October 1, 1969

GIGS: John Surman Spectacular, 100 Club, London, ?October 1969. Reviewed by Barry McRae in Jazz Journal 22/11 (November 1969): “John Surman is regrettably leaving this country to live on the Continent but his last date at the ‘100’ Club will give his followers memories to cherish until his return. Billed as the ‘Surman Spectacular’ the evening proved to be just that. The club was filled to capacity and air became a luxury, obtainable only from the odd few yards near the door. The night began with the leader fronting his usual octet but, as it wore on, the group on stage was in a constant state of flux. Musicians replaced flagging colleagues and others augmented the line up. Surman was superb, not only on baritone but also on his ever improving soprano. Nevertheless it was the artistic high-water mark of the performance.

Critic Brian Blain colourfully describes these as mayhem and in a sense this is very apt. There is obviously no thought for coherence in the orthodox manner. In its place is a textural unity, similar to that found on Ayler’s ‘New York Eye And Ear Control’, Shepp’s ‘One For The Trane’ or Coltrane’s own ‘Ascension’. Just as the New Orleans’ ensemble is a melodic jumble to the uninitiated, this ruffled surface is merely a ripple that covers a strongly flowing musical stream.

As always, solos emerged from the ensemble and Alan Skidmore, Malcolm Griffiths and Mike Osborne stood out. The latter, in particular, was in excellent form. He seems to be concentrating on the freer side of his playing and, in this session, showed no real reluctance to colour his formally cultured tone with the cries and shrieks of today. This does not disguise him, however, and his natural melodic flair is simply directed to more fragmentary form.

Considerable demands were made on the rhythm players and it was the indefatigable Alan Jackson on drums and the ferocious Barry Guy on bass who took the honours. In all, it was a completely entertaining evening, one that convinces me that this music could be reaching a far wider audience if given the chance. The British jazz scene will be the poorer for the (at least temporary) absence of John Surman but the ‘Spectacular’ confirmed the depth of talent that remains.”


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