Mark Lockett Trio @ CJC Winter 2014

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Mark Lockett lives in New York these days but he manages to visit Auckland every so often.   This year, as he did in 2012 when he released ‘Sneaking out after midnight’, he appeared with a trio.  Lockett is an engaging personality and his often quirky good humour spills into his playing.  He is probably the most unusual drummer I have seen.  One manifestation of this is the way he holds his sticks which is sometimes more than a third of the way down.   It’s as if he puts his entire body into the task in hand, partly lowering himself over the kit and listening intently to each sound and sensing each player; feeling for the spaces in between.

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There is an apparent deliberation that accompanies each beat or flurry, holding back for a micro second , then dropping the stick.   What is more interesting is his ability to convey the maximum of effect when playing quietly.  He isn’t a loud drummer but he conveys a world of sound.  Reminding us as he uses elbows, hand palms, rims and stands, that the drum kit is a subtle and incredibly musical instrument in the right hands.  His are the right hands.  Lockett’s compositions are also quirky and there is always the hint of a delightful joke in the offing.   These jokes stretch beyond the humorous titles, unfolding as musical stories with clever narrative lines.  His communication skills are such that the audiences follow with delight.  The humour is gentle but deeply imbedded and perhaps this is the best hook of all.  This tour was appropriately titled, ‘Flying by the seat of my pants’.IMG_1865 - Version 2

There are definite risks with trios like this, as they tempt saxophonists to self indulgently noodle once freed from chordal constraints.   Manins was perfect with this trio and used the opportunity to build upon the existing narratives.   At times playing outside but never once disconnected from the bass in drums.  He clearly took his lead from Lockett.  He is known for his intuitive reading of varying bandstand situations, a particular strength of his.  IMG_1867 - Version 2

The bass player Umar Zakaria had never played at the CJC before and in fact when I saw his name on the web site I thought that he had come from New York with Lockett.   When I spoke to him it surprised me to hear a Kiwi accent.   Zakaria has been attending the School of Music in Wellington and I believe that he is doing his honours at present.  My belief that he was an experienced offshore musician was not dispelled until I spoke with him after the gig.  His solos were interesting and he ably supported the others.  This was a good night of music from a solid band, that entertained without taking itself too seriously. 

Who: Mark Lockett Trio – ‘By the seat of my pants tour’.  Mark Lockett (drums and compositions), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Umar Zakaria (upright bass).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland New Zealand.   www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

 

 

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Alan Brown Trio @ CJC Winter 2014

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Alan Brown remains perennially popular about town as does his regular guitarist the virtuosic Dixon Nacey.   Last time the trio played at the CJC the gifted groove drummer Josh Sorensen was on traps, but for this gig the replacement was Adam Tobeck.   Tobeck proved a sensible replacement, with his ability to hold down a tight propulsive groove while at the same time imparting that something extra.  Tobeck had even mastered the regulation groove drummers face, which is indispensable in situations like this.  With an organ trio the ability to lock down a groove is essential and the drummer is central to this.    Alan Brown did not have his immaculate (but hernia inducing) C3 with him this time, as he had sensibly turned up with a new Hammond SK2.   As an approved Hammond artist he now has access to such wonders.

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The SK2 came complete with pedals, but as if to acknowledge its illustrious ancestors a vintage Leslie unit sat beside it.  While nothing can replace the B3 sound exactly, the SK2 is a big leap forward.  Brown is a multi skilled keyboardist and he navigated the differences between this instrument and his usual keys with ease.  The only deficit was in the sound mix as those furthest away from Nacey could barely hear him at times.   I suspect that this was down to the Leslie unit, which generates such a strong pervasive sound.

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Those on the other side of the room clearly heard everything and with the utmost clarity.  The looks of pure enjoyment radiated from the row of faces nearest to Nacey.  With each chord or bent string they would gasp in delight and pull back grinning, as if reeling from mock blows.  That is the legacy of this trio, to engage audiences on an intensely visceral level.  That is at the very heart and soul of groove.  It is a music that makes you want to smile and dance, while all the while marvelling at the musicians as they shimmer before your eyes.  IMG_1728 - Version 3

Brown had composed a number of new tunes as well as bringing us interesting reinterpretations of his best-loved old ones.   ‘Shades of Blue’, ‘Charlie’s here’ and ‘Inciteful’ brought the house down.  ‘Inciteful’ was the very last number and the band threw themselves into it with extraordinary vigour.   Each member of the trio gave everything they had and the audience loved it.  The three guys sitting near Dixon Nacey looked as though they had entered an altered state of pure ecstasy.

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Video by Ron Drake – ‘Inciteful’ (Brown)

What: The Alan Brown Trio – Alan Brown (keyboard, compositions), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Adam Tobeck (drums).    www.alanbrown.co.nz

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland, New Zealand 23rd July 2014    www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

 

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yeahyeahabsolutelynoway @ CJC

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An array of guitar pedals is sometimes deployed to hide a multitude of sins, but in the hands of a skilful improviser the opposite occurs.   Yeahyeahabsolutelynoway! illustrate the best of modern guitar work as they invoke past, present and future.   Their gigs feature their own compositions, with performances drawing upon influences as diverse as rock, country, experimental improvised music and traditional Jazz.  They juggle these competing influences skilfully while still imparting a surprising degree of subtlety.  I have sometimes seen Jazz guitar traditionalists roll their eyes at the sight of pedals, but I would respectfully suggest that they haven’t been paying proper attention to their Jazz history.  IMG_1659 - Version 2

Everyone from Charlie Christian onwards embarked upon a never-ending quest to change, modify, enhance and above all to extend their sound options.   Without those open skies explorers and without enhancements, the use of the guitar in boisterous Jazz lineups would have reached its high-water-mark with Freddie Green.  I love Freddie Green with a passion but the guitar is about more than chords.  Almost every instrument used in Jazz today is modified or extended in some way.   Putting a trumpet through a pedal and working in real-time with loops created by multi phonic effects does not mean that the musician is cheating.  It must be about integrity and the sound.  Beneath the right fingers improvisational integrity and storytelling always come to the fore.   Yeahyeahabsolutelynoway! understand that.

‘Yeahyeahabsolutleynoway’ are the latest addition to the impressive Rattle Records stable.  On the 16th July they did an album release gig at the CJC and for those who braved the winter night it was a treat.  I had listened to the album in advance and so I knew what to expect, but to see them in action held a few surprises for me.  I had wrongly imagined that there would be pre-recorded loops but this was strictly live music.  Every effect we heard was created in realtime, with the constant adjustments from both guitarists giving them an immense palette to work with.  If the sound scape was impressive the tunes were even more so.

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There is something special going on with Australian guitarists at the moment and this band and ‘The Grid’ are occupying a unique space in the antipodean Jazz spectrum.   In the case of ‘yeahyeahabsolutelynoway’ there is no bass guitar, not even a five string.   It is not that unusual to see two six string jazz guitars together in a trio with drums.  What is more unusual is when neither of them takes on the traditional rhythm duties.  These guys were often working the same space, swapping lines or converging on a passage to create a subtle filigree.  While they worked as equals, they never appeared to intrude or crowd in on the other, so attuned they were.  Their focus was always on the subtleties of the music and this made for a good listening experience.  On a beautiful Ibanez solid body guitar was James Brown, who looked more like a member of ‘Z Z Tops’ than his namesake.  On a classy looking blond Fender Tele was Sam Cagney.  Both could be seen crouching at various times throughout the sets, as they coaxed beguiling sounds out of the pedals and all the while playing on through.   The drummer Stephen Neville was vital to the mix and created a seamless flurry of beats or subtle whispers on brushes as required.   It would be hard for me to pin down his drum style other than to say that it was effective and impressive.

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The tunes in the set list and on the recording were varied in approach.  A fun number is the rock influenced ‘Why Sleep?’  When I put the album on at home my partner Darien immediately replayed ‘Why Sleep  over and over.   It is the one to hook you and draw you in.   I liked the Americana feel of ‘Down home’.  It wouldn’t have been at all out-of-place on a Bill Frisell album.  The album was recorded live in Adelaide South Australia where the bands originates from.  Rattle is definitely on a roll this year (yeah, shake rattle & roll) and as the label goes from strength to strength, the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) and the Jazz audiences benefit.   Keep them coming Steve Garden!  IMG_1680 - Version 2

A foot note:  I see that Columbia University is now running a Computer Science course on programming for Jazz Musicians.  As Melhdau and others increasingly follow the footsteps of Herbie Hancock in using programmable devices to extend their range, such courses can only grow in number.   Don’t be too dismayed, this is improvised music folks!  Jazz will strike out in any direction that musicians take.   It is up to us to keep up.  

Who: yeahyeahabsolutelynoway! – James Brown (guitar, effects) Sam Cagney (guitar, effects), Stephen Neville (drums & cymbals)

What: A Rattle Jazz Album: UM.. yeahyeahabsolutelynoway!   http://www.rattlejazz.co.nz

Where: Live album release at CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland, New Zealand      www.creativejazzclub.com

 

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Filed under Beyond category, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians, Post Millenium

Chelsea Prastiti 2014

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Chelsea Prastiti could be said to represent an intergenerational change in the direction Jazz Vocals are headed.  I have watched her grow in confidence since her time at the Auckland University Jazz School and she is always ready to try brave new experiments.   Because her default is the use of wordless vocal lines, she has better been able to explore the relationship between voice and the other instruments.   This integrated approach is possible for two main reasons.  Her keen awareness of what is happening around her and above all her compositional skills.

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Chelsea Prastiti is writing good material.  At times it feels brave and edgy, but it is always interesting.  Perhaps another factor is the musical familiarity with her band mates.   Her bands generally feature Matt Steele (piano), Callum Passells (alto saxophone), Liz Stokes (trumpet), Eamon Edmunson-Wells (bass) and Tristam deck (drums).   Because they were students together and because she has played with them often, I have gained the impression that she may even write material with them in mind.   One of her best recent performances was as guest artist on Callum Passells last CJC gig.   These two always work well together, but hearing them moving in lockstep as they traversed standards and amazingly innovative free numbers was a joy.

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There were a few newer compositions and some re-arranged takes on earlier compositions.  Everything in the sets was composed by Prastiti.   I like ‘Bells’ which begins with a simple peal of bells, but quickly evolves into an altogether more complex piece.  Steele was standout on this, never over-playing but making every note count.   His comping was at times minimalist but he conveyed a certain strength.  The rhythmic feel that he laid down was further enhanced by Deck and Edmunson-Wells.   This allowed Passells and Prastiti to explore the tune in a methodical manner.  Steles solo is worth a particular mention on ‘Bells’, as it underscores his growing maturity as a pianist.

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Prastiti is involved in a number of local projects including an ethnically influenced a capella group.  It is however her ability to edge toward the avant-garde that always interests me the most.

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What: Chelsea Prastiti (vocals, compositions), Matt Steele (piano), Cameron Passells (alto saxophone), Eamon Edmuson-Wells (bass), Tristan Deck (drums) – Guests; Liz Stokes (trumpet),   Cristal Choi (vocals)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand.  9th July 2014. http://www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

 

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James Wylie/Miles Crayford Group

 

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James Wylie last passed through Auckland in late 2012 when he played two gigs at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club).   A gifted alto saxophonist who doubles on clarinet, he has always been popular here.  In his travels around the world, his natural creativity has found endless new avenues for expression, examining, dissecting and assimilating the sounds around him.   What you get from Wylie is authenticity, an authenticity fuelled by indigenous music, country music, his own imaginings and all through a Jazz lens.    Last time he appeared, Greek singer Egli Katsiki accompanied him for two numbers.   This time we were again treated to some improvisations around traditional Greek melodies and to my delight a particularly lovely medieval Arab melody.  This interface between the ancient streams of Mediterranean music and Jazz is one that I am always up for, but seldom get a chance to hear in New Zealand.  Wylie is these days a resident of Greece.

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The co-leader Miles Crayford, now based in Auckland, has appeared at the CJC several times in recent months.  An interesting pianist and composer who compliments Wylie in unexpected ways.  This meeting of musical minds stimulated both artists.   The bass player was Mostyn Cole, but Crayford’s usual drummer, the Wellington based Reuben Bradley was replaced by Ron Samsom.  While all respected musicians in their own right, putting such combinations together is not in itself a guarantee of success.   In this case it worked well.   I like Reuben’s drumming enormously, but Ron Samsom gave the lineup an unusual colour that would not otherwise have been there. Samsom can draw on an endless array of styles, in each case arriving at a feel that is indispensable to the improvisers around him.   Like Wylie and Crayford, Cole contributed an original composition or two.   Cole is also based in Auckland these days and that is our gain.  He often incorporates passages of arco bass into his arrangements, perhaps more so than his local contemporaries.  IMG_1438 - Version 2 (1)

The musical connection between Crayford and Wylie was obvious, with the deliciously dark voicings of the pianist giving the alto player much to work with.   The first tune up titled ‘Taniwha’ (Crayford), set the tone for the evening.   A compelling tune with a melodic head, opening out to reveal depth upon depth.   In the second set Wylie showcased some traditional Greek tunes, unmistakable as to their origin, but somehow imparting a hint of that familiar Kiwi sound.  Kiwi musicians are reflections of our national character,  often excelling at what they do but seldom acknowledging their achievements.  Many are deliberately self-effacing, only letting their music speak for them.  Telling their stories in other ways is a writers job.

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I enjoyed this band and judging by the enthusiastic applause, so did the audience.   There was a time when I dreaded our more talented improvising musicians moving overseas as it felt like a loss.   Now I think differently.  Every-time James Wylie, Jonathan Crayford or Mike Nock returns home they bring back something new.   Nothing is ever lost if we listen properly and keep supporting the music.  These musicians and the many students who tread the same path are our legacy; where ever they live.  IMG_1417 - Version 2

Who: James Wylie/Miles Crayford Group.  – James Wylie (alto saxophone), Miles Crayford (piano), Mostyn Cole (bass), Ron Samsom (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Brittomart, Auckland, New Zealand.   http://www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

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Brian Smith quartet 2014

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For a man who says that he’s “taking it easy these days”, Brian Smith is remarkably active.  He has been a strong supporter of the recent CJC Sunday Jam sessions,  he still teaches and regularly fronts CJC gigs.   Many regard him as the elder statesman of the tenor saxophone in New Zealand and he certainly has the credentials to fit that title.  It is only when you see him playing his Cannonball or Selmer tenor that you realise just how youthful he is.  Like many experienced tenor players he appears ageless on the bandstand.  That is the alchemy of the instrument and the alchemy of the born improviser.

Advertised as Brian Smith (tenor saxophone), Kevin Field (piano), Kevin Haines (bass) Frank Gibson (drums) but on the night Oli Holland replaced Kevin Haines on bass.

It takes a lot of space to list Brian’s musical credentials and it is all too easy to miss out important elements, but here is a brief summary that I have gleaned from elsewhere;

‘Brian relocated to London in 1964, performing at Ronnie Scott’s and working & touring with such names as: Humphrey Littleton, Alexis Korner, T-Bone walker, Georgie Fame,Alan Price, Annie Ross, Bing Crosby, Mark Murphy, Jon Hendricks, John Dankworth, & Tubby Hayes. He was a founder member of ‘Nucleus’ alongside Ian Carr, which won the European Band competition in Montreaux in 1970, resulting in gigs at Newport Jazz Fest and tours of Italy, Germany, Holland, and America. In 1969 he started working in the Maynard Ferguson band, staying with them until 1975 including touring and recording. He also backed acts like Nancy Wilson, The 4 Tops, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Donovan, Dusty Springfield, Sandy Shaw and Lulu.’

The programming at the CJC is mostly centred around musicians projects.  The gigs are therefore heavily focused on original material or perhaps an oblique take on a particular oeuvre.   We do hear standards but seldom more than one or two a gig.  The exception occurs when international artists arrive in town or when iconic musicians like Brian Smith front a gig.  On occasion it is nice just to sit back and enjoy familiar tunes.  Letting them wash over you, being able to anticipate the lines and comparing them in your head to the versions that you have grown up with.  The very fact that some tunes become standards implies that they have a special enduring quality.  These are vehicles well suited for improvisation and having musical hooks that invite endless exploration for listener and musician alike.  Standards composers are the greatest writers of the song form, but the inside joke is that these wonderful tunes often came from musicals which failed miserably.

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It was great to hear the quartet play ‘You and the night and the music’ which is a firm favourite of mine.  Composed by Arthur Schwartz  (lyrics Howard Dietz), it came from the musical ‘Revenge with music’ which closed on Broadway after a few months.   Frank Sinatra and Mario Lanza revived it and it became popular with Jazz musicians for a while during the 50’s and 60’s.  While the earlier popular renderings tended toward the saccharine, Jazz musicians like Mal Waldren purged the tune of its syrupy connotations.  It was the obscure tartly voiced Lennie Niehaus Octet version (with Lennie on alto, Jimmy Giuffre on baritone and Shelley Manne drums) which won me over.  Over a decade ago I heard HNOP and Ulf Wakenius perform a killing version of it at the Bruce Mason centre and I had not heard it since.  That is until last Wednesday.

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Another great standard was Horace Silvers ‘Song for my father’.  Standards have the power to move us deeply and this tune in particular brought a lump to my throat as my father was slipping away that very week.  One of pianist Kevin Field’s tunes ‘Offering’ was also played and while not a standard it is a favourite about town.   Everyone played well that night with  Oli Holland and Kevin Field up to their usual high standard; Frank Gibson on drums was in exceptional form.  His brush work and often delicate stick work was perfect and it reminded everyone why he is so highly regarded about town.

