Sunday, July 10, 2005

Golden Years Revisited - Matt comes on board

John Surman: ‘Way Back When’ Cuneiform Records, Rune 200
Rec. October 1969
Cuneiform is a trusty US label that does a roaring trade in contemporary American jazz, and modern progressive rock. They’ve also cornered the market in re-releasing important and long-lost albums from the fertile late 60’s / early 70’s British Jazz scene, what some might call the ‘Golden Years of Brit-Jazz’. The catalogues of Soft Machine, Elton Dean and Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath have all been given overdue attention in the past few years with a steady string of excellent reissues. Cuneiform continues to assiduously document British music that has long-since disappeared from sight, and occasionally digs up tapes that have never seen the light of day. John Surman’s ‘Way Back When’ is an example of great music that has been buried for decades, a previously unreleased album that finally reaches our ears. ‘Way Back When’ will transport you directly back to late 1969 and the eve of the jazz-rock revolution. Surman checked into Tangerine studio in London with some mates for one final blow before packing his bags and relocating to Belgium to join The Trio with Barre Phillips and Stu Martin. The electro-space jazz of Miles Davis’ ‘In A Silent Way’ is never far away in the four-part ‘Way Back When’ suite which opens the album. After a simple twelve-note dervish theme, Surman flails on soprano sax with his customary boiling intensity. Cascades of multidirectional sound pour forth from his horn as he rides some very late-60’s sounding vamps, replete with juicy Fender Rhodes from old stablemate John Taylor, the plummy electric bass of Brian Odgers and John Marshall’s metronomic pulse. Mike Osborne joins the group on alto sax for the final two numbers ‘Owlshead’ and ‘Out And About’. Both are more open-ended jams that leave plenty of time and space for Surman to launch on the baritone, Osborne adding fire to the brew with his own brand of wailing. ‘Way Back When’ is invigorating, exuberant and alive to the possibilities of jazz integrating with rock, made at a time when those worlds were just beginning to collide. It’s a very welcome addition to Surman’s large discography and well worth tracking down. Thumbs up, Cuneiform. Keep digging!

Sophie Agnel / Olivier Benoit: ‘Rip – Stop’ In Situ, IS 237
In Situ is a Paris-based label documenting different zones of musical activity in contemporary jazz and free improvisation. ‘Rip – Stop’ features the deep listening interactions of Sophie Agnel on piano and devices, and Olivier Benoit on guitar and electricity. This is excellent free music in the tradition of AMM, a generally pulse-less series of solid mirages that seem to emerge up out of the earth and linger close to the surface, almost subliminally, before sinking back into the background noise of the everyday. The musicians play as a singular entity and generate sound from multiple points across their instruments. Rumbling drones and percussive scrapes provide a plateau of scapes on which any number of textural manipulations and interjections occur. Silence is the central canvas for these sounds, etched with a calm and deliberate hand. The balance between the familiar timbres of piano and guitar, and a multitude of noises of more dubious origin, make for a listening experience that suggests a protean nether world where the known and unknown coexist. Four assemblages of roughly equal length drift across divergent zones of volume and slow-motion turbulence. Each joins the other to form a block of sound that is impressive in its simplicity and beautiful in its quality. Those who appreciate AMM’s tectonic universe are strongly encouraged to lend an ear to this younger duo’s obvious ability to listen together, explore sound, extend their instruments and create music of humble integrity. Listen to the sound of time dissolving here.
Reviews by Matt Krieg


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