Personnel: Drew Gress (double bass); Jack DeJohnette (drums); John Abercrombie (guitar); John Surman (soprano saxophone, baritone saxophone).
Audio Mixers: Jack DeJohnette; Joe Ferla; John Surman.
Photographer: Robert Lewis.
In his nearly 50-year career, saxophonist and composer John Surman has played and recorded in as many settings as one might imagine. Whether it's experimental free music, rockist fusion projects, large ensembles, solo, duets, concept recordings, you name it. Surman's 2009 ECM release BREWSTER'S ROOSTER is a pretty straight-ahead jazz date, here accompanied by guitarist John Abercrombie, drummer Jack DeJohnette (with whom he recorded the stellar DUETS set in 2007), and bassist Drew Gress. Further, the sound on the recording, while contemporary, does hearken back to the heady days of ECM in the late 1970s. Seven of the nine cuts here are Surman originals, the two covers are an utterly gorgeous reading of "Chelsea Bridge," and John Warren's "Slanted Sky" which opens the set. The band can swing when they need (or want) to: check the set's second cut, "Hilltop Dsancer," with some beautifully understated work by Abercrombie and double-timed, Latin syncopation by DeJohnette. "Slanted Sky" is a more atmospheric tune; it's slow, but flows nearly pastorally with Surman's horn moving through the melody and taking the improvisation into subtle territory. The reading of Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge is particularly lovely here too. Surman's baritone is painted beautifully by Abercrombie's subtle chord voicings and the sparse arrangement. But it's the saxophonist's lyricism that impresses most, tender and tough with that slight edge in his tone. "Haywai," is a slightly more out with an excellent and prolonged contrapuntal exchange between Surman and Abercrombie. Overall, BREWSTER'S ROOSTER is another high point in Surman's career. This studio band is as sympathetic as his working road unit, and Surman's willingness to place the tradition in the context of his more contemporary, sometimes ambiguous harmonic explorations reveal the roots, shoots, and branches of his art.
Down Beat (p.62) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "[A] song like 'Kickback' has the advantage of sounding like a classic Gateway Trio song with the bonus of Surman's hefty deliver, the song a driving vamp that both swings and rocks."
JazzTimes (p.69) - "BREWSTER'S ROOSTER is a quintessential ECM album, with tranquility hanging over the session....There within that contrast of subtlety and aggression lies the appeal of the music."
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