Joel Haines @ CJC 2014

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Guitar Jazz is a surprisingly diverse sub-genre of improvised music.  So many barriers are broken down that almost all current (and past) musical genres are embedded in the improvising guitarists lexicon (including Punk).  At first listening it might be surmised that gifted guitarist Joel Haines sits somewhere closer to the rock spectrum than to Jazz but his roots are much broader than that.  As his gigs unfold you can hear Americana, modern Jazz guitar, country and a plethora of other influences.  There is also the unmistakable influence of film, as his themes invoke pictures.  This is what improvised music is about; appropriation and transformation.  Nothing ruled in or out, nothing too free, too exploratory, too dissonant or melodic.

When you’ve been around New Zealand Jazz awhile you learn that Haines is one of the musicians that other musicians respect deeply.  Guitarists especially come to hear him and I spotted a few in the audience on this night.  The two sets kicked off as Haines sets always do; with Haines hunching into his semi-hollowbody guitar and playing with deep absorption.  There are never introductions or tune titles, just waves of compelling music.  Because he constructs his improvisations around soulful, bluesy and deeply melodic ideas, perhaps more so than other guitarists, there is a radiating warmth that emanates from the band stand.  Black Tee-shirt, nut-brown wood-grained guitar, skin tones reddened by the club lights and rays of warm enveloping music.  IMG_3090 - Version 2

To my ears there is always a tangible hint of Jimi Hendrix in his voicings.  Few improvising guitarists could occupy this space so convincingly.  It is the place that Hendrix was heading for in his last days, only thwarted by his demons.  A place begging for further exploration by anyone brave enough.  For all that, Haines is a modern guitarist, as much in the Scofield camp as he is Rock inflected.  A feeling of familiarity guides us through his explorations, a sense of something familiar that you can’t quite place.  This is gift that only the best musicians bring to a gig.  His improvising journeys appear anchored by the vignettes he creates at the beginning of a piece, often worked over short loops, ostinato bass, or a tight driving pulse from the drummer.  Themes stated, constantly expanded then contracted again.  IMG_3040 - Version 2

For trio partners he had Oli Holland on upright bass and Ron Samsom on drums.  Being multi faceted and highly experienced musicians they quickly found the heart of the music.  Samsom in particular found his way deftly to where he added the most value.  He has considerable experience in lineups like this, music which edges closer to Frisell than to Pass.  Near the end of the first set Roger Manins sat in for a number (a composition by Joel’s brother Nathan from a recent award-winning album).   The number added breadth to the gig as it gave us a different perspective; Roger played like a demon as always.  This was another good night at the CJC and they just keep coming.

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With the Auckland Jazz Festival shortly underway and a wealth of quality music on offer, I must echo what my friend Stu said, “This will surely be remembered as the golden age of Auckland Jazz and improvised music”.

Who: The Joel Haines Trio – Joel Haines (guitar), Oli Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums).

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

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Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Fusion & World

Auckland Jazz Festival 2014

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This is great news Auckland.  The inaugural Auckland Jazz Festival opens on the 17th October, followed by 9 days of gigs across town.  Put together by Ben McNicoll and the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) team, which guarantees the excellence and diversity in programming.  A number of bars have enthusiastically come onboard and Jazz lovers should reward their commitment.  Because there are smaller venues or bars in the mix there will be some gigs with no cover charge, while others will charge a modest entry fee.  For pricing, bookings and programming visit the Auckland Jazz Festival website (below).  The headline gigs will be held at the CJC with the Mike Nock Trio (Australia) appearing on Tuesday 21st October, followed by the Benny Lackner Trio (Germany/USA) 22nd October and Francisco Torres/Roger Fox (USA/New Zealand) on the 23rd.   the-troubles

It would be crazy to miss any of these three gigs, in fact hire a babysitter or cat minder and cancel anything that gets in the way.  I know that I will endeavour to catch as many gigs as I can.  If this is well supported it will likely become a feature of the Auckland City arts calendar.  The gigs vary in style with each unique in some way.  Opening the festival at the ‘Portland Public House’ Kingsland is Wellington’s, fabulously wild anarchic band ‘The Troubles” (who I can’t wait to see again).  There are also offerings from the early swing era, groove funk, experimental improv and more besides.

Benny Lackner Trio

An Auckland Jazz Festival of this sort is long overdue and sensibly it’s run along the lines of a fringe festival.  There are no big sponsors calling the shots, which means that the choice of artists is in the hands of the organisers.  In the absence of any taint of commercialism you can expect edge, cool and excellence.  Think of it as a crowd sourced festival in which you have a vital part to play.  I have attended Jazz festivals run along these lines before and I prefer them, as they offer intimacy and a listening experience which you just can’t find in the larger venues.  The Montreal ‘L’Off’ festival immediately comes to mind.  It is important that we show our support by attending as many gigs as we can and don’t forget to visit the web site and ‘like’ the various gigs on offer (you know the drill, it is an important indicator of support).  The organisers and venue’s have put time and money into this and all we need to do is attend and enjoy ourselves.  Let’s show them that we appreciate it and put to bed the tired old myth that Auckland never gets behind the arts – see you all there.

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What: www.aucklandjazzfestival.co.nz   (Live link)

Where: At a number of prime small venues about Auckland including, CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, The Portland Public House, Tom Tom, The Golden Dawn, Hallertau

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Scott Taitoko Sextet @ CJC

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It was great to catch a sextet gig lead by a trombonist.   There are a number of trombone players about Auckland, but we usually see them buried in the centre of a Jazz orchestra or hiding in the shadows of an ensemble.  When they do appear in a brass section they enrich the palette and texture.  There is something special about that fat burnished sound.  The slurs, the rich colour tones, the pitch, and above all that hint of wistfulness that can hang in the air momentarily after the sound emerges from the bell: even mournfulness on occasions.

