Reviewed by Tony Mitchell, May 1st, 2014
In his 2009 book Jazz: The Australian Accent, John Shand describes the Julien Wilson trio, one of only three Melbourne-based musicians and bands to feature in the book, as follows: ‘[l]ike the Necks and Band of Five Names, the trio has found its own egalitarianism; its own way to let Wilson’s tenor saxophone, Stephen Grant’s piano accordion and Stephen Magnusson’s nylon-stringed acoustic guitar interact, without the music creating masters and slaves …the Julien Wilson Trio has only just begun to tap into its potential’ (pp. 134,139). Athough they have existed for ten years, Swailing is only their third album, after while you were sleeping (2006) and Trio-Live (2007), recorded at Bennett’s Lane, their first studio release and the second release on Wilson’s new label after This is Always, and it draws on old as well as new material.
Wilson plays in a number of different bands and contexts, and I first saw him in Sydney in 2010 with the great drummer PhilTreloar, who has been based in Japan since the early 1990s with his Spaces and Streams project. He also played in the impressive 1990s band Snag and the Assumptions trio, both of which included Magnusson. Tenor sax, accordion and guitar is an unusual combination (although Wilson also debuts on bass clarinet and soprano sax on this album), and it reminded me of my time in southern Italy in the 1970s where a local accordionist friend used to play Italian folk songs from the back of a truck with a saxophonist and drummer. But this trio’s influences are more Latin American including Argentinian ECM artists Egberto Gismondi and Dino Saluzzi; Magnusson also studied with Italian guitarist Bill Tomasini and accordionist Enzo Bertoli in Melbourne.
Swailing includes a short, poignant composition by Brazilian Hermeto Pascoal, Little Church, which features Wilson on bass clarinet. This comes with unlikely bedfellows Meditation by Gabriel Fauré, with Wilson’s tenor and high register guitar; we get a brief burst of tenor on Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust and again, with strong support from accordion on Duke Ellington’s Creole Rhapsody. On Fats Waller’s Jitterbug Waltz, Wilson switches to an up tempo but leisurely soprano. The disc ends with a haunting version of Ornette Coleman’s Chanting.
Compositions by Wilson and Magnusson complete the album. The instruments blend together seamlessly, especially on the melodic opening Wilson composition, I Believe This Belongs to You. Magnusson’s Euge is a slow duo on guitar and accordion without Wilson, followed by the standard Good Morning Heartache, with Wilson leading on tenor with some intricate phrasings; there is a solo by Magusson before Wilson provides an elegant finale. Another Wilson composition, Midway, follows with some lovely overdubbed soprano sax, doubling with bass clarinet. Magnusson’s My First 2001 foregrounds a leaping guitar as tenor and accordion provide evocative background. Wilson’s Everybody Happy again features a sprightly tenor solo, with ample support from guitar and accordion, and Magnusson’s Various has all three instruments in unison before they take off at tangents.Wilson’s Trout River flows elegantly intertwining tenor leaps with a bed of the other two instruments.
‘Swailing’ means a ‘prescribed burn to encourage regrowth’, so may have some reference to Victorian bushfire prevention, as well as implying a controlled burst of fire. The paintings by Dale Cox on the cover, inner sleeve and the CD itself provide an apt representation. It also is unusual in not having liner notes or track times, ‘to create the most immersive listening experience’, although track times are listed on the inner sleeve.