Glaswegian guitarist Jim Mullen is a hero to a generation of Brit jazz/funk fans mainly thanks to his work with late great saxophonist Dick Morrissey. Morrissey Mullen had some success in the late ‘70s and mid-80s, giving The Crusaders, Ronnie Laws and Don Blackman (not to mention Shakatak) a run for their money. Since then, Mullen has furrowed a more straight-ahead path, working with Mose Allison, Claire Martin, Jimmy Smith and Georgie Fame and releasing the occasional solo album. He’s also a fascinating guitar stylist, conjuring some remarkably fluent lines from his axe using only his thumbnail a la Wes Montgomery or John Abercrombie.
This 606 gig was ostensibly a reunion that gathered one-time MM drummer and now key player on the world jazz scene Gary Husband, bassist Mick Hutton and pianist Gareth Williams, all of whom appear on Mullen’s new album String Theory and played together extensively between 1996 and 2002.
Opener ‘Song For Carla’ was reminiscent of Kenny Wheeler’s work with its fluid groove and one-chord-per-bar momentum, while Carla Bley’s own ‘Dreams So Real’ featured a stunning solo from Williams and some driving post-bop drumming from Husband, a sometimes under-appreciated aspect of his playing. There was some light comic relief when a very lairy ringtone was heard emanating from the 606 office. It was hotly pursued by Williams but when he emerged saying ‘It wasn’t mine!’, a front-row wag offered ‘It must be (606 owner) Steve Rubie’s’. Rubie deadpanned ‘Mine’s turned off.’ ‘They all say that…’ the punter replied wearily.
The music resumed with a lovely reimagining of John Lennon’s ‘Love Is Real’ with some soulful, Jarrett-like modulations from Williams, raunchy blues-tinged playing from Mullen and elegant Husband brushwork. The real scene-stealer of the set though was a brisk, virtually unrecognisable 5/4 version of the Billie Holiday standard ‘You’ve Changed’ with some rhapsodic, highly original soloing from Williams and burning Husband accompaniment channeling Tony Williams. The closing ‘Greeting To Idris’ was a fine post-bop go-round in tribute to soul/jazz drummer Muhammad, who continues to be an inspiration to many players. An evening of top-drawer improvisation at this treasured club.