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John Surman Spaces In Between Review

Album. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

Impressively, Surman has pulled such seemingly diverse material together into an album...

John Eyles 2007

After a relatively quiet period, this promises to be an active year for John Surman, starting with this album, a follow-up to Coruscating (ECM, 1999). It again features Surman on reeds, plus bassist Chris Laurence and the string quartet Trans4mation.

Ever since Charlie Parker, meetings between jazz and classically trained musicians have had the potential to be clashes of incompatible approaches. Not here; this is an unreserved success, and credit goes to all concerned. Crucially, Surman has not over-written the string parts, including opportunities for them to improvise. Trans4mation readily seize those opportunities. They were fans of Surman’s music before coming together to play with him… and it shows. They display a flexibility that supports and accommodates the jazz players, never sounding as if they are just 'playing the dots'.

Laurence – himself having experience of orchestral playing plus decades of working with Surman – plays a pivotal role. Without any unnecessary embellishments, save a brief solo flurry on “Leaving The Harrow”, his bass is the glue that binds everything into a cohesive whole; a majestic performance. The end result combines strings with jazz more successfully than ever. In the years since Coruscating the six musicians have gelled into a proper group.

Naturally, the dominant sound on the album is Surman; switching between baritone sax, soprano sax and bass clarinet, to give variety to the soundscape, his flowing melodic playing is as beguiling as ever. However, the title track features violinist Rita Manning playing solo; taut and compelling, it acts as the album’s centrepiece and its focus. “Now See!” which follows is in complete contrast, a typically uplifting Surman melody, the type one whistles after a couple of hearings.

Surman has also recycled several older compositions, the oldest being “Where Fortune Smiles”, first recorded with John McLaughlin in 1970 when Surman was still a wunderkind. Needless to say, this version is mellower than that one. “Mimosa”, written for a trio including oud player Anouar Brahem, still clearly displays Middle Eastern influences. Impressively, Surman has pulled such seemingly diverse material together into an album that is totally coherent and extremely listenable. A triumph.

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