Eighteen years have flashed past since the recording of “A Biography of the Rev. Absalom Dawe” but the work created in the solo albums has continued to make itself felt in the interim. Not only have there been solo concerts each year, but pieces created for solo format have found their way into the repertoire of John’s work with the Trans4mation string quartet. The entire “Road to Saint Ives” album, meanwhile, was transcribed and arranged for orchestra by Howard Moody and has since been played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Bournemouth Sinfonietta and other ensembles. The electronic pulse patterns and textures of the Surman solo idiom have also became part of the fabric of the duo music with Jack DeJohnette as on the album “Invisible Nature” (released 2002).
Yet “Saltash Bells” also re-emphasizes the uniqueness of the solo work. Nowhere else do Surman’s reeds stretch out quite as sensuously, with melodies that continue to unfold all the way to the horizon, the title track implying the clear days when you can see, and hear, forever. In the multi-tracked and delay-system pieces Surman finds an accord with the ‘other players’ which no real-time acoustic group music could duplicate. There is beautiful playing on each of his saxophones and clarinets and – listen closely to the backgrounds of “Sailing Westwards” – some effective harmonica, too – a recorded debut for an instrument Surman has toyed with since his teens.