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John Surman Free and Equal Review

Album. Released 2003.  

BBC Review

Recorded live at Robert Wyatt's Meltdown; drummer and saxophonist together with London...

John Eyles 2002

Last years Invisible Nature was the first album from Surman and DeJohnette in twenty years. It was almost entirely improvised, and worked very successfully. In contrast to many recent Surman releases, it highlighted his skills as an improviser rather than a composer. But with Surman, that distinction soon becomes blurred; as an improviser, he is an instant composer.

This new release with DeJohnette (recorded live at Robert Wyatt's Meltdown in 2001)makes an intriguing companion piece to Invisible Nature. It puts the spotlight on Surman the composer but again re-emphasises the blurring of that distinction. Surman's compositional style has remained remarkably consistent for decades now. It has a quintessentially English feel, synthesising the influences of folk music and the English classical tradition.

This piece displays many of Surman's trademarks - deceptive simplicity, lilting lyricism, subtle melodies, and seamless transitions into improvisation. It consists of nine movements connected by improvisations that are developments of the written material.

Surman and DeJohnette are joined by the ten-piece classical ensemble London Brass. The ensemble sections are all notated, whereas Surman and DeJohnette effectively improvise throughout. But this is not one of those awkward jazz meets classical situations where the classical players need dots to read otherwise they cannot function. Surman is experienced in writing for brass through his previous work with The Brass Project and John Warren, but this project integrates him with the brass better than that ever did. He plays to the strengths of all the musicians involved here.

London Brass trombonist Richard Edwards, trumpeter John Barclay and French horn player Richard Bissill all contribute significant improvisations to these bridging passages, debunking the idea that classical players always need the dots. Given their track record, it hardly needs saying that Surman and DeJohnette are excellent; to hear Surman's baritone saxophone roar out of the ensemble passage on "Sea Change" and then take off on a solo is simply exhilarating.

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