Posts Tagged ‘Julien Wilson’

Being a prolific artist and being a surprising, ever-original artist – despite much evidence to the contrary – need not be mutually exclusive.

Pianist/composer Andrea Keller continues to surprise, as well as being one of our most consistently prolific music makers. Her latest project is the ensemble Five° Below and their debut is the six-track teaser Five° Below Live.

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I say ‘teaser’ as this is a preview of a larger work slated for 2019 which will include saxophonists Julien Wilson and Scott MacChonnachie. ‘Teaser’ it may be, but it stands firm and strong as a work in its own right. For this Live album, Keller has intriguingly limited it to rhythm section instruments, with startling results.

The two bass players – Sam Anning on acoustic and Mick Meagher on electric – plus drummer James McLean and guitarist Steve Magnusson, plus Keller herself on piano reimagine a collection of her previous works across a range of styles.

‘Fern Tree’ from 2013’s Family Portraits grows from a textural piano pattern with Keller’s solo morphing from Charles Ives to some real rock’n’roll, before the double heartbeat of the two basses rolls out the joyous dance of Magnusson’s guitar. ‘Of Winter, Ice and Snow’ moves glacially, with guitar swells and sharp shards of piano making this, magically, seem more weather than music. Such is its enveloping and mesmerising atmosphere.a4059568909_10

The mood across Live is largely pensive and dynamically introverted, so the track ‘Grand Forfeit’ leaps out like an animal. Beginning with ominously grinding guitar and electric bass feedback it suddenly surprises with a jagged asymmetrical riff over which Maganusson howls and gnashes. His guitar solo is red in tooth and claw, reminiscent of King Crimson‘s Robert Fripp at his most brutal.

‘Warm Voices’, originally from 2013’s From Ether, lulls with double bass chords and percussion moving and out like the sea; the piano is ebbing waves and the guitar is distant clouds on the horizon – the picture the ensemble builds is exquisitely balanced and blissfully hypnotic.

Andrea Keller stretches jazz into whatever she wants here – as a composer, musician and visionary, she always has. Using many of the most noble aspects of modern jazz – its curiosity, freedom and genre-inclusive nature – Keller enriches and expands the form. It is always a thrill to see where she goes next.

Five° Below Live is available from https://andreakeller.bandcamp.com

Andrea Keller’s website is at https://andreakeller.bandcamp.com

Bassist/composer Sam Anning brings his wonderfully poetic cast of mind to his third album as bandleader, Across a Field as Vast as One.

Recorded with long time collaborators trumpeter Mat Jodrell, saxophonists Julien Wilson and Carl Mackey, pianist Andrea Keller, and drummer Danny Fischer, the eight-track collection draws inspiration and ideas from lost friends, Balkan women singers, volcanic lakes, taxi conversations and aircraft wreckage gleaming in a field of sunflowers.

Of course, this is not being wilfully quirky, because Anning in his compositions pulls great emotion out of these disparate experiences and satori. Across a Field as Vast as One  is an album of great beauty that avoids the trap of complexity to focus on the emotional.

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Indeed he says that his track “Sweethearts” “…was a sort of rebellion against the dense and complex harmonic and melodic homework of my masters studies at the Manhattan School of Music. … I just wanted two simple chords and a nice melody!” The track jumps with a lovely West African lilt and Andrea Keller’s piano solo reflects that joy in its rising attack.

Sweethearts was the title of Anning’s 2013 album with Julien Wilson and dear departed drummer Allan Browne. Browne is remembered here on the title track which takes it’s title from an Anning poem: “As eyes opening for the first time / On light splattering into a / Flat natural shimmer / Across a field as vast as one / Your name is to be spoken slowly / And carefully… / When I awake I’ll know we shared this dream / And I’ll know that I loved you.”  The pain of this ballad of loss and longing is expressed in the pang of Matt Jodrell’s aching trumpet tone.anning2

Anning’s compositional smarts are to the fore throughout – the ethereal arpeggios on ‘Lake’ conjuring the deep blue waters of the Mt Gambier blue volcanic lake which inspired it; the chattering talk-like melody and human-hips groove of ‘Talking Wall’, about a graffiti wall in Libya; the bittersweet Balkan blues of album closer ‘Telos’ (with a stunning Julien Wilson bass-clarinet solo that wails, literally and figuratively).

Anning says, tellingly, when speaking of his piece here called ‘Hands Reaching’: “(It is) a piece that came out naturally with little intervention from the deprecating voices in my head.”  I think anyone who truly creates spends half their time shouting down those deprecating voices – those voices that say the work is worthless, the effort is pointless, the  world isn’t listening. Hallelujah! that artists like Sam Anning consistently manage to shut that chattering homunculus up, who manage to replace the void with the life-force of their beautiful and meaningful work.

Across a Field as Vast as One is one such work – brave, beautiful and above all, the best of what it is to be human.

 

Across a Field as Vast as One is available at www.earshift.com

Sam Anning’s website is at www.samanningmusic.com

Hurrying through an unpredicted rainstorm I was late for the first masterclass of the day. Well this was jazz, the music of the unpredictable, so it sort of fitted.

