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John Surman: Coruscating

The term “third stream” is an anachronism in 2001. Polyglot music is the norm rather than the exception, and the mixture of classical and jazz is as common as the sun in summer. For almost 40 years, British multireedist John Surman has investigated where Gunther Schuller’s rivers meet, though doing so has led him to be only marginally known in both genres of music. His controlled, often reticent playing probably hasn’t helped him garner attention either, but those with patient ears will be rewarded by a liquid tone touched by classical precision and blessed with just enough jazz grit.

Surman plays several instruments with an equally easy facility and delivery, be it soprano or baritone saxophone, or bass or contrabass clarinet. Even on a tune like “Stone Flower,” which is dedicated to Ellington mainstay Harry Carney, Surman’s baritone-sax playing sounds like that of a gently gliding tenor rather than the hulking and husky instrument it truly is.

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