Finely crafted and richly-melodic music for strings by John Surman, with the composer and his long-time associate Chris Laurence deployed as primary soloists and improvisers.
John Surman's outstanding accomplishments as an improvising musician hardly need restating at this point. When the Devon-born multi-instrumentalist arrived on the London scene in the mid-1960s he was very rapidly acclaimed as the first major voice on the baritone saxophone since Gerry Mulligan, and has been a persistent poll-winner ever since... and a musician whose lyrical imagination and expressive power has dazzled in so many diverse contexts: from The Trio (with Barre Phillips and Stu Martin) to John Potter's Dowland Project, from the Paul Bley Quartet to the jazz and Arab music synthesis of the "Thimar" trio with Anouar Brahem and Dave Holland. His own projects on ECM have ranged from his unique solo/overdub projects ("Upon Reflection", "Withholding Pattern", "Private City", "Road To Saint Ives" and "A Biography of the Rev. Absalom Dawe") to the melodically inventive free improvising of the "Stranger Than Fiction" quartet with John Taylor, Chris Laurence and John Marshall, from duets with Jack DeJohnette to the massed horns of "The Brass Project".
Alongside his soloistic achievements, Surman has been growing steadily as a composer, putting his background and enthusiasms to good use, unafraid to take risks and yet never overreaching himself, a familiar problem when musicians try to step beyond the demarcation lines of their given idiom. Surman's work may also transcend familiar boundaries, but it is really all of a piece. It seems always centred, grounded. Although a deep love of the entire jazz tradition is an important element - early Ellington is a particular enthusiasm, as evidenced on the piece "Stone Flower" on the present recording - he is equally affected by the melodic qualities of chamber music, choral music and English folk music. He has been integrating these elements in both his playing and his writing for a long time now. For listeners who know Surman only from records, his 1998 recording, his Mercury Prize-nominated "Proverbs And Songs" - the powerful oratario featuring the 75 voices of the Salisbury Festival Chorus - may have seemed a departure; in reality it was a continuation.
Surman's development as a writer has been spurred by, for instance, his long association with Carolyn Carlson, dating back to collaborative work at the Paris Opera in the mid-1970s. He wrote "Private City" for the Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet, and was Composer In Residence at the Glasgow Jazz Festival in 1989. He has written music for film, TV and radio plays. In 1993 he was commissioned to write a new suite for the Oslo Radio Symphony Orchestra and Quartet. In 1998 he premiered a new chamber orchestra version of the "Road To Saint Ives", commissioned by the Bournemouth Sinfonietta. In the same year he also received a commission to present new music for saxophone and strings at the Bath Festival. It was this commission that led, ultimately, to the music heard on "Coruscating".
Reviewing the pieces on the first airing in Bath, The Times drew comparisons between Surman's writing and "the sonorities of Vaughan Williams, Bridge, and Britten" and spoke of the special "stamp of authority" conferred by the solos of Surman and Laurence.
John Surman, on the projects's genesis: "Chris Laurence and I have played together for many years in a variety of contexts, including our regular quartet with John Taylor and John Marshall, as well as in larger groups like the Brass Project. We had spoken about the possibility of getting some music together in a duo format, but somehow never really developed the idea. It was only when I was writing music for a concert in Prague with the Krynkl string quartet that it struck me what a terrific idea it might be to add Chris to the string quartet formation. This could produce a really interesting ensemble in which the double-bass would operate both as part of the string group and as an independent improvising voice.
"Chris and I decided early in the planning that we wanted to assemble this group 'from scratch' and not use an already-existing string quartet. This would ensure that all of the players were happy with the idea of working with music that included a great deal of improvisation, especially from Chris and myself. Through his long association with the orchestra of St Martin in the Fields, Chris was able to suggest some terrific string players who were not only superb chamber music specialists in their own right but who were also already familiar with our particular style of music making and who were keen to become involved.
"Happily, things went well at our first rehearsal and the music has continued to develop ever since."
Chris Laurence was born in London where he studied the double-bass with James Merrett at the Guildhall School of Music. Since then he has played with various jazz groups and chamber orchestras. He first met John Surman in the 1970s and has played with him in various combinations over the years. He was until 1995 principal bass with The Academy of St Martin in the Fields orchestra, playing on their many recordings and concerts over the world. He has recorded with many artists including J.J. Johnson, Tony Coe, Norma Winstone, and Sting on the soundtrack of "Leaving Las Vegas." Recent recordings include sessions with Andy Sheppard, Norma Winstone, and Sam Rivers/Tony Hymas.
Rita Manning studied at the Royal Academy of Music and in Freiburg, Germany. On her return to London, she was awarded the "Young Artists Platform Award". In 1985 she was invited to join the Academy of St Martin in the Fields which she co-led for six years. During that time she appeared on several occasions as soloist with the Academy as well as with the RTE Symphony Orchestra and the London Chamber Orchestra. In 1990, with pianist Jonathan Plowright, Rita formed Capitol Virtuosi and was also for two years the violinist in Attaxa, a seven-piece ensemble formed by guitarist John Williams. In 1998 she recorded with Sam Rivers and Tony Hymas.
Keith Pascoe was a founder member, and guest leader, of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe under Abbado, and sub-leader of the London Philharmonic in 1981. He has also been a member of the Syrinx Ensemble and a guest with the Nash Ensemble, the Prometheus Ensemble, and the Academy of St Martin's Chamber Ensemble. In 1987 he was invited to play chamber music at St Moritz Musiktreffen with Tortelier, Bashmet and Vegh. In 1985 he formed the Britten Quartet, with which he toured world-wide for ten years. At present, he plays with the Vanbrugh String Quartet.
Bill Hawkes was born in Cambridge. From 1985-1990 he studied violin and viola at the Royal Academy of Music where he won prizes for both instruments. Since then his career has been diverse, ranging from Principal Viola of the Scottish Opera in 1991-2, to violist in both the Balanescu and Nigel Kennedy String Quartets. He has worked with many other chamber ensembles and orchestras, notably as First Violinist in the Michael Nyman Band and as Principal Viola/Soloist in the Gavin Bryars Ensemble.
Nick Cooper is cellist with Trans4mation and also with Chris Wood's innovative Folk String Trio and with Solid Strings, who collaborate with Orchestra Mahatma and For All The Saints. Nick has toured with the jazz trio Equal Interest (Joseph Jarman/Myra Melford/Leroy Jenkins) for the Contemporary Music Network. He was formerly with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Balanescu Quartet.
"In his ability to blend some of the methods and textures of modern jazz with a wholly English sensibility, John Surman is a true original."Richard Williams, The Times
"John Surman has helped European jazz evolve in ways it now takes for granted - into a lyrical but structurally broader idiom that mixes jazz tonality and phrasing with other forms - scores for ballets, meetings between jazz and European folk forms, even English church music. His work continues to represent a truly personal reappraisal of jazz. "John Fordham, The Guardian
"John Surman is perhaps the most gifted British jazzman of his generation."Richard Cook, The Sunday Times