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I have chosen a video clip from the gig which is arguably the most famous standard of all.  Cole Porters ‘What is this thing called love’.  Cole Porter would always say that the song and lyrics wrote themselves and this version is certainly a worthwhile addition to the selection.  Unlike many of the vocal versions it is fast paced and authoritative.  IMG_1278 - Version 2

Who: Brian Smith Quartet – Brian Smith (tenor saxophone), Kevin Field (piano), Oli Holland (bass), Frank Gibson Jr (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand –  June 25th 2014   http://www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

 

 

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Lex French Quintet @ CJC 2014

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The trumpet is arguably the first instrument of Jazz but we hear it infrequently in Auckland.  When we do it is seldom the lead instrument.  To redress the balance, the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) featured Lex French last week, an impressive musician who is garnering increasing attention on the Jazz scene.  This gig was one to look forward to.  The occasion was the launch of his new Rattle album ‘The Cut’, which is an international affair; recorded at McGill University’s MMR & Studio ‘A’ utilising top rated young Montreal musicians.  The mixing and mastering done in Auckland by Rattles Steve Garden.  For the album release tour French had assembled a quintet of Wellington based musicians, people he has played with before and all well-respected.

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While French has been around for some time and amassed an impressive CV he is not as well-known in Auckland.  After this album (and gig) that should change.  In spite of his relative youth he has already worked extensively overseas and has long been an essential component of the Wellington scene. He came to my attention earlier this year when ‘The JAC’ toured New Zealand and he really stood out, as trumpet players of his calibre are few and far between in New Zealand.  His ability to engage an audience goes way beyond mere chops as the way he connects is personal.  His tone is impressive as is his control of dynamics.  While a strong decisive player, he can also whisper a beguiling phrase.  ‘The Cut’ features his own compositions and these are as strong as the playing on the album.  photo

If I had to pinpoint a particular mood, a particular composition I would draw your attention to ‘Metro’.  Montreal has an impressive metro, teaming with cosmopolitan life.  This track (2) and the others on the album connected me back to a city I love; a great Jazz city.  This is what Jazz does best, paints sound pictures, reconnects us to fading memories while at the same time pointing to the unknown.  ‘The Cut’ has an up to the moment feel with strong edgy interplay between instruments.  Strangely it conveyed to me the vibe of Miles ‘Sorcerer’ album.  Perhaps it was the compositions, perhaps it was the phrasing and intonation of the trumpet, but whatever the reason it evoked memories.   Over the week I have played the album over and over and with each acquaintance a new pleasure discovered.

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French is from Wellington New Zealand and there he obtained a B Mus with honours before moving to Montreal’s McGill University to complete a Masters.  McGill has a highly respected Jazz Studies course (the Schulich School of Music).  As an aside, New Zealand has another respected McGill alumni in drummer Ron Samsom (now head of Auckland University’s Jazz Studies Program).  The musicians on ‘The Cut’ are all from McGill, Montreal.  They are Lex French (trumpet), David Bellemare (tenor saxophone), Nicolas Ferron (guitar), Nicolas Bedard (bass) and Mark Nelson (drums).   French is clearly the leader, giving a consistently strong performance, but with impressive sounding musicians like this behind him he is extremely well supported.   For the New Zealand tour he had Jake Baxendale (alto saxophone), Dan Hayles (Rhodes, Piano), Scott Maynard (bass) and Lauren Ellis (drums).   Having keys replace guitar changed the feel somewhat, but both configurations were effective in their way.  With the authoritative French upfront it could hardly be otherwise.   10462624_10202402878617968_7985350930627100965_n

French is impressive in an ensemble but he is a standout when leading his own unit.  Buy this CD to show your support for an up and coming artist, but above all buy it for the pure enjoyment of sampling the best of contemporary Jazz.  We can also chalk this up as another win for Rattle, in what is already an impressive 2014 Jazz catalogue.

What: Lex French ‘The Cut’ Album release for Rattle Records      www.rattlerecords.net

Who: Lex French Quintet: (‘Album) Lex French (trumpet, leader), David Bellemare (tenor saxophone), Nicolas Ferron (guitar), Nicolas Bedard (bass), Mark Nelson (drums).  (NZ tour) Lex French (trumpet, leader), Jake Baxendale (alto saxophone), Dan Hayles (Rhodes, piano), Scott Maynard (bass), Lauren Ellis (drums).   www.alexisfrenchmusic.com

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand, 18th June 2014  www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

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‘The Grid’ land @ CJC

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There are some musicians who arrive on earth fully formed, having journeyed from distant planets.  Sun Ra was one of those.  There is yet another category of musicians who are not aliens, but who clearly hitch a ride with aliens from time to time.  The Grid is one of the latter, as there is no other explanation for their mix of in your face humour, outrageous musicality and otherworldliness.   They have been to Auckland before when I reviewed them for this blog (read ‘The Grid off the Grid’).  This is their second coming and it has long been anticipated by local musicians, metal jazz fans, mental Jazz fans and those who enjoy amazingly improbable improvised music.  People of all ages attended, as the censorship restrictions had obviously been overlooked.

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Reinforcing the view that ‘The Grid’ had been beamed in from a spaceship, was a light show that eerily played across them as they performed.   The gig was not in the usual basement spot, as we had been booted upstairs for the night by the building owners.  Being upstairs means psychedelic light show and being upstairs means playing to people at barely visible tables rather than to people sprawling on leather couches or sitting cross legged on the floor.  Some musicians are less comfortable in this space, but The Grid appeared to thrive on it.  As ever changing patterns played on the walls above them, or descended to spotlight their instruments, they worked with it.   This gave the gig an oddly surreal atmosphere, as isolated instruments or disembodied heads floated strangely in the air.

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The set list was replete with new tunes, all introduced by Ben Vanderwal as he joked his way from number to number.  This was proper Antipodean humour; highly irreverent, at times dry and always delivered with a pinch of intellect.  At one point a dissertation on Kylie Minogue’s lyrics occurred (she should be so lucky), at another a series of imponderable questions were left hanging in the air.  “What if god were one of us?  What if U2 were from Brazil?   Before we could grasp the enormity of these questions, the band had launched into an astonishingly good version of ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ (U2) based upon that premise.  The ideas may have appeared random, but they actually supported an interesting narrative that runs through all of their gigs.   These guys are very good musicians and it is not hard to fathom why alien beings would want to abet them on their journey.  IMG_1112 - Version 2 (1)

I have included a video clip of a composition by Dane Alderson titled ‘Hitch’.   The tune was written to honour iconoclast Christopher Hitchens at the time of his passing.  Sometime during the second set the guitar amp blew up and after a bit of head scratching it was mysteriously re-routed.  A casual observer might think that it was appropriate that a band delivered to us by mysterious forces should disappear in shower of coloured lights and sparks.   I am confident that someone will find a way to beam them back soon.  We like them here in Aotearoa.  IMG_1113 - Version 2

The Grid is: Ben Vanderwal (drums), Dane Alderson (electric 5 string bass, pedals), Tim Jago (guitars and pedals).  Perth/USA

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand.  www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

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The Wellington Jazz Festival (WJF) 2014

 

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New Zealand music fans should enthusiastically support the Wellington Jazz Festival, as it has hit a sweet spot.   It will now be run as an annual event thanks to an enlightened funding decision by the Wellington City Council and the sponsors.  I am enthusiastic about this years festival on a number of levels, not least because it has struck a sensible balance between quality local acts and high-profile international acts.  In doing this the festival producers provide valuable gigs for talented New Zealand artists (or lessor known offshore artists), but they also create a real street vibe.  The Opera House fits the boutique-festival feel extremely well, as it has a warm cosy atmosphere, good sight lines and intimate acoustics.   I certainly don’t decry the use of the Michael Fowler Centre, but shows in these larger and more sterile venues need balancing with lots of club gigs which speak to the street.  This year the balance was perfect.  Jazz Festivals need street vibe as much as headline acts and a carnival atmosphere is a must have.  A reminder that Jazz emerged from the rowdy back streets of America over a hundred years ago.  IMG_1068 - Version 2

I was only able to attend for two days, but Friday night in Wellington city gave me a real Kansas city moment.  As I moved from gig to gig, concert to concert, I could faintly hear the sound of the next gig before I was out of sight of the previous one.  The warm feeling I got as I drifted aimlessly between gigs was worth the cost of the flight.  People were happy just to walk the circuit of bars and gigs, being sucked into each venue by the siren calls of saxophone, drums, trumpet, guitar or keys.  The happy jumble of accessible gigs and the high quality of musicianship couldn’t fail to please.

My first festival gig was the Barney McAll free concert in St Peters church.  He has long-lived in Brooklyn but hails from Australia.  I had caught McAll doing a trio gig at Auckland’s Creative Jazz Club the night before, where he impressed the audience so much, that a few of us made sure that we caught him again in Wellington.  McAll is a deep-level improviser bringing the history of this music to each performance.  When he is playing solo piano there is an orchestral completeness to his work.  His left hand often utilising powerful stride bass lines while he moves and stomps in Monk like fashion.  On reflection McAll was very much the festival highlight for me.

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The first headline International gig I attended was the Joshua Redman quartet at the Opera House.  The band opened with a few tunes clearly pitched to a diverse festival crowd, but that changed as they progressed through the set list.  A highlight was ‘Walking Shadows’ (J S Bach ‘Adagio’) which is the title of his new album with Brad Melhdau.  This piece honoured Bach beautifully while giving ample space for fluid Jazz informed conversations.  It was then that we begun to hear more of what the quartet was capable of.  For me however it was the encore that was the standout of the night.  Pulling out a marvellous interpretation of Wayne Shorter’s ‘Infant Eyes’, they showed us the real meat on the bone.  The Redman quartet are a highly polished unit; noticeably propelled by powerhouse drummer Greg Hutchinson (with his heart stopping beats) and anchored solidly by Reuben Rogers.  In contrast Aaron Goldberg takes a minimalist and often oblique approach on piano while Redman’s sound although authoritative is thinner than many of his peers.  The band can certainly pack a punch and Redman’s arrangements did him credit.

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After the Redman concert I headed for the Rogue & Vagabond.   This was the first local band I saw and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.  There was a themed approach to most of the gigs, with many local bands interpreting famous albums; in this case ‘Thelonious Monk at the Town Hall’.   That was a great choice of album and completely authentic in its interpretation.  The quirky crazy warmth of Monk came through strongly and the excitement drew a melee of happy revellers to the bar.  Congratulations to Jake Baxendale (alto), Mike Isaacs (Tenor), Chris Buckland (baritone), Matt Allison (trombone), Lex French (trumpet), Kelvin Payne (tuba), Rowan Clark (bass), Shaun Anderson (drums) and Ben Wilcock (piano).  I love nonets and this one was perfect.  The gorgeous brass heavy voicings and heavy Monkish accents from the piano, hung in the air like decoded messages from the man himself.   Thursday was only the first night of the festival and in spite of limping around on a sore foot all night, I couldn’t stop smiling as I headed back to the hotel.

After the official opening on Friday night we filed into the Opera House to hear Pablo Ziegler.  A pianist composer who hails from Buenos Aires, he is the leading exponent of Nuevo Tango and an interpreter of the works of the Tango maestro Astor Piazzolla .  This highly rhythmic and often melancholic music was an infusion of European classical, African informed rhythms, hints of Jazz and the beautiful folk ballads of Argentina.  It is a danceable music created by creole musicians and early on embraced by working class Argentinians.  The Ziegler orchestra was essentially the Wellington Orchestra and they acquitted themselves extremely well.  The string section was twenty strong  (including two double basses),  there were two French horns, an oboe, a bassoon, a flute and a drummer who doubled on vibraphone and percussion.   Lastly there was composer, arranger Pablo Ziegler on piano.   I loved this concert in its entirety and especially when an expat Argentinian Fisarmonica Tango-player came on stage to play a ballad.  People often turn up their noses at the accordion and its close relative the bandoneon, but I defy anyone not to feel the emotional power of this instrument in a classic Tango setting.

My next stop was the Corea/Burton concert which started late due to repeated encore’s at Ziegler’s Opera House event.  When he came on, Chick Corea appeared discomforted by the air-conditioning, which would have felt positively arctic after his recent trip to Portugal.  Gary Burton was wearing a sweater and so it worried him less.  The Michael Fowler centre is a huge cavernous venue and controlling the air flow is undoubtedly a monumental task.  Once underway the famous duo delivered a well thought-out program, which included new and older familiar tunes.  The interplay between these two is uncanny and it goes way beyond just finishing each others musical sentences. They are able to challenge and anticipate what the other will do and this allows for high level interaction.  The duo have been playing together for so long now that their musical minds are as one.

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The last gig I was able to attend was back at the Rogue & Vagabond and this time it was a Herbie Hancock ‘Headhunters/Heavy Weather’ tribute.   I am always up for this music as it is surprisingly seldom played in New Zealand.   The band was outrageously good and as I approached, a flurry of urgent beats and a surge of raw energy seemed to fill the streets around the venue.   I am always enthusiastic about Dan Hayles keyboard skills and on this night he played a bank of keyboards to great effect.  On drums was the talented Myele Manzanza (who I suspect was the leader), on percussion Lauren Ellis, on tenor saxophone Blair Latham and on electric bass Rom Smith.   Blair Latham had been unknown to me prior to this, but I will pay more attention in future.  He was simply killing.  IMG_1099 - Version 2

Every large festival leaves you with regrets and mine were primarily about the gigs I’d missed.

There were at least eighty solid reasons for attending this Wellington Jazz Festival.  That was the number of listed events and there were many more unlisted events besides.    The Festival has had its ups and downs, but thanks to the persistence of the festival committee and the Wellington City Council it can now focus on what it does best.  Bringing quality Jazz to a wider audience.  If you are a Wellington local attending is a no brainer.  If you are from out-of-town then plan early and grab a cheap airfare.  You won’t be disappointed.  I wasn’t.

http://www.jazzfestival.co.nz/

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Barney McAll trio @ CJC

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Last week was my two hundredth post and I was casting about for something extra special to put up.  Something to celebrate a rite of passage for JazzLocal32.com.  Happily I found that special something right at my doorstep.  Brooklyn based pianist Barney McAll was in town.  There are a lot of exceptional pianists on the global scene and in spite of diligent explorations on my part, there are many that I haven’t yet heard.  Barney McAll was one of those but the omission is now rectified.  He is firmly on my radar and I will track his every move.  IMG_1040

Barney McAll is an expat Australian, moving to New York in the mid nineties.   There are 104 albums and films which credit him as either leader, sideman, arranger or collaborator and the people he has worked with defy belief.   If I added all of their names here it would be a very long post, but to give you an idea of the diversity of his projects I will list a handful of his collaborators.  Dewey Redman, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Kenny Garret, Marceo Parker, Jimmy Cobb, Eddie Henderson, Vernel Fournier, Billy Harper, Josh Roseman, Gary Bartz and Andy Bey.  This guy is an established heavyweight but as if to round out an already fat resumé, his most recent activity focuses on solo piano.  He has a long-standing weekly spot at a Brooklyn church and his Sunday gig is shaping his work in interesting ways.  He is a deep improviser and his output of late has a spiritual dimension; embodying a personal journey.  Spiritual in the way that eighties Jarrett or sixties Coltrane were.

When he plays solo piano or leads an intimate trio, Barney McAll appears protean.  Changing form before your very eyes as he rolls to the music and enters into a state of absorption.  Sometimes merging with the shadows, as fleeting shards of light fall across his face and fingers.  I once read an account of a Tibetan Shaman who appeared to change shape as the wailing ceremonial trumpets and resonant sub-bass chanting engulfed him; reflecting the ebb and flow of the music.  This is how I perceived McAll.

He mostly played his own compositions, but at times he augmented these with lessor known tunes from the margins of the Jazz repertoire.  A good example of the latter was his joyful take on “Mendez takes a Holiday’ by Donny Hathaway.  Whatever he played took you to the beating heart of the tune.  McAll is like the perfect tour guide.  Pointing out the things that you should know, while leaving you at the brink of deeper secrets.  His own compositions were particularly fine, brimming with interesting musical ideas, original viewpoints, but always engaging.  There is never the slightest suggestion of noodling about his playing.  He shares his experiences and the audiences sit enthralled at every turn.  IMG_1024 - Version 2

It is always instructive to watch musicians during such gigs as they hear things differently from the rest of us.   The last time I saw so many open mouths was during feeding time at a seal colony.  Occasionally someone would whisper “oh what a total mofo”.   A recent Jazz studies graduate Chelsea Prastiti said to me later, “The flow of ideas had enormous coherence.  They all made perfect sense while sounding quite original.  I wish I had thought of them”.   In the break he spoke enthusiastically to me about his new band mates Cam McArthur and Ron Samsom.   “These guys are great and they really prepare well ” he said.   He was right to praise them as they did not put a foot wrong.   He later told the audience, “Sometimes I hear the first contact with the crash symbol and I think, oh dear, this will be a long night.  This is definitely not the case with Ron Samsom”.   He also complimented Cameron McArthur, “You saved my ass twice man, and its my tune”.  IMG_1041 - Version 2

His tune ‘FlashBacks’ imparts a wistful sadness, of the sort so wonderfully portrayed in ancient Japanese haiku.  Darkly beautiful, redolent of the shadows and the play of light, chiaroscuro.  There is something about those voicings and their relationship to each other that evokes a haunting elegiac portrayal of how life is, but hinting also at how it should be.  It is humanism in its purest form.  The other composition that grabbed my attention was ‘Non Compliance’ an invective against the NRA (National Riffle Association).   In his inimitable way McAll conjures ‘Sandy Hook’ and the ghastly ever mounting toll of lost children.   This is a call for sanity in a gun-toting culture gone mad.  An expose of a strange irrational twilight world where frightened people think more guns will solve the problem.  All of that imparted so succinctly, and done over a simple pedal point.

