Saltash Bells

John Surman

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June 11, 2012

Format: Compact Disc



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Saltash Bells has become John Surman's most acclaimed album for years. In May 2013, almost a year after its release, the CD won another award - 'Album of the Year' at the 2013 Parliamentary Jazz Awards. This follows the same accolade in the inaugural Jazz FM Awards. It was also top of the annual Jazz Journal Critics Poll, and took a highly commendable third position in Jazzwise's 'Albums of the Year 2012'.

John Surman's solo albums occupy a special and important place in his discography. Saltash Bells is the first since 1994's A Biography of the Rev. Absalom Dawe, and it joins a line of distinguished recordings that begins with Westering Home (Island, 1972) and continues with the ECM albums Upon Reflection (1979), Withholding Pattern (1984), Private City (1987), and The Road To St Ives (1990). In the British reedman's multi-facetted music the solo recordings provide perhaps the clearest insights into his melodic imagination, and Saltash Bells ranks with the best of them.

This time around the compositions were inspired by the West Country of John's English childhood, memories of special places - and sounds. The title track refers to the echoes of bell ringing from Saltash church resounding around the Tamar River valley, at the border of Cornwall and Devon. 'Whistman's Wood', meanwhile, evokes the mysterious petrified forest of Dartmoor... And so it goes, ancient haunts inspiring vivid new music.

Saltash Bells re-emphasizes the uniqueness of Surman's solo work: here he plays soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones, alto, bass and contrabass clarinets, as well as harmonica and synthesizer. Surman has long used the synthesizer, in his solo works, as "a tool for sculpting texture and atmosphere, and for creating new contexts for improvisation which could be different from playing regular time with a bass player and drummer".

Nowhere else do his reeds stretch out quite as sensuously, with melodies that continue to unfold all the way to the horizon, the title track implying the clear days when you can see, and hear, forever. In the multi-tracked and delay-system pieces Surman finds an accord with the 'other players' which no real-time acoustic group music could duplicate. There is beautiful playing on each of his saxophones and clarinets and - listen closely to the backgrounds of 'Sailing Westwards' - some effective harmonica, too - a recorded debut for an instrument Surman has toyed with since his teens.

Personnel: John Surman (soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones; alto, bass and contrabass clarinets; harmonica, synthesizer).

Press Quotes

(5 stars) Haunting compositions played with considerable grace, undulating, rich-textured ostinatos from synthesiser or pre-recorded reeds interwoven with melodies that sometimes dance, sometimes soothe and sometimes spook just a little.

BBC Music Magazine, (Barry Witherden), July 2012

(4 stars) Surman's career has been marked by a unique personal vision and integrity. Saltash Bells is yet another highpoint in that life's work.

Jazzwise, (Duncan Heining), June 2012

(4 stars) It's full of buoyant, engaging lyricism.

The Guardian, (John Fordham), June 15, 2012

(4 stars) In between the meditative numbers - short, wittily rustic pieces - provide a welcome contrast. In all it's a delight.

The Daily Telegraph, (Ivan Hewett), June 23, 2012

(4 stars) Luminous and consists of 10 filmic soundscapes inspired by Surman's home county Devon, and they prove tremendously evocative and atmospheric.

Record Collector, (Charles Waring), October 2012

(4 stars) A very welcome is a context guaranteed to bring out the most lyrical melodic vein of his music, and this is no exception.

The Scotsman, (Kenny Mathieson), July 16, 2012

(4 stars) The saxophonist's first solo album since 1994 is a delight.

The Times, (John Bungey), June 9, 2012

Surman's solo albums are always worth waiting for...builds a soundscape so vivid you can almost see it...the playing and recording, needless to say, are immaculate.

The Observer, (Dave Gelly), July 1, 2012

More Info

Key Value
Catalogue number 2798108
Barcode 0602527981086
Number of items 1
Packaging type Jewel Case
Imported No
Weight 108g
Dimensions (LxWxH) 143mm x 11mm x 128mm

Disc 1

Track Listing — Disc 1

Song Title Time
1. Whistman's Wood 06:32
2. Glass Flower 03:13
3. On Staddon Heights 07:32
4. Triadichorum 03:36
5. Winter Elegy 08:17
6. Elfwin 02:17
7. Saltash Bells 10:40
8. Dark Reflections 03:27
9. The Crooked Inn 02:41
10. Sailing Westwards 10:37