252

Theak-tet: Old School

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
Theak-tet: Old School Despite its relative geographic seclusion—or perhaps because of it—a closely knit jazz scene has emerged in Australia over the past decade, most notably in Sydney, where the Jazzgroove Association has grown from humble beginnings into one of the country's most important arts organizations. Led by saxophonist David Theak, the association's flagship Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra released one of last year's best recordings, The Mothership Plays the Music of Mike Nock (Jazzgroove, 2006). Theak has also been leading his own smaller Theak-tet for a decade, and Old School is another fine example of the vibrant Down Under post bop scene.

The group is pared down to a quartet, whose only remaining original member is guitarist James Muller, a ubiquitous presence on the Australian scene who recently released the well-received Kaboom (Birdland, 2006). With Muller's sharp harmonic acumen, losing the pianist has resulted in a sparer, more open sound that better suits the group. Bassist Brendan Clarke is new to the Theak-tet, but he's developed a strong rapport with Muller and Theak in the Mothership Orchestra. Drummer Felix Bloxsom's synergy is all the more remarkable for his relative newness with the group.

Recorded by engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug at Rainbow Studios in Oslo, Norway—home to countless ECM recordings—one might expect Old School would reflect at least some of the German label's aesthetic. But while the record's pristine sonic clarity bears the Rainbow/Kongshaug signature, Old School does something that most ECM recordings don't: swing.

While Theak's writing looks brief on paper, it provides plenty of challenge. "Thrio and "Flea Bag both swing hard, with knotty but memorable themes and solo space that puts everyone's ability to navigate changes to the test. "3, 4, 5, 6 is more complex still, with a brief but rhythmically idiosyncratic theme that opens up into a blues for a fleet-fingered solo from Muller that combines self-accompanying chordal motion with a loose, almost slap-happy approach to linear phrasing.

Theak's tone is sharp, but he feels surprisingly at home with the mid-tempo lyricism of "Ki-Ki and the elegant ballad "June. But he's at his best on the more unfettered "Watch Yo' Back, where Theak-tet mines territory similar to guitarist John Scofield's late-'80s/early-'90s group without ever sounding imitative.

The one non-Theak composition is Muller's "Green Eyes, first heard on the guitarist's Thrum (ABC, 2002). Muller seamlessly shifts from fingerpicked support to a rich theme doubled by Theak, where single-note phrases are pianistically interspersed with fuller voicings.

Some albums are centered on the writing, others on the playing. Old School straddles the line with strong tunes that leave plenty of room for Theak-tet's individual and collective voices. It's another fine record from Australia, and further proof that plenty of compelling jazz is being created beyond the confines of North America.


Track Listing: 3, 4, 5, 6; Ki-Ki; Green Eyes; Watch Yo' Back; Evil Bert; Thrio; June; Flea Bag.

Personnel: David Theak: saxophones; James Muller: guitar; Brendan Clarke: bass; Felix Bloxsom: drums, cymbals.

Title: Old School | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Birdland Records


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Magnetic CD/LP/Track Review Magnetic
by Jack Bowers
Published: July 27, 2017
Read A Rift in Decorum: Live at the Village Vanguard CD/LP/Track Review A Rift in Decorum: Live at the Village Vanguard
by Mark E. Gallo
Published: July 27, 2017
Read Someone Else CD/LP/Track Review Someone Else
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: July 27, 2017
Read Falling Forward CD/LP/Track Review Falling Forward
by James Nadal
Published: July 27, 2017
Read I Know Who I Am CD/LP/Track Review I Know Who I Am
by James Nadal
Published: July 26, 2017
Read "Allied Forces" CD/LP/Track Review Allied Forces
by David A. Orthmann
Published: November 13, 2016
Read "Inspirations (featuring Matthew Halsall)" CD/LP/Track Review Inspirations (featuring Matthew Halsall)
by Phil Barnes
Published: June 26, 2017
Read "Natural Language" CD/LP/Track Review Natural Language
by Mark Corroto
Published: September 9, 2016
Read "Promethean" CD/LP/Track Review Promethean
by David A. Orthmann
Published: July 3, 2017
Read "Blooming Tall Phlox" CD/LP/Track Review Blooming Tall Phlox
by Mark Sullivan
Published: January 23, 2017
Read "Desire & Freedom" CD/LP/Track Review Desire & Freedom
by Mark Corroto
Published: December 14, 2016

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.