John Surman: Tales Of The Algonquin (1971) Deram

More British Progressive Modern Jazz from the early 1970s, as always, original first pressing.

Selection: The Dandelion  (incorrectly listed on the back cover as “We’ll Make It”)

.  .  .

Track List

A1 With Terry’s Help 5:56
A2 The Dandelion  6:10                                                                                         A3 We’ll Make It 6:21 
A4 The Picture Tree 5:47

B Tales of the Algonquin 23:15
1. The Purple Swan
2. Shingebis and the North Wind
3 The Adventures of Manabrush
4. The White Water Lily
5. Wihio the Wanderer


Fifteen in the ensemble.: Martin Drover, trumpet, flugelhorn; Kenny Wheeler, trumpet, flugelhorn; Harry Beckett, trumpet, flugelhorn; Malcolm Griffiths, trombone; Ed Harvey, trombone; Danny Almark,  trombone; Mike Osborne, alto saxophone, clarinet; Stan Sulzmann, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute; Alan Skidmore, tenor saxophone, flute, alto flute; John Warren, baritone saxophone, flute, soprano saxophone; John Taylor, piano; Harry Miller, bass; Barre Phillips, bass; Alan Jackson, drums; Stu Martin, drums

Recorded  in  April 1971, uncredited, but likely Tangerine Studios, Kingsland Rd., Hackney., where Surman recorded many other sessions around this time. Studio active only late 60s to mid 70s, labels included recording for Deram, Transatlantic, and Dawn (Surman’s The Trio recordings); roster of progressive jazz, rock and blues, chief engineer Robin Sylvester.


Surman’s Algonquin was awarded a coveted “crown” entry in Richard Cook & Brian Morton’s Penguin Guide To Jazz Recordings.

John Kelman in his All About Jazz review: “The music ranges from brashly swinging full-section charts to the more delicately balladic. Despite the scripting inherent in this kind of large ensemble work, there’s a refreshing looseness and sense of unfettered exploration throughout.”

Jazz Journal, 1971 release, B. McR review written from a 1971 jazz perspective, not with fifty years hindsight. 

British jazz writer and critic, our version of Whitney Balliett, John Fordham – review (2005) 

“Tales of the Algonquin is far from just a jazz buff’s album; it has a powerful combination of muscular themes, vivid section writing and creative soloing from UK stars including trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, saxophonist Mike Osborne and a full-on Surman himself. Surman’s American partners in his short-lived but ferocious free-jazz ensemble of the time, called the Trio, also make a memorable appearance. The title track is a suite in five parts, and there are four other Warren originals.

Surman’s soprano trills over the dramatic rumble of the overture to With Terry’s Help before the main theme breaks out in a tail-chasing sequence of horn parts. The saxophonist wails on over boiling drumming, in the strongly Coltrane-esque manner that characterised his playing at the time.

But it’s John Taylor’s poetic piano solo – plus the following plaintively expressive but eventually fiercely intense alto break from Osborne over the whistling flutes and sinewy bass on The Dandelion that provide one of the disc’s standout episodes.

Wheeler’s pure-toned and surefooted fast trumpet improvisation on We’ll Make It and The Picture Tree isn’t far behind. Beckett’s spinning ascents, whoops and soft squeals contrast with an artillery barrage of drums.

Barre Phillips, an eloquent free-jazz bassist as well as a formidable time player, introduces a throwback to the feel of the Surman/Phillips/Martin trio on The Adventures of Manabush, setting up a scalding groove for the horns to cruise on before Surman takes off on a typically throaty and windswept baritone sax solo. Warren’s writing for the brass and reeds on the storm-tossed Wihio the Wanderer establishes grippingly urgent tensions. 

This is a significant UK jazz document – but it’s a richly colourful piece of large-scale jazz-making first and foremost.”

LJC thinks aloud:

Algonquin is 70’s progressive big band, the soloists pitted against the choregraphed ensemble, which takes a little getting used to after a decade of listening to small-group improvisation, or progressive small band. Despite being a native, I’m relatively new to this music, but I find there is plenty of variety and virtuosity on display. I’m warming to Surman’s spirited soprano, John Taylor’s “poetic” piano (a nice Fordham description), Malcolm Griffiths plaintive trombone, Harry Beckett’s fluttering trumpet. Each has their own voice, of standing in their own right. And whatever the soloists impart, the spirit of Coltrane is ever present. Once heard, could never be unheard.

