John Surman's Brewster's Rooster

John Surman, a saxophonist of jazz, folk, church, and avant-garde influences, has been a longtime denizen in the ECM stable without gaining much renown. When he recently played at a New York club, leading a rhythm section of guitarist John Abercrombie, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Jack DeJohnette, he acknowledged to the crowd that he was the only player who needed introducing.

The same band plays on Surman’s latest CD, Brewster’s Rooster, and it’s the ensemble mix that makes it such a diverting pleasure. On the album’s best tracks, including the opener, “Slanted Sky,” Surman (on soprano sax) and Abercrombie exchange an engaging melody of such wispy moodiness, it almost borders on New Age, except that Gress takes sharp corners in his bass walks, highlighting the slight strands of dissonance while anchoring the beat, and DeJohnette propels things forward with African rhythms in double or triple time.

The contrasts fly out at crisscrossing angles, yet they’re gripped and contained by some force of gravity, which stems entirely (and somewhat mysteriously) by the musicians’ mastery at interplay.

The only weak tracks are those two or three (out of nine) where Surman plunges into the fray, rather than tracing orbits around it; they’re not bad, just routine.

The sound, by Joe Ferla, one of the great jazz recording engineers, is exquisite and palpable.

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