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Matthew Ruddick

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Author of Funny Valentine, an acclaimed new biography of the jazz trumpet player and singer, Chet Baker.
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Friday, 15 March 2024 17:40

John Surman - Words Unspoken

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John Surman's new quartet features the amazing Rob Luft on guitar.

A new album by John Surman, who turns eighty later this year, is always a cause for celebration. The fact that his new band features British guitarist, Rob Luft – one of the most innovative and distinctive voices on the London scene – makes it even more exciting.

The album also features vibraphonist Rob Waring, who played on Surman’s previous outing, Invisible Threads (2019) and drummer Thomas Strønen.

While Surman lives in Oslo these days, and has done for many years, there’s still something very British and pastoral about his music that I love, whether it is the unusual instrumentation, which include baritone saxophone and bass clarinet, or the folk-influenced themes that run through his music.

When interviewed about the album, Luft mentioned that there’s always more to learn from other musicians, a statement that Surman agreed with. Luft specifically highlighted Surman’s understanding of the importance of space, and that he would sometimes drop out, allowing the vibraphone or guitar to take centre stage. That innate understanding between the musicians can be heard throughout the new album, Words Unspoken, which feels like an appropriate title.

Some of the new tunes, like Onich Ceilidh, seem to be built on a repeated theme – in this case played by Luft and Waring, with support from Strønen, over which Surman starts to improvise. There are reminders here of Surman’s earliest recordings for ECM, where he would build a line on the synthesizer, and then play over it.

Other tunes, like the gorgeous opener, Pebble Dance, sound more improvised in the studio, with Waring’s introduction giving way to Luft’s elegant guitar and Strønen’s delicate brushwork, before Surman finally makes an appearance.

Listen to Pebble Dance here:

Graviola, which sees Surman switch to bass clarinet is another favourite, with some elegant interplay by the band, shapes constantly shifting and evolving.

Hawksmoor is different again, with Surman improvising over Strønen’s delicate drumming for over two minutes before Waring makes an entrance.

Words Unspoken is out now on ECM Records.

The band will be touring this year, including a date at Ronnie Scott’s in June. Grab a ticket while you still can.

 

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