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Album of the Week – ‘This Narrow Isthmus’ by the Julien Wilson Quartet

‘This Narrow Isthmus’ (lionsharecords) by the Julien Wilson Quartet is Eastside Radio’s Album of the Week.

The group’s second and last release was recorded live in Sydney back in 2014 and explores the universal theme of life’s transience. The follow up to the groups debut and triple Australian Bell Award winning album ‘This Is Always’, represents a growth in approach within the creative process, being completely comprised of original works. This development has lead the group towards a Bluesy-er sound however does not forget their origins deeply rooted in the Jazz tradition. At its core, each outstanding musician’s musicianship is second to none, as widely publicised and celebrated, however there is more admire. As the listener progresses systematically through each track, they are able to reflect on hearing a new and exciting layer of each performers skill unfold. So’s not to spoil the experience I’ll mention some of the recording’s highlights.

The album’s opening ‘Rainman‘ celebrates the subtly and elegance of each instrument, slowly submerging the listener into the album listening with a beautifully romantic melody led by Wilson on Saxophone and supported by the reminder of the group. Wilson’s solo truly takes advantage of the enduring technique used by the greats, most notably the likes of Carmen McRae, that a reduction in volume, over that of a boldness in sound, is really the key to grabbing an audiences attention.

Weeping Willow‘, track four, see’s a standout bluesy bass solo from Jonathan Zwartz and pianist Barney McAll. Zwartz stills the room as he opens the performance manipulating rhythm and dissonant around the bare chordal bones of the composition. Although the solo itself is relatively short, McAll effortlessly improvises an understated melody that utilises crescendo and rich chordal harmonies to swiftly showcase his talents (As a further listening suggestion for those who really enjoyed McAll’s work, be sure to grab his latest release ‘Mooroolbark‘ and listen to, in particular, ‘Apple Tree (Live)’). The rhythmic demand on drummer Allan Browne showcases the master players dexterity and ability to balance interest, time keeping, sensitivity and perceptiveness to his fellow players in one perfectly executed hit. In a true outpouring of the artists’ dedication to the project, the show the recording was taken from, one of only five rare performances, saw Browne drive over 900kms just to be present due to health problems prohibiting him from flying to Sydney from Melbourne. Sadly the album serves as one of the final body’s of work the artist contributed to, following his passing in June 2015.

Aptly titled final track, ‘Farewell‘ takes on a Latin inspired sonic influence that also introduces the clarinet to melodic mix. McAll pairs his Blues piano technique to the genre with success emphasising licks and minimalistic phrasing techniques as building blocks to an extended feature. The rhythm of the piece is somewhat fundamentally dismembered from the Browne’s drumming, only scarcely and softly audible across the track and shared amongst the remaining trio. Overall, it’s the artists attention to details such as elements including energy, interest, mood, and sensibility to each other’s musical capabilities that are what contribute to the perfection of the work as a whole.


Track Listing

1. Rainman

2. McGod

3. Barney and Claude

4. Weeping Willow

5. Bernie

6. Aberdeen

7. Cautiously Optimistic

8. Farewell


Julien Wilson – Tenor Sax, Clarinet

Barney McAll – Grand Piano

Jonathan Zwartz – Acoustic Bass

Allan Browne – Drums & Cymbals


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