Alto saxophonist Jack Beeche works well with guitarists. Iheard him with Melbourne guitarist Tim Willis, where his playing had to work within Willis’ metal-jazz format. On this new recording, Beeche/Magnusson, a duets recording with Stephen Magnusson, he is playing a very different horn with a very different guitarist.
Magnusson is, across the album, an entirely atmospheric and sympathetic player in the luminous mold of Pat Metheny (the version here of Methenys ‘Katelkin Gray’ is a high point of the album) – which is not to take away from his own, entirely distinctive voice. His use of effects is sparing – often the guitar is unadorned, as the tune demands, but when used, add a lovely shimmer or widescreen reverb under and around Beeche’s pearlescent horn.
And pearlescent Beeche’s playing is – the notes drop like pearls, not diamond polished, but iridescently haloed. The intimate duet format allows all the nuances in his playing to be heard; the room-sized dynamic allows the horn to breathe, rather than to be pushed into a harsher tone. It is a side of the alto that is all too rarely heard today.
Beeche/Magnusson‘s seventeen (yes, seventeen) tracks work through the spectrum of possibilities of the alto/guitar combination from the Hot Club joie-swing of ‘The Gift’ and ‘Wings’ through to impressionistic ballads like Beeche’s lovely ‘Golden Blue’ and all points between.
The standards are well chosen and perfectly realised: ‘I’ll Remember April’ is contrapuntal tentacles wrapping like vines around the melody; ‘Darn That Dream’ is made more ‘dream’ than ‘darn’ by Magnusson’s translucent reverb. The closer, a 6-minute meditation on ‘Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise’ seems to construct the piece from the outer edge inwards, from miasma to form, as it goes. Rock and roll too – Soundgarden’s ‘Black Hole Sun’ is recast as the lost bossa nova standard we always knew it was.
Separating the tracks are five bijou miniatures, all titled ‘Image 1’ , ‘Image 2’ etc. They are short improvisations, barely over two minutes long (the shortest is 44 seconds) that are complete little gems, some sparkling and sharp, some smooth and opaque.
Beeche and Magnusson have made one of the better duet albums in Australian Jazz. Maybe, as they are both in demand and busy players, it will be the first and last. If it is, it is a treasure. If it isn’t, it is a gift that we hope keeps on giving.