Louise Gibbs – The Seven Deadly Sins


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Louise Gibbs (13) On Wednesday the UK-based vocalist, arranger composer Louise Gibbs brought her Seven Deadly Sins project to Auckland’s CJC (Creative Jazz Club). The audience, unrepentant antipodean sinners that they are, found much to enjoy. When premiered in the UK the project received much acclaim and in 2013 the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ album’ was released. As I glanced through the liner note credits one name jumped out, Tim Whitehead; an important English saxophonist with equal facility on soprano, alto and tenor. For any number of reasons this is an album worth having. Louise Gibbs (10)The song suite has seven parts plus prologue & epilogue. This aggregation of cardinal sins does not originate with Peter Cook (as someone hilariously suggested) but comes to us from the fourth century AD. These very human failings were the obsession of the middle ages and Chaucer, Dante and Brueghel utilised the themes to great artistic effect (and often with rye humour). Debates on morality are still very much part of the public discourse as the dreadful events of Paris, the Lebanon and Mali remind us. Louise Gibbs (4)Gibbs invited us to examine the sins afresh; a parade of human failings as seen through a jazz lens. Her evocative contrasting pieces leaving us in little doubt as to which sin they represented; a strident drum solo during anger, the fulsome sound of the trombone for gluttony etc. It is unsurprising that the tenor saxophone portrayed lust; an entirely appropriate pairing given the repeated historic accusations of lasciviousness levelled against that sensual instrument. Louise Gibbs (5)The suite while highly arranged gave ample room for the soloists to demonstrate their particular vice. Crystal Choi was ‘pride’ on piano, Pete France was ‘lust’ on tenor, Haydn Godfrey was gluttony on ‘trombone’, Mike Booth was ‘envy’ on trumpet, Cameron McArthur was ‘sloth’ on bass, Steve Thomas was ‘anger’ on drums, Andrew Hall was ‘greed’ on alto & baritone. Gibbs was vocalist on all numbers including a prologue and epilogue. Many of the band members like Booth, McArthur, Choi and Thomas are regulars but we see Hall, France and Godfrey less often. That is a shame because they were amazing. Louise Gibbs (12)A shorter first set preceded the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ suite – all Monk compositions. The band used stock arrangements but there was a sense of boisterous freedom in the renditions. This provided an appropriate segue to the second half. While everyone embraces Monk these days, his dissonant choppy lines certainly raised eyebrows back in his heyday. Monk was an iconoclast who channeled the rawness of the human condition through pen and piano. With the Seven Deadly Sins and its often dissonant passages we also experienced that. Louise Gibbs (14)Louise Gibbs has been teaching and performing in the UK for 30 years, but she grew up in Auckland. In recent years she moved away from a distinguished career in academia to concentrate on performance and composition. There is a confidence about her work and she is unafraid as a performer. Her voice can move from silk to raspy as appropriate to the piece. Footnote: Earlier I drew attention to Tim Whitehead (on the Gibbs album). He was once a member of Ian Cars ground breaking and popular group ‘Nucleus’ – the highly respected Kiwi born saxophonist Brian Smith was a founder member of that group.

The Seven Deadly Sins’ (New Zealand Septet) – Louise Gibbs (vocals, composition), Andrew Hall (alto & baritone saxophones), Pete France (tenor saxophone), Mike Booth (trumpet, Flugel),  Haydn Godfrey (trombone), Chrystal Choi (piano), Cameron McArthur (upright bass), Stephen Thomas (drums).

The gig took place at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland 18th November 2015.

Caitlin Smith – The art of the gesture and the song


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Caitlin Smith (2)Because the human voice is the most primal of instruments it has the capacity to engage in unexpected ways. When a skilled vocalist performs we watch as carefully as we listen. The merest inflection, micro pause or slurred note can captivate, but it is also the non verbal cues; the ones we assimilate subconsciously that draw us ever deeper inside the song. When Caitlin Smith sings you are hyper aware of the entire performance. Hers are not gigs where listeners drift away or endlessly fiddle with phones. The audience are as engaged as she is. That is her gift as a musician.Caitlin Smith (10)When Smith moves your attention moves with her. She will prance, dance, drop her head, pause for effect or sweep her hair back unexpectedly and all in service of the song. When you watch and listen to skilled performers like her (and they are few and far between) you discern a deeper truth. What appears extrovert can be something else. The actions and gestures are an act of losing oneself. This is the performers mask and behind it lies a certain vulnerability. When enough of this vulnerability informs the music we feel with them. Caitlin Smith (5)  During Smith’s performances there is a lot of interplay between band members. She is generous in her acknowledgements and genuinely appreciative of the musicians behind her – unlike some vocalists who make it very plain that this is all about them. She had two of her regular cohort with her, Kevin Field on piano and Oli Holland on bass. On drums was the talented Stephen Thomas and I had not seen him with Smith before. During the break I asked Thomas how he was enjoying the gig. His answer is worth repeating, as it illustrates the above points. Vocal artists who think disengaged equals cool might pick up a pointer here. “Working with Smith is perfect as you have so much to react to. Every gesture and look gives you new material to work with”. Caitlin Smith (4)Smith followed her usual pattern of alternating originals with standards. The set list moved between Jazz and singer song-writer soul. She only repeated one tune from last Decembers CJC gig and that was the lesser known Ellington Number “I like the Sunrise”. This is from Ellington’s ‘Liberian Suite’ performed and recorded first in 1947. The original featured Al Hibbler on vocals, soon followed by a Frank Sinatra version (also with the Ellington orchestra). More recently Kurt Elling recorded a version but all of the aforementioned are at a slower tempo. At the risk of committing heresy, I like the upbeat punch and swing of Smith’s version best. Caitlin Smith (8)The night was thoroughly enjoyable as I knew it would be, and with this rhythm section of Field, Holland and Thomas behind Smith that was guaranteed.

Caitlin Smith Quartet: Caitlin Smith (vocals, compositions, arrangements, percussion), Kevin Field (piano), Oli Holland (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums). The video is courtesy of Denis Thorpe

David Friesen Trio @ CJC


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Friesen picGood improvising bass players get a lot of work, but they seldom get the acknowledgement they deserve. This is one of life’s inequities and it’s partly because a bass player by custom is hidden behind the other band members. When a pianist or guitarist plays solo they will often mimic or imply bass lines. A good bass line is both an anchor and an invitation – invoking deeper exploration; the consequent rub between notes and time is where most of the tension and release is hidden. Every so often a bass player claims wide-spread attention. Blanton, Mingus, Haden, McBride, Le Faro, Pastorius etc. David Friesen while not garnering the attention of the aforementioned bassists in the popular press, is without doubt a giant of the instrument. His is a name that frequently comes up when aficionados and musicians talk. He is the bass players bass player, an acknowledged innovator.

The point is best made when looking over his discography – seventy-six albums as leader or co-leader and in excess of a hundred as sideman. The list of luminaries he has recorded with defies belief; everyone from Dexter Gorden to Dizzy Gillespie. For the New Zealand leg of his tour, two of New Zealand’s finest musicians accompanied him. Dixon Nacey on guitar and Reuben Bradley on drums. That particular combination was bound to work well and the proof positive was in the outstanding performances. When artists pay each other respect on the bandstand it is a recipe for excellence. There were no Jazz standards performed and I suspect that many of the compositions were challenging for those new to them. If they were it did not show. Friesen explained that while he loved interpreting standards, he had come to the point where exploring his own compositions was his preference. A musician as gifted as this has plenty to say musically and Friesen found endless ways of expressing his unique world view. Friesen pic (6)As is often the case with great musicians, he was a compelling talker; spinning out yarns of people and places visited. Often with subtle humour woven into the narrative.  Above all he imparted his views on the place of music in these complex and troubled times. To paraphrase slightly, “Music is a way of healing a broken world, it is not just about the people making the music or about the audience receiving it, but something far deeper. The interaction creates a virtuous circle, each continuously enriching the other. Out of this comes the magic”. This reference to the primal healing power of music resonated and he received loud applause. Improvisers seldom earn what they should and yet they persevere. Understanding their mission of deepening human awareness. It was good that he reminded us of how vital a deep listening audience is. Sharing the joy brings its own responsibilities. That’s why I do what I do in print. Friesen pic (7) Friesen travels with a special bass; made for him by a famous Austrian instrument maker. Sick of having instruments damaged or interfered with by airline baggage handlers, he ordered an instrument small enough to go in the overhead locker. This custom bass is mainly crafted out of American Cherry wood and Canadian Maple. It also has a very sophisticated pick up. Because of the foreshortened neck I suspect that it would take some mastering by most upright bass players. In Friesen’s hands it sung.  Friesen pic (9)Nacey did what we expected of him; delivered stinging imaginative lines and soared on that lovely Godin semi hollow-body. As success spreads him thinner, we tend to see less of him in the Jazz club. When we do hear him we get the very best. He is a guitarist who can hold his own anywhere on the scene. The other Kiwi on the gig was Wellington drummer Reuben Bradley and what a performance he put on. Again it was hardly surprising, as Bradley is among our very best drummers. Like Nacey he is often the drummer of choice for visiting artists.

David Friesen (bass, compositions, leader), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Reuben Bradley (drums). The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 4th November 2015

Alex Ward Quintet


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Ward 15 pic (3)Alex Ward has been on the scene for a few years now and he has appeared at the CJC a number of times. This time he appeared with a group of formidable younger musicians; all respected about town. His programme was pleasantly challenging as it offered contrasting tunes. From the quirky Carla Bley composition ‘King Korn’ to the perennially popular Disney tune ‘Never never land’. Then, for the second time in as many weeks we heard a Cold Play cover – this time ‘Daylight’ (arr. by Taylor Egsti). Rounding off the set list were a number of his own compositions including the appealing ‘Rakino’ which I have heard before. Wards compositions have a definite melodicism about them.Ward 15 pic (4)I am a real Carla Bley fan and so it surprised and pleased me to hear ‘King Korn’. I also have a real liking for her ‘Ida Lupino’. Bley’s repertoire is not played anywhere near enough for my liking. Her tunes are often closer to the avant-garde, but still accessible to main stream listeners. Ward showed no fear in tackling the angular jerky rhythms of King Korn and the result was pleasing. He had surrounded himself with exactly the right musicians for the task. On bass was Cameron McArthur, a perennial favourite who must now be considered a heavyweight about town in spite of his youth. The drummer was Cameron Sangster and again a highly experienced and gifted musician. Sangster is a multi faceted drummer who can move between soul, big band and small ensemble work with ease. We recently saw him with the Auckland Jazz Orchestra where he put on a stunning performance. Ward 15 pic (5)Additional musicians came to the bandstand at various points; Kushal Talele on tenor saxophone and flute and Michael Howell on guitar. I had previously only encountered Ward playing in a trio format and this was a chance for us to see what he would do with an expanded ensemble. The diversity of material worked for them – none of it highly arranged but allowing for free-flowing interaction.Ward 15 picI had only heard Talele once before and he naturally sounded different on this gig. Here he was appropriately the competent sideman, not the hard-driving Coltrane referencing leader. I like both aspects of his playing. He is a musician that I am definitely keen to see more of – especially when he dives deep into that denser material he favours. The ever smiling Howell is well liked and respected as an up and coming young guitarist. He is seen to greatest effect in Roger Manins ‘Grg67’ band.Ward 15 pic (2)Whether by accident or design, Ward celebrates Carla Bley in an important year. 2015 saw Bley receive the highest public honour in Jazz, as she was the recipient of the NEA (National Endowment of the Arts) Jazz Masters Award.

The Alex Ward Quintet: Alex Ward (piano), Cameron McArthur (bass), Cameron Sangster (drums), Kushal Talele (tenor saxophone, flute), Michael Howell (guitar).

Auckland Jazz Festival 2015 – part two


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AJO picBy the time the second week of the Auckland Jazz Festival arrived, I began to feel my age. I had already experienced a number of late night gigs and a further week of music stretched ahead of me. This was no time to flag, as some interesting and innovative music lay ahead. The festival programme structure provided audiences with variety. The depth and breadth of the improvising scene was on show and I wanted to see everything possible. The week started well with the Meehan/Griffin/Manhire poetry project (see earlier review for this). That gig brought a new audience and I was still AJO pic (1)buzzing come Tuesday.

On Tuesday night the AJO (Auckland Jazz Orchestra) shoehorned into the CJC for the release of their Darkly Dreaming album. The AJO have a growing fan base and this was an eagerly anticipated event. Having earlier witnessed the actual recording session and a pre-taste performance of the suite, I was happily expectant. With charts as demanding as this, a thoroughly rehearsed band is essential and I knew that they would be. It was clear that this would be the definitive live performance so I couldn’t wait to hear that first swell of sound and to get my hands on the album.  AJO @ Festival (5)I had volunteered for door duty that night, turning up early to help. I enjoy the Jazz orchestra set-up process – in this case nineteen musicians and a conductor configuring a behemoth in an impossibly small space. It was like witnessing Nasa scientists beginning the launch sequence. Instruments and gauges checked, tapped and rechecked, cabling run out; each adding a layer to the criss-cross tangle of shoes, stands and chairs.  Soon there were rows of brassy instruments standing in an (almost) orderly line, with the odd human interloper spoiling their symmetry. Random buzzing sounds came from warming up lips; and all punctuated with honks and plucked notes from far-flung corners of the room. this is the counterfactual of the sounds that follow.  AJO @ Festival (7)Band leader Tim Atkinson composed and arranged the suite. He has carefully shaped this ground breaking project as befitting a work of this importance. This is a modern piece of music in the mould of Darcy James Argue. Richly textured, evocative of the title and especially in the warm multi layered dissonance that swells out of the quieter passages. The work has captured a mood and an orchestra going places. This is a moment which benchmarks the growing maturity of the Auckland Jazz scene and I am truly glad to have witnessed it. The overall performance on the night was flawless, but if anyone stood out it was altoist Callum Passels. His solo on ‘The Dark Passenger’ was wonderful. it was a feat of story telling, of mood and it oozed freedom – as if he had somehow escaped the confines of room and orchestra. Importantly, he managed this without once deviating from the logic of the composition. I urge people to purchase this album and I guarantee that you will play it over and again. AJO @ Festival (1)On Wednesday I spent time with the Benny Lackner Trio. A popular USA/German (French) trio who seldom passed up an opportunity to playfully ambush each other and often along the lines of nationality. Their mock combative banter acting as a counterweight to the cohesion they showed on the bandstand. I have seen this trio three times as they have a long association with New Zealand. In my view they are the true successor to Sweden’s lost lamented EST, but there is more to them besides. Their approach is similar but additional elements inform their music. The influence of Lacker’s former teacher Brad Mehldau is discernible but the band is forging a new sound. This is the confident face of post millennium European Jazz. Never compromising, unafraid to appropriate elements from their native culture, and done without a hint of self-consciousness. These guys are heavyweights and we are bound to hear a lot more of them in years to come.  Benny AJF picThe trio’s set list was a mix or originals and some very interesting covers. What was not composed by Lackner or by the drummer Chazarenc, were often unexpected tunes; Brahms, Cold Play, David Bowie, Rodriguez and Jimmy Hendrix. ‘If Six were Nine’ was simply stunning. Warmly familiar to those of us who remembered the rock original. Taking the bones of a 1960’s tune and infusing it with edgy lines and modern harmonic conceptions. I have long-held the view that the new standards will come from material exactly like this. None of the band were alive when this acid blues classic was cut in 1969, but their joy at performing it was evident. Jimi would have loved it. Benny AJF pic (2)The bass player on this trip was Bruno Schorpe. When offered an upright bass he declined – choosing to remain on electric bass throughout. I’m glad that he did because the instrument had the bite to act as counterweight.  Balancing out well the electronics and various effects of Lackner’s keyboards. Then there was drummer Matthieu Chazarenc. He has accompanied Lackner on previous trips and to my ears he is directly out of a great tradition. French Jazz drummers have a sound that is distinct. Like many of his compatriots Chazarenc’s sound is crisp, even dry; utilising dynamics in ways that younger drummers are often incapable of.  A label like ACT must surely pick the trio up sometime soon.  They would be a perfect fit – much as they would for ECM.

Thursday brought us ‘The JAC‘ from Wellington. A delightful octet shortlisted in the 2015 New Zealand Jazz awards for their ‘Nerve’ album. This project is clearly one that will remain with us for some time and if any band deserves to become an institution it is this one. A brassy octet with an orchestral yet airy sound and one which I am particularly enthusiastic about. This was the release gig for their newest album.

AJO pic (2)‘The Green Room(out on Rattle.) Rattle has an uncanny Knack of locating the best of new Zealand music and presenting it in ways that even the big labels seldom manage. The album is beautifully recorded and live the JAC simply sparkle as they weave texture and into their shape shifting grooves. In many ways it is a band of equals as almost everyone stands out at some point. While there is an incredible tightness to their performance, they manage to loosen up enough to create rub and textural complexity. Jac pic (3)It is almost overkill to single out soloists with a cohesive group like this as every one is notable in some way or another. Altoist Jake Baxendale is their nominal leader and three of the compositions on the album are attributed to him (including the title track). If any number captures the essence of the group it is this. The solo on his tune Andalucia also captures a strong sense of place. I know Andalucia well and this is a convincing testimony.

