Brit saxer Elton Dean (yes, he of Soft Machine) lines up a monumental cast of reedmen and has at it with a championship rhythm section to boot. Dean's alto and saxello are augmented by the tenor and baritone saxes of Paul Dunmall, Simon Pickard's tenor, and Trevor Watts' alto. They are supported by no less than drummer Tony Levin and bassist Paul Rogers. Here's the rub: This disc was recorded at the band's very first gig at the 1989 Covent Garden Jazz Saxophone Festival. This is a set of Dean tunes written especially for a quartet of sax players who all have ample room to solo. The music borders on the outer limits without really going there. Tracks like "Seven for Lee" (Konitz), "Unda," and "Fall in Free" all feature fairly elaborate melody lines with distinct and knotty harmonies composed by Dean -- they border on post-bop but are too creative to be boxed that way. Each horn player gets a solo that can skirt the variations on the theme or go way outside if he wishes, like Dunmall does on "Unda." In essence, the rhythm section keeps things moving, undoing whatever damage might be incurred by an errantly inspired saxman, shifting tempos and intervals just enough to rein in even the most rambunctious player. On "One Three Nine," which ends the set, one becomes aware of how close Dean walks to the academic edge of jazz composition; the cat's got math in his head all the time, but it's soulful math, full of charge, feeling, and spirit that is enhanced and necessitated even by the inclusion of these players in the ensemble. I wouldn't look for Dean's compositions to be covered too often, but that's all right -- in the steady hands of this band, they are pretty much inimitable anyway.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek