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John Surman: Flashpoint: NDR Jazz Workshop—April ’69

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This long-lost workshop session, recorded in Hamburg, Germany, for television broadcast, is a rare document that shows how John Surman and U.K. colleagues like trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and tenor saxophonists Ronnie Scott and Alan Skidmore (who later played with Weather Report) were stretching the form and beginning to incorporate elements of the New Thing into their compositions. The NDR Jazz Workshop, which routinely broadcast these sessions on radio and television, put together programs that brought German musicians in contact with visiting American and British players. The German contingent in this tentet is represented by trombonist Erich Kleinschuster and pianist Fritz Pauer.

The John Coltrane Classic Quartet is clearly a touchstone here. Surman and company meld some of that heightened energy on the opening modal number “Mayflower,” which finds the leader wailing in uninhibited fashion on soprano sax and Pauer turning in a powerfully cascading, McCoy Tyner-influenced piano solo. (Alto saxophonist Mike Osborne also contributes a passionate solo here.) Surman’s lyrical waltz-time number “Once Upon a Time” is a flugelhorn feature for Wheeler, who delivers with impeccable intonation, uncanny clarity and precision in the high register. Skidmore’s bold sheets-of-sound solo here is particularly Trane-inspired.

Kleinschuster’s frantic “Puzzle” is a swinging big-band-styled vehicle that showcases his free-blowing tendencies alongside his trombone colleague Malcolm Griffiths. Surman is back on soprano on Pauer’s breezy waltz “Gratuliere,” at one point quoting from Trane’s version of “Inchworm.” And on the intensely raucous closer, “Flashpoint,” Surman blows wildly on baritone at the free-jazz outset. After a minute and a half of cacophony, the piece settles into scorching swing mode with everyone getting a solo taste at the accelerated tempo. This mono release comes with an accompanying DVD that captures the performance in startlingly vivid black and white.

Originally Published