Jac pic (2)It is hard to know where to start with Callum Allardice; he grows as a musician every time I hear him. His compositions are stunning and his guitar work so fluid and exciting that it defies belief. These are performances that stop you in your tracks and few New Zealand guitarists capture that particular sound. Lex French is another spectacular performer and we would hardly expect otherwise. He is now the leading local voice on that horn. Perhaps the most experienced player is Nick tipping who never puts a foot wrong. On the new album we hear him at his best.  Jac pic (4)Convincing contributions by the likes of Chris Buckland, Matthew Alison and Shaun Anderson reinforce the view that this is an all-star band. Lastly there is pianist Daniel Milward. He has recently moved to Melbourne and his voice is particularly strong on the recording; more so than on the first album. Not a showy pianist but an extremely tasteful one who gets it just right. I have put up a sound clip of the Allardice Composition ‘The Heist’, as I have loved it since first hearing it (probably at the Tauranga Jazz Festival).AJO pic (3)

On the 24th I attended another Rattle Jazz album release. This time at the Auckland University Jazz School in the Kenneth Meyers Centre. The Chris Mason Battley Group were performing the album DIALOGOS; this arising from the music of celebrated New Zealand composer John Psathas. The project is exciting and while very much in the moment, a careful crafting is evident. If that sounds like a contradiction it is not. Improvised music is forever reaching beyond imposed structural limitations; the boundaries of convention. Without that restless outreach the music would wither on the vine. This is an example of the new music that you might find on ECM (or Rattle), it is minimalist and references the ethos of John Cage or perhaps even Zorn; it reaches the outer limits of the known.  AJF CMB pic (2) In Psathas words, “it is not arranging or adapting…(rather) a continuing of the composing process”. There are works or arrangements which re-imagine and examine a work from an outside perspective. That is not the case here. This is part of a developing story and the Psathas vision remains at its heart. I recently read a trilogy by a famous and highly respected author. He had intended to write a fourth volume but died before he could proceed. A year later another author picked up where the original author left off and achieved something extremely rare. He added to the body of work seamlessly; continuing the narrative in ways that were his own and entirely consistent with the original. Although a more serious work, DIAGOLOS was an unmitigated triumph. AJF CMB pic (1)Mason-Battley is a thoughtful gifted musician, but we don’t see him perform about town very often. Any new project gets his undivided attention and that was the case here. Counter intuitively, it is his careful preparation which affords him the extraordinary freedom he demonstrates on the bandstand. During this performance he took us right to the edge; you gained the sense listening that he was pushing himself a little further with each phrase. It is at times like this that great music emerges. While adventurous with electronics, he evokes a classic Coltrane sound on his Soprano. There are a number of local musicians who double on soprano but few (if any) sound like Battley. AJF CMB picThe Chris Mason-Battley Group has been around for some time and the original group set New Zealand records for the number of downloads and albums purchased. For this project core members David Lines, Sam Giles and Mason-Battley remain with the addition of drummer Stephen Thomas. Unlike earlier configurations, there is no guitar. Bringing Thomas into the mix has worked extremely well. The drummer of choice for many gigs and a gifted percussionist in the fullest sense. Psathas music calls for sensitive drum work and Thomas has exactly the right approach. His understanding of subtle dynamics, time awareness and overall sensitivity to the project were very much on display. I also appreciated David Lines piano. Lines early classical training was evident in places and again this made him a very good choice for the project. The work required a pianist with a particular chordal approach. At times he was minimalist and with a particular approach to voice leading. Lines like the other four were indispensable to the project. Lastly there was Sam Giles – an electric bass player I wish I heard more often. Giles often leans towards the avant-garde and innovative projects. That is where he shines. AJF CMB pic (5)The Last Auckland Jazz Festival gig I attended was the Alan Brown/Kingsley Melhuish Alargo project at the Golden Dawn. The Golden Dawn is the perfect place to wind down and a very good place to hear laid back grooves and experience deliciously exotic ambient adventures. This music creates a world we wished we lived in. A world of exotic grooves and shifting realities. Seeing and hearing is believing with Alargo, their sound as wide as the ocean and as deep (a little songbook reference there). What Brown and Melhuish are crafting is terrific. Sound shaped, altered, looped and all guiding you inexorably toward that fantasy world of improvised/groove Jazz/electronica. As wonderful as it is to watch, it is essentially a place in which to abandon yourself. As you dive in you feel the buffeting of warm grooves all about you, as the tiredness of a busy fortnight evaporates. I thought that I was an early discoverer of improvised ambient music but Brown was way ahead of me. We have often discussed this genre and we see it as a local space worth claiming. Melhuish was always going to end up beside Brown on this project; trumpet, pedals, programming, percussion and shells swimming around the keyboards. An otherworldly magic evoked by Browns deft fingers. I like to think that I gave this music a slight nudge along the way.  AJF CMB pic (4)This has been an interesting Jazz Festival and although it is cliched, there was something for everyone. From manouche through to the avant-garde. I loved that it retained the feeling of local and of intimacy – even when showcasing offshore bands. The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Rattle Records, 1885 Britomart, Auckland University, Golden Dawn, Portland Public House, Hallertau, Ostro, Lot 23, One2One, Hotel DeBrett, Lewis Eady, The Refreshment Room, the Vic, The Wine Cellar and other venues deserve our heartfelt thanks. Above all its Ben McNicoll who we must acknowledge as he lost sleep and carried the heaviest load. We are also in the debt of Caro and Roger Manins for the part they played. The vision belongs to these innovators and what ever happens along the way, I hope that the Auckland Jazz Festival continues as the fine fringe festival they envisioned.

Auckland Jazz FestivalCJC (Auckland Jazz Club)Rattle Records (go to Rattle to purchase the albums listed – the exception is Darkly Dreaming at the AJO website)

Auckland Jazz Festival 2015 – part one


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AJO @ Festival logo This is the second Auckland Jazz Festival and what incredibly tasty offerings there are in the programme. The event runs as a fringe festival and this is absolutely the right approach; no corporates making stupid unhelpful suggestions, an intense focus on the best of Kiwi improvised music and international acts with an established connection to New Zealand. The ‘best kept secret’ ethos is a good model for this music and it’s true. In a nutshell the festival tells an all but hidden story; the story of a vibrant diverse Jazz scene, with more than enough talent to wow discriminating audiences. The biggest downside of fringe festivals is that they run on air. Good attendance can mitigate this. With no significant up-front advertising budget, the role of the sponsoring clubs, bars, galleries and local record labels is vital. Those venues and the labels (Rattle in this case) need our support and appreciation. While Auckland has an unfortunate track record of failing to support the arts, the winds of change are in the air. The gigs on offer are diverse and interesting and Auckland will increasingly want a piece of this magic. 12080125_10154517770924815_4684211624996739413_oThe festival opened on the 14th with a duo of respected Australian musicians, ‘The Prodigal Sons’. P J Koopman (guitar) and Steve Barry (piano) are expats who left New Zealand long ago to work in Australia. Both are fondly remembered by Kiwi audiences and both are now firmly established in Sydney; polished musicians speaking each others language. The years of hard work and performance in diverse situations giving them particular insights. Barry has been widely acknowledged for recent albums and although widely engaged in academic pursuits recently, it is good to see him on the road again. These guys can really swing their lines and do it while spinning out fresh ideas. No tempo deters them, but it was the medium and slow tempos that showed us their best. The two original compositions which particularly impressed me were by Koopman; ‘Working Title’ and ‘Major Minor’. On these tunes the exchanges between the two were breathtaking. They engaged two fine local musicians for the gig and with the talented Cameron McArthur on bass and Andrew Keegan on drums the gig was superb. McArthur and Keegan were there every step of the way and as pleasing as the headliners.

During solos the shared experience and friendship of guitarist and pianist spoke loudest. I always look for humanity in music and it was most evident during these personal exchanges. On ballads and in particular on standards, Steve Barry has few peers. I like his more complex compositions and enjoyed those, but like many younger musicians he plays few standards. When he does he chooses well and pays them deep respect. On Wednesday they played ‘Isfahan’ (Strayhorn/Ellington) and ‘Skylark’ (Carmichael/Mercer). The latter in particular communicated that wonderful Strayhorn magic. A burst of particularly loud applause followed that number and rightly so. An excellent beginning to the Jazz festival. JoCray electric (5)On Thursday the Jonathan Crayford Electric Trio featured. It is no secret that I rate Crayford highly and I would go to see him perform anywhere. Arguably one of our top Jazz exports to the world and undoubtedly one of the more innovative musicians on the scene today. No Crayford project is a half-hearted affair, as this musician lives music in the fullest sense. His musical outpourings are sublime but it goes deeper than his excellent musicianship. Crayford’s vantage point on the creative life is unusual and deeply focussed: few others share his perception.When he returns from New York or Berlin he brings the road life with him; a teeming wealth of fresh experience populated by people, places and planets; pouring from his consciousness and into his deep improvisations. Every project has total commitment and every project draws you deeper. Gifted communicators allow us to glimpse what they see and Crayford has that power, especially if you pay proper attention. He has one foot in the everyday world and one in the realms beyond our imaginings. JoCray electric (15)Powering the gig were legendary analogue machines, the sort that live on in spite of themselves. A Rhodes and a Hohner Clavinet D6 fed through an array of pedals, a talk box and other electronic marvels. In Crayford’s hands these spoke afresh, as the listener travelled backwards and forwards in time – simultaneously. whether playing solo piano or music like this, it is always about the groove. He has an un-hurried and methodical way of diving ever deeper into grooves. Unpicking them until you realise that an infinity of corridors yield to his probing. There is nothing of the technocrat here, just deep and uncompromising sonic vista of immense beauty. JoCray electric (8)The third gig I attended was the Norman Meehan/Hannah Griffin/Bill Manhire/Colin Hemmingsen night, ‘Small holes in the Silence’. I was particularly delighted with this offering as I had not yet seen them perform together. Their collaborations are marvellous creations; ever seeping deeper into the consciousness of art-music and poetry lovers. This gig had special written all over it. Meehan is a gifted composer, academic, pianist and author. Everyone on the Australasian Jazz Scene has marvelled at his scholarship when capturing the essence of Bley or Nock in print. He was clearly the right person to shepherd this project, as his touch and pianist lines have the cadences of a poet. He understands the value of space, modulation and sparse voicing. Often allowing a feather light touch to communicate the loudest of truths. Above all he communicates without undue ornamentation. These are the poets attributes and the Jazz musicians attributes. Finding a new way to tell a story, pushing at the edges of grammar and understanding what to jettison in order to find the clear air. AJO @ Festival Meehan (6)Hannah Griffin has an astonishingly purity to her voice, bell-like, adamantine. She evokes the history of the song form. It is as easy to imagine her singing a bards lines in a medieval castle as in a modern setting. She brings the sensibilities of vocalists like Joni Mitchell and like them she serves the words and the music. She interprets but in subtle ways. This is truly an art music ensemble and the words and mood are at their very heart. With each notes passing the essence of the words remained and this is a tribute to the arranging. The other ensemble member is Colin Hemmingsen, a former NZSO principal and Jazz musician. Hemmingsen is a saxophonist who doubles on winds. His bass clarinet playing is fabulous, conjuring the warm woodiness in that especially resonant instrument. The choice of instruments, and voicings was of vital importance here. The conversations needed to convey conviviality. After each reading the ensemble gave their interpretation of a Manhire poem, voices blending, not competing, the words left as pure residue for contemplation.

The Meehan/Griffin/Manhire projects have been well recorded by Rattle Records NZ and these are all available from the Rattle site (see below). This was the launch of ‘Small Holes in the Silence’ – the tile referencing the poem by ‘Hone Tuwhare’AJO @ Festival Meehan (10)Bill Manhire is one of New Zealand’s favourite poets and experiencing him reading in a subterranean jazz club is a unique experience. A reading augmented by fine musicians lifts the experience to the sublime. Manhire is a towering figure in New Zealand literature. A much-loved poet laureate, anthologist and literary standard-bearer. Showcasing to the world the essence of who we are, speaking in that deliciously self-effacing Kiwi voice that we value so much. His poems telling our stories as much as they tell his own. He is us in ways that we wish we could express. He is the poet we aspire to. His poem ‘The Hawk’ moved me deeply. Speaking of vast landscapes and human interactions from a poets vantage point. I also loved his ode to the great Cornish poet Charles Causley, a sly humorous and deftly crafted piece that conveyed deep affection. Above all it captured the ballad form and I could not help thinking of Housman. Two poems however caught me unawares and they were by a dear friend long departed, Dave Mitchell. Mitchell has all but faded from memory and it delighted me to hear him paid his dues. In his younger years a sweet-natured friendly man, in latter years troubled and ill. The reading from ‘Pipe Dreams in Ponsonby’ is what I will take away and hold close – the gentle flames of our lost poet rekindled by a master orator. AJO @ Festival Meehan (8)  Capturing Manhire in musical form required sensitivity; without that the nuances of breath would be lost in the complexities of a sonic landscape. The sets reminded us that poetry and music are natural collaborators. A lyric is a poem accompanied by a lyre. From the Gilgamesh onwards it has been so, the appearance of separation an illusion, the connection archetypal. It is good therefore to see them coupled in this way and by these people.

This blog is syndicated on the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) website and supports the Auckland Jazz Festival and Rattle Records


Stephen Small Group – Mexico City Blues


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Poems (2)I made up my mind days before the Mexico City Blues gig that I would not, could not review it. It is some kind of crazy to review a gig where you’re in the band. Logic and custom sensibly warns you to walk swiftly in the opposite direction. The gig passed and I asked others if they would do the review; “You’re wrong man” they said, “You absolutely have to do it, but do it differently – tell a story about what it felt like performing for the first time, and what it felt like as a non musician being part of a high quality improvising band”. I thought about it for a while and gave in. In truth I had a world of stuff churning about in my brain and the subconscious urge to outline the experience was gnawing at me; my thoughts and impressions always seem to spill onto the page somehow (or into a poem) – so hell why not. It’s Gonzo journalism in its purest form; outlining crazy, using ones-self as the hapless protagonist.

Just over a week ago I got an email from Stephen Small. His email cut right to the chase; Would I consider performing Jack Kerouac’s poetry as part of his next gig. The invitation delighted me although I have a writers/photographers reticence about crawling out from behind the pen or the lens. Having read Kerouac from age fourteen I couldn’t resist. Those poems and that crazy-wonderful Beat vibe shaped my life and I needed to acknowledge that. I was certain that he wanted no more than one, or possibly two short verses; still daunting. I emailed Stephen asking how long we had to get this together. We’re up next Wednesday he replied, we will rehearse a few hours before the gig. Moments after agreeing a sense of terror overcame me; troublesome questions and self-doubt tumbled out the ether. Shit how do we do this, what will my voice sound like? Having never performed poems in front of an audience AND to music, I experienced brief bouts of wide-eyed terror over the next day.  Poems (4)I confided my fears to a few knowledgeable friends, Chris Melville and poet Iain Sharp. Both were very sensible and reassuring in their advice; “Just own who you are man, own your voice. You know this stuff backwards and you know the music”, they said. When I explained the hazards of fitting existing verse to music, drummer Ron Samson told me, “Don’t worry man, we will follow you – your safe with us”. I discussed it further with Stephen and he gave me a set list. From that list I chose three poems that roughly matched the rhythms of tunes. For ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ (Mingus) I chose Kerouac’s chorus 66 from ‘Orizaba 210 Blues’, for ‘Blue in Green’ (Evans/Davis) I selected the beautiful mystical 1st chorus of ‘Desolation Blues’. I was sure that two poems would be more than enough, but as a precaution I prepared a third as back up – verse 116 of ‘Mexico City Blues’ to Horace Silvers ‘Peace’.

On the day of the gig crazy set in. It started with a series of small mishaps like an email and printer crash. I immediately recognised the portents. The Sirens of the unknown were calling me into uncharted waters. Luckily I had my three poems ready – printed off in large type (as befitting a person of my age). At the last-minute, as if by divine providence, I threw a paperback of Kerouac’s ‘Book of Blues’ poems into my bag and headed for rehearsal. What happened next was pure Zen.  Poems (6)Jazz gig rehearsals tend to follow a formula, but viewing this process from the outside and being part of it are two very different things. From the inside your inbuilt detached observer gets fired from the cannon of weirdness. You realise just how random Jazz rehearsals are. They begin what becomes a slow descent into the controlled accident. The first hour of any rehearsal is a ‘hang’, insider jokes, war stories and talk of gear and gizmos. Then a sudden flurry of activity follows; disembodied items of musical machinery miraculously forming into new shapes. If the rehearsals are in a Jazz club the activity takes place in semi darkness. Instruments, microphones and amplifiers joined by a spaghetti of wires as the musicians stumble over precarious piles of instrument cases and zip bags. “Oh shit this channel is dead – (from out of the darkness) – don’t worry its the cable – have another in my car – its parked a few streets away. Can we route the cable through the Hadron-Collider? – clip click – sorry false alarm”.

