John Surman: Upon Reflection (ECM 1148)

 

John Surman
Upon Reflection

John Surman soprano and baritone saxophones, bass clarinet, synthesizers
Recorded May 1979 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

I imagine that John Surman’s first solo album for ECM was something of a revelation when first released. Having already provided his sequined elegance to a handful of productions, the English reedman shows us the breadth of his wingspan in this remorsefully out-of-print pool of limpid brilliance. The sequencer of “Edges of Illusion,” recalling the title cut off Azimuth’s debut album, immediately carries us into a uniquely melodic sound-world. Where some might exploit such a transcendent ostinato as mere atmospheric backdrop, Surman engages with it as an equal partner, experiential in dimension, existential in effect. He adds welcome traction via a gravelly baritone, even as he bores out a winding melodic core with soprano.

Other passages show Surman’s penchant for drawing with folk pigments. Of this, the jig “Caithness To Kerry” and the Nyman-esque geometry of “Prelude And Rustic Dance” and “Filigree” are the clearest examples. More somber moments abound in “Beyond A Shadow” and “The Lamplighter,” both of which feature synths and bass clarinet. Each pulls a distinct string of floss through cosmic teeth. At times delicate, at others cathartic, its sonic plaque streaks like shooting stars into silence. A brief aside of whimsy finds us in “Following Behind.” This lovely fling between baritone and echo chamber wipes the slate clean for the arpeggiated “Constellation” with which the album closes.

From soulful solos to one-man ensembles, Surman does it all with the signature intonation and robotic syncopations that make him one of the finest at the reed. One of the most elegant saxophonists represented on ECM, or on any other label for that matter, he brims with information to be pored through and deciphered with each renewal.

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