John Surman, Nelson Ayres & Rob Waring – Invisible Threads (2018)

John Surman, Nelson Ayres & Rob Waring - Invisible Threads (2018)
Artist: John Surman, Nelson Ayres & Rob Waring
Album: Invisible Threads
Genre: Modern Creative, Chamber Jazz
Released: 2018
Quality: mp3, 320 kbps
At First Sight (02:33)
Autumn Nocturne (06:52)
Within the Clouds (04:48)
Byndweed (05:11)
On Still Waters (04:45)
Another Reflection (01:33)
The Admiral (05:15)
Pitanga Pitomba (07:06)
Summer Song (05:22)
Concentric Circles (06:32)
Stoke Damerel (03:37)
Invisible Threads (05:39)


The last time we heard from composer and multi-instrumentalist John Surman was on 2012’s Saltash Bells, a solo album that has been deemed one of his finest works. Invisible Threads, his first recording for the label in nearly six years, marks the debut of a new trio that includes Brazilian pianist/arranger and composer Nelson Ayres and classically trained mallet percussionist Rob Waring (who has lived in Norway since 1981). Surman (who also resides there) met Ayres while they were working on Marlui Miranda’s Fala de Bicho, Fala de Gente in Brazil. Afterward, they played some shows together. The pair went their separate ways with the full intention of collaborating. While composing ideas to send to the pianist, Surman kept hearing Waring’s playing in his head. He ended up sending sound files to him as well. This drummerless, bassless trio met a year later at Oslo’s Rainbow Studio with producer Manfred Eicher and finished recording in short order.

Invisible Threads boasts a dozen compositions — all but one by Surman and all but one of which were specifically written for this group. Surman plays baritone and soprano saxophones as well as bass clarinet, while Waring utilizes both vibes and marimba. Overall, this set feels like a suite. The playing, while not necessarily spare, is restrained, even at its most adventurous. Standouts here include the dirge-like “Byndweed” where the three-part dialogue highlights the harmonic undersides of its melody with Waring extrapolating on Ayres’ lines in spectral space. “Autumn Nocturne” commences as a series of sparse statements around a three-note motif that gradually unfolds into an elegant circular song. “On Still Waters” offers Ayres charting a minor mode while Waring accents and fills his elocutions with bell-like timbres as Surman flutters and trills, making the melody an improvisational base. Waring’s hushed yet sprightly solo intro to “Pitanga Pitomba” is at once playful and exploratory, emulating the micro-harmonics of the kalimba before Ayres enters with middle-register chord voicings and ostinato flourishes; Surman bridges them with his soprano horn and pushes the tune toward a knotty swing. Ayres’ tune “Summer Song” is svelte, graceful modern jazz with some lovely syncopations and contrapuntal interplay with Surman’s soprano horn. The opening moments of “Concentric Circles” sound like an improv, but Waring’s rhythmic tack points the way for Surman’s winding articulations and Ayres’ lithe, swooping, and ultimately interlocking dialogue. The closing title piece is the set’s apotheosis and high-water mark, finding its roots in post-bop and modalism yet looking over its shoulder to the influence of Jimmy Giuffre’s drummerless trio with Jim Hall. Waring’s tonality is rich and warm as it interacts with Ayres’ scalar interrogations to deliver a rounded, impeccable (irresistible even) swing as Surman solos on the fringes before moving inside the motivic development. As a whole, Invisible Threads is an approachable but major work of melodic improvisation and tonal inquiry.
Review by Thom Jurek