Julien Wilson Trio
Review by John McBeath – Nov 16th 2013
MELBOURNE saxophonist Julien Wilson was one of the highlights of this month’s Wangaratta Jazz Festival where, among other appearances, he launched his quartet album, This is Always. Considering that only six weeks earlier Wilson had come close to death with anaphylactic shock during a hernia operation and has weakened abdominal muscles, his performances were remarkable.
The new recording brings together a stellar group: New York-based pianist Barney McAll, Sydney bassist Jonathan Zwartz and Melbourne drummer Allan Browne. The title track opener, after McAll’s dreamy piano intro, descends deliciously into deeply moving tenor territory as Wilson delivers the theme in a beautiful re-creation of Coleman Hawkins. Then, as a perfect bass line and Browne’s subtly sophisticated brushes arrive, Wilson begins to softly explore with superb rhythmic sense, and the effect is everything a nostalgic, romantic ballad should be. Hawkins’s signature piece Body and Soul is reprised, or rather reinvented here at a slower tempo, and roundly imbued with a ceaseless flow of inspired ideas. Six of the nine tracks are wonderfully interpreted standards and the others are Wilson compositions, including a New Orleans style dirge, Farewell, featuring the leader’s excellent clarinet against bowed bass. There’s an infectiously swinging version of The Party’s Over and a slower, luscious rendition of Stairway to the Stars.
On the Swailing collection Wilson’s well-established trio uses its rather unusual instrumentation, adding Stephen Magnusson’s expert guitar and the perfectly appropriate accordion of Steve Grant to Wilson’s reeds. Grant’s instrument offers melodic and harmonic contributions, and one of the pleasant aspects of this album is the way these components are seamlessly exchanged between guitar and accordion. There’s a sprinkling of standards, including an all-too-short taste of Stardust for just over a minute of superlative tenor, and a quickened, impressive soprano sax workout on Jitterbug Waltz. An almost symphonic opening to Ornette Coleman’s Chanting has guitar and accordion continuing a wash behind the tenor’s climb into high-register excitement.
Wilson’s command of the bass clarinet is evident in his composition Midway, where he lays down an ostinato for the guitar’s melodic statement and later overdubs some inspired soprano sax. The sumptuous harmonies of Gabriel Faure’s Meditation are unhurriedly explored by meaningful meanderings of the tenor as accordion supplies a backdrop and the guitar adds important countering notes. Bass clarinet reappears for Magnusson’s composition Various and employs some tricky reed effects over accordion chord stabs as the guitar lopes sedately along. Another of Magnusson’s originals, My First 2001, after an out-of-tempo beginning, features exuberant guitar jumps as accordion and tenor underscore. A similar sentiment ignites Wilson’s Everybody Happy as the tenor hits a jubilant lift-off.
These two great new albums from top-level Australian jazz players can’t fail to enjoy widespread appeal.
This is Always
Review by Ian Muldoon – JazzAndBeyond – Jan 2014
Some older listeners may recall an album by Archie Shepp (Live at the Donaueschingen Music Festival 1967) which features one track and one track only- ‘One for the Trane’. It begins with a lengthy bass solo by Jimmy Garrison culminating in his trade mark flamenco style. Memorable. Some of you may also recall David Murray’s ‘Special Quartet’ which of course, featured Trane’s rhythm section.
My point? Julien Wilson’s album ‘This is Always’ has something to recommend it and is not a million miles from comparison with the aforesaid artists, and yet, it is an album of ballads including few ‘war horses’ such as Body and Soul.
In short, we have before us an album “in the tradition” played by seriously accomplished modern musicians at the top of their game. Not a lick in evidence. Quite moving in fact. One of the highlights ‘Wine and Water’ is an original by Mr Wilson and sits appropriately in the middle of this recital. Solos by piano and bass are the highlights. – The track begins with a bass solo (2.04s) which in its power, feeling, timing and construction is a great musical moment.
It sets the bar very high but Mr McAll, whose solo piano recital in St Patrick’s Cathedral at the 2013 Wangaratta Jazz Festival was, for me, the highlight of that festival, follows with a solo which moves from the bell like sounds of water falling to a percussive and powerful climax which matches Mr Zwartz’s bass. Mr Browne and Mr Wilson support and frame these solos, with some telling cymbal splashes and great timing and touch by Mr Browne on drums.
‘Farewell’ is drenched with feeling and recalls the tradition of ‘Flee as a Bird’ (Psalm 11) and is a stunning coda to a magnificent recital by this “classic” quartet. Mr Wilson is featured on clarinet. Music is feeling above all, and this album proves the rule. Maximum stars for this album.