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String Quartet

They were fans of Surman’s music before coming together to play with him… and it shows. They display a flexibility that supports and accommodates the jazz players, never sounding as if they are just ‘playing the dots’.

John Eyles 2007
Trans4mation String Quartet with John Surman (saxaphone) and Chris Laurence (double bass)
Trans4mation String Quartet with John Surman (saxophone) and Chris Laurence (double bass)
Photo: John Surman’s String Project

Trans4mation String Quartet formed in 1999, invited by legendary English jazz musician John Surman to collaborate in his Strings Project. With Chris Laurence on bass, they have recorded two critically acclaimed CDs for the ECM label: Corruscating and The Spaces In Between.

Led by John Surman, Trans4mation has performed at many of Europe’s important jazz festivals, including North Sea Jazz and Umbria Jazz. At the London Jazz Festival they have appeared at the Wigmore Hall and at Kings Place, which featured the première of a suite commissioned by Australian recorder player Genevieve Lacey. 2016 saw them at the Châtelet, Paris in a concert with Jack DeJohnette. They returned to Paris in February 2020 to record a concert at Maison De La Radio – Studio 104 for Radio France, which turned out to be their last outing before Europe went into its COVID-19 lockdown.

Trans4mation emerged from lockdown 2021, recording at Hammerwood Park in Kent (once owned by Led Zeppelin!) in May during the COVID ‘rule of six’. Their first post-lockdown gig was in June 2021 at Temple Church for composer, John Ashton Thomas, premièring his works and arrangements. John tragically and very unexpectedly passed away later that year. The group have the intention to record and gig the new compositions in his memory.

In a quartet plus bass formation they have recorded music of Surman, Nashville’s Carl Marsh, California’s Richard Niles, Kiwi jazz pianist Alan Broadbent, and the UK’s Pete Saburton and they feature on Chris Laurence’s album ‘Some Gnu Ones’ recording the music of Ken Wheeler.

Trans4mation, as the name suggests, can transform into larger ensembles and a Quindectet recording is in the pipeline.

Trans4mation String Quartet - Coruscating album cover


The compositions owe as much to the English pastoral tradition of Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Bridge as to the jazz tradition of, say, Ellington, combining a string quartet with two jazz soloists. Elegiac, in places melancholic, but never less than ravishing, the pieces achieve a fine balance between formal composition and freewheeling improvisation. Hugely rewarding, and much recommended, this set is the exception to the rule that saxophone and strings rarely work well together. —Simon Adams

John Surman – baritone & soprano saxophones
Chris Laurence – double bass
Rita Manning, Keith Pascoe – violins
Bill Hawkes – viola
Nick Coopercello

Trans4mation String Quartet - The Spaces In Between album cover

The Spaces In Between

“In his ability to blend some of the methods and textures of modern jazz with a wholly English sensibility, Surman is a true original,” said The Times. The Spaces In Between features finely crafted and richly melodic music for strings (the string quartet Trans4mation) by John Surman, with the composer and his long-time associate, double bassist Chris Laurence deployed as primary soloists and improvisers.

John Surman – baritone & soprano saxophones
Chris Laurence – double bass
Rita Manning, Patrick Kiernan – violins
Bill Hawkes – viola
Nick Coopercello