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Emerging in the late baroque period, the trombone has a lineage stretching back to the sackbut.  In Jazz lineups it is the saxophone family which dominates the brass instruments, closely followed by the trumpet.  The slide trombone and especially the uncommon valve trombone are rarer commodities.  This is the reverse of what occurs in the classical setting where saxophones are still regarded as interlopers.  While the instrument may not dominate modern Jazz lineups, listeners, musicians and composers alike hold a deep affection for it.  On Wednesday we heard Scott Taitoko perform a number of Hardbop era standards.  This was the high watermark for Jazz trombone (the Jazz orchestra not withstanding).  Hardbop leaders like Horace Silver and Art Blakey always included a bone and players like Kai Winding,  J J Johnson, Curtis Fuller and Frank Rosolino were never out of work.   IMG_3008 - Version 2 

As I went down the stairs before the gig, I could hear the sextet rehearsing a few bars of an uptempo J J Johnson number.  It sounded marvellous, as Johnson numbers do.  Later, well into the first set Taitoko performed the achingly beautiful ballad ‘Lament’ (also by Johnson).  This was a trio piece,  just guitar, bass and bone and it worked beautifully.   As Sam Taylor comped gently, Richie Pickard wove perfect bass lines; In Taitoko’s hands the melody filled the room and hung there in its melancholic splendour.  We all love the gorgeous arrangements and rich voicings of the familiar Gil Evans/Miles version or our own Wayne Senior’s chart (who arranged it for Nathan Haines on his ‘Vermillion Skies’ album), but it was nice to hear it stripped down to the essentials.  The other Hardbop composers who featured prominently were Horace Silver (who passed away just over a month ago) and Joe Henderson.   These are among the greatest composers of Hardbop standards.

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There was at least one original during the evening and that was a stunner.   Taitoko had penned it as a tribute to his grandmother and to the Marae he identifies with in the King Country.  The tune ‘Koromiko’ references his mountain, his Marae and his forebears.  We felt that connection strongly during the piece and the musicians clearly did too as they told the story with feeling.  I have put up a clip of Horace Silver’s ‘Tokyo Blues’.  A perennial favourite done well.  There were nice solos on this tune by Taitoko, Steele, France and particularly by Sam Taylor.  Steele could not have been better, taking a slightly oblique approach at the beginning, working with the complex meters and nailing it.

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There is a strong Christchurch connection to this lineup with Taitoko, Pickard, Taylor and Keegan all having strong connections with that city.  We see a lot of Pickard and Keegan these days and are the richer for it.  We hear the talented expat Scot, Pete France less often and more’s the pity.

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Who: Scott Taitoko Sextet – Scott Taitoko (leader, Trombone), Pete France (tenor saxophone), Matt Steele (piano), Sam Taylor (guitar), Richie Pickard (bass), Andrew Keegan (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand.  1st October 2014

 

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

Dreamville @ CJC

 

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The Dreamville gig was aptly named for a number of reasons but not least because there were no defined sets, no breaks between numbers.  Like a dream the gig moved forward under its own internal momentum.  Surreal themes constantly dissolving until exhausted, forms shifting without seeming to.  What made this journey so evanescent, but so compelling, was that certain motifs remained deep in our consciousness throughout; totems of sound embedding themselves.  Like the images in a dreamscape the music stroked the chords of memory; familiar yet ungraspable.  As each new realty claimed the preceding one, you realised that a musical osmosis was at work.  A band filtering its own ideas until only the essence remained.  This was especially evident with the recurring melodic themes.  It was best to let these themes be, to let them wash over you without over analysing.

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For nearly 2 hours we sat transfixed, subsumed by a musical force quite unlike any other.   At times the sounds were primal, even brutal, then as sweet as a summer breeze.  I have put up a clip which encompasses two segments from the gig.  In the clip a theme developed by Henderson on C Melody Saxophone (the instrument and the melodic theme takes us straight back to Ellington, perhaps even further back to Trumbaur who played with Bix Biederbeck).   The C melody Saxophone, a none transposing instrument, is a rare beast and in the right hands it quickly reveals its earthy warm tones.  The vibraphone and guitar lay down simple repeating patterns, while the saxophone weaves its melodic way through the soundscape, expressing a deep soulful longing.  Even here all is not what it seems.  A surreal quality still pervades this section, a sixth sense as you edge towards the chaos that is to follow.  There is a Mingus ensemble like quality at first, then the bass solo unravels the theme, drawing you into a less certain world; you are suddenly in Zorn territory.  IMG_2972 - Version 2e

At this point Henderson moved into the light, his C Melody horn put aside, a throaty baritone in its place.   Tah-tah ta ta, tah-tah ta ta, tah-tah ta ta–taa taa states the baritone and the volume and the intensity was swiftly increased.  The music had turned on a dime and everyone reeled back, momentarily overpowered by the mood shift.  Henderson sensing this, advanced toward the audience honking and squealing, carving up the room, not letting the moment pass.   This was musical theatre at its best and it served the purpose well.  One thing I have learned over the years; avant-garde music is always best experienced live.

IMG_4740 - Version 2There is a rawness and a primal quality to it, a strong sense of performance.  Who would prefer a recording of an Arkestra or an Art Ensemble of Chicago performance over a live show?  This was all jazz and all music decoded, not for the cocktail party.  The next day I was watching the 1956 Jean Bach film ‘Great Day in Harlem’ and there was Roy ‘Little Jazz’ Eldridge squealing out high note after high note on his trumpet.   Again and again he pushed out a flurry of wild free multi-phonic sounds.  Even in the swing era this had great effect.

