Headline News: Nathan Haines meets DOG on Campus

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AK UNI 11-3-2014 059On Wednesday five well turned out ‘men in black’ suspended time at Auckland University. This was a rare event, pairing two of New Zealand’s best known and best-loved contemporary tenor players. The invitation only concert billed as ‘Nathan Haines meets DOG’ kicked off of the Universities 2015 Summer Concert Series. New intake students attending (or viewing the video clip) discovered just how high the standard is; they also realised how lucky they are to have these teachers and these role models.AK UNI 11-3-2014 060The Nathan Haines/DOG line up can rightly be described as a super-group; the cream of New Zealand’s improvising artists. We saw Haines at his best here as he showcased his formidable talents on tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute & vocals. He is a multiple New Zealand Music Awards winner and perennially popular in New Zealand and London where he is now based. The DOG band members are all senior teaching staff at the Auckland University Jazz School (Faculty of the Arts). Collectively Ron Samsom (drums), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Oli Holland (bass) and Kevin Field (piano) form a dangerous new breed. The agility and intelligence of the animal has led many AK UNI 11-3-2014 058 (1)to speculate on its lineage; some suggesting Greyhound crossed with Border Collie? We will never know unless the parents own up, but it is beyond dispute that each band member has multiple acclaimed recordings to his credit. DOG is one of three groups short-listed for the 2015 Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards.

Supergroups are not always successful as promoters will tell you. It may seem counter intuitive, but there are many pitfalls in the format. Artistic and stylistic sensibilities can conflict and while less of an issue in Jazz, the rider still applies. Not every configuration gels. Putting two titans of the tenor together is an old concept and it was very popular in the 1940’s and 1950’s. These jousts or ‘cutting contests’ and the so-called battles between Lester Young and Bean (Colman Hawkins) have attained legendary status. There is a lot of mythology in the subsequent AK UNI 11-3-2014 058reportage and most musicians view the exchanges as a chance to collaborate; not cut someone down to size. It is an opportunity to challenge and be challenged; a high level musical interaction between equals. At its best it can bring out something special in both artists and Wednesdays gig achieved just that.

Manins and Haines played classic Selmer Mk 6 tenors but in the hands of each the instruments sounded different (although manufactured just 3 years apart). Their beautiful full-throated tenors blended perfectly and especially during the heads; creating a fat rich sound. The instruments when coaxed by experienced players like these, magnify subtle differences in tone. There is an attractive melodic thoughtfulness to Nathan’s improvisations, while Roger’s explorations can impart a wild edgy heart stopping quality. Both find their bliss and share it with the audience. This pairing on this night, will long be talked about in Auckland.  AK UNI 11-3-2014 061

The band leapt out of the starting gate with a crackling rendition of ‘Cheesecake’ by Dexter Gordon. This classic hard bop tune from ‘Dex’s’ Blue Note era gave the musicians a chance to shine. Both Selmers bit hard and with Field, Holland and Samsom playing behind them it was hardly surprising. The accolades heaped upon this particular rhythm section are unsurprising. Field’s comping was as tasteful as his well constructed solos. Hollands clean punchy bass lines were a beating heart in the mix. It fell to Samsom to control the energy levels and when appropriate he pushed the band to ever greater heights. On the up tempo numbers his facial expressions mirrored each rhythmic flurry as he dug ever deeper.

The set also featured a new ballad by Holland who introduced it with a tongue in cheek reference to the complexity of many modern Jazz compositions, “you will like this. It has a melody and lots of chords”. The remainder of the set featured Haines compositions. These compelling, well constructed tunes are by now familiar to local Jazz audiences. This band gave them fresh legs. Of note was the gorgeous ‘Lady Lywa’ which had Manins on tenor and Haines on flute. Once again the pairing worked to perfection.

Near the end (and to the delight of those familiar with this tune) Nathan sang ‘Impossible Beauty’ from his ‘Sound Travels’ album.  There is a lot to like about this haunting song; Nathan’s voice, the wonderfully evocative lyrics and the way the tune captures that dreamy Chet Baker vibe. To hear it with Roger Manins providing lovely fills on tenor was a treat.  I know that I keep saying this, but Haines needs to sing more often.  He is widely acknowledged as a gifted tenor, soprano and flute player; time to add vocals to the accolades.

As I was leaving I spotted the well-known arranger Wayne Senior. He is especially familiar with this venue as it was once the main studio of Television New Zealand. He has worked on pervious projects with Haines. The National Institute of Creative Arts & Industries (NiCAi) filmed the video and I acknowledge them. Lastly all credit to the Arts Facility, Music Department of Auckland University. This University Jazz programme adds inestimable richness to our cultural life. With the Philistines ever at the gate, you persist in supporting the creative arts.  Thank you.

Where: Auckland University Jazz School, Shortland Street Auckland New Zealand 18th February 2015

Who: Nathan Haines, Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Oli Holland, Ron Samsom

The Jelly Rolls Trio @ CJC

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Jelly Rolls #1 11-3-2014 055Thomas ‘Fats’ Waller and Errol Garner can install a smile on your face in two jaunty bars.  It is the same with Wellington’s ‘The Jelly Rolls’.  Waller and Garner are widely loved but seldom imitated; probably because what they do is extremely difficult.  The original recordings also stand up so well that mere clones would be a redundancy.  The Jelly Rolls have achieved something special by locating the spirit of this cheerful Harlem Stride influenced music; achieving this through a clever synthesis of the leading stylists. For good measure they have thrown in a touch of the more modern Ahmed Jamal and a pinch of Oscar Peterson.  This is the sound of joy, wild unbounded exuberance.  Jelly Rolls 11-3-2014 058

In recent years there have been surprisingly few attempts to honour this era.  A Jazz historian once described Garner as a happy footnote; a blip aside from the mainstream. He was correct in one sense, as there is no Errol Garner school of pianism.  While that is less true of Waller the extent of their influence remains strangely allusive.  Great pianists can influence those who follow in subtle and various ways, but it often requires the fullness of time for their real influence to become evident.  A just released album ‘All Rise’ by the very modern pianist Jason Moran honours ‘Fats’ and names him as a prime influence. This is a post millennial interpretation and speaks in an engaging contemporary voice.  Some years ago a famous and well respected pianist took a different and traditionalist tack.  Although eminently qualified to tackle such a tribute, the album somehow fell short.  I have often puzzled at that.  When approaching ‘Fats’ Waller and especially Garner, the first requisite is having the chops.  The second requisite and perhaps the most important, is knowing when to subvert any sense of reverence and reach for the Joy. This is not music for a dry piano-roll type transcription.

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The Jelly rolls did something special here; they effortlessly took us back to the era of rent parties and speakeasies. To a time when a pianists left hand worked harder than the ‘hoofers’ in the room. The fact that pianist Ben Wilcock’s braces kept falling to his elbows added to the illusion.  It made us feel like we were watching a Willie the Lion or a ‘Fats’Waller; something redolent of a hat tilted at an impossibly dangerous angle or a chewed cigar barely surviving the banter.  On bass was Dan Yeabsley, finding ways round that powerful walking left hand on piano and yet still holding the centre.  On drums was John Rae the iconoclast, playing the old style two-beat rhythms on brushes and sticks as if born to it. The same Rae we know to be madly expressive. The same Rae for whom no complex subdivision of time is out-of-bounds.  Here he was, working the gig like an old school drummer (that huge grin still intact).  All three were magnificent but Wilcock’s piano work must get the grand prize.  When post-bop practitioners like these pull out such performances a truth’s revealed.  Experienced, tasteful and talented Jazz musicians can tackle almost anything and do it well.

During the second set, Auckland’s premier tenor saxophonist Roger Manins came to the band stand. You could see that he was hungry for a piece of this magic and he shone.  Manins always amazes and he had somehow adjusted his embouchure to give out a full-bodied era-appropriate sound.  We were also impressed when Yeabsley put down his bass and played a sweetly melodic baritone saxophone.  After a good sampling of Waller, Jamal, Ellington and Garner, the Jelly Rolls rounded things off with ‘The Sheik of Araby/I’ve got a New Baby’. Just perfect.

There is an inescapable sense of fun about this trio.  They swing like crazy and they radiate mischief. This is especially evident as they shuffle together a few era appropriate licks.  The Jelly Rolls album “Sneaky Weasel’ can be purchased from the site below.

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What: The Jelly Rolls – Ben Wilcock (piano), Dan Yeabsley (bass), John Rae (drums).

