Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...


Neon Quartet: Stan Sulzmann’s Neon Quartet: A New Fluorescence

Chris May By

Sign in to view read count
Neon Quartet

Catch Me

Edition Records

2010 Among the albums released by British saxophonists in 2010, two at least are destined for the best-of-year lists. One is Nat Birchall's Guiding Spirit (Gondwana), the other is Catch Me by Stan Sulzmann's Neon Quartet. There are similarities. To varying degrees, each saxophonist takes John Coltrane's lyrical, mid-1960s recordings as a starting point, Birchall explicitly and to the exclusion of practically all else, Sulzmann through a more refracted, kaleidoscopic and evolved lens; each disc presents its leader fronting a lineup of younger players (Birchall was born in 1957, Sulzmann nine years earlier); and each values emotional engagement above anything else, though each disc, particularly Sulzmann's, also exudes plenty of technical virtuosity.

There are dissimilarities too. Birchall has spent most of his playing life off-radar in the northern English countryside, where he still lives, and immersed himself first in reggae, then in Coltrane, for close on two decades before releasing his debut, The Sixth Sense (Sixth Sense), in 1999. The "follow up," Akhenaten (Gondwana), the disc which excited national attention in Birchall, was ten more years in the coming. Birchall's devotion to Coltrane's aesthetic is so pronounced that it approaches the revivalist.

Sulzmann, on the other hand, is a seasoned veteran of second generation British modern jazz. A lot more water has flowed under his bridge, and he long ago developed into an individual and immediately recognizable player. In the 1970s, he was a first-call saxophonist for bands led by bassist Graham Collier, pianist John Taylor, keyboardist Gordon Beck and trumpeter and flugelhornist Kenny Wheeler. He's kept equally distinguished company, both British and American, in the decades that have followed, and recently formed fruitful partnerships with keyboardist Marc Copland, and with Wheeler and guitarist John Parricelli in the trio Ordesa.

Neon debuted, as a trio, in 2008, with Here To There (Basho), featuring Sulzmann on saxophones and flutes, rising star Gwilym Simcock on piano and French horn, and emergent star Jim Hart on vibraphone and marimba. Hart has been retained for Catch Me, Neon's second disc, on which Kit Downes, a 2010 Mercury prize nominee, replaces Simcock. The trio becomes a quartet with the inclusion of drummer Tim Giles, who is closely associated with two other young British labels, Babel and Loop. Composing credits are shared between Sulzmann (four tunes) and Downes and Hart (three tunes each).

Despite the collaborative nature of both Neon albums, the essence of the music is unchanged by the shifts in personnel. Catch Me is another uplifting trip through rhythmically charged melodicism, in which Sulzmann takes his own trajectory, most often on tenor, while referencing some of his predecessors in passing: his own "Leaving Day" and "Skookum" at times unmistakably evoke Coltrane circa 1964, while the headlong solo flight on Hart's "Passwords" brings Stan Getz's Focus (Verve, 1961) to mind. But the legacies of past giants are now so deeply absorbed into Sulzmann's own aesthetic that their resonances are peripheral to the main event. Downes, Hart and Giles shine just as brightly. As composers, Downes and Hart complement Sulzmann's lyricism with their own ebullient dream weavings; as soloists, both are breathtakingly inventive. Giles is a thrilling and wonderfully nuanced drummer, in constant conversation with his colleagues, who gets closest to stand alone soloing in tandem with the keyboards on Downes' hard driving "Bela Lugosi."

Neon's sheer concentration of talent, enhanced by its singularity of purpose, makes every moment of Catch Me spellbinding. Like Birchall's Guiding Spirit, the album is balm for the soul: serious music vibrating with energy and beauty. Don't miss it.

Tracks: Catch Me; Leaving Day; Cloak And Dagger; Villiers; Nepapanees; Passwords; Last Of The Leaves; Bela Lugosi; Skookum; Torino.

Personnel: Stan Sulzmann: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Jim Hart: vibraphone, marimba; Kit Downes: piano; Tim Giles: drums.

Title: Stan Sulzmann’s Neon Quartet: A New Fluorescence | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Unknown label



comments powered by Disqus

Shop for Music

Start your music shopping from All About Jazz and you'll support us in the process. Learn how.

Catching Up With
Extended Analysis
Album Reviews
Read more articles
Stan Sulzmann’s Neon Quartet: A New Fluorescence

Stan Sulzmann’s...

Unknown label

Here To There

Here To There

Basho Records


The Jigsaw

Basho Records



Point Entertainment


Bubbling Under

Point Entertainment


Related Articles

Read Greatest Other People's Hits Extended Analysis
Greatest Other People's Hits
By Doug Collette
September 9, 2018
Read Heavy Music - The Complete Cameo Recordings 1966-1967 Extended Analysis
Heavy Music - The Complete Cameo Recordings 1966-1967
By Doug Collette
September 8, 2018
Read Naima/Live in Berlin Extended Analysis
Naima/Live in Berlin
By Duncan Heining
August 30, 2018
Read Kaya 40 Extended Analysis
Kaya 40
By Nenad Georgievski
August 25, 2018
Read Anthem Of The Sun 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition Extended Analysis
Anthem Of The Sun 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition
By Doug Collette
August 4, 2018
Read Wodgi Extended Analysis
By Duncan Heining
August 4, 2018
Read In Memory of Lou Gare Extended Analysis
In Memory of Lou Gare
By Duncan Heining
August 3, 2018