I hope this album gets the attention it deserves.
Available from Bandcamp
Richard Pavlidis (tenor saxophone, EWI, keyboards); James Bowers (piano);
Angus Leslie (guitar); Owen Downie (electric bass); Darryn Farrugia (drums); Salvador Persico (percussion)
Recorded Newmarket Studios, Melbourne (no recording date)
Australian tenor saxophonist Richard Pavlidis has been making waves on the jazz scene in his home country, and after listening to this album, all I can say is that he ought to be creating a buzz much further afield – he’s a young, highly talented musician with an exciting sound and a good grasp of composition.
His influences include Australian saxophonists Jamie Oehlers, Julien Wilson and Tony Hicks (who was also his sax teacher). Other sources of inspiration include, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson and Michael Brecker.
Pavlidis’ first album, Without, Within, released in 2019, got a positive response and even Kenny G was moved to describe the young sax player’s technique as ‘amazing’ (although this endorsement will be something of a double-edged sword within the jazz community).
Pavlidis describes his musical style as: ‘within the bebop/hard bop lineage, incorporating electric influences.’ Like Bob Mintzer and Michael Brecker, he also plays the Electronic Wind Instrument or EWI, essentially a wind synthesiser.
The influence of Michael Brecker (who died in 2007) and Bob Berg (he died in 2002) on Pavlidis’ playing is very clear – he also has that big, beefy, powerful sound, and can play powerfully and continuously for extended periods of time while maintaining superb breath control.
In an interview with Donna Schwartz, Pavlidis noted that both he and Tony Hicks were massive Brecker fans. He also cited the challenge Brecker brings to jazz tenor saxophonists following in his wake: ‘He’s such a hard player to escape…he’s such a complete saxophonist and so unbelievably accomplished at everything on the sax…whatever you turn to…he’s like a huge statue looking down at you!
He’s the source of a lot of joy but also a lot of pain! If you try to sound like Brecker, you can’t beat him at his own game.’
On this album, Pavlidis plays within a sextet and the supporting musicians perform a sterling role. There are six tunes (all composed by Pavlidis) and the album lasts for around 40 minutes.
Most songs are around 5-6 minutes in length. The opener, ‘Persona’ has also been released as a single, and is a driving piece, combining hard bop with electronica (sax and EWI double up in places).
The Brecker influence can be heard – the punchy lines, the lightning runs and the acrobatic leaps in both pitch and dynamics, but Pavlidis is no mere Brecker clone, and his rich tone and control are impressive. James Bowers plays a fine piano solo, with Owen Downie making his electric bass sound more like an acoustic bass.
The swinging number “Mirrors” starts with a short burst of EWI and has an infectious hook played on the sax. ‘Figure of Eight’ is a lovely percussion-laden tune with a Latin vibe (drummer Darryn Farrugia and percussionist Salvador Persico really shine on this number) and it sounds like a tune from a Weather Report album (the chugging rhythm brings to mind ‘Elegant People’) – the sax lines and phrasing are, in many places, close to Wayne Shorter territory.
By contrast, ‘Straight And Narrow’ is a fizzing, straight ahead jazz number, interspersed with electronic sounds. The longest track, ‘The Enigma Of The Day’ lasts a little over nine minutes and shows another side of Pavlidis’ playing.
It’s a ballad, on which he plays the mournful theme with feeling and delicacy. In the opening two minutes, the sax is accompanied by just the piano, laced here and there with the shimmering sound of an electric piano. Drums, piano and bass then enter, with Bowers playing a long solo, and Downie playing fretless bass.
The closer, ‘Still Life’ is a good slice of jazz-funk, with its heavy backbeat and driving feel. In places, it reminds me of Mike Stern’s title track ‘Jigsaw’ from his 1989 album (Bob Berg played sax on it). Angus Leslie lays down funk riffs on guitar and one wishes he had been given a solo on this number.
There’s a neat switch at around 3:38, when for a few bars, the band flips to jazz-swing time and Downie plays a walking bass line. Throughout the tune, Pavlidis blows hard, fast and long, and I hope his next album contains even more energising music like this.
Despite the age of the internet and social media, it must be hard for jazz musicians based on the other side of the world looking for – and in this case, richly deserving – greater exposure on the worldwide jazz scene. I hope this album gets the attention it deserves. Pavlidis says his dream is one day to play a gig at Ronnie Scott’s. If he ever does, I’ll be at the front of the queue for a ticket.