The Dandelion is indeed a beautiful piece, spacious, with a filmic quality. Mike Osborne’s extended alto solo commands attention as it rides over a straining woodwind backcloth, not modal but more structured. Taylors angular piano lines set out new territory. If you want a blind listening test, ask a friend which American jazz players they can hear here?  (Canadian doesn’t count) Take your time…no hurry…

Is this Progressive Jazz? The term “progressive jazz” was coined by Stan Kenton in the late 1940’s, to badge his loud and brassy big band format. Not being my thing, I had to sample a bit to find out what was behind this chosen label “progressive jazz”.

Well, it’s loud and brassy big band alright, less smooth and syncopated than its dance-music ballroom predecessor, but it is progressive only in the sense of being the next iteration of progress.

With the passing of time, Stan Kenton’s big  band would itself become a conventional big band format, against which others would push further still, testing the boundaries with dissonance, atonality, and counter-measures, which is where I think  Algonquin finds its place: still big band, but further along the road of “progressiveness”, if there’s such a word, moving forward in the footsteps of Gill Evans and George Russell, but in fresh directions.

Now is a good time to dig into this British iteration of progressive jazz, before someone comes along with a new label, post-progressive jazz  or whatever. You can’t stop progress, though it is not always for the better. 

Vinyl:  Deram SML 1904 stereo UK original

Solid Decca pressing. Original vinyl, reissued only on CD (Decca 1998 and Vocalion 2005) without any liner notes or insert, so information about the session has been in short supply. Possible future reissue from Decca’s Modern Britain series.

Despite receiving much critical acclaim, this 50-year old vinyl was near mint. The absence of spindle marks tells another Tale of the Algonquin. The original owner was none too keen on it, it looks almost unplayed. The launch price in 1971 was £2:09 (that’s £25 in today’s money), the back cover has a £1.50 sticker, not selling, so marked down to £1, likely sold soon after.  The continued absence of spindle marks suggests the second owner didn’t like it much either, which suggests British progressive jazz was not especially popular at the time, even with the few people who bought it. 

 Fifty years followed, in which seemingly no-one played it. It took five decades to clear the fog of passing music fashion to be reveal its merit.  It took me about five seconds to decide to buy it, worry about whether I like it later, not unlike it’s previous owners. However unlike them, I am liking it.

Art Director, my office now, the picture caption is John Surman/ John Warren, the picture is John Warren/ John Surman., the other way around. The track listing for Side 1 on the cover transposes The Dandelion with We’ll Make It. Elementary mistakes. Before I let you go, who are you related to who? Umm no fine really, sorry to have interrupted your lunch, say hi to your dad from me. 

Harry’s Place

Jazz Paparazzi Harry M. was there, generously shares pictures of musicians here.

Alan Skidmore. Ronnie Scotts Club 1969

Harry Beckett, 100Club, Oxford St.,London, 1971KennyWheeler,  JazzExpo1969; Stan Sulzman,  Antibes1969

All photos copyright Harry M

Collector’s Corner: Cultural Notes (1965-75)

The Algonquin of the album title were native north American and indigenous people of eastern Canada, presumed custodians of primitive wisdom, authentic “original first pressing” status in American anthropology. A  suitably obscure and distant subject for a British progressive jazz album in the early 1970s.

Not wholly obscure however, as in those days the British were well versed in Native American culture, thanks to the Hollywood television entertainment industry, shot – both photographically and morally – in black and white.

In between Top of The Pops and Jazz Club, British ’60s TV offered wall-to-wall westerns: Wagon Train, Bronco, Cheyenne, Sugarfoot, Rawhide, Bonanza, The Lone Ranger, Laramie, The Range Rider, Boots and Saddles, Have Gun Will Travel, Wells Fargo (add more if you can). All disappeared without trace when the subject became unfashionable, then later became unacceptable.

Still, we all grew up with it, it did us little harm, and we got the lingo: Kemosabe, LJC speak with forked tongue. No, Tonto, that’s called English..

