Post-Fusion Contemporary / Avant-Garde Jazz / Post Bop / Progressive Big Band / World Fusion / Jazz Related Soundtracks / Fusion • United Kingdom
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Born in Tavistock, Devon in 1944, composer/multi-instrumentalist John Surman is one of the key figures in a generation of European musicians who have crucially expanded the international horizons of jazz during the past thirty years or so. Long acknowledged as an improviser of world class, Surman has also composed a body of work which extends far beyond the normal range of the jazz repertoire. Already, by the late 60s, it was clear that Surman was a phenomenon. He started out as a teenager playing the music of fellow Devonian Mike Westbrook, and then amazed the London establishment with displays of extravagant instrumental proficiency combined with a passionate, rumbustious imagination.

As a soloist, Surman's early career took shape in the melting pot that produced a number of fine British musicians during the 60s. As well as his association with Westbrook, there was varied experience with the blues of Alexis Korner, hard
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JOHN SURMAN Discography

JOHN SURMAN albums / top albums

JOHN SURMAN John Surman (aka Anglo-Sax) album cover 3.46 | 5 ratings
John Surman (aka Anglo-Sax)
Post Bop 1969
JOHN SURMAN How Many Clouds Can You See? album cover 3.50 | 1 ratings
How Many Clouds Can You See?
Avant-Garde Jazz 1970
JOHN SURMAN John Surman, Stu Martin, Barre Phillips : The Trio album cover 5.00 | 2 ratings
John Surman, Stu Martin, Barre Phillips : The Trio
Avant-Garde Jazz 1970
JOHN SURMAN The Trio : Conflagration album cover 3.75 | 2 ratings
The Trio : Conflagration
Avant-Garde Jazz 1971
JOHN SURMAN Tales Of The Algonquin album cover 4.04 | 3 ratings
Tales Of The Algonquin
Progressive Big Band 1971
JOHN SURMAN Jazz in Britain '68 - '69 (John Surman, Alan Skidmore & Tony Oxley) album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Jazz in Britain '68 - '69 (John Surman, Alan Skidmore & Tony Oxley)
Avant-Garde Jazz 1972
JOHN SURMAN Westering Home album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Westering Home
Post-Fusion Contemporary 1972
JOHN SURMAN Mumps : A Matter Of Taste album cover 4.50 | 1 ratings
Mumps : A Matter Of Taste
Avant-Garde Jazz 1977
JOHN SURMAN Upon Reflection album cover 4.17 | 9 ratings
Upon Reflection
Post-Fusion Contemporary 1979
JOHN SURMAN The Amazing Adventures Of Simon Simon album cover 3.95 | 10 ratings
The Amazing Adventures Of Simon Simon
Post-Fusion Contemporary 1981
JOHN SURMAN Such Winters of Memory album cover 5.00 | 1 ratings
Such Winters of Memory
Post-Fusion Contemporary 1983
JOHN SURMAN Withholding Pattern album cover 4.00 | 4 ratings
Withholding Pattern
Post-Fusion Contemporary 1985
JOHN SURMAN The Trio : By Contact album cover 5.00 | 1 ratings
The Trio : By Contact
Avant-Garde Jazz 1987
JOHN SURMAN Private City album cover 4.15 | 10 ratings
Private City
Post-Fusion Contemporary 1988
JOHN SURMAN Road to Saint Ives album cover 4.42 | 6 ratings
Road to Saint Ives
Post-Fusion Contemporary 1990
JOHN SURMAN Adventure Playground album cover 3.33 | 3 ratings
Adventure Playground
Avant-Garde Jazz 1992
JOHN SURMAN John Surman, John Warren : The Brass Project album cover 4.08 | 3 ratings
John Surman, John Warren : The Brass Project
Progressive Big Band 1993
JOHN SURMAN Stranger Than Fiction album cover 4.12 | 4 ratings
Stranger Than Fiction
Post-Fusion Contemporary 1994
JOHN SURMAN A Biography of the Rev. Absalom Dawe album cover 4.17 | 3 ratings
A Biography of the Rev. Absalom Dawe
Post-Fusion Contemporary 1995
JOHN SURMAN John Surman/Karin Krog/Terje Rypdal/Vigleik Storaas: Nordic Quartet album cover 5.00 | 1 ratings
John Surman/Karin Krog/Terje Rypdal/Vigleik Storaas: Nordic Quartet
Post-Fusion Contemporary 1995
JOHN SURMAN Coruscating album cover 3.83 | 3 ratings
Post-Fusion Contemporary 2000
JOHN SURMAN Apartment #5C album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Apartment #5C
Jazz Related Soundtracks 2002
JOHN SURMAN Way Back When album cover 4.08 | 4 ratings
Way Back When
Post-Fusion Contemporary 2005
JOHN SURMAN Rain on the Window album cover 5.00 | 1 ratings
Rain on the Window
Post-Fusion Contemporary 2008
JOHN SURMAN Brewster's Rooster album cover 4.66 | 7 ratings
Brewster's Rooster
Post Bop 2009
JOHN SURMAN The Rainbow Band Sessions album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
The Rainbow Band Sessions
World Fusion 2011
JOHN SURMAN Saltash Bells album cover 4.67 | 6 ratings
Saltash Bells
Post-Fusion Contemporary 2012
JOHN SURMAN John Surman/Bergen Big Band : Another Sky album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
John Surman/Bergen Big Band : Another Sky
Post Bop 2014
JOHN SURMAN Invisible Threads album cover 3.50 | 3 ratings
Invisible Threads
Post-Fusion Contemporary 2018

