Friday, 23 October 2009

ELTON DEAN'S NINESENSE: Happy Daze/Oh! For The Edge

I’ve said things about Ninesense before, and it’s more than nice to have their two Ogun LPs – or most of them, but I’ll get back to that in a moment – back on CD, not just to remind today’s F-Ire types of their illustrious predecessors but also to revise my own views towards their recorded output. Certainly until a few years ago I was slightly cagey about both Oh! For The Edge and Happy Daze in terms of their worth as records; were they really representative of the roaring, apocalyptic band I saw on stage at the Third Eye Centre around the time of punk, or was there a degree of holding back? The question was further shaken up by the arrival of the Live At The BBC CD containing the two sessions they recorded for Radio 3’s Jazz In Britain, one of which turned out to be their only recording with Mongezi Feza in the line-up, and both of which contained tunes from their previously published albums, but in a notably rougher and more vibrant form.

Conceptually there was no ambiguity about the group; they were a pretty direct crossover between Keith Tippett’s old sextet and the Brotherhood of Breath and their music reflected that, both danceable and troublesomely spiritual. Oh! For The Edge sees them in action, albeit reduced to Eightsense by the absence of second trombonist Radu Malfatti, before what sounds like a sadly sparse audience (you can count the handclaps) at the 100 Club in March 1976, and the band appears to expand in order to fill the room (hear the still astonishing “Forsoothe” for evidence of this). Happy Daze was recorded in the studio some 16 months later, fresh from being performed at the Bracknell Jazz Festival. As a “suite” it doesn’t really hold up – the ongoing curse of prove-yourself-to-us-jobsworths in terms of grants and commissions; if you’re wondering why sixties and seventies recorded British jazz is so befuddled by “suites” which never quite cohere as a whole it’s because it was practically the only way to get funding – and indeed (as the BBC disc confirmed) all of these tunes already existed, but as an album it works a lot better than I remember it, and Tippett’s work on the ballad “Sweet F.A.” in particular remains dazzlingly, limpidly and mischievously exceptional. And Dick Whitbread’s collage for Oh! For The Edge is still one of my favourite of all album covers.

The problem is that, on the CD, side two of Oh! For The Edge has been truncated; in order to fit both albums onto one CD, that side’s key performance of Feza’s “Friday Night Blues” – some 12½ minutes long on the original record – has been cut down to its final five minutes or so, i.e. Elton’s alto solo (discreetly faded in) and the final theme statement. The trouble is that this imbalances the album completely; Feza’s death was a major torpedo to the scene which Ogun celebrated and documented and the whole of side two was structured as a tribute to him, with the relaxed swing of “FNB” being bookended by Dean’s solemn “M.T.” and the final “Prayer For Jesus.” Furthermore, by editing the performance, we miss a wonderful solo by Harry Beckett – Feza’s replacement in the group, whose solo pays explicit tribute to him – and (shame!) one of the few recorded solos by Mark Charig on tenor horn. The length is essential to accommodate the stretch and release, following on from the cathartic roars of “Forsoothe,” and it is a dismal reflection on the stupid state of funding that economics have dictated that Ogun cut down the album in order to accommodate everything on one CD (rather than a 2CD reissue, which really should have happened). So I’m afraid for the full picture you’ll need to keep an eye out for the vinyl original, complete with whatever absurd price has been pasted on it.