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I am always impressed by John Bell and he was superb in this quintet.  His approach to vibes is percussive and he avoids clichés.  He leaves plenty of space between his lightening runs and the accents and his improvisations have their own compelling logic.  The guitarist was quite a revelation.  I had not heard Phil Dryson before and he impressed me deeply.  Never once did he overplay (a failing of some guitarists), letting his unmistakable chops serve the collective purpose.   Once again the solid body guitar earned its stripes in an improvised music setting.  It felt like he incorporated a fusion era approach with Marc Ribot’s .  Zorn favours edgy, open-eared guitarists like this; he would love this guy.  IMG_2989 - Version 2

On drums was Chris O’Conner (a favourite drummer of mine).  His kit was highly unusual but perfectly suited to the gig.  At times we heard him as percussionist, extending the possibilities, clicks, bell-like sounds and a multitude of edgy beats from the various toms.  Ethnic polyrhythmic effects arose, especially when Henderson beat an oversized bass drum.   The bass player Eamon Edmundson Wells was great.  He fitted into this setting perfectly and it surprising how quickly he has assimilated the vocabulary of diverse musical styles.  In Cameron McArthur’s absence he has stepped up without equivocation.  Hard work and the Auckland University Jazz program have obviously set him up well.  IMG_2955 - Version 2 (1)

This was a sound super-nova created by dangerous visionaries.  There were no leaders identified in the blurb and the band acted as one entity.  All played to the peak of their ability and with unity of purpose  That said the powerhouse presence of Jeff Henderson and John Bell were quite unmistakable.  I could especially feel Henderson’s guiding hand throughout.  This is the space he occupies musically and he is the titan of this realm.  Although my ears rang for days afterwards I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

What: ‘Dreamville’ – Jeff Henderson (Baritone, C Melody, Alto saxophones), John Bell (Metalophone), Phil Dryson (solidbody guitar), Eamon Edmundson Wells (upright bass), Chris O’Connor (traps drums, percussion).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand, 24th September 2014.

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

Hip Flask2 @ CJC

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Sometimes you just get lucky; being in the right place, at the right time, when something special is about to happen.  In 2013 that something special was the Hip Flask 2 project.   Roger Manins conceived of the second Hip Flask album while he was staying with band member Brendon Clarke.  The other band members quickly indicated their enthusiasm and the project had begun.  Once underway the need for fresh compositions and a host of other practicalities needed sorting.   Around that time I was talking to Roger Manins about the successful ‘Dog’ project, and he told me about ‘Hip Flask 2′.

Knowing that I had been planning a trip to Australia he said. “Why don’t you spend a day with us in ‘Studio 301′ and watch us record?”.  No second invitation needed, I did just that.  There is something special about watching a good band at work, taking a project from conception to completion.  Seeing them from inside the recording booth as new ideas and interesting charts coalesced into magic was fascinating.

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Now almost a year later the album is out on ‘Rattle’ and the band is on the road.  To add some additional icing to an already rich cake, ‘Ode Records’ suggested that ‘Hip Flask 1′ be included with the new album.  The original album is still widely sought after but it is sometimes hard to get.  Everyone jumped at the opportunity and ‘Rattle’ quickly changed focus to create a double-album cover.  As I had taken a number of photographs in the recording studio I decided to offer them to the band, just in case there was a use for them.  To my delight many of these were utilised in the cover art.  To be a small part of a project like this is a joy.

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As you would expect, a band on the road is a lot freer than when in the studio.  There is more room to develop ideas and there is an immediacy which occurs in a no-second-take environment.  Both manifestations are extraordinary.  The Stu Hunter tune ‘revolution’ is a good case in point.  It just begs for piano and Hammond to stretch out.  Live they do this, the musicians all extending their reach.  Manins stratospheric lift-offs into harmonics become imbued with keening cries of ecstatic soulfulness.  Hunter (who comps sparingly and soulfully during others solos) weaves his solo right around the beating heart of the music, while Adam Ponting sermonises on the meaning of the blues.   Because the band have a history together they are well accustomed to each others moves.

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It is unusual to have both C3 (or Ace Tone) and piano in the same funk unit.  Musicians of lessor calibre than Ponting or Hunter would be unable to keep out of each others way.  They not only manage it well, but make the pairing of the instruments sound natural.  Hunters soulful grooves are nicely contrasted by Pontings approach which is often unexpected.  He is an interesting pianist to listen to, often using atypical voicings.  He is equally interesting to watch.  He sits comfortably erect yet close to the piano, his hands spread flat over the keys, Monk like.  Bass player Brendan Clarke is at a sweet spot in the mix.  He never over plays, but his strong lines impress as does his perfect time sense, never more so than during ‘Bennett’s Radio Blues’.  Drummer Toby Hall rounds off this band of heavyweights.  His absorption clearly on show as he sinks trance-like into the polyrhythmic grooves.  I often wonder whether bass face trumps drum face or B3 face.  Drum face was the winner on this night.  Someone in the audience muttered excitedly at one point, “holy shit that is totally a real Jazz drummer”.

