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Over 150 years experience! That's how the band saxophonist John Surman assembled for Brewster's Rooster could be advertised. Surman first played with drummer Jack DeJohnette in the late '70s and DeJohnette and guitarist John Abercrombie first worked together earlier that decade. Rounded out by bassist Drew Gress, Surman revisits straight-ahead jazz after essaying an eclectic range of recordings. On "Hilltop Dancer," Surman's tone on baritoneis solid and assured, never tempted by the extremes available on the big horn and Abercrombie's subtle ability to match notes is remarkable. Alternating between pretty melodies rendered on soprano and harder driving baritone burners, Surman's good taste and confidence reveal themselves. Like a less cagey Ben Webster, Surman's sound is brawny and heartfelt, never more so on "Chelsea Bridge," giving the old warhorse fresh life in an absolutely compelling performance.
What is exciting and engaging on CD, however, really took off on the third night of the group's stay at New York City's Birdland in August, 2009. Opening with an unaccompanied solo on baritone, Surman and the band swiftly launched into "Hilltop Dancer," with Abercrombie staying with the leader on every step of the melodic line. DeJohnette propelled readings of "Kickback" and "Haywain" as Surman wrestled his solos to the ground with fast fingerings and circular breaths, while even soprano ballads like "Slanted Sky" featured pugilistic middle sections. Even these grizzled veteran musicians had to smile at their own creativity.
Track Listing: Slanted Sky; Hilltop Dancer; No Finesse; Kickback; Chelsea Bridge; Haywain; Counter Measures; Brewster's Rooster; Going for a Burton.
Personnel: John Surman: baritone and soprano saxophones; John Abercrombie: guitar; Drew Gress: double-bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums.
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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