Telling stories is what good Jazz musicians do and McAll is a very good jazz musician.  So good that a few (including me) followed him to Wellington for more.

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Who: Barney McAll trio – Barney McAll (piano), Cameron McArthur (bass),  Ron Samsom (drums).  www.barneymcalljazz.bandcamp.com/

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand.  www.creativejazzclub.co.nz/

 

 

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Acapollinations/Carolina Moon @ CJC

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One of the strengths of the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) is its varied program.   Sixty years ago improvised music meant only one thing to the western world.  Mainstream Jazz.  From the late fifties onwards the music drew from an ever-widening array of influences, experiments with unusual and exotic instruments occurred, not always successful as the attempts were often self-conscious.  At worst they felt like a size twelve-foot being jammed into a size six shoe, at best they tantalised, leaving us wanting more.   Among the best of these explorations were Jimmy Giuffre’s.   A Texas tenor man with open ears and an innate ability to double on reeds and winds.  By the sixties his folk tinged Jazz with Jim Hall and Bill Crow (Train and the River) was considered mainstream.  By then Giuffre had moved on to explore open skies atonal explorations with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow and to dabble in the ‘third stream’.   The third stream referenced modern classical music as it sought to make a hybrid of the two forms.  Attempts to bring in the exotic sounds of the Mediterranean, in spite of Django, were slower coming.   The exotic of the sixties was more likely Cuban influenced Jazz or the music of Tom Jobim.   Both wonderful, but unmistakably music rooted in the Americas, in spite of their ancient African influences.

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Post millennium, there are interesting and innovative Jazz Projects proliferating across the globe.  ECM in particular has long been adept at broadening Jazz tastes and over the last two decades it is repeatedly voted as the best-loved Jazz Label.  Not once has it compromised its mission.  Not once has it tried to travel down the populist route.  It survives in a space where the iconic Jazz labels disappear, engulfed by amoral corporate machines or buried in an increasingly harsh market place.   One ECM album in particular comes to mind, a wonderful collaboration between premier Italian Jazz trumpeter Paulo Fresu and a traditional Corsican mens choir, ‘Mystico Mediterraneo’.   This acapella song form is combined with improvisation much like Caroline’s and Tui’s projects.  Improvising around ancient forms and bringing back deeply evocative all but forgotten songs.  This feels natural in 2014 and this brings me to the original point.   Jazz now coexists comfortably around a variety of genres, from deep Americana (Bill Frisell), to Middle Eastern music (Dhafer Youssef).  The self-consciousness is gone and the younger audiences in particular are more open.  This feels right in a globalised world and from an ethnomusicological view-point, it helps catalogue musics that are fast fading from thecollective memory.

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The ‘Acapollination’ project illustrates the above points perfectly.   This acapella group, four women (two established Jazz vocalists), explore the harmonies and rhythms of Bulgarian folk music.   I knew little of Bulgarian music but was keen to learn.  What I now know is that there is an ancient tradition of folk singing and that the style is quite distinct.  Differing markedly from other European or Slavonic music.  When Bulgaria became communist the authorities appropriated these folk songs and under their guiding hand they morphed in propaganda tools.  Complex meters became the norm, no longer left in the sole hands of peasants who had preserved them by oral tradition.  In some cases purged of unwelcome minority ethnic influences.  It is to the credit of Ron Samsom and the Auckland University Jazz School that this project was accepted.  There are many improvising traditions in the world, some new, some ancient.  When they meet new horizons open before us.  IMG_0940 - Version 2

The second set was Carolina Moons Mother Tongue.  This project has been around for a few years and has travelled extensively.  There have been a few changes to the original line-up but the core performers remain.  Wherever the Mother Tongue project has appeared it’s received to wide acclaim.  Once again this is an ancient music, a hybrid form emerging from multiple sources in medieval Sephardic Spain.  Not only are the melodies of the Jewish Diaspora heard, but the songs of the Moors and the other races surrounding them.  This truly exotic and rich music just begs for modern interpretation and Carolina Moon has achieved that exceptionally well.   Her voice is wonderful and her arrangements perfect.  I have heard this group many times, but at each listening I gain new insights, fresh enjoyments.  They are evolving with time and different facets emerge or fade as they progress.   Nigel Gavin is always extraordinary but Roger Manins intense short modal improvisations on Bass Clarinet, Flute or Soprano saxophone make this special.   Carolina Moon, Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Ron Samsom and Nigel Gavin are the original members.  Cameron McArthur is a newer addition.  This is a cohesive working group and long may they remain so.  IMG_0959 - Version 2

What: Acapollinations – Tui Mamaki (leader, voice), Chelsea Prastiti (voice), Carolina Moon (voice), Siobhan Grace (voice).  acapollinations@gmail.com

What: Mother Tongue Project – Carolina Moon -Manins – (Leader, arranger, vocals, bells), Kevin Field (piano), Roger Manins (winds and reeds), Nigel Gavin (guitars), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samsom (drums)   http://www.moonmusic.com

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland New Zealand, 28th May 2014    www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

 

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Filed under Beyond category, Fusion & World, vocal

Mad Hatters Guitar Amp Fundraiser @ CJC May 2014

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On Wednesday 21st May the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) replaced their normal program with a fundraiser as the club has long been in need of a good quality guitar amp.   Relying on borrowed guitar amps is a risky practice and moving one down winding staircases follows the Rhodes & B3 as being the quickest way to get a hernia.   A large number of established musicians and many Jazz studies students volunteered to play and so an impressive pool of artists formed.   No musician asked for pay but the audience still paid an entry fee.  To augment the door take, raffle tickets were also on the sale.  The many prizes included a double pass to the Larry Carlton concert and all donated by CJC supporters.

In these situations it is usual for the more experienced musicians to suggest a number they would like to play.  They would then liaise with their preferred band mates from the volunteer pool or perhaps strong-arm a few others who had not yet volunteered.

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Roger Manins the creative director of the CJC was having none of that.  He had a cunning and innovative plan up his sleeve and one worthy of John Zorn.  All the musicians would have their names placed in a hat (a pork pie hat as it turned out) with no set list predetermined.  Just to put an additional burr under the musicians saddles, the ‘feel,’ (time signatures, tempo style etc) were written on a slip of paper drawn from a second hat.  Once a name came out of the hat it was not put in again, with the number of musicians performing dictated by Roger prior to each draw.

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In summary: a pool of musicians assembled, two hats determined what they played, how they play it, and with whom.

If the slip read fast bossa, slow ballad or fast waltz the task was easy.  A quick negotiation determined which tune and if not predetermined by the slip, which key.   If however the second draw indicated that odd time signatures; changing constantly throughout the tune, then the task was formidable.  There was one draw in particular which took my fancy and that was when seven names appeared and the second draw indicated that they must play completely free.  “No discussion, just play”, was the instruction.   This was a recipe for chaos and mayhem but what they pulled together was interesting.  The band (which I will dub the ‘FreeJC’ ensemble) had a mixture experienced musicians and Jazz studies students.  Contrary to popular belief Free Jazz very often has rules or principles guiding the improvisation.  For example John Zorn’s game pieces like Cobra have strict confines and free improvisation occurs cued by the conductor; a set of spontaneous but connected conversations.  Butch Morris was the master of this ‘Conduction’ methodology but in longer form.   He coaxed wonderful creations out of musicians by using hand signals (or in Zorn’s case cued by a rapid succession of flash cards).

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The older hands knew better what to do here, conversing in the time-honoured way of call & response, moving with the ever shifting patterns and shapes.  Some portions of this ten minute long Free exploration worked better than others.   When they reached for a commonality of ideas  interesting shapes formed.   Like all good conversations it is the listening that is as important as the talking.  When this openness is evident a deeper intuitive communication occurs.    I have put up a blended excerpt of this free number.

As well as the many of the many regular performers there were a number of impressive students on the band stand.  It was also great to hear Julie Masson again.  

Among those performing were: Frank Gibson Jr, Phil Broadhurst, Julie Mason, Neil Watson, Ben McNicoll, Carolina Moon, Oli Holland, Kevin Field, Andy Smith, Ron Samsom, Cameron McArthur, Paul Nairn, Chelsea Prastiti, Djordje Nikolic, Michael Howell, Tom Leggett, Tristan Deck, Matt Steele, Rob Thompson, Sam Weeks, Timothy Andrew Shacklock.

What: CJC Mad Hatters Guitar Amp Fundraiser

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand. 21st May 2014   http://www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

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Filed under Beyond category, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, experimental improvised music

Neutrinos Jazz Funk + Rob Thompson

 

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If you have seen the Neutrinos perform at the Albion you will know how intensely funky they are.   Because they are a pub band, the music is beat focussed, danceable and outrageously cheerful; making people whoop with joy at the sheer exuberance of the music.  Ron Samsom is the Neutrino’s leader and he has contributed most of the tunes. I have only recently begun to grasp the breadth and depth of his compositions.  He is as a gifted writer.  Roger Manins has also contributed some great tunes from his popular earthy funk projects.   In his inimitable way he is also shares comparing duties.  The Albion band is Ron Samsom (drums), Roger Manins (tenor), Grant Winterburn (organ) and Cameron McArthur (bass).   As a unit they are the ultimate live experience.  Grant Winterburn’s solos scuffle and sing their way into your soul, taking your breath away with their brilliance.   Roger Manins brings down the happy ghosts of the funk tenor greats, Cameron McArthur makes the music dance and Ron Samsom’s drives endless flurries of killing beats out from his kit.  Being bombarded with something faster than light and more mysterious; neutrinos.  leaving in their wake pulsing rays of warmth.  More later on that gig as I will be writing a post on the Albion Funk Jazz Neutrinos shortly.

The CJC Neutrinos while composed of the same parts approached the music from a different angle.

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The Neutrinos lineup at the CJC was promoted as Jazz Funk (not Funk Jazz) and this offered a clue to the change of focus.  Visiting Canadian keyboard player Rob Thompson also replaced resident organist Grant Winterburn for this one gig.  Instead of the tone wheel simulating Nord C2D which Winterburn uses, there was a Nord Stage 88ex.   The sounds are very different.  Because the CJC is a listening space this opened up other possibilities; beat driven funk can follow ballads or introspective pieces.  We heard many of the tunes from the Albion repertoire, but the real surprise of the evening came when Rob Thompson moved from keyboards to piano.  He made a brief announcement and then proceeded to play two numbers strongly associated with Bill Evans.   Appropriately the quartet shrunk to a trio at this point.  Leaving just Thompson, McArthur and Samsom.

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It is unusual to see anyone interpret Bill Evans these days as modern pianists tend to shy away from this material.   There are a number of reasons for this and I suspect the sheer recognisability of his style, and of his particular approach to harmony invites unwelcome comparison.   A recent exception would be the album by Eliane Elias with husband Marc Johnson (an Evans alumni).   That particular album is Evans and Elias in equal proportions.  Rob Thompson has been studying Evans for a year or so and in situations like this there is a fine point between sounding like a particular artist and strongly referencing that artist.  How to approach the tunes is the perpetual conundrum.  The first tune of two was ‘Morning Glory’ (Bobby Gentry).  It was typical of Evans to appropriate an unlikely pop tune, film theme or country & western tune and then make it his own.  In this case ‘Morning Glory’s’ country and western origins dissolved into crystalline beauty.  Quite uncoupled from the Tallahatchie Bridge and Billy Joe McAlester.

From the intro to the end it spoke of Evans without being a slavish imitation.   The voicings and the approach were close enough to Evans to evoke him, but different enough to feel that you had gained a fresh perspective.  His second Evans number was ‘Re: Person I Knew” (Evans), a tune he wrote as a tribute to his friend Orrin Keepnews of Riverside Records.  The title is a clever anagram of Keepnews name, an intellectual challenge that Evans could seldom resist.  This introspective, wistful tune is among those most associated with Evans.  It is not only Keepnews who’s referenced here, as the song contains a haunting echo of the Scott Lafaro sessions at the Village Vanguard.  I have put up a clip of this.  Later I asked Cameron McArthur if he had ever played this material before and he had not.  With Evans bass playing changed.  Chuck Israels was the bass player when Evans wrote this tune and he said, “My voice is left open because Bill doesn’t play the bass in his left hand”.  Both McArthur and Samsom responded appropriately to Thompson’s explorations and both displayed a high degree of sensitivity.  Then it was back to the quartet format and higher octane tunes: with Roger Manins playing boisterously and to his usual high standard.

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It is always worthwhile to see familiar material examined afresh and played from a new perspective.  It was not just the Evans but the Neutrino song book reinterpreted on this night.

Who: Ron Samsom’s Neutrinos – Ron Samsom (drums), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Cameron McArthur (bass) with guest artist Rob Thompson (piano, keys)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand 13th May 2014.    www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

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Sam Blakelock @ CJC

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Sam Blakelock is a guitarist open to the various streams and influences around him and he is clearly going places.  Formerly from Christchurch where he completed the Christchurch University Jazz Studies course, he found himself attracting wider attention.  A best guitarist award and the Jack Urlwin scholarship were to follow.  After a stint on luxury cruse ships he settled in New York where he is about to embark upon a Masters at NYU.

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Like a number of Jazz guitarists these days Sam Blakelock plays a Fender.   With Fender playing Bill Frisell cleaning up the ‘best of’ Jazz guitar polls year after year, the instruments emergence in mainstream Jazz is unsurprising.  It is hard to imagine Marc Ribot ripping up the rulebook on a classic hollow-body.   These warhorse guitars can be coaxed gently or smote with force and in the hands of a Jazz trained guitarist the sound palate is open-ended.  Blakelock’s approach is more to coax the instrument and the clip I am posting illustrates that approach.  While the quality of an instrument matters, it is the inventiveness and the ability to communicate interesting musical ideas that matters more.  The compositions were all original, many composed for this New Zealand farewell tour.   They felt like markers laid down at a waypoint in the journey.   A point to delineate his hometown success from the success that is surely to follow.

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For bandmates he chose two ex-pat Christchurch musicians, Richie Pickard (bass) and Andy Keegan (drums).  Completing the quartet was popular local alto player Callum Passells.   Having an alto in the mix gave him a very specific palate; giving the arranged heads a distinctive sound.  A certain freedom in voicing made possible.  Blakelock’s upper register lines blended perfectly with the clean toned melodic alto; playing in unison or subtly accenting solos with minimalist comping.  Keegan and Pickard anchored the quartet.  IMG_0600 - Version 2

At one point Blakelock played a riveting solo piece and on another he stole the limelight with a slow blues that burned like a torch song and sang like an exotic bird.  It is when he is in complete charge or playing alone that we see him at his best.  It will be interesting to see him in a few years time, when New York has further polished his already considerable skills.   When he has a moment I hope he passes this way again.

What: The Sam Blakelock Quartet Farewell Tour.  Sam Blakelock (guitar, compositions), Callum Passells (alto sax), Richie Pickard (upright and electric basses), Andy Keegan (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, 7th May 2014.  www.creativejazzclub.co.nz   samblakelock.com

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Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Millenium

‘DOG’ unleashed on International Jazz Day

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The DOG project was conceived two years ago and during its public outings the band garnered enthusiastic support.  Those who heard DOG urged them to record and eventually they did.  The long-awaited album was ready for release on International Jazz Day 2014; a gestation time roughly equivalent to that of an elephant.  The time however has been very well spent, as the band members have composed a wealth of new material.  DOG (formally Dr Dog) is Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Oli Holland and Ron Samsom.  Manins, Field & Holland are lecturers at the Auckland University School of Music (Jazz program), Samsom is the senior lecturer.   They are all in demand for the best gigs about town.  They are the big dogs on the block.

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International Jazz day was the perfect time to release this album, underscoring as it does a local Jazz scene crackling with life and teeming with invention.  Anyone familiar with the Auckland Jazz Scene will know that these musicians are a driving force; inspiring, challenging and empowering emerging artists.  It is a band of titans but it is also a true band of equals.  In the Jazz world bands made up of many leaders often fall short.  A juggling act’s required to unify a multiplicity of visions.  That problem does not apply here.  These men appear to breathe in unison and react to each other intuitively.  At the ripe old age of two DOG is in peak condition.

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The album is beautifully recorded and the mix could hardly be improved upon.  Credit to the York Street Studios in Auckland and to the tasteful mixing by Rattle’s Steve Garden (and DOG themselves).  ‘Rattle Records’ are going from strength to strength and if the last three months output is anything to go by, this will be their best year yet.  From the first few notes the album reels you in and holds your attention throughout.  There is a virtuosity and a tightness to the performances but it is more than that.   Beneath the unquestionable musicianship there is a radiating warmth and a bounty of good humour which shines through.  This was especially evident during the International Jazz Day performance at the CJC.  It was a humour filled affair and delightfully laid back.

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Roger Manins was the front man for the release gig and the dog jokes and banter had people in fits of laughter.  He teased the band mercilessly and they responded with sad looks or dismissive gestures.  The Zeppo Marx to Manins Groucho.  This is a role that he is well suited to and his jokes are quintessential Kiwiana.  Some of the titles contained obscure dog references.  ‘Race to Space’ honours the Russian dog which led off the space race, others inspired by loveable but hapless dogs of good breeding as in ‘Evolution’.  At one stage Manins directed people to a comparative dog intelligence chart.  “This is my spaniel rated at number fifty three, which is around the middle of a descending scale”.  Next he asked, “Does anyone here own an Afghan Hound?”.  No one owned up, perhaps guessing what was to transpire.  “Ladies and gentlemen they are number ninety two on the list, almost at the bottom of the intelligence scale”.  Some brave soul responded, “Surely not”.  “Have you ever tried to play cards with an Afghan Hound” was Manins quick response.  Roger Manins drawings for the cover art say it all.