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I like so many tunes on this album but I suppose that it was ‘Lancelot Link, Missing Chimp’ that made me smile the most with its otherworldly Yusef Lateef vibe.   Anyone who was a child or who raised a child when Lancelot Link graced our screens will be chuckling at the happy remembrance; and on a key challenging penny whistle to boot.  IMG_2921 - Version 2

It is to the credit of Auckland University that they gave a grant for the Hip Flask 2 project.  Rattle records must also be praised as they have become the standard bearers of quality Jazz in this corner of the world.  The final credit goes to Roger Manins for rebooting this important piece of funk history, blowing with all his heart and above all for sharing the journey.  Rog - Version 2

For my related post on the day I spent in the 301 recording studios in Sydney, search for ‘New Year 2014 The Fabric of Creativity’ on this blog site 

also locate – http://vimeo.com/105457596  – for a video clip

Who: Hip Flask – Roger Manins (leader, Conn & Selmer tenor saxophones), Adam Ponting (piano), Stu Hunter (C3, Ace Tone), Brendan Clarke (bass),  Toby Hall (drums).

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

Album: ‘Hip Flask 2′ available from Rattle Records or leading music stores.

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Filed under Australian and Oceania based bands, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Groove & Funk

Matt Steele Trio/Alex Ward Trio 2014

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When you listen to Matt Steele, you quickly realise that he is in the middle of an interesting musical journey.   In a trio setting, there is not an ounce of hesitation about him, no sense that he is micro-analysing his performance; he plays for the joy of it.  This in-the-moment absorption has moved his playing to another level and best of all he carries the audience with him.  While Steele is still in his honours year at the Auckland University Jazz School, it is obvious that gigging about town has added something extra to his performance.  A wider awareness, an openness and a hunger for what is just out of reach.  You can’t develop those attributes merely from formal lessons.  The spade work for this ongoing development as an artist has been in the hands of competent teachers and foremost among those is Kevin Field.  Although the club was dimly lit, I could make out Field sitting quietly in the audience; after the set he moved forward to congratulate Steele.  There was an unmistakable look of satisfaction on his face.

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As Steele sat at the piano and counted in the first number you were immediately aware of movement.  Pianist, bass and drums, swaying and bending into the sound; moving as if governed by an unseen force.  When musicians are able to sync to the rhythms, move to the ebb and flow of the music, it can enhance a performance.  When a pianist moves well it is like watching a prize boxer; the keys stung by blows or else stroked teasingly.  Not all pianists move like this as approaches to the instrument are many and varied.  In this situation Steele was definitely more like Kenny Kirkland than Bill Evans.

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Most of the set were original compositions by Steele, some new, some reworked.   All sounded fresh, as an equal vigour infused the older numbers (like ‘Holy Moly’) and the newer ones (‘So Retitled’).   Steele has brought several trios to the CJC and this time his band featured Richie Pickard on bass and Andrew Keegan on drums.   His instincts were spot-on as Pickard and Keegan dug in and delivered for him.  They worked well together and Steele’s insistence on approaching each gig as a democratic exercise worked.  His second number (and probably the only non original) was a piece by Sun Ra.  This was bound to please me, as I love Sun Ra in all his out-crazy glory.  It was brave and it worked well as a trio piece.

 

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The second set was the Alex Ward Trio.   Ward (an Honours graduate from the NZSM) has been on a scene for a few years now and his Aero Jazz Quartet, formed over a year ago, often performs about town.  He recently completed a stint on a cruise ship with Trudy Lile and reports from that gig were overwhelmingly positive.  He is the Jazz Programme Coordinator for the NZ School of Music (Albany Campus) and involved in music Education in the private sector.

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Wards set showcased interesting material.  Some of the tunes he drew from lessor known Jazz sources, while his own compositions also featured.   It was good to hear him playing Tigran Hamasyan’s ‘Leaving Paris’, an engaging waltz.  It is from Hamasyans’s ‘New Era’ album and it is surprising that it is not heard more often.  Ward executed this gently swinging piece perfectly.  Another standout number was a tune by the Welsh pianist Gwilym Simcock.

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On bass was the always pleasing Eamon Edmundson Wells.  He is a capable player able to shine in diverse settings.  On drums was Ivan Lukitina-Johnston.   I have only seen Johnston on two previous occasions and find his approach on traps thoroughly workman like.  The one blight on the evening was the sound from a loud upstairs band which bled through into the quieter moments.  It made counting-in and the quieter intros a challenge for the musicians.

Who: Matt Steele (piano), Richie Pickard (bass), Andrew Keegan (drums)

Who: Alex Ward (piano), Eamon Edmundson-Wells (drums), Ivan Lukitina-Johnson (drums)

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

 

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Dave Jackson ‘ Cosmontology Live’ Review

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I am a keen follower of ‘Tiny Hearts’ and if you explore the tributaries flowing from that creative enterprise you will arrive at this album. ‘Cosmontology’ is an incarnation (minus Eamon Dilworth).  Dave Jackson is the leader of this project and joining him are three of Australia’s finest improvising musicians.  This is Jackson’s second album under the title of ‘Cosmontology’, the last being in 2012.  I have not asked the meaning of the album title, but the related term Cosmology is the science of unravelling the beginnings of the universe.  At the centre of that work is the Big Bang Theory.  If we transcribe that theory into musical terms we begin to divine the ethos of this album.  This music feels incredibly bold to me, at times raw but always full of life, promise and excitement.  The sub atomic particles and vibrations that exist at the centre of the musical universe have coalesced here.

Jackson is an established alto saxophonist who like the other band members works in the Sydney area.  His approach while guided by an innate sense of musicality is somehow bolder than many of his alto playing contemporaries. There is a confidence that radiates from his every phrase, a sense that he is forging ahead without the need to look over his shoulder. He carries the history of Jazz in the DNA of his sound, but is always forward-looking.

This sense momentum is evident from the first listening.  The title track ‘Cosmontology’ begins with an almost meditative intro by Barry who plays Rhodes throughout the album.  In the first few bars the chords shift subtly, teasing us with possibilities.  This nicely sets the mood up for what comes next, an unerring journey into the heart of a compelling composition.  Bass and drums follow and as they weave in and around the chords a visceral power is evident as the groove develops.  When Jackson comes in there is no equivocation.  An overwhelming clarity of purpose has everyone moving in unison.