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) – Britomart 1885 Basement. 11th Feb 2015

 

 

Tim Sellars ‘Mukhlisa’ @ CJC

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CJC Feb 5 2014 055I have long been drawn to middle eastern music, having commented on it in earlier blog posts. There are many reasons to like this rich musical stream, but what draws me are the interactions that occur when eastern and western improvised traditions meet in mutual respect. This is often labeled as World/Jazz, but implying that it is new hybrid is somewhat problematic.  Both improvised traditions have deep roots and a successful meeting acknowledges this. The blend of Jazz and middle eastern music is mainstream in the Mediterranean regions but not as well-known elsewhere.  Adventurous artists like Dhafer Youssef, Rabih Abou-Khalil and Anouar Brahem have gained prominence in the west through collaborations with the likes of Kenny Wheeler, Charlie Mariano, Steve Swallow, Tigran Hamasyan, Marcin Wasilewski and others. Jazz lovers in New Zealand and Australia have already experienced the ancient Sephardic music of Spain through Caroline Manins ‘Mother Tongue’ projects.  Also through Kiwi Jazz harpist Natalia Mann’s Turkish projects.  CJC Feb 5 2014 056 (1)Much of this music derives from the Sufi tradition but Sicilian and Flamenco Jazz fusions should not be overlooked either; both having rich Islamic and Jewish sources feeding them.  The Moors ruled Sicily for 400 years and southern Spain for 500 years.  Under the various Caliphates there was great religious tolerance and a spirit of scientific curiosity.  The arts and musical traditions merged and flourished in that benign space.

Tim Sellars is a drummer/percussionist who graduated from Canterbury University Jazz School with honours.  His studies led him to examine the rhythms and tunes of middle eastern music and he put together ‘Mukhlisa’ to further these explorations.  The Auckland line up features two artists who we are very familiar with, Glen Wagstaff on acoustic guitar and Tamara Smith on flutes.  For leader Tim Sellars, and for bassist Michael Story this was a first visit to the CJC.  Of the tunes chosen many were traditional but the largest number were by a modern writer of Middle Eastern music Joseph Tawadros.  His compositions fuse the traditional with Jazz and allow ample room for improvisation. CJC Feb 5 2014 061Watching Tim Sellars on percussion is eye-opening as he coaxes so many complex rhythms and sounds from his array of percussion instruments, that it beggars belief.  At times he used the Cajon (of African/Peruvian origin) but mostly he played frame drums (middle eastern). I love to hear the frame drum as it is the oldest instrument known to man. The genre includes the Riq (tambourine) which Tim played to perfection.  Being an amplified acoustic ensemble the sound worked well in the club space.  The guitar perhaps needed turning up a touch, to give it more bite. CJC Feb 5 2014 056Tamara was her usual impressive self and her control and mastery of the instrument was evident throughout.  She alternated between bass flute and alto flute; the tonal richness of both horns blending perfectly with the upright bass.  Bass player Michael Story understood the cues and worked with Tamara; resisting any impulse to overplay. Acoustic ensembles like this require discipline and subtlety; overly showy solos can dominate and obscure the filigree of woven sound.  Mukhlisa got that right and the solo work although appealing, was rightly subordinate to the overall integrity of the music. Glen Wagstaff is popular in Auckland and his charts for large ensembles have impressed club goers.  It was good to see him in a different context and many of us  eagerly await his album, which is due out in a month or so.

CJC Feb 5 2014 065 There is ample scope for a larger ensemble to grow out of this; perhaps one including arco Cello and Oud.

I am happy to see this music finding a home in New Zealand as it is a metaphor for a wider truth.  We are living through a troubled era when many western peoples are recoiling from Islamic images.  If they are only aware of conflict images or brutality then perhaps they are looking in the wrong places.  In this music resides harmony peace and humanity.

the composition is Phoenix by Joseph Tawadros.

Who: ‘Mukhlisa’ – Tim Sellars, Glen Wagstaff, Tamara Smith, Michael Story

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland 3rd February 2015

Kepler, Hubble, Henderson, Bloom, Ra & Maupin

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6b96232502cdec6acaaae7034ce4e9e2This week as NASA’s Kepler orbiting telescope probed deep-field space, wonders beyond the imaginings of most of us came into view.  As it focussed on an inky gap between solar systems, gazed deep into an area invisible to earlier sky-gazers and previously lost in the vastness of space; a new mission. This week fresh data surprised the analysts as new images formed on their screens.  Astronomers could barely believe their luck.  Revealed were four planets circling M-Dwarfs, all of which bore apparent similarities to our own planet. They were near enough to their suns and with the right circumference to place them in the ‘habitable zone'; perhaps even capable of  IDL TIFF filesustaining life. The fact that ‘Kepler 186f’ is in the Cygnus Constellation nearly 500 light years away has not dented enthusiasm.  Kepler 186f is now firmly embedded in the human consciousness. Like the astronomers at SETI we watch, ponder and hope. In my world, this is the intersection where dreams, the cosmos and improvised music collide.

If you know where to look you will find an asteroid named ‘janeirabloom’.  This is significant because Jane Ira Bloom is an American Jazz musician.  This fine saxophonist was the first musician commissioned by NASA and her composition ‘Most Distant Galaxy’ is forever associated with of the space programme. I like improvising musicians who gaze in wonder at the stars.  I don’t mean musicians who occasionally play ‘Fly me to the Moon’ or ‘Star Dust’, but those who incorporate the wonders of the of the cosmos into their improvising. Jane Ira Bloom evidently visualises deep space when improvising.

The most obvious of these star gazers is Sun Ra.  Born Herman Blount, he soon abandoned his earthly name to become Sun Ra.  Anyone who has followed his brave sonic journey realises that his persona and that of the Arkestra is not a mere gimmick.  There is a philosophy and a real social conscience behind the image. imgres  Devotees and band members stay the course.  Ra has long departed this world, but the Arkestra is still voyaging with the astonishing John Gilmore at the helm. The older vinyl albums are now widely sought after, as the cover art was sometimes hand painted by the band members.  Many of the covers are similar to the Hubble images.

Trumpeter Eddie Henderson was a late discovery for me, perhaps because his earlier cosmic funk material was unavailable for a while.  With the re-release of his brilliant Fusion Jazz/Funk album ‘Sunburst’ and the ‘Heritage vol 1,2 Capricorn Years’ we have a treasure trove.  I am deeply imgresimpressed with Henderson’s work and his recent albums like ‘So What’, are tasty-good as well.  ‘Sunburst’ was released on the Blue Note label in 1975 (re-released by Japanese Blue Note recently).   Two albums by Bennie Maupin ‘Moonbeams & Slow Traffic to the Right’ were released around the same time.  The 70’s was the golden age of Cosmic Jazz/Funk and the utilization of increasingly sophisticated analogue synthesizers is a feature of these albums.  These out of production analogue instruments have become highly sought after (Mini-Moog, Prophet, Oberheim, ARP Odyssey etc).

Benny Maupin is one of my favourite musicians.  His multi-reeds & winds playing, innovative arrangements and memorable compositions reveal a clarity of purpose.  Whether it’s his early work with Lee Morgan ‘Live at the lighthouse’, with Miles on ‘Bitches Brew’ or on any of his own albums like ‘The Jewel in the Lotus’, ‘Headhunters (Survival of the fittest)'; there is no-one quite like him.  He also appeared on many Eddie Henderson albums during the 70’s.  The personnel on these seminal Cosmic Funk albums are all important musicians.

A breakdown of the personnel and the serious kit involved: ‘Sunburst‘ (Blue Note) Eddie Henderson (trumpet, flugal, cornet), Julian Priester (trombone), Bennie Maupin (tenor sax, saxophones, bass clarinet), George Duke (Rhodes, clavinet,synths), Alphonso Johnson (electric bass), Harvey Mason (drums) Bobby Hutchinson (marimba), Buster Williams (bass-6), Billy Hart (drums-6).  On ‘Slow traffic to the right‘ (Vocalion) are: Bennie Maupin (soprano & tenor sax, saxello, piccolo, flute/alto flute, bass clarinet, Oberheim polyphonic synthesizer, Eu synthesizer, vocals), Patrice Rushen (acoustic piano, Rhodes, e-piano, clavinet) Patrick Gleeson (Oberheim & E-Mu polyphonic syhthesizers), Onje Allan Gumbs (Electric piano, Fender Rhodes), Ralphe Armstrong (Gibson G3 bass guitar), James Levi (drums), Eddie Henderson (trumpet, flugal), Blackbird McNight (guitar), Craig Kilby (trombone, Nathan Rubin (concertmaster, strings). On Moonscapes’ Maupin added new synths a glockenspiel and more personnel.  This was the space age manifesting in improvised music.

