John Surman

A Biography of the Rev. Absalom Dawe

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John Surman is an artist with an amazing range and depth of style, from contemporary classical to jazz to electronic music. In few places is this more evident than on A Biography of the Rev. Absalom Dawe, on which Surman acts as a sort of one-man wind chamber ensemble, playing baritone saxophone (his signature instrument) as well as soprano sax, alto and bass clarinets, and keyboards. The electronic elements are few and unobtrusive, and the keyboard's bright tones are a good match for the fluid, breathy sounds of the wind instruments. The music itself is nearly always ethereal and atmospheric, without journeying into the territory of askeletal new age softness. Instead, the execution seems precise and intentional; each instrument was recorded separately and then mixed as individual units into the whole, giving Surman additional opportunities for crispness of sound. The spare waves of music occasionally part to give way to energetic solos, like on "'Twas but Piety" where ribbons of clarinet and funereal organ-esque sounds are bookends for passionate saxophone sections. Elements of modern composition, jazz, and European folk can be heard throughout and the mood is one of reflection and wintry quiet. Overall, this is one of Surman's most daring and yet most successful projects to date.

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