Michele Benebig @ CJC #jazzapril

 

IMG_0341 - Version 2

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.

.  IMG_0278 - Version 2

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.

IMG_0361 - Version 2

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.

IMG_0271 - Version 2

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.

IMG_0302 - Version 2

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

Leave a comment

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

 

7koFpHKHADU-htw5JpjP_ZMXkdEVwD478h5daT8O4ms

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

Leave a comment

April 15, 2014 · 11:51 am

Phil Broadhurst Quintet @ CJC Jazz April gig

IMG_0208 - Version 2

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.

IMG_0220 - Version 2

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

 

Leave a comment

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

IMG_0130 - Version 2

#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.

IMG_0151 - Version 2

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.

IMG_0175 - Version 2

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

Leave a comment

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

 

Screenshot 2014-04-08 00.09.29 - Version 2

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.

3 Comments

Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs

‘The Antipodean 6tet’ Tour @ CJC

IMG_0095 - Version 2

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.

IMG_0109 - Version 2

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’.

IMG_0071 - Version 2

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.

 IMG_0046 - Version 2

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

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

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

‘Mr M’ @ CJC

IMG_9908 - Version 2

‘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.

IMG_9859 - Version 2

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.

IMG_9869 - Version 2

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).

IMG_9911 - Version 2

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.

IMG_9863 - Version 2

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

Leave a comment

Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Millenium

James Muller Quartet @ CJC

IMG_9846 - Version 2 (1)

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.

IMG_9853 - Version 2 (1)

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.

IMG_9839 - Version 2

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.

IMG_9838 - Version 2

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.

IMG_9827 - Version 2

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

1 Comment

Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians, Post Millenium, Straight ahead

Callum Passells Quartet @ CJC

IMG_9721 - Version 2

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.

IMG_9780

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.

IMG_9751 - Version 2

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.

IMG_9764 - Version 2

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

Leave a comment

Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Millenium, vocal

Dixon Nacey ‘Lets Sco’ Project @ CJC

IMG_9666 - Version 2

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.

IMG_9661 - Version 2

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.

IMG_9669 - Version 2

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.

1 Comment

Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Groove & Funk

Jonathan Crayford @ CJC

IMG_9491 - Version 2

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.

IMG_9596 - Version 2

‘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.

IMG_9475 - Version 2

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.

IMG_9574 - Version 2

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

Leave a comment

Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Groove & Funk, Post Millenium, USA and Beyond

The Jac launch ‘NERVE’ @ CJC & Meow

IMG_9387 - Version 2

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.

IMG_9402 - Version 2

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.

IMG_9413 - Version 3

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.

IMG_9412 - Version 2

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.

IMG_9442 - Version 2

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.

IMG_9453 - Version 2

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.

IMG_9440 - Version 2

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).

Leave a comment

Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Review, Straight ahead

Steve Russell & Leigh Carriage

IMG_9346 - Version 2

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.

IMG_9377 - Version 2 (2)

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.

IMG_9323 - Version 2

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.

IMG_9297 - Version 2

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).

Leave a comment

Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs

Andrea Lisa Band – CJC

IMG_9265

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 

IMG_9274 - Version 2

  

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

IMG_9240 - Version 2

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.

IMG_9246

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

3 Comments

Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs

The Fondue Set – Review

Jan29#03

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.

IMG_7827 - Version 2

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)

2 Comments

Filed under Review, vocal

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

Mark Issacs Encounters

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

Leave a comment

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

New Year 2014 – the fabric of creativity

IMG_8954

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.

IMG_8947 - Version 2

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.

IMG_9012 - Version 3 (1)

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.

IMG_8939

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.

IMG_8955 - Version 2

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.

IMG_8993 - Version 2

IMG_8988 - Version 2

IMG_9009 - Version 2

IMG_9003 - Version 2

IMG_8999 - Version 2

IMG_8956 - Version 2

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.

Leave a comment

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

Natalie Dietz @ CJC

IMG_8931 - Version 2

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).

IMG_8920 - Version 2

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.

IMG_8923 - Version 2

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.

IMG_8924 - Version 2

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

1 Comment

Filed under Australia & Pacific gigs, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, vocal

Hardbopmobile @ CJC Dec 2013

IMG_8879 - Version 2

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.

IMG_8868 - Version 2

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.

IMG_8838 - Version 2

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

2 Comments

Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Hard Bop

Steve Barry Trio@CJC November 2013

IMG_8799 - Version 2

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.

IMG_8782 - Version 2

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.

IMG_8794 - Version 2

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.

IMG_8814 - Version 2

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

4 Comments

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

The Doughboys @ CJC

IMG_8738 - Version 2

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.

IMG_8736 - Version 2

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.

IMG_8742 - Version 2

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.

IMG_8743 - Version 2

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.

photo copy 5 - Version 2

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).

Leave a comment

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

Emerging Artists Matt Bray & Crystal Choi

IMG_8709 - Version 3

It’s an institution that the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) dedicates a handful of gig nights to emerging-artists.  This is often the musicians first public performance.  Performing in a club is a step up for any emerging artist, as audience expectations must be confronted.  In a Jazz club they’re expected to entertain; communicate something special.  It is not an exercise in ticking the ‘must demonstrate chops’ box.  Audiences have to like what you’re doing, rather than thinking how clever.

The sets attracted good crowds and that is important.  Supporting this music starts by supporting its emerging artists.

IMG_8689

The first set up was Matt Bray’s, who varied his pieces to reflect his many influences.   There were standards, original compositions and even a ‘Radiohead’ number.  Matt plays guitar and he has been keen explore the tonal and voicing possibilities of that instrument.  We saw him on the bandstand only the week before, as he plays in the AJO (Auckland Jazz Orchestra).  With the AJO he had tackled complex Cuban melodies and rhythms.  On this gig he was free to explore a wider vista; looking to modern guitarists like Kurt Rosenwinkel whose influence was evident.  He had chosen his band mates well and especially with the experienced and multi faceted drummer Cameron Sangster.  Cameron is the resident drummer with the AJO, but he is also featured to advantage in several well-known local bands.

IMG_8678 - Version 2 (1)

Conner McAneny was on piano (+keys) and he’s already performed several gigs at the CJC.  He’s a reliable performer and well able to keep out-of-the-way of the guitar, while shining in solo spots.   The last band member was Eamon Edmundson-Wells who recently graduated from the Auckland University Jazz School.   He was in both sets and is unfailingly impressive.   At the rate he is going he will soon be chasing Cameron McArthur and the fact that he is stepping into the gig slots normally taken up by Cameron (who is playing in the Chicago Musical pit band) tells its own story.

IMG_8683 - Version 2

The second set was Crystal Choi’s and it puzzled me that I had not met her until recently.   Crystal is a very fine pianist and she oozed confidence and style (she started her studies as a classical pianist but wanted more freedom to explore music).   She has emerged from the Auckland University Jazz school as a well formed and supremely confident pianist and to hear her perform it was hard to get my head around the fact that it was her first club performance.  I tracked her down later and put a few questions to her.   What year was she? (A third year graduate); had she performed with this trio/quintet outside of the Jazz School? (No).  She said that she had not felt ready before, but now she did.   Well she certainly showed us ‘ready’ that night.   The audience went wild after her set and kept yelling for an encore.  A superb first outing by any measure.

IMG_8685 - Version 2

The first number up was Bud Powell’s ‘Un Poco Loco’ and she skilfully moulded it to to her purpose.  This was a burner with plenty of flash, but a lot of soul besides.  I wondered if her handling of a ballad would be as assured, because ballads can reveal weaknesses quicker than any fast paced number.  I soon found out that ballads were no obstacle either and in addition her own compositions took interesting directions.   Her quintet was Peter Ruddell (tenor saxophone), Michael Howell (guitar), Eamon Edmundson-Wells (bass) and Tristan Deck (drums).

IMG_8698

The charts were textured and interesting; often augmented by Crystal singing unison lines.  I have chosen a clip of Crystals rendering of the standard, ‘In Your Own Sweet Way’ (Dave Brubeck).   I was impressed by this as it was slightly reharmonised and the implied notes spoke as clearly as the notes played.  When a musician knows what to leave out and what not to, they are well on the way.

IMG_8704 - Version 3 (1)

Michael Howell certainly caught my attention, as his clean soaring lines told me that he was a modernist but with a good sense of history.   Tristan Deck I have heard before and so I was not surprised to see how seamlessly he handled the changes in mood and texture.  A good drummer to have on board.   The remaining band member was Peter Ruddell on Tenor saxophone.   He only played briefly but he had a lovely tone and his lines were clean and imaginative.  This band played well together.   They we’re tight, but they never once strangled the music.