Then the actual rehearsal begins; The rehearsal proper being tiny fragments of music accompanied by impossibly cryptic instructions in a language that sounds like computer machine code.  “Twice through the head – I’ll lay out – transition to this key at 32 – we’ll play Kathy’s Waltz in 4/4 as 3/4 is way to corny”. None of this is reassuring to a first timer, but the band leader (Stephen) managed to communicate profound information subliminally. Above all and surprisingly, I learned that he had absolute confidence in me. This gifted me a deeper understanding of the leaders role. Zen Master. The communications were less about detail than vision, their main purpose to bind the collective and set them on a path to the promised land; a guiding hand in a deeply mystical process. On the band stand the subtlest of gestures hold the collective together. A glance is a cue or a change of plan – a call to ‘Jump now’ – everyone trusted to do the business – me included. I know poetry and especially Kerouac’s poetry – it was my job in the collective to sell that.  Poems (7)Then came the truly random bit. “We can cue you in on each piece, or just dive in where ever you think best – we can follow”. The words ‘each piece’ threw me a curve ball. “I have only three poems printed off” I added lamely (or four if you counted a crumpled excerpt from ‘Desolation Angels’ tucked into the back of the folder). “No matter – just say anything – you’re a poet – it will be fine” said Stephen. Then I remembered the paperback of Kerouac’s ‘Book of Blues’ in my bag. “Great” said Stephen, “just pick the poems randomly – do it at the last-minute while we run through the head of each tune – perfect”. This was a band leader channeling the Zen Master – a role quite appropriate to a 1959 referencing gig – throwing me a Koan, an improbable musical puzzle, no escape route possible. When we got to the tune ‘Peace’ I gained confidence, “Ah I have something for this – yeah – Horace Silver”. At this point Stephen casually informed me that they were actually doing Ornette Coleman’s ‘Peace”, another tune entirely. Ornette, ORNETTE – holy crap – panic.  Next the gig

I was tentative during my first seconds of delivery and that was entirely due to where my awareness was.  I mistakenly looked out to see how it was coming across; people were giving me the thumbs up and the band sounded perfect. After that I just relaxed. Stephen’s final instructions were as brief as they were powerful. He leaned across and said to me; “There is only one thing to remember tonight and that’s to have fun”. Minutes into the gig the advice sank in and I did. As I relaxed the strangest thing happened. It was a quasi-mystical sort of thing and I can only explain it in those terms. All sense of self and separation vanished as I felt a golden thread of sound and colour run through me. I recall glancing about me and feeling totally at one with the band. These are exceptional musicians and I suspect that they were doing all the heavy lifting. They treated the poetry with respect and they treated me as an equal. As a non-musician I will never forget that. Poems (5)I was suddenly experiencing the music as an insider, a privileged viewpoint that few non musicians ever get to experience. I leaned across to Hadyn Godfrey (on trombone) and said, “Holy crap is it always this much fun, I’m totally tripping on this?”. As I read I started playing with the phrasing and found that as I moved, the band moved with me. Even more amazingly we managed to converse musically.  Me clumsy and them eloquent, but it felt so fine, so damn fine. I have never previously experienced such power – the engine of a musical collective. I am a careful listener and I know this music backwards, but from the inside everything looks different. There is nowhere to hide but everything to gain; that’s what makes it so exciting.

The gig was about placing the famous Jazz standards of 1959 into a wider context. We all love these tunes, but few grasp the wider sociopolitical forces at work behind the times. These musicians were part of a vital modernist movement; A reaction against the suburban atrophy of racially segregated urban America. Miles, Colman, Coltrane, Brubeck, Mingus, Kerouac and the Beats were counter-culture warriors, bent on ushering in a better world. A place were fresh ideas, the arts and people mattered. Poems (1) I will not critique my performance, that is for others. What I will do however is comment on the extraordinary Stephen Small Group – the ‘Mexico City Blues’ musicians. Stephen Small is a man of broad musical tastes, real vision and very open ears. He empowered a wonderful band and under his skilful and subtle coaxing they gave it their best. His piano never gets in the way of others, but it adds amazing texture and substance to the performances. It is deeply in the blues tradition and lovely. Instinctively he knew who to hire and what to expect of them.

Olivier Holland brought his electric bass as well as his upright bass. I hadn’t previously heard Oli on electric bass, but he is simply killing. Ron is always marvellous and as a musician said to me, “With those beats pushing at your back and pulsating through your body anything seems possible”. Neil Watson on guitar and pedal steel is another talented musician; his feel for the blues is exceptional. He also has a happy grasp of the absurd and this is an essential prerequisite for any good improvising musician. Lastly there is Hadyn Godfrey, an experienced talented trombonist who effectively added electronics to his horn for this gig. The use of pedals, a small Moog and various forms of extended technique gave the gig an other-worldly dimension. 1959 never sounded so good.

I may never get to do this again but I will not forget this night. Stephen Small did what good leaders do. He made us all believe that the improbable could become magic. He took an idea from the margins and helped us realise it in a fresh way. Jazz at its best is a controlled accident, a high wire act, an intrepid exploration. For one truly wonderful night I was a small part of that.

Stephen Small Group: Mexico City Blues – Stephen Small (leader, piano, keys), Neil Watson (fender guitar, pedal steel guitar, electronics), Hadyn Godfrey (trombone, electronics), Olivier Holland (electric bass, upright bass), Ron Samsom (drums), John Fenton (Kerouac poems)

Special acknowledgement to Chris Melville for the photographs

Antipodes Tour 2015


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AntipodesThe Antipodes project is an innovative one; well conceived and excellent in its realisation. It is a young group but you wouldn’t think so to listen to them. Musical maturity is generally equated with time served on the bandstand, but if the right musicians come together, surprising synergies can occur; artists collectively punching above their weight. Antipodes hits the mark on a number of levels. Firstly the writing is superb. The musicianship is also great but for me it is the communication of a shared vision that lifts them above the ordinary. Given that three members of the band are new to project, that is surprising.  Antipodes (9)At the epicentre of this group are the core members: Jake Baxendale, Luke Sweeting and Callum Allardice. The original lineup featured respected Australian trumpeter Ken Allars. Allars is at present on tour somewhere in a distant corner of the globe – replacing him is Simon Ferenci. It might be supposed that the absence of Allars changed the dynamic, but Ferenci fitted in as if he’d always been there – a trumpet player I had not heard before, but one I will be happy to hear anytime in future. Also new are the bass player Max Alduca and drummer Harry Day. Like Fereci both terrific players and in synch with the over-arching vibe. Without the cushioning bass work and often edgy drum fills the band would be less interesting. Their contributions were on the mark. Antipodes (4)I have long admired Baxendale’s alto playing, featuring as altoist in some of the best New Zealand line-ups (The Jac, Richter City Rebels, Wellington Mingus Ensemble, JB3 etc). Baxendale pulled off some blinding solos in this gig and I have posted a clip which demonstrates his mastery and inherent lyricism. He is a player with depth. I am also glad that Luke Sweeting was touring with the Antipodes again. Sweeting is the sort of pianist who captivates in numerous ways and his solo bravura on a good number can leave audiences open-mouthed. Perhaps more than anyone else in the ensemble he brings out that trademark Aussie-European aesthetic. The first time I heard Antipodes I identified Ken Allars as being the link to a particular Scandinavian sound; his command of extended technique, but moreover his low volume ambient groove-tone. Now I am revising that view as Sweeting has exactly encapsulated that sound, while doing it in a uniquely Australian way. Antipodes (6)The other central figure is guitarist Allardice. Often sitting quietly in the mix as his warm comping lifts the others without ever crowding them out. Then out of nowhere, unexpectedly, those heart stopping solos, souring and as fluid as silk in the breeze. Allardice is a fine composer, as are Sweeting and Baxendale. Antipodes (2)There are shades of meaning to the word ‘Antipodes’. It comes from the Greek ‘to set ones foot upon an opposite place’. If you live in London then the Antipodes Islands of New Zealand are the opposite land mass. For Southern Europe and North Africa it is in Australia. The reverse also applies. Given the musical linkages and especially given the geographical linkages the band is perfectly named (conceived by Australasians living in Germany). This project revives on a regular basis and on current form it stands every chance of becoming an institution. I certainly hope so. Antipodes (5)Antipodes: Jake Baxendale (alto), Luke Sweeting (piano), Callum Allardice (guitar), Simon Ferenci (trumpet), Max Alduca (bass), Harry Day (drums).

At the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart, Auckland 30th September 2015

Nock & Manins – But Beautiful


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Two Out (1)Having reviewed the ‘Two Out’ album a few weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it – it was a certainty that I would enjoy the ‘Two Out’ live gig. Mike Nock and Roger Manins are rightly celebrated as being at the top of their game, but neither trades on reputation. Both approached this gig with humility. As they settled into the music you could feel the absorption; punctuated by occasional smiles when a particular phrase surprised them, often delighting at what fell under their fingers. At times they seemed to defeat the physical limitations of performance; simultaneously observing and creating. This is a Zen thing and it cuts to the heart of improvised music. Others noticed it as well; one musician said to me afterwards, “Man there was no ego on that bandstand and it was a beautiful thing to witness’. He was absolutely right. Two Out (2)Most albums require careful planning, the ideas gestating over time, rehearsal upon rehearsal shaping the direction. Then there is the other type arising from happenstance. ‘Two Out’ arose out of a relaxed jam between friends. Manins was relaxing with Nock one January morning in Sydney when they decided to play a few tunes (as musicians often do when relaxing). What took their fancy were the often forgotten tunes, ‘the ones that our mothers used to sing’. As they worked their way through the tunes Nock suggested that they record; just for fun. Shortly after they ended up recording in the Sydney Conservatorium’s Verbruggen Hall. The hall contained a wonderful Fazioli grand piano much to Nock’s delight. Two OutIt is our good fortune that ‘Two Out’ was performed last week for New Zealand audiences. Nock explained that they had actually recorded 16 songs, but the limitations of CD space required these being reduced to eleven. On Wednesday we heard a significant number of the tunes from the album plus a few that didn’t make the final cut. In particular there was a version of ‘Softly as a Morning Sunrise’ (Romberg/Hammerstein). A wild joyous free-flowing version which brought out the best in both musicians. At times gentle but at other times carrying the echoes of a boisterous 1930’s radio performance. At that moment, listening, I visualised my mother, leaning over an old upright Victrola and humming along happily. The other addition was ‘But Beautiful’ (Jimmy Van Heusen). An overwhelming sense of respect and intimacy was evident in their interpretation of that tune. It brought a smile to everyone’s lips. When friends like this collaborate it is profound …… but beautiful.

Nock Manins

Two Out: Mike Nock (piano), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), The album is available from FWM Records.  The Venue CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland 23rd September 2015

AJO @ CJC Spring 2015

AJO Spring2015 (9)A jazz orchestra has thirty-six legs and more moving parts than the Turing computer. While an Orchestra is a collective, it utilises individualists, people skilled at breaking rules and who like nothing better than departing from the charts in front of them. They must manoeuvre through complexity with the grace of a ballet dancer and most often while playing counter melody. These actions require both micro precision and big picture awareness; seventeen players responding to multiple sonic cues while following the exhortations of a conductor. The conductor is a man waving his arms about at the edge of vision. To make matters worse conductors glide about, materialising in odd places, scaring the musicians with their sudden appearance; now beside the trombone line, now confronting the bass player with gentle shushing gestures. It is musical theatre of the highest order and I love every minute of it. AJO Spring2015 (4)A Jazz orchestra needs a cohesive pulse; an innate sense of swing. This quality defies definition, but a discerning audience will recognise the lack of it immediately. One misstep can bring the entire delicately balanced edifice down on their heads. Given the above, it is a miracle that Jazz orchestras survive; complete the journey towards finding their musical feet. It is our good luck that the Auckland Jazz Orchestra did. AJO Spring2015 (5)I have watched and enjoyed the AJO for a number years and there is one constant. In spite of everything that militates against their very existence they get better and better. In spite of some changing personnel, the core of dedicated regulars hold the line. These musicians are superb and they obviously inspire the newer members. What we heard on Wednesday was a confident band, at times tight as a drum and nimble. At other points in the performance they were slower moving and whisper quiet. This ability to modulate en-mass is impressive. Oddly, they were better as a band in the first half than the second, although hearing the entirety of Mike Booths Auckland Harbour Suite was most enjoyable. Two of the movements appeared for the first time including ‘Harbour Lights’. It is fitting that Booth’s arrangements and compositions are given prominence, as he and co-leader Tim Atkinson are the founder members of the AJO. Writing orchestral charts is a massive undertaking and an increasing number of Kiwi musicians now embrace that challenge. Band members Mike Booth, Tim Atkinson and Andrew Hall contributed memorably in this regard.AJO Spring2015 (6)The set list was a mix of compositions (or arrangements) by band members and ‘outsiders’. Memorable ‘outside’ compositions were those by Kiwi musicians Thomas Botting (Bloom), Nathan Haines (Five Dimensions) and Glen Wagstaff (Polaris).  Mike Booth’s adaption of ‘All the things you are’ (All things in 5 and 3) was a delight as was Kenny Garrett’s (November 15). ‘Those Nights’ by Hall was a good number to finish with as it has punch, familiarity and groove. There were a number of nice solos, but the drum work of Cameron Sangster stood out. Not every drummer can handle this roll but Sangster can. The AJO gig that I am hanging out for is their Album release gig for Tim Atkinson’s ‘Darkly Dreaming’ suite. This will be part of the Auckland Jazz Festival in October and it shouldn’t be missed. I photographed them during the recording session and I was deeply moved by what I heard. This will be their coming of age gig and hopefully a forerunner of the wonders to follow. AJO Spring2015 (7)Photographing a Jazz orchestra in a dark confined space requires the patience of Job. You roam around as unobtrusively as possible, looking for long sight lines that don’t exist; reaching the inevitable conclusion. Take shots of the disembodied parts in the hope that the viewer will be able to reassemble the entire beast in their heads. For this performance the AJO was conducted by Mike Young (replacing Tim Atkinson).

The AJO (Auckland Jazz Orchestra) can be followed on their website.  AJO Spring2015 (1) AJO Spring2015 (2)AJO Spring2015 (11) AJO Spring2015 (12) AJO Spring2015


The Foundry 616 Sydney – 2nd Anniversary


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Vince 072Sydney means two things to me; family and music. I get there as often as I can. One sultry night about two years ago I was listening to Mike Nock playing the blues (as only Mike can). It was a catchy new tune titled ‘Start up Blues’. I collared him during the break and asked him about it. “I composed it for the Foundry opening” he said. “Do you know about the Foundry 616”?  I didn’t and so he filled in the details. He spoke warmly of it so I determined to visit the next time I was in Sydney.

The Foundry 616 is located in Ultimo on a stretch of Harris road, almost lost between a maze of under and over-passes. It is (or was) the newest addition to Sydney’s Jazz scene. The difficulty in locating it is amply rewarded the minute you step inside. It is spacious, it serves tasty food and the acoustics are surprising good for such a large uneven space. It is also a friendly place, tolerant of visiting Kiwi photographers and reviewers like me. I always feel welcomed.Foundry 616 (2)During my first visit I caught the amazing New York based guitarist Mike Moreno. Attending a gig featuring Moreno had long been on my bucket list and I was not disappointed. He was happy to allow non-flash photography and I had a seat at the front table; perfect. For his Australian tour he employed two gifted local musicians: Ben Vanderwal drums and Alex Boneham bass (both familiar to New Zealand audiences). I have many recordings featuring Moreno, but what really struck me was that his best on recordings, is exactly how he sounds in person. Given the sound control in modern recording studios and given the expanse and quirky shape of the room, this is surprising.Foundry 616 I was later to experience the same clarity at other Foundry 616 gigs. The venue sound technician and the sound system get a big tick. Sound quality matters and especially with artists of this quality. To my thinking Moreno is the most lyrical of modern guitarists. Clean flowing lines, fresh ideas and an astonishing clarity of tone. As moves through the pieces, often at breakneck speed, and even when glissing, his fluidity is unbroken. There is a hint of mournfulness to his tone which is most attractive. I hear many gifted Jazz guitarists, but to date this gig remains the highlight. His set list traversed recent albums as he played a mix of lesser known standards and originals; ‘I have a dream’ (Hancock) being the standout. While his demeanour is quiet, perhaps even a little serious, his playing denotes unalloyed joy and exuberance.Vince 081My second visit was to see premier Australian Jazz vocalist Vince Jones. I have a deep liking for male Jazz singers but sadly there are not that many to choose from these days. Our younger selves do not sound like our older selves and in Vince Jones this sits extremely well. His is a lived in voice, full of rich life experience. An honest voice and above all a true Jazz voice. He can make you smile and cry in turns and his lyrics are like no one else’s. If you listen carefully the realisation comes; Jones is jazz protest singer. He is closer in sentiment to Gil Scott Heron or perhaps Billy Bragg and Bob Dylan than to any torch-song crooner. His recordings while marvellous don’t prepare you for the experience of hearing him in person. He has a compelling stage presence, exuding the vulnerability that Chet radiated. Unlike Chet he also exudes real human warmth and empathy.Foundry 616 (4)As he tells personal stories about his grandparents, his budgerigars, women deserving of respect, his environmental concerns, you feel deeply connected. When he shakes his fist at the ‘big end of town’, calls for kindness towards refugees and gives voice to your innermost feelings, you shake your fist along with him. Since that visit I have transcribed some of his lyrics. I would now add gifted poet to the list of his accomplishments. Jones writes most of his own material (often in collaboration with his accompanists like Matt McMahon or Sam Keevers). Both were present that night as was an old friend, bass player Brett Hirst; James Hauptmann was on drums. Fine musicians and great company. Earlier in the day I caught up with Barney McAll and interviewed him regarding his stunning Mooroolbark album. He was to premier that at the Foundry in a few weeks. I was sorely tempted to delay my departure, but work called me back to New Zealand. McAll was once an accompanist to Jones as well.Foundry 616 (10)My third and most recent visit naturally brought me back to the Foundry. A pianist/singer Rodric White was on the bill. White was unknown to me, but again I enjoyed the gig. He opened with a few tributes and it surprised me to hear him announce a Keith Jarrett number. Even more so when he played an extract from the Koln Concert. That took guts and he did it well. Later he played some of his own compositions, plus Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, the Beatles and several Sting numbers. He was disarmingly dismissive of his vocal abilities but he sang well. Stylistically he is close to the classic Jazz singers. Accompanying him was Hugh Fraser (bass), Steve Ley (drums) with guests Paul Cutlan (tenor & soprano saxophones) and Jenny Marie Lang (guitar & vocals). Paul Cutlan was the only name I knew, a well-respected session saxophonist. During the second half White called for pianist Chris Cody to come to the bandstand.Foundry 616 (3)  I first met Cody in New Zealand and we are now friends. I have a deep respect for him as an artist and as a human being. This rounded out the evening nicely. Cody an internationally recognised artist, is back in Sydney for a while. There is something about his approach and his innate sense of pulse that sets him apart. He understands the importance of leaving space between notes; easily moving inside and out during a solo. He oozes Paris cool. With Cody on piano and White on keys the enjoyment was complete.Foundry 616 (8)There are any number of excellent improvising musicians in Australia and New Zealand and we are lucky that they are so accessible. There are also thousands of people who love improvised music, but here’s the rub. The enthusiasts don’t always make the effort to attend gigs. The consequences of taking the local Jazz scene for granted are too dreadful to contemplate. If we support local Jazz we need to commit. In spite of the many world-class musicians in Australasia the music is more precarious than we think. Running clubs like the ‘Foundry 616’, the ‘505’ or the ‘CJC (Creative Jazz Club)’ is high risk and if the clubs struggle, so does the music. It is quite possible that I’m a fanatic, but I’ve attended more than 250 Jazz gigs in the last four years. If you read this, it’s because you love this music with all its variability. Value what you have people and make a point of supporting your local Jazz clubs and gigs. Some amazing musicians depend on you.