The masterclass with New Yorkers Kris Davis and Tony Malaby began the one-day Sydney Con International Jazz Festival for 2018. There was talk of intervals in birdsong, and piano clusters, and saxophonist Malaby spoke of actively moving away from jazz forms. The two played a tantalising duet with Davis’ piano shimmering out Messaien-like clusters and chirps. The lovely wood-walled Recital Hall felt, in this hushed and rarified atmosphere, like church.

Barney McAll mentioned the phrase “Music is church” during his masterclass, quoting his long-time employer, Gary Bartz. McAll was next up and his session was as freewheeling and live-wire as Davis/Malaby’s had been pensive and considered. McAll is a unique Wayne Shorter-like  figure in Australian jazz, original to the point of almost being his own genre, and intuitively Zen in his approach. He spoke of freedom, Skrillex and technology (giving an insight into the surprisingly mechanistic origins of his compositions). When he sat at the piano to demonstrate, his dynamic attack made me jump (as it always does).

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Later in the day I would enjoy McAll in his ASIO (Australian Symbiotic Improvisers Orbit) setting. His band of drummer Hamish Stuart and bass mainstay Jon Zwartz, with “the children” (McAll’s affectionate term) – young guitarist Carl Morgan and Mike Rivett on tenor –  took to all the quirky twists and turns in his compositions, which ranged from roiling gnashes of ensemble interplay to intensely beautiful skeins of arpeggio. Was McAll my highlight? In a day of highlights it was hard to say.

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Out of the cloisters and into the much more easy going Jazz Cafe where there was food and drink and people talking – and the rumbunctious Geoff Bull and his young band The Finer Cuts blasting traditional jazz. This music is always a delight – a ribald reminder of the street (and brothel) origins of what has evolved into high art. The triple horn weavings of Bull’s trumpet with tenor and trombone shouted out that joyous anarchy that is still at the heart of even the most contemporary jazz. Pianist Harry Sutherland had the style down in spades, with a rolling grin to his playing. ‘God bless Geoff Bull’ is all I can say.

The Jazz Cafe also presented Darren Heinrich‘s Trio – the classic organ-guitar-drums sound that is one of jazz’s most sublime mutations. The Trio’s sound immediately transformed the Cafe’s club-like atmosphere, the air heavy with imagined nicotine. Guitarist Sam Rollings‘ biting blues-jazz tone was the perfect foil for Heinrich’s intense Hammond attack – at the top of their dynamic the Trio was verging on rock-band loud.

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For 2018, the Con Festival’s artistic director, David Theak, brought together a truly fascinating program – impressive not only for its quality, but for the breadth of its range. At the other end of the music’s timeline from the original street music represented here by Geoff Bull, we had the Berlin-based duo Spill. This was truly startling stuff. Both Magda Mayas on (extremely) prepared piano and Tony Buck on drums treated their instruments as boxes of possibilities, to be unpacked in real time, as they played. It was all the more remarkable, considering that both instruments are acoustic percussion instruments, traditionally incapable of a non-tremolo sustain. Well, I heard a piano sing like a bird and a bass drum moan like a wounded bull. The inventiveness of Mayas and Buck was jaw-dropping, but also transportingly beautiful.

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Back to the Jazz Cafe to bring myself back down to earth from the ionosphere. Andrew Scott‘s Pocket Trio were playing, and it was just what I needed. Scott has based his group on the driving but inventive trios of Oscar Peterson and Bill Charlap et al. They swing like hell but can turn on a dime. The other Pocketeers, bassist Max Alduca and drummer Tim Geldens seemed to relish the ride as much as Scott – whose driving and unfrilly playing reminded me more of Tommy Flanagan or even Ray Bryant than the sometimes frilly Peterson. (Scott’s droll spoken song intros are worth admission in themselves).

Fortrified with a few glasses of good red I took in the experience of Stu Hunter‘s ‘Migration’ project. A massive work, performed by a percussion heavy ensemble, it really is something to see (and hear). Grooves are set up and move in and out of rhythmic lattices to reform into new grooves. The players he assembled worked the material beautifully in their solos, notably saxophonist/clarinetist Julien Wilson and Phil Slater on trumpet, with Tina Harrod‘s voice lending an ethereal Gospel edge to the atmosphere set up by Hunter’s astounding ensemble writing.

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David Theak had joked with me that if I stayed “dawn till dusk” he would shout me a cold one. By the time it came around for the last concert of the day – the international Festival star artist Gretchen Parlato – I was still fresh as a daisy, buoyed by the energy of all the superlative music I had witnessed. And her music made me feel as it I was floating on air.

As all truly great jazz vocalists before here, Parlato’s voice was an instrument among instruments. The unique makeup of her ensemble – gut-string guitar, cello and percussion – surrounded her airy voice with an ebb-and-flow of an entirely organic nature as she moved thru bossa and Bach, and beyond. The effect was mesmerising. The Verbruggen Hall seemed at times too large for the intimacy Parlato and her group conjured – I would have loved to hear her in a closer, smaller space. But this is a small quibble, too small for so sublime an experience.

