Live at Wizard Tone
REVIEW - Sydney Morning Herald
by John Shand
Having been party to exceptional live recordings by the Steve Hunter Band and the Subterraneans among others, Australia's slipperiest jazz guitarist, James Muller, here makes a live one of his own, telling us in the liner notes that, despite all the sessions, he's never been a comfortable studio animal. Certainly his most incendiary playing has occurred in concert, but I also have a sneaking suspicion that he attains his ultimate incandescence when not bearing responsibility for leading the band. For this album Muller shipped an audience into an Adelaide studio to combine the live buzz with audio precision. His colleagues are alto saxophonist Will Vinson, bassist Sam Anning and drummer Ben Vanderwal, with whom Muller feels an urge to unleash his inner bebopper: Monk's Evidence and Bird's Scrapple from the Apple nestle in a repertoire fleshed out with Lennie Tristano, Jerome Kern and three of his own tunes. The guitarist opts to keep his sound clean and singing, where I've always like it when he flirts with a little dirt and danger. Did he capture the uninhibited performances he sought? Not entirely, but he did lay down a convincing straight-ahead jazz album.
REVIEW - Australian Jazz.Net
by John Hardaker
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.
Recorded 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 theirbop 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.
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.”
One of Australia's most respected jazz musicians, James Muller, combines with a star studded line-up to present his first Live album. Recorded at Adelaide's Wizard Tone Studio during two sets, in front of two seperate live audiences the results are stunning...this album captures the spirit and inventiveness of a jazz gig with the audio quality of a studio session.
James Muller - guitar / composer
Will Vinson - alto saxophone
Sam Anning - contrabass
Ben Vanderwal - drums & cymbals