Album review: Tam O’Shanter Tales (James Greening & Greening from Ear to Ear)

Tam O’Shanter Tales  Releaesed independently
James Greening & Greening From Ear to Ear 

Review by John Hardaker

Greening Tam1I recently was transfixed while watching my dog running around and around the yard. He appeared to be running purely and simply for the joy of running; the joy of his muscles and his velocity and the ground rushing beneath him.

Children also often tumble or jump or yell purely for the joy of the thing; as adults, this simple joy of the moment is gradually sullied and boxed in and all but eradicated.

Artists have always seen the value of keeping that joy fresh and pure, jazz artists especially. Trombonist James Greening has always been one of our most joyful and joyous players. His very choice of instrument is joyful – the whinnying, hallelujah-ing of the trombone and the jovial flatulence of the sousaphone just bring a grin to your soul.

Greening’s latest project – with his super-septet, Greening From Ear to Ear (yes, a joyously silly what-the-hell pun…) – is Tam O’Shanter Tales. The compositions were inspired by a network of ideas centred around the natural beauty of Tasmania and the coastal community of Tam O’Shanter, but including the experience of Hazaran refugees settled in Tasmania, as well as thoughts of the hopes, fears and life-struggle shared by all humans.

The six-track album was recorded last June at Sydney’s Sound Lounge, live in front of a buzzed-up audience – and I am so glad it was.

The joy springs up immediately from opener ‘Parallel Lines’. Brett Hirst’s bass harmonics grow into a Afro-Cuban groove driven by the drums and percussion of Hamish Stuart and Fabian Hevia. A bristling ensemble section opens out to a Greening solo – joyous of course­ – and Andrew Robson’s snaky alto.

Next up is the happy NOLA march-blues, ‘Lumpy’ which has Greening blasting some rumbling sousaphone and Paul Cutlan abstracting the air with bass clarinet Dolphyisms.

‘I’m No Monk’ channels the joy that is Thelonious – pianist Gary Daley’s solo is aptly splay-fingered and righteous.

‘Hazara’ is the centrepiece of the album – spiritually and musically – as Greening gained inspiration during a period of ‘deadlock’ from the novel, The Kite Runner. The asymmetrical 17/8 groove is rendered surprisingly symmetrical by the band’s authority. The mood becomes one of a dance, a proud dance, a quiet celebration of the victory of living another day. Gary Daley’s  accordion sounds like women’s voices, Paul Cutlan’s bass clarinet like a sirocco.

The accordion is also used, now in cluster-chords, to introduce the languid ballad ‘Sleeping Beauty’, which lulls us with watercolours of Tasmanian greens and olive-blacks and mist breathing off a river’s silver surface.

Greening closes Tam O’Shanter Tales with the loping waltz-time blues ‘Early Morning’ the vibe of which suggest a wry eye on the world and hope for a new morning after darkest night.

James Greening may be a joyous man but he is no clown ­– it is one of the noblest human attributes to know life and the world in all its cruelty and compromise and still remain positive and bright; it is a daily battle for anyone who thinks at all.

In Phillip Johnston’s spoken intro to the recording, he says ‘Here we are firmly rooted in the present; one foot in the future and maybe an elbow in the past…’, echoing the kind of spiritually-centred mindfulness by which James Greening lives (and plays) and which informs the heart and deep soul of Tam O’Shanter Tales.


James Greening – trombone, sousaphone and pocket trumpet
Andrew Robson – alto and  baritone saxophone
Paul Cutlan – tenor saxophone and clarinet
Fabian Hevia – percussion
Gary Daley – accordion and piano
Hamish Stuart – funky drums
Brett Hirst – acoustic and electric bass


Tam O’Shanter Tales is available from

James Greening’s website is

Photo in this piece from James Greening’s website