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Issue: January 1995

tradition from young cats, experimentation from vets

warmdaddy in the garden of swing (Atlantic) –
A Wessell Anderson
Stranger Than Fiction (ECM)
John Surman Quartet

Two quartet recordings led by saxophonists, one a first effort and the other a product of veterans.

Until recently, Wessell Anderson was a mainstay of Wynton Marsalis's septet. Warmdaddy in the garden of swing reflects Marsalis's recent preoccupation with the blues — and to my taste Anderson is more successful than his mentor at conveying the richness-of-blues feeling. The tunes are well-crafted, the rhythm section (Eric Reed, piano; Ben Wolfe, bass; Donald Edwards, drums) is tight and the album is sequenced beautifully. Anderson's saxophone tone is warm and his solos are swinging, even if they aren't always earth-shatteringly original.

Two fine ballads, "Go Slow for Me" and "The Pumpkin's Lullabye," are featured and a grooving"Blues for the Road" wraps up the disc. Anderson has done an admirable job of honoring his teachers Alvin Batiste and Mr. Marsalis while beginning to stake out his own territory. This is excellent straight-ahead jazz.

John Surman and his British cohorts tell a different story. These veterans are more interested in that part of the jazz tradition that encourages experimentation and unpredictability. Not until the third cut, "Tess," do we even have the whole quartet playing together in a conventional way.

John Taylor (piano), Chris Laurence (bass) and John Marshall (drums) are equal partners with saxophonist/leader Surman in these explorations. Two of the pieces are group compositions. Taylor especially plays with a remarkable gracefulness and seems to have a powerful rapport with the leader.

Surman's tunes are complex but not thick, sweet but not sticky. His own playing is strong but not overbearing. Stranger Than Fiction is a pleasure to hear.

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