John Surman

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Krentz Ratings:
John Surman (1968), 7.5/10
How Many Clouds Can You See (1969), 6.5/10
Way Back When (1969), 6.5/10
The Trio (1970), 5.5/10
Conflagration (1970), 5.5/10
When Fortune Smiles (1970), 6/10
Tales of the Algonquin (1971), 6/10
Westering Home (1972), 7/10
Morning Glory (1973), 7/10
S.O.S. (1975), 7/10
Sonatinas (1978), 5.5/10
Upon Reflection (1979), 7/10
The Amazing Adventures of Simon Simon (1981), 6/10
Such Winters of Memory (1982), 5/10
Withholding Pattern (1984), 6/10
Private City (1987), 6/10
The Road to St Ives (1990), 6/10
Adventure Playground (1991), 6.5/10
In the Evenings Out There (1991), 6.5/10
The Brass Project (1992), 5.5/10
Stranger Than Fiction (1993), 6/10
Nordic Quartet (1994), 6/10
A Biography of the Reverend Absalon Dave (1994), 5.5/10
Proverbs and Songs (1995), 6/10
Thimar (1997), 6/10
Coruscating (1999), 5.5/10
Invisible Nature (2000), 5.5/10
Free and Equal (2001), 5.5/10
Rainbow Band Sessions (2007), 5.5/10
Brewster's Rooster (2008), 5/10
Saltash Bells (2011), 5/10
Invisible Threads (2017), 5.5/10

British saxophonist John Surman (1944), the baritonist of Mike Westbrook's orchestra, coined an elegant form of chamber fusion on John Surman (august 1968), particularly in the 21-minute suite Incantation/ Episode/ Dance for an eleven-piece ensemble (including trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, trombonist Paul Rutherford, bassist Dave Holland), How Many Clouds Can You See (march 1969), with the 15-minute Galata Bridge for an octet (Surman on baritone saxophone, plus alto, Alan Skidmore's tenor, trumpet, trombone, piano, bass, drums) and the 18-minute Event for a quartet with pianist John Taylor, bassist Barre Phillips and drummer Tony Oxley (and Surman on baritone sax, soprano sax and bass clarinet), and Way Back When (october 1969), released only 26 years later, containing the 21-minute four-movement suite Way Back When for a piano-based quartet.

Surman then lost a bit of his inspiration. He formed The Trio (march 1970) with bassist Barre Phillips and drummer Stu Martin, a format repeated on Conflagration (1970), collaborated with guitarist John McLaughlin on Where Fortune Smiles (may 1970), that contains his Glancing Backwards, and with Canadian reeds player John Warren (who composed the music) on the horns-heavy Tales of the Algonquin (april 1971), that mimicked the band-oriented albums of Neil Ardley, Mike Westbrook and Mike Gibbs.

Finally he reivented himself as an electronic musician on Westering Home (september 1972), entirely composed, played and overdubbed by himself on baritone and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, recorder, piano, synthesizer, percussion.

Surman played soprano saxophone and bass clarinet on Morning Glory (march 1973) with guitarist Terje Rypdal, pianist John Taylor, drummer John Marshall, bassist Chris Laurence and trombone. Cloudless Sky/ Iron Man was the first piece in years to match the graceful intensity of his early albums.

Electronics was also employed for the saxophone trio S.O.S. (february 1975) with altoist Mike Osborne and tenorist Alan Skidmore, a trio that had debuted with the soundtrack for the ballet Sabler Prison (june 1974), and for their unreleased material that surfaces later on the double-disc Looking For The Next One (Cuneiform, 2013), as well as for the duets with keyboardist Stan Tracey, Sonatinas (april 1978) and for Surman's second solo album, Upon Reflection (march 1979), that embraced the ruling aesthetic of ambient jazz, and the first collaboration with Jack DeJohnette, The Amazing Adventures Of Simon Simon (january 1981).

After repeating the same idea on Such Winters Of Memory (december 1982), with Norwegian vocalist Karin Krog and drummer Pierre Favre, and especially on the new solos Withholding Pattern (december 1984), Private City (december 1987), originally a ballet score and his best-selling album, and The Road to St Ives (april 1990), with an increasingly impressionistic approach, Surman finally began to experiment new avenues on Adventure Playground (september 1991) and In The Evenings Out There (september 1991), two albums derived from a quartet session with pianist Paul Bley, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Tony Oxley, and on The Brass Project (april 1992), another collaboration with John Warren.

Surman fundamentally continued to sculpt ethereal, atmospheric jazz muzak based on a superficial blend of folk, jazz and classical elements. Stranger Than Fiction (deceber 1993) inaugurated the quartet with pianist John Taylor, bassist Chris Laurence and drummer John Marshall, paralleled by the drum-less Nordic Quartet (august 1994) with vocalist Karin Krog, guitarist Terje Rypdal, and pianist Vigleik Storaas. The new solo, A Biography of the Reverend Absalom Dawe (october 1994), showed Surman at his most conservative, but he was also venturing into choral music, on Proverbs and Songs (june 1996) for saxophone, pipe organ and an 80-voice chorus, world music, on Thimar (march 1997) for a trio with Tunisian oud-player Anouar Brahem and bassist Dave Holland, and chamber music, on Coruscating (january 1999) for saxophone/clarinet and string quintet.

Surman also released a second (but much more electronic) collaboration with DeJohnette, Invisible Nature (november 2000), and a third, Free and Equal (june 2001), that added a chamber brass ensemble to the duo.

Rainbow Band Sessions (recorded between autumn 2006 and spring 2007) features Frode Nymo and Havard Fossum on alto saxes, Stif Hvalrygg on bass, Andreas Bye on drums, Jan Erik Kongshaug on guitar, Erlend Slettevoll on piano, Atle Nymo on tenor sax, Knut Riisnaes on tenor sax and flute, Harald Halvorsen and Jorgen Gjerde on trombones, Marius Haltli and Roy Nikolaisen on trumpets.

John Surman played baritone and soprano saxes in a quartet with John Abercrombie (guitar), Drew Gress (double bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums) on Brewster's Rooster (february 2008).

Saltash Bells (june 2009 and march 2011) documents two solo sessions on various instruments.

Invisible Threads (july 2017) was a collaboration with Brazilian pianist Nelson Ayres and with Rob Waring on vibraphone and marimba.

Surman led Rob Luft (guitar), Rob Waring (vibraphone) and Thomas Stronen (drums) on Words Unspoken (december 2022).

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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