So to the train home, high as a kite from such a day. Weaving through the swelling VIVID crowds coming into the sparkling city as I was going out, I knew it would take me a while to process it all.

Finally, thanks to David and the Con for putting their resources behind such a landmark event. Jazz is a living, breathing music and it is gratifying to see audiences for such a program not only exist, but exist in enthusiastic numbers.

The only place on Earth where jazz exists is The United States.

It sometimes feels like that. Especially if you check the (North) American and international jazz press. How many U.S. jazz fans are aware of our great artists such as David Ades, Julien Wilson, Mike Nock or Bernie McGann?

And how many are aware of Japanese, Swedish or French jazz? There is some great stuff to be heard from all over the world; a friend recently put me onto an organ trio from Greece that was knockout!

Ingrid james1Australian jazz singer Ingrid James’ recent release – Trajectoire – just might convince a few more that there is some good music to be had beyond West 44th Street (or 505 or Bennett’s Lane). Made with a mix of Australian, French, Danish and U.S. players, it is a revelation.

James is here paired with the Alexis Tcholakian Trio from France. In fact the album grew out of pianist Tcholakian’s request that she pen lyrics for a number of his compositions. Direct, and with just the right mix of experience, urbanity and poetry, her lyrics work so well it is hard to believe often that they didn’t come first, before the melodies.

Another nice balance across Trajectoire is that James has found the right point between the hip and the sweet. Too many recent jazz vocal albums seem to take the tame path, assumedly in the hope of wider audience – maybe on the fringe of Pop. This collection of songs retains some true grit and jazz light and shade, yet steers clear of the miasmic mists that afflict the jazz vocal recordings at the other end of the spectrum. There is a strong feeling of tradition – but respect for that tradition rather than either a dry clinging to it, or a sickly sugaring of it.

This balance is exemplified by the opening mission statement, a reading of Jimmy Rowles’ ‘A Timeless Place (The Peacocks)’ (lyric by Norma Winstone). James navigates this tricky winding melody with superbly simpatico paino from Tcholakian and his trio.Ingrid james2

The arrangement is smartly considered, with the piano mirroring in unison some sections of the vocal. This device is used to great effect on many tracks, marketely on the two vocal solos written by Louise Denson – the first, a duet with Danish tenor sax player Simon Spang-Hanssen on the Hammond-driven ‘Blue Confluence’; the second on the Bill Evans-ish waltz of ‘Night Reflection’.

The latter duet is with Australia’s Miroslav Bukovsky whose flugelhorn’s round golden tone sounds uncannily like a human voice itself.

The snaky melody, latin groove and Marian Bitran’s flute of the title track, ‘Trajectoire’ recalls Chick Corea’s 70s work with Flora Purim. The album pulls from many styles of jazz – ‘Midsummer Flower’s samba, the Rhodes-driven fusion of ‘Circle of Love’, the languid ballad of album closer ‘It’s Not Over’ – but there is a unity that holds it all together, a major factor being James’ warm and honeyed voice – like Dianne Reeves, a voice born for jazz.

Trajectoire is satisfying on all levels. I look forward to more from Ingrid James and Alexis Tcholakian.

Published March 2016 on australianjazz.net

 

 

Now. The place where the best improvised music lives.

‘Now’ is the reason we go to check live music, especially in those small venues, up close so we can live in this small slice of super-heated or multi-coloured or deep-blue Now.

The recording of jazz has long been an anomaly – once the performance is frozen in the frozen time of a recording, it loses its Now. We have, of course, all of our favourite live albums that we listen to over and again, but it is a rare thing for a live jazz album to match that Now, simply because it was Then. (Doesn’t make Live at The Village Vanguard any less headfucking though).

Julien Wilson is a player who can always bring a strong sense of the Now into his recordings. His is such an immediate take on the music that the freshness of his playing binds itself to the music. Like all of the best in jazz his recordings always retain their power and energy.

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Wilson’s new album, This Narrow Isthmus, has the Now all over it. From the title, taken from Thomas Moore’s quote “This narrow isthmus ‘twixt two boundless seas/The past, the future – two eternities” to drummer Allan Browne’s inspirational mantra “Hold onto the now, through which all future plunges to the past”.

Wilson elected to record this set of compositions live at Sydney’s Sound Lounge, to keep the Now factor to the fore. The almost telepathic empathy of his Quartet helps – Barney McAll piano, Jon Zwartz bass and dear and departed Allan Browne on drums (Browne left us mid-2015, This Narrow Isthmus was recorded mid-2014); the same lineup which recorded Wilson’s dreamy and luscious This Is Always in 2013.

Yet whereas This Is Always leaned deep into the moodier indigos of jazz, touching on standards and their fine romance, This Narrow Isthmus is all-original Julien works and pulls from every compass point stylistically.

Opener ‘Rainman’ establishes the deeply romantic strain in Wilson’s music – too many modern badasses are afraid to show some sweetness and beauty, and this tune is one of the sweetest Wilson has dreamed up.

The Monk-ish blues ‘McGod’ has an intoxicated and intoxicating abandon to it that Wilson and McAll both dig deep into, blue to the elbows. The hard thrust that Browne pushes the tune with belies the fact that he was badly ailing – in fact, his doctor had told him he couldn’t fly to Sydney for the gig, so he hopped in this car and drove the 900k’s – ha!

