Reed player John Surman and drummer Jack DeJohnette go back a long way. More than three decades ago, these players met in London for regular jams; their paths have intersected regularly ever since. Their first record as a duo, The Amazing Adventures of Simon Simon, defined a spacious, open feel. Now back for more with Invisible Nature (with live performances recorded over two days in Europe), both players make use of electronics to expand the range and texture of their acoustic instruments.
Surman's saxophone and clarinet playing has always had a light, bird-like tone; no exceptions here. He regularly flutters, weaves, and dips through the air. With rich reverb and delay, these motions acquire a cascading feel. Reined in by a minimum of harmonic constraints (essentially the occasional background synth and some sparse basslines), Surman has the flexibility to specify and alter tonality at will. He mostly sticks fast to a limited range of keys, which makes the music more static and atmospheric than it might otherwise be if he stole away with his harmonic freedom. But the resulting rippling, spacious sound defines the duo's interaction and lends it personal character.
Jack DeJohnette is a crisp, punchy drummer, and he plies his skills here with taste and discretion. He regularly settles back on Invisible Nature, but he also goes at it with some abandon on tunes like "Rising Tide" and "Outback Spirits" alongside Surman's proportionately energetic explorations. Using electronics, he expands the possibilities of his regular kit to include tablas, congas, and timpani. While the alternative voices certainly enrich the colors available to the drummer, he still sounds his best when playing the old familiar drum kit. The tablas on "Ganges Groove," for example (matched quite self-consciously with Surman's processed bansuri tone), just don't work because DeJohnette can't reach in and pull out the strikingly full range of tone and texture available from the "real" tuned drums. (DeJohnette's minor-tinged piano playing on the final track is, as usual, solid but unremarkablehowever, Surman adapts very well to this context.)
Invisible Nature offers an idiosyncratic variety of sounds and approaches. The tunes range from whisper-thin to exploratory, and the electronics dramatically expand each player's musical palette. Overall rich with space and texture, Invisible Nature prefers understatement to drama, implication to explicit statement. It's obvious from this performance that DeJohnette and Surman still have an open, intuitive, adventurous relationship. The disc occasionally dips a bit, but as a whole it's a fine effort by two of the strongest improvising musicians active today.
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Personnel: John Surman: soprano & baritone saxophones, bass clarinet, synthesizer; Jack DeJohnette: drums, electronic percussion, piano.