Way Back When

John Surman

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Way Back When Review

by Scott Yanow

In October 1969, John Surman left his native England to join bassist Barre Phillips and drummer Stu Martin in a new group in Belgium. Right before he left, he appeared at a recorded jam session in England. The tapes were then lost until 2003 and made their first appearance on record on this 2005 CD. The music is particularly interesting for two reasons. Surman, who is best known for his baritone playing, is mostly heard on soprano. And the performances are reminiscent of a slightly more accessible and gentler version of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew, although the Davis set was just in the process of being released. These renditions show that some jazz musicians in the United Kingdom were going through a parallel evolution as their American counterparts. Surman is showcased with the rhythm section during the four-part "Way Back When," and the ensemble is joined by altoist Mike Osborne on the final two selections. This is an important set in the history of fusion, showing that not only the biggest names were exploring the new music in 1969.

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