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CD REVIEW: Elton Dean & Mark Hewins – Bar Torque
By Ben Ohmart - 08/16/2001 - 11:52 AM EDT

Artist: Elton Dean & Mark Hewins
Album: Bar Torque
CD Review: Sax man Elton Dean’s career is as varied as it is insatiably long. Along with blowing into classic bands like Bluesology and Soft Machine, the 70s also saw Dean giving his all to odd-name groups like Brotherhood of Breath, Ninesense, Weightwatchers and Soft Head. Oh, and don’t forget the compliment Elton John gave him by taking half his name away for a stage name.

Mark Hewins is hardly a stranger to the music scene either. Ever since he began his professional career as a guitarist at age 15 in 1970, he’s been a session man to the best of them: London Musicians’ Collective, Trevor Watts, Richard Coldman, Roger Smith. From 1976, he’s been in bands starting with Sinclair and the South, The Polite Force, Soft Heap (another of Elton Dean’s bands), The Music Doctors, and on and on.

Both born in England, they also happen to specialize in the real alchemy of improv/experimental jazz/rock. There’s nothing rock about the current 52 minute Bar Torque album; it’s a jazz improvisation with Dean leading his sax against the 3 tracks of Hewing’s guitars. Mostly synth guitars, which is quite an original sound if you’ve never heard this version of keyboard. The Brian Eno sound comes out in full force with tonal messages and large landscapes of resonance and curious motions.

‘Merilyn’s Cave’ is for me the most invigorating, especially near the end of its 14:20 minute run, stopping suddenly as if at the edge of the earth. Underground. Why do I see this being recorded for a late 60s remake of A Journey to the Center of the Earth, directed by Warhol? ‘Merlin’s Cave’ would make an apt title as well, with all its immediate mysticism.

The opening ‘Bar Torque’ is the longest track at nearly 25 minutes. Sonic and imagination-capturing. It is ambitious and moves along at great, low depths among the backing synth, while Dean gets a grip with where the freestyle tune is going.

New age, mixed with somber jazz atmospherics. Cleverer people will figure out just exActly where this music belongs in the genre bin. Get it and deduce what it’s saying.

P.S. Dean is currently working on his autobiography and picking out enough tracks to fill a 3 cd anthology. For someone This important in the world of jazz, let’s hope nothing sidetracks the man.

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