History tells us that the invention of new instruments is extremely rare. The saxophone faced enormous difficulties in gaining recognition and its inventor even suffered assassination attempts from conventional instrument makers. Against that images background the swift acceptance of the synthesiser appears surprising, but when considered in the context of the times there are compelling explanations.

The late 60’s and 70’s was the era of the space age and everyone with a radio, tuned into the beeps of Sputnik when it passed overhead. On mass we became enamoured with electronically generated sound.  It was the code for modernity.  Boys of the 50’s and 60’s all listened to short-wave radio; often in the hope of hearing cold war spies sending morse code. What we actually heard were the eerie sounds of atmospheric static and beeps from space.  The new sounds of an exciting and limitless world.

As a multiplicity of signals bounced around the earth and reports from radio-telescopes became commonplace, we gradually associated those electronic sounds with the signals from deep space. The arrival of the psychedelic era picked up on this and from then on synthesized sound was a fait-accompli.  Pink Floyd not withstanding, Eddie Henderson and Benny Maupin captured this era like few others. The earthy sounds of black urban funk were deftly fused with out-Jazz experimental music and the new instruments were the booster rockets.   IMG_8963 - Version 2

When the mood takes me, late at night, I check out the NASA or European Space Agency web pages or watch compilations on You Tube of the newest images beamed in from deep or near space.  I travel with voyagers 1 & 11, marvelling that their analogue signals still reach us despite the odds.  Settling in, I cut the sound of the You Tube clips and as the pictures flash by, each more fantastical than the last, I put Eddie Henderson and Bennie Maupin on my stereo. For an hour I am there, a space voyager.

This post is dedicated to the out-musicians and the astronomers who explore new worlds.  To Bob Moog who created new sounds, to Carl Sagan who reminded us that ‘we are star-stuff, billion year old carbon’ and to my son Aish, a computer scientist who manages a machine learning team in Silicon Valley.

Jazz stories that need retelling (2014)

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“What often distinguishes a poetic list from a practical one is only the intention with which we contemplate it’ – Umberto Ecco (The Infinity of Lists).

At this time of year Jazz Journalists post their ‘best of’ lists.  By tradition, this provides a platform for the writers to focus on something that took their fancy (or not). It is seldom an exhaustive analyses of the years musical offerings, but a time to indulge in a few well-honed prejudices with impunity. I make no apology for the antipodean bias.

A look back at some pianists who impressed in 2014:

There has been a lot of ink spilt in analysing Jazz piano over the years and the task is always daunting. In recent years all too many masters of the keyboard have passed on such as the inimitable Hank Jones.  He encompassed a vast era of jazz, ever fresh and endlessly tasteful; bringing with him something of stride, bebop and hardbop and above all the blues.  At the passing of Jones and other acknowledged masters, there is an increased awareness of other great pianists still with us (a good example is the belated and welcome attention being given to George Cables).  Many of these artists have been hiding in plain view and paying them due attention is increasingly important.  As musical tastes mature, and new directions emerge, the field ever broadens.

Jazz fans who live outside of the USA generally have a reasonable awareness of pan-American, European, Scandinavian and (perhaps) Antipodean Jazz musicians.  If you live at the hub of the wheel, the USA, it will probably be less likely.  Pianism is not about how many notes you play, where you come from or the 0000210166_36cleverness your ideas. It is about integrity.  Musical integrity is rare but universally available.

There is a ‘sound’ that belongs to certain locations, perhaps to great cities; where an assimilation of environment occurs unwittingly, coalescing within an artist. This is not planned, as self-conscious cleverness is the road to perdition. The mindless recycling of others cleverness a greater anathema.  Mary Lou Williams once said (to slightly paraphrase): “Once a pianist comes to grips  with the instrument and can master its capabilities, stop taking formal lessons.  Risk taking explorations should occur next”.

Pianists like Mike Nock, Barney McAll and Jonathan Crayford all have a unique quality, one that reflects where they come from.  They are musicians of the world having honed their craft on the road, but distinctly Australasian for all that. No English, Italian, Scandinavian or Australian pianist is going to sound like Randy Weston and nor should they.  Musicians of integrity will bring something of themselves to the mix and a select few will bring a sense of place. The three pianists I have mentioned have lived and worked in the USA (often extensively) but not at the expense of their roots voice.   Each found a groove that only they could unlock. There are 88 notes on the standard piano keyboard, but in the spaces between the notes and in the choices made, there are subliminal messages. That is where the real magic lies.

The Mike Nock Trio. (Aust) Gig at the ‘2014 Auckland Jazz Festival’, CJC (Creative Jazz Club). Mike Nock is one of New Zealand’s favourite musical sons and perhaps the improvising musician we most admire.  Although he has not lived here for many years, he often visits from Australia.  Many will know him from his ‘Fourth Way’ band, his recordings as sideman with people like Yusef Lateef or his long years as a celebrated member of the New York scene.  That said, his post USA work needs better examination and it is in Australia that people can gain a fuller sense of his body of work.  Nock is a truly gifted artist and he goes from strength to strength. “Nock’s ringing iconoclasm pervades all his music, taps a deep well of melody that transcends jazz and informs and ignites his every encounter.” - Fred Bouchard, Downbeat (USA). His live trio gigs are humour-filled and quirky, focussing on an eclectic mix of originals, standards turned upside down and almost forgotten tunes (i.e. Sweet Pumpkin).  The joy that Nock breathes into his gigs is infectious and it Mike Nock SIMA07_01makes you glad that you’re alive. Touring New Zealand with Nock were James ‘Pug’ Waples (drums) and Brett Hirst (bass)’.  These musicians while deeply attuned to each other were always full of surprises.  5 stars. *****

Barney McAll (USA) gigs in Auckland & Wellington NZ – Trio and Solo piano at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) and ‘The Wellington Jazz Festival 2014′.  McAll (an Australian) has lived in Brooklyn New York for many years, but he has never been forgotten in his home country Australia.  His visit to New Zealand won him many new fans.  There is an expansiveness and yet a completeness about McAll compositions. He sounds like no one else and as he digs into those earthy blues filled tunes, you hear the unmistakable echoes of real antipodean soul.  5 stars. *****

Jonathan Crayford, ‘Dark Light’ Trio (USA). It was Auckland’s good luck that the album release gig for Crayford’s ‘Dark Light’ Trio took place at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club).  A few weeks prior to that a local version of his ‘Biggish Band’ featured at the same venue (and at the Golden Dawn). I attended all three gigs. Jonathan Crayford is a peripatetic wonderer and a troubadour of immense talent.  His endless travels in music often bring him home to New Zealand and the lucky get to hear his imaginative projects.  4 stars ****

Other pianists of note: Kevin Field (NZ).  Field on piano or keys is a musical force to reckoned with. His taste is impeccable.  This year saw him record an album in New York with expat New Zealand bassist Matt Penman, drummer Obed Calvaire  and guitarist Nir Felder.  The album will probably be released sometime during 2015 and is eagerly anticipated.  Dark LightJan07_02Whether as accompanist or soloist, Field shines.  His work in 2014 on ‘Dog’, with Caitlin Smith and with the Australian saxophonist  Jamie Oehlers stand out as high points.  Adam Ponting (Aust) (Hip Flask ‘1’ & ’11’).  Ponting is an unusual but compelling pianist.  An original stylist who appears to approach tunes from an oblique angle, at first impressionistic, but leading you into a world of funky satisfying grooves.  This guy is definitely someone I would like to hear again.   It was also great to hear more of Alan Brown (NZ) on piano during 2014. He has some interesting piano and keys projects underway and we will hear more of those soon.   Steve Barry (Aust). Barry is an ex pat Auckland pianist now based in Australia.  He visited New Zealand twice during 2014.  His visits and albums are always received enthusiastically.  Barry is a musician who works hard and produces the goods.  His new album ‘Puzzles’ with Dave Jackson (alto), Alex Boneham (bass) and Tim Firth, lifts the bar for up and coming local musicians.  We had a number of visitors in 2014 and to bring us a European perspective was the Benny Lackner Trio (Germany/USA).  The pianist Benny Lackner has visited New Zealand on several previous occasions and the aesthetic he brings is finely honed. The band has a similar feel to EST.  There is the occasional use of electronics and they quickly find tasty grooves that could only emanate from a European Band.