IMG_8705 - Version 2

I look forward to hearing Matt Bray and Crystal Choi as they develop further.

What & Where: Emerging Artists gig @ CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 1885 Britomart, Auckland 13th November 2013

Who first set: Matt Bray (leader, guitar), Connor McAneny (piano, keys), Eamon Edmundson-Wells (bass), Cameron Sangster (drums)

Who second set: Crystal Choi (leader, piano), Peter Ruddell (tenor saxophone), Michael Howell (guitar), Eamon Edmundson-Wells (bass), Tristan deck (drums).

Leave a comment

Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Straight ahead

No Square @ CJC

IMG_8653 - Version 2

Auckland’s CJC (Creative Jazz Club) hosted two European Jazz Acts in as many months.  The most recent band ‘No Square’, is from Switzerland.  This is a top rated European unit who have been together since 1994 and their tightness, focus and intuitive interactions reflected that.  Having played many European festivals to acclaim, they ventured further afield, assisted by the Francophile cultural organisation the Alliance Francaise.  Michel Benebig is another artist often supported by this worthy organisation.

IMG_8665 - Version 2 (1)

The journey down from Europe is particularly gruelling and even with New Zealand gigs tagged onto an Australian tour it requires a big commitment from the musicians.   I am not sure whether New Zealand audiences always grasp that.   After hearing about how poorly attended the Wellington ‘No Square’ gig was I cringed in embarrassment.   This is a truly amazing band and they deserved the respect of an attentive and decent sized audience.  Thankfully the audience at the CJC was reasonable, (but it could have been better).  If we don’t support visitors then why should they support our musicians who travel?   It is too easy to blame the lack of promotion, as our web-based and word of mouth networks are generally sufficient to pack out gigs.   All that’s required is a commitment to get off the damn couch.   Roger Manins goes to great effort to organise offshore acts and the audiences must respond in kind.  If we love this music we should pay it the respect of attendance.

IMG_8645 - Version 2

Europe has been deeply involved in the Jazz world since the early 1900′s and it was so popular that Hitler banned it as depraved.   There could be no higher recommendation.  Euro Jazz is not a slavish imitation of American Jazz, as each region has developed distinct flavours of their own.   This is particularly pronounced in the Mediterranean region and with the ebb and flow of migration the process has accelerated.  France was arguably the original centre of Euro Jazz but her near neighbours Switzerland, Spain, Germany, Belgium, UK and Italy have all contributed significantly to the development of the music.  This band originates from French-speaking Switzerland, with their most recent album recorded in beautiful Lausanne on Lac Lemon.    While they referenced Coltrane it was also evident that middle eastern rhythms and themes informed their work as well.   This well-travelled band is extremely tight as a unit.  Whatever twists and turns the music took they intuitively coalesced around each new theme.   No charts needed here.

IMG_8641 - Version 2

The first few numbers were denser and more complex than what followed, but as the evening progressed an airy feel and a deeper groove established.   I could discern many European and American influences from Debussy to Coltrane.  This distinctive original music was Euro Jazz at its best.  Andre Hahne (bass) took care of the introductions  (presumably because he has more English than the others), but the band is billed as a collective of equals.   It would be impossible to single out any particular musician as they all shone in one way or another.   On saxophones was Matthieu Durmarque, piano Matthieu Roffe and drums Alexandre Ambroziak.

This was not a night to miss.

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

Who: ‘No Square‘ – Andre Hahne (bass), Matthieu Durmarque (saxophones), Matthieu Roffe (piani), Alexandre Ambroziak (drums)

What: Their 8th Album ‘The Laws of ephemerae’ (Les Lois de L Ephemere)

Leave a comment

Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Bop, USA and Beyond

Natalia Mann update from Marseille

1467391_10201084445817972_2075128796_n

I interviewed Natalia Mann after the release of her very successful Rattle album ‘Pacif’ist’ and since then we have kept in touch .  Improvising harp players are a rare commodity, but things are slowly changing.  This year the Columbian harpist Edmar Castaneda won a major Jazz poll.  Natalia is simply killing at whatever she undertakes but her new trio brings her squarely into the jazz orbit.   Having gained a considerable reputation playing with various symphony orchestras and after undertaking a number experimental music projects, she is more than ready to enhance her improvisational credentials.   She has recently been playing to critical acclaim at Mediterranean Jazz festivals and this video clip was made for the AKBANK Jazz festival in Istanbul.  Her compositions are beguiling and exotic, while retaining an elusive mysterious quality.   This is music that leaves you wanting more.

Natalia is of Samoan Kiwi extraction but for some years she has lived in Istanbul.  She’s married to the Turkish percussionist Izzet Kizil who appears in the clip below.  She was most recently the recipient of the ‘ARts Pacifica’ award in her hometown of Wellington.  Having recently studied Jazz at Skopje University she is now engaging frequently with the improvising world.   This stunningly beautiful piece swings to its own pulses and rhythms; aided by solid bass work from Dine Donneff (Greece) and the perfectly executed percussion of husband Izzet Kitil (Turkey).

I have promised to take her to the CJC next time she is in Auckland and just maybe if we are lucky, we could talk her into performing?

Natalia is in Marseilles at present and she sent me this clip of her new Jazz trio a few days ago.   Kiwi musicians certainly do well in the world.

2 Comments

Filed under experimental improvised music, Fusion & World, USA and Beyond

Gai Bryant’s Cubanos w/ AJO

1384091_600507700006367_150868797_n

We get a lot of interesting overseas acts passing through these days but seldom do we see Cuban musicians.  This is not about what they have to offer or even about the tyranny of distance, but more about politics.  When this band was booked it was a bigger lineup, but getting short-term visas to enter Australia and New Zealand proved an insurmountable  barrier for some of their number.  In my view this is an arcane and ludicrous legacy of the cold war.   In spite of an easing of sanctions by the EU and others, those old suspicions remain.   These talented musicians are the very best of ambassadors for their country and their indigenous music.  Its time to get real Australasian immigration.  The few that were allowed into the country gave us a great nights entertainment and not one sought asylum from John Key.

1376607_600507913339679_1439448025_n

The tour was organised by Australian band leader Gai Bryant and she arrived here with barely enough time to hold a few brief rehearsals with the AJO (Auckland Jazz Orchestra).  I am a fan of the AJO as they always tackle interesting projects.   They are a Jazz Orchestra with great dynamics and under the direction of Tim Atkinson, Mike booth and others they continue to produce the goods.   The personnel had changed a bit since I last saw them and especially the front horn line.  Even though it was dark and crowded I could make out a number of the long-term AJO regulars such Jo Spiers, Callum Passells, Cameron Sangster, Mike Booth, Jono Tan, Cameron McArthur and Matt Steele.   This band is scandalously under utilised and the city fathers and corporates should be engaging them for important occasions.

904366_600505893339881_1292230811_o

I am picking that this music would have been testing for them, as very few Auckland musicians have had a chance to work in authentic Cuban styles before.  It is one thing to play a Rumba or Bolero in a looser jazz idiom but quite another to follow charts like these.   At the heart of Cuban music is a set of complex mesmerising counter rhythms and the clave.  This is a delicious fusion music and the most influential of all of the ‘world musics’.   It reaches deep into the shameful slave past of Cuba.  West African musicians had retained knowledge of the ancient percussion instruments, chants and melodies which had travelled with them.  Along the way a plethora of other influences enriched and extended their music.  There is a strong Spanish influence and a French influence among others.  These influences were absorbed into the polyrhythmic music of West Africa.  At the very heart is often the clave rhythms and central to that is the five beat pattern so much emulated in popular music and Jazz.  These days the forms are codified and so jumping into this as a novice is a big ask.  I don’t know enough about Cuban music to judge this performance against others, but suffice to say I enjoyed it immensely.

I was deeply impressed by the percussionists but also by Cameron Sangster (drums), who took his cues so well from the Cubans.  Other notable moments were delivered by Callum Passells (alto), Cameron McArthur (bass) and Matt Steele (piano).

With the percussion instruments playing and the orchestra and soloists weaving around the beat it was easy to see how those old stories of voodoo and trance music took hold.  These beats defied all attempts to rationalise the sound.  The rhythms entered every pore, almost like body blows, driving me out of self and into the arms of some universal force.  An ancient joyful celestial dance from which there was mercifully no escape.

Who: Gai Bryant’s Cubanos (the photos on this gig were all taken by Ben McNicoll)

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 1885 Britomart, Auckland, Wednesday 30th October 2013

1 Comment

Filed under Big Band, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians, USA and Beyond

NOiCE @ CJC

Rosie Langabere

The North Island Creative Ensemble is a project dear to Rosie Langabeer’s heart and one of many projects that she has on the go.   Rosie has been out of New Zealand for some time although NOiCE did perform at the CJC over a year ago.  Her musical journey most recently took her to the USA where she worked for three years with leading experimental improvisers and artists.   Her compositions and playing have won various awards and so I made certain that I there as I missed the last NOiSE gig.

