John Surman

Private City

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English multi-instrumentalist John Surman has been known on a worldwide level, but never recognized as he deserved to be in the United States. A collaboration with John McLaughlin, or fellow Brits on the fusion or free jazz scene increased his cache a bit, but being a part of the ECM label had to have increased his visibility to a larger degree. This quite different recording of overdubbed woodwind and electronics has a suitable palate and soundscape profile for the European label, enhanced by the immaculate production values of the Rainbow Studio in Oslo, Norway, and fortified by Surman's heady and spacy revelations on this project of deep, introspective, and divine music. At his most heartfelt from the outset, a haunting refrain with flutes and recorder above synthesizers underpins a lilting bass clarinet melody on "Portrait of a Romantic," while the reverse sentiment of emptiness in a Terry Riley or Cluster like minimalism identifies "Not Love Perhaps" under Surman's soprano sax. "Roundelay" is stunning and unique to this set, with bass clarinet as an ostinato bass, buoying a full array of overdubbed saxophones sounding like an interactive quartet in a laid-back frame of sheer beauty. In full mezzo piano sonic control, a more religious and spiritual approach with multi-layered saxes and synths under the surface releases Surman's soprano again on "The Wanderer." Irish or Scottish ethnicity comes across clearly "On Hubbard's Hill" in 3/4 time, Surman's full-throated bass clarinet is overdubbed for "Levitation," and looped 2/4 repeat beats unleashes a churning, yet mystical and wondrous baritone sax line on a wow inducing "The Wizard's Song." There is one single tracked solo piece, as Surman's airy soprano with slight echo informs the perfectly titled "Undernote." This album, a fully realized project, has Surman exploiting all of the timbres and tones available to him in a manner he could not accomplish with other musicians in real time. It's a full exploration of his soul, from land, sea, and outer atmospheric galaxies, on wings of supersonic fancy and fantasy.

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