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Steve Barry is a gifted acoustic pianist and he is well recorded as such.  To hear him on a Rhodes is a treat.  On this album Barry often takes the measured approach, providing the necessary counter weight to the wilder explorations.  This frees Jackson, Botting and Derricott to work in a freer space, it is the springboard they need.  A steadying hand guiding the explorers as they surge forwards.  In Barry’s playing there is the feeling that you are on ‘Voyager'; experiencing unimaginable colours as you cut through the silence of space.

Tom Botting’s bass work quickly took my attention here.  I rate him as a bass player but I have seldom heard him recorded so well.  He has found an album where he can really shine and he makes the best of the opportunity.  His strong lines and immaculate sense of time serve to unleash Derricott who rains down shimmering flurries of beats as he moves and shapes the sound.  His contributions add depth, colour and heart stopping excitement.  As a unit they are immaculate.

Some people might not like the use of pedals with a horn, but they need to catch up.  Improvised music has never stood still, often appropriating new sounds, striking out in new directions.  The Scandinavian trumpeters fatten up their sound by electronic means as do American trumpeters like Cuong Vu.  The history of Jazz is full of examples of changed and amplified sound.  Without those experiments no Charlie Christian or Jimmy Smith.  What is the difference between utilising extended technique acoustically and adding the use of pedals to delay or chorus?  The only questions that should arise are; has this been done well, does the music have integrity?  In this case I say a resounding yes.

 

Who: Dave Jackson (alto saxophone, electronics), Steve Barry (Rhodes), Tom Botting (acoustic bass), Paul Derricott (drums)

What:  ‘Cosmontology Live’ – www.davejacksonmusic.com/

 

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Filed under Australian and Oceania based bands, Post Millenium, Review

Blair Latham trio @ CJC

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There are musicians who have the ability to create vibrant pictures out of sound, deftly carving shapes, daubing them with colour, texture, leaving images suspended in the air, as tantalising spectres. Blair Latham is one of these.  He brings to the bandstand a tropical exoticism, redolent of the central Americas, but somehow still Kiwi.

I first saw Latham at the Rogue & Vagabond during the Wellington Jazz Festival.  The project was to re-create the vibe of the Headhunters album and it certainly did.  In the hands of Hayles, Latham and others a wild, hyper-energised brew of sounds radiated among us.  They took the brief to its outer limits and for the audience (who were undoubtedly Hancock enthusiasts), it was an immensely satisfying experience.  As Latham’s tenor wailed, the milling crowd urged him on, each phase wilder than the last.   IMG_2694 - Version 2

The Rogue & Vagabond channeled North American funk grooves, this gig took us a long way south of that, to central Mexico.  A Mexico seen through Kiwi eyes, a musicians eyes, the eyes and ears of a careful observer.  The energies had shifted as well.   A more thoughtful approach was evident.  Latham was telling stories that came from the heart, from experience and reflecting the altered light and filtered sounds of that populous country.

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As the band started playing there were powerful overwhelming images created.  I reached for my note pad and wrote the word Fellini.  This is how I heard it, the sounds of a happy and slightly chaotic Mexican circus, peopled by tumblers, clowns on stilts, parading animals and long lazy hours fuelled by Mezcal.  A rich mesmerising spectacle that took your breath away.  There were no high energy excursions, no roof blasting squalls of sound.  This was a journey of measured steps, full of subtleties.  At times the trio sounded like a bigger unit and as Latham switched between his rich woody bass clarinet and classic Selmer tenor saxophone, the effect amplified.  Each phrase, each line, hung in air long after the breath that created it had subsided.  There were a number of Latham’s compositions and some beautiful, haunting Mexican ballads.  Emotion and sentimentality are bound up in that world.  There is nothing buttoned-up about Mexican music.

Latham is unusual in New Zealand as his principal horns are bass clarinet and tenor saxophone. A handful of musicians double on bass clarinet, few are as proficient as he is.

It often happens that the best laid plans unravel unexpectedly.  The trio was initially advertised as Latham, David Ward & Chris O,Connor.  The trio we saw was Latham (bass clarinet, tenor saxophone, leader), Neil Watson (guitar, lap slide guitar), Stephen Thomas (drums).  I rate both Ward and O’Connor highly but this lineup worked extraordinarily well.  It was hard to believe that these musicians had not played together often.  The challenge of playing this music, reading these often complex charts, brought out the best in Watson and Thomas.   Both gifted musicians. both good readers.  Together they merged perfectly and we could see Latham’s pleasure at this.

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The drum charts called for a colourist approach, an oblique subtle rendering of  rhythms that were as much rooted in Mexican folk music as in avant guard jazz.  Thomas was exceptional as he tapped, scraped or made the kit whisper; even his solos were original and entirely appropriate.  This guy can tackle anything it seems.  Watson is a veteran of the unusual and a superb reader.  It was a joy to see him working counterpoint or even unison lines with Latham.  He is perfect for gigs like this as his unbridled imagination is not tethered to norms.  He moved between lap guitar and Fender solid body, enabling him to move closer to the Frissel like Americana sounds that so clearly influence him.   IMG_2663 - Version 2

