John Surman CD

Saltash BellsECM 2266 res

(ECM)

 The prospect would usually be distinctly unappealing: a lone horn player multi-tracking saxophones and clarinets, and adding layers of synthesizer. But that would be to fail to account for the John Surman factor.

 No one alive makes more appealing sounds on a baritone saxophone, soprano saxophone or bass clarinet than the English master. The latter is as warm and woody as glowing embers in a fire. His baritone makes a vast, rumbling sound that suggests the earth may be moving or the skies about to collide, and yet higher up its range it carries astonishingly nimble articulation and a sound that is thick, bearish and as appealing as any tenor.

 His soprano, meanwhile, casts aside all that instrument’s potential for shrillness or nasal whine, replacing them with a sound that still slices, but is more multi-dimensional than anyone else has achieved. For this completely solo album he further broadens his arsenal with tenor sax, alto and contrabass clarinets and even harmonica.

 Surman’s eight compositions use careful but unfussy layering of the horns to create contexts for pithy solos on his main three instruments. These often churn with a vague nostalgia for half-remembered folk melodies, and the synthesizer is used to create subtle mists of sound, much as a fog blurs the sharp edges of reality. The effect is enchanting rather than samey.