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Here is a much needed career retrospective of John Surman, arguably the most impressive baritone saxophonist in the post-Mulligan era. ECM continues to treat its stars honorably by having them choose their own high points from their back catalog, and no one can fault Surman for being wildly eclectic. The problem is: the stellar horn man can be as devastatingly dull when overdubbing himself as he is dazzling in a band context.
Five of the thirteen selections present Surman overdubbing himself, particularly painful when he gets near a synthesizer. There is a looping, Bach-meets "New Age" synthesizer figure on "Edges of Illusion" that distracts from his brilliantly convoluted bass clarinet solo. It is surprising to think that a musician of Surman's sophistication could be seduced by synthesizer riffs worthy of Yanni.
But the high points are highly haunting. His pairing with the peerless Jack DeJohnette is totally absorbing. And his meshing with guitarist John Abercrombie on "Mountainscape VIII" is a vivid demonstration of that cooly abstract vein of Western European chamber jazz ECM has so devoutly documented for decades. Equally attractive is Surman's solid playing in the context of John Warren's "Brass Project."
No question about the uniqueness of Surman's vision: a kind of "birth-of-the-cool-celtic" romanticism, quite English, with a bittersweet, hymn-like lyricism. This could have been a better career overview without the overdubs, but we should be damned grateful for this showcase of his talent, synthesizer indulgence and all.
Track Listing: 1. Druid's Circle, 2. Number Six, 3. Portrait of a Romantic, 4. Ogeda, 5. The Returning Exile, 6. Edge of Illusion, 7. The Buccaneers, 8. The Snooper, 9. Mountainscape VIII, Figfoot, 10. Piperspool, 11. Gone to the Dogs, 13. Stone Flower
Personnel: John Surman, Jack deJohnette, Paul Bley, Phil Oxley, Miroslav Vitous, John Aberchrombie, John Warren, Jon Christensen, and more.
I grew up listening to mainstream '70s rock then ended up on the staff at the college paper at San Diego State, and volunteered to review heavy metal LPs. My second semester, the music editor dropped a Fenton Robinson LP on my desk, Night Flight. You like metal; they play guitar--he plays guitar, the editor told me
I grew up listening to mainstream '70s rock then ended up on the staff at the college paper at San Diego State, and volunteered to review heavy metal LPs. My second semester, the music editor dropped a Fenton Robinson LP on my desk, Night Flight. You like metal; they play guitar--he plays guitar, the editor told me. If we don't run a review, Alligator Records is going to stop servicing us.
Night Flight opened up a whole new world for me--the blues led me, inevitably, to Basie, who led to Duke, who led to Mingus, who led to Miles, who led to ...