This is music that is hard to pin down, as it deliberately defies conventions while somehow flirting with them.   There is a sense of structure which provides a touch stone, but don’t grasp too firmly as the forms will dissolve as quickly as they appeared.  This is music which carries you forward if you let it, holding you in the eternal moment.

NOiCE is an assembly of highly creative musicians; coming from a variety of North Island towns and cities.  The music is experimental in nature and it is definitely adventurous.  Most of these musicians are well-known and leaders in the field of New Zealand experimental music.   Jim Langabeer (Rosie’s father) is a stalwart of the Auckland Jazz scene, but he has also worked with international musicians like Gary Peacock, Sammy Davis Jr and even the Bee Gees.   He is a multi reeds and winds player and because of his proficiency on a variety of instruments he has been in demand over the years.  I recently saw his name come up in the music credits of the New Zealand film ‘Mr Pip’.   His innovative flute work is probably what he best known for.

IMG_8589 - Version 2

Jeff Henderson is also a multi reeds player and he is at the very heart of Auckland’s experimental music scene.   He can often be seen at ‘Vitamin S’, a small club dedicated to experimental music located just off Karangahape Road, Auckland.   Jeff has worked with a large number of cutting edge musicians over the years, William Parker, Steve Lacey, Mike Nock and many others.   He delights in pushing against the boundaries and when he performs he seldom holds back.  While his scalding solos often reach beyond mere form, his ability to integrate seamlessly into an ensemble creates a filigree of contrasts and textures.   A delicious aura of inventive unpredictability hangs over him.  IMG_8613 - Version 2

Chris O’Connor (drums) is a firm favourite with CJC audiences.  A recipient of the Chapman Tripp Award for original music, he has also worked with the soprano saxophonist Steve Lacey, avant-garde pianist Marilyn Cryspel, Don McGlashan and numerous other well-known groups or individuals.   Chris is one of those drummers that other drummers revere and the last time we saw him at the CJC was with vibist John Bell.

IMG_8633 - Version 2

IMG_8629 - Version 2 (1)

IMG_8587 - Version 2 (1)

Ben McNicoll (reeds and winds), Joe Callwood (guitar), Gerard Crewdson (brass) and Kingsley Melhuish (brass), Nicky Wuts (vibes) and Patrick Bleakley (bass) round out the ensemble.   They are all experienced musicians and most of them have worked with NOiCE for some time.  Ben McNicolls is the best known to CJC audiences as both the technical director of the club and a frequent performer.  A good reader with a nice sound he, is happy to take on any project, from standards gigs to out-ensembles.   Gerard Crewdson and Kingsley Melhuish are versatile and sought after brass players and both have played the CJC before.   The musicians that I was less familiar with were Patrick Bleakley (bass), Joe Callwood (guitar) and Nikky Wuts (Vibraphone).

I’m relieved to see another mallets player on the scene as New Zealand has very few of them.   John Bells departure earlier in the year left a yawning chasm.

IMG_8640 - Version 2 (1)

All contributed something unique as this is a truly democratic ensemble.  One where individual voices rise and then subside; emerging seamlessly into the collective consciousness of the group

 

1 Comment

Filed under Avant-garde, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, experimental improvised music

Alan Brown trio + 1@ CJC Oct 2013

IMG_8570 - Version 2

Alan Brown is such a gifted musician that we always expect something special from his club gigs.   The October gig not only lived up to expectations but found something extra to offer us.  Alan is always on safe ground with Dixon Nacey on guitar and Josh Sorenson on drums, as these musicians don’t need any warm up.  They have played together so often that their understanding of what is required is intuitive.  Deep energised mesmerising grooves are quickly established and maintained.  As we progressed through the first number, the warm grooves took us somewhere else.  Transported on mass to a place where winter became a distant memory.

 A state of grace, suspended somewhere between reality and a multi hued dream state.  This is a place where the familiar is transformed into the extraordinary and we felt incredibly happy about that.

IMG_8538 - Version 2

As I watched the interplay between these three I could not help wondering how that felt.  How it felt making that music, in that way and with that much soul.  The looks on their faces gave me the answer.  They also knew that this was one out of the bag and that some special chemistry was happening.   The Alan Brown trio were on fire and we were not just witnesses but integral to the performance.  There was a shared collective energy and we were each and every one of us connected in a web of pure creation.

I have written a lot about Alan over the last two years and he deserves every accolade thrown his way.   If this sounds like hyperbole I will quickly argue otherwise.  He consistently delivers performances and compositions that grab the attention and on nights like this he finds something extra.  The audiences from the High Street days have never forgotten ‘Blue Train’ and the fact that Alan keeps the crowds coming; still creating new audiences, speaks volumes.   This is not about reliving the glory days, but about bringing fresh and exciting perspectives to an ever unfolding musical output.

IMG_8544

Dixon Nacey is another musician who always pleases.   When ever I see that beautiful Godin guitar I know that something extraordinary could happen and this was just such a night.  Dixon is a musician who can communicate as much by his body language as by his soaring inventive solos.  You know how deeply he observes and engages because the evidence is in his face and at his fingertips.  When exchanges are being traded with drummer or keyboards, his expressions mirror the intensity.   When the solo or the interplay really works well, a huge smile lights up the bandstand.   That smile and those magical voicings tell us so much about the man and his music.

IMG_8545 - Version 2

The remaining trio member is Josh Sorenson and I have heard him on two or three previous occasions.  Josh has specialised in groove drumming and he is exceptionally good at it.  This is a specialist skill as there are a million deceptive subtleties built into it when done well.   I spoke to Josh at some length about this and what he told me was illuminating.  It is very hard work and although it sometimes appears straightforward it is not.  I gathered the impression that a night of holding such tight grooves together is more exhausting than bebop or rock drumming.  The concentration required to move around the kit while holding a tight multi faceted beat together is tremendous.  It is not just the concentration required, but the ability to sink into a beat in an almost trance like fashion.

Towards the end of the final number Josh launched into a drum solo and what unfolded was almost supernatural.  As he moved all over the kit, the deep-groove pulse never wavered by a fraction.  I have never seen this done before and I found it incredibly impressive.   That solo and in fact the whole number ‘Inciteful’ (had the audience on their feet, whooping and shouting with enthusiasm).  Sadly I had run out of video tape by then, but I did capture some of the magic.  IMG_8550 - Version 2

Part way through the gig we had another treat in store when the soulful Jazz Singer Chris Melville came to the band stand.  I like male Jazz singers and I worry that their numbers are so few.  Chris has a terrific voice and he tackled the old Juan Tizol standard  ‘Caravan’ in a mature and engaging way.   I enjoy listening to his interpretations and to the timbre of his voice, but noticed that it had a tendency to become a little lost in the acoustics of the room.  Some small adjustments to the sound levels would remedy that.   As the extraordinary Mark Murphy steps back and the fabulous velvety baritone Andy Bey performs less, there are other male singers coming forward like Jose James, Kurt Elling and Gregory Porter.  It is a tradition worth keeping and I  hope that we see continue to see singers like Chris keeping the faith.

We heard old favourites like ‘Shades of Blue’, some new material and even a rock classic from Led Zeppelin ‘No Quarter’.   ‘Charlie’s Here’ cast a warm bluesy aura over the room and I have put that up as a video link.   The kicker however was definitely ‘Inciteful’.  It was an amazing rendition packed with high-octane solos, clever ideas and groove so deep that even speleologists could never hope to explore it.

The organ was a Hammond SK2 which is not Alan’s usual keyboard.   Coupled to a Leslie Unit and the resulting sound was perfect.   This lighter modern offshoot of the C3/B3 certainly earned its stripes on this night.  It was just right for the room.

Who: Alan Brown (SK2 Hammond organ), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Josh Sorenson (drums).

Where: The (CJC) Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885 building, Auckland 16th October 2013

1 Comment

Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Groove & Funk, Straight ahead, vocal

Benny Lackner (Germany) @ CJC

IMG_8492 - Version 2

I missed the Benny Lackner trio when they came last year and I had subsequently been besieged with the inevitable, “man you missed a great gig”.   This time I made sure that was able to attend.  Benny Lackner is from Berlin, Germany and his touring schedule has taken him round the world a number of times.  His brand of jazz is forward-looking and has a distinctly modern-European feel about it.   I am a fan of European styled Jazz although surprisingly it is often overlooked by American Jazz fans.  This is ironic because American Jazz musicians have always relied heavily on European tours and are hugely supported there.