Because there are four composers, the tunes have a variety of moods and tempos.   I like them all, but if forced to choose one I would go for Hollands ‘Didel Didel Dei’.   There are burning solos on this uptempo track and the interplay is quite exceptional.  On this track you will hear Manins at his best.  As usual there is no sugar-coating as he pushes the tenor to its outer limits.  Field, Holland and Samsom responded in kind.  This music they play has the utmost integrity and the audience laps it up.

International Jazz Day has become the premier event on the International Jazz Calendar with the brightest stars in the Jazz firmament showcased.  Auckland, New Zealand can hold its head high in the midst of these international celebrations.   This album and this live performance did us proud.

Who: ‘DOG’ is Roger Manins (tenor Sax), Kevin Field (piano), Oli Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) – compositions by all band members

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland, New Zealandhttp://www.rattlerecords.net/   http://www.creativejazzclub.co.nz/

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Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Jazz April, Review, Straight ahead, World Jazz Day/Month

Jonathan Crayford – ‘Dark Light’ Trio @ CJC #jazzapril

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I attended three Jonathan Crayford gigs while he visited New Zealand.   All of the bands were different and all were exceptional in their way.  This tells me something important about the artist; a leader able to communicate a vision with the utmost clarity and bring out the best in other musicians.  Just over a month ago I interviewed Crayford and my first question was, “What projects do you have in the pipeline?”.  He told me about an album that he is going to record in New York in a few months.  We then talked about ‘Dark Light’, his new ‘Rattle’ album.  As the title implies this is about that mysterious place behind the light.  This recurring theme is regularly mined by improvising musicians.  Monk, Jarrett, Maupin, Towner, Pieranunzi and others have peered into this chiaroscuro world, where the shadows between light and dark reveal subtle wonders.  This piano trio album recorded in New York in late 2013, has the stellar sidemen Ben Street on bass and Dan Weiss on drums.  The album was pre-released to New Zealand audiences during Crayford’s gig on Wednesday which was the fourth of the Creative Jazz Club’s 2014 #jazzapril series.  IMG_0373 - Version 2

I hear a lot of music these days and much of it I like, but occasionally an album comes your way that really stops you in your tracks.  This is just such an album.  It has a profundity and a depth to it that works on so many levels.  It is an album that deserves hearing over and again and since obtaining a copy I have done just that.  At first impression I thought of game changing pianists like Esbjorn Svensson or some of the modern Scandinavians, but this has a strongly original feel.  As in all Crayford’s compositions, we hear a skilfully written head, that gradually evolves into an ever-widening groove, begging deeper exploration.  While it is music played at the highest level it is neither self-indulgent nor introspective.  The album has real depth but it is also incredibly accessible.  This is music that everyone will recognise at some level: partly because it is so articulate, but also because the blues and a myriad of other familiar song forms are neatly distilled into it.

It was obviously not practical to fly Street and Weiss (who are New York based) down for the CJC launch and so Crayford engaged two New Zealand musicians.  While not hearing the full recorded trio was a shame, we were not disappointed by their substitutes.  He could hardly have chosen better.  On bass he had Wellington musician Patrick Bleakley and on drums was Auckland musician Chris O’Connore.   I am less familiar with Bleakley but I certainly know him by reputation.   The last time I saw him was with ‘The Troubles’, a delightfully anarchic Wellington band.  He is an experienced and melodic bass player with an instinctive feel for time.  On the album with Street and with the New Zealand trio, the bass player anchored the pieces; leaving piano and drums to react to each other.  O’Connore is one of the finest drummers on the New Zealand scene and he routinely plays in diverse situations.  This open skies approach gives him a real edge.   He is a drummer and percussionist with a highly developed sense of space and dynamics and in this case his colourist tendencies were strongly in evidence.  IMG_0422 - Version 2

The tracks have an organic logic in the way they’re ordered and a natural ebb and flow is discernible.   The set list at the gig followed that order, creating the sense that we were on a journey.  The titles of the pieces reference the ‘Dark Light’ theme and none more so than ‘Galois Candle’.  Galois was a genius French mathematician (1811 – 1832) who used abstract algebra to prove the links between field theory and group theory.  He suffered unbelievable bad luck in his short life and was not appreciated or understood until the 20th century.  Many of his proofs were accidentally or careless destroyed by others, hence the title.  As I play this sad evocative piece, the story of Galois unfolds before me.  This is what Jazz can do well; steal a moment out of time and create a compelling narrative.

There is a luminous quality to Crayford’s playing; a quality which sounds newly minted and yet familiar.  Crayfords contribution to Jazz deserves wider recognition and with this album it could happen.  I would therefore give the album four and a half stars out of five, not out of some Kiwi patriotism but purely on merit.  No Jazz lover will regret the purchase

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Who: Jonathan Crayford (piano) Ben Street (bass *album), Dan Weiss (drums *album) – Patrick Bleakey (bass *CJC), Chris O’Connore (drums, percussion *CJC)

What: ‘Dark Light’ released by Rattle Records http://www.rattlerecords.net 

Where: Pre release CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland 23rd April #jazzapril

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Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians, Jazz April, Post Millenium, World Jazz Day/Month

Michele Benebig @ CJC #jazzapril

 

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When a Hammond B3 artist hits town, organ combo fans cheer and roadies duck for cover.  The B3 is not the sort of instrument that musicians bring with them on a plane (unless they have chartered a Lear Jet or a Hercules).   These mysterious musical behemoths are now harder to find, as the Hammond company folded in 1986 and the original tone-wheel B3/C3 has not been made since 1974.  The instrument barely fits into a utility van and weighs more than 435 lb; with the accompanying Lesley Unit you can add 150 lb.  The first problem for a travelling B3 artist is therefore to source a well restored working machine in the town where the gig will be held.  Auckland is lucky in this respect as there are a few of the instruments around.  To locate one in full working order is often difficult but the first port of call in Auckland is always keyboardist/organist Alan Brown.  Alan has just restored his beloved C3 (an even heavier version of the B3).

Young unsuspecting musicians and a few experienced ones who should have known better, cajoled by Roger manins, moved this fabulous machine halfway across town, down two flights of stairs and into the basement of the 1885 building.  They suffered for our enjoyment.

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Its been over a year since Michele Benebig and Shem were in town and we love them here.  Their blend of hard swinging old school B3 Jazz groove and evocative South Sea Island referencing vocals is a perfect fit for New Zealand audiences.  The Author Lawrence Durrell* once described a rare disease called ‘Islomania’.  This affliction of the spirit causes a form of intoxication; an overwhelming desire to live on lush green Islands surrounded by limitless expanses of sea.  For the afflicted this is a source of inner happiness.  While Michel and Shem are often seen on the West Coast of America; in Australia, New Zealand or France, it is their Island home base of New Caledonia that defines them.  Shem in particular fills her compositions with descriptions of exotic papillon (French for butterfly), colourful birds who warn the locals of impending storms and of the Pacific.   She and Michel are clearly afflicted by Islomania and as a fellow sufferer I empathise.   When this affliction meets the Jazz B3 obsession a potent hybrid arises and from the grip of this there is no escape.

After seemingly endless months of blue skies it poured down on the night of the gig.  This was bound to affect attendance, but those who braved the storm heard something exceptional.  If there is one compelling reason to brave wind and rain it is to hear a B3 Combo.  There is a primal warmth radiating from a B3 that seeps into your body.  From the first few chords you feel at one with the world and during the intense slow burning grooves you are lost to your cares altogether.

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Several numbers into the first set we heard ‘State Highway Blues’, composed and arranged by Fabienne Shem Benebig (the previous day) while driving up the North Island.  This blues in Ab was absolutely captivating and the way the musicians gently pulled back on the beat gave it a deep swing (a number that reprised in my dreams for days to come).   This number had enough tension and release to power Big ben.  There were many new compositions from both Michel and Shem plus the odd tune from Michel’s earlier albums ‘Black Cap’ and ‘Yellow Purple’.  One notable exception was the inclusion of a number by the French organist Eddie Louiss.  Several years ago Michel wrote ‘Blues for Rog..’ (for Roger Manins) and in this number much of his formidable technique is evident.  IMG_0306 - Version 2

Fabienne Shem Benebig always accompanies Michel on the road and she is also a gifted musician.  Her well thought out compositions and strong vocal presence are integral to the combo.  ‘Shem’ mainly sings in her native French tongue and hearing the blues in that language is pleasant to the ear.  That said she is not there for mere novelty value as her voice is authoritative.  Whether whispering a ballad or belting out a Basie number she is equally compelling.  Like Michel she has a captivating stage presence and her playful humour is the perfect foil to his studied cool.

Michel Benebig is gaining wider attention and his recent trips to California have resulted in two stellar albums.   His command of the B3 is astonishing and if you want a masterclass in technique and cool watch him in action.  He has an intuitive feel for this genre and every move, every pregnant pause and every gesture becomes part a his unfolding story.  As the last of the old B3 masters leave us, Michel Benebig and others like him will be swiftly identified as the new cadre, ready to move up and occupy that hallowed space.

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No organ combo is going to work properly without the right sort of guitarist and for this gig Michel used Auckland’s Dixon Nacey.   Dixon Nacey and drummer Ron Samson had not long been back from New Caledonia where they joined Michel and Shem for the official opening of the new Astro Jazz Club (run by Michel and dedicated to organ Jazz and in particular Brother Jack McDuff).   Dixon always looks happy when playing, but never more so when playing blues or groove.   He really pulled out some great performances on this gig and the chemistry between he and Michel was evident.  The multi faceted (and by default polyrhythmic drummer) Ron Samsom was cast in the unusual role of groove drummer here.  He exercised restraint and kept the tight focus needed, stepping free at appropriate moments.   The most important role for a groove drummer is to lock into the organs groove and he achieved that.  Roger Manins and Ben McNicoll made up the horn section and while Roger played the heads and an occasional solo, Ben mostly played counterpoint.  The tenor sax and baritone sounded wonderful together.  Everything about this gig felt right and the genre was well served.

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We are now halfway through the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) #jazzapril series and the program offers depth and variety.  As we approach International Jazz Day we should reflect on the gift that we have at our disposal.  While it is tempting to say that we’re lucky (and we are) I also mindful that the music we call Jazz is the result of hard work and dedication.  This American art form has long had global outreach and down at the bottom of the Pacific we legitimately own a piece of that, thanks to a plethora of gifted musicians and enablers like Roger, Ben and Caro.

*Reflections on a Marine Venus – L Durrell

Who: Michel Benebig (Hammond C3), Fabienne Shem Benebig (vocals), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Ron Samsom (drums), Roger Manins (tenor sax), with Ben McNicoll (baritone sax).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland New Zealand. 16th April 2014

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Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians, Groove & Funk, Jazz April, World Jazz Day/Month

Alan Broadbent – review of two new releases

 

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Alan Broadbent is rightly revered by New Zealand Jazz musicians, but I am not sure that the rest of New Zealand is aware of just how well respected he is overseas.  During the enthusiastic publicity about New Zealand’s high achieving young musician ‘Lorde’, the media generally overlooked the fact that we already have a two times Grammy winner in Alan Broadbent.  Not only has he won two Grammy’s, but he has also been nominated seven times.   Add to that his repeated poll winning status and his arranging work for many of the worlds most successful artists and you begin to grasp his importance in the music world.  His arrangements, compositions and piano playing with Woody Hermans Herd and Charlie Haden’s Quartet West are what he is best known for in the the Jazz world.  You can also add a long list of important collaborations (Charlie Haden, Diana Krall, Natalie Cole, Bud Shank, Chet Baker, Warne Marsh, Johnny Mandel, Quincey Jones, Henry Mancini, Sir Paul McCartney, Barbara Streisand and so on).  The LA Times named him as ‘one of the major keyboard figures of the day’ and a recent Downbeat critics poll awarded his latest album an extremely rare ‘five star masterpiece status’.

While his arrangements for singers may bring him the most attention, it is when you delve into his lessor known albums that a cornucopia of hidden treasures emerge.   An early example of just how strong his compositional and arranging skills are can be found on the all but forgotten Woody Herman recording ‘Children of Lima’ (especially ‘Far in’ – Broadbent).   To get right to the heart of Alan’s music though, you must strip away the orchestra and discover him alone with his piano in a sympathetic setting.  I refer here to the 1991 Concord album ‘Live at Maybeck Hall, Volume 14′.  This is one of the finest albums out of a series noted for its exceptional solo piano performances.  His interpretation of ‘Lennie’s Pennies’ (by Tristano who he studied with as a young musician) and ‘Woody ‘n’ I’ (a tune written by Broadbent during his time with Woody Herman ) have to be heard to be believed.  It has puzzled many a critic that such an exceptional solo album did not have a sequel.  5231736-4x3-340x255

“It is as if he has found a way to condense the essence of all of those orchestral arrangements into his hands”

Puzzle no more because the drought’s finally over.  Last year Alan Broadbent recorded his second solo album ‘Heart to heart’ and amazingly it is even better than his Maybeck album.  While there are hints of his signature style he pays less attention to the romanticism of Quartet West; a sound that many who have not heard his trio albums like ‘Pacific time’ might have come to regard as the norm.  There is a naked truthfulness about this music, and although it is solo piano, it somehow evokes a bigger vista.   It is as if he has found a way to condense the essence of all of those orchestral arrangements into his hands.  On Charlie Haden’s ‘Hullo my lovely’  his left hand walks a bass line against probing introspective right hand lines.  As someone rightly observed this is truly ‘a conversation between two hands’.   As well as recording four of his own finest compositions; ‘Heart to heart’, ‘Now and then’, ‘Journey home’ and ‘Love is the thing’ he also puts his spotlight on tunes as varied as ‘Lonely woman’ (Ornette Coleman) and ‘Alone together’ (Arthur Schwartz).   Alan selects his standards carefully and those lucky enough to have seen him performing live will know that he also tells wonderful pithy stories about them.  It is the raconteur that informs his playing on these albums.   

His most recent album has just been released and this time he’s back with a Jazz orchestra.   There is an interview with him in the publicity material and it is interesting to learn that as a pianist he did not find working with Woody Hermans Herd or any big band enjoyable.  He explains that the piano generally gets lost in big arrangements and that was not where he wanted to be.  Now years later he is guesting with the NDR Big band and obviously enjoying the process.  This album really works for him and it does so because he is in charge and can vary the dynamics to suit his tastes,  There is ample space for piano solos and his love of improvising is given free reign.

April is Jazz Appreciation Month (or in Jazz Journalists Association speak #jazzapril ) and we are fast approaching International Jazz day.  Besides attending local gigs you could purchase these albums.  Celebrating Jazz is what it’s all about and there are few better places to start than here.

 

What: Alan Broadbent (solo on ‘Heart to Heart’ and with the NDR Big Band)

Where: ‘Chillie Bin Records‘ and ‘Jan Matthies Records

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April 15, 2014 · 11:51 am

Phil Broadhurst Quintet @ CJC Jazz April gig

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The second gig in the CJC #jazzapril series featured a quintet led by veteran Auckland musician Phil Broadhurst.  Phil is a very familiar figure on the New Zealand Jazz scene thanks to his many recordings, his broadcasting, gigs and Jazz education.   He is also a finalist in New Zealand’s 2014 Jazz Tui awards and we will hear the results this coming Easter weekend.   The last two years have certainly been busy for Phil.  In between running the Massey University Auckland Jazz Program and hosting visits by overseas Jazz musicians he has found time to compose new material and to record several highly rated albums.   I have previously reviewed his passionate tribute to the diminutive Jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani ‘Delayed Reaction’ (he’s an authority on Petrucciani’s work), and his beautifully crafted ‘Flaubert’s Dance’ (now up for the Tui).

Phil Broadhurst compositions are well constructed and seldom just head arrangements.  There is always a subtler framework behind the obvious; something that invites you to look beyond the tune.  The song titles and the stories that accompany them give a strong sense of place or sometimes touch upon an all but forgotten quirky interlude from the past.  Phil Broadhurst is well read in several languages and it shows in his work.  His compositions reference this but never in a preachy way and there is a strong sense of seeing the world through his eyes.  This experiential vantage point rather than any particular idiom informs his work most.  His compositions also convey ideas and at the conclusion of a piece we feel like examining them further.

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The first set began with ‘Delayed Reaction’ from his Petrucciani album, followed by a number of newer tunes.  I have posted a You Tube clip from the latter titled ‘Precious Metal’.  It initially sounded familiar but I couldn’t quite grasp why.  It is a tribute to Horace Silver and the form here is recognisably hard bop.  This gives a strong impression of the famous Jazz pianist and it was that impression which sounded so tantalisingly familiar.  This is what Phil Broadhurst does so well.