JOHN SURMAN EPs & splits

JOHN SURMAN live albums

JOHN SURMAN Europe Jazz All Stars: Room 1220 album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Europe Jazz All Stars: Room 1220
Avant-Garde Jazz 1970
JOHN SURMAN John Surman Trio ‎: Live In Altena album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
John Surman Trio ‎: Live In Altena
Avant-Garde Jazz 1970
JOHN SURMAN Morning Glory album cover 3.63 | 6 ratings
Morning Glory
Fusion 1973
JOHN SURMAN Live at Moers Festival album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Live at Moers Festival
Avant-Garde Jazz 1975
JOHN SURMAN Sonatinas album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Post-Fusion Contemporary 1978
JOHN SURMAN Proverbs and Songs album cover 3.50 | 3 ratings
Proverbs and Songs
Post-Fusion Contemporary 1997
JOHN SURMAN Invisible Nature  (with Jack DeJohnette) (Live in Tampere and Berlin) album cover 4.50 | 1 ratings
Invisible Nature (with Jack DeJohnette) (Live in Tampere and Berlin)
Post-Fusion Contemporary 2002
JOHN SURMAN Free and Equal album cover 4.25 | 2 ratings
Free and Equal
Post-Fusion Contemporary 2003
JOHN SURMAN The Spaces in Between album cover 3.75 | 2 ratings
The Spaces in Between
Post-Fusion Contemporary 2007
JOHN SURMAN Flashpoint: NDR Jazz Workshop - April '69 album cover 4.33 | 3 ratings
Flashpoint: NDR Jazz Workshop - April '69
Post Bop 2011

JOHN SURMAN demos, promos, fans club and other releases (no bootlegs)

JOHN SURMAN re-issues & compilations

JOHN SURMAN John Surman (Record 1) album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
John Surman (Record 1)
Avant-Garde Jazz 1974
JOHN SURMAN John Surman (Record 2) album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
John Surman (Record 2)
Avant-Garde Jazz 1974
JOHN SURMAN Conflagration: The Dawn Sessions album cover 4.00 | 2 ratings
Conflagration: The Dawn Sessions
Avant-Garde Jazz 1999
JOHN SURMAN The Amazing Adventures Of John Surman album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
The Amazing Adventures Of John Surman
Post Bop 2001
JOHN SURMAN Selected Recordings (:rarum XIII) album cover 4.00 | 1 ratings
Selected Recordings (:rarum XIII)
Post Bop 2004
JOHN SURMAN Glancing Backwards: The Dawn Anthology album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Glancing Backwards: The Dawn Anthology
Avant-Garde Jazz 2006

JOHN SURMAN singles (0)

JOHN SURMAN movies (DVD, Blu-Ray or VHS)


JOHN SURMAN Saltash Bells

Album · 2012 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
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Steve Wyzard

Let me put it to you straight: if you own and love Upon Reflection (1979), Withholding Patterns (1985), and/or Road to Saint Ives (1990), you absolutely, positively MUST hear Saltash Bells. As of this writing, John Surman has now dwelt among for 7 decades, and while it's too soon to tell if this album will be his definitive masterpiece, this utterly compelling solo statement MUST be heard to be believed. And while Surman has recorded a number of solo albums over the years (some more successful/memorable than others), Saltash Bells is truly special, different, and one for the ages.