This trip Benny came without his trio and teamed up with Cameron McArthur and Ron Samsom for the Auckland gig.   As the gig approached a problem arose, when the building owners required the downstairs room for a function.   The room with the lovely grand piano in it and the better acoustics.  An urgent call went out for a Fender Rhodes and before long Mark Bains had lent one, along with a nice keyboard.   The upstairs venue has a nice feel to it but the acoustics are more difficult to manage.  Such obstacles are quickly dealt with by experienced musicians who are quite used to playing in a wide variety of settings.

IMG_8525 - Version 2

The sets were mainly centred on Benny’s own compositions, but interestingly he had thrown in some modern pop tunes, mined for their improvisational worth.   There was a Bowie number and a Radiohead number, both of which went down extremely well with the audience.  Gone is that awkwardness that the 50′s Jazz musicians often exhibited when they tackled the popular tunes of the day.   From Miles onwards and through to Brad Muhldau ( a mentor of Benny’s) the game has changed.   American musicians like Bob Frisell and others will routinely interpret modern tunes or rock classics.   In many cases the vocabulary of rock is appropriated.  The Europeans however are the masters of this and artists like Mathius Eik, Esbjorn Svensson and Marcin Wasilewski have blazed a clear trail ahead.  He also tackled Monk’s ‘Bemsha Swing’ which I have posted.  EST played this often and this version takes the tune even further out.

IMG_8518 - Version 2

Benny Lackner approaches his material obliquely and to my ear there is no hint of the Evans legacy in his voicings.  He often plays big percussive chords, but he can also show real sensitivity as he negotiates the well constructed tunes.  The Radiohead number worked particularly well on the dominant sounding Rhodes, with the slightly softer voicings emanating from the smaller keyboard.  You get the feeling watching Benny at the keyboard that he views each performance as an open-ended adventure.  I am only sorry that we never got to hear him on the clubs grand piano.

He told us that he was very pleased with his new band mates and why wouldn’t he be.   Ron Samsom is such a fine drummer that you expect a top-level performance from him.   Ron has a world of experience behind him and so many local and visiting overseas acts benefit from his multi faceted traps work.  I have never seen him falter in any setting and the diverse styles required of him only appear to urge him on to greater heights.

As has been the case so often in recent months, Cameron McArthur filled the bass slot and all of the experience he is gaining is now paying dividends.  This guy is a crowd pleaser, with the chops and ears to provide the goods.   We also heard some very nice solos from him.

This has been a big tour for Benny.  From Berlin his hectic schedule took him through South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand.  Although he was born in Berlin he also lived in the USA for many years.  The many influences absorbed along the way have moulded him into an original and interesting pianist.

Who: Benny Lackner (leader, keys, compositions), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samsom (drums)

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 building, basement, Britomart, Auckland 9th October 2013

Leave a comment

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

Mark Isaacs @ CJC

IMG_8432 - Version 2

Pianist and composer Mark Isaacs has a rapidly growing international reputation and we were lucky to get him here.  Once again it was down to Roger Manins, who has wide connections in the Jazz world and we are eternally grateful for it.  Mark Isaacs has toured the world extensively and not only fronted a number of prestigious Jazz festivals, but also recorded with many world-renowned Jazz musicians.  Artists like Kenny Wheeler, Roy Haines, Adam Nussbaum and Dave Holland have appeared on his albums but as if that were not enough, he has two parallel musical careers.   Mark is also a classical pianist/composer of some stature and the conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy said this of his extraordinarily beautiful ‘Children’s Songs’.  “This wonderful cycle is highly inventive and inspiring, accessible to children and adults alike.  Very enjoyable and touching“.

The first thing to strike you about Mark is his intense passion for music, but his focus and drive have not in any way deterred him from exhibiting a cheerful, often extroverted demeanour.  He engaged easily with the CJC audience and his level of report with the band and especially Roger, made the gig all the more enjoyable.  Even though he had not played with drummer Frank Gibson Jr or Bass player Cameron McArthur before it felt like an established band.  He and Saxophonist Roger Manins go back a long way and perhaps because of this long-standing connection, what was billed as a standards gig, soon became so much more.  IMG_8456 - Version 2 (1)

The set kicked off with ‘Gone With the Wind’ (Allie Wrubel – 1937).  By coincidence this once popular but seldom heard tune was performed here by Mike Nock only months earlier.   Both artists appeared to briefly reference the brilliant but somewhat obscure Brubeck version, but each approached the tune in very different ways.  Mark Isaacs is another musician who has the history Jazz piano under his finger tips and as he worked his way into the tune I could hear brief echoes of the past greats.  I love this tune and especially when interpreted this well.

As the set list unfolded I realised that most of the standards were from the 1930′s.   It is not hard to fathom why, as the Great American Songbook tunes written in this period were second to none.  The gig,  subtitled as ‘Pennies From Heaven’, was later explained as being an inside joke.  Roger and Mark had embarked upon just such a project a decade ago and in their view the title scared off the potential audience.  More fool those who failed to turn up because this number in their hands was fresh, funny and satisfying.  ‘Pennies from Heaven’ (Johnny Burke/Arthur Johnston) is also from the 1930′s.

IMG_8441 - Version 2 (1)

The tune that I have posted is the perennial favourite ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’ (Frank Churchill – 1937).  Although non Jazz audiences would only associate this tune with Disney, it has a long and distinguished Jazz history.  Among the 100′s of well-loved versions are those by Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly and Grant Green.  Playing a classic standard like this to a savvy Jazz audience can have its pitfalls as comparisons are inevitable.  The audience however lapped it up and from the stating of the melody through to the open-ended interpretation near the end, it was fabulous.  With Roger egging the band on and Mark responding in kind it could hardly be otherwise.

IMG_8428 - Version 2 (1)

There was a very nice solo by Cameron McArthur who astonishingly just keeps improving between gigs.  Frank Gibson Jr met Mark years ago but in spite of them trying to organise a gig it never happened until now.  In the event it was a happy confluence of inventiveness, exuberance and great musicianship.  Roger Manins was on form as usual, delivering fiery energised solos in a post Coltrane manner.

Mark Isaacs has the technique and the hunger to continually reach beyond.   Whether gently comping under a melodic bass solo or unwinding the melody to explore what lies beneath he engages us.  His probing left hand often pulls slightly back on what his right hand is playing and the tension created gives added impetus.  While his Classical compositions are informed by Jazz, the opposite is also true.  He will surely continue to do well in both worlds.

IMG_8473 - Version 2

As I left the club I picked up a copy of his Resurgence band’s ‘Duende’ album and put it on during the drive home.  It is an album of his own compositions.  What was immediately apparent was how well crafted the compositions were.  It was the sort of album that ECM might have released and the quality of the recording added to that impression.  As I listened on I heard some beautiful guitar work, not over stated but clean, inventive and crystalline.  Then I heard a human voice, wordlessly singing arranged lines as part the ensemble.  Easing over to the curb I picked up the album cover and flipped it over.

The personnel list would stop anyone in their tracks.  Mark Isaacs (piano), James Muller (guitars), Matt Keegan (reeds and percussion), Brett Hirst (bass), Tim Firth (drums), Briana Cowlishaw (vocal).  Matching this dream line up with those compositions was a masterstroke.   Muller and Isaacs communicate so very well.  It all made sense, the Kenny Wheeler connection, the skilled arranging and the promise of what may follow.   Mark Isaacs has the ears to absorb and the smarts to compose what works best for him.  This album certainly does.

Who: Mark Isaacs (piano, compositions, leader), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Cameron McArthur (upright bass), Frank Gibson Jr (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart, 1885 Basement, Auckland, New Zealand on 2nd October 2013.

Album and contact details: ‘Duende’ (Gracemusic GROO4)

Leave a comment

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

Glen Wagstaff Project @ CJC

IMG_8407 - Version 2

Just when I think that I am getting a handle on the extent of the New Zealand Jazz scene something new comes along that tells me I don’t.  I humbly admit that I am only just beginning to comprehend it.  As the CJC attracts more offshore Jazz visitors it is also attracting more Wellington and Christchurch bands and those have been great.   If this trend continues I half expect to see the Gore chapter of the ‘Balclutha John Zorn Tribute Band’ on the billing sometime soon.

