John Surman & Howard Moody: Rain On The Window (ECM 1986)

Rain On The Window

Rain On The Window

John Surman baritone and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet
Howard Moody church organ
Recorded January 2006 at Ullern Kirke, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Since their first collaboration on Proverbs and Songs, Ivan Moody (then as conductor, here as organist) and reedman John Surman have established an affinity that manifests itself vividly throughout this duo session under the evocative title Rain On The Window. Recorded in the Ullern church of Oslo, the program includes mostly originals and improvisations, the two exceptions being renditions of the English folk song “O Waly Waly” and the Negro spiritual “I’m Troubled In Mind.” The latter two bring earthiness and grit to the album’s textural palette. Both also feature Surman on baritone saxophone, as do a number of pieces, including “Stained Glass” and the brief yet memorable “Dancing In The Loft,” a free improvisation that showcases Surman’s eminently recognizable approach to the instrument. All of these and more are laid at the altar of “Pax Vobiscum,” a baritone prayer that ends the album. Like a phoenix from the ashes of Moody’s dense embers, Surman’s lyricism sings, reborn, in light of day.

Yet in spite of the recording’s sacred leanings, there is a refreshingly agnostic sheen to its musculature, as attested by Surman’s ingenious sopranism. Between the geometry of “Circum I” and the klezmer-like flourishes of “Step Lively!” there is plenty of gradation to be found. Some portions of the program (specifically, “The Old Dutch”) cast their nets back into childhood, when the calliopes of distant carnivals still mingled with the breeze. At times Surman’s tone matches Moody’s with its clarity and fortitude, while at others it looks through a glass darkly. Moody even goes solo in the inward spiral that is “Tierce.”

Like the title track, the record as a whole makes stars of raindrops and connects them in virtuosic constellations. The listener need be no astrologist to appreciate their interlocking stories, for each is told as if for the first—and the last—time.

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