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May 2002

John Surman/Jack DeJohnette
Invisible Nature
ECM Records

Though John Surman and Jack DeJohnette have a long, multifaceted shared history, it is overshadowed by the 1981 ECM album The Amazing Adventures of Simon Simon. It was a pivotal recording for the British reed player, who integrated synthesizers and signal processing with a folkish lyricism to create evocative soundscapes. As Surman's subsequent ECM recordings in this vein indicate, however, it was conceptual terrain enhanced by but not dependent on the American drummer's presence. Occasionally, this remains the case on Invisible Nature, recorded at the 2000 Berlin and Tampere festivals. Surman uses lulling synth washes to underpin his braying bass clarinet and capering, digitally delayed soprano saxophone. This layering creates a delicate tension that a busy drummer can easily obliterate. It somewhat paints DeJohnette into a corner, however, limiting him to simple patterns and embellishments, making him seem inconsequential to the dreamlike envelopment of the lengthy opener, "Mysterium." Elsewhere, DeJohnette is a force to be reckoned with, his traps teeming with the cross rhythms and sudden bursts of intensity that have been his calling card for decades. On "Rising Tide," Surman responses with one of his most forceful baritone statements in years, as he slips in a jaunty Caribbean theme between roars and altissimo screams. After delivering a seamless, simmering solo, DeJohnette digs into and expands a funk groove on "Underground Movement," prodding a Surman soprano solo to the boiling point. But more often than not, DeJohnette is a role player, albeit a key one. His yeoman efforts on tabla lend an alluring commentary on Surman's sinewy soprano lines on "Ganges Groove," while his electronic percussion simulates pedal tympani bombast on "Outback Spirits." DeJohnette's selfless teamwork benefits the music considerably, resulting in an engaging album that bears up to repeated plays.

Originally published in May 2002
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