Sometimes it's better to work on home turf, with familiar musicians. Mark Isaacs' studio disc, Resurgence (ABC Jazz, 2007), paired the Australian pianist and guitarist James Mulleranother Australian talent deserving of far greater attentionwith American heavy hitters including drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, bassist Jay Anderson and saxophonist Bob Sheppard. But as fine as the relative miniatures of Resurgence were, Isaacs' revamped Resurgence Band and the extended workouts of the live Tell It Like It Is far surpass anything on the previous album to make it Isaacs' strongest jazz outing to date.
It's important to define Tell It Like It Is as a jazz recording because Isaacs is a multidisciplinary artist who has also worked in the realms of classical and film music. Isaacs' eight original compositions are undeniably in the jazz sphere, but Isaacs' work in other areas clearly imbues both his writing and playing. Five tunes well exceed the ten-minute mark, and while ample solo space provided to the returning Muller, saxophonist Matt Keegan, bassist Brett Hirst and drummer Tim Firth is certainly part of the equation, so, too, is a more expansive and cinematic approach to writing that's significantly distanced from a "head-solo-head" approach. Even shorter pieces like the largely composed and hauntingly beautiful "Night Song, Part 1" use interpretation of the written score to lift them off the page and retain a subtle but strong sense of surprise that transcends simple form to create compelling arcs. And when form and freedom meet, as they do on Isaacs' unaccompanied solo, "Night Song, Part 2," there's a strong sense of attunement to, say, the spare elegance of classical composer Erik Satie.
on Legs Eleven (Independent, 2004) have demonstrated an evolving player who's both a musical chameleon and individual voicejust keeps getting better, with a remarkable command of harmony and an ability to balance lithe linear melodies with rich chordal voicings, as he demonstrates throughout the soulful "You Never Forget Love" and fiery Latin-esque workout of "Homecoming," where his solo reaches into the stratosphere before ending with some revealing rapid-fire exchanges with Isaacs.
The elusively ambiguous but strangely relentless "Minsk" provides an early highlight for Keegan on soprano, while Isaacs' soloa combination of modal intensity and impressionistic abstractionlifts the song as Hirst and Firth gradually build the dynamics. Mullerwhose own albums including Kaboom (Birdland, 2006) and work with American drummer Chad Wackerman
and the late Michael Brecker. Everyone's going for it with abandon, especially Keegan's rough-edged tenor, Isaacs' outré yet completely empathic harmonic accompaniment, and Muller's distorted shredding. There are many reasons why Tell It Like It Is is Isaacs' best and hottest jazz album to date, but the Resurgence Band's energy and acute interplay, mixed with some of the pianist's best charts ever, make it an album that deserves attention far beyond Australia's shores.
Isaacs also proves he can kick it hard on the shuffling title track, a blues-drenched 16 minutes that reference both Keith Jarrett
Personnel: Mark Isaacs: piano; James Muller: guitar; Matt Keegan: soprano and tenor saxophone; Brett Hirst: bass; Tim Firth: drums.