Where: The Foundry 616, Harris Street, Ultimo, Sydney

Simon Thacker & Ritmata (Scotland)


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RitmataThere was a buzz of excitement surrounding Simon Thacker’s ‘Ritmata’ tour. Not the touring rock-band sort of buzz, but a word of mouth Twitter-post kind. A buzz generated by night people and festival goers. Those who pay close attention to good music. I followed the threads and everything I read about Thacker sat well with me. I looked forward to his Auckland gig and the hype was not over-stated. Ritmata was a delight.

I have travelled extensively through the Mediterranean region and delighted in the diverse streams of music flowing together; Armenian, North African, Sufi, Sephardic, Flamenco, Jazz etc. Thacker takes this concept further. It is a human weakness to catalogue, to reach for definitions. It is the inbuilt train-spotter lurking in our subconscious mind and it doesn’t work well with bands like this. Ritmata may draw upon many sources but it is owned by none of them. While there are many familiar references, the music reaches for clear space. What appears as a multicultural journey, departs for newer unexplored realms. The familiar is fleeting because this music is more than the sum of its parts.Ritmata (6)Simon Thacker is the ideal front man; funny, confident, virtuosic. His authority emanating from a force field of energy. A musical vision that engages; thriving on intimacy. A club setting is therefore perfect, with warmth and exuberance captured, contained; audience and musicians sharing an experience. Thacker’s banter is quirky, self-deprecating and it connects. There were howls of delight at the sheep jokes and they told me something important. Scotts, Kiwis and Australians have a shared humour, a post colonial cultural connection. An inbuilt irreverence that is part of our evolving story.Ritmata (3)The first set opened with traditional Sephardic melodies ‘reimagined’. This is familiar territory as Caroline Manins has trodden this path with her Mother Tongue project. Some of these tunes are more than a thousand years old (‘Des Oge Mais’), and in spite of dealing with loss or longing, they are often fast paced and rhythmically complex. In Ritmata’s hands they are ancient to modern. Evoking the melting pot of Judaic Moorish Spain but never time-locked. Elements of Flamenco, and even the modal chromaticism of Jazz pianists like McCoy Tyner came to mind. Ritmata (1)There were a number of interesting Thacker originals and to my delight three pieces based on Egberto Gismonti compositions (a stunning Brazilian improvising guitarist who used the street music of Choro to create similar, beyond-genre visions – an artist beloved of Jazz audiences). One of Thacker’s tunes ‘Honour the Treaties’ referenced the chants of American Indians and as indicated by the wild applause, it resonated powerfully. Then there was ‘Asuramaya’, influenced by the Indian Ragas. That piece had a delicious dream-sequence feel to it. He rounded off his sets with a traditional Azerbaijani tune, ‘Bana Bana Gel’ and a Jewish tune ‘Ovshori’ from the mountains Dagestan. When the audience clamoured for an encore, vocalist and Sephardic specialist Carolina Manins joined the band singing ‘Madre de Deus’; again reimagined by Thacker.Ritmata (2)While Thacker dominated proceedings with his larger than life presence, the band members were stars in their own right. I have seldom heard a unit so in lock-step. The pianist, bass and drums were as central to the enjoyment as Thacker himself. The spotlight must lastly fall on that lovely guitar; I couldn’t keep my eyes off it. An extraordinary Rouse classical guitar; it sang like the Lyre of Orpheus. Orchestrating time and place; stretching time until we could see the future.Ritmata (4)

Ritmata: Simon Thacker (amplified acoustic guitar, compositions), Paul Harrison (piano), Mario Caribe (bass), Stu Brown (drums/percussion).

Mark Donlon Trio (with Tom Warrington)


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Donlon (2) The Mark Donlon trio gig gave us two leaders for the price of one. Accompanying Donlon was the highly rated LA bass player Tom Warrington. Jazz audiences in New Zealand are very familiar with Warrington as he toured here on many occasions. Donlon, originally from the UK is now living in Wellington and working as the Jazz Studies program leader at the New Zealand School of Music.

Donlon is a Post-bop pianist with a grab-bag of familiar standards and a number of original compositions at his fingertips. He is also adept at writing ‘contrafacts’; new tunes written over the changes of existing standards. While such practices are strongly associated with Parker or with innovative Post-bop improvisers, the practice actually dates from to 16th century. Some of the standards were reharmonised while he played others in familiar ways. It was a nice selection; including the song book standards ‘If I were a bell’ (Frank Loesser), ‘Darn that dream’ (Jimmy Van Heusen), ‘How deep is the ocean’ (Irving Berlin), ‘Quiet nights & quiet stars’ ( Tom Jobim) and Jazz standards like ‘Stolen Moments’ (Oliver Nelson) and ‘Nutty’ (Thelonious Monk). When I hear songbook standards by Berlin like’ How deep is the ocean’ or the equally engaging ‘Lets face the music and dance’ I am awe-struck. They are perennial in the fullest sense of the word and I hope that their star never wanes.Donlon (3)I have been a Tom Warrington fan for many years and I have most of the Jazz Compass albums where he features to such great effect. He is a bass player who speaks with incredible forthrightness, but never undermining the others on the date. On ‘Corduroy Road’, a fabulous album that I play often, the ‘others’ I refer to are Larry Koonse and Joe Labarbera. These guys can do no wrong; their version of ‘You Must believe in Spring’ (Bergman/Bergman/Legrand) is a small masterpiece.  We are lucky to have such a strong association with Warrington and Rodger Fox is the one to thank for that. I last saw him during the ‘Cow Bop’ tour, where his band shared the stage with guitarist Bruce Forman (and the Cow boppers). A friendly modest man of enormous talents and good company. When I spoke to him last Wednesday I learned that Larry Koonse (and perhaps Joe Lababera) will be touring New Zealand soon. Koonse has suffered health problems of late but he is evidently recovering well. Warrington’s recording credits are too numerous to mention. Tom is now domiciled in this country which is very good news.DonlonCory Champion although Wellington based is no stranger to the CJC. He was there earlier in the year with Matt Steele’s ‘Master Brewers’. He writes and plays well and it is likely that we will see him in the drum chair often.

The Mark Donlon Trio with Tom Warrington and Cory Champion: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland. 2nd September 2015

Michel Benebig – ‘Noumea to New York’ tour


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Michel 2015 (11)Michel Benebig visits New Zealand once a year and we anticipate his visits with Joy. His authentic B3 groove journey didn’t start in East Philly, but in tropical Noumea; a South Pacific Island north of here. After honing his craft he travelled widely and in consequence his star steadily rises. The more North American audiences hear him, the more they embrace him. He is now regarded as a B3 master. The B3 greats who inspired him are all but departed and he deservedly steps into their shoes. His travels in the USA have brought him into frequent contact with a number of well-known musicians. As good musicianship and a pleasant disposition are the highest recommendations possible, the musicians he worked with recommended him to others. That is how he teamed up with Carl Lockett.

I was in San Francisco in 2012 and as I had been tracking Benebig’s latest tour, I saw that he was gigging in the Bay Area. I said to my son, “Kid you need of piece of this, it will gladden your heart”. It did and I will always remember the smile on his face as the sound of the B3 floated up the stairs from the Academy Francaise auditorium. That was the first time I saw Benebig and Lockett together. I was over-whelmed by the warmth and groove they created. Around that time Michele recorded ‘Yellow Purple’ in California with Carl Lockett on guitar, James Levi on drums and his partner Fabienne Shem Benebig on vocals. Released in 2013 and the album brought him many new fans. Michel 2015 (3)The new album ‘Noumea to New York’ is his finest to date (and true to label, recorded in New York). Again Lockett features on guitar, Lewis Nash lays down the drum grooves and special guest Houston Person appears on tenor saxophone. What a marvellous line up this is and what an album they turned out. This album alone will secure Benebig a place in the pantheon. It has modern B3 classic written all over it.  All compositions are by Benebig, with one tune co-credited with his partner Shem. There are so many treasures on this album that it is hard to single out one particular tune, but if pressed I would say ‘Noumea To New York’. A medium paced groove track with enough warmth to melt the ice in your drink. The flawless interplay between Benebig, Nash and Lockett is in strong evidence here. With Nash creating a solid cushion of groove, it is no wonder that Benebig and Locket sound so marvellous. Michel 2015 (4)The tour down under was minus Nash and Person; Locals filled those gaps. In Auckland we had Roger Manins on tenor and Ron Samsom on drums. This was also a perfect fit, as both had accompanied Benebig previously. The set list in Auckland was partly material from the album and partly marvellously quirky tunes from classic TV shows. How often do you hear the theme from ‘The Pink Panther’ or the theme from ‘The Naked City’ played by a groove unit? More common in Jazz circles is the Johnny Mandel standard ‘Suicide is Painless’ from Mash. When people think of that last number they think Evans and seldom the B3. To show what skilled groove merchants can do with such material I have uploaded a clip. Michel 2015 (6) While Benebig is very much in command here his groove collaborators preached just as hard from their respective pulpits. Lockett in particular was astonishing. Gasps of delight erupted as he utilised his finger picking blues-guitar credentials. Moving seamlessly from lightning quick double-time to a steamy groove; often leaning slightly back on the beat. His comping was equally delightful as he does what Pat Martino does. There is either a slight vibrato or he pulls gently down on the strings with each comping-chord; creating simultaneously a warm but slightly mournful effect. Whether on fast single-note runs or octave chords, its hard not to think of Wes Montgomery. His extensive use of thumb and fingers and his fluidity evokes that comparison. Michel 2015 (7)Manins was clearly in his element here. Happy among friends and happy to find himself back in the groove space. The same went for Samsom. Both are highly regarded straight ahead Jazz musicians but both have released great groove albums in the previous year. Their joyous abandon added to the quantum of happiness; every note making us smile.

In the end it was the leader Michel Benebig who stole the show. He set the tone with his groove-worthy compositions and his utterly authoritative old-school B3 style. He is a monster of the organ and a real showman. What also impressed was his ability to manage the Hammond SK2; reputedly a little tricky if you play the real beast. If the lack of pedals and the different touch troubled him, it certainly didn’t show. A B3 master can tame any beast and do it convincingly. It sounded perfect from where we sat.

Michel Benebig Quartet Album: Michel Benebig (B3), Carl Lockett (guitar), Lewis Nash (drums), guest – Houston Person (tenor saxophone). (New Zealand tour – Roger Manins replaces Houston Person – Ron Samsom replaces Lewis Nash)

‘Firefly’ – Glen Wagstaff & the Symposium Jazz orchestra


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FireflyThe postie brings more music to our house than he does bills and so I always welcome the sound of the small motorbike pausing outside. This time she delivered a wafer thin parcel with the sender identified as Glen Wagstaff; Firefly had arrived. Looking back over my blog posts revealed that I first encountered the Glen Wagstaff Project in October 2013. At that time we heard several compositions now on the album and in particular to the title track ‘Firefly’. The first Auckland lineup was an eight piece ensemble, all Christchurch musicians. I was only familiar with two of them, Tamara Smith and Andy Keegan. The ensemble impressed and especially notable were the compositions; well constructed charts which magically exceeded the limits of eight piece instrumentation.

The other memory of that visit was the evocation of Kenny Wheeler. Few other New Zealand ensembles worked in that space. A year later in November 2014 Wagstaff appeared again. This time engaging the seventeen piece Auckland Jazz Orchestra. Bigger charts, more complexity and additional compositions, this was a precursor to the album. ‘Firefly’ was a Kickstarter project and many of us around the country were keen to pitch in. When a project has strong enough bones Kickstarter is a reasonable way to proceed. Wagstaff had sewn the seeds well The ease in which he reached his target was ample proof that he had found a solid support base. As we reach for new workable distribution models, this tool is worth considering; if like Wagstaff you can deliver the goods. Road testing and winning over a solid core of contributors is essential.

Sound Clip: Escape Artist (featuring guest saxophonist Manins)

The tracks have a number of moods but the album flows beautifully. The cohesion comes from the writing and the sense of vision imparted. As good as the various artists are, it is the writing that grabs you. The rich orchestral voicings in ‘Maylie’ reach deep and send shivers down the spine. There is a sense of nostalgia evoked, a longing for what is just of out of reach; even of pleasurable melancholia (The melancholic voice is often invoked by poets and it is nice to see it explored in this context. In earlier centuries this mood included pleasurable feelings ‘Pleasing myself with phantasms sweet, methinks that time runs very fleet, all my joys to this are folly, naught so sweet as melancholy’). In the title track ‘Firefly’ the mood is light and airy. Once again Wagstaff has found the right voice; a dusky sense of joy prevails. The tune Sakura based on a traditional Japanese melody follows a well trodden path among improvising musicians; again well done and showcasing Wagstaff on guitar. He is soft toned and his sound lovely. In this piece subdued orchestration allows the melodic aspects of the piece to unfold without clutter.

Sound clip: Maylie (featuring guest vocalist Elen Barry)

The Symposium Orchestra is a nineteen piece Jazz orchestra and with guest artists and doubling it swells to twenty-three instruments. Wagstaff utilises this rich palette well; avoiding the pitfall of over-orchestration. No mean feat with that firepower behind you. Roger Manins guested on tenor saxophone and Elen Barry added wordless vocal lines.

Writing orchestral charts is a monumental task and when you consider that this is a young musician’s first album, the respect for what he achieved deepens. In the USA there is much angst over the dearth of support for Jazz. In New Zealand we have never had that support and so artists create for the joy of it. When albums like this emerge, the New Zealand Jazz scene grows in stature. Wagstaff has put an important  marker in the ground, his future now assured.

Buy the album from www.glenwagstaff.comFirefly (1)

The ‘A’ List – Kevin Field


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A List (10)‘The A List’ release has been a long time coming, or so it seems. Every recording of Kevin Field’s is noteworthy and when rumours of a New York album circulated I attempted to pin him down. Whenever I saw him playing as sideman about town or met him in the street I would pull him aside and say, “Kev, how is the album progressing, when will you release it?”. I invariably received iterations of the same cryptic answer; a knowing smile and a brief “it’s getting there, not too far away now”. the lack of specifics only fed my appetite. I have learned to read the signs and I can sense when an album pleases an artist. It is all in the body language, readable over the self-effacing vagaries of banter. Field had a look about him; a look that told me that he was nurturing a project that pleased him.  A List (7)  As the months progressed I gleaned additional fragments of information in bite sized chunks. Firstly that Matt Penman was on the recording, and incrementally that Nir Felder, Obed Calvaire, Miguel Fuentes, Clo Chaperon and Marjan Gorgani also. The substantive recording took place at Brooklyn Recording in New York with additional recording in Roundhead Studios Auckland. That was pretty much the extent of my knowledge. I have encountered this phenomena before. Treating an album as a child, holding it close before sending it out into the world. It generally presages good things to come. In this case it certainly did.  A List  The title is probably tongue in check, but it speaks truth. There are a number of A List personnel on the album. Field is arguably Auckland’s first call pianist. No one harmonises quite like him and his consistency as pianist and composer is solid. New Zealand Jazz lovers also regard Matt Penman highly. His appearances with leading lineups and his cutting edge projects as leader always impress. In the same vein is Nir Felder; frequently mentioned in the same breath as the elite New York guitarists. Obed Calvaire the same in drum circles. This was an obvious next step for Field; having risen to the top of the local scene, it was time to record with New Yorker’s.

