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Saxophonist John Surman is best known for such stunning overdubbed improvisations as Upon Reflection
and Private City
and for his freely inventive Stranger Than Fiction
quartet. But he is also a composer of stature. His oratorio Proverbs And Songs
made it onto the Mercury Prize shortlist in 1998, and in Coruscating
he focuses again on writing. The eight compositions here owe as much to the English pastoral tradition of Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Bridge as to the jazz tradition of, say, Ellington, combining a string quartet with two jazz soloists, Surman and bassist Chris Laurence. Elegiac, in places melancholic, but never less than ravishing, the pieces achieve a fine balance between formal composition and freewheeling improvisation. Surman's ethereal soprano sax and throaty baritone sax and bass clarinet dominate proceedings, notably on the sublime "Stone Flower", a heartfelt tribute to Ellington's baritone master, Harry Carney, while Laurence consistently reminds us why he is so in demand as a bass player par excellence. Hugely rewarding, and much recommended, this set is the exception to the rule that saxophone and strings rarely work well together. --Simon Adams