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