The Sound Lounge, December 13

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Julien Wilson. Photo supplied.

Even music, the most abstract of the arts, can sometimes be too concrete. You can feel it clawing for the spaces between notes and yearning for the tyranny of rhythm to be blurred. The former is impossible on a piano, but not a synthesizer, and some of the most successful music in this collaboration between Sydney’s Mike Nock (piano) and Melbourne’s Julien Wilson (tenor saxophone) and Stephen Magnusson (electric guitar) came when Nock switched on the electronics.

Although the three have played together before at the Wangaratta Festival and within the ranks of one of Nock’s larger bands, some searching for commonality of approach was still required. Wilson and Magnusson have been routine colleagues for 20 years, and this band was almost the Julien Wilson Trio, ostensibly just with Nock’s keyboards replacing Stephen Grant’s accordion.

The difference was profound. Putting repertoire to one side Nock made the music more playful, dense, dramatic and unpredictable, albeit sometimes at the expense of clouding the delicacy of Magnusson’s work. Magnusson thinks different kinds of thoughts to other guitarists. He creates hazes of accompaniment and solos of filigree detail. In fact he is one of the most original conceptualists on the instrument I have heard, and let’s face it: there has been no shortage of electric guitarists marauding around the planet.

When Nock turned to synthesizer – an instrument to which he, too, brings a unique approach, but very seldom plays – the combination with the guitar made the whole sound world suddenly more capricious and marvellously intangible. It was disorienting in the best sense, and therefore both magical and exhilarating.

The constant, whether the music was ethereal or rooted in grooves and chord sequences, was Wilson’s tenor. To the ethereality he brought a soft-glow warmth, and he smudged the harder edges of a song-form with big, breathy notes as fluffy as a puppy’s front paws. His was a generous sound that spanned any occasional divergences in approach from the others.