LJF 2017: Surman and Warren

Roger Farbey enjoyed an event of considerable significance in British jazz as John Surman, John Warren and the Brass Project presented The Traveller's Tale

All too rarely are John Surman and composer John Warren (pictured right) seen in concert together. Even rarer is for them to have the benefit of the quintessential rhythm section of Chris Laurence on bass and John Marshall on drums. But Surman and Warren have history, starting way back in 1971 with their joint offering on the Deram label, Tales Of The Algonquin.

They revived this partnership in 1993 with The Brass Project (released on ECM) on which both Laurence and Marshall played. A more recent re-emergence of the Brass Project came about with the release of Warren’s The Traveller's Tale, again featuring Surman, Laurence and Marshall. This was an archival recording of the brass-heavy British ensemble which appeared on the burgeoning Fledg'ling label, taken from a live date in June 1993 but only released earlier this year.

So it was a welcome surprise to witness this ensemble playing at the London Jazz Festival in the increasingly jazz-friendly King’s Place. The heavy brass comprised a nonet of students of the Royal Academy of Music under the aegis of Nick Smart, the RAM’s Head of Jazz.

The music, as anticipated, was unequivocally excellent with the seemingly ageless Surman (now a youthful 73) en pointe, as they say. The suite of pieces was performed without an interval and was only interspersed by brief pauses for applause between numbers. The youthful brass section was equal to the three veterans in terms of their respective solos but Surman, Laurence and Marshall gave predictably stellar performances. Following John Warren’s introductions of all the RAM musicians, whom he only met two days previously, the concert culminated in a trio number with brass finale.

The star trio, probably the very best three jazz musicians in the UK in their respective fields, evoked the ghost of Surman’s eponymously titled trio of the 1970s with Barre Phillips and the late Stu Martin.

The packed house and justifiably appreciative audience spontaneously cheered an event of considerable significance in the annals of British jazz. Indeed, in his opening introduction, Nick Smart rightly described the event as an art form of importance in its own right and not merely as an adjunct to its American progenitor.

John Surman photo (left) by John Watson

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