Transparent Horizons, the latest CD by Stich Wynston’s Modern Surfaces, starts with a rather unsubtle joke. Describing itself as "trio comprised of saxophone, guitar and drums" that "in the absence of the bass.... explore improvisation and sound," the band proceeds to start the first cut with an arco bass solo by acoustic bassist Jim Vivian before the expected exploration of improvisation and sound. No explanation - just the solo, then "Outward Bound" explodes with joyful noise, giving warning of what’s to follow. Saxist Mike Murley shows signs of Britain’s Evan Parker in his free blowing. Geoff Young seems to enjoy the work of that same island’s John McLaughlin, and Wynston himself leans toward Jack DeJohnette, playing in the drummer’s circular style.
"I Think This Party’s Over" is a spookier trip over similar ground with guest bassist Vivian holding things close to the ground with heavy bass tones.
Most of the titles on this album have their basis in science fiction, which strikes one as odd, given the straight ahead nature of the playing. Members of the quartet (let’s face it, there are four of them, not three) pair off at various points to explore themes both rhythmic and melodic. "Existential Departures" even displays good old harmony beautifully with all acoustic instrumentation. This is the longest cut on the CD, but the grace of the theme holds interest for the entire 11-minute tune.
Modern Surfaces seems to enjoy having one member solo while the rest of the band plays a theme, as on "Evanescence," which follows a quick piano solo by Wynston on "Spiral Nebula."
At no point does the energy flag on these works, despite huge dynamic and tempo changes. This shows that Wynston’s Modern Surfaces is a listening band, which is too rare amongst freer groups these days.
I didn’t get the joke about the bass, but maybe there’s no joke to get. Stich Wynston’s Modern Surfaces' newest work is seriously good.