As is normally the case with busy musicians there had been no time to rehearse other than a twenty-minute run-through before the gig.  In situations like this it is essential to have good readers and if you are lucky musicians who are familiar with your work.  With Roger Manins (tenor sax), Mike Booth (trumpet, flugelhorn), Oli Holland (bass) and Cameron Sangster (drums) it was always going to go well.  There is a subtle difference between bands who work well together and those who really gel.  There were no high octane numbers and the mood was consistent rather than variable.  This worked very much to the bands advantage and the laid-back feel gave them a chance to delve deeply into the compositions during solos.  Everyone pulled out great performances and you could tell afterwards how pleased they were that the gig had gone so well.  It just goes to prove that nights like this can bring about just as pleasing results as the edgier higher octane ones.  IMG_0233 - Version 2

Roger Manins and Mike Booth blended perfectly and Booth has never sounded better.  Their solos were thoughtful, probing and often intensely melodic.  They clearly understood what Broadhurst had in mind and worked with it.   Oli Holland who sings lines during his bass solos was in great form (when is he not).  Having played with Manins and Broadhurst often he needed no prompting, his powerful bass lines giving just the right momentum.   Phil has used several drummers in the past but he obviously likes working with Cameron Sangster who is the youngest band member.   “He has subtlety and gives colour where it’s needed” said Broadhurst afterward.  IMG_0226 - Version 2

#jazzapril is a about sharing the joy of Jazz and it is about celebrating the diversity of the music.  Improvised music is increasingly embraced by younger audiences and those audiences and the many younger musicians performing bring exciting new sounds to the mix.   Getting the mix right between the experienced and the up-and-coming is a challenge but at the CJC appears to get it right.  Jazz has long been established in New Zealand and this is a time to celebrate its longevity and its diversity.

IMG_0229 - Version 2  Auckland’s CJC (Creative Jazz Club) has created a Jazz Appreciation Month program with all of the above in mind.  This week there is a B3 master from French New Caledonia, next week the globe-trotting genius of the keyboard Jonathan Crayford.  Best of all is the long anticipated album launch of ‘Dr Dog’ on International Jazz Day.   I feel lucky to live near a club that can present such wonderful artists.  Grab this opportunity by the ears Kiwis, now is the perfect time to enjoy this music and above all share it with others.

 

Who: Phil Broadhurst Quintet – Phil Broadhurst (compositions, piano), Roger Manins (tenor sax), Mike Booth (trumpet), Oli Holland (bass), Cameron Sangster (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885 Building, Auckland, New Zealand, 9th April 2014

 

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Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Hard Bop, Jazz April, Jazz Journalists Association, Straight ahead, World Jazz Day/Month

Jamie Oehlers @ CJC #JazzApril 2014

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#JazzApril is International Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) and the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) in Auckland New Zealand has lined up an impressive roster of artists.  The opening gig for Jazz April was the acclaimed saxophonist Jamie Oehlers from Perth Australia and the club could hardly have done better than engage this titan of the tenor.  Anyone who had heard Jamie Oehlers on previous visits needed no second invitation; the club filled to capacity.  Jamie is tall, so tall in fact that I managed to chop off his head while filming the first video clip (having foolishly set up the camera during the sound check when he was not present).  In fact everything about Jamie Oehlers is larger than life. His presence fills a room in ways that it is hard to adequately convey.  The sound of his tenor has a warm luminous quality about it and it seems to penetrate every nook and cranny of a room; whether playing softly or loudly it reaches deep into your soul.

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Two hundred years ago ( November 1814) a young Belgium instrument maker Adolphe Sax was born and in the 1840’s he patented the tenor saxophone.  It has gone through relatively few modifications since that time.   Fast forward to the Jazz age and the instrument came into its own.   Nobody brought the instrument to the wider public’s attention more than Coleman Hawkins and few took it to such dizzying heights as John Coltrane.  Listening to Jamie Oehlers perform made me think of the tenor’s history and above all it reconfirmed my deep love for the instrument.  Last time he was in Auckland he played ‘Resolution’ from Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’  (it is the 50th anniversary of ALS this year).   Among other numbers in the set list this year was Coltrane’s ‘Dear Lord’ (recorded by JC in 1963 but only released in the 1970’s on the ‘Dear old Stockholm’ album).  Jamie Oehlers was born to interpret Coltrane and he certainly held our rapt attention last Wednesday.   IMG_0132 - Version 2

He had requested the same local musicians for this visit as last time; Kevin Field (piano), Oli Holland (bass) and Frank Gibson (drums).   Roger Manins joined the band for the last two numbers and the two tenor masters unsurprisingly wowed everybody by the way they cajoled each other to new heights.  There were introspective ballads, freshly interpreted standards and a few fire-breathing fast burners.   I filmed quite a few numbers and have posted a duo performance of Mal Waldrons ‘Soul Eyes’ (Jamie Oehlers and Auckland pianist Kevin Field).   It is during ballads and especially the slower paced duo numbers that a musician is left naked.   No pyrotechnics to hide behind, no lightening strike runs or off the register squawks to dazzle us with.   This clip says everything about Oehlers as a man and as a musician.  Thoughtful, compelling and always authoritative.

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He was right to request Field, Holland and Gibson for this gig.   They showed repeatedly that they were up to the task and gave of their best.  It is gigs like this that make us proud of our down-under musicians and we know when we hear performances like these that we can hold our heads high in the wider Jazz world.  There was no more appropriate gig than this in which to kick off Jazz April.   Listen to the You Tube clip and I’m certain that you will agree.

Who: The Jamie Oehlers Quartet – Jamie Oehlers (tenor sax), Kevin Field (piano), Oli Holland (bass), Frank Gibson (drums).

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Cub), Britomart 1885 basement, Auckland New Zealand, 2nd April 2014

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Filed under Australian and Oceania based bands, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians, Jazz April, Post Bop

‘Drums by Candlelight’ Reuben Bradley/Matt Mulholland

 

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Every so often an album comes along which causes you to slap your forehead in amazement and grope for a chair.  ‘Drums by Candlelight’ is just such an album.  It fills an important niche in the music market; one which surprisingly has long remained empty.  In these days of crass commercialism it is common for albums to recycle hackneyed themes.  I normally avoid any album with ‘Candlelight’ in the title, but if there is one which confounds a doubtful first impression it is ‘Drums by Candlelight’.

While superficially appearing to follow in the illustrious footsteps of Richard Clayderman, this album offers so much more.  The album track list offers the first clue to the hidden treasures which await.  Timeless classics such as ‘Locked out of Heaven’ by Bruno Mars sit comfortably beside lesser known works such as “Hooker with a Penis’ by Tool.  As if ‘Drums by Candlelight’ were not enjoyment enough, there are two bonus albums thrown in for those who purchase ‘Drums by Candlelight’ in a timely fashion.  This suggests that Bradley and Mulholland are anticipating significant sales.

While it has been difficult to single out one particular track for attention, I have settled on Whitney Houston’s ‘I’ve always loved you’ for comment.  This is where Reuben Bradley’s drum chops are most evident.  Here he has surpassed himself by what can only be described as an implied beat.  The meditative state that he evokes through his skilful use of space is only broken once the drumstick falls (after a bar or two).  Crisp and to the point, the surrounding silence speaking volumes.  I am also impressed by Bradley’s impeccable dress sense and Mulholland’s tasteful promotion.  It has been hard to find adequate words for such a towering achievement but perhaps a simple WOW will suffice.

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‘The Antipodean 6tet’ Tour @ CJC

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There are a number of factors that make music special to a listener and for most it is the familiar that attracts them.  Improvised music is a different beast and the most valued quality is what Jazz essayist Whitney Balliet termed “the sound of surprise”.  When Jazz listeners are fully engaged it is seldom the melody line or a familiar riff that holds their attention.  While melody, chord voicings or an ostinato groove bring us to the moment, it is the promise of the new that creates a state of joyous anticipation.   So it was with the ‘Antipodean 6tet’ and the rewards were immediately evident.  Mike Nock told me recently that some of the young Australian bands are on a par with the best of what’s on offer in America.  A statement like that from a person of Mike’s undisputed authority causes you to take notice.  Some of the members of this group were among those mentioned by him.

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The idea for the ‘Antipodean 6tet’ was conceived in Berlin when Jake Baxendale, Aiden Lowe and Luke Sweeting decided to create a vehicle for their music.  By the time of the Australasian tour they had added Ken Allars, James Haezelwood Dale and Callum Allardice.

Those of us who pay close attention to Australian and New Zealand Jazz knew that we were in for something out of the ordinary.  A heightened sense of anticipation followed the tour announcement.  Earlier this year Rattle records released JAC’s ‘NERVE’ album.  The album featured Wellington musicians Jake Baxendale (alto, compositions) and Callum Allardice (guitar, compositions).  Many saw Jake as he toured with JAC during the launch tour and enjoyed his alto playing.   Callum Allardice was in Germany at the time of the launch, but his compositions and arrangements were also appreciated.   These two musicians form the New Zealand contingent of ‘The Antipodean 6tet’.

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Luke Sweeting is an Australian pianist who conveys more with his light touch than many do by playing percussively.   His playing is thoughtful, airy and interesting.   He has previously composed for sextets and is obviously central to the bands well crafted ensemble sound.  Sweeting, Aiden Lowe (drums), James Heazelwood Dale (bass) and Ken Allars (trumpet) are well established on the Australian scene with the former two having toured Europe extensively.  They have all attracted positive attention around Australia.  All have worked as leaders, but melded into an ensemble the instruments speak in a unified authoritative voice.  IMG_0060 - Version 2 

A Sydney bass player contacted me a few weeks ago saying that I would be mad to miss this innovative band.  He was right in his estimation of their impact, as they appear to bring something fresh and exciting to the scene.  northern European aesthetic with an authentic Australasian feel.

To best illustrate the above I must focus on Ken Allars.   I have been aware of Allars for some years but it was probably his compelling trumpet work on Mike Nock’s critically acclaimed 2011 album, ‘Here and Know’ that first grabbed my attention.  I received a review copy shortly after the 2011 release and was immediately struck by his use of dynamics and strong improvisational abilities.  Later I saw him in the horn-line of the JMO (Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra) when it toured Auckland with Darcey James Argue.  Now seeing him with ‘The Antipodean 6tet’ my positive first impression is reconfirmed.  On the opening number we saw his use of extended technique.  Not so much the usual growls or smears, but a skilful deployment of flutter tonguing and airstream effects.  The whistles, breathy explorations and pops augmented the contributions of Jake Baxendale who wove in quiet upper register ostinato responses (like Evan Parker in the opening few bars of ‘The Lady and the Sea’ – Kenny Wheeler).  So controlled was the sound production that at times Allars sounded like he was playing a flute.  When he did blast out a phrase it was doubly effective as it contrasted with the softer moments.

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I have seen bands who lower the volume for a ballad or a thoughtful meditative piece, but never quite like this.  They skilfully utilised the pianissimo and piano and diminuendo to impart an infinite array of subtleties and within that space communicated a world of information.  Earlier I mentioned the European aesthetic and perhaps I refer more specifically to the Norwegian ECM sound.  I detected a strong influence of this future-facing aspect of modern Jazz in Allars playing.  Later I asked him whether he had listened much to the modern Norwegian trumpeters.  Yes he had checked them out in person.  We then discussed people like Arve Hendriksen, Nils Petter Molvaer, Mathias Eick and others.   While Molvaer and Eick often use electronics and loops there were no such effects used by Allars.  IMG_0099 - Version 2

This band is purely acoustic and the impressive range of sounds and effects at their disposal will have pedal manufacturers smiting their brows in frustration.  Because of the sound balance, the imaginative drum work and the punchy bass lines are as strong in the mix as the other instruments.

They are due to record shortly and I look forward to that.   I urge anyone who can to catch this tour or subsequent outings.  I guarantee that you will not regret it.

What: ‘The Antipodean Sextet’ Luke Sweeting (piano), Jake Baxendale (alto saxophone), Ken Allars (trumpet), James Heazelwood Dale (bass), Aiden Lowe (drums), – in New Zealand – Callum Allardice (guitar).

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) Britomart 1885 building, Auckland.  26th March 2014

 

 

 

 

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‘Mr M’ @ CJC

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‘Mr M’ is an enigmatic title but the meaning is more straightforward than might be supposed.  The trio members are Miles Crayford, Reuben Bradley and Mostyn Cole; take the first three letters of their forenames and you have ‘Mr M’.  Attempting to challenge our sense of time and place they introduced themselves as a Wellington band with a majority of the musicians based in Auckland.  When they played the CJC last Wednesday these small puzzles were swiftly cast aside.  What we heard was to the point and the quality of the music beyond disputation.  This was my first opportunity to hear a popular trio, one that my Wellington friends had told me about.

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Throughout the night we heard original compositions with all of the band members contributing tunes.  I am increasingly impressed by the writing skills of New Zealand musicians and it tells me a lot about the quality of New Zealand Jazz education.  The quality of their musicianship did not surprise me as I am familiar with each of them.  Anyone who follows the New Zealand Jazz scene will know that they form part of the ensemble on Reuben Bradley’s ‘Resonator’ album ‘(which won the Vodafone Tui’ Jazz Award in 2011).   This is probably the best starting point in evaluating ‘Mr M’.   Anyone who doesn’t have a copy should grab one.  It is still available in most big record stores (and from Rattle).   What ‘Resonator’ established was that these musicians at the core of the recording work well together.   Forming a trio was a logical step.

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Reuben Bradley has regularly been featured at the CJC.  He is not only a highly respected drummer but an important figure on the scene.   He has a vision for the music and communicates that well.  When you hear him for the first time the musicality of his playing strikes you.  His drum chops are immediately evident but there is an extra something that he brings to the kit; an innate sense of time and a magical spark that makes you sit up and pay attention.  All good drummers understand dynamics and know exactly where they should sit in the mix at any given moment. Reuben epitomizes tastefulness in this regard.   He is probably the best known of the three, having regularly performed about New Zealand and further afield.  His most recent Rattle Album ‘Mantis’ is deservedly a finalist in this years Tui’s.   It is one of a very few New Zealand Jazz albums to garner broad attention from the media.  ‘Mantis’ is another must-have album (both ‘Resonator’ and ‘Mantis’ have Roger Manins on them which of itself is enough to recommend them).

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Miles Crayford is from an impressive musical Dynasty.  He is well-known about Wellington as he regularly gigs there.  Apart from a guest appearance with his uncle Jonathan Crayford a few weeks ago, he has not played at the CJC before.  When he plays you know that you are listening to a modern stylist.  There is a certain intensity evident and his voicings are often dark and brooding.  The focus on composition as well as performance gives an added depth to his work.  He has not yet recorded as leader, but his sideman credentials in recordings are very well established.

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Mostyn Cole also appears on a number of top rated local recordings.   Like the others he is a fine composer.  The clip I have included is from a tune of his titled, “I was therefore I am”.  I love the tongue in check reference to Rene Descartes’ maxim.  Incidentally unlike many Australasian composers he names his tunes well (as opposed to ‘first tune’, ‘not yet unnamed’ etc).   He is a strong bass player and his recorded output is best represented on two Rattle albums, Reuben Bradley’s ‘Resonator’, Roger Manins ‘Trio’ and the World Jazz album Carolina Moon’s ‘Mother Tongue’.   He also stood in for Matt Penman during many of the ‘Mantis’ gigs.   His sound is unusually warm and his ability to react to the musical ideas of others instinctive.

This is a trio of equals.

Who: ‘Mr M’ are Miles Crayford (piano), Mostyn Cole (upright bass), Reuben Bradley (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 1885 building Britomart, Auckland, 19th March 2014

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James Muller Quartet @ CJC

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Every Jazz guitarist in Australasia seems to admire James Muller.  Here in New Zealand at the mere mention of him, guitarists shake their heads in disbelief and fall into a contemplative trance.  It is as if you had uttered a secret mantra; one ascribed to an unnamable deity.  I have always been drawn to Jazz guitar and while I need no prompting to follow the genre, pointers like this are irresistible.  When musicians are so highly regarded by other musicians it is generally with good reason.

I first encountered the name James Muller on the 1999 Naxos disc titled ‘Sonic Fiction’.  Even in his twenties there was no mistaking that lovely clean sound, the imaginative improvising and the virtuosity.  Since that time James was awarded a number of prestigious music awards including a recent Australian Arts Council Fellowship grant (two years) and the ARIA award.  These achievements have never gone to his head and he comes across as an artist constantly examining his body of work to see where he could improve.  After half a dozen stints in New York, numerous recordings as sideman and at least four albums as leader he ranks among the premier Australasian Jazz artists.

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Because we are getting more highly rated international jazz musicians coming to the CJC, I bailed up Roger Manins and asked him about bringing James back (he was here three years ago).  It was already on his radar and towards the end of last year he told a delighted CJC audience that James Muller would be appearing in early 2014.   I had always been of a mind to seek out one of his gigs and then a chance presented itself.  Roger Manins told me of a gig with Mike Nock, James Muller, Dave Goodman and Cameron Undy at the 505 in Sydney.  It was time for a family visit, so I headed to Australia.  Seeing the Manins, Muller, Nock band was a highlight.  Now a few months later I looked forward to the Auckland gig.

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Roger Manins, Oli Holland and Ron Samsom were to accompany James at the CJC.

I have learned that James generally avoids playing with pianists, but there are certainly exceptions to this.   His longtime friends Sean Wayland and Mike Nock would top that list of exceptions.  In Auckland he expanded his default guitar trio format to include Roger Manins on Tenor sax.  When James and Roger play together the guitarist generally lays-out during solos.   This allows for the intensive probing improvisation that both are known for. What we saw on the 12th of March was Jazz of exceptional quality and a packed club.   They queued early, mostly younger people and among them numerous guitarists who had just been to the masterclass at Auckland University.

