Guitar Jazz is a surprisingly diverse sub-genre of improvised music. So many barriers are broken down that almost all current (and past) musical genres are embedded in the improvising guitarists lexicon (including Punk). At first listening it might be surmised that gifted guitarist Joel Haines sits somewhere closer to the rock spectrum than to Jazz but his roots are much broader than that. As his gigs unfold you can hear Americana, modern Jazz guitar, country and a plethora of other influences. There is also the unmistakable influence of film, as his themes invoke pictures. This is what improvised music is about; appropriation and transformation. Nothing ruled in or out, nothing too free, too exploratory, too dissonant or melodic.
When you’ve been around New Zealand Jazz awhile you learn that Haines is one of the musicians that other musicians respect deeply. Guitarists especially come to hear him and I spotted a few in the audience on this night. The two sets kicked off as Haines sets always do; with Haines hunching into his semi-hollowbody guitar and playing with deep absorption. There are never introductions or tune titles, just waves of compelling music. Because he constructs his improvisations around soulful, bluesy and deeply melodic ideas, perhaps more so than other guitarists, there is a radiating warmth that emanates from the band stand. Black Tee-shirt, nut-brown wood-grained guitar, skin tones reddened by the club lights and rays of warm enveloping music.
To my ears there is always a tangible hint of Jimi Hendrix in his voicings. Few improvising guitarists could occupy this space so convincingly. It is the place that Hendrix was heading for in his last days, only thwarted by his demons. A place begging for further exploration by anyone brave enough. For all that, Haines is a modern guitarist, as much in the Scofield camp as he is Rock inflected. A feeling of familiarity guides us through his explorations, a sense of something familiar that you can’t quite place. This is gift that only the best musicians bring to a gig. His improvising journeys appear anchored by the vignettes he creates at the beginning of a piece, often worked over short loops, ostinato bass, or a tight driving pulse from the drummer. Themes stated, constantly expanded then contracted again.
For trio partners he had Oli Holland on upright bass and Ron Samsom on drums. Being multi faceted and highly experienced musicians they quickly found the heart of the music. Samsom in particular found his way deftly to where he added the most value. He has considerable experience in lineups like this, music which edges closer to Frisell than to Pass. Near the end of the first set Roger Manins sat in for a number (a composition by Joel’s brother Nathan from a recent award-winning album). The number added breadth to the gig as it gave us a different perspective; Roger played like a demon as always. This was another good night at the CJC and they just keep coming.
With the Auckland Jazz Festival shortly underway and a wealth of quality music on offer, I must echo what my friend Stu said, “This will surely be remembered as the golden age of Auckland Jazz and improvised music”.
Who: The Joel Haines Trio – Joel Haines (guitar), Oli Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums).
Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland, New Zealand – www.creativejazzclub.co.nz