A particular case in point is the Christchurch Jazz scene which is producing some astonishing Jazz musicians.   A slow but steady stream of these musicians has been drifting northward (Andy Keegan, Dan Kennedy & Richie Pickard to name but a few).  In the last few years we have had the Tamara Smith trio and Reuben Derrick’s quartet (both of which gave an excellent account of themselves) and now the Glen Wagstaff Project.  Roger is never wrong about this stuff and he told us that we were in for a treat.  IMG_8416 - Version 2

Jazz is a broad deep river and the tributaries running into it are now so numerous that it is easy to overlook one.  I have long been urging the better writers among our Auckland musicians to do more ensemble writing (or even better write a some charts for a nonet).  They have patiently explained that this is a big task and one which requires a commitment of time.  I have continued to engage these musicians on the likes of Kenny Wheeler and almost everyone loves what he does.   As much as he’s admired, his compositions or similar work is seldom performed.  Following the progress of such outlier writing is confined to selective offshore artists.

When the Glen Wagstaff project flew in last week all I knew about them was that Glen is great writer and that Roger Manins was enthusiastic.  Three of the band were familiar to me as they have played at the CJC before.  I sat back expecting a quick few bars as they ran through an arranged head and then numerous solos to follow.  What I got was a rich gorgeous feast of ensemble playing.  I couldn’t have been more delighted.  These charts are crafted with consummate skill and like any well-arranged medium to large ensemble charts they imparted a sense of space and breadth.   To get the feel of a bigger unit while retaining the airiness and space of a small one is what such writing is all about.   The effect of well written charts like these is profound.   The choice of instrumentation is also important as it allows for very particular textures and voicings.   These charts were well written and well played.   I was there from the first number and remained captivated throughout.  IMG_8377 - Version 2

Most of the numbers were original but several were re-arranged from the likes ‘The Brian Blade Foundation’ and ‘Kenny Wheeler’.   A version of “Kind Folk’ from the amazing Kenny Wheeler ECM disk ‘Angel Song’ was breath-taking.   The Wheeler disk had a pared back lineup (Kenny Wheeler, Lee Konitz, Dave Holland & Bill Frisell) but in Glens hands this expanded for an octet.  The gig was divided between septet and octet and this allowed the various band members to take short solos’.   On guitar was Glen and he resisted the urge to perform long soaring virtuosic lines as they would have been out of place.   That said his guitar work was just great and the little hints of Abercrombie or even Rosenwinkel stylings gave us a glimpse of his prowess as a player.  Tamara Smith has been to the CJC before and along with Auckland’s Trudy Lile she owns the flute space.  Tamara is a gifted musician who can utilise extended technique or just floor you with her breathy soulful notes.   Having both flute and voice in the mix worked well for me and the fact that they were able to blend while never appearing to crowd the others space, tells me a lot about their abilities and the charts.  IMG_8390 - Version 2

On tenor sax was Gwyn Renolds (who also doubled on soprano) and on alto was George Cook.  Both played superbly and both had solo spots which were enthusiastically received by the audience.  Once again these guys showed how well they could modulate their sound and fit tightly into the mix.  Ensemble playing of this sort requires an unusually disciplined approach and the naturally louder horns resisted the impulse to dominate where that would have been inappropriate.    On piano was Catherine Wells and while she had few solos, she added just the right touch to the ensemble.   A minimalist approach was called for and that was delivered.   This sort of band is about texture and her occasional mid to upper register filigree added value.

IMG_8406 - Version 2

Andy Keegan and Richie Pickard are increasingly seen about town and they are well appreciated by CJC audiences.   They are both skilled readers and able to deliver deeply nuanced performances or knock out punches as the job in hand requires.  They have often featured in louder, frenetic bands but have also shown how tastefully they can play when presented with charts like this.   I have high regard for both as musicians.

Lastly there was Toni Randle who sang wordless lines and approached the charts much as a non chordal instrument would.  Adding the human voice into charts like these is to impart a degree of magic when done well.   It takes writing skills and well honed performance skills to pull this off.  One again this worked incredibly well.   I have long been a fan of Norma Winstone and Toni followed very much in her footsteps.  The human voice is a powerful instrument and to hear it freed from the job of interpreting lyrics is a joy.  The tune ‘Maylie’ that I have put up, is one of Glens and it illustrates that point perfectly.

During the dying years of the big band swing era the Claude Thornhill Orchestra and a few others were doing things differently.  Musicians like Lee Konitz and Gerry Mulligan came up through these bands and then came the seminal ‘Birth of the Cool’ and Gil Evans.   This sort of writing has never gone away but it is certainly on the periphery.   I’m thrilled that Glen Wagstaff is writing in this way and I hope that he continues to do so.   His band and his charts have real integrity and the club crowd reacted to that.  I left the gig deeply satisfied and that’s what this music is all about.

Who: The Glen Wagstaff Project – Glen Wagstaff (leader, guitar, compositions), Tamara Smith (flute), George Cook (alto), Gwyn Renolds (tenor, soprano), Toni Randle (vocals), Catherine Wells (piano), Richie Pickard (bass), Andy Keegan (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), basement 1885 building, Brittomart Auckland

2 Comments

Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians, vocal

Mike Nock’s Australian Trio @ CJC 2013

IMG_8335 - Version 2 (1)

A lot’s been written about Mike Nock and he is well recorded.   In spite of this there is so much more to say and the unfolding story has come to define Australasian Jazz.  It would be accurate to describe him as one of the greatest musicians New Zealand has produced, but Mike Nock deserves evaluation on a much wider stage than Oceania.  As lucky as we feel owning him, he is a citizen of the world, highly ranked among the best that global Jazz has to offer.  IMG_8361 - Version 2

This was summed up by one of the audience; an American who has been following the international Jazz Scene for many years.  He shook his head in amazement and said “That was the best performance I have heard in ages”.  He asked about Mike’s history and I gave him a potted version.   “Oh yeah” he said.  “Well all of those years in America have given him that deep blues feel that only top players realise”.

I caught up with Mike before the gig and he was his usual friendly self.   Over dinner there were jokes and numerous war stories.  Because I have attended too many loud gigs my hearing is not quite as good as it was.  At one point the drummer James Waples said something to me which I missed entirely.  I apologised, explaining that my eyesight and hearing were failing me.   Mike leapt on the comment as quick as lightning, saying, “Man don’t worry.  That’s exactly what we like in a critic”.

There was the briefest of discussions between the band members about the set list, which ended in Mike saying, “We’ll figure it out as we go and you’ll know when you hear me start to play”.  While this is not unusual among Jazz musicians, it was evident that Mike would be digging into some obscure and unrehearsed standards during the evening.

IMG_8357 - Version 2

The spirit of Bernie McGann hung over us as he had passed the previous evening.  Mike spoke movingly of him and then he played one of Bernie’s compositions followed by ‘Bernie’s Tune’ (Bernie Miller) and the lovely old standard ‘No Moon at All’ (David Mann).  ‘No Moon at all’ is hardly ever played these days but it was once very popular.  It was famously recorded by Julie London, Nat Cole, Mel Torme and Anita O’Day.  There are more recent versions by Karrin Alyson and Brad Mehldau.  In Mike Nock’s hands this jaunty mid-tempo classic took on a deep bluesy feel and as it unfolded he achieved something that only the Jazz greats can manage.

The tune turned into something else; it was somehow transformed into ‘every tune’.  From the first few bars everyone smiled and many whispered in the dark, “Oh I must know this but I can’t recall the name”.  Like many probing improvisers Mike hummed and sang as he played.  As the piece unfolded something extraordinary happened.  People started quietly humming along with the trio; a deep connection  was made and it was primal.  I’m certain that many in the audience had never heard the tune before, but they thought that they had.   Keith Jarrett has often invoked this state of grace, finding a hidden place deep within the music.  So has Mike Nock.  Several musicians later commented that he had moved in and out of the song form and that the bluesy overlay had been utterly effective.  Another delightful old tune that the trio played was ‘Sweet Pumpkin’ (Ronnell Bright).

IMG_8370 - Version 2

On Drums was James Waples and he certainly lives up to his reputation.   He has featured on several of Mike’s albums and goes back a long way with Mike.   There is a subtlety to his drumming that is hard to put into words.  He is a powerful presence whether executing the softest brushwork or a driving upbeat tempo.  He has a great ear and knows when to push the others or hold back.  He is perfect for a multi faceted piano trio like this and I would go out of my way to hear him again.

Many Kiwi’s have forgotten (and many Australians will deliberately overlook the fact), but Brett Hirst is an expat New Zealander.   He is highly regarded on the Australian scene and like James he has had a long association with Mike.  When these three are in lockstep it is extraordinary.  Like the others Brett is a deep listener and clearly at ease in this open-ended format.  At one point in the program Mike stopped and said, “What shall we play now, something unexpected?”.   Then he added, “Oh I know, I will try this”.   Brett asked hopefully, “Can we know?”  The number had started before an answer could be given and he was immediately there.  Brett was up to handling any curve balls thrown and clearly relished them.