Inspired by his beloved Cornish countryside, we are given no other clues regarding the songs' titles or the album's thematic concept; the only liner notes are a "thank you" to his son for help with electronics. Unlike some of his previous, more measured albums, we are instantly aware of the busier, percolating synths beneath his soloing on the opener, "Whistman's Wood". "Glass Flower" is a showpiece for alto, bass, and contrabass clarinets. "On Staddon Heights" begins hauntingly only to become the album's most rhythmic track: with the magic of multi-tracking, soprano sax leads soar over baritone sax bass lines. "Triadichorum" is a short piece for three baritone saxes. Too lively to be elegiac, "Winter Elegy" is probably the most "traditional" Surman composition: a repetitive synth pattern is joined by a rumbling, tidal contrabass clarinet before tenor and soprano sax lines are contrapuntally woven into a musical tapestry.

The baritone solo "AElfum" is merely a prelude to the album's most awe-inspiring number, the End-Of-All-Days title track. There is almost too much going on here for mortal comprehension with who-knows-how-many horns in the multi-tracking arrangement of the century. What "Desireless" is to Jan Garbarek, "Saltash Bells" is now to John Surman. Opening with random tinkling synths and closing with sampled church bells, this mind-bending exercise in canon will no doubt repay hours of listening and re-listening. Before the mood grows a little too serious, Surman throws us a curveball with two jaunty, upbeat songs. "Dark Reflections" (a mass of soprano saxes) is angular, perky, and hypnotic, while "The Crooked Inn" features baritone and soprano bouncing off one another to almost humorous effect. A harmonica is introduced in the album's closer, "Sailing Westwards". All folky and countryish connotations are dashed to bits when a gurgling baritone is joined by piercing soprano over a rolling boil of synths before fading to a murmur of chirping insects. Unreal!

John Surman's gift for saxophone/woodwind melody is unparalleled, and the career renaissance that began with 2009's group album Brewster's Rooster continues unabatedly with the solo Saltash Bells. This is no wistful gaze backwards before riding off into the sunset, but an aggressive, jaw-dropping statement of virtuosic proportions. This album cannot be recommended more highly, especially to those with previous exposure to Surman's magical music. And at 59:13, it's not too much of a good thing. Only one questions remains: why did it take three years from recording (June 2009) to release (June 2012)?

JOHN SURMAN Brewster's Rooster

Album · 2009 · Post Bop
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Steve Wyzard

While I certainly haven't heard absolutely every jazz album released in 2009, all competitors will be very hard pressed to match the beautiful virtuosity of Brewster's Rooster. This is John Surman's first straight-ahead album in some time, and the all-star support should be enough to motivate any listener to buy it instantly. Drummer Jack DeJohnette has collaborated with Surman on numerous occasions dating back to the 1960's. Guitarist John Abercrombie had Surman guest on his 1993 November album, and both were heard on Barre Phillips' 1976 album, Mountainscapes. Brewster's Rooster is the first ECM recording for New York double-bassist Drew Gress, who has also played in Abercrombie's band. While the usual naysayers will grumble about the ages of the players or that the music is not intense enough, this album will undoubtably be among the best ECM releases of this decade.

Surman plays the soprano sax on only two of the nine tracks, the leisurely opener "Slanted Sky" and the album's longest track "Counter Measures". While I would have liked to hear more of Surman's thoughtful, airy soprano tone, his unparalleled work on the baritone sax is featured on the remaining compositions. The busy "Hilltop Dancer" has Surman and Abercrombie doubling the melody line. The slow grooving "No Finesse" (like "Slanted Sky") opens with a Gress solo, and Surman demonstrates that "delicate" and "baritone" really do go together. "Kickback" lays to rest any misunderstandings that this might be an easy-listening set: after a fluid Abercrombie solo, the fiery center section is a wild duet between DeJohnette and Surman. "Chelsea Bridge" is this album's ballad, while "Haywain" is a feather-ruffling free piece. The title track is driven by a tricky Gress bassline, and Surman and Abercrombie once again double the melody line. The unbridled joy of "Going for a Burton" brings the proceedings to a close, and there can be no doubt that everyone involved had great fun throughout the sessions.

