Reviews
AllAboutJazz.com review
Review of "Transparent Horizons"
by Robert Calder
Dec 2005
AllAboutJazz.com review
Review of "Transparent Horizons"
by Paul Olsen
June 2005
ZEITGEIST review
Review of "Transparent Horizons"

One time Shuffle Demon, drummer Stich Wynston has got together with long time cohorts Mike Murley, Geoff Young and Jim Vivian for a daring and challenging set of modern jazz.

Avante garde to the max, this is not a record for the casual passer by, replete as it is with complex time changes, atonal soloing and possibly illegal rhythm patterns.

Although Stich is the bandmaster he doesn't let his Jack DeJohnette influenced percussion get in the way of the other performers. Well, OK, he does, sometimes, but, hey, it's his band! However, the saxophone work of Mike Murley is, at times, otherworldy. A description that is highly appropriate considering the highlights include “Existential Departure”, “Spiral Nebula” and my particular favourite “Intergalactic Spheres”.

Sometimes moody, always challenging, sometimes magnificent, this is a superb album of instrumentals which gives you something new with every listen.

by Zeitgeist, Edinburgh, UK.

JAZZ NOW review by Ken Egbert
Review of "Transparent Horizons"

Modern Surfaces comes to us with a certain amount of pedigree, as their guitarist is Geoff Young of Barry Romberg's very notable over - there - somewhere jam band, Random Access (reviewed by yours truly in the June 2005 Jazz Now and favorably, I might add).

Recorded and produced in Ontario (by Romberg), we begin "Outward Bound" with a lengthy bowed largo intro from Jim Vivian that draws us into a sound world parallel to, say, later Roscoe Mitchell's, and once Wynston kicks in with no small authority Young and saxophonist Mike Murley enter as well.

I like the spacing of the instruments here more than the music itself, but the writing and performance are not weak in any way. It's a sort of rotating shattered Y arrangement: Wynston occupies, amoebalike, the center of the tone field, Vivian bubbles and cooks beneath him in the mix, and the two melodic instruments splutter (Murley) and float (Young) around them.

Murley tests his tenor's capabilities sparingly with scraped pedal points of a kind, while Young prefers to let bowedlike chords drift across the improvising. Very strange. In but not in. Out but not out.

There was some sort of presagement to this on Random Access 3 (see the June issue): one track, "Serenity Now," (Is Romberg a Seinfeld fan? No, I asked that one before) had Young radiating clouds of notes from the center of the piece, fitting willy-nilly through barlike clicks of synthesized marimba.

It was a bit like we've heard British guitarist Brian Godding do in his band Mirage (this was in the seventies, sorry to say) or with the Mike Westbrook Orchestra. Again, very strange. To quote Danny DeVito in Taxi, "But memorable!"

Young's "I Think This Party's Over" is a strangled Eliot Sharp-like blues that opens and closes with a distant if approaching gale of industrial noise. Murley and Wynston flurry at the edges of this massive tube train of sound, Vivan slipping in-under with slow-picked, dreamy figures, and Wynston's double downbeat sort-of coalesces the actual tune. But only sort of. It's a nervous sort of detente that the musicians here have worked out, and the not - exactly - nailed - down air of the music makes it singular.

Anyone who reads too many of my reviews (you'll decide how many or few that is) usually notes that I moan comically how bassists are usually undermiked. Not so here, and Vivian's dark, Schnittke-like tone does the continuum many good turns. One such is his atmospheric picking during the slow antibossa section of "Surf Aces," under Young's neutral-drive Jazz-club phrases and Murley's relatively peaceful alto. Love that head melody, kind of Monk - meets - Laurindo - Almeida.

I also go for this group's sense of time. "Existential Departures" runs over eleven minutes, and here it's Vivian and Wynston's turn to hover at the edges; Murley and Young (on acoustic guitar) do long, twinned, serpentine phrases à la Terje Rypdal's 1980s ECM releases (especially Descendre). Beautifully odd. Again, in but not in, out but not out. Not clinically so, either, not like, say, Schoenberg's Verklarte Nacht.

The closing ditty "New One" also has a tentative air, thanks to Wynston's commenting melodically as much as anyone else on the wintry central chorale trotted out by the remainder of the band.

