John Surman - An Englishman Abroad

31 July 2009

Known primarily as a saxophonist, bass clarinettist and composer John Surman has been a fixture on the UK and international jazz scene for as long as many of us can remember.

Dig out that rare copy of classic album Extrapolation which he recorded with John McLaughlin, Brian Odges and Tony Oxley in 1969 for a quick refresher. Born in Tavistock on 30 August 25 years earlier, John Surman moved from the west country to London and as a student of music played baritone saxophone with composer Mike Westbrook before winning a competition at the Montreux Jazz Festival as best soloist in 1968. As a leader of his own group, The Trio, and later as one of storming sax triumvirate SOS in the 70s, joining forces with Alan Skidmore and Mike Osborne, Surman began to use electronics and synthesisers and by the end of that decade reached a new landmark with the award winning solo album Upon Reflection.

Prolific in the 80s and the two decades since, his 1990 ECM album tour de force The Road To St Ives is widely seen as a snapshot of a distinctive English, and European, musician and composer grounded in forward-looking streams of jazz, improv and contemporary classical music. Before he turns 65 on the penultimate day of August Surman talked to Duncan Heining about his career so far and asks the question ‘What is British jazz?’

 In the autumn, saxophonist John Surman celebrates his birthday with a new CD, Brewster’s Rooster and then later in November the celebrations build to a peak with a concert at the London Jazz Festival. Now resident in Norway, his gigs take him all over Europe and beyond and he’s more in need of frequent flyer miles than a bus pass. While fans have become used to the huge range of John’s projects from solo and duo records to string quartets and big bands he has rarely recorded with anything resembling a standard jazz rhythm section.
So on the new album with John Abercrombie on guitar, Jack DeJohnette on drums and Drew Gress on bass, that is precisely what Brewster’s Rooster amounts to. As John points out, perhaps his back catalogue doesn’t provide an accurate description of his musical activity over the years. “The music I’m playing on this record is something that is a continual part of my life. Many of my recordings have been in some other format but, in my life in any given year, I’ll do a fair amount of playing as a saxophone player with a rhythm section.”

This is an extract from Jazzwise Issue #133 – to read the full article click here to subscribe and receive a FREE Warner Jazz CD 

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