Saxophonist and composer John Surman has been one of the leading lights of British jazz for more than forty years. Recently, he has been expanding his horizons by recording with brass ensembles and strings, but on this album he returns to his roots, playing thoroughly modern jazz. Surman plays baritone and soprano saxophones, joined by John Abercrombie on guitar, Drew Gress on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. This group sounds wonderfully tight together, moving through the twists and turns of the music with nary a spill. "Slanted Sky" opens the album gently, moving like a morning sunrise and reminding me of the gentle and deep music on the Miles Davis classic In a Silent Way. "Hilltop Dancer" moves at a faster tempo with a nice guitar solo backed by swift and agile drums. Surman steps up with a deep baritone solo, but DeJohnette is the key here as he is throughout the album - he's just killing throughout. "Kickback" is the peak of the album, building to an extraordinary fast paced performance with strong saxophone riffing, serpentine guitar and deeply rhythmic drumming, it's a knockout. They slow things down with a gorgeous version of Billy Strayhorn's classic "Chelsea Bridge," focused on Surman's big lush tone. Spare, patient and thoughtful, this is a very well done ballad performance. This may fly under the radar a little bit, but it shouldn't. There are no gimmicks here, it's straight-up, no-nonsense modern jazz played by a stellar band. Don't miss it.
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