The album is a thing of beauty and satisfying on many levels. Under Field’s watchful eye a flawless production has emerged. Having an album released by Warners is a coup. The big labels rarely release New Zealand Jazz (Nathan Haines being an exception). All compositions are by Field (on the vocal numbers he is co-credited with Clo Chaperon & Marjan Gorgani). From the title track onwards the album engages. We generally hear Field in a straight ahead context but he wisely followed his instincts here. This album extends the explorations of his well received ‘Field of Vision’ release; turning his conceptual spotlight on genres like disco funk and the brightly hued guitar fuelled explorations of the New York improvising modernists. The album also features Miguel Fuentes tasteful percussion which is subtle but effective. Field has done what brave and innovative artists should do. Take risks in the search for new territory.   A List (6)  The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) Auckland launch substituted ‘A’ List locals for the famous New Yorker’s. On guitar was Dixon Nacey, on bass Richie Pickard and on drums Stephen Thomas. The vocal section was; Clo Chaperon & Marjan Gorgani (as on the album). These musicians are superb and so the comparison with the album was favourable (Field is a little higher in the mix on the album and guitarist Felder is a little lower).  A List (5)The CJC was in different venue this time, owing to the refurbishment of the 1885.  The Albion is no stranger to Jazz and in spite of the ‘livelier’ acoustics, it was a good space in which to enjoy the music. Dixon Nacey always sounds like a guitarist at the peak of his powers, but somehow he manages to sound better every time I hear him. This time he used less peddling and spun out wonderfully clean and virtuosic lines. Apart from a tiny amount of subdued wah-wah peddle on the disco number his beautiful Godin rang out with bell-like clarity (the clipped wah-wah comping was totally appropriate in recreating the tight disco funk vibe).  The other standout performance was from Stephen Thomas, who is able to find a groove and yet mess with it at the same time. His complex beats added colour and he mesmerised us all. At the heart of the sound was Richie Pickard. Some of the material was definitely challenging for a bass player as timing was everything. Pickard navigated the complexities with ease. There are were three vocal numbers at the gig (two on the album). Chaperon and Gorgani are impressive together and well matched vocally. Hearing them on the album showcases them to best advantage, as sound mixing is harder in a club. Their presence certainly added excitement to the gig.A List (9)Buy the album and if possible see Field perform this material live. This music is exciting and innovative; past and present rolled into a forward looking Jazz form.

Kevin Field: The A List – Keven Field (Piano, Keys), Nir Felder (guitar), Matt Penman (bass), Obed Calvaire (drums), Miguel Fuentes (percussion), Clo Chaperon & Marjan Gorgani (vocals).  – Live performance: Kevin Field (piano, keys), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Richie Pickard (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums), Clo Chaperon & Marjan Gorgani (vocals). Performed at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, Auckland, 19th August 2015. Available from all leading retailers.


Kushal Talele Quartet


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Kushal Tale (4)By my best estimation, Murphy’s Law kicks in roughly once every three months. Before the gig I plugged in my HD video recorder to charge, gathered my camera equipment into one place and foolishly congratulated myself on being so well organised. That was the mistake right there. Having tempted the Fates they responded in kind. My video recorder didn’t charge because the gods rewarded my hubris by half unplugging the charger cable. This was a gig I particularly wanted to video but the battery died mockingly within 15 minutes. Immediately the battery gave out the gig got better and better.Kushal Talele (1)I had not encountered Kushal Talele before. Until recently he has been working overseas and in London in particular. What I do know about him is that Brian Smith and Pete France tutored him at the New Zealand School of Music; both wonderful musicians. He was born on the Deccan Plateau in the city of Pune, the ninth largest city in India and the second largest after Mumbai in the state of Maharashtra. His family moved to New Zealand when he was eight, but he is now clearly a citizen of the world and of music.Kushal Tale (5)His good looks and relaxed confidence tell a story before he plays a note. Looking the part on the band stand is about posture and being at ease with the task at hand. His tone on the tenor is beautiful. He is very much a modernist but with the elements of Coltrane and the post bop era embedded. I asked him who he particularly listened to and the first name he mentioned was Chris Potter. Serious tenor players all admire Potter and rightly so. I also asked him if Indian Classical Music informed his playing and he was quick to say that it didn’t; adding that it was something he would like to explore one day.Kushal Tale (3)I asked because I have been following altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa who successfully fuses elements of South Indian music with modern Jazz conceptions. In reality most serious post Coltrane saxophonists have these elements in their playing. The way he tirelessly works over figures of melodic and harmonic invention tells me that he has that influence. In approach if not in sound, he takes a similar route to Sonny Rollins. Easing himself into a tune, in no hurry; working over long vamps which stretch into infinity. This turning a piece over and looking at it from different angles; gnawing away until the essence exposed, is a very New York thing.Kushal TaleThe group came together for this gig. All younger musicians but all experienced. It was great to see Cameron McArthur back on the band stand. One of my favourite bass players and adept at handling any challenge. He and drummer Cameron Sangster have just returned from an extended stint playing the East bound cruise ships. On Keys and piano was Connor McAneny. The band settled in as the gig progressed and during the last set they were playing tight energised grooves. Talele worked these grooves to maximum effect. I could only capture the first number (see below). It is my sense, that to experience Talele in peak form, one should see him with a settled band. The density and complexity of his playing would be enhanced by this. As good as this gig was I would very much like to see him in that context.

Kushal Kalele Quartet: Kushal Kalele (tenor saxophone), Conner McAneny (Keys), Cameron McArthur (bass), Cameron Sangster (drums). At the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland 12th August 2015

Paul Nairn – Phantom Quartet CJC 2015


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Paul Nairn 15 (8)Paul Nairn is a man who avoids limelight and although he is extremely popular as a saxophone repairer he gigs all too infrequently. Those who have seen him before always turn up at his gigs, having fond memories of his standards interpretations and of his rich tone. For all of his reticence he is good company, knowledgable and a guy you enjoy being with. The last time I saw him was at the Doug Lawrence gig, shaking his head in disbelief and saying, “This is the southern styled tenor at its best. some of the greats are in that sound”. It is no secret that the classic era of 50’s Jazz is what he loves best. Larger than life standards played by some of the greatest musicians that walked the earth. The Phantom quartet was back to tell that story.Paul Nairn 15 (7)The band set up early in case there was time for a quick run through but Nairn was nowhere in sight. He is notoriously hard to reach by email, phone or messaging so nobody tried. He is not enamoured of digital technology which is part of his charm. He is old school in good way. “He does know it’s tonight”, joked one band member?  Twenty minutes before start time he arrived breathless. The vagaries of Auckland’s wet weather, downtown traffic and parking had tested but not defeated him.Paul Nairn 15 (4)Nairn’s sound is distinctive; clean but with the pleasant hint of a throaty rasp when he bites into a note. It is certainly a sound that you identify with an era. His repertoire on this night included tunes by Cedar Walton, Chick Corea, Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Joe Henderson and Coltrane. Henderson’s Inner Urge occurred during the first set. It is a complex tune harmonically, but a tune I could never tire of. It was great hearing it again. The clip I have put up is Coltrane’s famous ballad ‘Naima’. Everyone played beautifully on that and especially pianist Broadhurst. His approach was fresh and utterly engaging. Nairn and Santorelli played beautiful solos as well while Gibson kept his impeccable trademark pulse.Paul Nairn 15 (1)Nairn has been on the scene for a long time and when he calls upon veteran players to make up his band he gets them. On piano was Phil Broadhurst. In spite of the rain and coldness of the night he turned up in shirt sleeves, smiling and relaxed. His approach to the keyboard that night was anything but casual; stunning us with some of the best solos I have yet heard him play. For the second time in two months Alberto Santarelli was on bass and Frank Gibson was on drums. With these guys behind you good things can happen and Paul Nairn used them to good advantage.

Paul Nairn’s Phantom Quartet: Paul Nairn (tenor), Phil Broadhurst (piano), Alberto Santorelli (bass), Frank Gibson Jr (drums). CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland 5th August 2015.


Marc Ribot & I


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RibotI am a Marc Ribot enthusiast so when local musician Neil Watson sent me a message to say that Ribot was coming to New Zealand I whooped for joy. My first thought was, wow, this will be the good shit. My next thought was, oh yeah I want to interview that cat about his musical and social activism. Watson was to open for him which pleased me. Watson was a good fit for this gig. An iconoclast multi genre improviser himself.

I put out a few feelers to people connected to the tour, letting them know that a local Jazz Journalist was keen to interview Ribot. I heard nothing back and assumed that the tour would be whistle-stop; this is often the case when a single New Zealand concert follows an Australian tour. I let it drop with some regret.

Because I keep an eye on the wider improvising scene, I was aware that Ribot toured Ceramic Dog the previous month. I love that band. Ribot with band mates Shahzad Ismaily and drummer Ches Smith are a force ten hurricane. Wild and free-ranging but subtle at the eye of the storm; Jazz infused while taking few prisoners from the past. They are the music of everyman and all time. I learned at the venue that this was not a Ceramic Dog concert but Marc Ribot on solo acoustic guitar. He is known for the diversity of his projects and I would turn up to a Ribot gig if he was just whistling.

My partner and I arrived early as we wanted good seats. Amazingly we found seating in the front row and this proved a blessing and a problem. A blessing because we could see and hear Ribot with crystal clearly. A problem because of what happened next. A rotund bearded man clumsily took the seat next to us. As he seated himself heavily I could smell the booze on his breath. Fucking drunks. This guy had been pre-loading for at least a decade. He struggled to focus and said, ‘I can’t believe that Marc Robot is here; this guy plays with Zorn’. He was right to disbelieve because his drunken buffoonery denied him the entire experience.Ribot (2)My first act on arriving at the venue was to approach the Tuning Fork floor manager and ask about photographs. He told me of a request from Ribot for absolute quiet. It was solo acoustic guitar, not Ceramic Dog and at Ribot’s request the venue turned off the air-conditioning and fridges. Camera clicks were obviously out of the question unless between numbers. I respected that and took photographs unobtrusively during moments of applause. This was a special gig that required a womb of engaged silence. Audience and musician locked into an embrace of sound.

Because of the above, what happened next was all the more appalling. The drunk, who was so excited about hearing Ribot fell into a deep stupor at the first note. It was a stupor with sound effects and alarming floor-wards lurches. At first his awful wheezes were low volume, but as the concert progressed they became multi-phonic.

After carefully arranging himself, foot on his guitar case, hunched over his ancient acoustic guitar, Ribot dropped into the performance zone. Balanced gently on his knee was an incredible 1937 Gibson L-00; a simply wonderful instrument. When he plays solo he prepares by withdrawing from outside influences. Before a concert he examines a plethora of possible tunes, weighing up musical ideas and searching for new and often oblique ways to tell stories. He seldom has a set list in mind and lets the music and the moment take him where it may. This is a frightening high wire act and only a master improviser would attempt it. Putting yourself in such danger is fraught with risk and an unexpected audience distraction could be fatal. Ribot is more than up to such a challenge. He is one of the worlds greatest improvisers and an acknowledged master of his instrument.

The guitarist was deeply absorbed throughout his astonishing performance. creating an orchestral sound and telling stories free from ego and constraints. In Zen like fashion he examined the various tunes, turning them upside down or examining them from an oblique angle. Although lightly miked, the sound was fatter than an 18 piece orchestra. The subtleties all astonishing micro journeys, complete in themselves. Naked improvising at its best. The journey took us into the classical Spanish or Cuban guitar world, it traversed standards, Delta blues, Coltrane; I could even detect the all but forgotten vibe of Eddie Lang and Carl Kress. At times avant-garde and at other times pastoral. This was a night that I will never forget. Everyone there was spellbound…….except for one fool.

I will now relate my communication moment with the great man. I value it even though I wish it had been other than it was. There were two moments when Marc Ribot looked up and engaged directly with me. I know that I didn’t imagine it. My partner Darien had left her seat long before to sit elsewhere. The fumes and lurching were doing her head in. (Reprise) Fucking drunks. During one particularly drunken wheeze Ribot looked directly at me. Although only a few feet away, I tried to make myself invisible. My superpowers deserted me. Shit, shit, shit I thought, he must think it’s me. I quickly inclined my head sideways towards the drunk, hoping that he could see my gesture in the gloom. Then I lunged out and jabbed the man hard in the ribs.

Ribot caught the gesture and gave me the hint of a smile and a brief nod. That last gesture confirming that my desperate telepathic signal was received; an acknowledgment that it was the fool disturbing the force and not me. This was better than an interview; my superpowers were back and we were communicating by telepathy. Emboldened I reached across again and again to jab the fools ribs. I am not an aggressive man, but the great Marc Ribot had given me permission.

And all the while the music flowed unabated, wonderful music. The art music of everyman.Ribot (1)Footnote: Neil Watson acquitted himself well and added to the enjoyment of the evening. He played three types of electric guitar plus his pedal steel guitar; his set list ranging freely across genres. A Nirvana tune, a Hendrix referencing ‘Hear my train a comin’, a nice tune composed by his partner and the Kiwiana classic Blue Smoke as high points from his set.

Marc Ribot: Solo acoustic guitar at the Tuning Fork, Auckland, New Zealand, August 2015 – supporting act Neil Watson (guitars) with Rui Inaba (upright bass).


‘Grg67’ & Manins Crustacean Empathy


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Grg67 (9)There are a lot of interesting stories on the Jazz circuit and some of them more improbable than others. None more so than a gig dedicated to the Manukau Harbour mud crab Grg67 (Varunidae:Helice). This ten legged estuarine creature has inspired Roger Manins to name a band after him and to compose a significant number of tunesGrg67 (15) in his honour. I could say that environmental activism fuelled the gig (and in part it was), but the affection and respect Manins exhibits towards these crustaceans is more complex than that. It is the respect of a dedicated Flounder fisherman; coloured by the quirkiness of an improvising musician. To quote: “When we play these compositions there are sharp claws and a soft underbelly; at times we can move unpredictably sideways at great speed”.  Manins demonstrated this to great effect as he swiftly shuffled in alternate directions. You couldn’t make this stuff up. As the gig unfolded he delighted the audience with his antics and with the subsequent ‘crab’ influenced compositions.Grg67 (14) Underneath the crusty carapace were a bunch of good tunes and as Manins inferred, they were tangentially tricky and replete with interesting musical twists. Good improvisers are always on the look out for new challenges, new ways to interpret the world about them. In putting together ‘Grg67’ a fresh vehicle for improvisation is born. By bringing in several less experienced musicians Manins has fulfilled an older imperative. To challenge and encourage those beginning the improvising journey. This is how it should work, but many older musicians forget that and remain in their comfort zones. Everyone stepped up here under Manins watchful eye.Grg67 (7)The crab which is the central focus of these sets is Greg, but as Manins so eloquently explains “Crabs don’t use the letter ‘E’. It something to do with their waste not want not utilitarianism”. Other tunes had titles like ‘Crab Empathy’. These tunes and the stories that surrounded them evoked powerful mental images. As the music washed over us you could sense the ebb and flow of the tides. You could easily imagine a predatory Flounder sending the ever watchful crabs scuttling into their burrows (Flounder are none too bright according to net fisherman).Grg67 (6)Michael Howell and Tristan Deck are the youngest members of the ensemble. Howell is a Jazz student and with each month his guitar work grows more impressive. As his confidence grows he stretches himself and playing with Manins is exactly what he needs. He is ready for the deep end of the crab pool. On this gig he played a borrowed Fender and it sat well with him. That Tristan Deck played so well did not surprise me at all; his career trajectory assured as he increasingly takes his place among the better Jazz drummers of the city. He was good when I saw him two years ago; now he is very good. For the second time this month Mostyn Cole appears at the CJC. This time he held the groove with electric bass. He is reliable and multi faceted. Again Manins showed how seamlessly he slots into very different situations. He presented a complex set of tunes to good effect, navigating break-neck tempos and fusing complexities with an inexhaustible supply of good humour.

Estuarine crabs like Grg67 are highly skilled marine engineers. Purifying and oxygenating their environment in innovative ways. They are unafraid to identify as gender non specific. If you see one amongst the Mangroves, spare a thought for it (or its 80 Kiwi cousins). They are a hard-working cog in the indigenous ecosystem and as deserving of a Jazz quartet as any animal. The crab you see might even be ‘Grg67’ or one of his offspring, so say hi while you’re at it.

The Clip is ‘Bennetts Radio Blues’ (Manins).

Grg67 : Roger Manins (leader, compositions, tenor sax), Michael Howell (Fender guitar), Mostyn Cole (electric bass), Tristan Deck (drums)

CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 1885 Britomart, Auckland 29th July 2015




Nock/Manins – ‘Two-Out’


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Nock ManinsA few weeks ago I received a review copy of the Nock/Manins ‘Two-Out’ duo album. As it was late I put it straight into my work bag ready to play in the car. When the morning came, the distractions of the work day overtook me and I forgot it was there. It was not until a week later that I found it and listened.

