May 27, 2024

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Jim Mullen went on to pursue his first-love – jazz: Video

26.11. – Happy Birthday !!! “I first met Jim Mullen when I went to see him playing with Morrissey-Mullen on many occasions throughout the 1980s, often with my friend Larry Smart – a visual artist who had known Jim for many years.

I was recording with former Morrissey-Mullen band members John McKenzie and Tony Beard from 1981 onwards, and I also became friends with Morrissey-Mullen vocalist Noel McCalla around 1982, and with keyboardist Pete Jacobsen later in that decade. I remained a ‘nodding acquaintance’ with Jim until 1998, when I met him at a Jimmy Smith gig at the Jazz Cafe.  I asked Jim to give me a jazz guitar lesson and Jim duly obliged, but after the first lesson, he confessed that he was not really a guitar teacher, so he didn’t want to charge me money for lessons. Instead, he suggested that I simply watch and listen to him playing while recording an album of solo jazz guitar pieces – as I was a recording engineer with my own home studio. This worked out perfectly! Jim got his solo album recorded – and I got one of the best musical mentors I could have wished for! Then we started to record and write music together and we released two albums of what started out as duets, which I overdubbed bass and drums onto – courtesy of bassists John McKenzie and Winston Blissett, and drummers Blair Cunningham and Graham Dean. Jim has also played guitar on many of my arrangements of popular songs and standards.” – Mike Collins

Jim Mullen plays Jazz Guitar

Born in Glasgow, Scotland on 1945, Jim Mullen began his musical life aged 8 playing “Tea-chest bass” in the neighbourhood skiffle group. He got his first guitar the same year, and when an older friend introduced him to jazz, he was hooked. After playing with many local groups, Jim formed a group with Malcolm “Molly” Duncan and Roger Ball (later of the Average White Band) and they worked throughout Scotland playing Coltrane tunes and originals before Jim moved to London in 1969.

In London, Jim first joined Pete Brown‘s group and recorded two albums before joining Brian Auger for three albums. He then made one album each with Vinegar Joe and Kokomo before meeting sax player Dick Morrissey in 1975. This was the start of a 15-year association during which Morrissey-Mullen became one of Britain’s hottest jazz-funk bands. Seven albums later, at the end of the 1980’s, the band broke up and Jim went on to pursue his first-love – jazz.

Since then, Jim has recorded several albums with his own group, three albums with jazz vocalist Claire Martin and made numerous guest appearances with others. As the UK’s leading jazz guitarist since the early 90’s, Jim regularly gigs and tours in the UK and overseas leading his own bands and as a sideman with visiting U.S. artists such as Terry CallierMose AllisonWeldon IrvinePercy SledgeTeddy EdwardsPlas JohnsonJimmy WitherspoonJimmy Smith and Gene Harris. He is winner of “Best Guitar” in the British Telecom jazz awards (1994 and 1996). Jim was also voted “Best Guitar” in the Post Office Jazz Awards 2000.

More recently, Jim has been recording and touring with “Citrus Sun” – ‘Bluey’ Maunick’s ‘other’ band – which is a tribute to Donald Byrd’s 70’s funk. He is also recording and gigging with Zoe Francis – who he likes so much he had to marry her!

The Scottish music writer Rob Adams once described Glasgow guitar legend Jim Mullen’s right thumb as the best blues singer the city ever produced. This was a nod to the voice-like warmth Mullen gives an electric guitar melody by plucking with his thumb rather than a pick, as his short-lived idol Wes Montgomery did. After successful decades with big-time funk groups including the Average White Band, Mullen’s palette of raunchy blues, graceful bebop and purring tenderness still glows. A jam at the Vortex with young UK guitar prodigy Rob Luft – his junior by nearly 50 years – put his formidable resources to fascinatingly fresh use.

Luft’s mother had taken him as a 10-year-old to a Mullen gig. (The elder statesman joked that if he’d known how Luft was going to turn out, he’d have done his best to demoralise him.) The eager compatibility of the pair was as absorbing as their differences of approach to a largely standards-based repertoire – cranked up further by gifted Scottish keyboardist Pete Johnstone on organ, and exciting Italian drummer Enzo Zirilli.

The late Tommy Flanagan’s bebop-swinger Freight Train got the full treatment early in the set, with Mullen’s opening solo a seamless narrative of double-tempo runs and cannily bluesy hooks, Luft’s twisting improv a more episodic sequence of changing angles on the tune and its harmony, and Johnstone’s tersely grooving organ solo locked closely to Zirilli’s driving pulse. The classic ballad Blue In Green was introduced in a sparingly electronic shimmer by Luft, and became a Mullen masterclass in tonal eloquence and variation of attack.

Antonio Carlos Jobim’s bossa nova If You Never Come to Me was typically recoloured in blues hues by Mullen and developed in impulsive sprints, coquettishly skippy figures and then pinging harmonics by Luft. It closed on Luft’s riff-swap with the drums in which they slightly uneasily relocated the original tempo, but breezily slung in quotes from The Girl from Ipanema and A Night in Tunisia in the process. The End of a Love Affair was a burn-up, with Luft at his most uninhibitedly loose, Mullen by now quoting other tunes with Sonny Rollins-like effortlessness, and Zirilli’s solo a mix of subtle tonality and whiplash accents.

It was a gig to demonstrate that while there might be dated jazz material, there’s no such thing as dated jazz when deeply grounded improvisers of fearlessly enthusiastic curiosity can reinvent it.

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