Friday, 2 November 2012


John Surman - Saltash Bells

ECM 2266/279 8108
John Surman (ss, ts, bs, alt-cl, bcl, contra-bcl, hca, synth)
Recorded June 2009
Any new release from saxophonist John Surman is something of an event to look forward to, but with the release of Saltash Bells, his first ‘solo’ album in 18 years we have something to cherish.
Surman’s all solo, multi tracked performances have developed over the years, from Upon Refleection in 1979 to the last solo disc from 1994, A Biography of the Rev. Absolam Dawe, in which Surman has continued to refine this difficult balancing act between composition, improvisation and technology, and with Saltash Bells he has taken the format to another level and transformed into it into a wholly satisfying ‘suite’.
As is his wont, the saxophonist has once again taken us back to his West Country roots, basing the compositions on his recollections and childhood memories from hearing the bells of Saltash church when out sailing with his father.
This very personal vision has resulted music of exquisite beauty, from the opening ‘Whistleman’s Wood’ and the dancing soprano heard on ‘On Staddon Heights’.  Indeed, it can be said that the longer compositions serve as the main events in the ‘suite’ with shorter pieces such as the solo bass clarinet ‘Glass Flower’ and the skittering over dubbed soprano saxophone heard on ‘Dark Reflections’ acting as perfect interludes.     
Surman has continued to embrace electronics, this time handing over some of the programming of the synthesizers to his son, Ben, but the electronic soundscapes always remain subservient to the real time (and human) aspect of the music that is John’s saxophone and clarinet playing.  
Saltash Bells is quite simply a beautiful album in which strong melodies and the joy of making music prevail.

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