The word Mexico brings to mind a jumble of exotic but occasionally troubling images.   For me the source is literature, films, art, photography and music.  The nearest that I got to Mexico was in books like ‘Under the Volcano'(Lowry), ‘On The Road’ (Kerouac) or ‘The Teachings of Don Yuan’ (Castaneda); in films like ‘The Night of the Iguana’, numerous cowboy movies; in crazy photographic images from the ‘night of the dead’ festival of Santa Muerte, in articles about the loathsome human traffickers or murderous drug cartels.  I have travelled extensively in Spain and down the Californian Coast, places where this beguiling country felt almost within reach.  This gig took me one step closer.  IMG_2654 - Version 2

“How’s the mezcal” he said. “Like ten yards of a barbed wire fence.  It nearly took the top of my head off.  I had a Tequila outside with the guitar hombre” – ‘Under the Volcano’ -Malcolm Lowry

Who: Blair Latham (bass clarinet, tenor saxophone), Neil Watson (guitars), Stephen Thomas (drums)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland, New Zealand, 3rd September 2014   –   www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

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Filed under Avant-garde, Beyond category, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Fusion & World

Pleasure Point Sextet @ CJC

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The end of August CJC gig featured Wellington based ‘Pleasure Point Sextet’.  The Sextet represents an interesting project, formed by Californian based pianist/composer/arranger Steve Abrams when he visited Wellington in 2005.  Under the guiding influence of well-respected Jazz educator, drummer Greg Crayford, the project has continued.  Abrams maintains contact, supplying the occasional chart and encouragement.  Abrams charts are original and have a certain airiness about them, a sense of place; perhaps reflecting his home base of Santa Cruz, hinting at the palm trees and seemingly endless surf beaches.

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There are two Crayford’s in the Pleasure Point Sextet.  Greg Crayford the leader is on traps and his son Miles on piano.  The former Wellingtonian Miles Crayford is increasingly known around Auckland where he sometimes gigs (usually with bass player Mostyn Cole).  The sextet had the appearance of a classic hard bop line up with trumpet, tenor saxophone, piano, bass, traps drums and percussion.  While they tackled a few hard bop classics, they were more often about the sensuous latin infused rhythms of the southern Americas.  The beats were infectious and none more so than the cha-cha they played.   It is unusual to hear a cha-cha in Jazz but it worked just fine.   As the choppy infectious rhythms were laid down you could easily imagine the ubiquitous dancers who peopled early Fred Astaire movies.  That it worked so well is particularly due to the percussion skills of Raphael Ferrer Noel.  Watching him rolling his palms and stinging the skins with crisp decisive blows was an essential part of the theatre generated by this sextet.  This was nicely offset by Crayford on traps.  All the while Noel swayed and grinned (and occasionally sung).

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There were a few Jazz standards selected for the sets, some lessor known, but all well-chosen. ‘Bb Blues’ by hard bop trumpeter Donald Bird and the stunning melancholic ‘Angel Eyes’ (Taylor/Jones).   I have always liked the ballad ‘Angel Eyes’ and the way musicians approach it is varied and generally interesting (My two favourite versions being the Anita O’Day/John Poole quartet version and the contrasting slow burning funked up rendition by tenor-man Gene Ammons).  Mike Booth who took the main solo did not disappoint in this regard.  The remaining band members were Tait-Jamierson and Cole.  James Tait-Jamierson is a melodic tenor player who conveys strength without being forceful.  I have heard Mostyn Cole play many times and have found his arco-bass and straight bass work convincing.  His punchy electric bass on this gig illustrated his versatility.

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Who: ‘Pleasure Point Sextet’ – Greg Crayford (leader, traps), Miles Crayford (piano), James Tait-Jamierson (tenor saxophone), Mike Booth (trumpet), Mostyn Cole (electric bass), Rafael Ferrer Noel (percussion, vocals)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland, New Zealand.  27th August 2014       www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

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Tiny Hearts ‘Alluvium’ Review

Tiny Hearts

Some acts appear to arrive out of no-where.  All of the rehearsing and scuffling hidden from the common gaze.  Others invite you in at ground level, letting you see the raw material as it evolves, letting you see the promise, beckoning from the future.  Letting you see the influences, the base metal.  For a pop act the former makes sense, for improvised music it makes no sense at all.  Improvised music should move at will, explore awkward corners and morph into new shapes as it feeds off the life around it.  Standing still is death.

Last time this band was in town the name ‘Tiny Hearts’ had not yet surfaced.  They were the ‘Dilworths’ then, but the music was just as beguiling.  One of the things that I quickly learned was the strength of the bands influences, powerful tributaries feeding a common cause.  I was momentarily tempted to view the group as a discrete entity, a single project, but now I’m not so sure.  The more that I learn about them, the more I see the individual strengths of the musicians, where they’ve come from and where they’re headed.  Each of them have excelled in former projects but there is more.  Together they exude an organic quality, growing, evolving in unison.  Expressing the moment.  IMG_2404 - Version 2

I was familiar with a few of the tunes, the ones played during the ‘Dilworths’ tour.   I had also kept in touch with the musicians and seen clips as they developed their program along the way.  These are great compositions, but the performances lift them to another level.  All of the pieces have the individual musicians stamp imprinted on them.  This is in keeping with the ‘Tiny Hearts’ ethos.  A Steve Barry tune is unmistakably his, A Dilworth or Jackson tune likewise.  While most of the tunes were written with ‘Tiny Hearts’ in mind, they often referenced earlier projects or perhaps give a nod to future offshoots.   The ink was hardly dry on Tom Botting’s atmospheric Balclutha chart when he visited with the ‘Dilworths’ last time.  ‘Big Sea Reprise’ takes up the baton from Paul Derricott’s amazing Big Sea (Arrow) album.   I loved that album and asked Derricott about it when I caught their act last week.  He told me that he had liked the album as first, but then developed some doubts.  It lay fallow for a few years, then Paul revived it.  He is now pleased with it.   IMG_2370 - Version 2

