Monday, May 18, 2009


Tonight, on the last minute invitation of a friend, I went out to see the Julien Wilson Trio at the Charles Hotel. They're a Sydney jazz trio who have apparently been making quite a splash on the sort of classy, upmarket radio stations that I'm too proletarian to listen to.

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the whole going-out-to-see-jazz thing here in Perth. I love experiencing good live music, but I hate most Perth jazz outfits. Most native Perth jazz bands appear to be into jazz merely because they consider being in a rock band to be beneath them. They still have a rock sensibility, but they figure they can impress a better class of chick with jazz.

Fortunately the Julien Wilson Trio seemed to be of a different breed. Standard Perth jazz consists of band members trying to out do each other in the musical equivalent of pissing up a wall, with long isolated freeform solos demonstrating their ability to play twelve different notes every second. But this trio understood that it's the perfection of the notes, rather than just the quantity or the diversity, that creates beauty. They treasured the sounds they made, rolling them about, letting them hang deliciously in the air until they're ready for some new ones.

This is not to say that they weren't more than a little avante garde. Saxophonist Julien Wilson experimented with the limits of what his instrument could do, driving it up into a flurry of strangled squeaks or down into a drift of deep breathing, like his sax was making an obscene phone call.

Guitarist Stephen Magnussen and accordionist Stephen Grant also worked their instruments to their limits, but not so much that it overshadowed the music. The guitar lent the sound a Spanish influence, and the accordion a touch of the French. I especially liked that accordion – its idiosyncratic, breathy voice gave a depth to the sound which couldn't have been achieved with a piano or an organ.

They did, occasionally, lose their way. Around the middle of their performance they drifted into the sort of blurting, atonal soundscape that puts other musicians into raptures and audiences to sleep. But they got over it, morphing into a Dave Brubeck-style adventure in syncopation, with all three instruments playing off each other on different yet complementary paths.

So in short I had a great time listening to great music. They were the archetypal modern jazz trio - scruffy, in need of a wash, occasionally be-mulleted and ostentatiously talented.

Also the guitarist was wearing the same sneakers as me. I guess that makes me cool.


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