One of the aspects I have always enjoy in Wilson’s music is his impressionistic side – even though a player who resonates with the deep history of the artform, he never baulks at going where the music takes him, whether an un-jazz place or not (see Swailing, the album that came out in tandem with This Is Always). ‘Barney & Claude’ here came out of two Debussy-flavoured chords and grew into a gorgeous ballad ­– you can hear those two chords rolling around each other like pale suns at the end fade of the track. You can also hear, even though it is a live album, no applause at the end of this fade; any applause was snipped off during mixing (as with ‘Aberdeen’) so as not to break the spell.Julien Isthmus1

This Narrow Isthmus casts many spells – ‘Weeping Willow’, a retooled ‘Willow Weep for Me’ begins with a beautifully conversational bass solo from Zwartz; ‘Bernie’ is a hello-up-there to McGann; ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ throws caution to the wind and grins bebop optimism right in your face.

‘Aberdeen’ has that lovely dark-cocoa sermonising that Coltrane’s McCoy-quartet preached so deep and meaningful. This tone-poem was composed with the Scottish town of Wilson’s childhood in mind, but I swear this Quartet makes jungle vines grown up Brooklyn brownstones before my very ears.

‘Farewell’ is Wilson’s farewell to us and to those who have left us to ‘continue on to the next adventure’ – absent friends, such as Dave Ades. He plays clarinet here, and the deeply human voice of this sadly neglected woodwind blows through veils of nostalgia in a deeply affecting way.

Once again I find myself saying I have found the album of the year and it is barely half-past February.

This Narrow Isthmus will be hard to beat – it is everything I always expect from Julien Wilson, but this time it holds even more of that precious and beautiful thing, the Now.

Published February 2016 on australianjazz.net

 

It seemed fitting that on the week that David Bowie left us to become a star in the night sky, the 2016 Jazzgroove Festival should open with the spacey starman-scapes of Alon Islar’s ensemble, The Sticks.

Kicking off Friday night’s Foundry 616 triple bill, The Sticks – drummer Islar with keyboardist Daniel Pliner and bassist Josh Ahearn – followed Alon’s mission statement, “We’re going to improvise for 45 minutes…” with a ton of imagination and a galaxy of verve. Built around Islar’s curious but astonishing invention, the AirSticks (in its simplest form: two hand controllers linked to laptop samples) the group made music – as all good jazz should be – literally out of the air.

Special guest, guitarist and polymath Ben Hauptmann sat right inside the Sticks’ orbit, blending with their space-scapes, moving with their funk, clicking and clacking with the more motorik beatz, talking their talk and walking their walk. Beautiful stuff; the 45 minutes passed in a wink, leaving us (me) wanting more.

This year’s Festival program was put together smartly by Jazzgroove to get all the flavours of jazz rubbing up against each other and to pleasantly jolt by contrast.

And so, the electro-funk of The Sticks was followed by The Cooking Club – tenor player Michael Gordon’s tough acoustic jazz quartet. The contrast could not have been more thrilling – and yet something was missing. The last time I saw The Cooking Club was after they launched their pretty fantastic CD High Energy Jazz from the Sydney Underground. The format was the piano-less quartet of Gordon on tenor, Finn Ryan on drums and Tom Wade on bass, with Ken Allars’ trumpet putting the Cherry on Gordon’s compositions.

Tonight the trumpet of Allars was replaced by Andrew Bruce on piano and its chords, sharp as they were, led to the music losing part of it’s Ornettey orneryness, it’s skinny rawness – at least to my ear. They still grabbed me though – the opener (also the CD’s opener) ‘Big Job’ bristled with energy – which is what this band does so well.

Closer ’Comedown’ had Gospel handclaps and Gordon summoning the ghosts of Albert Ayler’s ‘Ghosts’ in his throaty sermon.

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Lekker, pic- Ellen Kirkwood

Closing the night – and contrasting equally vividly with what had come before – was the much-anticipated performance of Lekker, Guitarist/composer Ben Hauptmann’s jazz-rock-reggae-bluegrass-funk-jazz septet. Built over the pulse and groove of James Hauptmann and Evan Mannell’s drums and percussion and James Haselwood’s bass, the group had Hauptmann shared guitar duties with Arne Hanna. Harry Sutherland and Dan Junor on piano and alto completed this astounding ensemble.

Hauptmann’s musical vision has always confounded any expectations (what is it about guitarist/composers?); tonight it put a grin on my face that he opened with a fleet bluegrass breakdown. Moving through compositions from both his Benjamin Hauptmann and Lekker albums, the band ate up all grooves – reggae, funk, West African 6/8, rock. Hauptmann’s solos, all held fire and cool chromatic sparks, contrasted beautifully with Arne Hanna’s more greasy, blues-accented touch. Hanna’s solos throughout were each a mini-masterclass on shaping and pacing a solo (young hotheads take note!).