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The set list was a mix of James Muller compositions, some standards and a Roger Manins composition.   Most of the heads were often approached obliquely and what followed were long solos and unencumbered explorations.  This was a chance for the musicians to stretch out and they certainly did.  In contrast was the standard ‘Moonlight in Vermont’.  A lovely tune and one played less often these days.  Unlike the other numbers there was no laying out during the saxophone solo.  It felt right to approach this lovely tune with tasteful comping and soloing closer to the melody.  They later played a fast paced version of ‘Rhythm n Ning’ (Monk), a killing ‘More than you Know'(Rose/Eliscu/Youmans) and absolutely best of all a Lennie Tristano number.

I am an acolyte of the Tristano cult and I doubt that anyone could ever deprogram me.  To hear ‘317 East 32nd Street’ performed so well was bliss.  As Roger and James ran those memorable unison lines I felt the joy wash over me.  Here was a tune I truly loved and they had even included the car-horn sounds that had so influenced Tristano when he composed it.  Tristano once told a musician, “this tune was composed in front of an open window, while listening to the New York street sounds outside”.

Both Oli Holland and Ron Samsom gave exceptional performances during the evening.   Oli with his Slam Stewart like sung unison lines during his solos.   Ron with his subtle and interactive drumming on the slower paced numbers and his blistering explosions of white heat on the burners.  I have read that James likes the bass as an anchor and the drums to work more outside.   That is what he got.

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I have spoken to James on several occasions now and he seldom discusses his accomplishments.  This is not false modesty or even shyness, but rather a manifestation of that classic antipodean sense of understatement.  It is the hallmark of Australasian musicians that they are often self-effacing, preferring to use throw-away-lines or obscure insider humour in verbal communication.   I have often observed this in local musicians and it fascinates me.  It is particularly evident in their bandstand banter. When I meet American musicians they seldom come across as self-effacing.  There is an ebullience about them that underpins the conversation and selling their accomplishments comes naturally.  It is seldom the same with Australian or New Zealand musicians who rely on their music to speak up for them. 

We hear many fine guitar players at the CJC but this gig would rate among the high points.

Who : James Muller Quartet – James Muller (guitar), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Oli Holland (upright bass), Ron Samsom (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland 12th March 2014

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Callum Passells Quartet @ CJC

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I like the inventiveness of Callum Passells both as an alto player and a composer.  There is something of the risk taker about him and his instincts seldom fail him when reaching for fresh ideas.  His quartet was bristling with edge last week, a band without a chordal instrument and utilising the talented Chelsea Prastiti as vocalist.  Chelsea is always up for these types of sonic explorations and perfectly able to handle the challenge.  This was a gig crafted around a particular range of sounds, but more importantly it appeared to have particular musicians in mind.  On bass was Cameron McArthur and on drums Adam Tobeck.  The bass player and drummer handled the challenges confronting them perfectly, creating texture, nuance, colour and anchor points appropriate to the diverse range of music.  I often praise Cameron McArthur and in this situation his skilful bass lines were crucial.  I was pleasantly surprised by Adam Tobeck’s versatility, as I had only seen him in straight ahead gigs.  He is a tight focussed drummer, but in this situation he showed just how broad his skills base is.

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The set list was skilfully constructed, offering endless contrasts and explorations into a number of Jazz related subdivisions.  During the first set Chelsea sang the ballad ‘My Ideal’ (Robin/Chase/Whiting).  The intro was just vocals and bass, but when the alto and drums came in they took a minimalist approach.  The interesting thing is that the arrangement had a fulsome quality to it, almost orchestral.   This is a tribute to Chelsea and definitely to the arrangement.  IMG_9746 - Version 2

At the other end of the spectrum was a free piece titled ‘N+/-1′.  This was an extraordinary piece of music with all of the excitement and theatrics that you could wish for.  Callum had warned the audience that they were about to hear a free number and suggested that those who were queasy about such offerings could move to the bar area at the side.  I am unsure if anyone took him up on that, but in reality ‘N+/-1′ had the opposite effect.  Drawing people into the bands orbit; all of them smiling and whooping in delight.  While the piece followed its own internal chaotic logic it never-the-less communicated a strangely cohesive and exciting narrative.  There were distinct parts to the piece and each more marvellous than the last.  Voice, bass and drums weaving ever deeper, as if sucked into an alternate reality by the brilliance of the alto.  People watched transfixed, marvelling at the cascade of sounds and the flow of musical ideas.  This number was a tour de force for the group but there was no mistaking Callum’s influence.  Even though he gave the others plenty of space, his presence was always felt, guiding, cajoling and demanding that bit more.  As I watched and listened completely engaged I cursed that I did not have a movie camera on hand to record the moment.

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With a few exceptions Chelsea sang wordlessly and this style is definitely a forte for her.   She can sing a unison horn line so convincingly that you do a double take, scanning the bandstand to see if there is an instrument you have missed.  Her range, timbre and musicality enriched the group.  This was particularly evident on ‘Lennies Pennies’ (Tristano).  I love all Tristano compositions but especially this one.  As they negotiated the exciting fast paced, measured lines a special synthesis was evident.  This was innovative and original; adding something of value to an already rich Tristano-ite output.  IMG_9773 - Version 2

There were other original tunes such as ‘Tashirojima’, ‘Monte Cecelia’ ‘Sons Multiples’ ‘Indifference’ and a number of standards (‘Yardbird Suite’, ‘Mood Indigo’ and ‘Straight no Chaser’).  They were all captivating in one way or another but one original deserves special comment.   Sometimes there are layers of meaning in titles and ‘Indifference’ certainly qualifies in that regard.  Written by Callum in tribute to his father who is gravely ill.  The power of this composition and the delivery by Callum spoke to me deeply.  It is clearly not about casual indifference.  It felt to me like the struggle to view life in a wider context when faced with mortality.  Perhaps the indifference of the universe to our small world suffering and how to make sense of that.  The sound of the alto cut so deep that for a time nothing else seemed real.  This is what raw emotion sounds like.  The audience were quieter and as I looked up at the light show playing against the wall, I saw a brief skeletal picture flash up on the screen.  One brief frame in the play of an endlessly looped digital sequence.  While this fleeting spectral apparition was pure happenstance, it was strangely apposite.   This piece was so much more than elegiac; it placed a marker of just what it means to be human.

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Who: The Callum Passells Quartet: featuring Callum Passells (alto sax, compositions), Chelsea Prastiti (vocals), Cameron McArthur (upright bass), Adam Tobeck (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland – 5th March 2014

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Dixon Nacey ‘Lets Sco’ Project @ CJC

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John Scofield is a magnet for guitarists world-wide, drawing them into the Jazz fold in ever-increasing numbers.  Locally, a similar thing’s said of guitarist Dixon Nacey.  The logic therefore that Nacey should do a Scofield project is inescapable.  That he should do it exceptionally well, unsurprising.

Playing a gig well requires a high degree of focus and anyone who has spent time around musicians will tell you that a type of disengagement from peripheral matters occurs just prior to any performance.  As the musicians busy themselves with a multiplicity of leads, pedals and last-minute adjustments you often detect withdrawal.  It is as if their sensory perceptions are being momentarily realigned.  Once the performance begins the focus changes again and what has been in deficit is given back ten fold.  Dixon Nacey is somewhat of an enigma in this regard, as his extravert good nature is evident on or off the band-stand, before, during and after a gig.  IMG_9683

He is cheerful and easy to engage with off the bandstand and when he plays a look of pure delight flashes across his face.  As the strings bend under his fingers and his beautiful Godin guitar moves with him, the effect’s magnified.  This is about the joy of creating high quality accessible music.  What he communicates in body language to an audience is as much a part of the music as the notes he plays.   To experience Dixon Nacey live is to receive a gift, because some of that joyous exuberance infects you as listener.  As the recipients of this you find yourself smiling throughout and feel very lucky.

I have seen John Scofield twice and his concerts are much like this.  Exuberant crowd pleasing and heavily groove based.  In spite of the fact that the material was nearly all Scofield compositions this was no slavish covers gig.   This was Dixon telling the Scofield story in his own way.  IMG_9665

When working on projects like this leaders know who they’d like to engage, but availability often defeats them.  Dixon was in luck here as he got exactly who he wanted.   On Nord C1 Hammond B3 was the often illusive Grant Winterburn.  Winterburn’s often talked about by Jazz musicians but seldom seen at club gigs.  As he set up his gear a musician whispered in my ear, “This is one of New Zealand’s best groove organ players and we’re lucky to catch him”.   The reason he is seldom seen is because he gets so much work with large production shows.  This cat has it all down.  The hard-driving grooves, the staccato chord work and a way of playing with time, tension and release that has you shouting encouragement and punching the air.  Moments before a killing run he appears to fall sideways while a hand snakes to the keyboard.  Sometimes he leaps up and jams his knee into the upper register.  These crowd pleasing antics mirrored Dixon’s moves perfectly and they were never at the expense of the stellar musicianship.

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There’s another band member seen far too infrequently and that’s Pete France on tenor saxophone.  The Scottish born France has the ability to coax lovely melodic ballads or raunchy groove numbers out of his elegant silver tenor.   I have caught him playing standards gigs but also tackling more challenging material.   I like the way he approaches tunes, never overly busy and often saying more with less.   It was nice to see him back at the CJC.   IMG_9676 - Version 2 IMG_9650 - Version 2

Once again drummer Stephen Thomas showed how valuable he is in a line up.  He gets plenty of top-level work these days and rightly so.  In recent years I’ve seen him excel in diverse situations ranging from gigs requiring sensitive brush work to firing up hardtop units.  For all that, I’ve not previously seen him in this context.  Scofield tunes have more twists and turns than a dangerous mountain road and he executed them to perfection.  Here he was locking down the beat as a groove drummer and adding that special something.  there was one non Scofield tune in the mix and that was the Booker T & the MG’s R & B classic ‘Green Onions’.  Thomas pounded this out like a born again rock god while freeing up the others to let loose (and they surely did).   Take my word for it the tune never sounded so good.  IMG_9637 - Version 2

The remaining band member was Junior Turua on electric bass.  Turua is always at the heart of the music and totally in the pocket; able to punch out mesmerising grooves, tasteful licks and solos.  It may be a cliche but this band is greater than the sum of its parts.  I stated earlier that I’d seen Scofield live, but in honesty I enjoyed this band just as much.

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The tunes traversed Scofields recording career with perennial favourites like ‘A go go’ and ‘Chank’ alternating with lessor know compositions like ‘Let the Cat Out’.  All of the musicians took delight in what the others were doing and their acute interaction amplified the intensity of the music.  As marvellous as the band was you can take nothing away from Dixon Nacey, whose virtuosity shines like a beacon.

The band do an Auckland University gig on the 10th March and I will certainly be there for that.  Hopefully it will be recorded by someone.

What: Dixon Nacey ‘Lets Sco’ Project – Dixon Nacey (guitar, leader), Grant Winterburn (Nord C1 Hammond B3), Pete France (tenor sax), Junior Turua (electric bass), Stephen Thomas (drums).

Where: The CJC (Progressive Jazz Club) 1885 Britomart Auckland.  26th Feb 2014.

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Jonathan Crayford @ CJC

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Jonathan Crayford has long intrigued me as a musician so I make a point of catching him when the situation presents itself.  He’s an artist embedded so deeply within his music that his persona reflects in those terms.  It’s as if he were the embodiment of sonic shapes and forms.

I have seen him perform on a number occasions but there’s no second guessing what will materialise on any given night.  His experiences in music lead him in many directions and all of them interesting.  While some describe him as genre busting, I think the descriptor is overly simplistic.  I have heard him perform a killing version of, “I Pity the Poor Immigrant” (Bob Dylan).  Yes, he appropriates the sounds about him and often performs with artists from outside of the Jazz spectrum, but at heart he’s an improvising musician.  No matter what notes he plays you can feel the integrity; the perpetual questioning of a deep level interpreter.  IMG_9576 - Version 2

For the CJC gig he showcased a folder of new tunes; the charts interpreted by a six piece band that he had assembled for the gig.  As he explained, “this band is work shopping some new ideas which I will record later in Europe”.  The numbers were all in extended form, giving the musicians space to develop the themes and ideas.   Many of the tunes began and ended with a percussive vamp and as a groove established the horns congas, bass and drums swelled the sound.   The textures and complex layers of sound created an implied centre over which the soloists improvised.  Watching over this was the leader, a benevolent presence who knew just when exhort, when to extend or curtail a solo and when to pull the explorations back to the head.  The tune titles where intriguing also; ‘Groove 21′, ‘Strange Tune’ and others which told a more cerebral story.

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‘Bruno’s Dream’ in particular piqued my interest.  Jonathan Crayford has worked extensively on film scores and his association with the actor/musician Bruno Lawrence gives us the context for this piece.  After Bruno’s passing Jonathan dreamed this tune, a kaleidoscope of images as imagined through Bruno’s eyes.  This is wonderful expansive music and the band entered into the spirit of it.  As with all dreams the evolving and often surreal story has several parts.  In this piece we saw the best of Crayford’s keyboard artistry and writing skills.  There were solid solo performances by Kim Patterson on valve trombone and Finn Scholes on trumpet.  Kim Patterson is the elder statesman here, having recorded over his long career with most of the luminaries of New Zealand Jazz.    The last section of the tune, an intense modal sequence was a gift to Scholes, who grabbed the opportunity with glee mining it convincingly for all it’s worth (echoes of ‘Teo’).  IMG_9494 - Version 2

Early in the second set a brief change in pace occurred, when we heard a duet between Crayford and Patterson.  They performed the only standard of the evening, the gorgeous ‘Old Folks’ (Robison).  It lived up to its heart-string tugging potential.  At the end satisfied sighs were heard from the audience.  Piano and valve trombone work extremely well together and I was briefly minded of the duet recordings between Bob Brookmeyer and others.  IMG_9584 - Version 2

Having both traps drums and congas was integral to the sound as they added heft and edge.   On traps was Julien Dyne, an energetic and multi faceted drummer who has worked previously with Jonathan Crayford ( ‘Pins & Digits’ – Dyne’s album).   On congas (and facing the band) was Miguel Fuentes, a highly experienced percussionist who never flagged during the long and energised grooves.  The remaining band member was Chip Matthews on electric bass.  His presence was integral to the mix and he managed to provide  both an anchor and groove lines without crowding out the others.  The sound scape was dense at times and intentionally so, but the overall momentum was never lost.   With Jonathan Crayford at the helm this is hardly surprising.

The other departure from the format occurred when Jonathan invited Miles Crayford to sit in for a number.   Miles a pianist and keyboardist also, came to wider attention when he participated in Reuben Bradley’s award-winning ‘Resonator’ album.

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If you ask Jonathan Crayford where he lives now you will get vague answers.  He lives where the current project is happening and where the music is.   For the next two month’s he’ll be gigging around New Zealand and then returning to New York to mix and master his next album (with the well-known New York bassist Ben Street and drummer Dan Weiss).  The album is intriguingly named ‘Dark Light’.  Crayford tells me that he wrote the music during a long winter sojourn in London, where the seemingly endless days of low light are commonplace.  Having lived in London I understand this focus with radiating light.  The interplay and intensity of light occupies your thoughts there as it never does in sunnier climes.

If you Google this artist you’ll notice that he’s recorded as ‘currently living’ in Spain or Paris; throw in London and New York and the picture becomes a little clearer.   This is a musician chasing the music and living in the moment.  In Spain he records two solo albums, in New York trios and a sextet and then on to new projects in other cities.   We gladly claim him as an expat Kiwi but in reality he’s a citizen of the world.

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Who: Jonathan Crayford (piano, keyboards, compositions, leader), Kim Patterson (valve trombone, percussion), Finn Scholes (trumpet), Miguel Fuentes (percussion), Chip Matthews (electric bass), Julien Dyne (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland.  19th February 2014

Jonathan Crayford albums (and streamed samples) are available from his website, Rattle or iTunes –  jocray.com

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The Jac launch ‘NERVE’ @ CJC & Meow

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I don’t know as much about the Wellington Jazz scene as I’d like to, but I’m working on that.   Recently an opportunity presented itself; two days in Wellington and a chance to catch up with some musician friends.  I did my homework and learned that ‘The Jac’ would be playing at ‘Meow’.  They had just recorded for Rattle and that made me keen to hear them; knowing that they were initially inspired by the ‘San Francesco Jazz Collective’ all the more so.

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While not a dedicated Jazz venue Meow is a great supporter of the music and a good place to experience live music in general.  The club has regularly hosted class Jazz acts like ‘The Troubles’ (and its various offshoots).  Located on a sharp right angle bend, down a narrow winding alley; intriguing car head-light effects sweep across the band when cars negotiate the turn.  This reminds me of the new Bimhuis Jazz club in Amsterdam, which has brightly lit trains passing right behind the band as they play.  From the first few bars I loved what I heard and was pleased to learn that they would be playing in the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) in Auckland a few weeks later.

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This band ticks a lot of boxes for me with their ancient to modern feel.   I love the Octet or Nonet sound and especially when a brass heavy front line is in evidence.  With ‘The Jac’ the four horns up front assault the senses in the best possible way; solidly augmented by two keyboards, drums and bass.  The original lineup (and the one recorded), features piano and guitar.  With the guitarist (Callum Allardice) overseas a Rhodes was added to replace the guitar.  While I like both configurations I’m particularly impressed by the added colour that the Rhodes brings to the mix.  In the hands of Dan Hayles it often sounds like Vibes and this takes the group closer to the sound-palette of the SFJC.

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There was a good audience at the CJC and ‘The Jac’ were received with enthusiasm.  It is all too rare to see such configurations in New Zealand and I wish more would surface.  There were solid performances from the soloists but the real stars were the stunning arrangements.  The charts sound modern, but implicit within is the Nonet/Octet tradition.  The Birth of the Cool is momentarily evoked but this is not the anchor point.  A modern aesthetic is at work here (listen to ‘Thieves in the Night’ composed by alto player Jake Baxendale and streamed below).

