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Way Back When

by John Surman

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John Cratchley
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John Cratchley This never saw the light of day way back in 1969…I remember seeing John Surman play many times in that period in many configurations…but perhaps not like this!
It’s a wonderful find (it’s been in the Cuneiform catalogue for a good while now) but I reckon it’s worth bringing it to the fore again, especially in light of the recent Soft Machine release.
Carsten Pieper
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Carsten Pieper Long- lost session lead by baritone/soprano saxophonist John Surman that might be misjudged as a kind of mellow rip-off of Miles' Bitches Brew - if that milestone would have been released at the time of this interesting recording ;-)
And please take "kind of mellow" with a grain of salt - this recording has enough bite!
John Surman might be better known for the baritone but I love his soprano playing (prominently featured here) as well. Favorite track: Way Back When - Part 2.
Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan An excellent album, and a fascinating look at early British fusion. No John Surman fan should miss it.
PDD thumbnail
PDD As someone who only knew Surman's later work. this is a revelation. Favorite track: Out and About.
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Owlshead 13:56


This is a truly stupendous archival find, with broad appeal to both jazz and early fusion fans. This never before released album was recorded on October 7th, 1969 by John Surman and British jazz superstars. It is a mix between the vibrancy of late 60's uk jazz and spacey early electric jazz/rock ala "In A Silent Way"; listening to this album, you can hear that the fusion explosion is on the cusp of happening. Soprano/baritone saxophonist John Surman is one of the UK's best known jazzmen, having released 8 albums under his own name between 1968 - 1974 for mainstream labels such as Deram and Island. He was a member of John McLaughlin's final UK-based group, recording John's famous first solo album, Extrapolation with him in 1969, six months before recording Way Back When. Since the late 1970's, he has mostly recorded for the ECM label, recording dozens of albums as either the leader or as a sideman.

"In mid-October, 1969, I left the UK to meet up with bassist Barre Phillips and drummer Stu Martin to begin working with them as "The Trio". Before I left however, a few close friends and I held a sort of 'farewell' session in Tangerine Studios in London. On hand were drummer John Marshall, electric pianist John Taylor and Brian Odgers on bass guitar - later Mike Osborne appeared with his alto and joined us. Shortly after I left England, the studios closed down and, although a few test pressings were made, the original tapes got lost in the general confusion. Much to my surprise the masters had survived and were uncovered in 2003.

As far as I can remember, there was only time enough to do a fairly 'rough' mix on the day, but we have resisted the temptation to reedit and remix the session, so what you are hearing accurately reflects the sound of the sixties. This is pretty much 'music in the raw' - but it certainly offers a genuine insight into some of the musical directions that were being explored at the end of that 'swinging' decade in the UK." – John Surman

"... an important set in the history of fusion, showing that not only the biggest names were exploring the new music in 1969." – All Music


released May 10, 2005

John Surman : baritone and soprano saxes
John Taylor : electric piano
Brian Odgers : electric bass
John Marshall : drums
Mike Osborne : alto sax (Owlshead and Out And About)

Recorded at Tangerine Studios, London, England on October 7th, 1969.
Recording Engineer : Robin Sylvester
Executive Producer : Peter Eden

Thank you to John Marshall and John Surman for their help.


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Cuneiform Records Washington, D.C.

Cuneiform Records is an independent record label releasing adventurous, boundary-bursting music by artists from around the world.

Founded in 1984.
Based in Washington D.C.

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