A highlight for me was hearing the tunes such as ‘Shuffle Over’ – which gets a heavy electro treatment on the Lekker album – played by this ensemble: not better, just different flavoured, seasoned with human breath and sweat. (Also grin-making to hear Hauptmann’s ‘Third Stone From the Sun’ and ‘Eat That Question’ quotes in the coda fades. All guitarists are rockers at heart.)

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Sunday, Foundry 616 again and the sunny Ollie McGill trio. James Hauptmann (drums) and Jon Zwartz (bass) making McGill’s Tunes – vocal and instrumental – really spark and catch. After a rockin’ opener they were into the intriguing ‘Fishy’, alternating between a Latin groove and heavy funk, the trio at ease with the two different tempos and grooves.

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Jon Zwartz, pic- Hardaker

Vocal piece ‘Constancy’ was a good-hearted Dr John funk groove. McGill’s vocal, while not the most arresting, proved to me (again) that composers often do their own tunes the best justice, on an emotive level. Closer ‘Let The Wind Blow’ reminded us, yes, this was Sunday: spreading sweet Gospel tones and a hushed hallelujah over Foundry 616.

I had really looked forward to seeing bassist/composer David Groves and his ensemble – a new voice is always a reason to be cheerful. Groves himself thanked Jazzgroove for giving young composers such as himself a platform and an audience for his compositions. And his compositions were worth it – unique, nicely conceived, all intriguing and testing vehicles for blowing.

And yet his set was, to me, in part let down by a lack of cohesion in the group. Groves and Sydney’s tallest drummer, Cameron Reid often got the groove flying, and pianist Steve Barry did his usual elegant and harmonically shrewd thing. But the horns of tenor Scott Kelly and Simon Ferenci on trumpet rarely gelled and a general lack of forward motion seemed to hamper the band.

The classic hard bop quintet format – rhythm plus two horn front line – can be the most thrilling in all of jazz, but tonight Groves’ ensemble never seemed to give themselves the chance to blaze and thunder. I hope – no, I know – next time they will knock my socks off.

The twin crown of the 2016 Festival was the David Ades tribute performance by Zac Hurren and Julien Wilson. As part of a national tour to perform and celebrate the music of Melbourne’s brilliant and influential alto player and composer, David Ades, the two tenor colossi took the stage with Cameron Undy (bass) and Simon Barker (Drums). After a few words from Hurren, welcoming us to the festival and their performance, they proceeded to incinerate our minds with the sort of white heat that only jazz can cook up.

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Zac Hurren and Julien Wilson, pic- Hardaker

In the car on the way home later, the phrase ‘music made in the moment; music made for the moment’ swam into my mind. This was a performance that stopped time or rather, pulled and twisted and melted time into new and phantastic shapes. The two tenors faced each other across the stage and blew each others minds whilst blowing ours. No juvenile ‘cutting’ contest, this was as Trane and Pharoah spoke: heading up and out for joy.

Opening with Ades’ ‘La Ripaille’ the joy flared up like lust: Barker and Undy began pouring on the energy which never let up the entire set. The rest of the set was drawn from Ades’ lovely posthumous release A Day in A Life.

Hurren’s tone was rounder and more full-bellied, with fat dollops of the blues in his lower register and a woman’s loved cry at the top. Wilson’s voice was bright and sweet and riven through with lightning and other storms. Both players swooned as the other played, digging each other, meshed in mind and soul-spirit.

It was not all fire, brimstone and lava: Hurren and Undy’s measured and relaxed take on Ades’ ‘Arco and Alto’ had a suspended loveliness, reminiscent of Charles Mingus’ ‘Eclipse’ – a breeze from another planet. The set closer, ‘Removab’ built and built until we were all spent. Spent and blasted into joy.

Zac Hurren walked around the venue afterwards, personally thanking everyone for coming. As I shook his hand, I told him he had to be the happiest man in Australia. “Yeah! I am happy!” he beamed.

After that set – indeed, after what may be the last ever Jazzgroove festival – we were all pretty happy. As happy as Zac Hurren. And that’s happy.

 

Published February 2015 on australianjazz.net

 

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” So said that well-know bebopper (in words), Walt (‘Woody’) Whitman.

The quote came to mind when listening recently to two new releases from Melbourne saxophonist and composer Julien Wilson. Swailing is Wilson in Trio mode with guitarist Steve Magnusson and Steve Grant on accordion; This is Always has his big toned horn set amongst a classic quartet made up of Wilson, Barney McAll, Jonathan Zwartz and Allan Browne (and I don’t think I need to list what instruments each of these gents play…).

Julien Wilson3Swailing is as free as This is Always is restricted; it is as open as the quartet recording is closed. Swailing is the magpie, picking from electric Miles, Massenet and Fats; This is Always is the osprey, its eye fixed on the one prize.

And both are deliriously beautiful for all of these qualities and more.

I was thinking that together they represent the two sides of Julien Wilson, but then the Whitman quote swam into my mind and made me realise that an artist such as Wilson – a true artist in any and every sense – has more than two side: he has multitudes. And we are fortunate that he shares as few or as many as he wishes, with us.

I asked Julien Wilson a baker’s half-dozen questions, and his replies came back generous, insightful and filled with some cool riffing on the head. Thank you, Julien. Enjoy, people.

