John Surman: Brewster’s Rooster

John Surman’s “return” to jazz, after recording in genres such as early music and classical, reunites him with longtime collaborators Jack DeJohnette on drums and John Abercrombie on guitar. Bassist Drew Gress, a young buck by comparison, completes the lineup and fits in comfortably with these old friends. In a way, Brewster’s Rooster is a quintessential ECM album, with tranquility hanging over the session even when Abercrombie chooses to start a fire with a solo. But there within that contrast of subtlety and aggression lies the appeal of the music.

Surman’s baritone sax sound is in direct contrast to the instrument’s size. In “No Finesse” and “Hilltop Dancer,” the horn could pass for a tenor or possibly an alto since his approach to the upper register has the same tonal qualities as the lower range, never going for its more abrasive potential. His thoughtful take on “Chelsea Bridge” is a highlight. “Counter Measures” offers a stellar portrait of his soprano playing, beginning rubato before switching to gentle swing after nearly two minutes. The 10-minute piece gives all four players a chance to stretch out, although all take plenty of strong solo space throughout the album. Abercrombie and Gress play at the top of their game, but DeJohnette sounds especially inspired, taking an extended duet with Surman on the groove of “Kickback.”

Brewster’s Rooster proves that, sometimes, maintaining the status quo is a good idea