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John Surman: Way Back When

Glenn Astarita By

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I played this disc before reading the press kit and liners, and was wondering why it took so long for a recording of strikingly good sound quality to be reissued 35 years after the fact. And of course, British saxophonist/composer John Surman's praiseworthy legacy is well-documented. But after finally perusing the press release, it all made sense: This was a jam session recorded prior to Surman's exit from London, signaling in the advent of the Trio, featuring bassist Barre Phillips and drummer Stu Martin. That band in particular elevated Surman's stature within modern jazz circles. However, the tapes from this session were lost, only recently unearthed amid a consensus that they should not be remixed and tampered with.

Also featuring two prominent British jazz musicians, drummer John Marshall and pianist John Taylor, this effort conveys the ensemble's enthusiasm for Miles Davis' early steps in the jazz-fusion movement. Taylor uses a Fender Rhodes to complement and accent Surman's yearning sax lines, most notably on the leader's multipart piece "Way Back When. In addition, another notable Brit, alto saxophonist Mike Osborne, joins Surman on the final two tracks. And it doesn't take long to discern that Surman (baritone and soprano saxophones) was a man on a mission. Breathing fire and brimstone, Surman puts his young improvising chops into tenth gear atop a gorgeous yet somewhat haunting primary theme that resurfaces repeatedly during the title track. Nonetheless, it's a jam session by a makeshift unit, driven by the changing tide.

A lust for newness and creativity sparks this highly listenable blast from the past. The significance of this outing might be akin to graduation day, where the regimentations of education fade away and accrued knowledge is transferred into a joyous sense of reality.


Track Listing: Way Back When: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four; Owlshead; Out and About

Personnel: John Surman: baritone and soprano saxophones; John Taylor: electric piano; Brian Odgers: electric bass; John Marshall: drums; Mike Osborne: alto saxophone (5, 6).

Title: Way Back When | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Cuneiform Records

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