on 19 September 2010
Sometimes it can feel like writing about jazz is little more than an exercise in nostalgia, but when labels like Cuneiform are so sharp at the business of excavating the recent past it's nothing but a pleasure.
John Surman is one of the most distinctive jazz musicians the British Isles have ever produced. Sure there are those who would say with some justification that a lot of the fire's gone out of his work, but the fact remains that he's racked up a quietly compelling body of music on record. This title, recorded `way back' in 1969 as it happens, documents a musician coming into his own. It highlights too how the worlds of jazz and rock were converging at the time, and in a way not summarised merely by the presence of the electric piano and bass guitar.
The four-part title track is notable for its sense of space; for all the rhythmic vitality going on there's nothing that's overbearing. Surman is on soprano sax throughout and his playing of the straight horn reminds us of how that aspect of his artistry is sometimes overlooked.
John Warren's `Owlshead' finds the quartet fleshed out by Mike Osborne on alto sax, whose presence in this reviewer's opinion is always welcome. At this point in his musical life Osborne's work wasn't as intense as it was to become which, given the reflective nature of the piece, isn't a bad thing.
All in all then it's no more than a moment in time, but it's one that given the quality of the music enriches posterity.