Words Unspoken

Words Unspoken

by John Surman
Words Unspoken

Words Unspoken

by John Surman


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British saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer John Surman turned 80 in 2024. During six decades of laudable achievement, he has recorded and performed in dozens of configurations from solo to big band, chamber quintet to orchestra conductor. Words Unspoken is Surman's first ECM date since 2018's trio offering, Invisible Threads. It marks a reunion with the remarkable, Oslo-based American vibraphonist Rob Waring. Award-winning British guitarist Rob Luft (whose solo albums on Edition have won international praise) and Norwegian drummer Thomas Strønen balance the quartet. The bandleader brought some sketches into the studio and passed them out without specific instructions as to who would play what when. He wanted the recording to sound like the band created it spontaneously by wedding modern jazz, avant improv, and folk music in the moment. "Pebble Stone" commences with Waring's arpeggiatic theme before Strønen and Luft join him. The guitarist adds a tempered, contrasting chordal pulse which he doubles on the high strings. Surman enters on soprano, playing an Eastern-tinged folk melody buoyed by washed guitar sounds, thrumming kick drums and tom-toms, and a circular vibraphone vamp. They ride it until the halfway mark when Surman begins soloing like a snake charmer. The sparse instrumentation and minimal theme recall work he did with oudist Anuoar Brahem and Dave Holland on 1998's Thimar. The proceeding title track is a study in layered textures, resonance, and space. Surman, on baritone, floats above and below his bandmates playing a lyric that embraces noir cinema, ambient electronics (courtesy of Luft's rainbow palette of sounds), and lithe, nearly contemplative post-bop. A mysterious root theme foreshadows the limber baritone-and-guitar interplay on "Graviola." "Flower in Aspic" is a halting ballad carried by a conversation between vibes, soprano and guitar in a ballad. The band enters "Around the Edges" with Waring, Luft, and the ever-imaginative Strønen, establishing a spectral drone from chord voicings, low-register mallet invention on vibes, and a broken, unfixed beat. Surman's baritone centers itself on that pillow of sound then investigates it in his solo. Luft introduces "Onich Ceilidh" with probing guitar lines that open a harmonic door for Surman's soprano atop a gorgeous, waltz-like swing from the ever-dazzling Waring (his solo here is a set highlight) and Strønen before Surman carries it out with a rhythmic statement on baritone. "Bitter Aloe" is a subtle yet canny post-bop improvisation. On closer "Hawksmoor," Surman's bass clarinet duets with Strønen in a lyric melody reminiscent of the Jimmy Giuffre Trio. Halfway through, Waring joins the vamp, then solos, before entering intricate dialogue with Surman. They introduce Luft, whose airy chords and sonics buoy the drummer in framing a fingerpopping frontline conversation. Words Unspoken erases boundaries between styles and genres, and this quartet's members listen so closely, they don't overshadow or step on one another -- they're always conscious of their individual places inside the group. The control, drama, and intimacy Surman supplies on this album sets it alongside his best recordings on the shelf. ~ Thom Jurek

Product Details

Release Date: 03/29/2024
Label: Ecm
UPC: 0602458620351
Rank: 144518


  1. Pebble Dance
  2. Words Unspoken
  3. Graviola
  4. Flower in Aspic
  5. Precipice
  6. Around the Edges
  7. Onich Ceilidh
  8. Belay That
  9. Bitter Aloe
  10. Hawksmoor

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