Placing the album into my Hi Fi changer I started to open the mail; what I heard stopped me in my tracks. This was chill down the spine stuff and I hardly noticed the mail slipping from my fingers to the carpet. Man this was so beautiful. Elegant, unadorned thoughtful standards, played by musicians who understood every nuance of the music. Memories of earlier albums immediately came to mind. I found it impossible not to recall the duo albums of Art Pepper & George Cables or the Maybeck Hall duos. Many of the above mentioned albums were piano and alto saxophone, but the vibe here was the same. Heart warming, thoughtful, mature explorations of Jazz standards in duo format. The tune in the clip below is ‘Black and Blue’ (Waller/Brooks/Razaf)

The choice of tunes is impossible to fault and I particularly loved ‘Black and Blue’, ‘It’s the Talk of the Town’ and ‘Golden Earings’. Mike Nock’s deft hand is detectable in the selection. He has a happy knack of finding tunes that we had almost forgotten. Tunes that we once loved but carelessly forgot about. This album is special and perhaps it’s because I am an old dog with a lot of good music in my head that it triggers such happy memories. This is an album that could only be realised by established musicians with nothing to prove. Mature artists comfortable in their musical skins. Each track communicates the joy of exploration and speaks to us of companionship.

The less is more approach serves the album well. It is interesting how different Manins sounds here. His gentle and slightly thinner sound while unusual for him, is just right for the project. This is a side of him that we seldom hear; light airy minimalism. Nock is also light of touch, allowing the music to breathe and speak for itself. Maybe younger listeners will not make the connections I have, but I am confident that it will resonate with anyone who listens with care. It will resonate because some wonderful tunes were paid the respect they deserve. This is an album to treasure and play over and again.

Review: “Two Out’ Mike Nock (piano), Roger Manins (tenor Saxophone) – the album can be purchased from FWM Records or from any of the artists gigs.

Nock Manins #2

Siobhan Leilani & Andy Smith gigs


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Leilani (9)Last Wednesday the CJC took a step towards Robert Glasper’s ‘Black Radio’ project. At the time of its release the Glasper project shocked a few purists and delighted many others. It all depended on your point of view and your understanding of Jazz history. That particular album brought the ‘now’ of the urban streets into a Jazz recording; rap and urban soul coexisting with jazz keyboard harmonies. It is surprising that it shocked anyone! Surely this is an old story in the retelling. It is not hard to find earlier examples. George Russell’s ‘New York N.Y.’ and Gil Scott Heron’s output spring to mind. Words as poems, wordless vocals and instrumental Jazz are inextricably linked and always will be. Siobhan Leilani brought a Kiwi version of that to the Jazz club and we loved it. It felt in place and the nimble-footed danced. This constant reconnection with the streets is an essential part of our music and we forget it at our peril.John Taylor Kenny Wheeler (3)The first set to play was the Andy Smith Trio. Smith has played at the club as sideman a number of times, but it has been quite a few years since he brought us a project of his own. I have always enjoyed his slick guitar work and especially when he plays with an Alan Brown band. This gig was different as it reached deeper into the modern Jazz guitar bag. Smith has always used pedals convincingly but this time he dialled the effects right back. This was a purer form of modern Jazz guitar and in taking that route the music must stand on its own. It did. I like his approach to harmony and his compositions are compelling vehicles for improvisation.John Taylor Kenny Wheeler (2)The gig undoubtedly benefitted from having the gifted Stephen Thomas on drums.  While a regular in the club it has been a few months since we saw him. Thomas is a drummer’s drummer and he can tackle any project and shine. He constantly pushed the others to greater heights and his solos were tasteful, un-showy and tightly focused. The bass player Russell McNaughton was new to me, but I will be mindful of his presence in future. I particularly liked his arco bass work on ‘The Gypsy’s Dress’. The first number ‘CJC’ (Smith) was a good opener. There were plenty of meaty hooks to reel us in and an ever radiating warmth to dispel the chill rain outside. When they played a tune named ‘Awakening’ I recognised it instantly, but couldn’t recall where I’d heard it (or which group played it). It is actually an older tune of Smith’s and I had remembered it from three or more years ago. Again a solid composition and the fact that it had stuck with me after one hearing underlines that. A very nice trio.Leilani (13)Siobhan Leilani (Siobhan Grace) is an interesting musician and one I hope we see a lot more of. Her association with the UoA Jazz school has yielded dividends. She utilised the services of former and current students for this gig; her guest Chelsea Prastiti most notably. There is an inherent risk in putting a soulful Jazz rapper together with an experimental improvising vocalist. The risk was well worth taking. These two feed off each others energy on up numbers and a force field of ‘happy’ seemed to emanate from them. The opening numbers were more in the soul/Jazz idiom and these were compelling in very different way. The lyrics spoke of angst and identity and this worked well for Leilani. What impressed me most was the authenticity. The language and sentiments were honest; heart-felt and purely ‘street’. I am only sorry that she was not a little louder in the mix (when it comes to vocals my hearing is not as sharp as it once was). This was poetry and good poetry. Word play, syllables stressed for emphasis, cadence; telling a story in an original way.LeilaniOn piano was UoA student Sean Martin-Buss. He caught me completely by surprise with his confident piano accompaniment. I had only seen him perform once previously and that was on bass clarinet. He mostly took a two-handed approach, soloed well on two occasions and engaged in a brief but effective call and response routine with Prastiti. The drummer and electric bass player were unknown to me but again they gave good a good account of themselves. The pumping drum and bass groove was right for the music. On electric bass was Joshua Worthington-Church, on drums Olie O’Loughlin.Leilani (6)This was another testament to the gig programming at the CJC. With rare exceptions every Wednesday night brings an original project. The decision to encourage innovation and originality pays off time and again. The audience now expects it and they wouldn’t turn up week after week for a diet of well-worn standards. With gigs like this a bitter Winter is flying by.Leilani (5)Footnote:’lyrics and poetry are two sides of the same thing‘ (Levitin). Poetry purists often express disdain for song lyrics and especially rap lyrics. The same can occur in reverse when a rapper dismisses poetry as high brow. There is only good poetry and bad poetry. The earliest surviving piece of literature ‘The Gilgamesh’ was written in poetic form. The greatest epics in any language are Homers Iliad and the Odyssey; also written in verse and probably sung. If you want ancient earthy lyrics sung or chanted by a woman then try Sappho: Stuffy (male) scholars have tried for two and a half millennia to purify her verse. “Batter your breasts with your fists girls/tatter your dresses/its no use mother dear/I can’t finish my weaving/you may blame Aphrodite soft as she is/she has almost killed me for love of that boy” – Sappho born 612 BC

Andy Smith Trio: Andy Smith (guitar, composition), Russell McNaughton (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums) @ CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 22nd July 2015

Siobhan Leilani: Siobhan Leilani (vocals, composition), Sean Martin-Buss (piano), Joshua Worthington-Church (electric bass), Olie O’Loughlin (drums) – guest Chelsea Prastiti (vocals) @ CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 22nd July 2015


Mark Lockett Quartet @ CJC


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Mark Lockett #1 2015 086Mark Lockett is a New York based drummer who visits Australasia once a year. Each time he returns he brings with him a piece of his adopted city. He is an original  drummer comfortable in diverse situations; a benign but strong presence in any lineup. His artistic approach under-pinned by an easy confidence and this enables him to interact well and to read every nuance. His wide open ears, communicating the pulse and possibilities of the life he lives as a working musician in a big metropolis. There is also a humour he radiates, which peppers his comments and drumming like aromatic seasoning. A Mark Lockett gig is always original and always enjoyable.

It is less than a month since Ornette Coleman’s passing and if ever there was an appropriate night to celebrate his life, this was it. While not an exclusively Ornette Coleman night, his compositions were well represented; every number played had Ornette’s fingerprints on it. The band came together at short notice and as is often the case in improvised music, happenstance served us well. Roger Manins, Callum Passells and Mostyn Cole are no strangers to the freer musical styles. With Locket propelling them they soared. We heard tunes by Coleman, Ellington, Monk, Foster & Lockett.Mark Lockett 2015 087 The music of Ornette Coleman while not without constraints frees the artists from many of the hard-wired rules. It doesn’t sound at all out-of-place now but I can remember the storm that surrounded its arrival. A treat for me was the groups rendition of ‘Congeniality’ from the seminal ‘The Shape of Jazz to Come’ album. The controversy surrounding this material is long behind us and every improvising musician has a little of Ornette in them whether they acknowledge it or not.Mark Lockett 2015 088Lockett often forms trios or ensembles that have no chordal instruments. While the musicians played ‘inside’ and ‘out’ they also attempted something we seldom hear in New Zealand. The opening number of the first set was Shiny Stockings (Frank Foster) and they played this in the style of the Mulligan piano-less quartets. Bass, Alto and Tenor in counterpoint and working within the changes. This was nice hear. I have an appetite for more of this.

The band was great and they reacted to each other as if they had been playing as an entity for many years. There was a lot of Charlie Haden in Mostyn Cole’s bass lines and in his warm fat sound. He is an engaging bass player and perfectly fitted for this freer approach. Rogers Manins and Callum Passells are always in lockstep and above all they are open to adventurous explorations. Both are superbly intelligent free-players. Watching Lockett I was again drawn to his precision. I have discussed this with him before and his control of the sticks is especially fascinating. After the gig I teased this theme out further, his hand positions and the intense locomotive propulsion that he generates. At times musical and at times like a freight train rolling over you.Mark Lockett 2015 089“Playing like that (fast and furious) is meat and potatoes in New York”, he said. He was once told that he could get better control if he held his sticks further down than usual. Because of that and because of his melodic approach, he is very interesting to watch. Somehow the sound is cleaner and with musical drumming like this who needs a chordal instrument. I can’t wait until his next visit.

Mark Locket CJC Quartet: Mark Locket (drums, leader), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Callum Passells (alto saxophone), Mostyn Cole (upright bass).

CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland,  New Zealand, 16th July 2015.

Matt Steele ‘Master Brewers’


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Matt Steele 2015 087It is always good when proved right and in the case of Matt Steele I certainly was.  This was a superb gig and it confirmed the promise that I saw in Steele as a first year student. The ‘Master Brewers’ musicians are exactly what Steele needed at this stage in his development and he is clearly what they needed. There is a cohesion about this group and it extends beyond the music. This is a band of friends and because they spend a significant amount of time together, they are able to dive deeper into the material on hand. Most of the band is writing and being familiar with each others styles, they contribute compositions that serve the project well. Younger musicians often favour shorter term projects but I hope this unit continues for a while. When I last saw Steele perform it was at his honours recital and he was very much in charge. Now as leader, the reins are subtly loosened and the music benefits from this. With experience, leaders can confidently guide without over playing the role. That only works when the interactions and cues become second nature. In their best moments the ‘Master Brewers’ acted as a single entity; everyone maximising their options while retaining an awareness of the others.Matt Steele 2015 089I immediately noticed that Steele’s voicings were darker. His interesting harmonic approach an outcome of an ever-growing musical maturity. There are certain aspects to Steele’s playing that stand out and during the gig these crystallised in my mind. These attributes are why I follow his career so attentively. He is self-effacing by nature, but that masks a ruthless striving for betterment. Ever reaching further, listening deeply, critically and taking risks. For all that he able to relax into the moment and as he grows musically this is more evident. The most difficult journey for any musician is finding a distinctive style and owning it. Steele is well on the way.Matt Steele 2015 088Thanks to Roger Manins programming, Auckland audiences get to see good Wellington bands every few months. In this case the audience were unfamiliar with the musicians (apart from Steele), but what a treat this gig was. The band won us over quickly and by the time the second set began they were cooking. In spite of the modernistic approach and complex time signatures these guys have a definite pulse. They swing like crazy.Matt Steele 2015 090Ashton Sellars had suffered a mishap with his guitar and he had to borrow one at short notice for the gig. He told me that it felt very different to his own older instrument, but no one would have guessed it by the way he was playing. Under his fingers the instrument sang. He favours longer fluid lines (with a hint of Bauer/Tristano), but his is very much a modern sound. His improvisations are thoughtful and they invite you along. While their music is often complex there is no ballast of needless weighty intellectualism. Piano and guitar keeping nicely apart unless comping in support. Both understanding when to lay out. Once again cohesion and a sense of common purpose drives themMatt Steele 2015 091Johnny Lawrence played upright bass, maintaining the core rhythm duties. While he held the pulse intact, he could also solo very effectively. Like his band mates he fitted into the mix in exactly the right way. Cory Campion was also a strong presence, often giving colour or providing accents. Above all his compositions were strong. There is an increasing trend for drummers to compose and when they write like this it provides an interesting perspective.  Drummers write differently and the ones I hear lately, write very well. Steele and Sellars contributed the most tunes and each wrote in their own distinctive style. Together those charts and this band gave us pure enjoyment.

Master Brewers: Matt Steele (Leader, Piano), Ashston Sellars (guitar), Johnny Lawrence (bass), Cory Champion (drums) CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland 8th July 2015

Neutrino Funk Experience ‘Ace Tone’


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images 086 (1)Ron Samsom’s Neutrino Funk Experience ‘Ace Tone’ album has so much up front punch that that a warning is needed on the label. It is an album that grabs you by the lapels and demands your attention. As you listen it transports you to a world of joy. The album and the live band exudes a vitality that enters through your pores, pulsing through your body like the wild blood of extreme youth. Try as you may, it is impossible to keep still as the rhythms consume you limb by limb. While the album brings historic musical references to mind, it is very much of the present. This is Jazz Funk at its very best.Ron 'Ace Tones' 094There is cleverness aplenty in the album, but that’s not what it’s about. The pulse, punch and danceability are the draw cards. The tunes let each listener glean their own references. During the album launch someone said, “Oh wow that takes me back to Deep Purple”, while others talked of the Jazz funk gurus like Herbie Hancock, Eddie Henderson and Jimmy McGriff. What ever references people heard, one thing is for certain. This band updates 70’s Jazz Funk as few other albums do. A lifelong fan of the classic genre observed, “few classic 70’s funk albums actually sound as good as this”.

There is a hackneyed saying that states; good Rock music is simple music made to sound complex and good Jazz is complex music made to sound simple. That brings me to Samsom’s compositions. Samsom joked that the tunes were so simple, that anyone who couldn’t learn them in minutes was wrong for the band. While the heads are often simple, the weave of the music is not. These tunes are skilful constructs and the subtle shifts and turns are deeply nuanced. The writing allows for open-ended improvisation and soloing, while never letting the over-arching themes subside (e.g. the single bass note and organ chord dominating ‘Simple Facts’ or the catchy closed loop melody line played on bass in ‘Other Brother’). Driving everything like a powerful locomotive is that amazing back beat. There is no mistaking the leader. Samsom is authoritive.Ron 'Ace Tones' 090 (1)Material like this needs highly skilled and experienced musicians in order to extract the maximum advantage and that is exactly what Samsom got. This is an alignment of talent that works so well that they must surely build on their success.  The Neutrino Funk Experience formed in 2014 and started doing regular gigs at Auckland’s Albion in the central City. The word soon got around and one by one we drifted down to see them. The band stood-out from the first day and the disbelieving expletives from experienced musicians confirmed what our gut told us. These guys were total ‘muthas’.Ron 'Ace Tones' 089Roger Manins always sounds great but he has excelled himself here. This brand of earthy down-home funk is a natural place for him and his own funk albums reinforce that view. Manins just tears the place up on these sessions and it would be hard to find his equal. There are times when he apparently defies gravity, rising to his toes and abandoning self to move inside the music. These are moments of pure Zen and I watch for them now. Man and instrument becoming one and out of the bell streams a cornucopia of sound, distilled from the human experience. From the otherworldly wails to the gentlest urgings you recognise Manins uniqueness. Organist Winterburn said of him, “Working with Roger is perfect for me. He’s such a rhythmic saxophonist”. Coltrane, old school funk, ballads and modern edge; it’s all there in the sound.

Grant Winterurn is another extraordinary talent and a fully formed musician. He can talk engagingly on anything musical; complex theory, Bill Evans, Kieth Jarrett, Rick Wakeman, Brother Jack McDuff or Schoenberg. Securing him for this unit was a masterstroke. He is a busy working musician and consequently we don’t see enough of him on the scene. When he does appear an audience follows; he has admirers everywhere. He is not only the consummate organist, pianist and keys player but a great showman. When a C3 or B3 player sits at the keyboards lumpen it feels plain wrong. There is no chance of levelling this criticism at Winterburn. He is delightful to watch and to listen to. Few keyboardists are better able to co-ordinate limbs, groove and flourish like him. Like all improvisers he creates maps of sound in his head and the logic of his solos draws on his wide musical knowledge.Ron, Neutrino  086On the album we have Cameron McArthur on upright bass. Even before leaving the UoA Jazz school Cameron was punching well above his weight. I would describe him as an instinctive player. Knowing where to place his lines and always strongly supportive of other band members. He quickly became a fixture in quality rhythm sections and visiting artists praised him. After a trip to New York to check out the scenic he picked up some work in cruise ship bands. By happy coincidence they had cut the album prior to him leaving. So punchy are his bass lines on ‘Ace Tones’, that you think he is playing an electric bass. In his absence Samsom hired Karika Junior Turua for the launch gig. Again this was a good choice. This time we did hear an electric bass and as Turua has experience with Jazz funk, the transition from upright to electric bass was seamless.Ron 'Ace Tones' 088 (1)Lastly there’s the album art work and the recording credits. Who ever created the cover design and layout must feel pleased; they did an amazing job. The presentation tells the ‘Ace Tone’ story perfectly. My friend Iain Sharp and I were involved in the project as liner notes providers.  As requested we contributed poems. It is rare (but not unheard of) for an album to use poems instead of the standard liner note blurb. I really hope that this trend continues for selfish reasons. Contributing something to an album like this is pure pleasure. The recording and mixing took place at ‘Roundhead Studios’ in Auckland and the mastering at ‘Turtle Tone Studios’ in New York. The album is out on Rattle Jazz where the best of original New Zealand music lives.