The Lone Ranger, which aired 1949 to 1957, featured Canadian actor Jay Silverheels as Tonto. Silverheels, incidentally, was of Mohawk origin, not Algonquin, though the two tribal groups shared common territory.  (Note: this is not a Guide to the First Nations of Canada – for which you can consult a more authoritative source, here)

The main Algonquin connection and source of inspiration for the album title was that Surman’s co -leader and composer, John Warren, was Canadian, born in Montreal, Quebec, who would be well familiar with Algonquin history. The Algonquin tribe’s claim to indigenous land title includes the nation’s capital, Ottawa, which not surprisingly remains unresolved: OK paleface, hand over your Capital. Thereby hangs another Tale of The Algonquin. Just-in-from-Canada says: Would you consider a cash offer? Not enough? I can always print more…

LJC Breaking News

New Arrivals: Tone Poet , Sonny Clark – My Conception, arrived at LJC yesterday, review to follow, first impressions, fabulous! Byrd and Mobley, yes, one of the best TPs yet. Don’t hesitate.

Final Curtain: Jazz Keeps You Young, But Not Forever™, pat pending:  Peter Ind, British bassist of the  golden age 50’s New York scene, collaborator with Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz, and many others, lights extinguished, age 93. Guardian obituary well worth a read.



10 thoughts on “John Surman: Tales Of The Algonquin (1971) Deram

  1. Another one that I have only in the 2005 CD reissue and consequently have never really listened to. I’m hoping for a Decca reissue in the current series.

    The reversed/incorrect photo caption on the reverse: I think, to be strictly accurate, it isn’t really a photo caption, it’s simply a repeat of the writing/composition credit carried over from the front… And therefore perhaps the art director is not entirely at fault, hmm? (No, no relation, by the way.)


  2. Barry McRae was a very perceptive critic on modern jazz but surely the review comes from Jazz Journal

    LJC: Thanks for the correction, sounds right, I made it up as I didn’t note down the source at the time. Danger of winging it, someone will always call you out.


  3. Looks like a good album – certainly everyone is on it. Not that familiar with Warren ,except that he composed Old San Juan , a great track on the Deram Nova ,”Once Upon a Time “ album by Alan Skidmore.

    Strangely enough, I couldn’t sleep one night last week and tried to list these early 60s western tv series ! Add “ Have Gun will Travel” and “ Wells Fargo”


  4. At first I was stunned to see that Morton and Cook awarded this a “coveted crown” but then checked back to see what this actually meant – “…records we feel a special admiration or affection for: a purely personal choice….It is by no means something of the order of an “All-time top 100, or whatever; more a personal indulgence.” So, less surprised, yet once again makes me perhaps a tad less confident in the duo’s judgement, and in whether they actually listened to the literally thousands of albums they rendered judgement on.
    About the album they wrote, “”Tales of the Algonquin” is a masterpiece, conceived on a grand scale, meticulously executed and marked by superb soloing…Tales is a record that has enjoyed almost legendary status among British jazz fans.” It has?
    The reader’s comment with an explanation of the North American tribal divisions was much appreciated; the Lone Ranger et al. humor, less so.


      • It’s a good album. I like it. I guess I just thought Morton and Cook’s praise was excessive. I guess I was just being snarky. I’m sorry.

        snarky – adjective
        – critical or mocking in an indirect or sarcastic way.
        “snarky remarks”
        – bad-tempered or irritable.
        “Bobby’s always a bit snarky before his nap”


        • Ah… well they can be a bit over the top sometimes, I like the passion. I love their guide. The first edition was published just as I was getting into jazz, and I bought every edition except one since, so it’s an old friend… not to say I always like what they do. I wonder if I’d ever have got into early jazz like Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong’s Hot 5s and 7s if it hadn’t been for their recommendations (forever grateful).

          I think I’ll buy Algonquin unheard when/if it is reissued in the latest Decca series… a rare experience these days.


  5. Ummm – not a comment on the music (which you covered quite well), but the Mohawk were part of the 6-tribe Iroquois Nation and lived originally in east-central New Your State, along the eponymous Mohawk River. After the American Revolution, many of the Mohawk, who sided with the British, moved to eastern Ontario – not quite north of Montreal, but close, at least.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s