“Saltash Bells” provided a template for the rest of the album. There is an overall mood present, which is a sort of haunting and mysterious atmosphere. A great deal of the music paints a mental impression of a late, foggy night at the waterfront. As a resident of the Pacific Northwest, it is a sensation I am very familiar with.
Some of this is achieved through the use of synthesizers, but John Surman’s woodwinds provide the real key. This is especially noticeable during “Glass Flower,” “Dark Reflections,” and “Triadichorum.” Of these, the incredibly deep clarinet sound during the opening of “Glass Flower” is almost other-worldly.
The closing piece is titled “Sailing Westwards.” Besides the title track, this 10:37 cut seems to come closest to what John Surman had in mind. It is a nearly flawless composition, evoking a series of moods that seems to sum things up perfectly. The atmosphere is one of wonder, offered with a slowly evolving series of movements, and culminating beautifully with some (synthesized) bird-songs.
I would not go so far as to say that the ten pieces that make up Saltash Bells constitute a “concept” album. But as an evocation of the various emotions Saltash Passage brought to mind for John Surman, the album is extremely effective. What makes it so special for the rest of us is that we do not need to have ever seen the Passage to understand what is being expressed. Saltash Bells is a superlative realization of John Surman’s vision.