Dec 16 2014
The folksy charm and easy pace of Swailing is pretty damn enchanting all its own, but it’s the way in which the Julien Wilson Trio builds drama with tiny bursts of lyricism that represents the album’s most enthralling characteristic. The trio of saxophonist Wilson, guitarist Stephen Magnusson and accordionist Steve Grant create a motion that matches the outward shape of each song’s melody. It’s an approach that allows them the space to weave in additional melodic threads for emotional depth while also providing the music some individual flair outside the group dynamic. It’s why this calm album is able to display so much liveliness and activity without shattering its seaside ease.
“I Believe This Belongs to You” is the centerpiece of this approach. Wilson’s sax adopts a nonchalance as it sings the melody with crispness and clarity. Magnusson’s guitar does the same, while also joining accordionist Grant in laying down some fuzzy dissonance in the build to the dramatic finish. This is the convergence of tranquility and tension that pours from this recording.
From this starting point, Wilson manipulates slight variations of the theme. “Little Church” is a solemn murmur, while “Euge” is deeply introspective… not a song so much as a musing. “Trout River” runs deep with the blues, and is cloaked behind an attractive tunefulness. “Creole Rhapsody” works in some New Orleans threads. “Various” has a theatrical flair, of sudden curves and swerves and an attention to the detail and drama of every motion, whereas “Jitterbug Waltz” is a bubbling cauldron of activity that could, and does, end up everywhere at once.
Most of the pieces hint at a formlessness that adds a bit of mystery to their expressions. It’s a shared quality that interlocks the different facets into a cohesive whole. The result is compelling, and the methodology for bringing it all together doesn’t appear to be a simple one. The album ends with “Chanting,” a piece that speaks to this exact point, and by extension, to every track on the album. A high-pitched shriek, a low resonant drone, a drawled, lyrical melody cutting through its midst, and the slowly revealed shape that never fully materializes, remaining hidden just enough to compel the listener forward to see what the ear might be missing.
A very cool album, offering up plenty of intrigue and some stunning moments of beauty.
Your album personnel: Julien Wilson (tenor & soprano saxes, bass clarinet), Stephen Magnusson (guitars) and Steve Grant (accordion).
Released on Lionsharecords.
Nifty cover art by Dale Cox.
Jazz from the Melbourne, Australia scene.