This British jazz quartet was formed in Bristol in 1979. Playing excellent, fiery, free-ranging music, they were unfortunately not young enough - and lacked the requisite designer appearance - to benefit from the 80s jazz revival. The members were Paul Dunmall (b. Welling, Kent, England, tenor saxophone; a powerful player often cited as one of the cream of British saxophonists and whose experience includes spells with Alice Coltrane and Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson), Tim Richards (b. 23 June 1952, London, England; piano), Paul Anstey (bass) and Tony Orrell (drums). The band recorded, Mice In The Wallet, for Tony Williams’ Spotlite Records. For albums, they would often invite along a guest trumpeter: Proud Owners had Dave Holdsworth; Killer Bunnies featured Jack Walrath. Spirit Level appeared at the 1985 Vienne Jazz Festival in France, supporting Horace Silver and on the same bill and stage as Miles Davis.
In 1989, Dunmall left to form Mujician with pianist Keith Tippett and Orrell dropped out to form the delightful improvising trio MOR, with altoist Pete McPhail and bass player Paul Rogers. Reconstituted as Tim Richards’ Spirit Level, the group now comprised pianist Richards, Jerry Underwood (b. 14 August 1956, Bristol, England, d. 3 August 2002, Chambery, France; tenor saxophone), Andy Cleyndert (bass; later replaced by Ernest Mothle) and Mark Sanders (b. 31 August 1960, Beckenham, Kent, England; drums), and released New Year in 1990. A mid-90s version of the band, that retained Underwood and included Pete Kubryk Townsend (bass) and Kenrick Rowe (drums), toured throughout Europe. When Underwood emigrated in the late 90s, Richards wound-up Spirit Level with the release of a double-CD comprising new material and a retrospective set, and inaugurated the nine-piece Great Spirit.