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Saturday, August 25, 2007

John Surman - The Spaces In Between (ECM, 2007) ****

John Surman has always managed to find the perfect balance of accessible and emotional playing without falling into the abyss of cheap sentimentalism. The tone of his sax-playing is recognizable out of millions, regardless of whether he plays in a jazz quartet, in more free mode with Jack DeJohnette, with supportive electronics, or with a classical string quartet as on this one. Chris Laurence's bass plays both in a classical and jazz mode, bringing more balance to the album. The music is, as the title suggests, very spacious, creating a peaceful yet intense musical environment. I am personally not really a fan of the use of strings on jazz albums, because they're often no more than a chordal musical backdrop, without any role other than to heighten the ego of the artist, giving him an air of seriousness and importance : snobbery in sum. Luckily that's not the case here, the strings are players in their own right, they make the music, participate actively, as illustrated by the title track, central on the CD, which is only solo violin, and one of the many highlights of this album. The music varies between jazz, modern classical music, baroque and romanticism. There are clear references to Bach ("Wayfarers All") as well as Ravel ("Mimosa"), yet the compositions are characteristic of Surman, the finale of the second piece is reminiscent of his "Edges Of Illusion" from the early 80s. On "Mimosa" the music is also mediterranean in nature, with the strings accentuating the theme as in Arabic music. The record offers lots of variation in terms of moods : from melancholic ("Winter Wish") over playful ("Now See!") to downright gloomy ("Leaving The Harrow"). A great album, with lots of excellent soloing by Surman, whether on baritone, soprano or bass clarinet. His technique, the variation of his playing and the clarity of his tone are stunning. Surman has always looked for his own romantic aesthetic, and finds it here, with lots of the credits for it going to the strings. It's not jazz in the traditional sense, but it's excellent music.


Anonymous said...

Read your reviews regularly and find them very well informed, insightful and most importantly, helpful in weighing whether or not to purchase.

Will likely get this one, based on your review. It sounds worthwhile indeed.

Keep up the good work!