The great Canadian jazz pianist and vocalist Oscar Peterson once observed about jazz, ‘It’s the group sound that’s important, even when you’re playing a solo. You not only have to know your own instrument, you must know the others and how to back them up at all times. That’s jazz’.
He is right, of course; and that is one of the reasons why I’ve really enjoyed listening to Richard Maegraith‘s debut album, Free Running. Richard is a Sydney-based jazz musician – a gifted tenor saxophonist – who has pulled together a small group of equally talented artists – Gary Daley (keyboards), Kristin Berardi (vocals), Jonathon Zwartz (bass) and Tim Firth (drums) – to produce not just a bunch of great songs but, more impressively, a whole story which is, powerfully, an echo of the Story and in which no voice is drowned in the crowd.
The opening track, ‘Whisper’, is a playful, unencumbered explosion of colour, and a fitting prelude to the second track, ‘Eden’s Story’, with which one is invited, even thrown, into a story that will carry the listener through the whole album, Kristin Berardi’s haunting vocals promising that this is only the beginning, and that there’s something more significant to come.
By the time we get mid-way through the album – with tracks ‘The Journey’, ‘Propitiation’, and ‘Duet For Tenor Sax and Double Bass’ – we’ve all warmed up and we are given to see not just the boldness of a talented saxophonist, but a sensitivity to, and respect for, each other among all the players. You don’t get the sense that anyone is trying to show off unduly, and there’s certainly no sense of competing egos at work here.
The final two tracks, ‘Expectantly Waiting For You’, and ‘Highland Cathedral’, betray the joy and release of those who have been taken into and through the Propitiation, those ‘felons not to hopelessness’ and ‘free to love’. There is playfulness … at last.
Returning again to Oscar Peterson. He once suggested that ‘Some people try to get very philosophical and cerebral about what they’re trying to say with jazz. You don’t need any prologues, you just play. If you have something to say of any worth then people will listen to you’. Free Running deserves to be listened to not just because it plays but because of what it says. You can check out more about the album here or on Richard’s Myspace page.