Alan Broadbent (USA) has had a truly amazing year with the release of a solo album ‘Heart to Heart’ and his NDR Big band album ‘America The Beautiful’. Multiple Grammy 7kofphkhadu-htw5jpjp_zmxkdevwd478h5dat8o4ms winner Broadbent is our best known improvising export and he has spent the last year touring Europe and America to great acclaim.  The solo album was given a rare 5 star rating by downbeat and ‘America The Beautiful’ was recently voted one of the 10th best albums of 2014.

Miscellaneous Gigs and projects:  

Mike Moreno trio (USA) – for sheer guitar artistry and taste, Moreno is hard to beat.  His beautiful (often mournful) sound, compelling lines and clarity of vision left the Sydney audience in awe.  His Australian trio were Alex Boneham (bass) and Ben Vanderwal (drums).  the choice of sidemen was solid, as they complimented and responded to every nuance of Moreno’s playing.  This was a class act all round.  The Troubles (Wellington, NZ), Portland Public House, ‘Auckland Jazz Festival’.  This Wellington ensemble is a machine of wondrous invention.  Its anarchic dissing of powerful institutions, cheerful irreverence and inappropriate humour, carves it out a special place in the hearts of rebellious souls.  Iconoclast drummer and composer John Rae (ex-Edinburgh) had added the heavy weight presence of saxophonist Roger Manins (Auckland) to the mix for recent gigs. That was an inspired choice.  Jeff Henderson’s ‘Dreamville’ project (Auckland, NZ) CJC (Creative Jazz Cub). This avant-garde gig, billed as superconscious Jazzmares, was a triumph by any measure.  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. This gig won many to Henderson’s cause.

Notable local Albums of 2014: (in no particular order)

‘Dog’ (Rattle Jazz) Recorded in the now defunct and much-loved York Street studios Auckland.  This album is the realisation of a project by Manins, Field, Holland &  photo - Version 2 Samsom.  It sizzles, swings and while hinting at the vibe of a bygone era, it still sounds fresh & modern (and very Kiwi).  ‘Dark Light’ (Rattle Jazz) This excellent album is one of two that Jonathan Crayford released in 2014 – Recorded at ‘Systems Two Studio’ NY with Crayford (piano), Ben Street (bass), Dan Weiss (drums).  Don’t expect repetition from Crayford. This master musician takes us on many journey’s, each unlike the last and all brilliant.  Hip Flask 2 (Rattle Jazz)  A funk unit led by Australasian saxophone giant Roger Manins.  Accompanied by Adam Ponting (piano), Stu Hunter (organ), Brendan Clarke (bass) and Toby Hall (drums).  A thoroughly appealing album and a welcome follow-up to Hip Flask 1 (Hip Flask 1 included with the album).

Best Jazz Writing

The Parker Biography (part one): Stanley Crouch’s ‘Kansas City Lightning’ is a great read and a possible game changer.  It has sometimes been observed that Jazz  Parker Imagebiography is the weakest link in Jazz Writing. If that is true then the mould has truly been broken with this work.  Crouch has placed the story of Parker’s early life into a fuller historical context.  In learning things about the times, we learn a lot about the man.  This is a book that could be appreciated by anyone interested in the history of African-American life in the Mid-West.  I suspect that its significance will grow as time passes.  Above all the book is beautifully written and for me that counts.

 Best Jazz DVD

Charles Lloyd’s ‘Arrows to Infinity’ is a beautiful and informative document. It is packed with important music and astute observations.  The filming is tasteful and painterly and Dorothy Darr (artist and long time partner of Lloyd) has been the obvious guiding force (assisted Jeffery Morse).  Lloyd the musician is beyond caveat, but Lloyd the narrator also holds us in rapt attention.  The reborn, Big Sur Lloyd, communicates his deep calm with ease and his spiritual approach to music and life is compelling.  As he reflects honestly on the momentous times he lived through, we feel enriched by sharing the experience.  He sums up his approach to improvising and the duty of sharing his music as follows; “The winds of grace are always blowing, so set the sails high”.

Most anticipated events for the coming months.

Glen Wagstaff & the Symposium Orchestra Project. (NZ) 2015 album release (subject to sufficient funding levels being reached on kick starter).  This young guitarist references the writing of Kenny Wheeler and Brian Blade.  There is a deep melancholic beauty in his charts and the material soars.  The album features many gifted New Zealand musicians.  Christchurch, like Auckland & Wellington, has a deep reservoir of Jazz talent.

The Auckland Jazz Orchestra (NZ) – ‘Darkly Dreaming Suite’ by AJO conductor Tim Atkinson.  I witnessed the recording of this suite and what I heard sounds amazing. While there is a dark brooding quality of the music it is also strangely warm; like a glass of claret held up to stained glass window at dusk.  The album is due out in 2015 and the work marks step-up for the orchestra.

Maria Schneider conducts the Jazz Mothership Orchestra (USA/Aust) Our highly respected saxophonist Roger Manins is to feature with the JMO under Schneider’s batten. I don’t have all of the information yet, but the JMO will certainly be touring Australia.

CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 2015 events. The club had a great 2014 year in spite of the odds and difficulties. This is in large part due to JJA Jazz-Hero Roger Manins role as musical director (aided and abetted by Caro Manins and Ben McNicoll).  The task of keeping a not-for-profit Jazz Club float in a relatively small city is challenging, but Manins has managed to secure a solid programme and he did so while juggling his demanding teaching gig at the Auckland University Jazz School and his numerous live gigs and recording gigs around the pacific rim.   Having a brand new Auckland Jazz Festival (organised by Ben McNicoll) rounded the years events out perfectly.

Biggest Regrets of 2014 – missing the John Zorn gig in Adelaide – The passing of Kenny Wheeler whose music has given me so much pleasure over the years.

Video clips of Mike Nock & Barney McAll – filmed for this blog at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 2014.

http://youtu.be/zBd2yZZdvL4?list=UUvm6sdXjGJULG9k2nYZ9udA

http://youtu.be/m_oA8iLshNg?list=UUvm6sdXjGJULG9k2nYZ9udA 

 

Emie Roussel Trio @ CJC

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Emie Roussel trio 048Any mention of Quebec catches my attention as I really like that part of Canada, so when I learned that a highly rated Montreal piano-trio was coming to town I knew that it would be a good experience.  I had not encountered the Emie Roussel Trio before, but a quick glance at the accolades they have garnered and the numerous You Tube clips that have sprung up over the past year, gave me all the information that I needed.  The group had attracted particular attention at the Montreal Jazz Festival and from what I saw online, deservedly so.

Montreal is a Jazz city and I rate it highly.  It is easy on the eye, friendly, laid back and intensely focussed on the arts. During a recent visit I spent my nights in its Jazz clubs and bars.  As many as I could cram into an Autumn week; anywhere featuring improvised music.  It was not the time of year to catch The Montreal Jazz Festival, so I got to see local bands like ‘Park X’ and the ‘Carl Naud Quartet’ at ‘L’OFF Jazz Festival’.  Emie Roussel trio 065As you move about that city, the familiar and the exotic coexist at every street corner.  I came to realise that this almost subliminal familiarity was the manifestation of a spiritual kinship. The sort that exists between certain special cities, a connection that is not about trade, mayoral visits or geography; a connection of musical and artistic synergies.  Emie Roussel trio 053The Emie Roussel Trio are part European and part American in aesthetic. They are wholly Montreal. Their music has a pulse and a vibe which draws on european classical music traditions and the deep earthy Jazz grooves that arose from the American continent. In the hands of improvisers like Roussel these influences communicate a universal language. As the pieces unfold there is a sense that this band works as an organic whole. What we heard was tight and full of vibrancy or as a musician I spoke to during the break put it. “We are hearing the result of rehearsal, dedication to a project, discipline and road time”.  While I love the free-flowing loose feel of New Zealand improvising bands, I must acknowledge that we seldom hear trio’s which sound like this.

