Sunday, September 04, 2016
JOHN SURMAN / BREMEN - just because...
Welcome back to me. In the time I've been away, I've been doing... stuff. Well, I took a brief sojourn to Tokyo - on a record-finding mission - but all of that really relates to 'work', so it likely won't be discussed here. I would, however, like to briefly discuss a couple of records which have lit a fire under my ass. The first is JOHN SURMAN's Morning Glory LP. This one has certainly taken me by surprise. Norway-via-England's Surman has been releasing records for almost 50 years, starting off in the big band's of Mike Westbrook in the late '60s, but is probably most well know for his many records on the ECM label. I am, of course, very familiar with them, and indeed there's a stack of them I'd recommend you check out: The Amazing Adventures Of Simon Simon from 1981, 1985's Withholding Pattern, Private City from 1988... Surman, on these discs would play a kind of pastoral, minimal form of 'jazz' using synthesisers and reeds (bass clarinet, saxophones of various stripes, even a recorder), creating a hypnotic, looping effect not a thousand miles removed from the likes of Terry Riley, but with an end result which is oh-so-English, and yes, oh-so-ECM. This may sound like I don't like these albums, but that is far, far from the case. Surman is an interesting character whose music has broached many forms: avant-jazz, jazz-rock, Minimalism, 'future jazz' and more, yet perhaps because he's never really stuck to one form - such as the 50+ years of art-brut from Brotzmann, Schlippenbach and co. - he doesn't enjoy the profile he should.
On that note, I bring you his Morning Glory LP from 1973. At this stage, he had released a string of albums with collaborators such as John McLaughlin, Jack Bruce, Michel Portal, Mike Westbrook, Karin Krog, et al. Enough of a discography for the Island label to bankroll this non-seller. As for whether the artist itself is 'Morning Glory' or whether it is 'John Surman and...' appearing on the LP entitled Morning Glory - I've seen it referred to as both. For convenience sake, I will simply refer to it as Surman's Morning Glory LP. It seems odd that Island would throw money at such a project, but those were different times, money was there for the taking, and Island's roster was about as good as it got for a semi-major at the time. You can see the lineup of players on the front cover: fellow ECMers John Taylor and particularly Norwegian guitarist Terje Rypdal are ones to note. Terje later made his name with a zillion albums on the ECM label - some are good, a number aren't - but was, at this juncture, still indulging in outward-bound sounds (his old trio, Min Bul, released an incredible avant-jazz screecher in 1970 which was briefly reissued last year. It's well worth searching out; an original copy will set you back stupid amounts of money).
When this album was first recommended to me a couple of months back, I was told it was a 'spiritual jazz gem from Surman'. I haven't noted too many others referring to it as such, but if it must be pigeonholed, that's as good as any other hole to pigeon it with. There are elements of melodic, modal jazz throughout, fiery excursions into freeform noise - Rypdal really shines here, ripping out spiky, abstract notes in a Ray Russell/Sonny Sharrock mode - and elements of the kosmiche w/ Surman's synth (otherwise it's bass clarinet and soprano sax for him), but ultimately it's the sound of searching, of yearning - and that's about as spiritual as I get. Four lengthy tracks, one full-length long player. Jesus... there is so much to learn, so many stones left unturned. Surman also released the terrific Westering Home LP on Island in 1972 (minimal, synth-accompanied reeds, much like his ECM albums), as well as following up Morning Glory with two excellent free-jazz trio albums and I need them all. Morning Glory is a fantastic British jazz LP from the 1970s released on a major label. You heard it here last.
Sweden's BREMEN: where the hell have they been my whole life? Under m' damn nose, apparently. They've released three LPs since 2013, all three of 'em doubles: Bremen from 2013, Second Launch from 2014 and Eclipsed from this year. All black and white artwork, all instrumental. They also happen be a duo comprising of two gents from the 'legendary' noise-rock band of yore, Brainbombs. Hey, I used to like those guys! In fact, I even had their first three 7"s - purchased via Spiral Objective mail-order, in fact - but sold them a couple of years ago when I came to the conclusion that I would likely never play them again, anti-social racket that they be (actually, BB made a fine racket, in a kind of Stooges/Flipper/Whitehouse zone, but I was offered good money, so off they went). Bremen are something different: they are cosmic 'rock' of many different shades, encompassing ambient drones, Krautrock, space-rock, Necks-like piano minimalism and all in between.
Now, you may be shaking your head and saying SO WHAT? - as such things have been achieved, recycled and driven into the ground the past 40 years of recorded sound - and that is true. But Bremen do it better than most. In fact, in 2016, I can't think of anyone who does it better. This style of musical is prone to facelessness (I would accuse the Kranky label of being guilty in fostering a number of mediocre acts in this field upon an unsuspecting, and unwilling, public), but Bremen have identity, and most importantly, they know when the song is over. Over the space of three albums, they just keep on getting better and better, broadening their musical horizons yet still sticking to what it is that made them so good in the first place. Parts of what they do - quite a lot of what they do - reminds of me of F/i, and if that doesn't sound like a recommendation, then please remove the shit from your ears. No vocals required: it's just riffs, repeated motifs, delicate pianos, electrified feedback. Songs know when to cut, tracks develop and move over extended time zones. These two Swedes have done this to perfection. My highest recommendation regarding everything they've done.