CD reviews

CD REVIEW: Jim Mullen – Volunteers

Jim Mullen – Volunteers
(Diving Duck DDRCD027 – CD review by Mark McKergow) <

Veteran Scottish guitar virtuoso Jim Mullen returns in great form with this cracking CD featuring his ‘dream project’ – a nine-piece all-star line-up performing nine originals and standards with arrangements by flautist Gareth Lockrane.

Following a seriously debilitating illness which took him off the scene for most of 2017, Mullen is back on the bandstand at the head of his new Volunteers outfit. How he assembled this group is not clear, but whatever call went out has clearly received an enthusiastic response – the cream of the UK’s jazz talent put their hands up, and so this CD offers the chance to hear a superb range of soloing. Coherence to bring the group together comes from the new arrangements from Gareth Lockrane, who also provides flute and alto flute which adds to the other horns in giving a full and up-beat tone to the proceedings.

The opening track Medication shows Mullen’s finely honed skills at constructing a melody in the hard bop style, bouncing along and tumbling into a fine flute solo from Lockrane. The leader follows with his own solo, the rich thumb-picking tone to the fore as always, with the band setting up some nice backing figures and interludes before Mark Nightingalestrides to the mic with his trombone showing urgency and energy. Tristan Maillot takes some drum solo interjections with the band again stabbing away – Lockrane has clearly worked hard on using the band’s resources to the full.

This very much sets the tone for what is to come, with each track carefully worked and giving space for some impressive solos. When I Fall In Love is taken in a loping 5/8 time which works splendidly, the flowing lines underpinned by the burbling bass clarinet of Julian Siegel, whose voice comes to the fore on several of the tunes. Steve Fishwickis typically smooth and elliptical on flugelhorn and trumpet, then the spotlight swings onto Gareth Williams’ rich and stretching piano soloing. Mullen’s Spare Change follows, its bluesy swaggering piano introduction leading into an ensemble that sounds much larger than nine voices strong. Julian Siegel appears here on tenor sax, effectively shouting from the upper registers as the band clicks along behind him.

Rodgers and Hart’s Spring Is Here is given an outing with an upbeat Latin reading, Lockrane’s flute taking the theme over band harmonies, Mick Hutton’s double bass holding down the swinging beat. Alan Barnes steps forward on Smart Money for a squalling turn on alto saxophone which contrasts nicely with Mullens ever-clear guitar sounds. Back In The Day, a tune from US keyboard player Larry Goldings, is nicely groovy in a Theme from Taxi kind of way with more delicious bass clarinet and another fine trombone solo.

My wife put her head around the door while I was listening to this album and exclaimed “Ooh, that’s happy music!” And she’s right – a thoroughly optimistic tone prevails throughout. Following a sell-out launch gig at Ronnie Scott’s (with Nigel Hitchcock subbing for Alan Barnes – a fair swap in anyone’s book), Mullen is hoping to take the band on the road so that the rest of the country can catch this jam-packed treat of top jazz talent. In the meantime, get the album – it’s a very good listen with the feelgood factor and a great deal to enjoy.

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