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The Vortex Tapes

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Album Review

Elton Dean has one of the most recognizable tones on any saxophone he plays. What is also immediately recognizable is his style of phrasing when building a solo. Of course, no one is more aware of this than he. Almost as a way of relocating himself as a saxophonist, Dean recorded for five nights at the Vortex Club with five different bands in September of 1990. For this release he has chosen what he feels to be the most representative selection from each evening. First night it's with Keith Tippett, Louis Moholo, and bassist Marcio Mattos. What's interesting is far from the stomp and stop, angle and charge of the Canterbury M.O. that has been Dean's since his days with Soft Machine; here comes a mutant, almost 21st century blues, courtesy of Tippett's ringing right hand, strolling along in the middle and upper registers as Dean bits along a few notes at a time. Moholo and Mattios careen through as if they were playing changes, only they shunt them up, playing through a turnaround and straight through to an elongated series of accents that pushes Dean out further. On "Going Forth," Mattios solos to lead off, an ostinato with arpeggios tagged on as cadenzas almost. It's a full three minutes before Dean,Nick Evans, and Mark Sanders enter the fray with spare tenor and trombone lines walking alongside the bass, which hasn't stopped its intricate interval exploration. In fact, it just moves forward the entire tune. And this is Dean's particular talent: he shines when he colors the work of other musicians; he doesn't just fill or lay out until it's his turn to solo, but weaves himself into the mix just enough to bring out the propensity of force Mattios is playing with. Finally, on "Taking the Fifth" with Sanders, Paul Rodgers, and Howard Riley, Dean offers one of his wonderfully perverse strolls alongside the edge of swing. It's so warped it couldn't be considered as such, but with Rutherford comping and Sanders slipping atop the cymbals and snare. It's up to Riley to push Dean, and he does, subtly. Three minutes in, Dean lets loose with a mighty blues roar from the underbelly of Illinois Jacquet and goes right for the streams of sound he first heard in Coltrane, then slices quick through the mode and moves through bebop and hard bop, cutting swathes in the piano, bass, drums mix. Whew! If only we had all five gigs in their entirety!


Born: 28 October 1945 in Nottingham, England

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s

British saxophonist Elton Dean was one of the key figures in British free jazz for decades. Closely affiliated with the Canterbury scene, Dean -- born in Nottingham on October 28, 1945 -- had a résumé far more varied and than that tag would describe. Dean began his professional career with Long John Baldry's Bluesology in 1967 -- the pianist in that band was Reginald Dwight, who found later stardom under the Elton John stage name formed by combining the "Elton" from Elton Dean and "John" from Long...
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The Vortex Tapes, Elton Dean
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