The set-list was a selection from the trio’s recent albums with a few tunes from her new album in the mix. All of the compositions and arrangements were by the leader Emie Rioux-Roussel. Her compositions are well thought out and adventurous; taking sudden twists and turns, but never losing sight of the momentum and the inner logic. The segments are pieces of a puzzle placed by very skilful hands.  As significant as her piano chops are, it was her work on keys that reeled me in. She quickly dug in on the Korg, carving out intense and deeply pleasing grooves with her left hand. The tasteful flurries from her right opening up the possibility of a million directions, all worth taking; her voicings felt original and warm as the summer breeze.  This was an altogether funkier feel and as the beats reflected the changed mood the electric bass thumped out lines that danced in your head.  Emie Roussel trio 045The bass player Nicolas Bedard and drummer Dominic Cloutier never faltered.  They wove in and around the tunes with consummate skill and were the perfect interpreters of Roussel’s music. These men are versatile and skilled and whether on brushes, sticks, upright or electric bass, they knew exactly what would serve the music best.  Emie Roussel trio 046The second set brought us an added treat as the Kiwi trumpeter Lex French came to the bandstand. I have long rated French as one of our finest trumpeters. He completed his studies in Montreal and was already well acquainted with several of the band members. His addition changed the pace once again, opening the way for harder blowing.  As the sets progressed the constantly evolving moods worked well for them, giving the gig real breadth.  Emie Roussel trio 050The trio’s recent album ‘Transit’, includes many of the numbers heard on the tour but with one significant difference; The inclusion of a string section, the ‘Quatuor St-Germain’ and a percussionist Julie Quimper.  Roussel’s charts in the hands of this larger ensemble are very different to the trio.  I particularly like her compositions like ‘L’ attente du chat’ and ‘La timbale et la fourmi’.  The mood of the ballad is cat-like in its grace and time feel. The latter, a delightful shape-shifter of a piece full of contrasts and propulsion.  I look forward to the new album which is just the trio but with some Rhodes tracks as well as piano.

I hope that they came back one day as this is a band well worth keeping tabs on.

Who: The Emie Roussel Trio – Emie Rioux-Roussel (piano, keys), Nicolas Bedard (contrabasse), Dominic Cloutier (batterie).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Brittomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand, 17th December 2014.

The Troubles @ CJC 2014

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‘Troubles’ come in many forms and what a proliferation of ‘Troubles’ we have seen in Auckland. In mid 2012 we saw a nonet replete with a sizeable string section (and clarinet). Earlier this year at the Auckland Jazz Festival we saw a septet (strings, no clarinet and with Roger Manins on tenor saxophone as guest artist).  By Wednesday December 10th 2014 all trace of rosin was purged and the sweet sounds and fresh faces of the front line string section replaced by three tall bearded men clutching saxophones (and a shorter clean-shaven trumpeter).  This was a bold and brassy line up; a weightier manifestation, delivering anarchic messages from darker corners.  IMG_3877 - Version 2This was too good an opportunity not to record and Rattle did just that.  Capturing chordal instruments in a space like the CJC is challenging as the sound has a number of hard edges to bounce off.  Recording a live performance of this particular brand of ‘Troubles’ might work well.  IMG_3883 - Version 2Guiding the proceedings with his well-known brand of anti-establishment megaphone diplomacy was ring master John Rae, ‘Troubles’ co-founder.  He shepherded the ensemble through a constantly shifting landscape. His effervescent flow of joyous and often irreverent cries only stemmed by Patrick Bleakley’s timely interjections.  Rae is the supercharged engine room, but Bleakley is clearly the anchor.  Like Rae he’s an original member.  IMG_3872 - Version 2With this Auckland horn section in place, a new front had opened and the tweaked charts took maximum advantage of that. On baritone was Ben McNicoll and his presence gave the sound added bottom. Roger Manins, who had stunned us with his wild death-defying solo’s at the Troubles Portland Public House gig was on tenor again.  Jeff Henderson took the alto spot and that was a significant addition. His ultra powerful unblinking delivery was the x-factor.  Unafraid of repeated motifs but able to negotiate the music without ever resorting to the familiar. That is the Henderson brand, original clear-cut and uncompromising.  In no way diminished by the powerful reed instruments surrounding him was Kingsley Melhuish on trumpet. Melhuish has a rich burnished sound and like the others, he is no stranger to musical risk taking.  IMG_3869 - Version 2Together they evoked a spirit close to the earlier manifestations of the Liberation Jazz Orchestra. Not just the rich and at times delightfully ragged sound, but the cheerful defiance of convention and discarding of political niceties.  Rae’s introductions were gems and I hope some of them survive in the recording.  He told the audience that it had been a difficult year for him. “It was tough experiencing two elections in as many months and in both cases the got it woefully wrong” (referring to the Scottish referendum and the recent New Zealand Parliamentary elections). “there are winners and losers in politics and there are many assholes”.  IMG_3890 - Version 2It wouldn’t be the ‘Troubles’ if there wasn’t a distinct nod to some of the worlds trouble spots or to political events that confound us.  I have chosen a clip ‘Arab Spring Roll’ (John Rae), a title which speaks for itself.  Following the establishment of a compelling ostinato bass line, the musicians build a convincing modal bridge to the freedom which follows.  Chaotic freedom is the perfect metaphor for the ‘Arab Spring’ uprising. The last number performed was the ANC National anthem and as it concluded, fists rose in remembrance of the anti-apartheid struggle.  It is right that we should celebrate the struggles for equality, but sobering to reflect on how far we have to go. The Troubles keep our feet to the flame, while gifting us the best in musical enjoyment.

What: ‘The Troubles‘ – John Rae (drums, compositions, exaltation), Patrick Bleakley (bass, vocal responses), with Roger Manins (tenor sax), Jeff Henderson (alto sax), Ben McNicholl (baritone sax), Kingsley Melhuish (trumpet, Trombone).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland New Zealand, 10th December 2014

Caitlin Smith 2014

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IMG_3770 - Version 2Caitlin Smith is a vocalist who can quickly put a smile on your face or shamelessly tug at your heart-strings.  She always finds a way to connect her audience to the essence of a song; deftly locating that illusive sweet spot.  While there is often power in her delivery, there is also remarkable subtlety. You could describe her voice in many ways; pitch perfect, having an almost operatic range, but there is much more to Smith than chops. In the parlance she owns each song she sings and embeds it with a uniqueness.  Like a seasoned saxophonist she tells beguiling stories in a distinctive way.  IMG_3756 - Version 2There is a well-worn cliché that vocalists hog the limelight and in truth many go through their careers with barely a reference to the musicians that they work with. Caitlin Smith is the opposite. You are left in no doubt that her gigs are a shared project as she interacts with band and audience, picking up on every nuance from either.  She works with a band as a vocalist should and she is comfortable giving them space to solo. There is a generosity of spirit about her persona and this manifests in the music.  I have also witnessed her solid support for emerging artists.  The ultimate litmus test for me, is that gifted improvising musicians enjoy playing in Caitlin Smith lineups.  IMG_3762 - Version 2While Smith is widely acknowledged as a gifted singer-songwriter, it is her Jazz repertoire that is turning heads of late.  Her performance with the AJO at the Tauranga Jazz festival won her many new fans.  She is a wonderful interpreter of Jazz standards and this aspect of her repertoire deserves critical attention. Her vocal gifts and incredible musicality thrive with this space; of particular note is the delightful way she plays with lyrics.  IMG_3776 - Version 2 (1)Smith is a natural performer and there is something wonderfully theatrical and engaging about her stage presence. This gives her gigs an added spark of life.  On Wednesday she included some of her own compositions like the beautiful ‘In between’, but the audience was particularly wowed by her take on jazz standards such as Ellington’s ‘I like the sunshine’.  I have heard her sing Ellington and Strayhorn at other gigs and I am always impressed by the way she freshens these standards up.

Her innate ability to carry off the more difficult of the Ellington/Strayhorn song-book tunes is beyond question. ‘Lush life’ in particular requires real vocal skills to pull it off well and her interpretation is flawless. This affinity cries out for her to record the material.  It would be great to see an Ellington album someday; accompanied by the Kevin Field Trio, alternating with the AJO. IMG_3749 - Version 2Another song from a different genre was ‘River’ (Joni Mitchell).  This classic Mitchell song was recently reinterpreted by Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.  As Smith delivered her version she phrased it in such a way that I could hear those elided Shorter fills in my head.  Her delivery was crystalline and it brought her two worlds together perfectly.

