The mid 70s were a great time for British Jazz. With the influx of South African players from the legendary Blue Notes and the willingness of rock musicians like Robert Fripp and Soft Machine to give jobs to jazzers like Keith Tippett, Elton Dean and Nick Evans, there was an intense period of cross fertilisation (and more importantly, paid gigs) that resulted in some fine music.
Ninesense was lead by alto and saxello player Dean, whose long association with Soft Machine paralleled asolo career that mixed post bop, free jazz and rock influences. This(almost) big band featured South African ex-pats Louis Moholo on drums, bassist Harry Miller and trumpeter Mongezi Feza alongside pianist Tippett, tenorist Alan Skidmore and trombonist Nick Evans among others.
The music here was recorded in 1975 and 1978 in two sessions for Radio 3's late lamented 'Jazz in Britain' and is currently the only Ninesense available on CD (their two studio albums are rare as hen's teeth). This release is particularly welcome as Feza in particular is lamentably under-recorded (unfortunately he'd died by the time of the second session and was replaced by the wonderful, but quite different Harry Beckett).
This is joyful, ebullient stuff, reminiscent (unsurprisingly) of the irresistible swing of the Brotherhood of Breath or the more coherent moments of Tippett's larger bands. Moholo and the irrepressibly funky Millerstoke up a fierce groove, laced with catchy horn charts and tough, expressive soloing from all concerned. Tippett's quickfire abstract bursts of piano generate extra helpings of rhythmic fire and walk the tightrope between modal grooving and free jazz blowout.
Skidmore is firmly in Coltrane mode, Feza's pocket trumpet is mercurial and passionate. Dean's Dolphy-esque alto (featured on the cringingly titled but virally catchy "Bidet Bebop") appears alongside the more pungent, edgy tone of his saxello, while the underrated Marc Charig gets the chance to shine on the ballad "Sweet Francesca" with a rare use of tenor horn.
The closing "Seven for Me" comes closest to the free-spirited fusions of Soft Machine and Centipede. Riding on an insistent, rockish riff (in seven, you guessed it), it features beautifully agile solos from Dean, Beckett and Skidmore while Tippett's distant celeste adds extra colour. A nice tribute to both Feza and Miller, and a reminder of what seems to be a distant time.