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.