They opened with a tune titled ‘Major,major, major, major’ (to which Jake added – “in a minor key”).  Next we heard ‘New York Axel Man’, an airy free-flowing tune which highlighted the skills of Jake Baxendale (alto) and Alexis French (trumpet).   I was particularly taken with the skills of Lex French, as trumpet players of his calibre are not thick on the ground in New Zealand.  I asked him who his recent teachers were and learned that he had been studying at McGill University in Canada.  His articulation, clean lines and the ability to communicate an idea in a short space took my attention.   In a line up of competent musicians he managed to stand out.

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Jake Baxendale is the predominant soloist and his alto work is interesting.   As one of the writers and the collective’s front man, he rightly garners the lions share of attention.  The other Baxendale composition on the album is ‘Armada’.  A delightful piece with rhythmic complexity and a strong bass line underpinning it.  It is my sense that he is central to the octets success.

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Completing the horn section is Chris Buckland on tenor and Matthew Allison on trombone (Allison is a member of the NZSO).  This is highly arranged music and so tenor, alto, trombone and trumpet need to work as one entity.  As they negotiated the often complex charts they showed just how tight they could be.  This is a big sound, but one with a world of implied space.     

On bass is the talented Nick Tipping who is another well-respected Wellington musician.  Like Jake Baxendale he regularly plays with the Roger Fox Wellington Jazz Orchestra.  Often backing international artists when the come to town.  Buckland replaced Richard Thai (who played on the album) and as alluded to earlier, Dan Hayles on Rhodes replaced the guitarist.  This gave the ensemble two keyboards and the alignment worked extremely well in my view.  On the CJC Club piano was Dan Milward (he played keys at Meow).  The juxtaposition between Piano and Rhodes worked so well because the musicians were able to compliment each other while keeping out of each others way.   Milward took the subtler approach but his presence was never-the-less strongly felt.  IMG_9428 - Version 2 (1)  

Dan Hayles took several solos’ (which the audience loved) but his main role was to augment the mix with well placed fills and to add a sense of depth to the ensemble.   I have heard him on several previous occasions and rate him highly.  The remaining member is drummer Shaun Anderson and his stick work is superb.  A supportive and in-the-pocket drummer who can also breathe fire into proceedings.   It was Anderson and Hayles who took the more organic approach; both regularly stepping free of the charts and to great effect.  Both made the pulse quicken and this balanced out the carefully crafted shapes and forms of the ensemble.

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The compositions on the album are all by Baxendale and Allardice and it is these that give momentum to the project.   In future it would be interesting to hear some of the soloists given additional space, but not at the expense of those gorgeous rich harmonic voicings.  With a label like Rattle behind them this bodes well for future projects.

What: ‘The Jac’ at the release of their album ‘NERVE’ – Rattle Jazz (the album can be purchased direct from Rattle or at retail outlets).

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 12th February 2014 and Meow 29th January 2014

Who: Jake Baxendale (alto, arrangements, compositions), Alexis French (trumpet), Chris Buckland (tenor sax), Matt Allison (trombone), Dan Hayles (Rhodes), Dan Milward (piano), Nick Tipping (upright bass), Shaun Anderson (drums) – Album only – Callum Allardice (guitar, arrangements, compositions), Richard Thai (tenor).

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Steve Russell & Leigh Carriage

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Thanks to Roger Manins extensive connections and the ever widening reputation of the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) Auckland now attracts many gifted offshore Jazz artists.  On the 3rd of February Steve Russell (piano) and Leigh Carriage (vocals) each led a set at the CJC.  Leigh is from Lismore in Northern New South Wales and Steve (from Byron Bay) teaches at the Southern Cross University in Brisbane.  Both have worked extensively in the bigger Australian cities.   Steve Russell has appeared with James Morrison and done support gigs for the likes of Wynton Marsalis and John Scofield while Leigh Carriage has performed in many Australian Jazz festivals and at the Monterey Jazz Festival in America.

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Steve Russell opened with a quartet set which comprised himself on piano, Roger Manins (tenor), Cameron McArthur (bass) and Stephen Thomas (drums).   His choice of bandmates was fortuitous as Roger is a phenomenon and the other two are fast establishing themselves as the premier local musicians in their field.  The band was extremely tight considering that the musicians had been holidaying in far flung disparate locations.   I later learned that they had been sent the charts a few weeks earlier and had put in some time familiarising themselves with the music.  Sometimes flying by the seat of the pants works just fine and sometimes a little work prior to a gig yields dividends.  This was the latter.

Steve Russell is highly regarded as an accompanist (which is a specialist skill that all too few master).  He is also a gifted leader, and composer.   It was well that he chose three experienced musicians for his set because the complex time signatures and edgy rhythms of some tunes certainly demanded that.  He began with a tune called ‘Belongil Blues’ which laments the loss of access to a much loved wilderness area around Lismore.   The warmth and soulfulness of this number made it the perfect choice as a starter, because what followed was often edgy and crackling with fire.  Fine musicians like these can always extract gold from well used forms (this tune is a good illustration of that as it is simply lovely.  You can hear it as track 7 on Steve’s fine ‘Dark Matters’ album and in the streamed sample below).

As the set progressed we heard a Caprice, a latin infused tune (Sambol) and several tunes not from the album.   Stylistically there are hints of Evans in Steve’s playing but he is entirely modern for all that.  He is an artist that I will gladly seek out when the chance presents itself.   His compositions, his feel for time and the sheer exuberance of his playing won me over completely.

Roger Manins has been busy moving house over the holidays but he certainly didn’t need easing into giging again.  He hit the bandstand in exceptional form and his solo work on numbers like ‘Sambol’ can only be described as incendiary.  In certain light there appeared to be sparks and coloured orbs emanating from the bell of his classic 60’s Selmer.  Roger Manins is a musician at the peak of his powers and given the right bandmates he burns brighter than the sun.   I had not seen Cameron McArthur for over a month but he is also in peak form.  He’s always worth hearing and never more so than when he is challenged and well supported.   Stephen Thomas is a widely respected drummer and his work across various genres is gaining him a significant following.   He’s a musician well worth hearing because of his originality, chops and the deep intuitive feel for what ever music he’s playing.

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When Leigh Carriage began her set she was accompanied by Steve Russell (her usual accompanist) plus Roger Manins, Cameron McArthur and Stephen Thomas.  A set like this required an entirely different set of skills and the band moved into this supportive role seamlessly.  Leigh Carriage has a voice that reaches deep into your soul.  There is a certain purity to it; a quality that is not always evident in Jazz singers.  What she does with her voice is special, using subtlety and nuance to reveal a thousand colours and shapes.  Leigh Carriage is also a composer of note.  She performed a number of self penned songs from her most recent album ‘Mandarin Skyline’ and one standard ‘Get Out of Town’, which she made her own.   She has also released an album titled ‘Get out of Town’.   There is often a wistful melancholic edge to her songs and the album is largely in that vein.  In the club she added a few upbeat numbers and it was a delight to hear her voice and Roger Manins tenor saxophone merging in unison.   Although she is far from a blues belter, hers is an exceptionally strong voice.  Of her own material ‘I’m not leaving’ stands out particularly’.  IMG_9328 - Version 2

As expected Steve Russell took an altogether different role during the vocal set.   Though his note placement was sparser and his attack more subdued, his strong presence was still felt.

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Who: Leigh Carriage and Steve Russell – with Roger Manins, Cameron McArthur, Stephan Thomas.

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart, 1885 building, Auckland  – 5th February 2014

AlbumLeigh Carriage; ‘Mandarin Skyline’ with Jonathan Zwartz (bass), Steve Russell (piano), Matt McMahon (piano), Sam Keevers (piano), Phil Slator (trumpet), Matt Smith (guitar), Hamish Stuart (drums).

Album -Steve Russell; ‘Dark Matters’, Matt Smith (guitar), Greg Lyon (bass), Scott Hills (drums).

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Andrea Lisa Band – CJC

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It’s been a long time since the Andrea Lisa band were in Auckland and a considerably longer time since they were last at the CJC.    Those who attended the CJC on August 7th 2011 saw many of this lineup perform in the ‘emerging artists’ category.  At that appearance they played one or two originals and memorably two or three Pat Metheny numbers.   The band specialises in a brand of fusion which incorporates Jazz, Soul, Funk and R & B.

After leaving New Zealand they settled in Brisbane (where they are now based) and we periodically received reports that they were doing well.   They had hardly settled into the Brisbane scene when they hit the road again and this time the destination was Dubai.   I know little of Dubai (other than it has modernist architecture, It’s very hot and it’s a mecca for well healed shoppers).   The Andrea Lisa band appears to have worked there for around six months and then they headed for Europe.   That must have worked out extraordinarily well for them also, as gig reports were coming in from Marseille and other choice Mediterranean locations.   A highlight was performing in Pablo Picasso’s former home with Thijs Van Leer (from the group Focus).  The band will soon be returning to Brisbane and so those wanting to catch them need to check out Andrea’s Facebook page ASAP – Andrea Lisa Fan Page 

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While much of what the band played was from Andrea’s 2012 EP album ‘So Sweet’ there were also some new numbers.  All were originals.  The type of material was familiar but the band had tightened up noticeably.  Being on the road for so long had polished their performances and it was especially noticeable with Lenny Church.  Even before I asked him, I realised who his main drum tutor had been.  It just had to be Josh Sorenson (and it was).  He got huge applause for his intense groove based solos.  Nick Taylor laid down solid support on the electric bass and his pulsing lines added a lot of weight to the bands slick sounds.  The remaining quartet member is Alex Churchill who plays keys, reeds and flute.   His role has evolved considerably since I last saw him and it was good to see him on the club piano for one number.  IMG_9237 - Version 2

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Andrea is a solid guitarist and vocalist but it’s her guitar work that comes across most strongly.  Those soaring lines and occasional Wes like voicings place her squarely at the heart of the unit.  An attractive diminutive performer with a big guitar and a confident presence on the band stand.  Her main guitar is still the reddish tinged Ibanez (a very nice instrument) but there’s a new guitar as well.  She performed three numbers on a stunningly beautiful Godin guitar, which has nylon strings (Acs Synth access multiac encore model).  This super responsive guitar just sang under her finger tips.   Ever since Dixon Nacey started using Godin guitars we are seeing more of them here and this pleases me immensely.

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They have retained an enthusiastic New Zealand following and a considerable number of people new to the CJC turned up to hear them.

Who: Andrea Lisa (guitars, leader, composition), Alex Churchill (keys, reeds, flute, arranging), Nick Taylor (bass), Lenny Church (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 1885 Britomart, Auckland 19th Jan 2014

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The Fondue Set – Review

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There are a number of enigmas in the music world and why this Fondue Set album lay unreleased for so long is one of them.  A recent New Zealand Herald article described Caitlin Smith as one of New Zealand’s best known singers and that’s true.  Because she is so well respected I can’t help wondering why she’s not profiled more often in the mainstream media.  Her voice is simply stunning and the material she choses, her choice of musicians and the way she plays with the lyrics sets her apart.

The Fondue Set have been part of the music scene for more than a decade.  Founded by Graeme Webb, the group has gone on to gain a kind of cult status and perhaps that imparts an added cache.  There have only been two previous Fondue Set CD’s released and both remain popular.  This album was recorded on mini disc in 2004 and it will be a welcome addition to their recorded output.

Caitlin’s voice is a real draw card, but as anyone who has seen her perform will know, her stage presence adds yet another compelling dimension.   As this is a live recording much of that magic is communicated.   Founding member Graeme Webb is not performing on ‘Down To The Rind’ but the other original member Steve Gerrish is.  The new addition is Nigel Gavin who is well known about town for his stellar musicianship and the wonderful sounds he coaxes from his guitars.  These musicians work well with Caitlin, providing all the support she could wish for.

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The arrangements are by Smith, Garrish and Webb and what fine arrangements they are.  Caitlin Smith is known for appropriating songs from other genres and turning them into earthy Jazz vehicles.  It’s the fine arrangements that underpin that process.   I was particularly drawn to  ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ (Trad), ‘Secret Love’ (Pain/Webster) and the red hot treatment of ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ (Mingus).  There is also a gorgeous version of ‘Tennessee Waltz’ (Stewart/King).  This song is very much in vogue with Jazz-Americana musicians and well it might be.   Nigel Gavin works his special brand of magic on Tennessee Waltz and the echoes linger happily in the memory long after the track is finished.

This is available from record stores, iTunes or from http://www.caitlinsmith.com/music

Who: Caitlin Smith (vocals, arrangements), Nigel Gavin (7 string Tui guitar), Steve Gerrish (guitars, arrangements) – Graeme Webb (arrangements)

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‘Encounters’ – Mark Isaacs – Dave Holland – Roy Haynes

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Mark Isaacs’ ground breaking ‘Encounters’ album has just been re-released for the third time and no wonder.  This is an important musical statement by any measure and it sits comfortably beside similar works by Jarrett and Corea.   I don’t say that lightly, as the aforementioned artists explorations into free improvisation set lofty benchmarks.

Mark Isaacs is somewhat of a prodigy as he works across all genres of Jazz, is a gifted composer and has a well established classical career.  His Jazz charts are particularly impressive as he often voices his pieces in modern and compelling ways.  As if that were not enough he has composed a symphony (recently performed by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra – I have heard this impressive work).  Because Mark is such a multi faceted artist it is harder to buttonhole him and perhaps that is the point.  Great musicians shouldn’t be pinned down.   It is the nature of improvised music that it constantly shifts like the coloured grains of sand in a great Mandala; elusive and yet leaving an indelible image behind.  When it’s done well the impressions that remain will outdo the notation.  This album achieves that.

Because the album has not been available since 1995 I hadn’t heard it before.  When I did it truly surprised me.  I was expecting a good album as the triumvirate of Isaacs, Holland and Haynes creates high expectations.  What I was unprepared for was just how deeply it affected me.   To explain this better a back-story is required .  An indication of how this album came to be.

The recording dates from 1988.  This was a time when the mainstream music world had become mired in techno-commercialism and to the credit of the Jazz community it chose to delve deeper into experimental music; pushing harder against musical boundaries.   This was the time of Jarrett’s ‘Changeless’ and ‘Dark Intervals’ albums and discriminating listeners were up for it.  Dave Holland was no stranger to this type of project as he had participated in and initiated many avant-garde projects since the sixties.   Mark Isaacs (an Australian) was in New York at the time having just heard some of his chamber works performed by the Australian Ensemble in Carnegie Hall.   He felt ready to record something challenging so he contacted Dave Holland who immediately agreed to participate.  I am not sure how Roy Haynes came to the project but the choice was fortuitous.  A bop-pioneer drummer who had played with Lester Young and Charlie Parker plus a cutting edge experimentalist bass player were on board.  Both had played in Miles Davis bands (but not at the same time).  Both had an interest in the avant-garde.

No rehearsals were held, no charts used and none of these artists had ever played together before.  What you have here is a tight rope act undertaken by an Australian, an ex-pat Englishman and a New Yorker.  The result could have fallen flat but what happened was truly amazing.  Deep intuitive communication and an interplay which sounded more like a trio that had been together for years, not minutes.  In this recording there is a profound sense of space and limitless vistas seem to unfold before you.  The album is just over thirty minutes long and packed within that thirty minutes is a world of diversity.   At certain points one or other of the musicians is leading the conversation, while at other points they appear to seize upon an idea at the same time.  This is artistry of the highest order and I urge anyone reading this to purchase a copy while stocks last.

It is available on iTunes but as an audiophile I recommend that you purchase the CD.  The recording quality is superb and the sound so immediate that you gain a real sense of the studio it was recorded in.  A lot of recordings could have been recorded anywhere, but this one conveys a sense of location.  Many of the ECM recordings have that feel and the Rainbow Studios in Oslo immediately come to mind.  The album was recorded at the Power Station studios in New York, which incidentally is where Jarrett’s ‘Changless’ was recorded at about the same time.

Twenty five years on, the album still sounds fresh and engaging.

The Album is available from Mark Isaacs Website: http://markisaacs.com/9-latest-news/13-encounters-with-dave-holland-roy-haynes-available-now

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Filed under Avant-garde, experimental improvised music, USA and Beyond

New Year 2014 – the fabric of creativity

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For many, music is a distant and pleasant soundtrack which augments their moments of relaxation.   Something to wallpaper the background while they chatter over a few drinks.  I am wired differently because my normal talkativeness ceases when even a faint echo of good music is heard; an off switch is flicked.  This pied piper effect has characterised my life and often made me late for appointments.  What is it that makes music so compelling to some and not to others and why is improvised music beguiling to those with that special antennae?

My earliest memory of Jazz is of a Louis Armstrong film.  I was a primary schooler and I made my long-suffering mother take me back twice.  Louis fascinated me in ways my relatives couldn’t quite fathom but they indulged me with an EP or two.  Ours was a classical music household.  Three years later I was walking down a street near my home when I heard a trumpet playing.   I could see the musician’s outline in the upstairs window as he played, weaving deftly around what I later learned was a Coleman Hawkins solo.  I stopped in the street, delighted and open-mouthed.   I have no idea how long I stood on the pavement gawking, but I vaguely recall being led inside and offered cocoa by the trumpeters mother.   The trumpeter and his mother were Polish refugees and they made me feel very welcome.  In the months that followed I called often and absorbed Miles, Lester Young, Dave Brubeck, Sweets Edison, Art Peper, Hampton Hawes, Billie Holiday, Basie, Ellington and more.  By the time I had connected with the groove-organ trios of Gene Ammons I was damned.  I would bunk off school and play Gene Ammons or Miles all day long, dancing about like a deranged fool.  The devils music had me by the throat.

