Could he be the most unassuming man in jazz? Saxophonist John Surman is in with a fair chance.
Born in Devon, he first came to prominence playing just about every kind of modern jazz there was in the 1960s, from Mike Westbrook to Humph. Always searching – and often finding, too – he settled into the ECM label in the late 70s and has been there ever since, doing interesting things with electronics, with wind choirs and voice choirs and a lot else besides.
For Friday’s Birmingham Jazz gig at the CBSO Centre, he is back with old friends (they go back the ’60s together) and in a relatively conventional jazz quartet.
John Taylor is on piano, Chris Laurence on bass and John Marshall on drums – the band whose performance at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival a few years back ranks as one of my all-time favourites.
Not only are all these musicians at the height of their powers, they bring with them a combined depth of knowledge and awareness of jazz over the last 40 years that makes this a kind of jazz brains trust.
And on top of that is the unabashed joy they show to be in one another’s company.
It doesn’t get much better than this – not that you’ll know it from Surman’s modest acknowledgement of the applause.
The John Surman Quartet play the CBSO Centre on Friday at 8pm. Tickets #12 (#7.50) from 0121 767 4050, from the Symphony Hall box office or from their website.
On Saturday there’s a choice. Go for the rough reality of the Chris Bowden Band in the intimate confines of Taylor John’s House, Coventry Canal Basin, or take the smooth option with Randy Crawford and the Joe Sample Trio in Symphony Hall.
Both have many things to recommend them. The case for Bowden includes the fact that he is one of the most exciting saxophonists in the country today and that he makes music that intrigues the jazz listener at the same time as it excites the club dancer.
The defence for the Crawford/ Sample crew could argue that 1970s jazz lite is back in fashion and that when Randy sings One Day I’ll Fly Away or gets gritty on Street Life the world seems a far shinier place. Sample has more quiet funk in his little finger than most pianists with two hands.
Chris is at 9pm and costs #6 online from ticketsattinangel.co.uk; Randy and Joe are at 7.30pm, tickets from #25 and available from the Symphony Hall box office.
Other gigs of note this week:
Thursday: World music that sums up modern Spain from Ojos de Brujo at Warwick Arts on Thursday from 8pm. Tickets #17.50 online from warwickartscentre.co.uk or call 024 7652 4524.
Friday: Leader of the Birmingham Conservatoire’s jazz course, Jeremy Price puts his trombone where his mouth is for the Rush Hour Blues free commuter gig at the Symphony Hall bar from 5.30pm.
Sunday: Man of many parts, saxophonist Gilad Atzmon reinvents himself as Artie Fishel and brings an Eastern European slant to jazz. This is a Birmingham Jazz gig at the Glee Club, tickets are #10 (#7) and it starts at 8.30pm.
Sunday: There’s a reed war at the Live Box, the regular blowing session at the Drum. American saxophonist Patrick Cornelius brings in a crack band spanning the Atlantic, and including ace pianist Andrew McCormack as well as Soweto Kinch’s drummer Troy Miller. He’s up against? Well, Soweto himself, of course. Let the alto battle commence at 7.45pm.
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