During the second set the trio were ready to take things further out and we sensed that they were in a zone where the communication is telepathic.  It is during these explorations that we see another side of their music.  Every interplay however subtle conveys layers of meaning and the spaces between the notes communicates a profundity.   This is art-music at its very best but for all that it is never far from its blues roots.   I have listened to Jazz across the globe and you would never, never hear better than this.

Who: Mike Nock (piano), Brett Hirst (bass), James Waples (drums).  www.mikenock.com

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Brittomart basement 1885 building, Auckland, New Zealand.

When: 18th September 2013

1 Comment

Filed under Australian and Oceania based bands, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians, Straight ahead

Emerging Artists Series: Alex Ward / Allana Goldsmith

IMG_8305 - Version 2

Two or three times a year the CJC reserves a gig night for emerging artists. On Wednesday there was a double billing and while they could legitimately be termed emerging artists, they showed a confidence and polish that bespoke experience. In fact both have been performing about town and in Allana’s case for some time. This was a moment to show a discriminating Jazz audience what they are about and they delivered.

IMG_8303 - Version 2

First up was pianist Alex Ward. He has recently graduated with honours from the NZSM Massy campus. I last saw Alex play just over a year ago and he showed real promise then. Now the hard work and years of study are bearing fruit. He appears to play with even greater confidence and this obvious self belief has influenced his performance. His set was mainly a showcase for his own compositions and they were interesting and varied. There were ballads, uptempo burners and a (new) standard on offer. Standards always give us points of comparison and his rendering of Robert Glasper’s ‘Yes I’m Country (and that’s Ok)’ from the Blue Note, Double Booked album did just that. It was flawlessly executed and delivered with real heartfelt exuberance. Among his own compositions I really liked ‘Litmus Test’ for its edgy hard bop feel and the more reflective ‘Lighthouse Keeper’ (a recently written tune). There was also a reharmonisation of ‘Beautiful Love’ but with dark voicings and with an oblique approach to the melodic structure. These tunes while all quite different, hung together well as a set.

IMG_8295 - Version 2

On Bass he had the gifted Cameron McArthur and on drums Ivan Lukitina (who I had heard about but not seen before now). They both provided solid support for Alex and delivered good performances during solos. Cameron was particularly energised during ‘Litmus Test’ and Ivan was right there with him. Ivan excelled on ‘Yes I’m Country (and thats OK)”.

This should be a right of passage for Alex and he will surely become a fixture about town if he continues performing at this level.

IMG_8320 - Version 2

Allana Goldsmith has appeared in a number of bands and her musicality and stage presence are pleasing to ear and eye. I have heard Allana a number of times now and on those occasions her role as ‘part of a lineup’ gave me a brief taste of what could be. She has performed with various sized bands but most often as part of a duo with guitarist.

She is a current member of the ‘Sisters of Swing’, which is an Andrews Sisters tribute band and co-member Trudy Lile speaks highly of her abilities. I recently saw her with Peter Scotts ‘Bad Like Jazz’ project and I was very impressed; especially as she sang a stunning rendition of ‘Freedom Jazz Dance’ (Eddie Harris). It is this preparedness to take on challenging projects and to do them well that sticks with you. Her voice is strong without being loud and in many ways she is reminiscent of the great singers of the past. What is not redolent of past singers however, is her preparedness to tackle adventurous modern projects. IMG_8310

For this gig Allana had selected a few well-known and some lessor performed standards and to stamp her own mark on them, sung often in Te Reo Maori. While Whirimako Black has already moved into this territory, Allana has her own unique approach to the music. Hers is an original voice. It is tempting to think of songs sung in Te Reo Maori as being different or apart from European traditions. In Allana’s case that is not so as she has maintained the integrity of both traditions. The best illustration of this was her brilliant rendition of the Miles Davis tune, ‘In a Silent Way’. This was the first tune of her set and she used it as a Karakia or blessing. The notion of using this open, spiritual number to unify us all and to call down blessings was a perfect beginning.

IMG_8322 - Version 2

Her band was Ben McNicholl (tenor sax), Dave Fisher (guitar), Cameron McArthur (bass), Jason Orme (drums).

IMG_8313 - Version 2

I have always rated Ben highly on ballad material. His concise soloing and the atmospheric vibe that he created behind Allana worked well. When backing a singer on a ballad, tasteful minimalism trumps busy, every time. This sort of restraint is counter intuitive to a musician, but the balance between Ben and Allana was pitched just right. I know that he took care to select just the right reed for the job in hand.

I thought that I knew all of the Jazz guitarists about town, but clearly I don’t. Dave Fisher has played with Allana for some time and he picks up on her every nuance. The voicings that he uses are those of the skilled accompanist and the warmth of his tone caresses and underpins her vocals perfectly. This was mostly chordal work, which shifted, swung and shimmered like the guitarists of an earlier era. It was an effect deliberately aimed for and it was easy on the ear. His guitar is an Epiphone Hollowbody of the sort used by Joe Pass and that made sense as well.

Cameron McArthur was also the bass player on this second set. Because he works so often about town he has developed a keen ear and had no trouble fitting into this different groove. Unlike the earlier piano trio gig, with challenges thrown down and returned in kind, he needed to keep more out-of-the-way here. Seeing him perform so well in such a variety of situations certainly increases my respect for him.

The remaining band member was drummer Jason Orme and I am very familiar with his playing. Oddly though, I had never seen him playing in this sort of situation, which at times required a very nuanced approach. His skills in such a setting were immediately apparent and his brush work was especially fine. Like the guitarist and the tenor he focused on the singer, enhancing every inflection of voice or following every whispered line. Each accent delivered with a quiet flurry on the snare or a tap on a muted cymbal.

Allana is currently studying performance at the NZSM Massey and this was her first CJC gig. She will certainly be back.

* Thanks to Dennis Thorpe for the high quality video material

Wh0 (first set): Alex Ward (piano), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ivan Lukitina (drums).

Who (second set): Allana Goldsmith (vocals), Ben McNicholl (tenor sax), Dave Fisher (guitar), Cameron McArthur (bass), Jason Orme (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Brittomart Building, basement, Auckland

When: 11th September 2013

Leave a comment

Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Millenium, Straight ahead, vocal

Michel Benebig ‘Yellow Purple’ review

Yellow Purple

When Michel Benebig played at the CJC late last year I learned about his coming tour of the West Coast of America.  Because I was going to San Francisco over January I arranged to meet him there, as I knew that he and Shem would have a new band on the road.   We kept in touch over the weeks that followed and he was getting a very good reception as he toured around.  It confirmed what I was reading; that B3 (with drums and guitar) bands are genuinely popular again.  This regained popularity is great news for Jazz audiences as the B3 line up is one of most audience pleasing and accessible in Jazz.  This comeback has not occurred by accident but it is due to the gifted players who are now emerging on the scene.  Michel Benebig is surely one of these and his name often crops up in the same breath as titans like Dr Lonnie Smith.  IMG_4556 - Version 2

I was staying in Bush Street which is in the ‘Lower Nobs Hill’ area of Frisco; just above Union Square.  When I got an update of Michel and Shem’s itinerary, it surprised me to see that one of his gigs was in that very street and so my son and I duly headed off there on the appointed night.  By ingrained habit we skirted the ‘Tenderloin’ and descended toward Hayes Valley.  A wisp of escaping sound told us that we had arrived and we entered a nicely appointed modern building, wedged in between two deco ones.  Leaving the temperate San Francisco winters night we wound down into the basement.  The warm sound of the B3, groove guitar and drums washing away any vestige of the night air.  My sons eyes lit up.  “Wow” he said.  “This sounds great” and it surely did.  This was the new band I had been keen to hear.

That particular band is almost the same as on the recent ‘Yellow Purple’ album (with the exception of the drummer Akira Tana).  Akira Tana is well-known around San Francisco where he had just recorded his big band album, followed by a gig at Yoshi’s.   With Michel on B3 (and such a beautiful machine it was to) and Shem on vocals they couldn’t go wrong.

IMG_4553 - Version 2

On guitar they had Carl Lockett who is an ideal groove merchant.   It was immediately obvious that his blues filled licks blended well with Michel’s and that indicated a great night was before us.  Carl Lockett has been a favourite with groove musicians for years having toured with Joey defrancesco, Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff and Randy Crawford to name but a few.   With more than 15 recordings under his belt he was the right choice for this gig and for the ‘Yellow Purple’ album.  The album does not feature Akira Tana but instead the respected West Coast drummer James Levi appears.   He lays down a tight insistent groove and swings in ways that only truly experienced groove drummers can.   When you listen to the album you will notice how these guys listen to each other: in fact it’s hard to believe that the band hasn’t been together for years.  IMG_3289 - Version 2

Shem gave her usual polished performance whether delivering the Bessie Smith’s slow burner ‘It Won’t be You’ or the more uptempo ‘Keep it to Yourself’ by Sonny Boy Williamson.  She only features in two numbers on the album, but at the gig she sang many of her own compositions.   Shem is an engaging performer and especially when singing in her native French tongue.

