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John Surman: Way Back When

Jerry D'Souza By

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Britain in the sixties was a musical maelstrom. Pop music was witnessing some exciting changes, and so was jazz. While American musicians were influential during this period, a large number of British musicians were beginning to cast their own voices and give the music new extensions in ideas and approaches. John Surman was one of them.

Surman is a multi-instrumentalist who is particular adept on the baritone and soprano saxophones, both of which are his instruments on this recording, which has a story of its own to tell. Surman was to leave for Belgium to play with Barre Phillips and Stu Martin in a group called the Trio. Before his departure, he called Brian Odgers, John Taylor, John Marshall, and Mike Osborne to lay down some tunes. They did that, and the tapes were tucked away and eventually forgotten. But as all good stories go, they have since been rediscovered and brought to light. And that is something to be thankful for.

Surman shows amazing dexterity in exploring the range of the saxophone. He scoops the bottom and extends the upper register, the latter tearing in and escarping the monument he has constructed. He goes past the melody and returns in constant, if passing reference, dwelling on the theme in detail at the end of each dramatic path that he has set up. He is up front and centre, driven by the pulsating bass of Brian Odgers and the crisp, trenchant pulse of John Marshall on drums.

John Taylor, who whets Surman's appetite with delectable chords, comes into his own on "Part 3," parlaying a rush of notes that keep washing the harmonic richness in waves before the tide recedes for the balminess of a quiet conversation between him and Odgers. Surman mines the baritone for a freewheeling and spirited romp on "Out and About," finding his foil and his complement in the band. Mike Osborne matches his passion with ideas that cascade in a fount of inspiration, but the thing that drives the music and continues to give it a vital presence is the way the quintet cleaves in understanding. The recording is a rough mix, without cleanups and production niceties, but that does not diminish its impact. Matter of fact, it retains character.


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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