Who: Caitlin Smith (vocals, arrangements), Kevin Field (piano), Oli Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) (acknowledgement to Dennis Thorpe for the River video)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, 3rd December 2014

Wellington Mingus Ensemble visits Auckland

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Mingus was the Rabelais of Jazz.  An eccentric humanist who used his musical vocabulary to portray the realities of life as he knew it.  A world filled with great sorrows, blunt speech and joyous abandon; excessive emotions measured in equal portions. Often troubled, frequently combative, but always inspiring.  He brought something unique to improvised music. An ability to impart that Rabelaisian quality, and this was the genius of the man.  IMG_3664 - Version 2  

When the Wellington Mingus Ensemble came to town the essence of Mingus came with them. In showcasing his music they demonstrated that they understood the most important thing: the spirit underlying his music. The cries of delight when at particular phrases and the shouts of exaltation echoing through the sets, a collective sense of engagement, each exhorting the other on. This unerring wild enthusiasm gave the music a power that took it free of the charts.  Mingus pieces are invariably greater than the sum of their parts.  IMG_3680 - Version 2

The set list took us on a high-octane Mingus fuelled journey, with the familiar politically charged ‘Fables of Faubus’ and ‘The shoes of the fisherman’s wife are some jiveassed slippers’, bookended by his lessor known tunes.  There are no poor compositions in the Charles Mingus’s songbook. The Ensemble (a sixteen piece band) is punchy, ebullient and confident. This sense of shared enterprise fed into the solos, as the support was always there. The bass work was particularly noteworthy as Mingus styled bass lines are quite unlike any others. Big ups to the baritone player as well, for making a unwieldily beast sing so heartily.

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Charles Mingus occupies a unique place in the Jazz Pantheon and in Mingus bands like this, he has left us with a legacy which thankfully shows no sign of abating. His legacy is an interesting one and different to that of most Jazz musicians. While a Miles or a Bird tribute band will often be at pains to put distance between themselves and the original for fear of comparison, a Mingus tribute band will unashamedly embrace that Mingus feel. There is a rightness about this approach to Mingus, because what at first appears tangible has hidden corners.  There is always a mysterious looseness which leaves you thinking.  I’ve listened to this piece a hundred times before, but it always sounds different.  IMG_3634 - Version 2

This is a great legacy for musicians and fans alike.  He leaves behind so much more than his recorded output; it is as if these Mingus charts are inexhaustible.  The music is full of contradictions; profoundly gospel-referencing passages, dripping with soul are suddenly overtaken by a brassy cacophony on the edge of free.  Anyone who has listened to his Magnum Opus  ‘The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady’ or ‘The complete Town Hall concert’ (with Dolphy, Collette, Mariano, Sims and many others) will get this immediately. For Mingus-loving musicians, the desire to grab a piece of this quirky magic is overwhelming.  The Wellington Mingus Ensemble has achieved that in spades.

 

What: The Wellington Mingus Ensemble

Saxes: Bryn van Vliet, Eilish Wilson, Jake Baxendale, Garam Jung, Oscar Laven Trumpets: Ben Hunt, Michael Costeloe, James Wisnesky, Daniel Windsor  Trombones: Kaito Walley, Cameron Kidby, Julian Kirgan, Patrick Di Somma        Piano: Ayrton Foote,  Double Bass: Adrian Laird,  Drums: Jacob Randall

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand 26th November 2014

 

Glen Wagstaff + AJO (Auckland Jazz Orchestra)

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Christchurch resonates strongly with Kiwi’s from elsewhere, but the images we bring to mind are fused realities. The best of colonial Victorian architecture, a fading Englishness; blurring into an empty post-quake wasteland or an alpine framed Hiroshima.  Behind the rubble the city’s creative life has continued unabated. This is not about ‘defiant resilience’ or any of those other overused phrases. Creative artists create no matter what the circumstances and no errant fault line can dislodge that force.  It is about being human and it is about the inner life of a city.  Improvising artists are among the best placed to tap into this wellspring.  IMG_3620 - Version 2

With that rich southern burr in his speech, Glen Wagstaff is clearly from the mid to lower South Island.  Like other Jazz musicians from Christchurch he has impressive skills. The Christchurch Jazz School has done well by us, especially evidenced in the fine musicians emerging.  I first heard Wagstaff in 2013 when he came to Auckland with his Christchurch octet.  I was impressed then; even more so now.

The number of New Zealand musicians who write or arrange big band charts is relatively small and there are good reasons for this.  It is time-consuming and very hard work.  To have a younger musician writing so well and to be so adventurous is unusual.  There are two clear influences on Wagstaff’s writing and these are the late Kenny Wheeler and the Brian Blade Fellowship band.  I am a big fan of both and these musicians are evoked in the charts. Similar in style maybe, but with a strong Kiwi focus. While the above influences are detectable, Wagstaff is developing a unique voice.  A voice that imparts a strong sense of place.  Mountains, clear skies, wide-vistas and textured landscapes.  IMG_3602 - Version 2

His small ensemble work puts you in mind of a larger ensemble, while his orchestral work has sufficient space to imply the opposite.  The style (like Wheeler’s) is airy and textured with strong melodic hooks.  In spite of the dark tinged corners, the pieces impart warmth.  IMG_3617 - Version 2

The other part to Wagstaff is his solid guitar work.  This was especially evident during this gig. The ringing clean tone and the strong well paced lines could blend with the orchestra when appropriate.  At other times the guitar led strongly.  Whether as composer or guitarist, Wagstaff was in command.  I have rendered a clip of his composition ‘Firefly’ and the music speaks for itself.  Nothing further I could write could add or detract from this extraordinary piece of music.  IMG_3603 - Version 2

The AJO was a good choice as they are a capable Jazz orchestra.  What they need most are more challenges like this. These charts were not the easiest and the rehearsal time was brief.  What they managed in this narrow window was entirely creditable.  It would be nice to see them record something like this and I believe that they have just such a project coming up with Tim Atkinson’s suite (to be recorded shortly).  Conducting the AJO was Tim Atkinson while Mike Booth (trumpet) and Andrew Hall (alto, soprano) took the main solos.  Matt Steele’s piano worked beautifully with Wagstaff during the guitar dominant passages.

In the octet were: Glen Wagstaff (guitar), Matt Steele (piano), Richie Pickard (bass), Ron Samsom (drums), Andrew Hall (reeds), Mike Booth (trumpet), Ben McNicholl (tenor saxophone), Glen Bartlett (trombone),  The rest of the AJO were; Jo Spiers (trumpet), Oliver Furneaux (trumpet), Mathew Verrill (trumpet), Mike Young (trombone), Darrell Farnley (trombone),Michael Tidbury (trombone) David Edmundson (tenor) Andrew Baker (baritone) Trudy Lile (Flute), Callum Passells (alto, soprano).

More of this please Glen Wagstaff.  IMG_3600 - Version 2  

What: Glen Wagstaff + AJO (Auckland Jazz Orchestra)

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand 19th November 2014

 

Nick Granville (with Dixon Nacey)

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Nick Granville’s return to the CJC was long overdue and the fact that he’d invited local favourite Dixon Nacey to join him made this an extra welcome return.  Granville is one of the busiest and most versatile guitarists in New Zealand.  Although a Jazz guitarist, he is just as likely to appear with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (the recent Dr Who tour), on TV, with visiting pop idols or touring beside visiting jazz royalty like Joey Defrancesco.   He’s a prolific recording artist, widely travelled and always in demand.  Dixon Nacey is also extremely well-known.  He has been absent from the club recently; touring the Pacific rim and gaining new fans wherever he goes.  Dixon is a real crowd pleaser.

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It is not often that we get two guitars in a quartet gig at the CJC and when the guitarists are Granville and Nacey it is a twelve stringed celebration.  When two guitarists play together, each needs hyper awareness of what the other is about.  Jazz guitar collaborations tend to fall into two camps; either they work extremely well or the musicians crowd into the same space.  These men are masters of their instruments and it was evident from the start that they knew instinctively when to play, comp or lay out.  The cross talk and the support was there without compromising the others space.

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Although there was an upbeat Scofield number and a very engaging Pat Metheny number, the gig gave a distinct nod to the traditional.  It was certainly not the material, as there were no standards; it was the approach.  Most of the compositions were contemporary originals but both guitarists bop roots were on show.  There is appropriateness to that when you consider the bench marks.  To my ears the twin guitar gold standard occurred in 1974 with Joe Pass and Herb Ellis on their ‘Seven to Eleven’ (Jake Hanna and Ray Brown rounded out that quartet).