Dilworth is the fronts person for the group, his friendliness and confidence making him and obvious choice.  Musically, all speak equally.  The composition of the band is part Australian and part Kiwi if you count their countries of origin.  In reality they’re best described as Australians.  Musicians like Barry and Botting could never be confined to our small Islands.  Dilworth, Derricott and Jackson are Sydney musicians with solid reputations.  If you are growing curious then here is my challenge.  Purchase a copy of ‘Alluvium’.  If you already possess it then order copies of: ‘Big Sea’ by Derricott, ‘Steve Barry’ the eponymous titled award-winning album by Barry, ‘Caravana Sun’ by Dilworth,  ‘Cosmontology’ by Jackson.   I have just ordered the latter to complete my set.   I also spoke to the band about future projects and there are plenty in store.  A Paul Derricott, a Steve Barry and a Dave Jackson album are in the wind.    IMG_2373 - Version 2

I missed their CJC gig as I was in Australia, but I caught them at the Auckland Jazz and Blues Club.   Reading the venue perfectly, they devoted much of the night to the Ellington/Strayhorn songbook.  This was not done begrudgingly as they revelled in the chance to play sets dominated by these timeless standards.  As the night progressed we whooped and clapped as numbers like ‘It don’t mean a thing’ brought the joy among us.  Embarking upon a night of unprepared swing era tunes would catch a lessor band on the hop.  For these guys it came naturally.

If you get the feeling that these musicians are in the middle of a massive and self-perpetuating project then you would be right.  For those who haven’t worked it out, the title says it all.  Alluvium comes from the Latin ‘to wash against’.  Loose base metals tumbling together in a stream.  That sounds about right.  I can’t wait to see them again in any of their incarnations.  They really are extraordinary.

 

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Who: Tiny Hearts – ‘Alluvium’  Eamon Dilworth (trumpet), Steve Barry (piano), Dave Jackson (saxophone), Tom Botting (bass), Paul Derricott (drums).

 

http://www.davejacksonmusic.com/     –      stevebarrymusic.bandcamp.com/

www.eamondilworth.com/     –    paulderricott.com/

 

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John Bell – Horn Free @ CJC

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John Bell is an iconoclast, always bringing something new and unexpected to the bandstand.   There is also a rich vein of tongue in cheek humour that runs though his onstage banter.  Like his music, it takes unexpected twists and turns.  That is not to say that his shows lack serious intent as he utilises quality musicians; doing what they do well.   It is perhaps best to describe his gigs as full of Zen humour, the sort that Carla Bley is so adept at.  The slap in the face accompanying a sly tickle of the ribs.  Even Bells instruments are other than the expected.  A metallophone instead of a vibraphone (vibes, sans motor and Leslie unit as played by Gary Burton these days).  A horn in a gig titled Horn Free (and an obscure tenor horn at that).  I was equally unsurprised when I was invited to their live recording date; “Last Modern Jazz Qtet Concert’.  Perfect.

To do justice to his music Bells gigs require quirky and talented musicians.  Good readers, good time keepers, prepared to veer off at a moments notice into uncharted realms.  No genre remains un-pillaged in the source material for John Bells compositions; Korean folk songs, bebop or brass band music.  When he announces a standard it is best to think popular Korean TV program theme, Sonny Sharrock or Sankey Hymn.   Nothing is what it seems in his Kaleidoscopic world of shimmering sweet and suddenly dissonant sounds.   The music is weighed up and re-evaluated long after the event.   It leaves an impression hanging in the air for weeks and because of that it is somehow more satisfying than predicable gigs.  Perhaps it is in the ears of the listener, but to my ear this was brave and satisfying music.  It made me happy.

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Watching an animated vibes player is pure theatre.  They throw themselves into the task more than other instrumentalists.  At times Bell would launch him self forward with apparent fury. His left foot trailing behind him as the energy released.  This wonderful two or four mallet dance was a product of the reduced amplification.  Body, mallet and instrument interacting with intensity.  IMG_2508 - Version 2

The rest of the lineup consisted of guitar, drums and bass.  A mix of veterans and up and coming players.   Neil Watson was on guitar and he is the perfect foil for Bell.   He is at least as iconoclastic as Bell, with wild forays ranging from the joyously punk to fusion bebop.  Watson is a respected musician about town and if he has boundaries they are not immediately obvious.  Stylistically he is often somewhere east of Frissel, Montgomery and Ribot.  He has gradually been adding more slide guitar into his repertoire (and now a pedal steel guitar is part of his bag of tricks).  Watson provided one composition to the gig and while different to Bells compositions it was equally enjoyable.   A well-known musician sitting beside me whispered, “That is in the time signature of Take Five, but it is way further out”.

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Eamon Edmunson Wells was on bass and Cameron Sangster on traps.   While Bell and Watson often leave the known universe to explore the outer reaches,  Edmunson Wells and Sangster hold the ship intact.  I have heard both often, but never in this context.  I was extremely impressed by their efforts and my respect has deepened for both.  If you do something well in a straight-ahead context that doesn’t necessarily translate into a more avant garde setting.   Musicians like Joey Baron show us just how far you can stretch if you are so minded.   It pleases me to see younger musicians following this braver path.  IMG_2513 - Version 2

The audience numbers were not as good as they could be and that was a pity.  This music is a rare treat and it deserves our attention.  All you need to enjoy music like this is a pair of open ears.  If you listen, really listen, you will soon have a smile on your face.

(an updated audio to clip to be added shortly in this space) 

Who: John Bell (metallophone, tenor horn), Neil Watson (guitars), Eamon Edmunson Wells (bass), Cameron Sangster (drums).

