The diversity of Australian jazz is evident from this month’s new releases, a recently unearthed quintet recording of some of Australia’s best from 23 years ago, a staggeringly original collection from a new but obviously talented composer/arranger and finally a live show from a well established piano trio. Also this month, we look at Julien Wilson’s great trio in performance, following on from the recent review of his trio’s “Swailing” album.
Hunters & Pointers
The Hunters & Pointers Which Way music ★★★★
Way back, 23 years ago, a bunch of mates who just happened to be some of Australia’s best, decided to play some gigs at a Melbourne pub, well, just four to be precise. For some reason all were recorded onto VHS tape and then stuck in a cupboard. Fortunately for us, the cupboard has now been prised open and this resulting album, culled from those tapes, is packed to the rafters with superb performances from everyone involved. There are just 5 lengthy excursions, from the engrossing 23 minute rendition of Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower” to the 8 glorious minutes of Gershwin’s “Someone To Watch Over Me”. These are performances that were not confined by either a studio or concert expectations, this is a group of great musicians getting together to play in a relaxed atmosphere. And that’s what makes this so special; the soloists stretch out with inventive and melodic solos, clearly enjoying themselves. The album kicks off with Lyall and Hoffman playing intertwining lines before the rest of the band joins in on John Klenner’s 1931 standard, “Just Friends”, leading into a Tony Gould solo of power and beauty. There follows one of many Graeme Lyall’s fine alto solos, perfect tone, elegant melodic lines and just sheer class. Robertson also displays a superior ability throughout. This album makes a strong case for such live recordings, the band are not playing to any agenda and so, freed of their constraints, turn in one hell of a performance. The recording quality is also excellent throughout. This album may also contain a first for a jazz album; the uncredited sixth track is Graeme Lyall’s telling of a lengthy cleaned up version of the joke that somehow gave the band its name. Bring on Volume 2!
– Michael Prescott
Network Of Lines listen here collective ★★★★
From the outset it’s apparent that this is an extraordinary work by an outstanding new composer and arranger. The scope and range of his compositions is as wide as the Australian desert. The collection is inspired by Italo Calvino’s novel “If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller” and kicks off with “Winter‘s Night”, commencing with a deep drone and bass motif before evoking the tracks title with piano and eerie percussion. This segues into “Malbork, Cimmeria” a joyful brass, almost mariachi romp with a memorable hook from the leader’s trombone. “In Search Of An Anchor” is a minor masterpiece, mournful, repetitive before building to a midpoint climax followed by a slow, quiet second half with a reflective cello leading the way. Throughout the album themes come in and out, returning in completely different contexts as if to demonstrate just broad Tilman’s talent is. This is an album of great emotion; there are times it is so joyful that one feels like dancing, on other tunes sadness and melancholy ensues. All of this is underscored by a seeming endless well of unforgettable and hook laden melodies. The more one listens to the album the more it gets under your skin and the more it demands to be heard. On the strength of this, Tilman should be granted everything he wants to make his next brilliant musical statement.
– Michael Prescott
Jex Saarelaht Trio
Liminal Jazzhead ★★★
The Jex Saarelaht Trio has been performing for over 20 years from its Melbourne base with the same line-up. The wealth of experience is very evident on this live recording from the esteemed Bennetts Lane. The interplay between the musicians is almost telepathic as they work their way through the programme of six Saarelaht’s originals which comprise this album. Saarelaht’s compositions are quite distinctive, particularly the opener, ironically titled “Closing” and the title track, strong melodies with powerful rhythmic drive and some funky bass lines, the perfect base for the group’s solos. This is very much a trio, with Saarelaht giving ample solo space to the rhythm section, who play with him and not behind. And a good thing to, especially as Rex and Schauble can solo with genuine originality, contributing much colour to the music. Saarelaht possess an endless stream of emotive melodic flourishes which seem to continually tumble out of the speakers during his improvisational excursions. The experience that this trio has garnered over 20 years is fully evident here, a live set packed with grace, beauty and a prime exhibit demonstrating that the piano led trio remains a vibrant component of jazz today.
– Michael Prescott
The venue is somewhat unique, a small intimate space (with a bar of course, this is Australia!) that only opens when there is a gig. On this occasion Julien Wilson was there with his trio to promote his excellent new CD “Swailing”, recently reviewed on this site. In the company of guitarist Stephen Magnusson and Steve Grant on accordion the trio mesmerised the gathered with tunes from 2007’s “Trio Live” and a sizeable chunk of the aforementioned album. The music, with is ECM like qualities, was perfect for this space, lovely, flowing accordion flourishes, subtle guitar lines and the leader’s luscious tenor sax washing over the enthusiastic audience. The absence of a rhythm section only made this music more sensuous and inviting. Whilst Magnusson and Grant covered rhythmic duties with controlled subtly all three musicians contributed solos of eloquence and passion. Wilson is possessed of a glorious Ben Webster like tone which he uses to great effect during his improvisational flights; he appears unable to play an ordinary solo. Likewise, Magnusson’s gorgeous tone and judicious choice of notes led to series of solos that blended in seamlessly with Grant’s accordion. On the strength of this performance I can only hope that the many demands on Wilson’s career will not mean that we have to wait another 7 years before this group reconvenes.
– Michael Prescott