‘On Loan With Gratitude’ is almost of symphonic proportions.

Jazz In Britain JIB-48-S-CD

Stan Sulzmann (Saxes and Flutes); John Taylor (Keyboard and EMS synth); Ron Mathewson (Bass and bass guitar); Tony Levin (Drums and percussion); Chris Laurence Bass (Disc 2 track 5 only)

My first sight of Stan Sulzmann was seeing him at the Roundhouse in 1983 with Gil Evans as Stan sat alongside Don Weller, John Surman and Chris Hunter. Something of Gil Evans seems to have appealed to Sulzmann before he was fortunate enough to have worked with the great man. The gentle, introspective and melancholic nature of Evans permeates some of the music on this album. The presence of John Taylor, a man not noted for extravagant pianistic displays, obviously influenced the overall character of the music.

In the sixties, Jeff Clyne, probably tongue in cheek, said, ‘There’s only one way to play jazz: like the Americans’. This Sulzmann group developed European ways. Tony Levin with Tubby Hayes has produced fiery percussive fusillades but here, mostly, he is restrained. Ron Mathewson’s elasticity and depth underpins all the music. He was intuitive and unorthodox. Just listen to him behind John Taylor on ‘Flying Scots’: driving and never obvious. John Taylor’s solo on ‘When All Else Fails’ is a thing of beauty. This is music that owes a debt to the great innovators of the 1960’s. The fluidity and the nuanced harmonic transitions that Taylor employs delight as well as intrigue. The road to ECM was clear in 1977.

‘On Loan With Gratitude’ was Sulzmanns’s first vinyl record as leader. Graham Collier had started the Mosaic label and invited Stan to record. The group stayed together for about ten years and broadcast regularly on the BBC jazz slots. The present offering is the original ‘On Loan With Gratitude’ plus broadcast and live tracks.

‘On Loan With Gratitude’ is almost of symphonic proportions in its challenge . There are two versions on the album, both over twenty minutes in length. They generate interesting comparisons, especially between Mathewson and Laurence on bass. Both versions start like latter day Gil Evans:: mysterious, probing, yearning with rumbling, questing soprano over synth. The structure leaves space for Mathewson’s thoughtful spacious solo and Levin’s equally considered work. John Taylor’s melodic fragments coalesce into a solo of solemn beauty but his real music is supporting Salzmann’s soprano, tenor or flute playing. The whole piece is a quiet tour-de-force.

The album notes are by Liam Noble who states ‘It doesn’t feel right to simply give a blow-by- blow account of what happens in these pieces: if we were playing hide and seek, I wouldn’t be telling you where everyone is….. He is probably right. You will not be able to read Liam’s notes until you have bought album and have plucked them from the well-designed sleeve. But you will be reading these words before you buy the album and you will want to know whether you should go ahead to purchase.

Difficult to pigeonhole Stan Sulzmann, why try? Liam Noble in desperation mentions Henderson, Coltrane, Shorter, Hawkins, Sanders. He doesn’t mention Mobley or Rivers, but he might well have done. Searching for influences to describe an individual is a game to short circuit thinking. The overriding influence is Stan’s love of saxophones. He loves them all and he loves flutes and that is what comes across.