Culture: Jazz Guitar Maestro Finds Comfort in the Power of Three; Two Old Friends Have Returned in the Shape of Bearwood's Long-Running Jazz Venue the Bear and Guitarist Jim Mullen, Writes Martin Longley

The Birmingham Post (England), December 17, 2001 | Go to article overview

Culture: Jazz Guitar Maestro Finds Comfort in the Power of Three; Two Old Friends Have Returned in the Shape of Bearwood's Long-Running Jazz Venue the Bear and Guitarist Jim Mullen, Writes Martin Longley


Byline: Martin Longley

Earlier this month, The Bear Tavern in Bearwood re-opened its doors after a lengthy refurbishment.

Its famed Monday night jazz session was suspended, with tenor saxophonist Andy Hamilton finding an alternative home at The Drum in Newtown and Ty's Jazz & Spice restaurant in Sparkbrook. Now, Hamilton is back in his natural habitat, appearing with The Blue Notes nearly every week. One of the few exceptions is tonight, when Glaswegian guitarist Jim Mullen brings out his Organ Trio.

Mullen's 11 x 3 album has just been released by Flamingo West Records, a label that has only recently been set up by old school friend and fellow guitarist Brian Young. Both were in rock bands when they should have been doing their homework, and Young now runs Ca Va, one of Glasgow's best recording studios.

This was, not surprisingly, where Mullen laid down the 11 tracks on this Organ Trio album. Jim has been living in London for over 30 years, but makes frequent trips up to Glasgow, visiting his family. During one of his pub sessions with Brian, the idea of recording Jim in a drums-guitarHammond setting was mooted.

Mullen's more straight-ahead jazz quartet is already signed up elsewhere, but there was a strong feeling that this other entity should be documented on disc. Jim's nextvisit involved a short series of gigs, topped off by a recording session at Ca Va.

``We recorded it in a day,'' says Mullen. ``Like they used to do things all those years ago: whack it down, like a gig, really. I don't think we did more than one or two takes of anything.

``That's a good way with jazz, as long as you've got the sound sorted out, you can really go for a performance. Unlike rock music, the more you do jazz, the worse it gets, because you tire as a performer. Miles Davis would often use the first take, even if it had mistakes in it, because you would still get the best performance from everybody.

``I'm going back to those methods myself, after years of dropping-in (over-dubbing), fixing things, repairing. I think it's better just to get a good performance.''

Tonight's gig will feature The Bear's regular drummer Tony Richards, with Hammond organist Mike Gorman coming up from London with Mullen. Lately, Gorman has also been playing with Us3, the sampling jazz-dance ensemble who have just returned to the fray with an impressive new album.

Gorman has a suitcase-sized Hammond, the company's latest model, featuring a split keyboard. This makes travelling an easier proposition. ``They're quite delicate things,'' says Mullen. ``Despite being so big and bulky. You only need a valve to break, or fall out, and you're in trouble.''

While making the album, it was fortuitous that the Ca Va studios had a resident Hammond, the hefty instrument also going walkies to each local gig.

Tonight's gig promises to feature many of those album numbers, a wide repertoire that trips from Mal Waldron to Jerome Kern, Dizzy Gillespie to George Gershwin. Mullen also plans to include a few Earth, Wind & Fire tunes, further diversifying the sound.

While Jim is obviously influenced by the rootsy, bluesy sound of Jimmy McGriff and Jimmy Smith (he's even gigged with the latter), he's also attuned to the more modern sounds of Charles Earland, Larry Goldings and Joey DeFrancesco.

``There's a bit more harmony, a more contemporary approach rather than just the bluesy thing. We're looking to broaden the approach.''

Back in the 1960s, Mullen was mostly playing jazz in Glasgow, but when he moved down to London in 1969, he found himself having to play in rock bands out of economic necessity. …

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