The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - John McBeath

Okay James Muller & Syd­ney Con­ser­va­to­rium Jazz Orches­tra 54 Records This enor­mous pro­duc­tion, recorded in Brook­lyn by Aus­tralian gui­tarist/leader and multi-award­win­ning vir­tu­oso James Muller and con­duc­tor, sax­o­phon­ist and com­poser David Theak, in­volves more than 20 mu­si­cians from the Syd­ney Con­ser­va­to­rium, where Theak lec­tures in jazz. They play com­po­si­tions by Muller and Ger­man pi­anist, com­poser and ar­ranger Flo­rian Ross on this peer-re­viewed la­bel. The vir­tu­oso gui­tarist has teamed up for this ven­ture with the Syd­ney Con­ser­va­to­rium Jazz Orches­tra, an as­ton­ish­ing big band made up of some of Aus­tralia’s most ac­com­plished young li­ons. The ar­range­ments are by Ross and the al­bum was recorded su­perbly in New York at Sys­tems Two by Mike Mar­ciano.

The main theme of the al­bum is “the idea that it’s OK to not be OK”, mak­ing a state­ment about men­tal health is­sues and the stigma sur­round­ing them. The con­cept of “fak­ing a smile” is re­peated sev­eral times through the al­bum. Al­though many pas­sages have a big band sound with fine ar­range­ments, there is ad­e­quate room for a great deal of solo work, most of it sup­plied by Muller. The ti­tle track, by Ross, floats serenely along with Muller’s re­strained lead on gui­tar, and a softly repet­i­tive riff from the SCJO.

The orches­tra be­gins to gain power to­wards the fi­nale and con­cludes with a more pro­nounced ver­sion of its ear­lier riff. Muller’s com­po­si­tion Green Eyes, open­ing with an or­ches­tral riff, breaks off into an alto solo, build­ing to an elon­gated gui­tar se­quence and de­vel­op­ing into a strong alto-led con­clu­sion. Be­cause of the al­bum’s fine mu­sic it is a de­serv­ing ad­di­tion to any Aus­tralian jazz col­lec­tion.

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