Posts Tagged ‘54 Records’

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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At a recent semi-impromptu opening set at Foundry, Emma Stephenson included one of her own songs among the well-picked standards, such as ‘Days of Wine and Roses’. The song was ‘Song for My Piano’ and, as if a window had been opened, letting in sudden sunshine, it stopped the room.

The song is the second track on Where the Rest of the World Begins, the new album from Stephenson’s Hieronymus Trio. The six-track album is a collaboration with singer Gian Slater, the Trio’s second album and the debut co-release for David Theak’s new label, 54 Records.

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The Trio’s NYC-recorded first album was mostly instrumental – brilliant, sparkling piano trio conversations between Stephenson, drummer Oli Nelson and bassist Nick Henderson – but did close with the vocal tune ‘Crows Might Fly’. Gian Slater’s interpretation of that song opens Where the Rest of the World Begins – the band developing out of the songs short suite-like movements into a simmering scat section and shimmering piano solo.

Slater’s voice is a perfect choice for the Trio and Stephenson’s songs. Bell-clear, it is a fluid thing, like smoke or drifting water, avoiding any grating blues edges or forced earthiness. It is this ‘instrumental’ quality – a hallmark of all valid jazz singing – that fits so neatly with the modern angles and curves of Stephenson’s compositions. cd5401-web-cover-hi-res

‘Song for My Piano’ is here equally room-stopping; an intimate love-letter to Stephenson’s instrument, the lyric nakedly expressing the surprises the piano can still, like a lover, give the composer.

‘If the Sun Made a Choice’ is a lovely song of hope, with stabs of Gospel funk creeping onto Stephenson’s piano solo. ‘Love is Patient’ takes that one line from Corinthians and unpacks it into a remarkable composition – the melody rises and falls, undulating over a rubato ground from the Trio; it is on a performance such as this where Nelson and Henderson shine: without strict rhythm, they need to be able to breathe as the music breathes, and they do, effortlessly.

‘Going in Circles’ adds some satiny Rhodes flavours to its polyrhythmic maze of melody and ground, where the two encircle each other as the lyric speaks of two people doing the same.

The title tune closes the album. A mini-epic of unpredictability, smart writing and startling originality, the song’s lyric ruminates on identity, universal oneness and where you and I fit in to it all. Nelson’s colourful mallet work behind the melody morphs into a succinct solo, which in turn morphs into the melody restated; this time over a jagged broken chord riff. The entire effect is mesmerising, the eleven minutes passing like seconds.

At the above Foundry gig, Emma Stephenson told me she was moving to New York to take on the jazz world there. I made a lame joke about it being perhaps less dangerous if she climbed into the tiger enclosure at Taronga Park. But based on her work here and elsewhere, as well as her triple-threat of piano, composition and vocal, I have a strong feeling she will have those NYC tigers eating out of her hand.

Album available at https://www.54records.com.au/where-the-rest-of-the-world-begins