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John Surman - Words Unspoken (ECM)

12 February 2024

As he approaches his eightieth year on the planet, John Surman chooses not to look back, but to move ever forward. Backed by a quartet featuring vibraphonist Rob Waring, guitarist Rob Luft, and drummer Thomas Strønen, the British saxophonist composes a set of tunes with wide open spaces for Words Unspoken, the better to let his compadres express themselves. The circular melody of “Graviola” finds Surman’s horn occupying the bass range, ceding the melodies to Waring and Luft, who circle around each other like streamers in the wind. With minimalist harmonies and Surman’s slicing soprano sax, “Pebble Dance” evokes mysterious dreams just lucid enough to question reality. The players create a swirling fog as background for the leader’s searching saxophone in “Around the Edges;” the band then rallies around Luft’s probing lines for “Onich Ceilidh.” With Strønen, who tends to slip into the background even as he drives the songs, at his peak, Surman ends the record with the bluesy swing of “Hawksmoor,” just to prove he’s still mindful of jazz tradition. The jazz vet may be entering his ninth decade with Words Unspoken, but he’s clearly devoted to keeping the music fresh and forward-looking.