Recorded on October 7th, 1969, and previously unreleased until today, sax maestro John Surman's Way Back When is another strong release from the purveyors of avant-prog and jazz, Cuneiform Records. Very much a product of its time, Way Back When is a sax and electric piano lovers dream, and something that should surely appeal to fans of Nucleus, Soft Machine, and Miles Davis. Surman is joined here by John Taylor on electric piano, Brian Odgers on bass, Mike Osborne on alto sax, and none other than the legendary John Marshall on drums, who had yet to join Ian Carr's Nucleus or the Soft Machine. Marshall's playing here is nimble and exciting, as he equally shares the spotlight with the soaring sax of Surman and the organic keyboard work of Taylor.
The opening four part tour-de-force "Way Back When" is fusion gem, with steam rolling rhythms from Marshall & Odgers while Surman squeals and squonks alongside the dreamy electric piano of Taylor. At just under 20 minutes long, this piece goes through all sorts of tempo and mood changes, from fast and furious to gentle and serene. Taylor lays down some gorgeous solos on Part 3 of this piece, recalling the best of Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, and Joe Zawinul. The near 14-minute "Owlshead" sees Surman and Osborne working together for the first time on the album, and the two combine for some fat reed layers undermined by jazzy rhythms and atmospheric touches from Taylor. Towards the middle section the light mood gives way to more funky beats and furious sax solos from both Surman and Osborne. The CD ends with the pulsating yet symphonic jazz sounds of "Out and About", a real classy piece that mixes classic be-bop with British jazz quite nicely. Taylor comps some dissonant chords for both Surman and Osborne to solo over, while Marshall just flails away on the drum kit like a man possessed. Marvelous stuff!
OK, I'm gushing a little, but this is seriously cool stuff. Kudos to Cuneiform for unearthing this long lost nugget of superb British jazz-rock. Pick one of these up, and be sure to tell your friends!
1) Way Back When-Part 1 (7:30)
2) Part 2 (5:38)
3) Part 3 (4:49)
4) Part 4 (3:40)
5) Owlshead (13:54)
6) Out and About (8:20)