Connect Four (Jazzhead HEAD190)
review by John Hardaker
It has often been said that all composition is improvisation (at some stage) and obversely, that all improvisation is composition (or should be). Nowhere in music is this yin-yang dichotomy more naked – or more essential – than in Jazz.
Melbourne trumpeter Paul Williamson’s new album Connect Four blurs that improvisation-composition line particularly deliciously over nine tracks – nine duets with four fabulous pianists: Tony Gould, Paul Grabowsky, Andrea Keller and Marc Hannaford (yes, I know – wow! What a lineup).
This is Williamson’s eighth album since 2001’s wonderfully-named Non-Consensual Head Compression and, as well as being an obvious evolutionary step, it is a beautiful thing.
The four were chosen by Williamson as musicians he has had an ‘ongoing musical and personal connection with’, so the person-to-person rapport is already there. The musical rapport, though is somethin’ else.
Williamson says of Tony Gould, pianist for the opening track ‘Piece for Peace’: ‘Whilst Gould’s mentorship and musical inspiration has been ongoing, this recording is the first time we have recorded together. The rapport is evident in the flowing, expressive, and evocative musical dialogue…’
The mood of ‘Piece for Peace’ is reflective, meditative – and it is this contemplative vibe that is spread across the whole album. Even when things get rhythmic – like the pecked syncopations with Marc Hannaford which open ‘Buzzby’ or the vapid curtains of 4’s from Grabowsky later in ‘Good Morning Melancholy’ – it all has a flowing rubato feeling to it: untethered to rhythm just as the pieces are untethered to melody or untethered to harmony. Not free –untethered, or at most loosely tethered, as we are to a lover.
The lover – or, cooler, the good deep friend – metaphor fits here as well, in the sound of that precious intimacy, across all tracks, of two voices conversing. ‘Flow’ with intense young pianist Andrea Keller just wraps around itself and then around the intertwined trumpet and piano lines in a winding arc that seems to create its own language as it goes.
‘Flow’ is a unique piece among nine unique pieces. All nine are entirely self-contained sound-worlds – remarkable considering that all are made with only unadorned trumpet and piano. No, not unadorned – they are adorned with the impeccable chops, taste and musicality of these musicians.
Paul Williamson alone seems to have a limitless library of ideas, effects and colours at his fingertips (literally) and on the tip of his tongue (literally). His instrument’s breathy burrs, sprays of notes, bends, whimpers and wounded howls add an almost visual dimension to the material – whether Miles-limpid or Hubbard-harsh. There is never an effect for effect’s sake because it is all done with technique-beyond-technique (a phrase I am wearing thin through overuse in these reviews, but one which I keep coming back to as a quality that will save Jazz – and all of us – from the hollow ‘sounding brass’ of virtuosity).
To hear what I mean, listen quietly and deep deeply to the last two pieces on Four Connect – ‘Helix’ and ‘Time Munched’ – both played with that Zen master, Paul Grabowsky, both telepathically conjoined trumpet-to-piano, both almost meteorologically free yet both as logical as nature; Mandelbrot sets of curlicues and fern-clefs form before your very ears. Improvisation as composition.
Or is it composition as improvisation? Or is is just words after all – black and white reviewers’ ‘music’, dull as a ledger, waiting to be saved by people like Paul Williamson. Listen to Connect Four and let yourself be saved by Williamson and his four wonderful pianists.
Trumpet: Paul Williamson
Piano: Tony Gould
Piano: Paul Grabowsky
Piano: Andrea Keller
Piano: Marc Hannaford
Connect Four is available from www.jazzhead.com
See Connect Four on Bandcamp jazzheadrecords.bandcamp.com/album/connect-four