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Granville is an Ibanez artist and Nacey a Godin artist.  In juxtaposition, under the lights, the gleaming instruments glowed as if in a beauty contest.  A preening mass of highly polished wood tones.   These instruments are things of great beauty and to see them and hear them together is a treat.   In the hands of these two guitarists even more so.  There were a number of Granville’s compositions played during the night but the second up; ‘Somewhere I’ve been’  (which is Granville’s reharmonisation of Shorter’s ‘Footsteps’) burned and crackled with unimaginable energy.   This set us up well for the evening, as we progressed through further compositions by Granville, Nacey, Samsom, plus a Scofield and a Metheny number.   I managed to capture Metheny’s  ‘Question & Answer’ and I have posted it.   This clip speaks well of the musicianship and the genuine interaction between the two guitarists.  IMG_3533 - Version 2

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On bass was Oli Holland and he is in perpetual good form.  With his Doctorate now completed we can expect to see more of him on the band stand.  Ron Samsom on drums played with fiery enthusiasm.  It is always a pleasure to hear Samsom and especially to hear his compositions.  That said, the icing on the cake was catching a photograph of that fleeting signature snarl.  This illusive manifestation of ‘drum face’ occurs all too rarely and only when Samsom digs deep.   I am a great believer in drum face as it often presages rhythmic riches.

Who: Nick Granville (guitar), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Oli Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand, 12th November 2014

Sandhya Sanjana @ the CJC

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If you patrol the margins of the music world you will find inestimable treasures.  Beyond the notice of mainstream media and mainstream audiences there is a joyous revolution underway.   Not an austere revolution but one peopled by astonishing musicians, colourful characters and sonic explorers.  Like a good street protest, it is often bubbling with noise, insistent beats and a multiplicity of messages.  Last Wednesdays gig epitomised that.  The alternative music scene is often denigrated for its imagined ‘high brow’ complacency or its snobbish rigidity.  In this regard the Jazz police and lazy uninformed commentators have done improvised music a grave disservice.  Improvised music has been with us since the beginnings of art and the whole point of it is to shift the focus away from the mundane or the obvious.  The appropriation and assimilation of traditional forms is only a staring point.  Sandhya Sanjana and her gifted ensemble took the shamans path here; conjuring shapes and colours from the ether, re-harmonising, daring us to look at the familiar and the exotic from an entirely different vantage point.  This night cut right to the heart of improvised music.  Different worlds merged and they did so without compromising the integrity of the traditions they came from.  IMG_3487 - Version 2

This was World/Jazz singer Sandhya Sanjana’s night but we have Auckland’s Ben Fernandez to thank for organising the gig.  I had not heard Fernandez play before this, but had long been aware of his reputation as a gifted, successful and multifaceted pianist.  Some months ago he invited me to his ‘Raag time’ fusion gig, but sadly I was unable to attend as I was heading out-of-town.  Later he messaged me to say that he would teaming up with Ms Sanjana in November.  Gigs like this are irresistible to me as I am enthusiastic about all of the great improvised music traditions.  The merging of these traditions has risks, but done well it’s marvellous.  The successful assimilation of middle eastern rhythms and the idioms into Jazz has long been achieved in Europe.  Fusions of traditional Indian music and Jazz are now emerging across the globe and those with an open mind and the right ears are the happy beneficiaries.

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The band members were; Sandhya Sanjana (vocals, leader), Ben Fernandez (piano), Jim Langabeer (flute, reeds), Manjit Singh (tabla & vocals), Jo Shum (bass), Jason Orme (traps drums).  Anyone familiar with the Auckland Jazz scene and the Indian music scenes will know what a great lineup this is.

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Sandhya Sanjana is from Bombay, but based in Holland these days (Ben Fernandez is a Kiwi but he also hails from Bombay).  She has performed with the greats in the World/Jazz field like Alice Coltrane and Trilok Gurtu.   She has an easy confidence about her that informs her performance and under her guidance a seamless fusion of styles occurs.  With Fernandez you get another strong influence as he imparts a distinctly Latin feel.  This classical and Jazz trained musician has chops to burn.  Out of this melange of rich influences a vibrant new music emerges.  It is compelling and exciting to hear.  There is a constant visual and sonic interplay between singer, tabla, traps drums, piano, bass and reeds (winds).  The shifting rhythms creating intricate cycles that pulse and swing.

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Manjit Singh, originally from the Punjab is another Auckland resident and he is an acknowledged master of the Tabla and of Indian music.  I am often reminded of what a rich and diverse drum landscape we have in Auckland.  A world that I am still coming to grips with.  This man is a major talent and it is our good fortune that he is making forays into the Jazz/fusion music scene.  On traps was the veteran drummer Jason Orme and he was well-chosen.  The gig required a drummer who could play quietly but strongly and one who had the subtlety to interact with Singh.  On bass was Jo Shum who has not played at the CJC for some time.  She is an aware bass player and acquitted herself well.   Lastly was the reeds and winds player Jim Langabeer.  Langabeer is well-respected on the New Zealand scene and is one of a select group of doubling reeds musicians who are equally strong on flute (and he swings like a well oiled gate).   This gig had an embarrassment of riches and once again Roger Manins gets a big tick for his innovative programming.

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In the You Tube clip that I have put up, the breadth of Sanjana’s influences are immediately evident.  After a few bars of latin feel on piano we hear a Tala.  I know very little about the technical aspects of traditional Indian music but the rhythmic patterns (or Tala) are generally established early on.  This can also include a vocalised manifestation of the Tala rhythms.   Manjit Singh the Tabla player counted in the Tala and Sanjana responded with Mudras, claps and vocals .  The traps drummer and others responded to the patterns and so the piece built upon itself.  If done well, cross fertilised music is like water; it will soon find its own level.  This did.

Who:  Sandhya Sanjana (vocals, compositions, leader), Ben Fernandez (piano, arrangements), Jim Langabeer (winds & reeds), Jo Shum (bass), Manjit Singh (Tabla & vocals), Jason Orme (traps drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand.  5th November 2014

Steve Barry ‘Puzzles’ Tour NZ

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Steve Barry recorded his new ‘Puzzles’ album back in February and after his very successful first album ‘Steve Barry’, there were high expectations for its successor.  In ‘Puzzles’ Barry has returned to the winning combination of Alex Boneham on bass and Tim Firth on drums and he could hardly have done otherwise.  When musicians work this well together and have more to say, the journey should continue.  While essentially a trio album, the gifted alto saxophonist Dave Jackson joins them for three numbers.  There is a sense of shared vision here as the four have worked together extensively.  While familiarity can sometimes breed complacency there is none of that in ‘Puzzles’.  The communication between band members is intuitive, but there is an element of surprise and freshness about the interactions.  All of these musicians are at their peak and while they impress deeply, there is no escaping the fact that it is the strength of compositions that gives this album its edge.

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Barry’s life is an extremely busy one.  He is in the final stages of his doctrinal studies (focussing on composition) and he gigs regularly around Australia and New Zealand.  Last year he won the prestigious Bell Award and was the runner-up at Wangaratta.  Guiding his impressive work ethic is more than just academic or professional considerations; he possesses a deep quest for knowledge.  If you follow Barry’s physical travels you understand something of what motivates him.  He is never a casual tourist.  His engagement with and questioning of the world about him informs his work.   The compositions in ‘Puzzles’ reflect this as they are carefully crafted improvisational vehicles, complimentary in relation to each other but clearly reflecting the learnings gained by Barry along the way.   The sound quality on the album is also superb and the album nicely presented.   ‘Puzzles’ was recorded at the ‘Pughouse Studios’ in Melbourne by Niko Schauble and the cover design is Barry’s.

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I saw Barry on his way through Auckland to perform in Queenstown.  Reports from that gig were positive and over the week he worked his way back to Auckland’s CJC, where he performed with Roger Manins on tenor, Cameron McArthur on bass and Ron Samsom on drums.  The CJC band are highly rated musicians, but you inevitably get a different feel from any band less familiar with the material.  While the numbers on the album sound effortless, the charts are obviously complex.  We heard many cuts from the album and a few new numbers that have not yet been recorded.   In the past Barry’s compositions tended to favour a degree of density, but many of his new tunes have a lighter feel.  They are probably just as complex but like all evolving musicians Barry is mastering the art of making the complex sound simpler.  It would be hard to pick between the tracks on ‘Puzzles’ but for beauty and emotional depth I like ‘Forge’ and for groove the fabulous ‘Heraclitus Riverbed’ (anything involving the ancient philosopher Heraclitus draws me in).  It was interesting to compare Manins (live) with Jackson (on the album).  Manins on tenor was the passionate story-teller while Jackson on alto has a drier sound and evokes the feeling of an intrepid pugnacious explorer.

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After listening to him live and replaying the album for days on end the conclusion is inescapable; Barry is a major talent on an upward trajectory.  I would urge people to hear him live when the opportunity presents itself and above all to support his art by buying the albums.

