After two albums exploring jazz standards and popular contemporary musicKeeping the Standards (Vorticity, 2004) and Visions (Vorticity, 2006)Australian pianist Mark Isaacs returns to original composition on Resurgence. A fixture on the Sydney scene, Isaacs has recruited his dream band for a strong program of contemporary mainstream jazz..
Isaac's American compatriotsbassist Jay Anderson, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and, on select tracks, woodwind multi-instrumentalists Bob Sheppard and Steve Tavaglionehave often intersected, but not all together in one room at the same time. Isaacs' inclusion of one fellow Aussie is significantguitarist James Muller, a musical chameleon as capable of the Scofield/Metheny-esque on his own Kaboom (Birdland, 2006), as he is pedal-to-the-metal fusion on drummer Chad Wackerman's Legs Eleven (Self-Published, 2004). Muller played on Isaacs' wonderful Closer (Naxos Jazz, 2000), but a lot has changed since then. Muller's voice has emerged more distinctly and, while he's still the amalgamation of a great many parts, the whole is now clearly greater than its sum.
Isaacs' primary strengths lie in strong melodism and a harmonic underpinning that's rich and complex without sacrificing accessibility. For those who feel that jazz is inherently difficult to fathom, tracks like the elegant ballad "Pentimento" and Latin-esque "Three Days of Rain" are as listenable as they come, despite multifaceted solos from Isaacs and Tavaglione filled with color and depth.
The album starts on a relatively relaxed note with the balladic yet ultimately grooving "Walk a Golden Mile" and the mid-tempo swing of "Waltz for Melanie," featuring a brief but memorable soprano solo from Sheppard. The tracks range from four to six minutes in length which means that, while there's solo space afforded to everyone, nobody gets to overstay their welcome. Sometimes enforcing fixed solo lengths push the players to make the most of the time they have.
The pace begins to pick up with the bluesy "Chaconne," where Isaacs injects the occasional dissonance to put things the slightest bit off-kilter. Colaiuta, normally known as a powerhouse drummer in rock and fusion surroundings, demonstrates the ability to keep things light on the first half of Resurgence, but opens up with greater dynamics here, on the up-tempo title track, and on the thematically challenging set closer, "Heal Thyself" which, with its firm backbeat and Muller's grittier tone, could easily fit onto a Yellowjackets record. Muller's solo, an exhilarating mix of bluesy bends and lightning fast runs, is just one more reason why his lack of visibility isn't just curious; it's downright criminal.
As is also true for Isaacs. With Resurgence the pianist makes it clear that he's a writer who understands balance and a player who knows the meaning of context and development. There's no posturing or meaningless displays on Resurgencejust fine writing, compelling playing and a group sound that's all the more remarkable for it being a one-time event.
Personnel: Mark Isaacs: piano; James Muller: electric and acoustic guitar; Jay Anderson: acoustic bass; Vinnie Colaiuta: drums; Bob Sheppard: soprano, alto and tenor saxophones (1, 2, 4, 8); Steve Tavaglione: tenor saxophone and flute (3, 5-7).