Australian Jazz Album Round-Up December 2014

We kicked off the year with Julian Wilson’s wonderful “Swailing”, featuring the guitar of Stephen Magnusson. Last month he was part of Enrico Rava’s band. We finish off the year with two more albums featuring his unique guitar, both well worth the purchase price. But first, a very promising new talent, Matthew Sheens.

Finally, five of the best for 2014.

– Michael Prescott, Jazz Presenter 5MBS, Australia


matthew sheens untranslatable ipMatthew Sheens


Self Release (via ABC Jazz)     ★★★★


Matthew Sheens (p), Sara Serpa (voc), Michael Mayo (voc), Mike Moreno (g), Linda Oh (b), Kenneth Salters (d), Rogerio Boccato (perc), Yanni Burton String Quartet. Rec 2014


In jazz there are performers who compose by providing vague sketches and themes for their band to add their own persona. On the other hand there are those who are complete composers, creating complex works and arranging them for specific musicians and groupings. These musicians have a focus on creating sound structures to fulfil their singular approach. There is no doubt the Sheens falls into the latter class and on display here is his clear vision for each composition. Evidence for this comes firstly from the shifting personnel and instrumentation and secondly the music itself, fully formed and structured but with space for improvisation. He has carefully selected the musicians and has employed a wide range of sonic shapes, from the Yanni String Quartet, to Sara Serpa great vocals, held together by Linda Oh’s wonderful bass, not to mention Moreno’s fluid guitar. It is apparent that Sheens has a particular interest in percussion and how it interacts with his music. To achieve his vision Salters utilises a wide range of styles, at times providing hints of modern street beats. This is a very eclectic but extremely satisfying album and is a logical step forward from his debut, “Every Eight Seconds” A young man whose potential is huge.

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On This Day

Jazzhead  ★★★★

Jordon Murray (trom), Stephen Magnusson (g), Mark Shepherd (b), Ronny Ferella (d). Rec. 19 December 2013

This album is one seriously tasty morsel! The group sound, loose and free, is dominated by the fabulous trombone of Murray, who introduces a great sense of fun and entertainment to his playing. Supporting him is the ever present Magnusson, who seems to be everywhere in Australian jazz these days. All the tracks are group compositions and performed with gusto and intent. Jordon delivers an extraordinary range of sounds from his instrument and this is what makes the album work so well. What could have been hampered by lack of variety is instead a sheer joy. Magnusson has a unique approach to the guitar and in addition to his lead provides the perfect sound bed for Murray’s excursions, whist complementing the shifting rhythms. The impression gained from listening to this album is that the band had a ball during recording and this enthusiasm simply leaps out of the speakers. The concept of a trombone led album may be daunting, but that is certainly not the case here, Murray’s trombone has a rich sound enhanced by obvious technical skill, but more importantly, imagination. This album was recorded over a year ago and represents their debut. I can only hope that their sophomore release in already in the can.

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Paper-TigerStephen Magnusson, Jamie Oehlers, Ben Vanderwal

Paper Tiger  

Self Release  ★★★

Featuring; Stephen Magnusson (g), Jamie Oehlers (ts, ss), Ben Vanderwal (d). Rec 5, 6 February 2013

One of the country’s leading saxophonists joins up with guitarist Magnusson and drummer Vanderwal for this leaderless trio outing, sans bass, over 15 mostly shortish tracks. From the opening track, Keith Jarrett’s “Back Hand”, to the rather surprising duo of final the track, (Magnusson and Oehlers), Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come No More”, the trio cover a wide variety of styles. The lack of bass presents no obstacle with Magnusson’s versatile guitar expertly covering much of that role. Aside from a fairly even spread of originals, the covers offer insights into the wide musical panorama exhibited here. In addition to the above, they also see to Frank Loesser’s “Slow Boat To China” and Ornette Coleman’s “Word From Bird”. There are some great originals, notably from Ben Vanderwal with the deliciously titled “A Song To Parallel Park To” (with Oehlers doubling on tenor and soprano) and “A Rocking Horse...”, being standouts. There is an obvious empathy between all three musicians with Magnusson and Vanderwal providing a firm base for Oehlers to take off with the aid of his fertile imagination. Vanderwal, in particular, is exemplary throughout. There can be no greater compliment to the success of an album than the listener returning again and again to hear these musicians in full flight, as this reviewer has done over the last several weeks.

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Australian Albums of the Year (in no particular order!)


1          Tilman Robinson “Network Of Lines”          (listen here collective)

2          Joseph Tawadros “Permission To Evaporate”       (ABC Jazz)

3          Luke Howard Trio “A Dove, A Loin, A Coast, A Pirate”   (Which Way Music)

4          Alistair Spence & Myra Melford “Everything Here Is Possible”    (self release)

5          Dog “Dog”      (Rattle Jazz)

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