We go on: Wynston's "Spiral Nebula" features Stich waxing spikier and spikier on the piano; it's affecting but it's either too busy or not busy enough. Something is not working in this track that prevents the idea from blooming.

But there's lots more good stuff up ahead, like Young and Murley holding "Evanescence" together while Wynston and Vivian wig out around them; or Wynston's hail of dropped baseballs detonating all around and through "Caboose"; or the piano ostinato that gives one something to hang onto for dear life as Young's ballooning sustained synclavier notes strain to contain multitudes.

Here it's Vivian, Murley, and Wynston who overlap, converse, and talk past one another in a hunt for common ground of the sort you'd see in a Joe McElroy novel. Missed connections, indeed. But memorable.

It's all really good, really weird stuff that shows the quartet form isn't dead just yet. Care must always be taken in the finding or re-exploring of new or familiar ground, but this CD shows that the ragged space between in and out also has a few more secrets to cough up.

by Ken Egbert
Jazz Now Interactive September 2005 Vol 15 No. 5

"Dear Stich,
     Thanks for sending along your CD.  I really enjoyed it.   Great playing and great writing.  I think you've ingeniously woven Paul Bley's playing into your own ensemble.  Great to hear it.  Good luck"
  Dave Douglas, world renowned trumpeter/composer
  Fax to Stich's home
  June 1999
"Dear Stich,
     Great and creative music!!  My compliments!!"
  Dave Liebman, legendary saxophonist
  Fax to Stich's home
  July 1999
"Dear Stich,
     I thoroughly enjoyed this CD.  The musicianship is wonderful!"
  Keith Tippett, renowned British Avant-Garde jazz pianist
  Fax to Stich's home
  May 1999
"Dear Stich,
     Thanks for your call yesterday.  I've now had a chance to listen to the album and think it sounds excellent!"
  John Surman, ECM recording artist
  Fax to Stich's home
  July 1999
    "Toronto drummer Stich Wynston brings together Canadian avant-garde figurehead Paul Bley's piano, Geoff Young's guitar and Mike Murley's sax for a 14-tune exploration of where 21st-century mainstream might end up.  The compositions, all by band members, seek new form and content, often succeeding in enigmatic, wry, extravagant and imaginative ways.  Bley sets the mood with dashes into stylistic corners, sax and guitar wander in unison with chattering drum commentary and labyrinthine puzzles are solved by clear expositions on such tunes as Young's "Kolbo" and "Merrmonator".  Murley has never played so far out and Wynston, responsible for eight works (including "Environments 1",which includes birdsong) is an equal partner in these fascinating excursions.  "Catharsis" is an airy Bley solo meditation, "Hamentosh McFarfel" offers an essay in stern guitar-drum dissonance, soprano and piano rebellion and then more horror.  Young's "Unaware Of The Sound She Was Making" is percussive and turbulent, symbolizing this intelligent foray by four inquiring minds."
  Geoff Chapman, jazz journalist
  Toronto Star
  August 1999
     "Drummer Stich Wynston and the two other Toronto musicians of Modern Surfaces, tenor saxophonist Mike Murley and guitarist Geoff Young, are touring in Europe at the moment.  Good for them:  Their free-ish, probing approach to contemporary jazz, abetted here by the legendary Canadian pianist Paul Bley, will find a receptive audience there long before it attracts one at home.  Wynston's restless drumming has everyone playing nicely out of character;  Murley and Young haven't been this edgy or raucously expressive in years, and Bley sounds fresh mixing it up with his younger compatriots.  The pianist's four solo pieces seem extraneous, though.  (Who's disc is this, anyway?)  So does  - far more egregiously - the juvenile Wynston poem What Do You Want? that rounds out an otherwise fine first record."
  Mark Miller
  The Globe And Mail
  Thursday, November 18, 1999
     Featuring special guest Paul Bley on four tunes (two are original piano solos: "Ravenna" and "Portal"), Canadian drummer Wynston's trio features him with the versatile guitar of Geoff Young and saxophone player Mike Murley.  Best known for his own mainstream projects -- and ongoing stints with the West coast fusion band Metalwood, and Toronto's long-running Time Warp -- it's good to hear Murley stretched in fresh directions here, from the spacey poignance of "The More Things Change The More They Stay the Same", and his rhapsodic cadenza in "Feeschler," to the freer dynamic and fierce fusion of "Hamentosh McFarfel."
     Wynston is a dramatic drummer in the tradition of Jack Dejohnette.  His atmospheric minimalism is showcased in "Self Sacrifice," a dramatic drum solo, while his delicate touch animates two solo piano performances ("Catharsis"/"Looking Glass") that confirm the parallels with Dejohnette.
  David Lewis
  Review from SamTheRecordMan.com web site
  Thursday, November 18, 1999
