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Resurgence by Mark Isaacs

Mark Isaacs is recognized as a force in the Australian jazz scene, where he busily records his own albums, composes for various groups, both jazz- based and classical, performs incessantly, and even hosts his own web site devoted to opinions about and enthusiasm for the jazz of his native country. Even though Isaacs had recorded previously with jazz musicians from the United States including Dave Holland, Roy Haynes and Adam Nussbaum Isaacs’ dream was to record his recent compositions in the United States with musicians of his choosing. And so he did...with a dream team of West Coast musicians, none other than Bernie Kirsh as recording engineer, none other than the famous Capitol Records facility in Hollywood for the studio, and no less than a Steinway Model D concert grand piano. Obviously, this recording was important to Mark Isaacs the producer, who made sure that solely top-notch resources were applied to the project.

Now, the results justify his overall strategy to optimize the recording’s quality, even with the expense of flying across the Pacific Ocean to access the resources he sought. On an album consisting entirely of Isaacs’ original compositions, Isaacs has expanded his musical vision by directing a quintet for a greater depth of expression. Interestingly, and surprisingly, the musicians on Resurgence met as a group at rehearsal the day before the recording. But then, all of these musicians have been working in numerous groups for years, requiring the kind of versatility and professionalism that Isaacs required. Their ability to shape a song, to bring to life the ideas that Isaacs notated, is evident from the very beginning of Resurgence, when Isaacs intriguingly begins "Walk a Golden Mile" with a gorgeous piano solo makes clear his remarkable touch. Saxophonist Bob Sheppard enters seamlessly after the intro, expressing the melody implicit in the intro. Interestingly, rather than accompanying Sheppard, Isaacs sets up a dialogue with him as he plays a counter melody, distinct from Sheppard’s and yet complementary. After Isaacs’ quiet, rubato introduction, the group’s rousing finish to the song’s narrative comes as quite a surprise, though it is a logical conclusion to the effective build-up of excitement. Not only does the stirring effectiveness of the piece cause admiration for the musicians’ like-minded abilities with abbreviated preparation, but also it reinforces the impression that Isaacs values dynamics in the performance of his compositions.

The impression that Resurgence leaves on the listener varies substantially from that of Isaacs’ previous albums, primarily due to the addition of guitarist James Muller and saxophonists Sheppard and Steve Tavaglione. Sheppard’s lead on "Waltz for Melanie" and "Affectionately Yours" commands attention and sets the tone for the tracks. In contrast to Isaacs’ descending, tumbling lines of introduction, Sheppard lightens the waltz with fluttering and swelling phrases on soprano sax, ending his solo with a phrase that Isaacs picks up as the building block for his own solo. On "Affectionately Yours," Sheppard goes Desmond-esque in a bright, breezy statement of a memorable melody over chord changes more harmonically conventional than those of most of the other Isaacs compositions.

Tavaglione, on the other hand, lends darker shadings to some of the songs. He interjects mood into "Pentimento," a slowly evolving piece that evolves into a showcase for the saxophonist as he wrings emotion from each note, some of which waver mournfully or attain greatly increased volume over the length of a single bar. "Chaconne," as well, involves Tavaglione in unhurried shaping of phrases borrowed from blues, though Isaacs did not write the piece in accordance with blues changes. Expanding the dramatic content of "Chaconne" as effectively as he does "Walk a Golden Mile," Isaacs himself builds the suspense of the piece with his own broadly constructed, crashing chords that represent the high point of his solo. The cleanly articulated lines of guitarist James Muller infuse the performances with yet another sonic perspective as he trades solos with Sheppard on "Waltz for Melanie" for effective comparison of styles and views of the same material.

Muller solidifies the appeal of the final track, "Heal Thyself," as he, along with bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, sets up the buoyant shuffle vamp that draws in listeners as if magnetized. And so, the Australiamerican collaboration, organized from afar and performed as if the musicians had known each other for a decade, reinforces the unifying nature of music. It is immediately obvious that these are musicians who know each other musically through they had just met days before. The success of Isaacs’ venture lies in, not only the unique accessibility of his compositions, but even more so in unspoken communication that allows for such immersion in, and expression of, music learned just days before the recording session.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Mark Isaacs
  • CD Title: Resurgence
  • Genre: Various Jazz Styles
  • Year Released: 2007
  • Record Label: ABC Jazz
  • Tracks: Walk A Golden Mile, Waltz For Melanie, Three Days Of Rain, Affectionately Yours, Chaconne, Resurgence, Pentimento, Heal Thyself
  • Musicians: Mark Isaacs (piano), Bob Sheppard (soprano, alto & tenor saxophones), Steve Tavaglione (tenor saxophone, flute), James Muller (guitar), Jay Anderson (bass), Vinnie Colaiuta (drums)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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