Just occasionally, a jazz album comes along that stands outside of its time, and becomes a classic. Miles Davis’ 1959 recording, Kind of Blue, Charles Mingus’ Ah Um, John Coltrane’s Blue Train; the list goes on. More often, perhaps, albums are released that as equally as timeless, yet somehow fail to attract the acclaim and the status that they might deserve.
Stranger than Fiction, by British saxophonist John Surman, is a wonderfully lyrical and expressive album on which the pieces display the trademark organic, melodic improvisational skills of Surman, matched by some beautiful exploratory playing from pianist John Taylor, whose careful attention to balance and texture recalls some of Morton Feldman’s piano pieces. There’s some understated support from bassist Chris Laurence, and delicate drumming from John Marshall.
The wonderful climbing line that opens ‘Tess,’ or the asymmetrical shifting patterns of the accompaniment which opens ‘Moonshine Dancer’ show the evocative colours that the group can weave; the mood is contemplative, almost spiritual, and the album never puts a foot wrong. No gesture is wasted, no phrase surplus to requirements: deft yet sure, the players are working together seamlessly yet creating plenty of space for one another.
Here’s ‘Moonshine Dancer;’
Released in 2007 on the ECM label, home of such artists as Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Marcin Wasilewski and other greats, the album is presented in the hallmark ECM style, monochromatic colours with no textural clutter and expressionist cover photography.
Inventive, expressive, and timeless. Listen for yourself to extracts from the album on Amazon here: you won’t be disappointed.