Way Back When finds Surman on baritone and soprano saxophones, joined by John Taylor on electric piano, Brian Odgers on electric bass, John Marshall on drums and, on two tracks, alto saxophonist Mike Osborne. This one-day session was, in Surman's words, "a sort of 'farewell' jam session," held before Surman moved to continental Europe to join bassist Barre Phillips and drummer Stu Martin for the groundbreaking free jazz unit known as the Trio.
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's thoughtful solos (which take their time and make a liberal use of space) have long made him the perfect ECM artist. On his quartet set with pianist John Taylor, bassist Chris Laurence and drummer John Marshall, Surman mostly sticks to soprano although there are some short spots for his baritone and bass clarinet. Surman always sounds relaxed, even on the more heated originals. It's an interesting set of generally introverted music.