Saxophonist and "reed-man" Tom Gullion is a man whose music has connected with his soul: check out his website and you will see that "Ting Jing" is the name for the mystical listening power in Tai Chi. Having previously issued two albums churning out what the jazz world thought he was "supposed to be doing", he has now broken free of the shackles and followed his inner guidance. On Carswell, Gullion has gone with the sonorities and the tunes that resonate with him. The result is an album of "traditional" jazz that will appeal to many fans with a truly progressive taste in their music.
Amongst Gullion's influences are, not surprisingly, John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Now, I'm not a jazz connoisseur or expert, but I do enjoy the form and have a number of jazz albums in my collection. For those of you in the know, let me say that Gullion's Carswell is much closer to Davis's A Kind of Blue than to Coltrane's Lush Life. For me, Lush Life's focus is on the playing, technique and mastery for its own sake, whereas A Kind of Blue is full of delicious tunes (not that the playing isn't gorgeous either!). And that's what you get on Carswell: the playing is excellent but you get some fine tunes: that's what music is all about! One for music lovers!
Gullion, as the band leader, is generous in sharing the instrumental spotlight with his band, or bands, and this helps the tonality and musicality of the compositions. I say "bands" because that's what you have here: these ten tracks were recorded in two locations and Gullion had a separate band in each. For the Wisconsion sessions Gullion himself played tenor sax and alto flute and was joined by David Cooper on trumpet and flugelhorn, Tim Whalen on electric piano, Mark Urness on bass and Dane Richeson on drums; on the Chicago sessions Gullion plays tenor and soprano saxes as well as bass clarinet and is joined by Vijay Tellis on electric and acoustic pianos, Shawn Sommer on bass and Ernie Adams on drums and percussion.
The range of instruments used means that the timbral playing on the album is highly enjoyable: Gullion himself kicks off with an exploration of the higher reaches of his sax during the opening, title track, number, but thankfully manages to stay off the rocky experimental-jazz road; no, the tune remains central; even in this opening number the instrument is subjugated to the tune. On "Monkey's Tale" and "Future Proof" there is some deft and effective duetting between the saxes and David Cooper's trumpet and, throughout, the electric piano playing from both keyboardists is sublime: Gullion gives them plenty of freedom and they contribute hugely, rhythmicallly and melodically.
The tunes are good too, there's plenty for all music lovers to enjoy – no need to be scared of this because it carries a "jazz" label. "Hot Tin Roof " is one of the highlights; then "Mellowing Intro" has a beautiful electric piano melodic prelude to bass clarinet and trumpet duo on the song proper. There's some ace bass playing during the latter half of "Overflowing" – who needs an electric bass for musical power? – and the album, whose tracks are cleverly structured and paced – goes into its final, and strongest phase. "Right on Time" delivers the prettiest melody of the album from Gullion's flute and then "Another Place and Time", "Futureproof" and "Uptown" just seem ideally placed in terms of album dynamics. The first of these features some impressive sonorities – not sure I can identify every instrument, there's a bass sound that is very intriguing that nails the beat, along with the piano; the melody flows on the tenor sax. The final two pieces rack up the pace in turn, leaving the listener on a high.
It's a good album! The jazz is not experimental, there's nothing difficult here for the listener, just some fine playing on a variety of instruments, delivering some fine tunes and rhythms in a variety of timbral soundscapes. It's that wonderful thing: the serene swan gliding along the lake, its webbed feet paddling furiously unseen below the water - it sounds great, it sounds easy, its beauty belies the effort and the skill of the composer and the players but the resulting music will be a joy to many.
1) Carswell (5:52)
2) Monkey's Tale (9:07)
3) Hot Tin Roof (6:18)
4) Mellowing Intro (0:54)
5) Mellowing (5:38)
6) Overflowing (7:58)
7) Right on Time (4:26)
8) Another Place and Time (4:42)
9) Futureproof (6:07)
10) Uptown (4:48)