John Surman baritone and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, recorder, piano, synthesizer
Recorded December 1984 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
As one of the most skilled saxophonists alive, John Surman has gone beyond carving a niche, for he has also redefined the medium into which he carves. And while the breadth of his proficiency is certainly staggering, to these ears it is what he does with the baritone (normally not my favorite reed) that sets him a world apart. One need only listen to its poetry in “Doxology” to find out for oneself. In this multi-tracked chorus, Surman plows the melodic field with taste and care, while his favored sequencer provides a glittering edge to the ashen interior, as also in “Changes Of Season,” where now the heavenly cored tone of a soprano links the stars into an all-encompassing constellation. But listen again to the baritone’s solo flights in “All Cat’s Whiskers And Bee’s Knees” and “The Snooper,” each buoyed by the after-images of a tasteful studio echo, and you will find new delights to savor. Two “Holding Patterns” bookend the album’s remainder with broader electronic wingspans. In these one sees neither people nor their relics in the landscapes below, but hears only the music they’ve left behind. Surman is a one-man saxophone quartet in “Skating On Thin Ice,” through which he brings his at once overcast and sunlit visions to life. “Wild Cat Blues” features the deepest sequence of all, pairing beautifully with Surman’s echoed soprano.
These sonic activities are deeply internal, personal excursions into a territory of forgotten histories. Surman’s music always seems to tell a story that would through words be forever obscured by the uncertainty of memory, yet which in their musical retelling is strangely immediate and unmitigated.