Australian Jazz Album Round-Up May 2015

The year moves rapidly forward and the rate of new releases accelerates to a gallop. The standard remains high, as is evident in the following reviews. Also this month, we look at the amazing Joseph Tawadros in concert.

alister-spenceAlister Spence, Joe Williamson, Christopher Cantillo

Begin                           Self Release                ★★★

Alister Spence (piano, prepared piano, percussion) Joe Williamson (double bass) Christopher Cantillo (drums, percussion)


Isotropes                      Self Release                ★★★★


Alister Spence (Fender Rhodes, pedals), Raymond McDonald (s & t sax), Shoeb Ahmad (boss sp-202, sp-303 pedals). Rec 20-22 September 2014

semsaroundAlister Spence returns fresh from the success of last year’s duo album with Myra Melford, Everything Here Is Possible (reviewed in these pages), with not one but two releases: Firstly in a trio with Canadian bassist Joe Williamson and Swiss drummer Christopher Cantillo, and secondly as a member of Sensaround. While both albums fall into the category of free jazz they are two very different beasts.Sensaround’s Isotropes is the more adventurous release, featuring Spence on Fender Rhodes, (although you’d be hard pressed to recognise the instrument) and pedals. Over a sound-bed of constantly changing noises that almost gurgle in and out, Raymond McDonald plays fairly conventional sax, in that it is not quite atonal. The listener is drawn to the effects, coming mainly from Shoeb Ahmad with obvious assistance from Spence. The overall effect is almost sombre but also serene. On the other hand, while Begin features the usual instrumentation for a piano trio, it certainly does not sound like one. The tracks fall into two categories: Those that utilise the instruments in an almost conventional manner, and those in which the trio members eschew the instruments’ inherent sound for prepared piano, percussive effects and other seemingly random noises. Just like Isotropes, a definite mood comes out of these sonic sculptures, which more than justifies Spence’s approach. Indeed, it is a very satisfying album. Cantillo manages to extract a panorama of noises and effects from his kit, such that at times it appears as if the leader is being led by his percussionist. There is much diversity in these two albums, confirming that Spence is a musician of great vision. For more info go to


james-mullerJames Muller

Neurotica                                 Self Release                ★★★

James Muller (g), Sean Wayland (k), Desmond White (b), Alex Boneham (b), Ben Vanderwal (d). Rec. October 2103, November 2014

James Muller is a fine guitarist who seems to have slid under the radar in recent years. This is unfortunate as he has a distinctive tone and a capacity for some quirky compositions. After a lengthy gap since his last platter, Muller returns with a fine new album entitled Neurotica, which features more strange rhythms (which must have been difficult to play) and great playing from all concerned. While Muller is a thoroughly modern guitarist, his edgy but strangely laid back tunes take what could have been just another guitar album to a different place. The album kicks off with ‘K. L. M.’, a trio track with a strong melodic tune played over a shifting rhythmic base, sets the tone for the remainder of the album. For two tracks, ‘Trane Plus Molly Equals Countdown’ (a clear reference to the eccentric host of the iconic but long gone pop show, ‘Countdown’) and ‘Dogs in Calcutta’, the keyboards of Sean Wayland add welcome colour and depth to the music. The overall impression is of accomplished musicians recording in a very relaxed mode while successfully taking on some challenging compositions. Of particular note is drummer Ben Vanderwal whose great percussive skills are evident throughout. There is no doubt that Muller is a guitarist who should be far better known than he is. Hopefully the exposure from this album will rectify this and we will not have to wait years before his next venture into the recording studio.
For more info go to


jamesmustafaJames Mustafa

The Last Sanctuary                 Jazzhead                     ★★★★

James Mustafa (tb, compositions, bandleader), Stephen Blyth (ts), Adrian Sherriff (bt), Lachlan Davidson (as), Tim Wilson (as), Gian Slater (v). Rec 27 January 2014

Rarely does a musician appear from nowhere with a clear, fully formed musical vision, and even more rarely do they possess the ability to give effect to that vision. James Mustafa is one of those rare musicians. The trumpeter, trombonist, composer and bandleader has produced a splendid debut with The Last Sanctuary. The maturity of his compositions and arrangement belie his youth and the scope of his work is simply inspiring. That said, his influences are evident, most notably Maria Schneider and in his liner notes, Paul Grabowskyrefers to the great composer. As such it is not a big band that has been forged from an Ellington or Basie mould; rather it is contemporary in outlook and that is no bad thing. The album comprises six Mustafa originals, all of which are of note, but the centrepiece is undoubtedly the title track. Over the course of its 18 minutes, Mustafa manages to take a basic theme and then proceed to bend and shape it into numerous musical concepts, most notably when he adds Gian Slater’s atmospheric vocals over the top of the band. Just about a modern masterpiece. This album has already received much attention and this has heightened since Mustafa’s Young Australian Jazz Artist of the Year gong at the recent Bell awards. Make no mistake; this is a fine album, which augurs well for the young composer.
For more info go to


20150417 222755

Joseph Tawadros Quartet

Lion Theatre, Adelaide: Joseph Tawadros (oud), Matt McMahon (p), Karl Dunnicliff (b), James Tawadros (Egyptian perc.)

Joseph Tawadros chose to bring his quartet to Adelaide to perform before an enthusiastic audience on the day of release of his new album, the remarkable Truth Seekers, Lovers And Warriors. His music is a melding of middle-eastern forms with other genres including jazz, and this made for compelling listening in this intimate space. To say the least, Tawadros is an extraordinary musician whose skill and dexterity with the oud is something to behold and on this night he was in great form. The group covered compositions from across his catalogue, most notably last year’s brilliant ‘Permission To Evaporate’, (reviewed on these pages early last year) and the title suite from the new disc. While the focus was on Tawadros, he was supported by a trio of musicians who laid the perfect base for his flights of improvisation. Long time cohort Matt McMahon, who appears on ‘Permission To Evaporate’, was intuitive while Joseph’s brother James Tawadros extracted an extraordinary range of rhythms from his tambourine-like instrument and gave the audience a mesmerising solo while appearing completely stone faced. However, Joseph was the star of the show; his amazing skill and melodic sense was fully on display and held the audience spellbound. Probably not surprising from a musician who can attract the likes of Jack DeJohnette, Christian McBride and John Abercrombie, among others, to appear on his various recordings, but wonderful nonetheless.
For more info go to

Michael Prescott,Jazz Presenter 5MBS, Australia


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