John Surman: Words Unspoken at the RNCM

Johnny James, Managing Editor
quartet playing with bass clarinet, marimba, electric guitar, and drumkit
Erik Fulgseth

John Surman: Words Unspoken at Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), Manchester 25 May 2024 Tickets from £24.00 — Book now

As part of this year’s 10-day manchester jazz festival, the RNCM is hosting an event with the lauded British saxophonist and composer, John Surman. Over a prolific 60 year career, Surman has recorded solo with synthesisers, in duos with church organ and voice, in trios with saxophones and drums. There have been albums with choirs, with string quartets, brass bands, big bands… The list goes on.

Surman’s ongoing adventures in jazz are astonishingly varied, but at the heart of them all is a style that is consistently, brilliantly, his own – that deep, throaty baritone sax calling with warmth and authority, that lightly stepping soprano dancing to some folk-inspired melody or spitting like a snake, that dark, brooding bass clarinet from which few others, if any, can draw such tender emotion.

“In his ability to blend some of the methods and textures of modern jazz with a wholly English sensibility, Surman is a true original”, The Times said of him not so long ago.

Surman’s newest project, Words Unspoken, marks his 80th birthday, and continues the conversations that started with the music for his trio Invisible Threads in 2019. Words Unspoken alludes to the instant musical understanding found by the members of this nimble quartet assembled by Surman, featuring British rising star Rob Luft (guitar), Oslo-based American vibraphonist Rob Waring and celebrated Norwegian drummer Thomas Strønen.

The album, released on prestigious European label ECM back in February, is a thing of enchanting beauty – a typically evocative, often ethereal and profoundly English record that showcases the outstanding improvisational prowess of all band members. But it’s Surman, utterly undimmed by the years, who’s the star. His performances on the bass clarinet (a relatively rare beast in jazz), baritone and soprano sax are as stunning as ever, filled with the spirit of adventure that has defined his career.

John Surman: Words Unspoken at Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), Manchester 25 May 2024 Tickets from £24.00 Book now

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