John Surman, Chris Laurence, Trans4mation String Quartet

DAVID WAKEFIELD Norwich Cathedral (Norfolk and Norwich Festival)


NorwichCathedral (Norfolk and NorwichFestival)

This was an unexpected pleasure; I say "unexpected" not because I do not admire John Surman's work as one of the most original and innovative jazzmen produced in these isles, but because I have found it difficult to get to grips with the concept of chamber jazz.

But the wonderful cathedral setting was ideal for a richly-textured performance of Surman's latest work, The Spaces In Between - a development of his Coruscating project - in which the leader's saxophones are blended with long-time collaborator Chris Laurence on double bass and the colours of the string quartet, most ably led by Rita Manning.

Curiously enough it is she who almost stole the show, for the title piece is scored for solo violin, and Manning's lucid reading from a simply-lit platform was quite haunting.

There was much to enjoy in the rest of the piece. The haunting North African rhythms of Mimosa, the mystical sounds of Moonlighter and Winter Wish, the latter featuring Surman's soaring soprano sax. My personal favourite, though, was Surman's tribute to his idol, the great Ellingtonian baritone saxophonist Harry Carney, on Stone Flower, in which he was really able to let rip.

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Aficionados might miss the rhythm element that is generally necessary for a jazz project, but the textures produced in the interplay between reeds and strings made up for it.

The old problems of sound quality have inevitably raised their heads during the festival, but most listeners would probably argue that the use of beautiful buildings like the cathedral and the church of St Peter Mancroft as settings outweighs the occasional imperfection. I certainly would.

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