Having documented the band from their first gig, I have long felt a stake in this project. The finished album is surely not where this story ends; music of this quality deserves a sequel. Ron Samsom is an intuitive multi-faceted drummer and gifted composer. He is program coordinator at the UoA Jazz school. (if you haven’t already done so check out his and Manins contributions on the award-winning DOG album).

The Neutrino Funk Experience: Ron Samsom (leader, compositions, drums), Grant Winterburn (Hammond organ, Nord Stage, Wurlitzer electric piano, acoustic piano), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Cameron McArthur (acoustic bass) – live Karika Junior Turua (electric bass).

Live gig: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland 1st July 2015

Purchase at leading record outlets or directly from Rattle Records 

For the poems look in the JazzLocal32.com page ‘Jazz as Poetry’

Crystal Choi ‘Skogkatt’ @ CJC


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Crystal Choi Skogkatt 098I looked forward to the ‘Skogkatt’ gig because Crystal Choi is a young musician with plenty of interesting ideas. She recently graduated from the UoA Jazz school and this project is largely drawn from her output as a student. Her arrangements and musical ideas show an evolving musician and her performance skills speak of energy and a growing confidence. When you speak to her there is a hint of shyness, but this evaporates the minute her hands touch the keyboard. At the piano her touch is decisive and the thinking behind the pieces is strongly communicated. She has grasped an important truth, how to play with space. One minute she is playing boldly with both hands raining down on the keys, the next dropping back to a gentle whisper or laying out. Her choice of project was a brave one as it tackled areas well beyond the usual Jazz orbit. Writing for strings and an unusually configured horn section an indicator of where she could be headed.Crystal Choi Skogkatt 101Her compositions and charts were of particular interest as they evoked more of a Northern European, or South American ethos than a North American one. While all Jazz arises from American roots, there are other forces at work in a globalised jazz world. As musicians from different ethnic backgrounds embrace improvised music something fresh is added. It is right that New Zealanders, Northern Europeans or people from other regions bring something of their own life experiences to the music. Jazz from the outer rim is particularly interesting at present.Crystal Choi Skogkatt 090There were solo, trio, sextet, septet and tenet pieces. Her writing for the ten piece band was notable. Although an uncommon configuration of instruments these oddly configured, medium-sized ensembles have been a feature in modern classical music since Saint-Saens ‘Carnival of the Animals’ (that was an eleven piece). In Jazz since the late 40’s. Having a front line with two violins and cello alongside trumpet/flugel, bass-clarinet, clarinet and flute/alto saxophone worked well. The unusual textures gave depth and interest to the composition. The slightly tart voicings of the Bartok like string section contrasting nicely with the woody richness of the woodwind horns. These sort of excursions are not embarked upon lightly but I feel Choi pulled it off. My only quibble, and it is a small one is that the ensemble needed to tighten up somewhat in places.Crystal Choi Skogkatt 087Another side of Choi is her singing. While certainly not a big voice it has charm and originality. Like many improvisers she sings while digging into a solo. These are wordless songs of the sort that you would hear on a Norma Winstone album. At times there is a Debussy feel to her solo and trio compositions.Crystal Choi Skogkatt 096This project while far-ranging begs developing further and perhaps recorded at some future point. It had a Kiwi ECM feel to it. I hope that she works with the material and refines it further. It is well worth doing.  Note: The Skogkatt is native to the forests of Scandinavia and the original Maine Coon cat.Crystal Choi Skogkatt 094

Crystal Choi – ‘Skogkatt Project‘ : Crystal Choi (piano, compositions, arrangements), Eamon Edmunsen-Wells (bass), Tristen Deck (drums), J Y Lee (alto sax & flute), Eizabeth Stokes (trumpet & flugel), Asher Truppman Lattie (clarinet, tenor saxophone), Sean Martin-Buss (Bass clarinet & tenor sax), Charmian Keay (violin), Milena Parobczy (violin), Yotam Levy (cello).

CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland 24th June 2015

Mathias Eick – ‘Midwest’


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Midwest2Before hearing the first note, I knew that I would like ‘Midwest’. Mathias Eick is a unique communicator and his compositions gift us with particular ways of experiencing places we have not yet visited. Sound is transmuted and we see what he is seeing. As I listened to the album I was drawn deep into a world of vast open spaces, history and complex human emotion. The connection was visceral as the music brought the plains of the Midwest into the range of intimacy. I sensed the wild grass running between my fingers as I listened. The last album to evoke such a strong sense of place for me was Tomasz Stanko’s ‘The Soul of Things’. ECM is the home of such evocative albums.

This is an outsiders look at the Midwest of America and a fresh take on Americana. The emotions and melodic intensity are what they are; expressions borne of the heart, devoid of apparent preconception, arrow straight in their delivery. Few bands are as suited to realise this as Eick’s and for the task he has assembled the ideal collaborators. All of the elements are there. The hint of sadness in the gentle slurs of Gjermund Larsen’s violin, the sparse beauty of Jon Balke’s piano, the folksy bass lines of Mats Eilertsen and the colourist pulsing percussion of Helge Norbakken. Above all the soft-edged well modulated soulful trumpet; a trumpet that sounds like no other.MidwestWhere I live in the South Pacific, Jazz musicians sometimes pose the question; Do we have our own sound, a unique quality that we tap into? As our scene grows the answer is increasingly yes. This uniqueness of ‘sound’ is evident among Scandinavian improvising musicians and especially so among Norwegian trumpeters. In this case the identity is multi faceted. It is Norwegian and Americana.Midwest 3The Midwest is both mythical and real, we feel that we know it intimately. Endless tales arise from the indigenous peoples (who respected it best) and the hopeful European settlers who spread across it looking for a new home. It struck a particular chord with Eick as the peoples of Norway were prominent among those settlers. The writer Lawrence Durrell explains this best when he says that certain places transcend reality and become ‘less a geographical entity than an idea’. ‘Midwest’ is an embodiment of this principle. Midwest by Mathias Eick is out on the ECM label.

Rebecca Melrose to Montreux @ CJC


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Rebecca Melrose 085The last time I saw Rebecca Melrose perform was at a CJC gig, not long after her graduation from the UoA Jazz School. That was well over a year ago. Since then she has made her way as a vocalist, exploring several musical genres and recording an EP (yet to be released). This gig was straight ahead Jazz; her interpretations of various Jazz standards. I remember being impressed by Melrose the last time I heard her as there is a rich quality to her voice and she knows how to play with lyrics. At the last gig she took risks with her choice of material and it paid off. This time the sets were more mainstream but she exuded an easy-going confidence; the sort that comes with time in front of audiences.Rebecca Melrose 092Accompanying her were three graduates from the UoA Jazz Programme. Crystal Choi on piano, Eamon Edmunson-Wells on bass and Jared Devaux de Marigny, drums. CJC audiences have seen a lot of Edmunson-Wells over recent years and increasingly we are seeing Choi. Desvaux de Marigny is not seen as often. These are all fine musicians. Additional to the core lineup were guest artists Callum Passells (alto) and Liz Stokes (trumpet).Rebecca Melrose 087

The rhythm section worked well as accompanists and stood out during the brief solo spots (when they functioned as a trio). In this space Choi stood out in particular, her piano work showing edge and maturity. For a recent graduate she shows enormous promise and her own gig (to follow this) will be one to catch. I have put up the clip ‘Afro Blue’ (Mongo Santamaria) as it has a modernist feel about it. Her take being closer to the Robert Glasper/Erykah Badu version than the original.Rebecca Melrose 086Melrose has been selected as a semi-finalist in the prestigious Shure Vocal Competition (the only Australasian/Pacific finalist). She will fly to Montreux shortly to compete in the finals at the 2015 ‘Montreux Jazz Festival on Lac Lemon. This gig and other events are to help her get there. I wish her well.Rebecca Melrose 093

Rebecca Melrose 090Quartet: Rebecca Melrose (leader, vocals), Crystal Choi (piano), Eamon Edmunsen-Wells (bass), Jared Desvaux de Marigny (drums).

CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, 17th June 2015

‘Wave’ – Antonio Carlos Jobim


Many years ago as a brand new blogger I posted this. It is still a frequently visited post, so I freshened it up a little and sent it around again.

Originally posted on JazzLocal32.com:

Cover of Cover of Wave

It was always easy to love Tom Jobim‘s music as it captured the very essence of cool; the exotic new Brazil of the 1960’s and 70’s.   While the music may not have captured the grim realities of the barrio’s, it spoke powerfully of the hope and dreams of a new generation; of educated hip, urban Brazilians.

The media showcased endless white-sand beaches, beautiful bikini clad girls and lost love under palm trees, but this was the era of ultra exciting modernist architecture. Best evidenced in the wonderfully executed, delightfully surreal Brasilia city.  This city was the revolutionary vision of three men of genius and they carved it out of of the jungle in a mere four years.

The President’s futuristic dreams were eventually overrun by greedy money men, a military dictatorship and powerful elites, but the legacy of Brasilia remains. These visionaries were President – Juscelino…

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Reuben Bradley’s ‘Cthulhu Rising’ @ CJC


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Cthulhu Rising 085H P Lovecraft died under appreciated, but it didn’t curb his output. His imaginings took him to darkly strange and exciting places. Places that few of us dared contemplate. While he reached deeper than writers like Edger Alan Poe and further into the human psyche, his wildest dreams could not have prepared him for Wednesday night. Reuben Bradley, time traveller and keeper of lost grooves has wrestled with the spirits and brought Lovecraft to life again.

If anyone was up to this interesting challenge it was Bradley. An original drummer who moves across the kit with balletic fluidity and whose focus and musicality enhances any undertaking. He possesses superb compositional skills and these are fed by a fertile imagination. There is another quality to Bradley and perhaps this is the key. He has a highly developed sense of the absurd. A good humoured irreverence that is never far from the surface. This time his attributes were given full rein and he has excelled himself. Cthulhu Rising 091This is a truly exceptional album and it is no wonder when you consider the source material and the musicians associated with it. Bradley, Penman and Eigsti are a deadly combination and their interplay is crisply on the mark. Matt Penman is dear to our hearts in New Zealand. One of our finest Jazz exports. An expat from Auckland who conquered the American improvised bass scene in ways that few others manage. His work with James Farm, the San Francisco Jazz Collective, Aaron Parks, Kurt Rosenwinkel and a long list of luminaries is instructive. That he still appears with the best of our local artists and on local recordings is our immense good luck. An imaginative and wonderfully musical bass player who holds the groove and manages to tell interesting stories without distracting us from the overall focus of the piece. Few bass players could do this better than Penman.

Last but least is Taylor Eigsti on piano and keys. The New York based Eigsti is also an original stylist. While his name is often associated with the likes of Eric Harland, Joshua Redman, Ambrose Akinmusire, Julian Lage and Gretchen Parlato he deserves evaluating in his own right as leader. For a number of years now the Jazz community has singled him out as an exceptional talent. His back story and youthful entry onto the world Jazz scene is fascinating, but it is his mature output that continually amazes. He is well recorded, well reviewed and getting better with each passing year. At times you can hear influences but they are not the predominant voice. This is a wholly formed original artist and what he brought to Cthulhu Rising was priceless.Cthulhu Rising 094The judicious use of sampled ‘Lovecraft’ readings in several places adds to the atmospheric feel and doesn’t detract from the overall musical experience. Every note played and every voice-over is well placed. Yet again Rattle Records have excelled themselves here. The secret of ‘Rattle Records’ tasteful Jazz catalogue must surely be seeping into the wider world by now. ‘Rattle’ is the ‘ECM’ of the South Pacific. This album was recorded at the ‘Bunker Studios’ in New York, Engineered by Aaron Nevezie and mixed and mastered by Steve Garden at ‘The Garden Shed’ Auckland.Cthulhu Rising 088There was a change of personnel for the CJC ‘Cthulhu Rising’ release gig and for the Australasian tour to follow. Respected bass player Brett Hirst took Penman’s place and this was a sound choice. Hirst, another expat Kiwi, is well established on the Australian scene and frequently employed by visiting artists. He is a gifted musician and perfect for high end gigs like this.

Throughout the New Zealand leg of their tour they were enthusiastically acclaimed and no wonder. The project is well conceived and well realised. In spite of the incredible strengths of his band mates, this is still very much Bradley’s album. We are seeing more drummer led albums lately and the sheer exuberance and depth of this one is proof that the New Zealand improvised music scene just gets better and better.

Cthulhu Rising: Reuben Bradley, Taylor Eigsti, Matt Penman – on tour Brett Hirst – purchase the album from Rattle records or in stores

Live Gig: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand



Doug Lawrence plays the CJC


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Doug Lawrence 090Doug Lawrence is every bit the archetypal southern tenor man, from the top of his tall frame to the bell of his brightly shining tenor. His sound is fat and down-home-cooking rich, whether playing softly or at volume. He has more cut through than a diamond headed drill-bit. Lawrence has such considerable credentials that it is beyond my reach to enumerate them all here (google him).

He arrived in New Zealand several weeks ago as lead tenor player for the Basie Band. It was a sellout concert in the Civic and we marvelled at the tightness and punch of their sound. Eighty years on the road will do that. Kansas City swing is a wonder of the universe and seeing Lawrence solo in front of that famous orchestra told us that we were in for another treat. Unbelievably our CJC Jazz club had booked him to appear in a few days. At first we wondered how this came about, but we were soon to learn of a long-standing connection between him and the CJC’s Roger Manins. A wonderful Jazz back story informed this gig and we were the lucky beneficiaries.Doug Lawrence 2 089Lawrence is tall and as he performs he stoops slightly, forming a classic old school playing pose. Slowing bending his knees inwards before stretching and lifting his horn to the ceiling. His speaking voice is rich like his playing, a southern Louisiana drawl adding to his considerable charm. The first number was ‘End of a love Affair (Redding) and the audience whooped in delight as the band took the changes at a good pace. The rhythm section propelled by the tidal waves of sound emanating from the tenor. It was that sound and the power of delivery that grabbed you from the get go. The intonation and phrasing revealing influences which although readily identifiable, transformed them into a new sound. This was pure alchemy. It was like having Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon on the same band stand.Doug Lawrence 092It is during ballads that the skill of a musician is often tested. In this case we saw something close to perfection. It wasn’t just Lawrence, but his Kiwi pickup band as well. Spurred on by each other, they dug deeper and deeper. A night and a vibe that we will remember for years to come. There was an obvious rapport between pianist Kevin Field and Lawrence. I gather that he found Field’s harmonic approach interesting and perhaps this is an indication of our own development as we grow our standing. Lawrence’s intonation was the thing that grabbed you most and this made his solos particularly enjoyable. Long held notes ending in breathy flurries or else bending the note ever so slightly before delivering a short heart stopping burst of controlled vibrato.  With Holland and Samsom also finding their sweet spot this was a dream band.Doug Lawrence 093

There were a few evergreen Basie numbers like the swinging ‘Shiny Stockings’ (Foster) and ‘Jumping by the Woodside’ (Basie) but the biggest surprise came later when Lawrence invited Roger Manins and Nathan Haines up to join him. Leaning into the microphone he announced ‘Impressions’ by John Coltrane. This was a change of pace devoured by club audience and band alike as they dove deeper and deeper into the crazy off the grid modal grooves. Its true what they say. Cats like this can do anything when the spirit moves them. The spirit was sure among us that night.Doug Lawrence 2 096Here is the back story: 17 years ago a younger Roger Manins hit the New York streets, where he learned to scuffle in the time-honoured way of Jazz musicians. Because he possessed the hunger to learn he approached many established horn players. One of these was Doug Lawrence and traces of that time are still evident in Manins sound. All of those years ago Manins subbed for him and here is a Face Book extract that Lawrence posted once he returned to the USA. Doug Lawrence 097Roger has matured into a GREAT player and MAGNIFICENT teacher! All of his students have a SOUND and they are all inspired to play, because of Roger. The curriculum at the University of Auckland Jazz Department is second to none, and I am going to use it as my model when conducting masterclasses at other universities around the world. Roger and Ron Samsom and the rest of the faculty have got it right at the U of A and I’m going to suggest that each and every University I teach at check it out. Cheers ROG! You are doing it ALL right brother! I hope to see and play with you soon mate!”  That says it all really.

The last phase of the evening is best described as Tenor Madness. At times three tenors played in unison, at other times Nathan Haines keening Soprano took up the challenge.  When Manins and Haines (plus Haines father Kevin) took to the stage we found ourselves in 1940’s Kansas City.  Witnessing the good-natured, but no holds barred tenor battles of old. At the end of the second set the audience nearly rioted.  No-one wanted this night to end. Lawrence asked for another drink and picked up his saxophone again. “My plane for the States doesn’t leave for five hours, lets play on”, he said. And they did.

You can purchase Doug Lawrence’s ‘New Organ Trio album’ from iTunes, Cactus Records or from Amazon. Please show your appreciation for these amazing artists by purchasing their recordings.

