Saturday, June 23, 2012

John Surman Saltash Bells ECM 2012

Melodic imagination as evocative as the legendary ECM cover art.

John Surman's Saltash Bells is an amazing sonic exploratory originally intended as a collaboration with Norwegian photographer and filmmaker Odd Geir Saether which would traverse the English West Country, where the Devon born Surman was raised. While the documentary never materialized, Surman continued the project as a means of channeling his own recollections into a most intriguing musical experience and expression that allows the imagination to take that visit back in time with Surman and this enchanting presentation.

Surman's fondness for bell like tonalities and the repeating patterns of the synthesizer have the origins from the sound of the bell ringing practise at Saltash Church but the amazing effect of these loops is one of an ambient all most organically channeled experience where the sea, the country side and the church become vivid imagery and transcend a mere electronic loop of sound. This is ground zero for a soul searching audio ambiance unlike most have not heard. In the press release Surman is quoted in regards to his use of the synthesizer as "a toll for sculpting texture and atmosphere, and for creating new contexts for improvisation which could be different from playing regular time with a bass player and drummer." Surman is a prolific woodwind artist utilizing the soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones as well as the relatively same arsenal of the clarinet family ranging from alto to contrabass clarinets.

Eighteen years have passed since the recording of A Biography of the Rev. Absalom Davis but the uniqueness and visionary work of Surman's solo projects is simply not to be ignored.

Organic and at times deceptively cinematic in capturing certain personal ambient moods, Surman has an amazing gift for lyrical direction and a virtual chameleon like touch with the various woodwind instruments at his disposal here. A special added treat is Surman's recorded debut of some rather tasty harmonica work.

A virtuoso performance enriched with texture, mood and harmonic direction that is hard to rival. The artistic ability to utilize electronic instruments in this particular setting would certainly be fitting cause to use words similar to brilliant.

An experience that plays well for all the senses but the cerebral in particular!


A stunning work well worthy of 5 stars!

Tracks: Whistman's Wood; Glass Flower; On Staddon Heights; Triadichorum: Winter Elegy; Aelfwin; Saltash Bells; Dark Reflections; The Crooked Inn; Sailing Westwards.

Personnel: John Surman: soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones; alto, bass and contrabass clarinets; harmonica and synthesizer.