     "Drummer Stich Wynston made his name in the '80s anchoring a constantly changing group of former Toronto street musicians called the Shuffle Demons, who managed to cross over into rock club success with a zany stage show, costumes and a handful of catchy songs.  During Wynston's nine-year tenure, The Demons were as rhythmically based as their name suggests, so the drummer's re-emergence as a composer of skittery pieces filled with free improvisation is somewhat surprising.  Also surprising is that one of his bandmates is fellow ex-Demon Mike Murley.  The saxophonist is more commonly found these days playing like he's been studying the recording of Sonny Rollins meets Coleman Hawkins, and it's a joy to hear him exploring the outer range of his horn again. 
      The overarching presence on this recording is, of course, pianist Paul Bley, the godfather of the Canadian avant-garde and a frequent mentor to younger adventurers.  His role here is somewhat odd; in addition to joining the trio for two songs he has a pair of solo spotlight pieces that shimmer with all the spacious innovation that marks his acoustic piano work of the last two decades.  The concept is unusual, looking on paper as if it couldn't possibly lead to a cohesive recording, but it works.  Bley's ability to manipulate time, create drama from silence and execute sudden changes of direction informs the band improvisations and his spirit infuses the writing of Wynston and guitarist Geoff Young as well.  Wynston even contributes his own solo piano piece, the pretty "Looking Glass," which has all the earmarks, if not quite the intuitive touch, of Bley.
     The trio performances are marked by frequent unison passages of sax and guitar and a constantly shifting underlay of percussion.  Like Bley, Young has a well-tuned sense of dynamics, dropping jagged, jarring accents into his composition "Mermonator" and unleashing some raucous bursts of noise behind Murley's skronking horn on Wynston's whimsical "Hamentosh McFarfel."
     Wynston, who used to be the comic in The Demons' act (his rap song "Get Out Of My House, Roach" was a Demons standard) keeps a straight face during most of the proceedings.  He only slips into his old persona to resurrect an early piece of existentialist doggerel called "What Do You Want?" that closes the recording on a flat note. 
  James Hale
  Down Beat
  February, 2000
     Sparse, free, and a little surreal, this album is a mirror leaning against the darker corners of our existence.  It will scare you into submission, then point out the thin sliver of light it's been concealing.
     Local pioneers Stich Wynston, Mike Murley, and Geoff Young get in bed with famed New York pianist Paul Bley - but this is no star-powered pillow fight, it plays like a fruitful collaboration of equals.  From lilting, quirky conversational ensemble pieces to haunting solo pianoscapes from Bley, the CD is as diverse as avant-garde jazz records get.
     Capped off with a pants-peeingly wacked out remake of Stich's classic Shuffle Demons spoken word rant "What Do You Want", this album is worth having for that track alone.  If you're into out, buy it and file it somewhere between Sun Ra and Kenny Werner in your record collection.
  Stephan Lucacik
  "to-nite" Music, Nitelife & Leisure Guide
  November 24 - December 7 issue, 1999
    Stich Wynston drummed for those streetwise rabble-rousers from Toronto, the Shuffle Demons.  The cover shot shows him doing a yoga backbend in a white room, indicating something more austere.  Modern Surfaces play that sparse rhythmically deft music pioneered by Bill Evans and developed by Paul Bley and Bill Frisell; it is logical that Bley should guest on piano.  Guitarist Geoff Young has his own stinging sound, making for jagged, interrogative duets with Wynston.   Mike Murley (another ex-Demon) makes suitably clean and chill sounds on sax, but it's on "Self Sacrifice" - Wynston's drum solo that ears prick up.  He has Tony Oxley's ability to use timbral contrast to suggest an avant-garde percussion ensemble.  Wynston's existentialist rap "What Do You Want" - brother to Sabir Mateen's "What R U Going To Due?!" - shows how nervy, creative musicianship can stem from a sense of confrontation."
  The Hi-Fi News
  U.K.
  April 10, 1999
    "Drummer and pianist Wynston leads a band featuring Geoff Young (guitar), and Mike Murley (saxophones) with fellow Canadian Paul Bley guesting on piano on some tracks.  Bley's influence looms large over Wynston's work, in spirit if not always in execution.  As a percussionist, Wynston is concerned less with metre than with creating textures and building atmosphere, while the absence of a bass player allows for untethered harmonic exploration.  In investigating the possibilities inherent in this particular line up and while maintaining an exploratory agenda, the musicians for the most part eschew individual virtuosity in favor of a considered, coherent group sound, making for effective sonic juxtapositions."
  JazzWise Magazine
  U.K. Jazz magazine
  September 1999
"... all stop-go structures, glittering spaces, pregnant harmonies, sudden flurries emerging from lyrical rests.
... genius..."
  The Wire
  August 1999
"... a combo that takes great delight in mixing, matching, cutting, pasting and reinventing this beast called jazz"
  Music Diary, U.K. publication
  August 1999
