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Tell It Like It Is by Mark Isaacs

Beware of unintended consequences. Or, in the case of Mark Isaacs, be grateful for them. The Australian jazz pianist had recorded various trio albums, which included Australian and American rhythm sections. But ambition led him to Los Angeles, where he recorded, without much rehearsal, Resurgence. That album involved, except for Australian guitarist James Muller, established West Coast musicians like Bob Sheppard, Steve Tavaglione, Jay Anderson and Vinnie Colaiuta. The concept stayed in Isaacs’ head, even after he returned home, and the sound he sought to achieve broadened. Eventually, he wrote new music based upon similar instrumentation. With Muller’s help, Isaacs recruited the members of the Australian Resurgence band, musically compatible players joined again in achieving Isaacs’ vision. After extensive touring through South Korea, Thailand, Japan and Australia, the revived Resurgence band was ready to record, this time with thousands of miles and hours of performing behind them in contrast to the quick rehearsal and recording of the Los Angeles band.

The notable impressions of Tell It Like It Is are not only the diversity of themes that contribute to the success of the CD, but also the fullness of sound that the quintet achieves. Isaacs had already proved on his trio albums his ability to improvise and the depth of his technique. But on Tell It Like It Is, with nothing to prove other than expanding upon his interest in jazz group concepts, Isaacs set up his own role as another member of the group contributing to the total feel he intends. On the opening track, "Minsk," Isaacs’ part creates the composition’s rhythmic basis with a repetitive thickly chorded Tyner-ish vamp mostly in the mid to lower register, modal but for the bridge, while soprano saxophonist Matt Keegan develops layer upon layer of intensity, swirling and inveigling in the minor-key atmosphere grounding his improvisation. Eventually, Isaacs and Muller emerge too with their successively forceful solos, before a considerable increase in volume as the group rejoins, before the audience in the Seymour Theatre Centre in Sydney.

On the other hand, "You Never Forget Love," the first song written for Tell It Like It Is, involves more of a balladic colloquy between Muller and Isaacs, and Muller’s fine tone and melodic sensibilities, reminiscent of Wes Montgomery’s octaves at times, confirm Isaacs’ belief that Muller is an essential element of the Resurgence sound. Although "You Never Forget Love" at first appears to alternate between two chords in a relaxing, inviting mood, Isaacs’ composition glides almost imperceptibly into more intriguing territory, its ease remaining intact, as the chord structure becomes more complicated than at first was evident and as pauses and accents enhance its mystery. "Angel" offers the same atmosphere, though with a bossa nova feel. Effortless interaction between Isaacs and Muller occurs during the first chorus of "Angel" before Keegan comes in to assert the melody even more strongly while Muller plays parallel harmonic lines.

Keegan, however, carries the lead of "Between the Shores," a haunting, impressionistic piece on which Isaacs accentuates the melody with coruscating embellishments in the upper register before its abrupt ending after four minutes, punctuated by drummer Tim Firth’s dramatically increasing rumbling volume throughout. Muller lays out of "Between the Shores" but once again joins the unified sound of the band with Isaacs’ stroll on "Tell It Like It Is," wherein he loosens into slight distortions and blues-rock extroversion. Then, Keegan lets loose with unrestrained wailing, gravelly bursts of soulfulness; bassist Brett Hirst emerges with a solo of his own; and Isaacs builds upon his track-long vamp behind Firth’s controlled explosion of a drum solo into a crowd-pleasing high point. Isaacs’ two-part "Night Song," in contrast, is a quiet rumination during which piano, guitar and saxophone trade phrases from the theme of the first movement. Eventually, it dissolves into Isaacs’ solo, "Night Song, Part 2," a rubato, classically derived conclusion of the meditation, surprisingly not as dark or minor-keyed as expected.

Even though various jazz names like Pat Metheny, Dave Holland, Roy Haynes, Kenny Wheeler and Adam Nussbaum have worked with Mark Isaacs or gone on record praising his talents, geography inhibits his broad exposure in the United States, Canada and Europe. As Isaacs’ musical palette expands, Tell It Like It Is provides an opportunity for jazz listeners to become familiar with the broad range of his talent and that of his Resurgence group.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Mark Isaacs
  • CD Title: Tell It Like It Is
  • Genre: Various Jazz Styles
  • Year Released: 2009
  • Record Label: ABC Jazz
  • Tracks: Minsk, You Never Forget Love, Homecoming, Night Song (Parts 1 & 2), Angel, Tell It Like It Is, Between The Shores
  • Musicians: Mark Isaacs (piano), James Muller (guitar), Matt Keegan (soprano & tenor saxophones), Brett Hirst (bass), Tim Firth (drums)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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