Who: The Doug Lawrence Quartet – plus guests: Doug Lawrence (Tenor Saxophone, Kevin Field (piano), Olivier Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) – Guests: Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Nathan Haines (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone), Kevin Haines (bass).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand 3rd June 2015.

Nathan Haines sings & plays – The Little Big Band


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Nathan LBB 092Nathan Haines is a master of the melodic and the model and he has a beautiful and distinctive sound on all his horns (and winds). He has a strong following around the world and it is no wonder when he turns on gigs like this. His following crosses genres, attracting younger and older audiences equally. He also cuts through media blind spots in a way that few other New Zealand improvising musicians do. It is good to have him on home soil for a while and good that he is focussing on fresh local projects. What he does is always exciting and this gig was no exception.Nathan LBB 097The talented and hard-working, Haines always thinks through his projects. Hot on the heals of his successful award-winning Jazz albums ‘Poets Embrace’ and ‘Vermillion Skies’ he has again teamed up with arrangers Wayne Senior and Mike Booth. The decision to include more Jazz vocals is a welcome development. There’s a paucity of male jazz singers in the modern world and they’re a rarity in New Zealand. The set list was an interesting mix of Haines originals and a few Jazz standards seldom heard live. Like his recent Jazz projects, these tunes evoked and reinterpreted the classic era of the 50’s. Consequently they oozed cool. Nathan LBB 094With Michal Martyniuk on piano, Kevin Haines on bass and Ron Samsom on drums he was already on solid ground. This is also where Haines excels. He is a bandleader who choses his musicians well. Martyniuk made his presence felt and soloed beautifully while never over playing. It was exactly what these charts required. Kevin Haines is a highly-respected, tasteful bass player with an impeccable CV. During the sets smiles and friendly banter flowed between father and son; further enhancing the mood. The highly experienced Samsom was on drums throughout. He is new to Haines lineups. His approach to the kit springs from a confident inner logic; more organic than Haines usual drummers. It was interesting to watch their interactions as they sparked off each other. Samsom giving Haines a different platform to work from.

The first few numbers were quartet only and the gorgeous and evocative ‘The Night Air’ opened the set. This is a lovely composition by Haines, with the warmth and vibe of a classic Impulse vinyl album (see clip). His tone is unique and especially evident when doing this material. It Nathan LBB 100immediately took me back to hearing Pharoah Sanders for the first time. When Haines plays these modal pieces, there’s a spiritual joy that comes across. This is a strong suit for him and for those of us who love that era a balm.

As the set progressed the ensemble doubled to include a four piece horn section. There were distinct tonal and textural qualities to this ‘Little Big Band’; differing from his ‘Vermillion Skies’ horn section as that had French horns. The line up of trombone, tenor Saxophone, Alto saxophone and trumpet/flugal worked well. From ‘Vermillion Skies’ we heard J. J. Johnson’s ballad ‘lament’ and the vocal ‘Navarino Street’. Wayne Senior and Mike Booth had worked on the arrangements and few in New Zealand can match their arranging skills. Perhaps the greatest pleasure was hearing an arrangement of ‘Boplicity’ from the 1949 MilesNathan LBB 089 Davis album ‘Birth of Cool’. Few bands tackle this and more’s the pity. The octet horn section were Mike Booth, Roger Manins, Callum Passells and Hayden Godfrey.

It’s always good to hear Haines singing and I think we will hear more of that in future. That said, as long as Haines puts a tenor saxophone to his lips he will draw audiences because his tenor playing infects us with joyousness. There’s a real warmth to his playing and if you have listened to Jazz for as long as I have, your memories will quickly conjure the days of Coltrane, Lateef or Sanders. On nights like this you feel the best of your yesteryear listening captured, then gifted back to you. As I filmed I noticed the famous artist Billy Apple sitting beside me. He leaned forward smiling and said, “This is wonderful, the vibe is just like a New York Jazz club of the 50’s or 60’s”. He is right.

Who: Nathan Haines Quartet & Octet – Nathan Haines (tenor, saxophone, vocals, compositions)- Michal Martyniuk (piano), Kevin Haines (bass), Ron Samsom (drums), Mike Booth (trumpet, flugel, arrangements), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Callum Passells (alto saxophone), Hayden Godfrey (trombone), – conductor arranger Wayne Senior.

Where:(CJC Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, 27th May 2015

Carnivorous Plant Society – Finn Scholes @ CJC


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Finn Scholes CPS 085 (1)Music has a million functions, some of them mysterious; it is the soundtrack to our lives. One of those functions, should not be underestimated, is to bring fun into our day. In this age of multi-media music performance the use of film and theatre is generally ceded to heavy metal or pop. That is a shame because Jazz audiences can react favourably to music when accompanied by these various forms of media. This works well at the Golden Dawn. Sometimes when the CJC is held upstairs, we get random film and images playing across the musicians as they perform. Who can forget the crazy brilliance of ‘The Grid’ (see earlier post). While happenstance can work; truly effective interaction needs working into a performance and be way slicker than a silly strobe light or an embarrassing disco chandelier. The Carnivorous Plant Society presented a coordinated performance and it enhanced the music on offer. Finn Scholes CPS 093This is very much a Finn Scholes project and it has been around for some time. Scholes is primarily known as a trumpeter (often playing the avant-garde end of town). Increasingly these days he is a keyboard player and showman. Last year I saw him with this group; belting out his signature brassy Mexican trumpet sound while playing an analogue synth with his left hand. The performance often tipped into the surreal because Scholes wore a Mexican ‘night of the dead’ wrestling mask. Not an image or a sound I will easily forget. Finn Scholes CPS 087The Carnivorous Plant Society is a quintet but there are many more instruments, pedals and electronic devices than there are band members. Scholes plays trumpet, tuba, piano, numerous keyboards, electronics – Siobhanne Thompson, vibraphone, violin, percussion, pocket trumpet – Tam Scholes, electric guitar – Cass Mitchell, Electric Bass – Alistair Deverick, drums, electronics. With use of loops, wizard like gadgets and Siva like arms, a number of sounds are generated at once. Finn Scholes CPS 094The occasional use of voice-over samples was far from being gratuitous as the ‘Max Headroom’ like humour often lay in these samples. There were strange Stephen King like stories of robots taking over the world and oddly quirky adventures relayed. The latter as if being recalled by deadpan 1950’s radio hosts. Many of these performed against brightly coloured cartoon graphics that played over their heads. The graphics were brilliant and although I have no evidence for supposing this, I presume that someone in the quintet (or a close friend hip to the project) created them.

Finn Scholes has been to the CJC often, but it has been a long while since we saw the fine bass player Cass Mitchell (probably with the Andy Brown band nearly three years ago). The rest of the group are new to the club as far as I know. Billed as ‘cinematic fantasy Jazz with a Mexican twist‘. An absolutely truthful advertising descriptor. As a Zorn, Sun Ra and Zappa fan I can hardly object. Finn Scholes CPS 085

Who: ‘Carnivorous Plant Society’ – Finn Scholes, Siobhanne Thompson, Tam Scholes, Cass Mitchell, Alistair Deverick.

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, 20th May 2015

Julie Mason Quartet @ CJC


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Julie Mason 087It has been a while since Julie Mason performed as leader. Mason is a pianist/vocalist who over the years taught and influenced a number of younger musicians. After a difficult few years battling health issues she has now started performing again and her new project titled: ‘compositions by piano playing Jazz Musicians’ is what she brought to the CJC. Most of these tunes are not standards in the American song-book sense and so they often lack wider recognition. That’s a pity because the tunes written by these musicians are some of best to come out of the last 90 years. It is always good to delve into this material. Julie Mason 088A perfect example of a composer/performer who deserves wider recognition is Enrico Pieranunzi. He is all too often overlooked outside of Europe. This formidable Italian improviser has performed with artists like Charlie Haden, Art Farmer, Kenny Wheeler, Chet Baker, Jim Hall and dozens of others. His output stands favourably when compared to the finest of the American Jazz issues.  Of particular note is ‘Live in Paris’ and ‘Don’t forget the Poet’. The latter is a tribute to Bill Evans. Mason performed the title track from that album beautifully. She captured the lyrical quality of the piece.Julie Mason 086she has performed with these musicians for many years; Lance Su’a (guitar), Alberto Santarelli (bass) and Frank Gibson (drums). Her partner, the well known Jazz Pianist Phil Broadhurst sat in while Mason did a vocal number. The set list was split between vocals and instrumental pieces. The number Broadhurst accompanied her on was the fabulously evocative ‘The Peacocks’ (Jimmy Rowles/Norma Winstone). It is one of those tunes that is so aligned to Evans and Rowles that musicians tend to shy away from it. That’s a pity in my view: it was nice to hear it performed live. Other artists featured as sources were Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Billy Childs and Jacky Terrason.

Julie Mason 085

‘Hip Without Borders’ (poem for Gil Scott Heron)


header 085The world is full of crazy shit at present and it’s time to organise. It’s time to form an organisation; deployable at short notice. ‘Hip Without Borders’ will have no membership card and it will not stand under any flag. ‘Hip without Borders’ will not require you to be a passport holder, because the corruption of nationalism could hinder your passage. Members will know each other on sight; no secret handshake necessary. Members will be subversive poets or out-cat musicians. They will know Miles Davis solo from Boplicity or of John Zorns tribute to William S Burroughs. They will not be able to name one contestant on X Factor or care that they found god afterwards. “Hip without Borders’ will be a proscribed organisation because they will infiltrate the security intelligence services. Members will not believe that the security intelligence services are either intelligent or secure. Members will value bitter-sweet dissonance over a pretty melody; knowing that it is a mirror held to the human condition. They will love mankind unconditionally; in spite of mankind’s fucking stupidity. They will confront power with trickster jokes. ‘Hip Without Borders’ requires your service. – John Fenton – Winter 2015 –

Michael Howell & Kenji Holdaway @ CJC


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Howell Holdaway 075 This was ’emerging artists’ night and you wouldn’t have thought so. The club had packed to capacity and the performances were far beyond what you’d expect from students. The artists approached their sets differently, but the end results were equally satisfying. Both study at the Auckland University Jazz School and if that institution is turning out students of this quality it certainly reflects well on the faculty. Howell Holdaway 077Michael Howell is from West Auckland and for some reason a number of excellent guitarists emerge from that quadrant. Growing up in the Waitakere ranges seems to have gifted his playing with an expansiveness and it is not hard to imagine big vistas and tree-clad hills during his ballad numbers. Howells set opened with a ballad and edged into the faster tempos later. His thoughtful opening took us deep inside the music and this was a good way to start a set. As well as his own tunes he featured compositions by Ben Monder, Sam Rivers and John Scofield. When a guitar trio doesn’t use an organ or piano there is more space to work in. This was well utilised by Howell although he is also adept in larger group situations. I heard him a few days later when he sat in with a number of very experienced musicians and he stepped into that space effortlessly. There were two numbers with piano and fellow student Crystal Choi sat in for these (also adding a vocal line). The other musicians were Eamon Edmundson-Wells on Bass (who also played bass in the second set) and Tristan Deck on drums. These former UoA students have already made their mark on the scene.  Howell Holdaway 081Kenji Holdaway led the second set and his approach was quite different. Most of the tunes he chose favoured collective improvisation and they draw upon diverse genres. His bandstand presence and the way he approached tunes oozed confidence. He had also chosen some former UoA students to accompany him and his choice was right on the money. J Y Lee is a gifted alto player and he can work the spectrum from avant-garde through to the lyrical ballads that give sentiment a good name. His musicality shone through during this gig and he just gets better and better. On Rhodes and piano was Conner Mcaneny and he often pushed the group into a freewheeling fusion space. Once again It impressed me how well his playing served the music as it was far from formulaic. When the others were playing his comping chords acted as clever punctuation; urging them to reach further and deeper. Another surprise was Tom Legget on drums and perhaps I have not been paying proper attention. I recall him sitting in during the CJC Jam Sessions of 2012.  Now he is a fully formed drummer. His contributions tasteful and decisive. Eamon Edmundson-Wells was on bass once again and he showed what a tasteful player he is.  While the band was good it was Holdaway who dominated. It was not that he injected himself into others solos for he would regularly lay out respectfully. It was his impressive command of the guitar, that and the sense that he was really across this gig. Howell Holdaway 078

Spammerz, Silent Observer and Ambient Adventures


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Spammerz 076Spammerz is a fascinating group and there is an interesting conceptual approach underlying their ethos. The quartets approach to improvisation is organic; more than might than might be supposed at first encounter. What they play is familiar but at the same time intangible. Constant organic shifts occur underneath the momentum and these apparent contradictions are not accidental. The music while eminently danceable is remarkably free of constraints; there is form, but it is not always fixed. The music has groove but it is cleverly purged of the familiar licks and hooks that usually inform groove music. There are interesting dynamics but these are not based upon loudness or showy pyrotechnic displays. It is ambient, but not in the accepted sense. It is enjoyable.

The leader of the quartet Dan Sperber once described his compositions as ‘unterhaltungsmusik’ (easy listening). This tongue-in-cheek description belies the reality and it hints at his quirky approach to writing charts. Background music was certainly not what the CJC or Golden Dawn audiences heard. They either danced happily or sat mesmerised as the friendly grooves filled the room. Perhaps ‘trance music’ comes closer?  Spammerz 074This opens up an interesting conversation about the many forms of ‘ambient’ music being explored at present. These forays are mainly by musicians on the improvised and experimental music scenes. Along the way the term ‘ambient’ is garnering new meanings and it can no longer be confined to the vernacular definition. It implies subtly, depth and a strong sense of being coupled to wider sensory experiences. The difference being that the senses catch on silken threads and not on steel shackles. There is also an illusive quality to this music and to understand the genre better, a good starting place would be Miles Davis ‘In a Silent Way’ or Brian Eno and Jon Hassell (‘Fourth world volume one, possible musics’). For an up to the minute vantage point go to YouTube and locate Elvind Aaset and Jan Bang’s ‘And Poppies from Kandahar’. Spammerz 071Unlike ‘easy listening’ there are deep emotions engaged by this type of music. Like all trance music cunning voodoo tricks draw you in and as you relax into the mesmerising grooves, you fall deeper into the web. This is music evoking mental pictures and imaginary worlds. This is music that is often served up with dissolving visual images accompanying a clip. The filmic qualities are inescapable.

The Spammerz band is Dan Sperber (guitar), Alan Brown (Crumar keyboard), Ben McNicoll (saxophones) and Jason Orme (drums). Because the musicians have been experimenting and playing with the grooves, the music is constantly evolving. The CJC gig was great, but the Golden Dawn gig just a few nights later was even better.  Spammerz 073Alan Brown is an asset to any unit and especially so when you consider that this is a crossroads between ambient and groove (both specialties of Browns). Ben McNicoll is a strong presence and his reading of these shifting grooves is always apposite. It is nice to hear such bluesyness purged of cliche. Jason Orme is a veteran of the groove scene but he sounds great in any situation. Spammers music calls for a tight groove but there is also a need for subtlety. Orme is more than up to the task. The leader Dan

The leader, Dan Sperber is best known for his role in ‘New Loungehead’ and the ‘Relaxomatic Project’. In spite of having such strong band mates on this project he is centre stage. His disarmingly quiet persona belies a strength of purpose.  A nice guitarist with interesting things to say.  Spammerz 077In the same week that Spammerz appeared at the CJC Alan Brown released his ambient album ‘Silent Observer‘. This album has long been anticipated. Anyone who knows Brown will be aware of his longtime interest in the works of the new Scandinavian ambient improvisers. Trumpeters like Arve Hendriksen, Nils Petter Molvaer, Guitarists like Arvin Aaset, vocal innovators like David Sylvian or Sidsel Endresen and electronics wizards like Jan Bang. This is a new frontier open for wider exploration. These artists draw huge audiences in Europe and increasingly audiences from beyond that continent.

While Brown has laid down more soul-filled grooves than most, he is also capable of thinking outside of the square. The concept of this project was clear when he sat down at the lovely Steinway D piano in the Town Hall Concert Chamber. Creating gentle music that is unconfined. This is spontaneous composition informed by place, by the moment, the artists vision and the instrument. With ambient music the spaces between the notes are where much of the music lies. These are like shared dreamscapes and a stream of mental images flows through the mind as we participate.

There is an oversupply of unsubtle loud incessant music cluttering up cyberspace and it is all too easy to forget the importance of silence and subtlety. This music is best enjoyed through headphones or at night in a quiet room. Ambient music is not background music, but the sounds we have forgotten to hear.  A child’s heartbeat or the rustle of a tree are the most ancient of ambient sonic archetypes. This album reminds us that hearing is selective and when we enable it as deep as the ocean.

While the piano paints gorgeous motifs there are often subtle synth textures underpinning the pieces. The judicious use of synth adds to the sense of wistfulness while not detracting from the piano. There are also samples folded into certain tracks and these are perfectly chosen. The Robert Graves poem (read by Dylan Thomas) and the whisper-quiet polyglot prayers in 40 languages serve the the project well.

Headland Glow: Alan Brown/Silent Observer – 

Spammerz – Dan Sperber (guitar), Alan Brown (Crumar Mojo keyboards), Ben McNicoll (tenor saxophone), Jason Orme (drums). Gigs at CJC (Creative Jazz Club) & Golden Dawn 6th & 10th May 2015

Silent Observer – Alan Brown (Steinway D Piano, Synth) – purchase the album from Alan Brown.co.nz



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