All of the other compositions on ‘Yellow Purple’ are Michel’s and these are as much a strength as his killing organ work.   He is absolutely astonishing on B3 and to hear him is to be instantly transported back to the days of Jimmy McGriff or Brother Jack Macduff.   His ability to work those pedals, milk the grooves and swing so hard that it makes your head swim, marks him out as a true master.   The tracks ‘Yellow Purple’ and ‘Sunlight Special’ are especially strong.

New Caledonia can rightly feel proud of Michel.  He is reaching wider audiences every day and one day the South Pacific could lose him to the USA.  Grab a piece of this master musician now and be sure to buy this and any other of his albums as they become available (see below).   Anyone in Wellington early next month can see him in person so watch for the gigs announcements or contact Nick Granville.

What: ‘Yellow Purple’ – Michele Benebig (B3), Shem Benebig (vocals), Carl Lockett (guitar), James Levi (drums, percussion).

Where to buy: www.michelbenebig.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Groove & Funk, Review, USA and Beyond

Reuben Derrick’s Hound Dogs @ CJC

IMG_8243 - Version 2

Dog bands are a recurring theme in New Zealand jazz.  There was Neil Watson’s ‘Zen Dogs’, ‘Dr Dog’ (Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Oli Holland & Ron Samsom) and now Reuben Derrick’s ‘Hound Dogs’.   To redress any perceived species imbalance, I was glad to see that visiter Mike Stern recently put out an album titled ‘Who Let the Cats Out’.

Reuben has played in Auckland before but I missed that gig.  I was glad that I did not miss this one.   With the exception of Alan Brown, all of the band have either lived in or have some strong connection with Christchurch.   Reuben Derrick is an important part of the Christchurch Jazz scene and with the Christchurch Festival underway very shortly we were lucky to lure him up for the gig.  In hound dog fashion he had tracked down an impressive set list, including several tunes each by Monk, Steve Lacy and Charles Mingus.  The two Monk tunes were ‘Ask me Now’ and ‘Bolivar Blues’.

IMG_8225 - Version 3

Both are familiar to me but it took me a moment to realise what they were.  They breathed new life into these much-loved but less-often-heard tunes and amazingly they made them sound as fresh as paint.  They did so without reharmonising, nor tackling them in an especially angular way (That would be pointless as you can’t out-Monk, Monk).  There were not so many jagged edges but these were great renditions.  Authentic and so accessible that their ‘Bolivar Blues’ has been singing in my head ever since.

Reuben plays an older instrument and the character of that tenor really suits his bluesy-earthy approach.   Some tenor players depart the melody before it is stated but Reuben stands on confident ground.  He is a an intensely melodic player but there is nothing clichéd about his approach.  This is most often seen in the older bop era players, who were able to stay close to the melody but still tell a great story.   Another thing that I liked was the way that his improvisations unfolded with an inner logic.  A logic that allowed you to trace the steps back in your mind.   A journey shared.

IMG_8239 - Version 2

I am not sure whether Alan Brown has played with Reuben before, but he couldn’t have fitted in better.   I have learned over the years that Alan is not only gifted on keys and piano but he is able to adapt to a multitude of styles.   I have not heard him play Monk before but he gave the band exactly what they required.   Solid decisive chord work and inventive solo’s.  He navigated Monk’s choppy lines with the same ease that he tackled the very different compositions of Steve Lacy.  IMG_8231 - Version 2

There were two familiar faces in the lineup, Andy Keegan and Richie Pickard.   Andy has played a number of gigs about town since moving up from Christchurch and he is often at the CJC.  He is a versatile drummer and we saw that demonstrated as he moved effortlessly from colourist to bop drummer during the gig.   I like his time feel and the fact that he lays down a solid beat without drowning out the others.  He plays to the room.   I often tease him by saying that he is a very photographer friendly drummer, as he often leans forward as he gets into a number.

IMG_8260 - Version 2 (1)

Ritchie has also played the CJC before and the last time I saw him was with Dixon Nacey.   This is very different material to the high-octane tunes that Dixon was playing and so I saw another side of him in the Hound Dogs.  I found him especially strong on the ballad material like the quirky ‘Ask Me Now’.   The other member of the Hound Dogs is guitarist Sam Taylor and he is not seen in the CJC very often.   That is a pity because his sound is different from many of the Auckland guitarists.  He draws more deeply on traditional Jazz guitar and he does so convincingly.  At times his comping was very reminiscent of Freddy Green’s; a quiet rhythmic strum that pulled back slightly on the beat and gave the number a deep swing feel.  His comping may reference swing but his lines are pure Be bop or Post bop.

These guys may not get together very often but when they do they are a solid unit.  With a great sound like that, I hope that they come and play the club again

Who: Reuben Derrick’s Hound Dogs:  Reuben Derrick (tenor), Alan Brown (piano), Sam Taylor (guitar), Richie Pickard (bass), Andy Keegan (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Brittomart 1885 Building Basement, Auckland 4th September 2013

Leave a comment

Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Bop, Straight ahead

Joel Haines trio @ CJC

IMG_8210 - Version 2

At its best Jazz is a place of unexpected intersections.  Being the music of appropriation there are deliberate collisions with other art forms and out of this comes new ideas and rich pickings.  The Joel Haines gig last week caught us by surprise as Joel seldom gigs these days.   He’s embedded deep within the session, film and TV world and his work will be known to most of us without realising it.   I have seen him perform a number of times over the years, but these outings are often in the role of sideman.  The last time I saw him was when his brother Nathan was in town.

IMG_8211 - Version 2

I really like his playing which infuses Rock and Country voicings into an open-ended Jazz vocabulary.   He musical lineage is impeccable as he comes from one of the most respected Jazz dynasties in New Zealand.  Father Kevin is a highly regarded and well recorded bass player, while brother Nathan is one of New Zealand’s best known and most respected Jazz exports.   This family has all bases covered with talent shared equally.

Joel is certainly not an extrovert and at this gig he sat huddled, as if subsumed by his rich-toned Ibanez.   When he leans forward to play, his long hair falls across his face and the effect is complete.  His sound however tells the opposite story, the shrinking of physical presence enables him to become the notes and the lines he plays.  There was only one announcement and there was only one number identified.

‘No introductions, lets just play”, he said quietly and they did.   On stage Joel is all about the music.

This is Jazz informed by Joel’s years at the ‘Cause Celebre’ and above all by his musical influences.  At times you can hear the echoes of Jimi Hendrix voicings or perhaps Bill Frisell, but the truth is that all of these influences arise from a deep well of ideas.  His material is predominantly lyrical and warm at heart.  You cannot separate this type of music from the film scores that have engaged us over the years.  Jazz and Movie sound tracks have been inextricably linked since Ellington’s ‘Anatomy of Murder’ or Miles ‘Escalator to the Scaffold’.   Joel works successfully in this world and a number of TV shows feature his music.  I am one of those people who remain after a movie is over, waiting for the music credits to scroll.  You would be surprised who you find in those fleeting glimpses.  I recently watched a great Sicilian move where John Surmon wrote and performed the soundtrack.  With the paucity of earning ability in Jazz, going into the studios or becoming a session musician has always been a good option.

IMG_8198 - Version 2

For the last two numbers Roger Manins joined them on tenor.  The tune ‘Lady Lywa’ (by brother Nathan) was wonderfully performed and I am glad it was in the mix (as the only tune composed by someone other than Joel).  This would be a contender for a New Zealand Jazz standard if given a chance.  It was not surprising that Roger blended in seamlessly, as he Ron, and Oli are constantly playing together and the material gave them a solid spring-board for improvising.

I can recall Nathan once putting a cupped hand to his ear during a gig and saying, “Listen to that, the warm hum of valves).   That hum was also evident between numbers at this gig, but for the main part the warmth emanated from the compositions and the ebb and flow of a solid performance.

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 1885 building, downtown Auckland

Who: Joel Haines (guitars), Oli Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) – with guest Roger Manins (tenor).

