Home » Jazz Articles » Album Review » John Surman: Words Unspoken


John Surman: Words Unspoken


Sign in to view read count
John Surman: Words Unspoken
Hypnotic and many of its antonyms—stimulating, arousing, reviving—are old school hyperbole which very often separates the hack from the veteran of critical science. But sometimes those everyday words are exactly what need to be said to tell of music unlike everyday and most others. Words Unspoken is just that.

Blowing free and unhindered since 1966, and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Terje Rypdal, Archie Shepp, Bill Frisell and John McLaughlin, British multi-reedist John Surman needs no lengthy introduction. He just needs the space to create and secure a spirit of adventure and camaraderie with his chosen partners—guitarist Rob Luft, vibraphonist Rob Waring and drum & percussion master Thomas Strønen—to prompt and give rise to that which was not there before.

"Pebble Dance" is a perfect example. Caroling in on Waring's rolling pattern, Strønen and Luft break in, the guitarist establishing a ringing, repeating figure to which the vibraphonist allies himself while Strønen holds course. Surman's caterwauling, invigorating soprano saxophone cuts, sways, incites, and acquiesces to his compatriots mesmeric hold. As a masterful opening statement, it is trance at a very high level.

Resolute with intent and resolve, "Words Unspoken"'s ascendant theme, haunts as much as it reveals. Surman is totally committed to the triumphant, baritone saxophone moan. Surman echoes along and against the sustained avenue of chords laid out before him by Luft and Waring. As Waring floats above it all—spirit, cloud, shadow—Surman growls and circles. The world is awash . . .

"Graviola" has the ECM ambience down pat, floating, misting, touching down, sailing forth. "Bitter Aloe," is an exceptionally warm, enticing Surman original, with the saxophonist and guitarist at one with the gliding muse. The enigmatic "Hawksmoor," part Modern Jazz Quartet and part quite the opposite, spins a delirious dance with Surman's resonant bass clarinet leading the way at times. With its open architecture, (a Surman merit) "Onich Ceilidh" becomes what it is, an amalgamation of solos brought to the fore, coalescing, attaining form. A form which takes shape as Words Unspoken.

Track Listing

Pebble Dance; Words Unspoken; Graviola; Flower in Aspic; Precipice; Around the Edges; Onich Ceilidh; Belay That; Bitter Aloe; Hawksmoor.


John Surman
Rob Luft
Rob Waring
Additional Instrumentation

John Surman: baritone sax; baritone clarinet.

Album information

Title: Words Unspoken | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: ECM Records




For the Love of Jazz
Get the Jazz Near You newsletter All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

You Can Help
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.


On The Scene
Gianmarco Ferri
Larry Goldings & John Sneider
Rob Brown


Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and upcoming jazz events near you.