 

 

1. ‘Swailing’ and ‘This Is Always’ are obviously very different works which flow from the mind of the same artist – what is the aspect that you feel unifies them in your aesthetic?

Well, apart from the fact that I play tenor saxophone on both of them, there are a couple of unifying factors. In each case they are records that I have wanted to make for a long time, with musicians I have known and respected for most of my musical life. I met Steve Grant the same year I first heard Allan Browne play, 1986 I think. Al was in the first “live” jazz band I ever heard and Steve came to a jazz workshop I was playing clarinet at. He played seven tunes on seven instruments that day, and from memory, didn’t say a word. It was probably that same year that my Aunt gave me a Vince Jones Cassette Tape for Christmas that featured Barney on piano.

Anyway, I’m digressing already!

Both albums contain a mix of my tunes (originals?) and other peoples compositions (covers?). Both albums were recorded within a few months of each other. I mixed and mastered them during the same period – mid 2013 – (with different teams) and formed my own label to release them. Both represent a desire to retain 100% control of my own product, both musically and visually from conception to realisation, to release date and physical appearance. Both are available as High Resolution 24bit Downloads as well as CD, the point here being: I really care about the way the albums “sound”. Both in the recording process and through the mixing and mastering stages I was very aware of producing the highest quality product, which I guess is as “aesthetic” an answer as I can give. Julien wilson2

 

2. Did the players suggest the directions of both works, or did you start with a concept and then build a band around it?

The trio has been together for ten years now. Our first album was live, and we’ve discussed how to go about making a studio album for some time. The band kind of “presented” itself to us as a collection of friends, rather than a pre-determined selection of instruments, with players then selected to play those instruments. Mags and I have played in many bands together over the years, often without a bass player, and in trio with drums we’ve worked on making the time very elastic.  So the opportunity to play without drums seemed natural. All three of us have a love of various music and musicians from South America (esp. Argentina) so the accordion’s “bandoneon” qualities, combined with the nylon-string guitar’s obvious “Brazillian” references, and the expressive elements of the saxophone that conjure links to Tango and, of course, Stan Getz took us in a certain natural direction. Tunes I had written previous to the trio’s formation took on connotations of bossa rhythms and phrasing that were never originally intended. Magnusson’s composition, ‘My First 2001’ is a tune we’ve played with many groups. It was written before the trio was formed, but has become almost a signature piece for this band. My composition, ‘Midway ‘was written just before the recording. Actually the melody was written overnight between the 2 days in the studio, and overdubbed the next day, so this is one tune that was really custom built for the trio. The bass clarinet is a new instrument for me, and one that I’ve heard more and more fitting in to the fabric of the trio. The lack of a standard rhythm section of bass and drums means that the trio have to challenge the traditional roles of our instruments and find new relationships and responsibilities. Mags’ move from nylon-string to electric guitar (and more recently Moog Guitar) have changed my role in the trio, and the bass clarinet lets me move further in to an area that I’ve been interested in for many years. With the pitch and sonority of the bass clarinet I can play more of a supportive and propulsive function within the group. Additionally, the group has always been about the blend of tones we can achieve between our instruments, which is really unique to this band. The sound of the bass clarinet combining with the accordion has been more and more appealing to me lately. Interestingly, the tenor sax, accordion and guitar have almost identical pitch ranges, which means the roles within the group can be highly interchangeable.

Another point of interest with the trio is that for some reason an uncanny number of people seem to draw connections between our sound (perhaps the instrumentation and romanticism of it) with “French music”. Rather than fight this any longer, Steve Grant visited France a number of times in 2011 and 2012. He reported, despite visiting an extensive number of cafes and clubs throughout France, (and especially in Paris) of hearing NO accordionistas accompanying baristas. Despite this, he returned to Australia with a swath of French manuscripts for us to play, and, as fortune would have it, just before the recording session, we were hired for a season of concerts at the National Gallery of Victoria in support of a Napoleon exhibition! From the variety of “french” music we looked at, we adopted and recorded “Thai’s Meditation” by Massenet (incorrectly credited to Gabriel Faure on the album by yours truly).

For the quartet album, I basically just wanted to make an album with Barney while he was in town at Allan Eatons with Ross Cockle. Ross had recently recorded Sweethearts with Sam Anning and Allan Browne and I had such a good time doing it I wanted to do it again with Barney. I’ve always wanted to make a ballads album with piano, acoustic bass and drums, and the chance to have Al and Barney together seemed to good to let go. As luck would have it, my trio became unavailable for a concert we were booked for, and I managed to get Jonathan and Barney to replace them and book Eatons the next day. The half hour concert was all the rehearsal we had before the recording. Barney and I brought a handful of charts of “standards” on the day, and I picked a couple of my originals (all written very recently) that I thought would complement the other songs. So in this situation, the “concept” and the “band” were almost the same thing. I really wanted to just play all the tunes once, with as little discussion/instruction as possible, and let the musicians bring their individual voices to the music.

 

Julien wilson13. How do you pick your players on both works? What was the quality you looked for?

