at Chapel Off Chapel

Bernie Mcgann in the groove
In the groove: Bernie Mcgann

As usual, Adrian Jackson creates added interest by nudging artists into new situations — e.g. Vince Jones adding lyrics to Australian instrumental compositions — or facilitating meetings of musicians that ought to have occurred, but have not so far.

McGann and Wilson
New combo: McGann and Wilson

I was convinced that I had seen alto saxophonist Bernie McGann play with Julien Wilson at Stonnington Jazz previously, but of course it was McGann with Jamie Oehlers in May 2008, also at Stonnington and also at Chapel Off Chapel, that was niggling at the edge of my failing memory.

McGann and guests
Fitzgibbon, Anning, Wilson and McGann

One of the larger-than-life figures of Australian jazz, McGann had not played with Wilson until Tuesday night. The program suggested Wilson would be invited to join McGann and the ensemble — Sam Anning on acoustic bass, Allan Browne on drums and Mark Fitzgibbon on piano — for the second set, but Wilson came on for the second piece of the night, the ballad Wendy by “late, great sax player Paul Desmond“, as McGann put it.

Allan Browne
On fire: Allan Browne

In a short set — it seemed so — that began with Monk and ended with McGann’s Spirit Song, the trio and guests treated us to a no-frills exposition of energetic and elegant, rhythmically rich grooves that were an ideal way to showcase the two saxophonists. There was no fuss, just accomplished playing that carried each piece forward in a way that was totally engrossing.

Anning and Browne
Anning and Browne

Browne seemed to be on fire from the start, if that can describe his apparent ease — he denies it — and evident joy. Add Fitzgibbon’s drive and Anning’s warmth and you have music that is deeply satisfying.

McGann and Wilson
McGann and Wilson

And what of the saxes? They are quite different stylistically. McGann does not move much as he plays, managing nonetheless to break out in those moments we all wait for in any solo, but without much more than a twitch or a slight incline of the instrument to show what the sound is saying so clearly. Wilson’s emotional input is more overt, which I like in any musician, but when listening is paramount — closing the eyes helps — the difference is inconsequential. Both players can express so much, but they don’t fuss about it. Here is Wilson, playing with a fellow saxophonist who he has long regarded as an inspiration, and he is just getting on with it. Playing with Bernie McGann seems to rule out anything overly dramatic.

McGann and Wilson
Together at last: McGann and Wilson

The second set began with Tin Tin Deo, by Dizzy Gillespie and Cuban Chano Pozo, with Browne and Fitzgibbon driving forward to meet melodic contributions later from McGann and Wilson, followed by two ballads, The Talk of the Town (featuring McGann) and Laura (featuring Wilson). Browne was full-on in McGann’s Brownsville, which was exciting, and the set closed with another McGann composition, D. Day.

This may have been just another night for a musician with the experience of McGann, but surely it must have been uplifting for him to play with a younger saxophonist of Wilson’s calibre. It was for the audience.

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