Brewster's Rooster never outstays its welcome.
Chris Jones 2009
Over the last 40 years John Surman has been one of the foremost innovators when it comes to defining the saxophone's place in modern music. This restless approach that's given us solo works with synthesizers, entirely sax-based ensembles, pipe organ etc. means that when Brewster's Rooster - a work of what can only be defined as straight ahead jazz - hits the turntable, you know it's going to be special. Reinforcing the anticipation is the list of fellow travellers that he's brought along with him. While we know that Surman's got considerable form with drummer Jack DeJohnette and guitarist John Abercrombie, but it's still fascinating to hear his first forays with bassist Drew Gress.
It's Gress' first recording for ECM and he acquits himself marvelously. The quartet gel instantly over both some mournful sketches and playful jousts, mostly from Surman's pen, though the exceptions actually prove to be two of the highlights. John Warren's Slanted Sky is a wonderfully reflective piece where Surman uses his soprano to paint a melancholy portrait over Abercrombie's muted chords. Equally reflective is Billy Strayhorn's Chelsea Bridge which is the closest Surman has come to nailing a standard for a while. Here DeJohnette's trademark cymbals tickle against a set of solos so slow as to be almost somnambulant.
Surman's Hilltop Dancer and Counter Measures both have enough bounce to counteract any overt languor. Abercrombie's notes are never too plentiful, ringing pure and true, while on the latter Jack gives all kinds of springy delights on the traps. Elsewhere Haywain is as close as the quartet get to free blowing, though each player's precision gives the piece far more substance than you'd expect. Gress' rubbery interjections mark him as every bit the equal of his comrades.
Ending with the playful Going For A Burton, Brewster's Rooster never outstays its welcome, and while it partly pays homage to ECM's classic heritage it has enough modern tropes to keep it vibrantly fresh. Most importantly, it leaves you wanting more.