With the quartet record, Barney and Al have a long history together. Barney and Jonathan also have a long a history together. I’ve played with them all in various projects. Recently I’ve been playing more and more regularly with Al & Jonathan in a variety of projects. They seemed like they would make such a perfect team. It wasn’t until I booked them that I realised Al and Jonathan had never played in a band together.

The trio: Mags and I have played in so many bands together I’ve lost count. It started in 1992 when I was 20. Strangely enough, the first official gig we did together may have been in Niko Schauble‘s Tibetan Dixie! (We recorded Swailing at Niko’s Studio). We formed the trio with Steve Grant when Will Guthrie (who played drums with us in the assumptions trio) moved to France. (Hmm, there may be a French connection with the trio after all?!?)

Most of my music-making with Steve had involved playing traditional (and some modern) jazz with him playing trumpet (or piano, or trombone, or bass, or alto sax!). in 2004 we were living together in a share house in North Fitzroy and Steve was often sitting in the backyard “practicing” what we affectionately called his “screaming suitcase”. I remember one morning hearing “Blue in Green” drifting through the back door (strangely familiar, but surreal on accordion) then, later in the day  “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. It struck me all of a sudden that the accordion could give a really interesting take on material not normally associated with it.

The qualities I look for in musicians, (beyond ability, SOUND and touch) is honesty, confidence, heart-on-sleeve bravery, and the ability to tell their own story, regardless of style or influence. I like players who can commit spiritually to many styles of music but who don’t feel sacrilegious about stepping outside the confines of a given style. As an improvisor first and foremost, I give maximum credit to individualists, but I believe that dedication to immersing yourself in specific styles of music can open creative doors that stay closed to people who strive to stay free of influence in the pursuit of creative purity. I like to give my band members as few instructions as possible, so they can play what they hear, which is ultimately going to be more interesting to me than what I think I might want to hear them play. Ultimately, if I feel I can trust the musicians, I can just play, and let them find what the music means to them, without having to give it a label, or place it in the correct bag.

 

4. Your composition ‘Trout River’ gets quite distinctly different treatments on both albums – was this the band’s conception, or yours?

I actually wrote this tune around the same time as “I Believe This Belongs To You”. I had my regular electric quartet in mind during the compositional process, so both these recordings are different from the initial conception of the song. From a personal perspective, the treatment is the same. I basically just presented the lead sheet to the band and counted it in. The tune is a blend of sweetness and melancholy I guess and there’s a bluesy element to both those. After the first take with the quartet, I decided to just feature Barney, and do some restrained blowing on the intro and outro. It reminded me of a Wayne Shorter kind of vibe where the melody is just repeated and fragmented while the rhythm section solos internally. With the trio we’d performed the tune live a few times already before the recording so it was something we all felt comfortable blowing on. It sounds simple, but the changes are tricky to solo over smoothly. Everyone who’s played this tune quizzes me about the chord changes. Strangely enough, given the instrumentation, the quartet version to me feels like the floaty dreamlike version, whereas the trio really digs in and gets funky on it. I especially love the rhythm sections dreamy intro on This is Always, and the accordion solo and funky outro on Swailing.

 

5. What was you thinking behind the selection of non-original pieces on both ‘Swailing’ and ‘This Is Always’?

I like songs. I like playing other peoples tunes. I also like improvising and composing my own material, but there is a wealth of beautiful music out there that deserves to be at least “recycled”. On Swailing, they are mostly tunes we have had in the repertoire for a while, although some of them got new treatments in the studio. The Massenet tune was brought in by Steve Grant for our Napoleonic Season at the NGV. ‘Little Church’ is from Live-Evil, (Miles with Hermeto) which I’ve always loved. ‘Chanting’ is on the first Ornette record I ever owned. It is one of his lesser known pieces, but an incredibly soulful melody. Ornette actually plays it on trumpet. The trio only play the verse of ‘Stardust’, as a piece in it’s own right. It struck us as something the Paul Motian Trio would do. ‘Creole Rhapsody’ was taught to me by John Scurry, and I play it any chance I get. It’s early Ellington and just pure genius.

The idea behind This is Always was to do a jazz ballads session. My originals just kind of snuck in there as appropriate vehicles. I’ve been playing ‘The Feeling of Jazz’ & ‘Deep Night ‘on gigs for a few years and they’ve both got some voodoo about them. I guess neither of them are really ballads actually. I don’t really know anyone else who plays either of those songs. Barney suggested ‘This Is Always’, ‘The Party’s Over’ and ‘Stairway to the Stars’, which were all new to me. I loved that because it kept a freshness about the session that I wanted. I messed around with some other harmonies, some of which made it on the record, and some got vetoed by the band! We actually recorded enough material for two albums on the day. 17 songs I think. I wanted songs that haven’t been done to death, and that have something unusual about them. ‘Body and Soul’ of course has been done by everyone, but for some reason nobody plays the verse. I love that we just play one verse and one chorus on this version. FOR THE RECORD: None of us were trying to DO anyone on this recording. No song is a particular tribute to any one player. I dedicated some tunes to different friends in the liner notes, but the idea when playing the songs was just to play them as honestly as possible with respect to the song, the spirit of the music, the other musicians in the room and to myself.