"The Modern Surfaces band builds upon the principles of one of the founders of a new kind of improvisation in the world of avant garde jazz, namely pianist Paul Bley. As the musicians are not able to ensconce themselves in the comfortable platform of a metre (a bas is even not present), they are forced to improvise to built up a completely different base. At one hand, this results in complex musical pieces who demand some intellectual effort from the audience. On the other hand there are the sober, nearly modally song structures who let the audience recover there breath. In both of the cases the band creates automaticly an atmosphere where the horizon is everytime completely and surprisingly different. 
     During the British part of their European tour last year (that brought them even to the Travers in Belgium) the band was now and then extended by Keith and Julie Tippett. They also were on the same bill with Peter Dickinson and Carlos Ward. On their CD, they are accompanied by Paul Bley."
     Stage Magazine, Belgium based publication
     (original transcript in Flemish)
     April 2000 issue
"Definitely not for the faint hearted, Modern Surfaces is the sort of jazz we used to label "free".  There is structure   -  for example, unison lines, guitar and sax  -  but in general the impressionistic approach is in direct opposition to basic jazz form.  The possible exception is Canadian drummer Stich Wynston's drum and cymbal sound:  it's definitely out of bebop.  His technique is clean, his sound crisp and well recorded.
Sometimes you get the feel it's all very arbitrary  -  for example, guitarist Geoff Young's noodling in "Environments".  On the other hand, there are occaisions when he's confident and sounding like Terje Rypdal.  One thing's certain:  there's not a lot of humour here  -  although the whistling birds are cheerful.  It's pensive, dark and flows in stops and starts.  That's not a bad thing:  once in a while, the listener needs a challenge!  Just be warned that on Modern Surfaces there aren't four consecutive bars of what most drummers would call groove.  Yet again, Wynston's sound  -  and indeed, Paul Bley's sparing piano  -  have their own compelling drive."
     Drums Etc. Magazine, Quebec based publication
     May-June 2000 issue
Stich Wynston's Modern Surfaces with special Guest Marilyn Crispell at Guelph Jazzfest 2001
"Crispell also played a set with drummer Stich Wynston's Modern Surfaces.  His trio, featuring saxophonist Mike Murley and guitarist Geoff Young, used space as a partner to sound while blurring the line between composition and improvisation.  Wynston's preference for interrupted, non-flowing lines worked well with Crispell's stark approach.  Murley soloed intelligently in keeping with the broken, staccato pace on this program that continually hit seimic peaks propelled by the drive of Wynston."
     Frank Rubolino
     Cadence Magazine Observations during Guelph Jazz Festival performance Sept 2001
     November 2001 issue
"Pianist Paul Bley recorded several albums in the early 1960's, with bassist Steve Swallow and clarinetist Jimmy Guiffre, that basically defined a chamber approach to free-jazz improvisation, so it's fitting that Bley should appear on this album, led by drummer-pianist Stich Wynston who, along with saxophonist Mike Murley and guitarist Geoff Young, delves into the world of improvisation on a series of 14 pieces.  The tracks are short,  divided into duos, trios and a few quartets.  The compositional structure is open-ended, the overall tone fairly quiet and the interaction among the players empathetic in the extreme.  ... this is a gorgeous piece of work."
     Mike Chamberlain
     Hour Magazine (Montreal)
     September 1, 1999
"Leader of this interesting album of a Canadian trio is drummer Stich Wynston, with the polished saxophonist Mike Murley and the versatile guitarist Geoff Young.  But it is imperative to immediately state that the 14 tracks here are illuminated by the artistry of Paul Bley, unquestionable star pianist of the last forty years (maybe even more).  The Record is issued on Buzz Records, part of the Dutch label, Challenge Records.
        The notoriety of Bley is a given, the members of the trio aren't celebrities but have collaborated with many outstanding musicians - not only in the avant-garde - that everyone has worked with: the leader, for example,
has worked with Julius Hemphill, Holly Cole, the refined pop singer Jane Siberry, and is a prolific composer, Geoff Young is also a good composer, he has worked with Kenny Wheeler, Dave Young, John MacLeod;
Mike Murley has many International professional experiences having participated in tours and on recordings with Kenny Wheeler, Randy Brecker, John Abercrombie, Jack McDuff and he is also a member of the quartet
Metalwood.  Murley has released many of his own recordings some of which have been critically acclaimed.  All told, the three aren't basking in fame but have surely had optimum experiences, matured much in their avant-garde and in the quality pop situations:  from which flourishes their love of melody, but also that for dissonant ambience and psychedelic sounds, alternated with frequent exquisite chamber-like music (in perfect ECM style).
        It goes from harsh sounds on "Hamentosh McFarfel" to the intimate Bleyesque "Ravenna", from the violent and visionary electric saga finale "What Do You Want" to the melodic "Kolbo".  The contributions of Paul Bley
then, should be put in the Real Book of the new millennium."