The moods, textures, and atmospheres of Brewster's Rooster make for easy comparison with many of the performers' previous albums. All are still at the top of their games, with the added wisdom of experience and interplay. After releasing a number of less-accessible experimental projects, this almost feels like a comeback album for John Surman, but technically, it's not. Sorry, cynics and conservatives, Brewster's Rooster is proof positive that jazz is alive, well, and thriving!

JOHN SURMAN Flashpoint: NDR Jazz Workshop - April '69

Live album · 2011 · Post Bop
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Sean Trane
Another absolutely fantastic posthumous release from the fabulous Cuneiform label, this is the second John Surman archives album that Steve Feigelbaum unearths after the Way Back When sessions, but this time, he strikes even stronger with the NDR Workshop, just a few months after the Soft Machine album of the same nature. Yes, because while this is a CD release, more importantly this is also a DVD object, featuring the full-length TV broadcast - even if in this case, it’s quite a bit shorter than Soft Machine’s set. Recorded in April 69, the B&W footage lasts some 40 minutes and it features a solid apercu of the late-60’s London jazz-scene, with some of its most representative stalwarts (Skidmore, Osborne, Jackson, Miller, Wheeler and club owner Ronnie Scott) “touring” Germany, with the help of a few local musicians, including the excellent pianist Fritz Pauer.

While the 7-men horn section might make you think the overall sound of this set would be a big band thing, it’s actually fairly rare that it is reminiscent of the Ellington-Goodman-Miller days, especially that these post-bop musicians don’t really appear traditionalist or purists, even though the older participant Ronnie Scott (sax) was probably into his mid-50’s back then. While the overall energy level of the session is high enough to fit in the JR/F realm, the way the group is aligned is still fairly traditional, with the seven hornmen on one side and the so-called rhythm section (bass-drums-piano) is facing them. Indeed apparently this was still the old jazz thinking that the piano was part of the rhythm section, rather than a solo instrument on its own, but I wouldn’t call their music a typically standardy jazz either. As for the general mood, we’re seeing what looks like one of the final rehearsal for a concert premiere, where the now well-oiled band is fine-tuning the last details, and we get to hear the happy comments from each musician, and they’re having a mighty fun time and fully enjoying themselves.

Opening on Miller’s bass ostinato, John Surman’s Mayflower track gives the tone, where John and Osborne reassure us that things won’t get dissonant as they take the first two solos of the set. The following Once Upon A Time tune starts out big-band-like, but that impression soon fades as Wheeler’s flugelhorn shoots out a superb solo then Skidmore’s sax both backed by Pauer’s superb Tyner-derived piano tickling give plenty of charm to that slightly slower tune. The 6-mins Kleinschuster-penned Puzzle track is one of the more-brilliant pieces of the set, allowing both the composer, but Griffiths to show their shining trombones off, but an always expandable (thankfully-short) drum solo almost ruins the mood. Pianist Pauer’s Gratuliere composition is again a tad slower, but very melodious, which is much more than I could ever say about the title track’s first two minutes, where chaos and mayhem clash in a musical quagmire, before the horns pull it out the mess and into a superb groove, where the piano lays the groundwork for the saxes to blow the roof off the studio, but also to fade-out deliciously with the piano.

While the NDR B&W footage is in pristine condition and sounds fantastic (in mono), the actual shooting leaves somewhat to be desired: indeed we have a no-frills bare studio surrounding, where the cameras are filming the musicians from the outside of the main ring, but also film each other filming… A bit amateurish filming or editing, sometimes showing Jackson’s back, when Pauer’s piano should’ve been the focal point. The NDR film crew will become much better, being close to perfection for the Soft machine workshop. In the meantime, the Cuneiform booklet also dishes out some very interesting and generally-ignored information about the general background of the British musical/cultural scene in the 60’s, .where if the pop-rock British invasion was indeed in full-swing, the agreements were quite different for the jazz-scene, giving little hope for British musicians to get acceptance across the pond, and the limited impact of the Swinging London scene just outside the downtown limits. Sooo, while the Radio Bremen and the Hamburg-based NDR stations were in the British sector of West-Germany, both played a key role in mixing European jazz players to create its own cultural jazz sound, one that might eventually lead into the creation of the German ECM label from the same time frame as these broadcasts. An outstanding and informative release that every British-jazz scene fan simply must own. Thanks Steve!!


