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John Surman: The Spaces in Between

Budd Kopman By

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The sumptuous and moving The Spaces in Between represents eight years of growth—not only for multi-reedman/composer John Surman, but also the string quartet Trans4mation, as it originally appeared on Coruscating (ECM, 1999).

Bassist Chris Laurence is the link between the two worlds of jazz and classical music, having worked with Surman for more than thirty years, but who has also played in the classical field, working with many musicians, among them the players that came together as Trans4mation (violinists Rita Manning and Patrick Kiernan, violist Bill Hawkes and cellist Nick Cooper).

The earlier release has very much the feel of two master improvisers, Surman and Laurence, supported by a string quartet. However, despite the fact that the quartet's parts are through-composed, the players are comfortable with the feel of improvisatory jazz, and hence were able relax and play more than the notes in front of them. Thus, Coruscating, while straddling the jazz/classical line, ends up more on the jazz side.

Surman relates that over the years, this group, by virtue of playing together, has become more of a band, and that Surman himself has expanded his horizons as to what is actually possible to write for the quartet. Both sides of this equation have moved the strings towards having more freedom to improvise and the confidence to do it.

The Spaces In Between is a much more integrated work in both its sound and structure. The part writing for the quartet is more open and alive, and the sheer euphonious beauty of Coruscating has been enhanced with a dynamism that extends to the playing of Surman and Laurence.

Surman's physical sound is extremely pure, almost golden, with the bass clarinet's clarity in the same league as that of Gianluigi Trovesi on Vaghissimo Ritratto (ECM, 2007).

Laurence is the fulcrum of the group in that he plays a dual role as the bottom of the quartet and Surman's improvisational partner, moving back and forth between these roles continually. Every note he plays, whether bowed or plucked, has a center and richness that ties the group together.

The album's structure is very clear and symmetric, with the title tune, a solo violin piece performed by Rita Manning and the longest track, placed exactly in the middle. The first five tracks, having a more abstract quality, lead the listener towards the central track, while the last five tracks, feeling more concrete, lead away from it.

What is not clear in this central track is where composition ends and improvisation begins. The lines feel much different from those of say, Tanya Kalmanovitch in that the playing seems compositionally guided, if not written out.

In any event, The Spaces in Between is a marvelous example of music that cannot be labeled, but which will envelop the listener in beautiful sounds and rich emotions.

Track Listing: Moonlighter; You Never Know; Wayfarers All; Now and Again; Winter Wish; The Spaces in Between; New See!; Mimosa; Hubbub; Where Fortune Smiles; Leaving the Harrow.

Personnel: John Surman: baritone and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; Chris Laurence: double-bass; Trans4mation: Rita Manning: violin, violin solo (6); Patrick Kiernan: violin; Bill Hawkes: viola; Nick Cooper: cello.

Title: The Spaces In Between | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: ECM Records

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