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Bar Torque by Elton Dean and Mark Hewins

Jazz musicians have for many years sought out accompaniments beyond that of the standard rhythm section of piano, bass and drums. Among other reasons, this search is perhaps to satisfy a desire for a more color-filled canvas as a backdrop for the jazz soloist to "paint" their improvisations. The musical corpus of Duke Ellington, the collaborations of Miles Davis with the Gil Evans Orchestra in the 1950’s, Charlie Parker’s (and Clifford Brown’s and Chet Baker’s) work with strings, Paul Winter’s explorations in convening his saxophone with nature, and Miles Davis’ fusion bands of the 1970’s and technology filled recordings of the 1980’s immediately come to mind as examples.

Bar Torque a new CD by the duo of Elton Dean and Mark Hewins is perhaps following along the similar vein of thought exemplified in the above mentioned artists’ work. Bar Torque is a recording filled with colorful and intriguing sounds. At its very least, the CD is a collage of music forming an enveloping soundscape that bathes and soothes the ear in sound. It is fair to say that Dean and Hewins have produced music here that has heavily minimalist tendencies with slow moving harmony and much repetition. To some listeners, the music may come across as light jazz that has gone so light that it has flown into outer space. Others may perceive it as merely being some brand of "New Age" meditative music.

While it is true that this CD is not filled with finger snapping, foot tapping, swinging jazz in any sense of the word, the music is very inventive and does contain creative improvisation. One hears evidence of how well Dean and Hewins interact both in responding to each other’s improvised lines and in collaborative improvisations as well. Hewins is able to conjure an immense palette of sounds from his samplers, synthesizers, and guitars. The listener hears everything from birds to Tibetan bowl gongs. Hewins guitar playing brings to mind some of the work of fusion guitarist Pat Metheny. Dean’s saxophone playing is very reminiscent of Paul Winter’s with a similar light and bright tone. While jazz purists may scoff at calling this music jazz, who is to say the musical goals of Elton Dean and Mark Hewins stray any further from the path than any of the work of the jazz icons discussed above?

Bar Torque is highly recommended as an addition to the CD collection of anyone who enjoys improvised music in a setting somewhat different from the typical jazz combo. This is a recording that is quite enjoyable, and certainly would be a positive contribution to the sonic environment of anyone’s living space.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Elton Dean and Mark Hewins
  • CD Title: Bar Torque
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2001
  • Record Label: MoonJune
  • Tracks: Bar Torque, Sylvan, Merilyns Cave'
  • Musicians: Elton Dean (saxello, alto saxophone); Mark Hewins (samplers, synth guitar, acoustic guitar)
  • Rating: Three Stars
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