1 Comment

Filed under Beyond category, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs

The Nick Granville Group @ CJC

IMG_8160 - Version 2

On Wednesday the 21st of August ‘Rattle’ records launched Nick Granville’s ‘Refractions’ album.  Nick Granville needs no introduction to Wellington audiences, being a professional musician who works extensively throughout that city.  While he is not as well-known in Auckland, that is rapidly changing, as he has played a number of well received gigs here over the last year.  CJC audiences now look forward to his return.

IMG_8196 - Version 2

He is increasingly featured in the award-winning Roger Fox Wellington Jazz Orchestra and his recorded output as leader and sideman is growing by the year.  This latest album is definitely his best to date and there is every expectation that this upwards career trajectory will continue.  With this album his guitar chops are very much on display but it is the engaging warmth and unmistakable integrity that draws you into the project.  All of the numbers on the album are originals and all are either blues based or have a distinct blues feel.  Nick attributes this to the strong Scofield influence that has shaped his progress over the years.

There were mostly numbers from the current album featured at the CJC launch,  but we also heard a few updated older compositions.  As I am familiar with that material it gave some interesting points of comparison.  The stand out tune from that earlier period was ‘Somewhere You’ve Been’ which is a well crafted reharmonisation of the standard ‘Footsteps’.

IMG_8172 - Version 2

This album has a lot of strong points and compositionally it is a tour de force.   It pays a subtle but heart-felt homage to John Scofield without being slavishly imitative or needing to play Sco tunes.  Strong material like this just begs to played by the best musicians available and Nick has pulled this off.  Much of the material was composed while completing  his Masters at the Auckland University Jazz School, and this enabled him to utilise faculty members for the album.   The three who joined him on the album are Roger Manins (tenor sax), Oli Holland (bass) and Ron Samson (drums).   You would be hard put to find better musicians anywhere and they had obviously warmed to the task in hand.

A really good album is one that manages to sound familiar, yet original and Nick Granville has achieved this rare feat.

IMG_8166 - Version 2

Roger Manins has a busy schedule teaching, co-managing the CJC and gigging around New Zealand and Australia.   There is nothing that he can’t tackle as he is a very strong reader and a fearless improviser.  His storytelling ability and improvisational inventiveness mark him out.  Whether delivering a breathy ballad, where each gentle rasp of air counts,  or a fast burner where the furies rain down, he’s a phenomena.

Oli Holland had barely returned from a holiday in Germany, but he showed no sign of jet lag on the band stand.  He and Nick go back a way and so it was not surprising that he is on the album.  Oli is one of the strongest bass players in New Zealand.  At times he surprised as he delivered the sort of raunchy biting grooves that you would expect of an electric bass.  Mostly though we heard his deeply resonant fluid lines weaving skilfully throughout the mix.  photo copy 6 - Version 2

I always enjoy Ron Samsom’s drumming but he really stands out on this album.   When you listen to ‘Gloves off’ in particular you will hear what a multi faceted Jazz drummer can do.  This hard-driving funky tune is my personal favourite.  It has a punch to rival Jack Johnson’s and an edgy groove that delights.  It is one of the tracks that I return to again and again.  Throughout this album Ron Samsom is marvellous.

The other strength is the quality of the recording and this is largely down to ‘Rattle’s’ Steve Garden.  Every detail from the cover art to the sound quality is meticulously attended to.  When it comes to mixing and mastering Steve has a special touch and the results here attest to that.

Nick Granville has pulled one out of the bag here and I strongly advise people to grab a copy.

What: Nick Granville Band.  Nick Granville (guitar, leader, compositions), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone). Oli Holland (bass), Ron Samson (drums). Released by Rattle.

Where: the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Wednesday 21st August 2013

Leave a comment

Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Straight ahead

Neil Watson Four @ CJC

IMG_8034 - Version 2

I love any music that can be termed ‘Space Jazz’ or ‘Space Funk’.  I have no idea if this is a real genre but I follow it anyhow.  Living through the era of Sputnik and being caught up in the excitement that followed I was nudged in that direction by the events of the day.  After that I zeroed in on space themed music.  Some of it was corny (Telstar) and some was grandiose (Gustav Holst’s ‘The Planets’).  Not long after this I stumbled across Jazz and the sonic explorations perfectly fitted my longing for a music that evoked the wonders of space while encompassing the quirks of our humanity.   Music performed by artists who stood in awe at the edge of the universe and then stepped free of its limits.  IMG_8030 - Version 2

The Neil Watson Four is a recently formed Auckland band who have no fear of galactic explorations.  With the aid of a doogon (explained later), tenor saxophone, drum kit, upright bass and four overly fertile imaginations, they bent and pulled at the fabric of the universe.  This is a band that defies the norms and swallows genres whole.  There is no sense of deliberate eclecticism here and no self-conscious navel gazing.  It is original and you get the sense that what happens sometimes surprises the musicians.

The feeling is often that of organised chaos, a loose organic vibe that works well because they have entered into a collective state of being.  While Neil Watson pilots the ship there is no heavy controlling hand but his benign presence presides.  He has gifted his vision and let the possibilities unravel as they may.  IMG_8057 - Version 2

Neil Watson is not only a great guitarist but his sense of humour is original.  A sort of postmodern Zen; dropping casual asides into the banter in ways that confound.   The You Tube clip that I will post is ‘Renamed’.  When Neil announced that tune he casually added, “I hated the original name”.  This sort of humour leaves you momentarily confused and then laughing out loud.  They also played a lot of tunes named after children, girlfriends or spouses.   The tunes were all great and particularly ‘Renamed’ (Watson), ‘Eleanor’ (Dennison), ‘Rosie My Dear’ (Gibson) and ‘Theo’ (Allen).  There were ballads and country fare as well.  their rendition of ‘Danny Boy’ was so poignant that any Scots in the audience would have been fumbling in their sporrans for a tartan hanky.

Neil Watson is an original guitarist and he is at his best when a leader.  He brings a rag-tag of interesting sounds and ideas to the bandstand and then knits them together.  There is also something akin to Zorn in much of this material.  Once the skeletal structure and the overall concept is in place the music is liberated.  The interactions between men and machines are fluid and what the audience sees will never be repeated.   For this to work well he needs the right collaborators and he has certainly struck gold this time.  IMG_8044

Cam Allen usually plays alto but he is also a fine tenor player.   I have also seen him manipulate a Moog to great effect.  On Wednesday night he played a Buescher ‘Big B’ Aristocrat and it gave out an earthy, and slightly raspy sound.  Word has it that it is a tricky beast to play but it sounded just right for this gig.   I risk committing heresy here but a Selmer would have been too clean for this music.  His interesting modal explorations and his flow of ideas mark him out as a gifted player.  This is hardly surprising as he honed his craft on the highly competitive American Jazz scene.  In this band he doubled on ‘doogon’.   This is very much a ‘Kiwi’ thing and it is best described as an array of electronic and acoustic sound enhancements strapped to a hardware-store hand truck.  Resembling a cross between a Dalek and an IED with its glowing blue lights, digital clock console and multiple knobs (many strapped on with duct tape); it can envelop the audience with shrieks that resemble a Banshee at a rocket launch.  IMG_8075 - Version 2

All of the instruments including the drums feed into this machine and the effects are astounding.  On upright bass was the respected Tom Dennison who used his arco technique to very good effect.  This bowing worked well with the Doogon, which under Allen’s guidance resonated in ways that would have astounded the instruments makers.  Dennison has a lovely rich tone and we heard plenty of that.  What can never be overlooked are his compositional skills (See an earlier post on his ‘Zoo’ album).  For this gig he contributed the lovely ‘Eleanor’ which he dedicated to his girlfriend.  He seldom appears at the CJC these days and it was a pleasure to see him there again.

Perhaps the biggest masterstroke was adding Frank Gibson Jr into the mix.  This inclusion of a drummer most known for his Post Bop chops may have raised a few eyebrows at first, but Gibson is no stranger to fusion.  He demonstrated just how perfectly he can execute this material and he showed us all what free and imaginative drumming looks like.  I heard a band member saying later that having Frank behind them, lifted the whole performance.   IMG_8050 - Version 2

I am an unreformed devotee of music like this and whether you call it Space Funk, Space Jazz, Eclectic Fusion or just wild music I will be its cheer leader.   This is an itch that just begged to be scratched and I am glad that Neil gave us a taste of it.  Besides the wilder numbers there were one or two ballads to balance out the program.  Overall it was a very satisfying experience.

It was somehow fitting that the band performed on the day that NASA verified that Voyager One had left our solar system and entered interstellar space.  

Who: The Neil Watson Four.  Neil Watson (guitar), Cam Allen (tenor, doogon), Tom Dennison (bass), Frank Gibson Jr (drums).

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Building, Brittomart, Auckland.

Photographs by John Fenton & Ben McNicoll

Leave a comment

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