Archive for April, 2018

James Muller has long been one of our most exciting jazz guitarists. His fluidity, ideas and just plain swing has dazzled in every recording he has ever made.

So it is surprising to see him express his discomfort with the recording studio environment  – “I hate playing through headphones!!!” – in the notes to his new release on 54 Records, Live at Wizard Tone. Equally, it is gratifying to see him (and hear him) in a zone that allows him the freedom for the “adventure and abandon” he seeks in his music.

muller wzard2Recorded before a live audience at the Adelaide studio over two sessions, Live at Wizard Tone has Muller playing up a storm with the equally driven ensemble of Sam Anning on bass, drummer Ben Vanderwal and – serendipitously in Adeliade from NYC over the Summer – altoist Will Vinson.

The tunes selected for the recording balance out Art and Fun, with Fun maybe winning out. ‘Scrapple From The Apple’ literally grins in your face with its energy, all players digging in up to their elbows, pulling out their their bop chops and having some truly Big Fun.

Opener ‘Evidence’ has the band modelling solos and rhythm section around Monk‘s angular melody with all its stops and starts, whilst the implied swing roils way beneath. Check the rhythm section here, and on the closer ‘The Song Is You’ – their conception of swing and what you can do with it is quite something. muller wizrd1

The three Muller originals hold up fine too – mid-tempo Latin ballad ‘Dalby at Dusk’ is evocative tone-poetry with not-obvious changes which altoist Vinson seems to relish in his piquant solo. (Vinson is a knockout here and everywhere else I have heard him lately – a truly original alto saxophone voice with his swoops and surprising invallic leaps flavouring his solos, and making them jump out of the mix).

Muller’s ‘Assignment 1’ has a pastoral, elegiac quality that belies its minimalist title. The guitarist’s taste and restraint in his solo here shows the breadth of his playing. His tone across the entire album is immaculate: rich yet biting when it needs to be, with piano-like chords or brittle percussive comping. The minimal comping and lack of piano lends all of the performances an open, contrapuntal transparency that lend it an astringent economy, letting the music breath organically. Exciting stuff.

I have said before that all true jazz should be regarded as being recorded live. Sadly, this is too rarely the case, with much recorded jazz sounding sealed off and boxed in. An album such as Live at Wizard Tone is a breath of wild wind – jazz as it should be: in Muller’s words, a music of  “adventure and abandon”.

Live at Wizard Tone is available at https://54records.com.au

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I initially thought local label, Art As Catharsis was named so as yet another piece of post-post-modern irony. But having listened to many of their releases, I know now it is not – the music is entirely cathartically moving, innovative and beautiful.

No exception is the label’s recent release of Paul Derricott‘s Coast. Named for the band Derricott has put together for this project, ‘Coast’ refers to the meeting of shore and sea – as he puts it: “(the) Sydney coastline, the thin line between bobbing up and down our heads above the water and the unrelenting energy of the ocean that surrounds…”.

Derricott Coast2And the ocean metaphor is all over this music. Derricott has always been one of our most surprising drummers, technically exciting while at ease in any improvisational situation, creating effortlessly and colourfully. The Coast ensemble could not have been better chosen to bring his vision to life – Shannon Stitt on keys, guitarist Peter Koopman and Michael Avgenicos on sax.

No having a dedicated bass player – Stitt contributes bass on the keys –  lends the music an original flow. It pushes the arrangements into places where new funk can flower, or the push-pull of rhythm section becomes more tense. Of course, Stitt’s facility could have him easily emulating a bass player, but that would entirely miss the point, and confuse the trajectory of this music.

Opener ‘Blackline’ sets up a template of heavy syncopation, bringing to mind 70s proggers Van Der Graaf Generator and recent Scandinavians Elephant 9, before smoothing out for a flowing Koopman solo – his playing, like that of John Scofield, always has a tang of the blues no matter where he takes it. Derricott Coast1

‘Tide’ contrasts with a liquid ambience – the benign calm of the sea after ‘Blackline”s squall storm – it’s melody ebbing and flowing back and forth.

‘Or Not’ leaps out of the box with a funky waaaah!, jumping between time signatures before devolving into heavy sludge – a dazzling play of contrasts that keeps your ears pricked up. Michael Avgenicos and Derricott play a drums/horn conversation that really cooks, adding some tropic heat to the beach.

Conga player George Rojas is added for instant Latin on ‘Dance 35’ which winds its way to a 7/8 montuno that frames Derricott’s drum solo – his solo here is a highlight of the many highlights across Coast.

Paul Derricott has surprised us consistently with his projects and collaborations such as Arrow, Derroderro, The Dilworths and Tiny Hearts as well as performances with… pretty much the Australian improvised music phone book. The smartly considered compositions and arrangements on Coast, together with this unusual line-up of hand-picked players make this album yet another beautifully realised project in his catalogue.

Paul Derricott’s website is https://paulderricott.com

 

Australian-in-New-York, tenor saxophonist and composer Evan Harris has given us a day in the life of the Big Apple with his debut album, Skylines.

Whether intended or not, these ten tracks seem all of a piece – short stories of NYC tied together by the three ‘Skyline’ tunes.

‘Skyline at Sunrise’ is vividly evocative as tone poetry, painting the sun rising over the jagged line of the city’s skyscrapers; the improvisations arc up and up until they hit a unison note at the top of the rise. The sun is out.

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‘Skyline at Midday’ is a hard-swinging hustle, all elbows and shove, like midtown at noon. The city surges in the rhythm. Altoist Will Vinson‘s Parkeresque solo is wonderfully nimble, threading in and out of the groove. The other Australian-in-New-York, the ubiquitous Sean Wayland plays Bud Powell to Vinson’s Yardbird with sparkling invention. Always a joy to hear Mr Wayland speak.

Vinson and Wayland are perfectly matched for Harris’s session, as are the rhythm section of Des White on bass and drummer Jochen Rueckert; perfectly matched to each other and perfectly matched to the music. Harris’s smart tunes and arrangements range from hard-bop (‘Equilibrium’), through sinewy percussion grooves such as ‘Inertia’,  across to bop-bossa (‘Spring Song’ – which has some exquisite writing for unison tenor and alto; always a lovely pairing) and the band he has selected breathe life and great beauty into them all.54r-004-evanharris-album-cover-bcamp

‘Resignation”s spry feel belies the title with some sharp horn writing. Harris’s solo here is particularly inspired, his lines working against each other and switching back and forth within their own logic. His playing seems to inspire Vinson to great things – his solo here is a highlight – full of invention and seeking and finding, all with the joy that is particularly at the heart of the alto’s tone.

The final ‘Skyline’ piece, ‘Skyline at Sunset’ evokes the city-that-never-sleeps going to sleep, with Wayland’s piano all stardust and skyscraper lights and the horns painting in indigo and deep mauves. Harris’ writing  surprises in its breadth. Whether impressionistic, or ballad-gentle, or bop-tight, he has complete control over the shape and intent of these pieces.

To say Skylines is an impressive debut – whilst being true – can also sound patronising, suggesting Harris has a way to go. Don’t we all. But he is leaps ahead already and his promise is as exciting and unpredictable as the city he celebrates on Skylines.

 

Skylines is available through 54 Records – https://54records.com.au/evan-harris-skylines

Evan Harris’s website is https://www.evanharrismusic.com