John Surman - Invisible Threads

Label: ECM, 2018

Lineup - John Surman: soprano and baritone saxophones, bass clarinet; Nelson Ayres: piano; Rob Waring: vibraphone and marimba.


British multi-reedist John Surman continues to touch hearts, sounding miraculously good on his new ECM outing, Invisible Threads. His intercontinental new trio features Brazilian pianist Nelson Ayres and American vibraphonist Rob Waring, who occasionally switches to marimba on a few tracks. The pair often provides the underpinnings for stellar improvised lines developed by the saxophonist, who shows great presence. However, they are not limited to that function, also soloing within the reflective spirit that this music requires and providing extra flexibility through texture.

The shimmering contemplation of “At First Sight”, the opening track, conveys a sublime pleasure that stems from listening to radiant soprano sounds floating on top of melancholic harmonic fluxes. Despite unhurried, the chord progressions are naturally less lingering when compared with the minimal synth changes in the form of loops made by Surman on his previous solo records. That sense of flowing motion is reinforced on “Autumn Nocturne”, an amiable classical tune fueled by crystalline folk delineations and where the threesome finds space to create spontaneously.

Within the Clouds” starts with penetrating phrases emanated from the bass clarinet, which quickly takes me out of the solid ground to a sky freckled with stars. The beautiful buzzing sounds created by Surman over an enchanting aura of piano and vibraphone help us reach that ecstatic momentum that precipitates us into the fluffy, misty textures of a cloud. The trio describes this concentration of suspended particles with perplexing infatuation and admiration. The peaceful folk dance “Byndweed” passes that strange sensation it could also be turned into a pop song, differing from “The Admiral” and “Pitanga Pitomba”, which I imagine describing a coastal landscape, from South America to Africa, with the marimba conferring them an exotic taste. The former incorporates a rubato introductory section with interlaced bass clarinet and marimba, before acquiring a soft ternary flow. The latter brings exciting variations in intensity, mood, and tempo.

The flair for ternary cadences continues with Ayres' “Summer Song”, an amusingly playful waltz with a classic Brazilian touch, reminiscing some of Chico Buarque’s compositions. Also the final track, “Invisible Threads”, is a jazz waltz with characteristics of an American jazz standard. It displays a precise melodic theme plus the delicate branching patterns of Surman’s baritone. The immense sounds of this instrument got me into another trance on “Concentric Circles”, where the placidness becomes slightly moody without ever entirely abandoning that initial state. It’s a great work by the lower vertices of the triangle, gracefully spreading crepuscular radiances of energy from below.

Expect rich, velvety textures with timbral abundance in an album that sometimes feels balmy and spacious, and other times, active and kindled.

        Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Track:
01 – At First Sight ► 03 – Within The Clouds ► 10 – Concentric Circles