This is Always FRONT COVER

Rhythms – February 2014

Julien Wilson Trio – Swailing

Also Julien Wilson – This is Always


Melbourne saxophonist Julien Wilson had an interesting 2013, the lowlight being a  minor surgery gone wrong, which saw him hospitalised for a couple of weeks (at one stage in serious danger), and unable to play for another several weeks. Happily, he bounced back in time to play some memorable gigs at Wangaratta Jazz (and then at Bennetts Lane), some of them promoting his recent recordings.

Wilson made crucial contributions to recent releases by bassists Jonathan Zwartz and Sam Anning. But he has really excelled himself on these two recordings under his own name.

Swailing features his long-running trio with Stephen Magnusson (guitar) and Steve Grant (accordion). They share a remarkable affinity, favouring a spacious sound, wherein the sighing tones of the two Steves cushion and embrace Wilson’s most attractive, yearning forays on the tenor sax. Or (which is a new aspect, for this trio at least) his playing on soprano sax or bass clarinet.

There are 14 tracks here, many of them quite concise. Wilson and Magnusson provide several originals, and there are interpretations of pieces by composers as diverse as Ellington, Ornette, Waller, Hoagy Carmichael, Gabriel Faure and Hermeto Pascoal. The unusual, yet attractive, combination of instruments is perhaps the first thing you’ll notice, before you appreciate the rare skills of all three players, and their ability to combine their voices so seamlessly.

This Is Always finds Wilson playing a program of standard ballads, leading what he describes as a ‘classic’ quartet: tenor sax, piano, bass, drums. It seems that Wilson avoided recording in this format until he felt ready. And he certainly was ready to play these songs – gorgeous ballads like ‘This Is Always’, ‘Body And Soul’, ‘Deep Night’, ‘Stairway To The Stars’, plus a few compatible originals – with a level of maturity, and a storytelling quality that place him proudly in the lineage of such great tenor balladeers as Lester Young, Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane, Stan Getz and Joe Lovano.

Of course, it helps that he was joined by the very special combination of Barney McAll (piano), Jonathan Zwartz (bass) and Allan Browne (drums). The pianist has a long history with both Zwartz and Browne, but this was the first time the three had played together as a rhythm section. They combine as if they have been working together for years, achieving an effortless depth of swing that is not often heard here, and inspiring Wilson to play with admirably understated eloquence. The solos from McAll and Zwartz are consistently superb, too. In the mood for some classic jazz ballad playing? Do not miss this album.

By Adrian Jackson

# Julien Wilson Trio – Swailing #