This performance proved conclusively that Surman’s recent preoccupation with synthesisers, complex overdubbing techniques and detailed composition has in no way impaired his talent for passionate improvisation.
His soprano, baritone and bass clarinet work revealed a virtuosity, logical development of ideas, command of harmonics and awareness of subtle tone shading that is rivalled by few other players, while his use of an echo-delay device was tasteful and complementary throughout.
Surman may have been the main attraction here, but his sidemen, all first-class British musicians, acquitted themselves with equal distinction. John Taylor maintained a predominantly straightahead piano style that was sensitive to the group’s requirements.
John Marshall, who has recently been playing with Eberhard Weber, proved once again that he is a superb drummer. His style is busy but uncluttered, and he dovetailed brilliantly with bassist Chris Laurence, whose terse and muscular approach provided Surman with a stimulating rhythmic challenge.
The music ranged from hard-edged swing and loose, up-tempo improvisations to free sections rich in textural variety, pointillistic colouration and dense contrapuntal interplays. The ad-hoc nature of the session added an extra edge to the proceedings, and such was the high creative standard that one can only hope to see more of Surman (and this group) in the future.