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

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Asher Truppman Lattie / J Y Lee emerging artist series

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Thirty years ago Jazz students kept close to the safer standards for a first time club gig.  Post millennium Students reference a variety of genres; even during a single number.  That may sound like a recipe for disaster and if handled ineptly it would be.  What I heard on this gig was at times clever and perhaps even cheeky.  It bodes well for the adventures ahead.  It is important that Jazz retains a sense of adventure and joy.  There is certainly room for serious explorations, but music that takes itself too seriously is a downer.

The programming of CJC gigs ensures that a variety of acts.  This is a particular strength.  I have remarked upon this before and it is this practice that enables the Jazz club to hold ‘emerging artists’ gigs every so often.   It is far from being a weak commercial proposition as these nights usually draw significant crowds.  Everyone who follows this music knows that artists don’t emerge from their studies fully formed.  They develop incrementally; as they practice, play beside better musicians and as they perform in front of discriminating audiences.  Having a project in hand like the ‘emerging artists’ series is an important step.  There are a number of Jazz schools in New Zealand (and some very good teachers in the private sector).  It is therefore important that we evaluate the students.  So far the quality of emerging artists has been impressive.  IMG_1957 - Version 2

There was a double billing on the 6th August.  First up was the Asher Tuppman Lattie quintet, followed by the J Y Lee Sextet.  Following tradition the band members were all fellow students or recently graduated students and the reasoning behind this practice is sound.  If they appeared with well established and highly competent musicians, a lingering doubt could remain.  Would they have sounded as good without the latter?  Choosing from fellow students gives context and synergy.  Everyone needs to step up in unison.   IMG_1953 - Version 2

I have posted a number titled ‘Tango’ which provides a context for my initial comments.  At first it appears to be traditional Jazz Tango fare as it briefly utilises the raspy sounds made famous by Gato Barbieri.  Then you get a sense of fun, as it playfully takes the genre apart.  We get bebop and the merest hint of free in what follows.   The vaudevillian feel of the piece worked well.  It is similar to the sounds I heard during my explorations of Italian Jazz, a country where the blurring of Jazz, folk and free is often elevated to high art.  Jazz Tango is something that I love and I’m not sure Kiwi’s get this.  Listen to Gerry Mulligan with Aster Piazzolla or Gary Burton or even Carla Bley and you will find Tango gold.  The Jazz Tango master who appeared to acclaim at the recent Wellington Jazz Festival was probably ignored by most Jazz fans.  Their loss.  The pianist Connor McAneny  played the first set.  He is an imposing presence; not because he is dominant, but because his assuredness when comping and his tasteful solos grow ever more confident.

Second up was J Y Lee, a young alto player who is often seen around town.   He is heard in many lineups and his taste for the avant garde has added a piquancy to his sound.  His played a  varied set, giving him the ability to demonstrate a range of his writing and playing skills.   Utilising Chelsea Prastiti on vocal lines was a masterstroke as the colour she adds to an ensemble is unique.   As in the Asher Tuppman Lattie set the second horn player was Sam Weeks.   Sam had played Alto in first set but took up tenor duties for the second set with J Y Lee.  I have put up a piece which shows Weeks and Lee playing together.   The arranged head is tight and melodic and as the piece opens out, everyone is given a chance to stretch a little.  IMG_1950 - Version 2

The pianist for the second set was Chrystal Choi.  She is a gifted pianist and it is a real shame that we don’t see her more often.  In spite of having well-developed chops she never over-plays.  Every note counts and she is definitely one to watch.   Bass player Djordje Nikolic and drummer Tristan Deck played both sets.   I have only heard Nikolic a few times but he acquitted himself well.   Tristan Deck is increasingly seen about town and it is no wonder that he is employed more often.  His time feel and confidence mark him out.

There was a good attendance for the gig and judging by the whoops and cheers everyone enjoyed it.

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club)  www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

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Mark Lockett Trio @ CJC Winter 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Straight ahead, USA and Beyond

Alan Brown Trio @ CJC Winter 2014

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

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

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

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

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Video by Ron Drake – ‘Inciteful’ (Brown)

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

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

 

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yeahyeahabsolutelynoway @ CJC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Chelsea Prastiti 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Filed under Avant-garde, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Millenium, vocal

James Wylie/Miles Crayford Group

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Smith quartet 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Lex French Quintet @ CJC 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘The Grid’ land @ CJC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, experimental improvised music, Post Millenium, USA and Beyond

The Wellington Jazz Festival (WJF) 2014

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Concerts - visiting Musicians, New Zealand Jazz Gigs, Review

Barney McAll trio @ CJC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Acapollinations/Carolina Moon @ CJC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Filed under Beyond category, Fusion & World, vocal

Mad Hatters Guitar Amp Fundraiser @ CJC May 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What: CJC Mad Hatters Guitar Amp Fundraiser

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

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

Neutrinos Jazz Funk + Rob Thompson

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sam Blakelock @ CJC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Millenium

‘DOG’ unleashed on International Jazz Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michele Benebig @ CJC #jazzapril

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Reflections on a Marine Venus – L Durrell

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

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

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

Alan Broadbent – review of two new releases

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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April 15, 2014 · 11:51 am

Phil Broadhurst Quintet @ CJC Jazz April gig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Jamie Oehlers @ CJC #JazzApril 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Drums by Candlelight’ Reuben Bradley/Matt Mulholland

 

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

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

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

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‘The Antipodean 6tet’ Tour @ CJC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

‘Mr M’ @ CJC

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

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

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

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

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

This is a trio of equals.

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

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

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Filed under CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Millenium

James Muller Quartet @ CJC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Callum Passells Quartet @ CJC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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