In the 28 years since he left the West Country to make his name in London, Surman has appeared in a variety of playing contexts, from solo performances to the big bands of John Warren and Mike Westbrook, by way of the unforgettable early-Seventies trio with the Americans Barre Phillips and Stu Martin, an all-star late-Eighties quartet with Paul Bley, Bill Frisell and Paul Motian, and a marvellous late-Sixties octet featuring the cream of a gifted generation of British musicians, such as the altoist MikeOsborne and the trombonist Malcolm Griffiths. The solo concerts and albums probably represent his most personal and original music, but they exclude his marvellous gift for group interplay. For the recording of Stranger Than Fiction (ECM), released thisyear, Surman reconvened a quartet from old days in London, consisting of the pianist John Taylor, the bassist Chris Laurence and the drummer John Marshall. Together they created chamber jazz of transparent beauty and awesome poise, re-emphasising both the fertility of Surman's improvising and his ability to compose just enough material to inspire but not so much that it obstructs the free passage of thought.
All British jazz musicians, even one as internationally acclaimed as Surman, go without much honour at home. John Taylor is another whose reputation is higher abroad, and in addition to his work with Surman, another ECM album, Peter Erskine's Time Being,found him participating in piano-trio music of a quality not heard since the death of Bill Evans.
Back in the music's homeland, Wynton Marsalis continued to ask awkward questions about the continuing relevance of jazz. The bassist Charlie Haden led a superlative quartet dedicated to evoking the spirit of Raymond Chandler's Hollywood, released the first in a series of archive CDs featuring his long-time collaborators Don Cherry and the late Ed Blackwell, and ended the year helping Bill Frisell to rehabilitate the career of Ginger Baker in an unexpected album called Going Back Home, which made more real music in 45 minutes than Cream managed in their entire existence.
Previous winners: 1991 Miles Davis; 1992 Tony Williams; 1993 Us 3.Reuse content