Early Risers is the sophomore release from established Melbourne guitarist John Scurry. It reconvenes and expands upon the working quintet from his debut, Post Matinee. An optimistic offering, generously overflowing with reflections and ruminations on friends, places and inspirations while manifesting as wholly fresh and contemporary.
John’s original compositions (and the band’s interpretations), subtly draw together disparate threads of a shared history to form a rich personal tapestry which speaks calmly yet confidently of and in the present moment. There are strong links to the Red Onions in the 60s and 70s, St Kilda gigs with Howie and Eug and Steve in the 80s and 90s, and Virus’ Fitzroy heyday in the Noughties. Yet Early Risers is essentially Scurry as leader and represents an immensely satisfying distillation and culmination of all that came before.
Scurry himself leads a dual artistic life as guitarist/composer and painter. His affinity for painters is reflected in the titles of “Thiebaud at 100” and “El Bosco”; and the way the sequence of songs flows has been considered with the eye of a painter curating an exhibition.
John says of the tunes, “They arrive as independent entities that perhaps have some musical promise. Sometimes they speak to each other, other times not. They are often a mixed bag that get on. Hopefully they also hint at other things outside of music. They are constantly enabled as am I, by all the musicians here, and in that I hope the listener is rewarded.”
These nineteen wordless songs are as honest and unpretentious as music can be. Recorded over two days, they are presented as two separate CDs, each with its own identity. CD1 was recorded on the first day with special guests added to the core band and is dynamic and cosmopolitan.
Of the guests, John says “James was on our first CD. I invited him back from Japan to be part of this recording. Danny was also on our first album and has been a regular player in this collective. I was delighted to have him play with his musical breadth and acuity on these sessions.”
“Stephen has played many a gig with this group, mainly on piano or trumpet. On this occasion I invited him to play alto sax in the larger octets and particularly for “Early Risers”. Eugene took creative initiative in giving the alto a prime voice in these larger ensembles adding another dimension to the band.”
CD2 features the core quintet as they can be heard on their regular gigs. (For those playing at home in the digital realm, CD2 starts with "I Live in a House") But, wait…. Is that…. a piano trio?
“In recent years Sam Keevers has played many gigs with Reverse Swing and it always excites me to have his particular stylistic slant adding his unique flavour to the music. I was curious as to how Sam would interpret some of my tunes, so for this recording it seemed appropriate to ask him to play a few solo or trio pieces of his choice.”
The album’s closing track offers another window to John’s self-effacing nature. Somehow, rather than feeling incongruous, the smokey ‘Live at The Village Vanguard’ apparition provides the perfect compliment to the entire offering. It has the effect of tying a beautiful ribbon on a perfectly wrapped gift from a thoughtful Japanese friend. Or being carried out the door after falling asleep at the family gathering and driven home by your parents to wake up in your own bed. There’s something about the way the journey finishes that embodies pure class and unconditional love. Journeying through the flow of both discs speaks of Scurry the painter, a creator with a curator’s eye, and ultimately a gentleman totally lacking in ego, without an axe to grind or anything to prove.
“I live in a House” is the opening line of a poem by John’s lifelong comrade from the Red Onions, Allan Browne. The closing stanza is:
“I live in a house
jammed with poems, books, ideas, passions
jammed with life and love”
Recorded over two days in late February 2020, ”Early Risers” is dedicated to my friends the musicians at work shining here, many of whom I have had the privilege and good fortune of playing music with over many decades. In the joy of making music together, they have given back to me the great pleasure and reward of hearing new life breathed into bare boned melodies as points of departure.
I am indebted to all, especially to Eugene Ball, not only for his transcriptions and superb as ever horn arrangements adding colour and texture, but also for his ever calm counsel and considerations.Thanks to Brennan Hamilton-Smith for his transcriptions and to Stephen Grant for his extra curricular assistance in the recording studio and for ultimately mixing these sessions.
Many thanks to Sam Keevers for being part of this enterprise, and for revealing new vistas in his solo interpretations, and to Howard Cairns as always my brother in time. To Philip Rex at Paper Mache Studios thanks for brilliantly mastering this body of work.
Finally special thanks to Julien Wilson, Sonny Rehe, Michael Steinman, Hans Jahr, Rohan Sforcina and not least of all Carolyn Jones and Tinka, Amelia, Mem and Vivi.
John Scurry, December 2020
released March 19, 2021
All compositions by John Scurry
Eugene Ball - trumpet
Brennan Hamilton-Smith - clarinet
Stephen Grant - alto saxophone
James Macaulay - trombone
Matt Boden - piano
Howard Cairns - double bass
Danny Fischer - drums
John Scurry - guitar
Sam Keevers - piano (Track 2 CD1, Track 4 & 10 CD2)
Produced by John Scurry
Horn arrangements by Eugene Ball
Arrangements by Eugene Ball and John Scurry
Recorded at Head Gap Recording Studio Melbourne
February 21/22 2020. Mixed by Stephen Grant
Mastering by Philip Rex at Paper Mache Studios Melbourne
Cover art: 'Afternoon Late' painting by John Scurry 2020
Inside sleeve: 'Frame' painting by John Scurry 2016
Graphic design: Hans Jahr
John Scurry has been a stalwart of the Australian swing and traditional jazz scene for five decades, while simultaneously
being a renowned visual artist and teacher. He has performed at major jazz festivals throughout Australia, Europe and North America with iconic bands including The Red Onions, while his paintings have been exhibited at the National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of NSW...more
Superb album again, consistently brilliant playing and an absolute delight to listen to.
Hard to pick a favourite track as it’s all so good, but force me to and I’ll plump for Johnston St.
Excellent, classy piece of work, thank you. Dennis Smith