About a year ago, we spoke to Mark Isaacs as he was about to fly out of Australia for a residency at Omi and then on to the Pori Jazz Festival in Finland for the second year in a row. At the time, Isaacs was working on what he called his Standards Project and at Pori, he was looking forward to playing with Jay Anderson (bass) and Adam Nussbaum (drums). It was also with this trio, the CD Keeping the Standards was recorded. The CD, released earlier this year, has been receiving great reviews - including two on AAJ - and was also listed as a publisher's pick in May, so it's certainly achieved a following on this website.
Was the Standards Project a one-off? Isaacs thinks not - while his current projects include solo gigs, composition for a range of instrumentations including a recently completed piece for viola, residencies at the Side-on Café and plans for an international tour playing in a range of configurations, he enjoys what he calls the delicious tension of playing standards. He says the re-interpretation of existing material has its own originality - somewhere between the built-in predictability of a song that listeners are familiar with, and the challenge to create something fresh enough that it can be appreciated even if the tune is not recognised. Denying that standards are 'old hat', he says he enjoys the freedom they offer - the fact that they are a lingua franca for jazz musicians opens up possibilities of playing with total strangers with the tune's prime importance being a governing force in bringing the band together. Although he's been doing this sort of improvisation for many years, he still finds it fascinating that he can play a familiar tune with other musicians and manage to create something new. Not strictly composition, this sort of playing does go part way towards satisfying him as composer, he says. " I feel I have the luxury of devoting a substantial part of my jazz output to standards - to re-interpretation - because I have an ongoing outlet as a composer within the classical world. If I didn't have that outlet as a classical composer I'd be focussing much more on writing originals in my jazz work than I do."
Projects currently under way or on the horizon for Isaacs include an originals recording and a tour that will take in Korea, Latvia, Estonia, Russia and possibly Finland as well. The main festival gig of his tour will be at RigasRitmi Festival Riga in Latvia.
Check out Isaacs' website for details of his tour and regular updates on his activities.
Mick Paddon is originally from England and currently lives in Sydney, Australia. He is often seen at gigs in Sydney and other cities, occasionally plays the saxophone and has a weekly show on Eastside Radio 89.7 - a community radio station in Sydney that specialises in jazz. Mick can be contacted by email on email@example.com
The Crying Game (ABC Jazz)