British multireed player John Surman has enjoyed a long career, making significant marks in free jazz, modal, and fusion, and also developing his own distinctive blend of folk and jazz elements. His ability to bridge styles has even extended to 1999's treatment of Renaissance-era composer John Dowland's songs, In Darkness Let Me Dwell with the Hilliard Ensemble's John Potter. Coruscating is another unusual venture, with Surman and regular associate bassist Chris Laurence improvising on eight of Surman's compositions with the string quartet Trans4mation. There's a seamless beauty here, composition and improvisation becoming one. Beginning with the baroque clarity of melody on "At Dusk," Coruscating develops often dark, looming textures. While Surman has made his baritone fly, here he emphasizes intense lyricism, whether with a true, full-bodied, baritone sound or a light upper register. "Stone Flower" is dedicated to the great Ellington baritonist Harry Carney, and Surman's breathy, overtone-rich sound invokes Carney's own recordings with strings.
Pianist Paul Bley was touring Scandinavia with a quartet made up of longtime associate Gary Peacock on bass and two brilliant British musicians, drummer Tony Oxley and John Surman on baritone saxophone and bass clarinet, when they made this Oslo recording in 1991. Rather than a conventionally organized quartet session, the CD consists of seven largely improvised solos, three duets, and two tracks–the collectively improvised "Interface" and Surman's "Article Four"–with the full quartet. Even more unusual is the frequent emphasis on bass frequencies and slow, even solemn, tempos. Only extraordinary musicians could keep such a format interesting, and these four do, exploring room resonance with almost ceremonial levels of concentration.
John Surman, Stu Martin, Barre Phillips - Conflagration (Rare British jazz 1971 UK 6-track LP on the Dawn label, from Surman's highly regarded and influential Trio group, including the two expatriate American musicians Phillips and Martin, also starring Harold Beckett, Chick Corea, Mike Osborne, Alan Skidmore, John Taylor & more. The trio joined by a variety of other musicians. The songs are challenging in an Ornette Coleman sort of way but never inaccessible. Not a recording for the casual jazz listener - it's more for the adventurous jazz lover.
This set was also issued as two separate LPs under John Surman’s name, Vogue VJD 505/1 and VJD 505/2. Rare bit of free jazz by this trio of British players from the early 70′s. The music is very intense, without any of the noodling that sometimes ruins Brit sessions from the time. Surman plays baritone, soprano, and bass clarinet, and he really blows like mad in some passages. The sound quality of this album is stunning! In the autumn of 1969, John Surman decided to make a break and joined forces with Barre Phillips and Stu Martin, to form a group they called The Trio. Phillips had a varied background, having worked as a sideman with Archie Shepp, Jimmy Giuffre and George Russell, as well as performing solo in Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.
This 1987 date teams the iconoclastic pianist with guitarist Bill Frisell, drummer Paul Motian, and British saxophonist John Surman. While it's easy to argue that, with Manfred Eicher's icy, crystalline production, this was a stock date for both the artists and the label, that argument would be flat wrong. Bley was looking for a new lyricism in his own playing and in his compositions. He was coming from a different place than the large harmonies offered by augmented and suspended chords and writing for piano trios. The other band members – two other extremely lyrical improvisers in Surman and Frisell.
For Morning Glory, John Surman sets aside his signature baritone saxophone in favor of soprano sax, bass clarinet, and synthesizer – the result is a record as radiant and beautiful as its title portends, comprised of four epic tracks that despite their scope represent his most mainstream work to date. The skill and dexterity of the improvisations here are astounding. Surman and sidemen Terje Rypdal (guitar), Chris Laurence (bass), John Taylor (electric piano), Malcolm Griffiths (trombone), and John Marshall (drums) connect on an almost telepathic level. But for all its experimental approaches and ingenious ad-libbing, Morning Glory is a remarkably generous album, inviting and approachable like few avant-jazz dates before it. So much of Surman's brilliance hinges on his refusal to alienate listeners regardless of their personal leanings and expectations, while at the same remaining true to his singular muse.
John Surman (on baritone and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, and synthesizers) and Jack DeJohnette (playing drums, electronic percussion, and piano) make for a very intriguing duo on these seven originals taken from a pair of live concerts. Other than "Song for World Forgiveness" (a ballad mostly by DeJohnette), the music is primarily freely improvised yet manages to be melodic, diverse, and logical. The performances are atmospheric, with both players utilizing electronics in spots while retaining their own musical personalities. Surman has long been a very flexible and mostly laid-back player, while DeJohnette also has the ability to fit in almost anywhere. Rather than individual melodies or solos, this CD is most notable for its overall feel and the blend between these two unique musicians.
This ECM CD is only a mixed success. John Surman is the lead voice most of the way and his playing (particularly on baritone and bass clarinet) is typically atmospheric and emotional. However, singer Karin Krog (who is on around half of the songs) only makes an impression on the closing "Wild Bird"; otherwise her long tones sound out of place. Pianist Vigleik Storaas is mostly used in an accompanying role while guitarist Terje Rypdal's feedback-dominated tone is primarily utilized for color.
John Surman is an exceptionally versatile musician and his instrumental prowess has been showcased in many contexts. Yet his solo albums may be the best sources for insights into his melodic imagination. If you want to understand the wellsprings of his creativity, the solo albums are the place to go; “Saltash Bells” ranks with the best of them. This time around the compositions were inspired by the West Country of John’s English childhood, memories of special places – and sounds. The title track refers to the echoes of bell ringing from Saltash church resounding around the Tamar River valley, at the border of Cornwall and Devon. “Whistman’s Wood”, meanwhile, evokes the mysterious petrified forest of Dartmoor … And so it goes, ancient haunts inspiring vivid new music.