It is seven years since Sydney guitarist and musical polymath Tim Rollinson has put out a release under The Modern Congress banner. 2005’s The Hidden Soul of Harmony was described as a smooth seductress that aims (and succeeds) to tease and tantalise lovers of contemporary jazz.” (In The Mix, May 10 2005). Purple prose aside, it really was a delight; an urbane, chilled delight.

Rollinson’s tenure as an original member of D.I.G. (Directions In Groove) as well as a sharp and imaginative jazz guitarist (check out his jazz trio sometime) allows for his musical vision to be an eclectic one. His studio/electronica alter ego The Modern Congress widens that vision even further – limited only by Rollinson’s imagination, a singular imagination both febrile and fertile – for the new one, 2012’s The Protagonist.

From the dubby snare shots into the tabla groove of opener ‘Mesquite’, Rollinson pulls out myriad upon myriad of sound, his liquid guitar glistening over the top. ‘The Halo Effect’ is a gorgeous slice of Latin rock with a sly Hammond solo from Darren Heinrich and a wicked Green-powered guitar solo, (Grant, that is – not Bob Brown) from Tim Rollinson himself.

‘Justified’ features the wise yet pained vocal of Linda Janssen over a smoky chill groove. Tina Harrod lends her wonderful talents (singing at the top end of her register to great effect) to ‘Little Man, Big Man’.

As you can see, Rollinson has an A-list of collaborators on The Protagonist. The album bristles with input from international and Australian jazz heavy hitters. Almost all of D.I.G. is here (Alex Hewetson, Scott Saunders, Rick Robertson), as well as go-to guys such as Gerard Masters, Hamish Stuart and Jonathan Zwartz. New York-based Barney McCall lends some dreamlike Wurlie electric piano to ‘Dew’.

But this is not a ‘jazz’ album in the sense of head-chorus-head; far from it. As stellar as Rollinson’s contributors/collaborators/partners-in-groove are, they do not impose their will upon the music beyond lending each track just what is needed. In fact, several of the individual musicians recorded their tracks remotely and sent them in to Rollinson. 

And it is this sense – the sense of Tim Rollinson as The Improviser – weaving music in the studio from all these great players’ individual threads that retains The Protagonist’s ‘jazz’ feel: that feeling of wonderful openness and possibility, even though the tracks were painstakingly put together in a low-lit studio and not a humid stage somewhere. It is testament to Tim Rollinson’s artistry and deft feeling for music that this works at all – let alone as beautifully as it does.

A perfect example is The Protagonist’s 2-part closer – ‘Once Upon A Time (Parts I & II)’. A lazy drift of beats and accents, it features Eduardo Santoni’s wordless vocal in Part I and Chris Field’s tabla in Part II. It just goes on and on, like clouds blowing across an afternoon hilltop or a midnight rain streetscene sliding by a cruising car, one idea dovetailing into the next as if Rollinson was sitting at a great keyboard, ‘playing’ his players. Which, in effect, he was.

Check out The Modern Congress’s website here.

Published April 2012 on theorangepress.net

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