     Mario Calvitti
     All About Jazz (Italy) Translation from Italian
     CD review of Stich Wynston's Modern Surfaces With Special Guest Paul Bley
     Chosen for one of this publications "Records of the Year"

"Despite its size and cultural diversity, Canada is a relatively unfamiliar country compared to its southern neighbor.  However, I recently had an opportunity to encounter this group of talented Canadian individuals who
are the focus of this review.
        They call themselves, Stich Wynston's Modern Surfaces.  It comprises Geoff Young on guitar, Mike Murley on saxophones and Stich Wynston as the group's core member both as drummer and composer.
        Each of the trio's members has rich experience performing with free-jazz musicians from around North America and Europe.  In the past year, they invited guest Canadian pianist Paul Bley, who collaborated with renowned musicians Art Blakey and Sonny Rollins, for a recording of their album.  The recording has been released under Netherlands' BUZZ label.
        The trio has the ability to produce sounds that defy the size of the group and its lack of a bassist.  Most bands  that lack a bassist face difficulties supplementing that part and are usually plagued with unnatural sound balance and thin production.  SWMS, however, produces a naturally full sound and retains their unprecedented sense of balance among the players.  I was awed by the effectiveness of the solution to this potential shortcoming.
        Although the trio sets its mind in favour of the avant-garde approach, their music did not suggest a single-minded attempt to break the shell of familiar genres and styles.  My recent observation of their performance presented a perfect harmony between a well-structured, well organized musical architecture and a shade of volatility that is characteristic of avant-garde art.  On the whole, their music more or less exhibited the colour of jazz but it definitely did not fall into the category of bebop or modern jazz styles.
        The prime feature of SWMS's music is probably its potential to develop into any form of music; it has flexibility.  The trio does not particularly arouse and elevate the audience to an aesthetic level.  However, their music emits a scent of relaxation and warm satisfaction.
        The free SWMS concert, which I attended, took place this past October at a theatre located inside the Canadian Embassy who generously sponsored the event."
     Satoshi Kojima
     Strange Days Magazine (Japan) Translated from Japanese
     November, 2000
"It would be damned hard not to stand up for this CD 'with special guest Paul Bley' - free improvised music from a Canadian trio: saxophone, guitar and drummer Stich Wynston who also occasionally plays piano.  Piano and drums take over the more lyrical part whilst sax and guitar come along most on the more raucous parts.   Neverhteless, it is not brutally played, but tone conscious and sensitively communicated."
     Rolling Stone Magazine (Germany) - reviewer unknown - translated from German
     February 2000


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