|It is wonderful to have this album available for the first time on CD—and scary to realise that it was recorded and released in 1975! It is worth dwelling for a moment on how the (jazz) world has changed in the intervening years. In 1975, the idea of an all-saxophone group was unheard of; the countless legions of saxophone quartets, now two-a-penny, all lay in the future.
It was noteworthy, and commented on by reviewers at the time, that SOS did not have a drummer, yet the group's music managed to remain compellingly rhythmic. And Surman’s use of synthesiser and electric piano, later developed on his own ECM albums, was considered either revolutionary or eccentric. That's remarkable today, given how many musicians have “electronics” at the end of their list of credited instruments.
One of the many strengths of SOS was that each of the three members was a giant in his own right; this was a meeting of equals. Although the album abounds with fine solos from all three, the saxophones frequently combine to create an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of sound as they weave in and out of each other, none of them actually soloing but each of them following their own path. For prime examples, try sampling “Country Dance” or “Ist.” The effect is thrilling, like watching expert jugglers or tightrope walkers; they may seem to wobble occasionally, but always come through strongly.
The inclusion of those electronics—pre-recorded by Surman for the saxes to play along with—is almost invariably a plus. On occasions, the technology does show its age; at one point on “Cycle Motion,” I thought someone’s mobile cell phone was ringing, so thin and tinny was the sound. But generally the electronics enhance and add variety to the sound palette, as does Skidmore’s occasional drumming and Surman’s bass clarinet. Indeed, it is likely to be the variety of the music here that will most impress first time listeners; for a saxophone trio, there is far more here than one has any right to expect. Sheer enjoyment from start to finish.