When I discovered jazz, it was thanks to E.S.T. And then I found John Surman.
Some years ago I bought Saltash Bells, an album where he plays all the instruments (soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones, alto bass and contrabass clarinets, harmonica and synthesizer) He has a long list of published albums, but this is the first in a long time that he publishes as soloist. Surman is one of the jewels of the German discographic ECM. If you don’t know ECM, you are missing very good music!
This recording has an unmissible English flavour, taking inspiration from folk themes and harmonies that can easily make you imagine you travel through the West Country. In fact, the music was tought as companion for a TV series of documentaries about this part of the United Kingdom, but this project never saw light.
The music of Surman is clear, crystalline and very melodic. Background canons and cyclic phrases result in a very atmospheric soundtrack. Whistman’s Wood opens the album with a very nice musical electronic texture, which perfectly entangles different instruments blending them in a very beautiful song. It is easy with such music to feel the breeze of the the cliffs of Dorset or the water spray from the beaches of Cornwall.
Some compasses even remind me of my home music, from Asturias, in the north of Spain. I hear The Crooked Inn and Sailing Westward and I can feel at home. The Atlantic connection of peoples and cultures is very evident in this music, and I very much like this in European music.
A common line in most of the songs is the background sound of bells, which actually give the title to the album -it’s the memory as a child of the Sultash Church bells across the waters what he tries to reproduce with a synthesizer-.
This music is perfect for working. It is calm, not distracting and so atmospheric that you will listen to it serveral times before you even realise it.
If you want to buy a very good album (and buy it as a CD, with much better quality than mp3!), just buy Saltash Bells.
You can hear to a sample here: ECM Player. Or enjoy this Youtube video:
Album: Saltash Bells
Artist: John Surman
Publisher: ECM Records GmbH (Munich). Catalogue number 2266
1 Whistman’s Wood
2 Glass Flower
3 On Staddon Heights
5 Winter Elegy
7 Saltash Bells
8 Dark Reflections
9 The Crooked Inn
10 Sailing Westwards
(This article is a slight modification of what I wrote originally here).