of these live sessions from 1975 and 78.

There is no new material here, all of the tunes, bar one, come from the two Ogun albums. The exception is an expanded version of a tune from the EDQ recording ‘They All Be On This Old Road’. There it was known as ‘De De Bup Bup’ ­ yes, catchy, isn’t it ­ and now it is ‘Bidet Bebop’ and it is a hard driven slice of bop with Dean’s alto soaring over Keith Tippett’s restlessly inventive piano. Miller and Moholo, as ever. provide a solid foundation for the interplay between these two.

Tippett’s playing is particularly notable throughout, whether heavily percussive, as on parts of ‘Dancin’ or more lyrical and reflective on ‘Sweet Francesca’ . Possibly the highlight of his playing is on the tumultuous ‘Nicra’ where, once again, his approach his closer to that of a drummer and it’s no surprise that he works so closely and empathetically with Moholo. Again, the barriers are broken, this time between instruments and players.

Still much missed, pocket trumpeter Mongezi Feza, was one of the most effervescent players to enhance the jazz scene in the seventies. His solo on ‘Dancin’ shows why he was so integral to bands like Ninesense and The Brotherhood. Mercurial and joyous, he lifts the track, ably abetted by the Moholo/Miller/Tippett team. Sadly, he wasn’t around when the band recorded their two albums so it is especially gratifying to hear him with them on the 1975 session.

In a band of this calibre it is difficult to pick individual soloists but equally mention must be made of Evans and Malfatti, in particular on their showcase, ‘Nicra’, one of Dean’s most original compositions, which features both trombonists in a densely atmospheric duet. It made me go and dig out their fine Ogun recording of the same title. Also worth a mention is Mark Charig’s exemplary tenor horn and Alan Skidmore’s tough, Coltrane-ish tenor sax.

A lot of these guys are still around and making fine music but I have to borrow from Dean’s notes and say that the collective fire and spirit of these recordings represents ‘some of the finest moments of my musical experience’.

Talking of which, for years my quintessential recording of alto/bass/drums has been the Mike Osborne Trio’s ‘All Night Long’, a blistering live performance by three musicians who could generate their own crackling energy and make the spine-tingle. Now I’m playing another trio whose attack and invention matches that of Osborne and co.

The ‘flowers’ of the title may allude to David Murray’s composition for Albert Ayler but in this case they are offered to Johnny Dyani, the fiery, spirited musician who occupied the bass place in bands like The Blue Notes, Brotherhood of Breath and his own Witchdoctor’s Son. He was another one of those prodigiously talented South African exiles, along with members of Ninesense, Dudu Pukwana, and Chris MacGregor, who dismantled borders and barriers in the 1970s to make an immediate and memorable impact on the scene.

That chapter is well documented but Dyani also went into a second exile. Having escaped the draconian fist of apartheid, he left London for Sweden, which is where this wondrous double cd was recorded. Ayler Records have taken two live sessions from 1983 and 1985 and preserved what Dyani, Gahnold and fellow South African, drummer Gilbert Matthews, offered to a justifiably responsive audience.

Gahnold is something of a discovery for me with his fluid, sometimes raspy alto style. His playing echoes the inventions of both Charlie Parker and Mike Osborne, flitting over the changes but equally at home with something more visceral. His voice may well become one of those which is as instantly recognisable as the other two.

But it is as a unit that these players make their impact. Take ‘Sound Check’ for example, from the 1983 session. Right from the start they are tight and cohesive, with Gahnold’s alto mercurial and assured and Dyani’s dancing, sliding bass lines in close tandem with Matthew’s diverse percussion. This suggests these men have an unerring sense of communion, a spiritual unity, as Ayler said. Alongside the forward propulsion of much of the track there are moments of lyrical calm, especially when Gahnold steps out unaccompanied.

Similarly, ‘Gilbert’s Blues’ is a high energy bop workout with Dyani walking, strumming and plucking while Gahnold unreels torrential streams, barely pausing for breath. Their take on the waltz, ‘Waltz For Kai-Ola’, is suitably stretched out and flexible too, displaying the trio’s powerful unity as well as proving how spacious this music can be. Dyani’s resonant tone is particularly well recorded here as he runs through his range of techniques. It made me wish he’d recorded some solo bass at some point in his all too short career.

From the second disc my personal highlight is their version of ‘Summertime’. They start out cool and languorous, playing the theme straight, Gahnold’s alto singing pure and clear. Gradually tension is built as they extend the bluesy, sometimes abrasive approach to Gershwin’s perennially popular tune. Again, Dyani’s playing, both as part of the trio and solo, is like a heartbeat, vital and affirming. Unfortunately, just a year after this magnificent session he was dead.

Thankfully, we have these two excellent re-issues to celebrate the fruitful meetings of cultures and minds. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

              © Paul Donnelly 2003