James Muller & SCJO • OKAY

Australian virtuoso guitarist meets the Sydney Conservatorium Jazz Orchestra; an astonishing big band made up of some of Australia’s most accomplished young lions. Arrangements by Germany’s Florian Ross and CD superbly recorded (96.000 kHz) in NYC at Systems Two by Mike Marciano.

James Muller & SCJO OKAY

James Muller – guitar
David Theak – conductor

Felix Lalanne – auxiliary guitar
David Allen – piano
Nick Henderson – contrabass
Oliver Nelson – drums
Sam Gill, Nishcal Manjanuth, Evan Harris, Michael Avgenicos, Chris O’Dea – saxes
Ellie Shearer, Matt O’Brien, Raygun Kang, Des Cannings – bones
James Power, Kyle Eardley, Joe Lisk, Tom Avgenicos, Nick calligeros – trumpets

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REVIEW
The Australian by John McBeath
Okay
James Muller & Sydney Conservatorium Jazz Orchestra
4.5 stars

This enormous production, recorded in Brooklyn by Australian guitarist/leader and multi-award- winning virtuoso James Muller and conductor, saxophonist and composer David Theak, involves more than 20 musicians from the Sydney Conservatorium, where Theak lectures in jazz. They play compositions by Muller and German pianist, composer and arranger Florian Ross on this peer-reviewed label. The virtuoso guitarist has teamed up for this venture with the Sydney Conservatorium Jazz Orchestra, an astonishing big band made up of some of Australia’s most accomplished young lions. The arrangements are by Ross and the album was recorded superbly in New York at Systems Two by Mike Marciano.

The main theme of the album is “the idea that it’s OK to not be OK”, making a statement about mental health issues and the stigma surrounding them. The concept of “faking a smile” is repeated several times through the album. Although many passages have a big band sound with fine arrangements, there is adequate room for a great deal of solo work, most of it supplied by Muller. The title track, by Ross, floats serenely along with Muller’s restrained lead on guitar, and a softly repetitive riff from the SCJO.

The orchestra begins to gain power towards the finale and concludes with a more pronounced version of its earlier riff. Muller’s composition Green Eyes, opening with an orchestral riff, breaks off into an alto solo, building to an elongated guitar sequence and developing into a strong alto-led conclusion. Because of the album’s fine music it is a deserving addition to any Australian jazz collection.

John McBeath

“In December 2015, virtuoso Australian guitarist James Muller was the brilliant featured soloist with the SCJO on a tour of the United States. This CD documents the music played on that significant tour.”The main focus of the tour was to play at the prestigious Midwest Clinic International Band and Orchestra Conference in Chicago. SCJO is the first international band to be invited to play at that conference. The compositions/arrangements performed during the tour are all represented on this disc and were recorded at Systems Two, Brooklyn New York whilst the band was in the United States.The initial two tracks, Scratch and OKAY are compositions by Florian Ross, a German composer/arranger/pianist who has had a long association with Sydney Con and David Theak, the director of its jazz big bands. (Theak conducted the SCJO on the tour.) These initial compositions contain characteristic stylistic gestures that place the Ross stamp on them – the choice of harmonies and chord voicings across the orchestra, the rhythmic structures and interpolation of solo segments into the texture of the compositions have the feel of Ross’s other work with which I am familiar. He is a modern master of composing/arranging for jazz big bands and any release containing his work is worth time spent on listening to it.

The other tracks are titled Green Eyes, Eindhoven, Kaboom and Chick Corea. All were composed by James Muller, the featured soloist on this recording. Muller has established a strong reputation as one of Australia’s finest jazz guitarists. He is widely respected and admired, especially among the younger members of our jazz community. He currently lives and teaches in Adelaide where his performances attract large attendances from a good cross-section of the jazz audience in that city. In this respect, Muller is doing important work as he attracts and introduces younger members of society to jazz.

Muller’s improvised solos over the pieces on this recording are simply wonderful. They reward the price of the disc many times over. The four compositions listed above are obviously familiar parts of a repertoire that Muller has played and thought about in various instrumental settings for some time. The addition of Florian Ross’s arranging skill and David Theak’s direction make this recording a must-have for anyone interested in contemporary big band jazz.