A famous conductor of classical music once stated that a good composition would please almost everyone, but that a truly great composition should divide an audience. With improvised music, it is hopefully different, as early experimentalists like Sun Ra, Terry Riley, John Zorn, Jon Hassell and Miles opened our ears to limitless sonic possibilities. Each of them reached beyond the strictures of conventional form and brought us to new and interesting places. Julien Wilson has achieved that with his double release ‘Meditations and ‘Mutations’. These are albums for our times. Albums for deep listeners and open-minded explorers. They are an exquisite curation of sound itself.
We are living in strangely unsettling times and that is when true creatives embark on their bravest quests. In troubled times most of us reach for the comfort of the known, but true creatives reach for the unknown. This speaks to the deeper purpose of art, to find meaning amidst a world of seeming chaos. These two albums are extraordinary in every sense of the word. Here, overlooked acoustic riches are revealed incrementally and rare beauty is revealed. The forms do not appear randomly but are crafted into an unfolding narrative.
Solo saxophone albums are rare, but such open and free explorations are rarer. There is however a lineage for this and for me it began with the astonishing John Surmon. Surmon’s ‘The Amazing Adventures of Simon Simon’ set a very high bar and few have dared to follow. While there is a similarity, Wilson brings fresh ideas and an enhanced sense of spaciousness to the equation. He also utilises effects as he sculpts the sound. On both albums, his primary horn is the tenor saxophone (on Meditations he also plays soprano and on Mutations a Bb clarinet and alto saxophone). To achieve such depth and orchestral breadth with horns is astonishing.
And more so, when you consider that the cuts were recorded in one take (without overdubs); working with and capturing the acoustics at hand. The saxophones and human breath may be the originators of the sounds, but it is Wilson’s imagination and deft manipulation of the devices at his disposal that make this project something special.
Wilson’s influences are either close to home or beyond the confines of our ephemeral world. He reflects on what he has experienced, on the wonders of the cosmos and on who has inspired him. While on ‘Meditations’ he pays tribute to the lamented saxophonist Mark Simmonds, on’ Mutations’ it is to James Webb and the subsequent cosmic revelations. To the latter album, he has added Bb clarinet and alto saxophone as contrasting voices. On Mutations, Wilson evokes a rawness and an honesty that is entirely fitting when confronting the immensity of the beyond. It is on Mutations that the albums are at their most experimental and where listeners truly experience the unknown. I love both and for different reasons but they belong together and both are indispensable. Especially so for those who consider themselves engaged and open-eared.
The albums were recorded in Melbourne during the first lockdown and are available from Lionsharerecords in vinyl, CD and in Hi Fidelity digital formats including 24bit/96kHz. All of the above are available through julienwilson.bandcamp.com If you search for Wilson on Spotify you won’t find him, he is opposed to the exploitation of those mega streamers – like Wilson I implore you to support Bandcamp. To date, the platform has returned well over a billion dollars to the content creators which is where the money rightfully belongs.
JazzLocal32.com is rated as one of the 50 best Jazz Blogs in the world by Feedspot. The author is a professional member of the Jazz Journalists Association, a Judge in the 7VJC International Jazz Competition, and a poet & writer. Some of these posts appear on other sites with the author’s permission.