John Surman

Proverbs and Songs (ECM).

If there is a tradition of England eccentricity in jazz this album represents it perfectly, with Devonian reeds maestro Surman revealed as the Stanley Spencer of contemporary improvisation. A recording of a concert in Salisbury cathedral from June 1996, with the BBC Radio 3 tapes remixed in Oslo for ECM by the label's boss Manfred Mitchell, Proverbs and Songs was commissioned by Salisbury Festival as a feature for the town's 80-strong amateur choir which declaims the forbidding Old Testament texts with great force, while Surman's solos on baritone and soprano saxes and bass clarinet create complex, interlocking, shapes recalling Indian ragas. Somewhere in between come the scary moans and groans of the cathedral organ, played superbly by John Taylor. The whole thing is beguilingly strange, intermittently wonderful, and as English as Marmite on toast.

Julian Arguelles

The Skull View (Badel)

Last year, saxophonist and composer Arguelles (he's from Birmingham, with Brazilian ancestry) released a solo album, Scapes, which used multiple- tracking to create a kind of film-music without a film: dense, atmospheric themes which suggested a sense of place but remained coolly abstract in form. It was one of the best British jazz albums ever, and offered lots of possibilities for further development. On the face of it, the new album neglects these in favour of more conservative jazz format of proper tunes played by a proper group (an octet, with Django Bates on tenor horn and Mike Walker on guitar), the music veering between a sort of cerebral fusion and more contemplative, delicately textured pieces. Some of the tunes deserve standard status.

Ed Jones

Out Here (ASC).

Jones has led one of the most exciting bands on the British club circuit for years, and his latest group is probably his best yet. Although Jones has a softer side and he can play a killer ballad, basically, he bops. Headlong, rushing solos, furious sax and trumpet exchanged, and hypnotic, jazz-trance rhythms are captured vividly, recorded direct to two-track DAT in a digital equivalent to the old Blue Note method.

Phil Johnson

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