REVIEW: John Surman and the Bergen Big Band at Kings Place.(2014 EFG LJF)

Bergen Big Band


John Surman and the Bergen Big Band 
(Kings Place. 15th November 2014. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Patrick Hadfield)


The second evening of the EFG London Jazz Festival's celebration of John Surman's 70th birthday, this performance at Kings Place featured his work with big bands, as well as some of the major collaborations of his long career. Now resident in Norway, Surman was joined by the Bergen Big Band, his regular collaborator Karin Krog, and the arranger John Warren .

They got off to a forceful start. The stage of Kings Place Hall One, isn't large, and the twenty-odd musicians filled it. When they started blowing together, their sound filled the hall, too, almost forcing the audience back into our seats. Exhilarating, but it didn't leave much space for subtlety. Surman alternated between baritone and soprano saxophones, directing the band when not playing.

After a couple of numbers at full throttle, Surman was joined onstage by Krog. They dueted on In A Sentimental Mood, the band sitting out on a well earned, albeit early, rest. Krog's thin voice matched to Surman's rich baritone and was frankly spell binding: a sentimental mood indeed.

The band joined in on Angel Eyes . More restrained, they quietly added abstract textures behind Krog's vocal, turning what is usually played as a warm ballad into a powerful piece of Nordic noir. The quiet control shown by the band was very effective.

Krog continued with the more upbeat Don't Just Sing , with Surman soloing on soprano, and then it was back to Surman alone with the band, back at full pelt, with a lively Latin number.

After the interval, John Warren conducted Surman on soprano and the band in his arrangement of Windy Kent, and then they played Surman's Another Sky suite, which was released with the band in the autumn. These pieces were full of texture, the horns punctuating Surman's powerful solos as well as providing some fine work themselves. The arrangements were reminiscent of Maria Schneider at some times, and Colin Towns at others.

Surman continued with Thelonious Monk's Ruby My Dear, played beautifully as a slow ballad, which moved into full big band swing. Surman took a long, muscular solo on baritone, producing a powerful, almost choral sound. They closed the second set as they started the first, blowing a gale, with some great solos from each section.

Krog came back for a moving encore, JJ Johnson's Lament, played as a tribute to Olav Dale . Dale had led the Bergen Big Band and died earlier this month. His seat in the saxophones was taken by Martin Hathaway for the night. A gentle ballad, the arrangement had much of the character of a Gil Evans piece, full of soft dynamics. It must have been a moving coda for the musicians, remembering their former leader and colleague. A fitting end to an excellent evening.

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