Every year we get newly discovered classics or hidden gems from artists, and while very often these are out-takes, cutting room floor scraps, and other ‘cash grab’ items … every now and then there is a real gem. ‘Looking For The Next One’ from the saxophone trio of John Surman, Mike Osborne, Alan Skidmore is one such gem.
S.O.S. were one of the great but under-documented ensembles in 70s British jazz. Consisting of three genuine superstars of the ‘Brit-jazz scene': MIKE OSBORNE, ALAN SKIDMORE and JOHN SURMAN, the group formed in April 1973, and lasted until the end of 1976.
Although all three men were saxophonists and the band is commonly thought of as a ‘saxophone trio’, they were much more than that, as this period found John Surman experimenting with synthesizers, sequencers and keyboards, while Alan Skidmore was a very able drummer; anyone expecting three saxes at once at all times will be very surprised when they hear the heavy synthesizer parts, reminiscent of Tangerine Dream, mixed with drums and sax parts; trad jazz this is not!
The group toured widely and had a large body of work to draw from, but only released one album during their lifetime. Looking For The Next One, which is made up of previously unissued studio and live recordings, greatly expands upon their legacy.
I remember first hearing the World Saxophone Quartet while in high school on the WGBH Boston show ‘Eric In The Evening’. The ability of four people playing variations of the same instrument to create a full harmonic and rhythmic structure was a paradigm shift for me. To that point my understanding was that you needed drums for rhythm, bass for harmonic underpinning, a guitar or piano to set the full harmonic structure, and a guitar or horns as the lead instrument (or vocalist) to deliver the melody.
Of course, what WSQ did was really not that much different from a barbershop quartet or even a string quartet in many ways, but it opened me up to many new and unique instrument combinations. With this album John Surman, Mike Osborne, and Alan Skidmore opened up some entirely new sonic possibilities, because they were a saxophone trio in many ways, but also not.
The core trio are all saxophone players, so you have a sax-centric mix. But there are loads of synthesizers and occasional drums to go along with the saxophone trio. The added instruments and effects create a larger sound that actually ‘normalizes’ the ensemble – the majority of what is going on is created by three sax players, but you really never think of it as anything less than a full ensemble.
The start of ‘News’ is a funky angular synth appegiator run that would not have been out of place on ‘Who’s Next’ or ‘Brain Salad Surgery’, but quickly we get the saxophonists powering in on top, then playing in unison, then we have echo effects and a distorted power-wah effect on the reflected melody. It is intense, cerebral, funky, challenging … and in less than 3 minutes it is done.
Most of the songs are much longer and more involved. Rashied is an incredible piece of music created with only three saxophones. The title track is again introduced with a rambling synth arpeggio and features drums and piano; COuntry Dance is another sax trio song that is striking in the number of themes it evokes and employs. Each track offers something different and compelling.
After getting through a huge amount of studio material, we get the treat of a set of live music by the trio. The recording is from the July 1974 Balver Höhle Jazz Festival, features a huge and sprawling set that allows the trio to stretch out even further, and also features keyboards and drums. Many themes are familiar from the studio recording, but they also show how much synergy there is between the artists as there is interplay and improvisation and structure throughout.
My Favorite Song: “Looking For The Next One” – the song starts with sequenced synth lines which sets an infectious rhythm with enough non-harmonic modulation to keep it intriguing, then a drone synth and piano section feel like a new song before the trio joins in forming a gorgeous chorus. Of course things soon let loose, and the mix of structure and chaos is hypnotic.
Would I recommend?: Absolutely! Let me be clear again – this is not a recording for most people, as the lack of structure and extensive free-jazz exploration make for a challenging listen. But if you have an adventurous ear you will find a huge set of music that is challenging and rewarding, minimal yet dense, and always thrilling and enjoyable. It is a reminder that great music is timeless – nearly 40 year after it was recorded, this album is just a stunning revelation.
Where to buy: $27.99 from iTunes
Here is the song Country Dance:
Source: Publisher provided download code