The Spaces in Between CD
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"In his ability to blend some of the methods and textures of modern jazz with a wholly English sensibility, Surman is a true original," said The Times. 'The Spaces In Between' features finely crafted and richly-melodic music for strings (the string quartet Trans4mation) by John Surman, with the composer and his long-time associate, double bassist Chris Laurence deployed as primary soloists and improvisers.
Personnel: John Surman - (baritone & soprano saxophones), Chris Laurence - (double-bass), Trans4mation: Rita Manning, Patrick Kiernan - (violins), Bill Hawkes - (viola), Nick Cooper - (cello)
After a relatively quiet period, this promises to be an active year for John Surman, starting with this album, a follow-up to Coruscating (ECM, 1999). It again features Surman on reeds, plus bassist Chris Laurence and the string quartet Trans4mation.
Ever since Charlie Parker, meetings between jazz and classically trained musicians have had the potential to be clashes of incompatible approaches. Not here; this is an unreserved success, and credit goes to all concerned. Crucially, Surman has not over-written the string parts, including opportunities for them to improvise. Trans4mation readily seize those opportunities. They were fans of Surman's music before coming together to play with him! and it shows. They display a flexibility that supports and accommodates the jazz players, never sounding as if they are just 'playing the dots'.
Laurence - himself having experience of orchestral playing plus decades of working with Surman - plays a pivotal role. Without any unnecessary embellishments, save a brief solo flurry on 'Leaving The Harrow', his bass is the glue that binds everything into a cohesive whole; a majestic performance. The end result combines strings with jazz more successfully than ever. In the years since Coruscating the six musicians have gelled into a proper group.
Naturally, the dominant sound on the album is Surman; switching between baritone sax, soprano sax and bass clarinet, to give variety to the soundscape, his flowing melodic playing is as beguiling as ever. However, the title track features violinist Rita Manning playing solo; taut and compelling, it acts as the album's centrepiece and its focus. 'Now See!' which follows is in complete contrast, a typically uplifting Surman melody, the type one whistles after a couple of hearings.
Surman has also recycled several older compositions, the oldest being 'Where Fortune Smiles', first recorded with John McLaughlin in 1970 when Surman was still a wunderkind. Needless to say, this version is mellower than that one. 'Mimosa', written for a trio including oud player Anouar Brahem, still clearly displays Middle Eastern influences. Impressively, Surman has pulled such seemingly diverse material together into an album that is totally coherent and extremely listenable. A triumph. --John Eyles
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Top Customer Reviews
Beautifully crafted classical sounds with tinges of jazz, which really works well with John Surman's ambient solo lines on barritone/soprano saxophones and bass clarinet.
Trans4mation the quartet compliment the score, which has a 'Philip Glass' feel on several of the tracks.
The opening tracks double bass line by fellow musician 'Chris Laurence' gives the album the jazz element.
I would loved to have been at the 'London Jazz Festival' when this was performed live.
It's well worth adding to your library collection.
Ian R Whiteway (Musician).
This CD is a fusion of modern classical meets jazz via the string quartet. The fact that the music was recorded in a church adds to the atmosphere and in a way partly explains the laid back acoustic sound, after all it's very difficult to play hard and loud in a church. This is music that can be listened to while drinking a good bottle of wine, or of course you can just sit and listen to the pleasant sounds of strings and reeds - no alcohol needed. The quality of the musicians is never in question - a string quartet with Chris Lawrence added on bass to hold down the swinging bottom end - but maybe John Surman is slightly less the real jazzman that he was and so the music is also much in the same line, beautiful but never really daring.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Like a kid who can't keep his hands out of the cookie jar, Surman returns to a "chamber jazz" setting, with the results surpassing his previous such endeavors. The Trans4mation quartet is top notch and Surman seems secure enough in his musical vision to let them take the lead on many tracks. But make no mistake, this is a Surman session all the way. The album builds slowly in intensity reaching a peak about three-fourths of the way through and then mellows out to the conclusion. Great stuff for late nights or early mornings.
Prior to his association with ECM, Surman was a fierce force in the English free jazz scene; he could honk, squeal, and blow with the best of them. Here he revisits a piece from those days, "Where Fortune Smiles," and it sounds nothing like the original. Like fine wine and single malt scotches, John Surman just gets better and better with age (although some of his "vintages" are superior to others). All in all, this is one of those albums I would take with me to the proverbial deserted island.
I generally try to listen to most any ECM recording I can get my hands into. Their output is good, not consistently exceptional and, at times, great proof that Jazz is well across Atlantic. Here, we have John Surman and a string quartet continuing on the footsteps of Charlie Parker with Strings: The Master Takes, Stan Getz's Focus, or Gil Evans and Oliver Nelson with their sense of orchestration. Surman distinguishes himself through his subdued acrobatics--no, it's not an oxymoron, for he only sparingly enters the flow of music, as far as volume and frequency, but when he does it is of the highest control and technique. Think of Miles Davis.