 

6. What are your thoughts on jazz in Australia today?

As I write this I’m painfully aware that David Tolley has just left us. Dave was an inspiration to so many to find your own voice and be a product of your own culture. As was Brian Brown who died just over a year ago and inspired a whole generation (or two or three) through his playing and his teaching at the Victorian College of The Arts. Both were dedicated to encouraging others to find their own voice, express their true identity and reject established (and imported) stereotypes of what improvised music should be. In the interim between the departure of Tolley and Brownie we also tragically lost Bernie (McGann) and Dave (Ades). These four musicians were personally responsible for a lot of my convictions about music, and were an amazing source of inspiration and encouragement for me, as musicians dealing with the Australian landscape, and as close friends and mentors. They were my heroes, along with Mark Simmonds (who hasn’t performed for years) and Phil Treloar (who has been in Japan for decades). They all had (have) incredibly unique voices and were/are an inspiration for others to create their own.

I don’t want to get in to a “is there an Australian sound?” debate, as I almost think in this day and age of information overload and instant global communication that an artistic National identity is becoming a moot point. Unfortunately in the wider community there seems to be a disgusting move in Australia towards a Nationalistic attitude that I thought we’d grown out of. It’s ironic that This is Always  was recorded on Australia Day, and also they day Brian passed away. I’ve always been patriotic in the sense that I’m proud of Australian innovations and openness, but I’m finding it hard to deal with the Nationalistic attitude of “We were here first, so if you don’t like it, go back where you came from”. What happened between Hoge’s “Throw another Prawn on the Barby” and Hanson’s “I don’t like it”? Surely as a nation we don’t want to be seen as the kind of people that “give” a drowning family a raft and push them back out to sea!!!!! Where’s the honour and humanity (fair go??) in that?

But, back to music:

“New” is old. “Experimental” music is now as predictable as Mozart and Beethoven. “Mouldy” music has become “refreshed” again as young people adopt it. We have a new set of young musicians that understand all this and can straddle the fence rather than sitting on it. Brett Thompson, James Macauley, Marty Holoubek, and Aaron Flower are a younger generation of guys who embrace all styles, without arguing about which ones are more or less “relevant”. It’s ALL MUSIC. The guys from Cope Street Parade and Geoff Bulls Band and The New Sheiks and FLAP are reinvigorating music from another era in their own way. This is recycling in the best sense. Making something useful and relevant from something that has already been used, but is by no means worn out. The ideas of the Modernists who wanted to destroy the museums in an effort to stop glorifying the past have been proven merely interesting, rather than essential to the progression of art.

For jazz in Australia to continue to evolve and mature, it needs young people to reinvigorate it and continue reinventing not just the music, but the spirit of it. I like old music, but I don’t want to play in a museum. I like creating new sounds and experimenting and developing “my art”, but I don’t want to always play to an intelligentsia underground crowd of 5. Jazz (or whatever you want to call it) should be SERIOUS FUN. It should have the ability to tell the saddest story ever told, but still be UPLIFTING! It HAS TO BE playful and contain challenges as well as beauty. Above all, it needs to be emotive and expressive and communicate with an audience, because if we don’t have them…

 

7. What are your thoughts on music in general today?

See above. Without Music I would be …. …. … probably dead or in jail to tell the truth.

Music is becoming less and less of a commodity as everyone can now get it for nothing.

Anyway, there is so much music out there now … how can you make a dint in it?

Musicians are giving away their albums (and still finding it hard to be heard and reviewed!)

There is a generation now that don’t give a fuck about quality of sound. They love big TV’s with Full Definition Screens but are happy to listen to music on shitty compressed MP3’s through tiny tinny boxes. A survey I read recently said something like 85% of Teenagers surveyed on a blindfold test PREFERRED the sound of MP3’s to full quality High Def files??????? Some of my students at Uni prefer to hold a microphone to the speaker on their iPhone to play a tune through the PA rather than plug in in to the nice old stereo the school has. WTF??

There are more musicians in the world than ever before.

Many of them have (multiple) degrees.

Gigs generally pay the same (or less) than they did when I started doing gigs in the late 80’s!

Working musicians can no longer “join a band” or get an apprenticeship with one group.

Everyone is chasing their tail doing 8 gigs a week with 10 different groups.

“Popular” music (see Fox FM) picks up a few songs a month and squeezes them dry, wringing the very life out of them until they are bled-dry, disposed of and forgotten while they move on to the “flavour-of-next-month”

However, all this means that grass-roots musicians have taken control of their own products and their own performance spaces and are creating their own opportunities to perform, record and distribute their music. People know what they want and have the ability to be totally in control of their own products. Niche venues and homespun performance spaces are springing up like wildflowers amongst the corporate dust and music is being taken back where it belongs: [in to the local community] and re-establishing it’s place in society [a balm for weary souls and an elixir for our spirits]

‘Swailing is available here – http://lionsharecords.bandcamp.com/album/swailing

‘This is Always’ is available here – http://lionsharecords.bandcamp.com/album/this-is-always

Julien Wilson’s website is here – http://julienwilson.com

Published Martch 2104 on australianjazz.net