Free And Equal

John Surman, Jack DeJohnette, London Brass

John Surman’s new music for brass choir and improvising reeds and drums. Classical ensemble London Brass joins the Surman/DeJohnette duo in a live recording from London’s South Bank. An exciting disc that has affinities with other Surman-composed projects including “Coruscating” and “Proverbs and Songs”.

Featured Artists Recorded

June 2001, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Original Release Date


  • 1Preamble
    (John Surman)
  • 2Groundwork
    (John Surman)
  • 3Sea Change
    (John Surman)
  • 4Back and Forth
    (John Surman)
  • 5Fire
    (John Surman)
  • 6Debased Line
    (John Surman)
  • 7In the Shadow
    (John Surman)
  • 8Free and Equal
    (John Surman)
  • 9Epilogue
    (John Surman)
Free and Equal finds the saxophonist exercising his compositional prowess while still leaving plenty of room for the impressive improvising skills that have earned him a rep as one of Europe's most intriguing reed players. The setting is a suite of nine pieces with notated ensemble sections played by the keen 10-member classical outfit London Brass. Cleverly linking several of the pieces are intuitive duos by Surman and DeJohnette. Dynamics are flaunted, the music steadily shifts its weight, and as one episode leads to the next, you come to understand you're in the hands of a master.
Jim Macnie, DownBeat
Surman generates powerful blends of meditation and excitement of his own - check the thrilling choir-like swells and fades on Sea Change. Surman's and DeJohnette's dialogues provide most of the improvisational interest. The drummer's abstract sound palette sits alongside his remarkably melodic technique and time-stretching swing. Surman is fluid and mobile on all reed instruments, wriggling around him, and French horn player Richard Bissill adds a boldly spontaneous abstract improvisation. Surman explores a Sonny Rollins-like calypso on baritone and English-sounding brass fanfares turning into southern-European folk-dances on Soprano sax. John Barclay's agile, silvery-toned trumpet playing is startlingly loose and inventive against DeJohnette's fitfully explosive drumming. ... This is a subtly formidable piece of work.
John Fordham, The Guardian
Free and Equal ist eine live aufgenommene Suite, die aus neun wiederum ganz unterschiedlichen Sätzen besteht, mal hymnisch kompakt, mal mit jener Vorliebe für ungerade Taktarten, wie Surman sie seit je pflegt. Die Spannung dieses Werks entspringt maßgeblich dem Wechselspiel zwischen komponierten und improvisierten Teilen. Der Titel ist zweideutig. Er bezieht sich ausdrücklich auf die Deklaration der Menschenrechte, bezeichnet aber zugleich das Prinzip der Musik selbst, die in ihren improvisierten Passagen "frei" ist, aber Solisten und Ensemble (oder Improvisation und Komposition) "gleich" behandelt.In einer Zeit, da die Kritik immer mehr auf Beschreibung verzichtet und nur noch an Benotung Vergnügen zu finden scheint, an plakativen Formulierungen, die sich in der Werbung zitieren lassen, zögert man, Wertungen und Empfehlungen abzugeben. Die Hemmungen seien hier überwunden: John Surmans neue CD sollte nicht versäumen, wer an differenziertem, artifiziellem, erfinderischem Jazz Interesse hat. Solche Aufnahmen gibt es nicht alle Tage.
Thomas Rothschild, Titel Magazin
As expected, Surman and DeJohnette display the quality that makes their association so special. They have a deep capacity for empathy, conveyed in explicit or subtle responses to one another's playing. The mutual admiration inspires a refined playfulness. For instance, Surman on baritone wryly smiles through his mouthpiece at his drummer friend after the London Brass drops out mid-way through "Sea Change". Elsewhere, he excels on soprano and on bass clarinet. DeJohnette beautifully executes his piano parts in the first two movements before bringing his expertise and tremendous musical logic to the drum kit. His solos are few but wonderful. Ticket buyers must have sat on the very edge of their seats through the duration of the concert.
Frank-John Hadley, Jazziz
2024 July 21 Inntöne Jazzfestival Diersbach, Austria
2024 September 08 Pierre Boulez Saal Berlin, Germany