The music itself is a combination of styles such as classical/chamber, jazz, ambient, impressionist, all punctured and connected by Surman's horn. Yes, the central song (# 6) is a violin solo, but it's the space between, or reverted peak, two halves of various levels of horn involvement. It hears as labor&love, slowly evolved, jocular and austere, going over long melodic and temporal arcs.
From the notes, which as if to follow the music consist mostly of images, I read that Surman is the composer. I could think of him as a Debussy who witnessed jazz and minimalism.
I only ask the question because a number of people not totally familiar with ECM (& New ECM in particular) may not realise just how far this label sometimes pushes "Jazz" well into the realm of "Classical" Music.
Take the opener "Moonlighter" for example - it begins with lilting middle-lower register violins with minimal slow bass joining in before Surman's gorgeous Baritone sax starts carrying the main theme in which he is frequently joined &/or underpinned by long, low violin & cello bowing. Indeed, most of the tracks on this album follow a very similar pattern or at least a very similar structure/ambience.
So, here I have to admit my personal bias - I'm not a big fan of prominent Violins in Jazz; when done well (& here I think primarily of Mark Feldman's work with both John Abercrombie & John Zorn) it's a delight but it also tends to be solo violin rather than as part of a quartet or more. So, although this album easily avoids the worst of violins in jazz (ie. the overbearing slushy, soppy, orchestral stuff) what this album DOESN'T do is give us Surman as a pre-eminent voice (indeed, as elsewhere noted, on the title track it's just Rita Manning's solo violin - brilliant & no doubt exceedingly virtuosic but is it "Jazz"?)
Does it have to be "Jazz"? Maybe not, but this little black duck would certainly prefer it if clearly it was - when I buy a John Surman album I want to hear his (mainly Baritone) Sax & Bass Clarinet above all other instruments! I want him to strain, stretch, peer into deep & dark corners of my psyche, energise & uplift me. Alas, the overall tone on this disc made me frequently feel I was simply listening to different movements of the same classical suite or concerto, albeit exceedingly well performed & beautifully recorded. Indeed this may, of course, be perfectly fine for some &, if so, you shouldn't hesitate to buy this disc.
To summarise, overall for me the music is exceedingly pleasant & as noted exceedingly well performed & recorded but it is hardly thrilling. Best "tracks" are "You Never Know" & "Winter Wish".
Yet, if permitted, I would like to express my delight for accidentally finding this wonderful music. I had never heard of John Surman before.
Seldom have I enjoyed anything, be it classical or jazz (or some other genre), like this.
No dull passages, waiting for the next interesting part, no meaningless showing off, but everything having its purpose, becoming a part of a beautiful experience.
I cannot but share the reviews by T.L. Throop and "fCh".
Thank you for helping me to find this.
SURMAN, John. The Spaces In Between. ECM, 2007. JS, comp. & arr., sop and bari sax, bss clari; Chris Laurence, b, and Trans4mations (Rita Manning & Patrick Kiernan, viol; Bill Hawkes, viola; Nick Cooper, cello).
John Surman is one of the underrated jewels of modern jazz. His jazz credentials are strong, dating back to his collaboration with guitarist John McLaughlin on the pivotal jazz-fusion album, Extrapolation (1972) and extending up to today. He never disappoints, not on his more obviously jazzy outings (listen to him on Tomasz Stanko's From the Green Hill, 2000) and even less on his solitary and small group musings for ECM records. Here are two, ten years apart. Both highlight Surman's strengths as composer as well as soloist but in quite different contexts.
St Ives is a solo outing. Surman double and treble tracks to create his own accompaniment or he just goes off on his own. (The solo tracks are all on soprano sax, which makes sense - it's by far the nimblest of his three horns.) The album is sheer joy. It's good jazz but you don't have to be a jazz lover to enjoy it, because it's also good non-jazz composed music and also good Easy Listening (though not as vapid as that genre of music typically is). In short, it's an album you can listen to casually or deeply and either way, it will reward you.
Spaces is one of the strongest albums Surman has released on ECM, using a string quartet augmented by string bass. Surman's writing skills are apparent on this exceptional album. He leaves plenty of space for the strings to proceed alone, building up mood and tension before he enters on whichever horn he plays on a particular cut. More than on most albums, this is an album where all of the compositions and performances fold together to create a composite mood that lasts from first to last cut. A sign of Surman's generosity as performer, he does not perform on the longest cut, the title cut "The Spaces In Between," which features a keening, deeply affecting solo by violinist Rita Manning. I'm always looking for music that I can use to frame the staged readings I direct, and I suspect I will be using this album soon for one of them.
It would be remiss of me to close without mentioning Surman's tone. On baritone sax, he is strong but also gentle, with a woody, burry tone that I've not heard on any other baritone sax player. His soprano sax soars. He is remarkably fluid in his playing here. He is less distinctive as a player on bass clarinet but again, his ease and fluidity are notable. Much of the time what he plays doesn't sound like jazz or classical composed music. Rather, it's something in between. Btu whatever it is, it is always inventive and eminently listenable. Even on the darkest tunes, there's a lightness, a sunniness, to his playing that is a pleasure to hear.