I’ve recently been listening to and absorbing the playing of a reformed British jazz band which, in my opinion, seems to have gone under the radar somewhat. The playing from all involved is exemplary, and the album they’ve recently released is a flagship for my country’s scene.
String Theory, by the Jim Mullen Reunion Quartet, holds some gorgeous playing from the Glaswegian guitarist, whose subtle style is often credited to the Wes Montgomery technique of thumb over plectrum. Joined by Gareth Williams on piano, Mick Hutton on bass and Gary Husband on drums for the first time in over a decade, their reunion is a catalyst for delicate melody, intuitive interplay and intricate improvisation.
Highlights? A 5/4 version of Carl Fischer’s You’ve Changed demonstrates the rhythmically receptive playing of Hutton, the voice-leading style of Williams and how driving and swinging Husband can be even in odd time signatures. Throughout the album Williams’ harmonic reactions to Mullen’s solos are sweetly natural, and as a pianist they are a lesson in pianistic support (not that this wouldn’t be the case had the lead been brass or reed, but surely one can subscribe much of Williams’ knowing and effortless chordal support to his own proficiency on guitar?)
Another point I think worth mentioning is how melodic Williams’ solo is over the 5/4 time signature. Rhythmic variation often takes precedence in contemporary bands, and as a result of this ‘the tune’ suffers, often outright disregarded. Williams, by utilising inventive licks and placing an emphasis on the blues, weaves line after line of melodious wit and elegance. This is one solo to transcribe.
I keep returning to Monk’s Bye Ya also. Hearing bands play less-well-known Monk tunes is a little pleasure of mine because, as a listener, it forces me to seek out the original, become acquainted, then go and study the interpretation. It’s the light use of dissonance utilised by the two chord instruments that appeals to me, particularly the laid back middle 8.
Another favourite is the quartet’s take on Pharaoh Sanders’ Greetings To Idris (again, a thankful discovery to my ears). Hutton’s walking lines and Husband’s high cymbal riding help create a passionate, swinging edge to the tune that wasn’t present on the original. Mullen’s mellow playing obviously contrasts with the often hollering approach of Sanders, yet the simple harmonious nature of the original melody lends itself perfectly to Mullen’s style. Checkout Williams’ introductory solo on Greetings To Idris, an example of his ability to “spin out luminous introductions and codas”.
A quick, final note on Mullen. His playing is often relaxed, with a smidgin of tongue in cheek nonchalance, and yet he has the capacity to suddenly ascend into flights of heady, sweaty passion whilst still maintaining that long lined, bluesy, conversational flair. His instrumental speech can hold the highest degree of emotion, yet he never reduces his rhetoric to screams and shouts. Just class.