Woolhouse - Michailidis - Robertson are an innovative, instrumental jazz trio based in Melbourne. Their debut album Ascent presents eleven compositions from pianist Jeremy Woolhouse alongside double bassist Ben Robertson and guitarist Lucas Michailidis. Each member embodies a calm, centred and generous nature, as does the resulting music.
“To me, inventing new music is the most satisfying recreation. I’ve always delighted in writing tunes, rewriting and editing. There comes, however, a point where an artist’s own perspective limits the life the work can have and that’s where collaboration comes in.
On first play through a tune, I give Lucas and Ben minimal direction so that they make interpretations without the prejudice I as composer have. We get such a deliciously fresh slant on my material! It bubbles away, buoyed up by spontaneous interplay as we lose and find connections. When we get to a point of unanimity in interpretation, I consider the composition has “matured”.
It often takes some letting go on my behalf, but invariably the group process takes music beyond where I’d ever get it alone. To hear Lucas’s lyrical solos and Ben’s divinely placed bass groove over my compositions is the greatest reward.
What I’ve aimed to do in this recording is present some of the matured works as we played them live in the studio. Whilst the compositions bear my name, the music is the re-creation of the group entity. For the title, I chose a word suggesting movement and positivity. I hope that “Ascent” captures the spirit that we are on our way forward and the music on the album is uplifting to the listener.” Jeremy Woolhouse
The ensemble reflect influences of modern contemporary jazz masters as epitomised by the ECM recording label. A solid grounding in the legacy of mainstream jazz underpins these more modern inclinations. Inspiration seeps in from South American, European, and other world music. Undercurrents of classical music are often disguised, but present nonetheless.
The group was formed by Jeremy in 2006 as a vehicle to evolve compositions and explore a new instrumental line up. Combining three stringed instruments with woody resonance generates a particular blend of very warm textures. The notable absence of drums highlights this unique tonal blend. Though the music generally has a quiet and calming nature, groove is still fundamental though expressed in a fashion more melodic than percussive.
In several compositions on Ascent, Jeremy has created a theme and harmonic foundation over which the trio can improvise collectively. A clear sense of chordal reference and melodic direction keep the listener grounded through these sections. Other arrangements pay homage to more conventional forms of melody and solo and feature a distinctly innovative use of mainstream harmonic progression.
“Mandala” opens the album with a broody groove which later blossoms into contrapuntal ensemble interplay. Ben Robertson’s bass sets a solid backbone which permeates the whole album. Lucas Michailidis’ use of glass slide on the guitar creates an atmospheric and exotic sound.
Jeremy’s idiosyncratic little quirks are infused into compositions. An example is “GTS”, a tune traditional in content, yet presented with subtle twist. The intimate nature of the group gives Ben’s bass plenty of room and he renders the melody of this soft ballad beautifully.
A highlight of the album is Lucas’ solo on “The Window”, a moving gospel inspired track. His succinct statement of melody stands out. An extended contrapuntal improvisation with a slightly classical approach introduces “La”. As the main melody begins, it transforms into a lightly swinging waltz saluting the ancestry of Broadway composers and the jazz heritage that followed.
“Loukie”, uses simple harmony in a flowing way to featuring Lucas’s lyrical approach to soloing. A slight edge of fusion influence evident on the uptempo “Gaisy” where lyricism and use of chord progressions betray influence of Pat Metheney. This is also evident on the mellow and anthemic “Going Away”.
Floating and dreamy, the delicate “Sierra” is based on an augmented major movement, a device also employed in the more driving “Sandy Pants”. In composing “Junior”, Jeremy has taken another less common chord movement and seamlessly eased it in amongst standard progressions. The effect is a fresh, contemporary sound that still keeps the listener grounded in familiar territory. A similar device is used much more subtly in the gentle waltz “Paper Crane”, a track which features Lucas fingerpicking on an acoustic guitar.
As a pianist and composer, Jeremy Woolhouse has been acclaimed for lyrical melodies and elegant use of harmony. His background leading original jazz-tango group “Estuary Three” shines through his work with this trio.
Ben Robertson plays an upright bass with range extended in both directions adding to his versatility as a player. He is widely recognised for his inspired solos and in this ensemble his rendering of melody is featured. His uncompromising bass virtuosity provides a solid backbone the ensemble. Ben’s enormous experience in a massive range of jazz and orchestral settings is evident in the way his playing supports the chordal instruments.
Lucas Michailidis is an exceptionally melodic player, weather on the electric guitar or fingerpicked acoustic guitar. He has developed an exotic and evocative use of glass slide which contributes to the unique sound of the trio. His work here echos that of his work with Russian/Tatan world music ensemble “Zulya and the Children of the Underground”.
Each member brings a background of diverse experience and together they create a unique and captivating sonic experience.