Album · 2005 · Post-Fusion Contemporary
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Sean Trane
Upon leaving in late 69 the UK for Belgium to live and work with his The Trio, with US citizens Bare Phillips and Stu Martin (both had visa or work permit problems in the Isles), Surman held one last jam session with his peers, buddies & colleagues at Tangerine studios, which soon close down and “lose” the master tapes in the mess. Discovered in 03, these were released on the awesome Cuneiform label in 05, without much extra mixing other than the rough mix done way back then. So you’ll be getting a somewhat raw live sound, but then again these guys were such pros, that it sounds just fine some 40 years later. With the usual Marshall, Taylor and Odgers, they played a lengthy track, but were joined later by Osborne for the later recordings.

Upon what could’ve been the A-side, we’ve got the four-part sidelong 21-mins title track, which is played by the quartet, with Taylor’s Rhodes opening slightly dissonant over Marshall’s cymbal ticklings. Just after Surman plays the main theme, Odgers throws on the table the up-tempo riff to allow Saxman to take it to the hilt and score a few touchdowns. The whole Way Back reminiscence is an enchanting ballad between a Rhodes, a bass guitar, Marshall’s superb drumming and of course the Su(pe)rman of sax. As we get to what could’ve been the flipside, Osborne finally got here and his influence is immediately felt on Owlshead (a john Warren composition), but Mike restrains himself from going over the dissonant line. Indeed this fusion-esque track is mainly Taylor’s showcase (IMO), while the closing jazzier Out And About is more the sax duet’s moment, but Surman’s soprano can handle Osborne’s alto any day of the week.

Well, if it was up to me, I’d tell you that Cuneiform’s WBW album is probably the most essential early Surman album that you could own, even though we can’t really call it an historical album, due to these sessions’ post-recording bad adventures. But likein fairy tales, all is well that ends well.

JOHN SURMAN Tales Of The Algonquin

Album · 1971 · Progressive Big Band
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Sean Trane
Along with countrymen Kenny Wheeler and Barbadian Harry Beckett, Montreal-born John Warren came to London in the early-60’s and quickly became a stalwart by linking with Surman and Westbrook and the rest of the scene. When bumping into Warren, Suirman decided to make his last album for the Deram label based of the Canadian composer’s compositions, which were inspired by the original tales of the Amerindian Algonquin tribe. For this project, Surman regrouped part of the usual London-scene suspects, like the afore-mentioned Beckett and Wheeler on trumpet, Griffiths on trombone, Osborne, Skidmore, Sulzmann and of course the two initiators on sax, Taylor on piano and two rhythm-section duets of Phillips & Martin (part of Surman’s trio) and Miller & Jackson on the other side, sometimes alternating or completing each other. Graced with an Algonquin village archive document, this final Deram album was recorded and released in 71, around the time of Surman’s Clouds album.

The four 6-mins tracks on the A-side are generally unlinked or unrelated to the Algonquin theme of the flipside’s suite, but they’re no-less interesting. If the opening Terry’s Help is a sort of upbeat big band piece with some demented sax solos, the following Dandelion is a much slower ballad that borders the cheesy, with Osborne’s sax and Taylor’s conventional piano. Up next, We’ll Make It is a mid-tempo that resembles the opening track but slowed down, and there are some solid soloing going around, while the closing Picture Tree is somewhat similar to Terry’s Help.

Across the slice of wax, the 23-mins sidelong title track suite is really the album’s foundation stone, and despite a borderline dissonant Purple Swan intro (a bowed bass), before plunging into hauntingly tense 7/4-rhythmed North Winds, where both drummers and bassist add plenty of power and Beckett’s trumpet providing the drama and a tense piano ostinato courtesy of Taylor. Outstanding stuff, really! The following movement of Manabush’s Adventures is a lot faster and somewhat more traditional, but veers improvised with the White Water Lilly movement a little later.The suite closes on the Wanderer movement, which is a North Winds reprise, much to my delight.

Certainly one of my fave Surman album, even, if the songwriting is entirely that of John warren, but without the former, the latter wouldn’t have gotten a break at all. It turned out that Algonquin would be Surman’s last Deram release and he woul find refuge on the ECM label. Although rather standard-y, Algonquin has a definitely typically British post-bop vibe that this writer loves.

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snobb wrote:
more than 2 years ago
not anymore
adrim wrote:
more than 2 years ago
Private City (1987) - my favourite Surman album is missing


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