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Half a century on the same music gods and their siren songs still exert power over me.  Enough to lure me to Australia at very short notice.  I had picked up some gossip from Australian musician friends, that my friend Roger Manins was doing a gig with Mike Nock, James Muller, Cameron Undy and Dave Goodman at the 505.  I have family in Sydney and so it was a no brainer.  Family, grandchildren and Jazz, perfect.   When I told Roger that I would be flying over for the gig he invited me to his ‘Hip Flask’ recording session at the famous 301 Studios in Alexandria.  I love recording studios and to hear a top rated unit like this recording in a famous studio was too good an opportunity to miss.  I applied for extra leave and altered my flight schedule to accommodate the extra day in the 301.  IMG_8963 - Version 2

The timing rested on a knife-edge as I had a gig to attend just hours before my flight to Australia.   I made the check-out with 4 minutes to spare.  The flight over on Virgin was abysmal.  I had a headache from lack of sleep and it was like being stuffed into a rubbish tin surrounded by bored, rude flight attendants who acted as if they were in a BBC spoof.  An Australian musician later commented that Virgin felt to him like it was piloted by overtired children.  IMG_9011 - Version 2

After clearing customs, I poured myself into a taxi and headed directly for the 301.  The industrial exterior gave little indication that I was standing outside an important recording studio.  The one where EST recorded their final album.  They buzzed me in and after navigating a series of corridors I pushed open a heavily padded door to find myself in an icy cool low-lit room with two technicians, a two-man film crew and the five cats from ‘Hip Flask’.   They were sitting around the mixing desk drinking coffee and listening over and over to the intro of a tune.  It sounded great.  This is what I had come for.  To capture the very act of creation.

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It is a special privilege to follow a creative process through from inception and I felt like a kid in a candy store.  This is exactly where I wanted to be and I soaked it up greedily.   My headache had vanished at the first note.  As the morning progressed the band would troop in and out of the studio.  Trying material, listening to it and repeating it if any one member expressed dissatisfaction.  Roger outlined his vision and set the tone, but after that he allowed a form of guided democracy to exist.  If they strayed from his vision he would talk them back round.

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The sessions in the control room were all smiles and banter but a sense of purpose always ran through the proceedings like an unbreakable thread.  When they reached agreement they would return to the studio and assume their positions, baffled up and miked to such an extent that the bass drums and piano were barely visible above the wires, cover sheets and portable booths.  The band has an unusual configuration for a funk unit, being tenor Saxophone, Hammond B3, grand piano, drums and bass.  The saxophone, bass, piano and B3 were in the studio while the drums and the Leslie unit were both in isolation booths.   The studio space was big enough to accommodate an orchestra, but this quintet was squeezed into a corner and each baffled from the other in some way.

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The quintet had recorded together before and even though their last recording was in 2007, their essence had survived intact.  As the session progressed I learnt a new word, ‘shoint’.  Roger and the organist Stu Hunter used it often and they would proclaim a satisfactory cut as being ‘Shointy’ or they would listen to the playbacks to see if they had ‘shoint’.   As far as I can ascertain the term describes a deep dirty groove that hits the musical ‘g’ spot.   While it is accurate to describe the recording as Jazz Funk, it is more than that.   The unusual pairing of two keyboards, the intuitive interaction and the quality of the musicianship gifted them with limitless options to draw upon.   Over all of this Roger Manins presided like an old time preacher, communicating with gestures, earthy licks on his Conn, diagrams and pithy Rogeresk phrases.  IMG_8969

The most interesting moments came towards the end of the session when Roger produced a chart for ‘circles and clouds’.  The chart contained a few bars of musical phrases and then a series of symbols.  The ideas conveyed were beyond normal logic.  On most of the staves clouds were drawn and although these pieces were essentially free, there was a clear purpose underpinning them.  Roger had the concept firmly in his sights as he talked them through the vision or let the ideas develop in the studio until the concept was realised.  Stu Hunter would play a compellingly dissonant chord and then Adam Ponting and the others would grab a hold of what was unfolding and produce kaleidoscopic shapes, moving and shifting together like interchangeable chameleons.  When the idea was realised Roger would take them back into the control room and expand on what had gone before.  Roger, “OK you are clouds, circling a vast ocean.  Now if you look down you will see dolphins swimming and playing”.  One or other of the band then asked if there was a shoal of bait fish swimming near by.   The concepts developed and then they would repeat the process until a number of amazing miniatures were cut.  This filigree of beguiling patterns had been conjured up in that very hour.  Realised without an over reliance on written notation or oral language.  This was improvisation in its most profound form and I was lucky enough to hear and experience it.

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My earlier question as to why some people fall deep within the web of music, while others let it wash over them unaffected, is not answered here.  This listener will never lose the magic and following bands like this guarantees that.  I am impatient to see what cuts survive and what is locked way in a vault.  When the album comes out and I can hardly wait, I will have heard more than most.  Every squeak, false start and profound moment is locked in my memory.  John Zorn said, “all sound is valid”.  I heard and witnessed an intensely creative process and I feel very lucky.

Who: ‘Hip Flask’ Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Stu Hunter (Hammond B3), Adam Ponting (piano), Brendon Clarke (bass), Toby Hall (drums)

Where: Recording Session at 505 Studios, Sydney Australia.

This post is dedicated to Roger Manins my choice of best NZ artist for 2013.  Roger is not only deeply authentic and amazingly creative, but equally important he shares his vision and enables others to follow.

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Filed under Australia & Pacific gigs, Australian and Oceania based bands, Groove & Funk

Natalie Dietz @ CJC

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We learned in late November that an excellent Australian jazz singer Natalie Dietz would be the featured artist for the last CJC gig of 2013.  She recently recorded with Aaron Parks and Mike Moreno in N.Y.C and the fact that she had connected with these heavyweights of the modern American Jazz Scene told me that we could expect something out of the ordinary.   She had toyed with bringing some Australian Musicians over with her but instead elected to use locals.   Not surprisingly these locals were drawn from among our finest musicians Kevin Field (piano), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Oli Holland (bass) and Adam Tobeck (drums).

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Natalie is the complete package, as she not only has a fabulous voice and an appealing bandstand presentation, but she is a gifted writer.  It is common to see charts laid out for bands, but these were especially well written and complex charts.   Not simple lead sheets.  The standards had been slightly reharmonised or re-interpreted and the original numbers voiced in such a way as to maximise her vocal lines.  These were not numbers belted out, but well crafted tunes which required subtle interplay.

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Natalie’s own compositions were pleasing and especially ‘The Mood I’m in’.   This gorgeous tune is reminiscent of Sara Serpa’s output and this is no accident.  Natalie mentioned a number of influences and Sara Serpa is one of them.  The piece opens with Natalie singing wordless lines in unison with the guitar.   Dixon Nacey’s Godin sings anyhow and the blend was beautiful.   This lovely tune reinforces my bias towards wordless vocalisation in an ensemble.   As much as I enjoy lyrics, adding the human voice as an instrument feels archetypal and so right to my ears.

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There were a number of standards as well and I was initially surprised to see ‘Body and soul’ (Green/Heyman/Sour/ Eyton) in the set list.  This is one of the most recorded songs in history and perennially popular.  It is hard to look at such a well-travelled tune from a new angle but Natalie did just that.  Her take on it was slightly dark and brooding and it sounded tantalisingly fresh.  Among the other standards was Skylark and a few Jobim tunes.  Natalie was well received by the CJC audience and she appeared to appreciate that.

Who: Natalie Dietz (vocals), Kevin Field (piano), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Oli Holland (bass), Adam Tobeck (drums)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland – 11th December 2013

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Hardbopmobile @ CJC Dec 2013

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Hardbopmobile has been around for some years and the longest collaboration is between leader drummer Frank Gibson and guitarist Neil Watson.   This pair are particularly well matched and their ability to capture the mood and vibe of the hardbop era in a fresh way makes for a great night out out.  The group had experienced two personnel changes since I last saw them and in spite of liking the old configuration, this one worked extremely well.  Cameron Allen the regular tenor player was unavailable and so Frank decided to add a different horn.  Replacing the tenor player with a trombonist might seem a little unusual, but when you look back at those iconic lineups from the hardbop era it makes perfect sense.  There is no better drummer to underpin this music than Frank and he opened all the stops for this gig.  IMG_8866 - Version 2

Haydyn Godfry was perfect for this role as his formidable chops and his engaging solo’s gave the band new dimensions to explore.   The rich full sound of the trombone blended perfectly with guitar and bass and it brought back memories of J. J. Johnson and others.   The other change was the replacement of Bassist Junior Turua with Tom Dennison.  This in itself was a fortuitous choice as Tom is hugely respected about town.   The stage was set for good music and happy memories and that is exactly what we got.

Frank had selected a great set list with mainly fast paced burners, but with a few ballads thrown in to balance things out.  There was the expected favourites like Horace Silver’s ‘Filthy Mcnasty’ but also the unexpected, such as a soulful rendering of Danny Boy (trad).   It also come as a pleasant surprise that of all the Monk tunes on offer he selected ‘Mysterioso’.  I recall hearing piano trio and saxophone led versions of this marvellous classic but never one involving an interchange between drums, bass, guitar and trombone.  The quirky nature of the composition with its delightfully quizzical asides, hung in the air as the tune unfolded, a joy to hear.  IMG_8837 - Version 2

During the second set the quartet numbers were interspersed with a trio number and a duo.   The trio (Neil Frank and Tom) played ‘Danny Boy’ and in Neil’s hands this traditional ballad was reinterpreted as Jazz Americana at its best.  Neil showed us his versatility during this gig and he left us in no doubt that his hardbop-guitar credentials are second to none.  Another treat was a duo between Hadyn Godfry and Tom Dennisson.   They played the well loved standard ‘Softly as a morning sunrise’ and it was simply superb.  So inventive were the solos and so skilful was the counterpoint that it immediately put me in mind of Bob Brookmeyer’s duo work with Jim Hall.  They nailed it and gave us a killing performance.

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The last two numbers were a tribute to Caroline Manins (Moon) and Roger Manins for their commitment to making the gigs happen.  To my delight Caro sang one of my favourite tunes ‘Jeannine’ (Duke Pearson).   A forgotten hardbop treasure often played by Cannonball and Nat Adderley.   Roger played the last number ‘Weaver of Dreams’ (Young/Elliot) and his beautiful gently swinging rendering took me back to Cannonball Adderley and Kenny Burrell, who made this number their own so many years ago.

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Frank has a winning formula here and long may it continue.

Who: ‘Hardbopmobile’ with Frank Gibson (leader, drums), Neil Watson (guitar), Tom Dennison (bass), Hadyn Godfry (trombone). + Caroline Manins (vocals) and Roger Manins (tenor saxophone).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 1885 Britomart, Auckland

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Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Hard Bop

Steve Barry Trio@CJC November 2013

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I have watched the career trajectory of Steve Barry for sometime and with each passing year the acclaim grows.  Just over a year ago he won the prestigious Bell Ward.  More recently he obtained second place in the ‘Australian Jazz artist of the year’ awards at Wangaratta 2013.  After winning a generous grant, enabling him to concentrate on his writing, he took time out for wood-shedding and further study.  He also travelled extensively.  He made use of this time by studying under piano masters like John Taylor.  From the outside his rise has the appearance of an effortless ascendancy, but the success of Steve’s trio arises from dedication and hard work.  His years of intensive study and relentless practice are now paying off.  As a result he plays with a maturity that is rare in younger artists and his unique approach to form is especially evident in his own reworked compositions and the often obscure but well-chosen ballads that he plays.

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There are two equally valid Jazz traditions around forming up combo’s and both can produce in-the-moment music.  At one end of the spectrum are groups formed just prior to a gig.   Hasty truncated rehearsals take place if time allows, but in some cases the musicians do not meet each other until they hit the bandstand.  At the other end are the groups like Jarretts Standards Trio, who are so familiar with each other that communication becomes intuitive.   Both situations have their pitfalls as the overly familiar can produce a certain complacency (Evans was sometimes guilty of this), while the seat of the pants line-ups can result in cues being missed.  Even good musicians fall at these hurdles but not so this trio.  The Steve Barry Trio has been together for over two years and they deliver royally.   The music sounds incredibly fresh each time we hear them and there is no lack of invention.   This is a special group with a unique ability to react to and challenge each other.   They are one of the finest piano trios in Australasia.

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I have heard Steve’s compositions many times, but on Wednesday it all seemed new.  They were the same familiar tunes with their complex time signature and moments of intense ostinato but they had somehow evolved.  Steve Barry is not an artist to rest on his laurels or to recycle old licks.  The most obvious changes occurred with the intro’s, which probed new pathways and took us on compelling journeys until we were again on familiar ground.   His intro’s and outro’s are something I look forward to, as they balance the pulse and swing.

I loved every note but the piece that really stood out was the seldom heard standard ‘More than you know’ (Vincent Youmans -1929).  This was covered by Teddy Wilson, Billie Holiday and others.  It is not heard much these days.  This slowly paced intensely beautiful ballad proved a good vehicle for improvisation and in the hands of this trio it was wonderful.  Steve stated the melody upfront and the richness of his voicings took my breath away.  There were subtle asides as the tune progressed, like a fine filigree partly obscuring the form.  Then about five minutes in a gentle swing section.

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You could not wish for better collaborators than Alex Boneham on bass and Tim Firth on drums.   Both are truly exceptional musicians.  There is a rich fatness to Alex Boneham’s tone which is all the more surprising as he was playing an old upright bass from the Auckland University School of Music.  In the hands of a master bassist, even an average instrument sounds rich and full toned.  His feel for time and note placement is perfect; deeply engaged and listening with big ears for every nuance.

Tim Firth also creates a buzz when he is in town and local drummers especially love to hear him.  Few can handle complex time signatures like he does and while he can play high octane tunes with edginess and fire, he can also execute brush work perfectly.   His brush work on ‘More than you know’ was understated (as it should be on a ballad) but as the tune progressed you were in no doubt about the value of his contribution.

This was one of those nights that gives Jazz a good name.

Who: The Steve Barry Trio – Steve Barry (leader and piano), Alex Boneham (upright bass), Tim Firth (drums)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland on the 27th November 2013

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Filed under Australian and Oceania based bands, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Bop

The Doughboys @ CJC

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Whenever Neil Watson and Cameron Allen appear one thing is certain.   The boundaries between realty and the surreal will be seriously blurred.  Their attempts to kick down the barriers between musical genres arises from a genuinely subversive urge.  This has nothing to do with academic posturing, as the music comes from raw passion.   People sometimes ask me why I listen to Zorn, Sun Ra, Ribot and others.   It is because those people understand something very important, ‘Art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed’.  Neil and Cameron understand this and their collaborators do also.

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The unsettling rumours started circulating a few months ago.   Evidently there was an improvising band around town called the ‘Doughboys’.  Musical blackguards.  Few knew where they played and most dared not enquire further lest the blackest rumours were true.  They fitted no particular niche and worse, they could veer dangerously across genres without signalling a warning.   What might scare some, only served to tantalise me.  Any band that plays foul piratical sea shanties, Hawaiian music, Americana, ancient country ballads, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash in a Jazz voice is going to interest me.

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As with all vagabonds they eventually washed into the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) one blustery night.   Roger Manins, a steadfast soul, well able to withstand the vicissitudes of public opinion booked them.  On the night they stood brazenly arrayed, defiant as piratical adventurers can be.  Ready to sing and to wildly improvise, often using the voicings and tropes of psychedelic jazz.   Either that or they played a song dead straight just to confound.  The instruments were as left-field as the bands dress sense.  Neil Watson had an array of stringed instruments and some pedals mounted on a plank.  He used a Mexican Fender ‘Stratocaster’, a ‘Hobner’ Guitar (this is a top-of-the-range knock off of a Hofner which he purchased in an Indian street stall) and lastly a Chinese made ‘special’ steel guitar.  Cameron Allen played an old melodeon squeeze box, a tenor saxophone and a ‘virtual’ Doogan (it was not visible to the audience).   Alex Freer and Rui Inaba lulled us into a false sense of security by playing relatively ordinary looking instruments, but when you looked closely there were frightening pirate fetishes tied to the them.

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I thought that they were terrific and Neil Watson’s hint of Neil Young (subverted by Bill Frisell voicings) worked for me.   At times they played the tunes dead straight and this only added to the surrealism of the evening.  Once they sung a hearty ditty but I was not fooled.  As I suspected, this softening up was precursor to a king hit.  In this case a punked out rendering of the ancient sea shanty ‘Spanish Ladies‘ which I will post as a video.  This is the sort of music that the downtown avant-garde cuts its teeth on.  Where else would you hear an authentic version of ‘Pearly Shells‘ followed by something Pink Floyd might have done if they’d studied under Marc Ribot.  Bless their black pirate hearts.

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Disclaimer: No cats were harmed in the photoshopping of the above picture – the pirate cat is named Zirky 

What: The Doughboys at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 1885 Britomart, Auckland 20th November 2013

Who: Neil Watson – aka ‘Geetar Scrim’ (guitars), Cameron Allen aka ‘Lee Shawnuff’ (melodion and tenor saxophone), Rui Inaba aka “Pork Baster’ (bass), Alex Freer aka ‘Daddy Gaucho’ (drums).

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Filed under Beyond category, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, experimental improvised music, Fusion & World