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The Album: ‘Puzzles’ – Steve Barry (piano, rhodes), Alex Boneham (bass), Tim Firth (drums), Dave Jackson (alto saxophone).  www.stevebarrymusic.com

The CJC Gig: Steve Barry (Piano), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) on the 29th October 2014   www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

Auckland Jazz Festival 2014 in retrospect

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The 2014 Auckland Jazz festival is over and it is time to reflect on ten days of warm vibes, edgy grooves, good company and above all truly exceptional music.  Auckland is a difficult beast when it comes to festivals.  It is like a smaller version of Los Angeles; a spread out town centre and an urban area sprawling over 600 Square Kilometres.  This contrasts with the smaller Wellington, where the suitable music venues are in close proximity.  While getting festivals off the ground has always been a challenge in Auckland, there are willing audiences out there.  The trick is getting them to pay attention.  It was an ‘underground’ festival and apart from a handful of flyers, some posters in the participating venues and student radio, the publicity machine was Facebook, a hastily created website and word of mouth.  In spite of that people turned up and everyone enjoyed the gigs.  Town halls and large commercial venues are utterly without soul and the decision to stick to smaller venues made good sense.  Because of that festival goers got to experience live music up close and personal.  A woman at the Mike Nock gig expressed delight that she could sit less than a metre away from the band.  Close enough to catch every nuance and smile; to connect with the joy.  To be so close to one of the worlds great pianists is an experience never forgotten.  This sort of intimacy is gold.  This is a solid foundation to build upon and potential sponsors will hopefully see that and come onboard next year.

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Over the ten days I managed to attend five gigs, including the three headline acts.  Like any music lover I wanted to attend more.  Actually there were over thirty gigs on offer for those with time on their hands and that is impressive.  The opening gig was at the Portland Public House in Kingsland which is an intimate entertainment space with a delightfully shabby-sheik decor and great bar food.   ‘The Troubles’ were the perfect act to launch the festival, as their rollicking, anarchic, good time vibe engaged the large and enthusiastic crowd from the first note.  I am a huge fan of this group which is a collective led by Wellington drummer John Rae.  This time, and it was an inspired move, they had included Auckland’s Roger Manins in the lineup.  This transformed a wonderful boisterous freedom loving band into a full-scale riot.   The five piece string section were the perfect foil and they shone.  Neither Manins nor Rae gave any quarter as they hungrily fed off all challenges like musical Pacmen.   The Troubles music bubbles out of a deep well of musicality and exuberance.  It references the sounds of protest, eastern European music, the vibrancy of street life and above all joy.  As the chants, cries, shouts, dissonance and snatches of sweet melody catch your ear, you realise that this is ancient and future music.  It is honest and often deeply swinging.  It is everything from Mingus to now.

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On Monday I got an email.  ‘If I was free, would I be able to pick up Mike Nock and his trio from the airport’.  I truly like him as a human being as there is an irreverence and a sense of fun about him.  Hanging with him is a positive experience and it was also a good opportunity to gain a few insights into the gig.  He has a Zen approach to life and to music; living in the moment and cutting through the bullshit.  He is funny and a great storyteller, but surprisingly humble about his own impressive accomplishments.   Anyone who has studied the history of New Zealand music (and arguably Australian) will inevitably say at some point, “Oh yeah, Mike Nock; this is THE guy”.  At the airport I ran into another returning Jazz Pianist Steve Barry, so we all crammed into my hatchback.   Musicians, personal luggage and cymbals.  “What will you play tonight” I asked on the way into town?  Mike gave a typical Mike reply, “Man I don’t always know until my fingers are on the piano keys”.  When I repeated this to bass player Brett Hirst he laughed, “Yes and I age a year every-time he does it” he said.   “These days whether a standard or an original, all I want to do is reach deep inside until I find the poetry”, added Nock.

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It is this last statement that epitomises his approach.  You watch him seated quietly at the keyboard, calmly flexing his arms and then suddenly he is playing; the melody stated as if in passing, feeling his way to the essence of a tune.  It is always a masterclass for the careful listener.  All of the dross and excess baggage of a tune is dispensed with as the smiling Nock shares his joy with those present.  As he plays he sings quietly or exclaims joyously.  Sometimes pausing momentarily, dropping his hands from the keys, acknowledging a special moment.   In a club like the CJC you get an immediacy like no other venue and being part of a Mike Nock experience is very special.   Nock played a variety of tunes, some well-loved standards, some almost forgotten older tunes and an original or two.   IMG_3208 - Version 2When he played Irving Berlin’s lovely ‘How Deep is the Ocean’ he prefixed it with a long intro, pulling you deep into the mood of the piece and then suddenly swinging madly, the melody dancing with him.  It was as if we were hearing it for the first time.  Next was ‘Solar’ (Miles Davis), which in lessor hands could be viewed as a surprising choice.  The tune was given no quarter.  Nock, Brett Hirst and James Waples (drums) immediately peeled the layers away to reveal an energised core which burned like a super nova.   Life is good when the Mike Nock trio is in town.

The next night featured the Benny Lackner Trio from Germany.  Lackner has played at the CJC twice previously, but this was the first time that he had brought his European trio with him.  He is an interesting artist and his music is very different from that of the Mike Nock Trio.   This music is firmly rooted in the European aesthetic and less rooted in the bluesy traditions of America.  What he offers is something wholly modern and closer to the oeuvre of artists like Esbjorn Swennson and Tigran Hamasyan .   It was a rare chance to hear a type improvised music that I have long followed with enthusiasm but get few chances to hear being so far away from Europe.  Rather than drawing on the blues it seems to appropriate folk music and near eastern song forms.   The tunes though are all originals and they are often lovely to the ear.  The trio uses electronics in the way that EST did, but there is more edge these compositions.  There are complex cross rhythms and pulsing bass lines on the upbeat numbers; probing filigree explorations around the beautiful melodic lines on the ballads.  On upright and electric bass was Paul Kleber and on drums the interesting Matthieu Chazarenc.  This was music to savoured and thought about long afterwards.  Offering complimentary but contrasting artists is at the heart of good festival programming.

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The third headline act was a double trombone lineup.  From the USA was Francisco Torres who is best known for his stellar work with Poncho Sanchez or the award-winning Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band.   His credits are considerable and everyone from Terrance Blanchard to Natalie Cole has benefitted from his strong playing.   The other trombonist was Wellington’s Rodger Fox who like Torres has an impressive list of credits to his name.  Fox wears many hats, promoter, educator, composer and trombonist.  Neither Torres nor Fox had played at the CJC before and it was appropriate that they were given a quality rhythm section.   On piano was Kevin Field, Bass Oli Holland and drums Ron Samsom.  The gig was therefore titled ‘two bones and a dog’.  The dog reference was about the ‘Dog’ band which features Field, Holland and Samsom.  Perhaps because it was the third headline gig in a row the numbers were down and that was a shame because they played like there was no tomorrow; mostly standards and particularly those with strong trombone associations.   It was nice to hear a tune by the ill-fated master of the west-coast trombone, Frank Rosolino.  I am always overwhelmed by the warmth of the instrument.  In the semi darkness a glow of burnished gold radiated from the horns, reflecting the warmth of the music perfectly.  There were a number of trombonists in the audience, grinning from ear to ear.   Another great festival night.

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The final gig that I attended was at the Golden Dawn.  Recently voted the best bar in town, it is a welcoming place; a venue begging to become your local, no matter how far away you live.  The management have the happy knack of engaging the quirkier bands, showcasing an edge that can only emerge from underground music.  The lighting is particularly appealing, something between a vaudeville dressing room and a prohibition era speak-easy.  The multi hued lighting seeps through dark-toned wood grain and bounces off the bottles behind the bar, losing its intensity on the journey.   Sunday night is jazz night and what better place to finish up a festival.  When I arrived the Alex Ward trio had just set up and they played a short opening set.  We heard Tigran Hamasyan’s ‘leaving Paris’, a Brad Mehldau tune (from his Easy Rider album) and a standard or two.  The number that I most enjoyed was Wards own composition ‘Litmus Test’, which strongly references and builds upon the vibe of 60’s McCoy Tyner.  IMG_3332 - Version 2

The closing set was ‘Harry Himself’ and this under-the-radar band is truly amazing.  It is a hybrid music with enormous appeal, similar to the Jazz from the Nordic countries.  Unusual combinations of instruments, some electronics, loops and an endless supply of deep grooves.   All of the musicians were of the highest calibre and perhaps this is the bands ace in the hole.  When doing something brave and unusual, do it really well.   Leading the band was Kingsley Melhuish on tuba, trumpet, trombone, flugal and vocals (and pedals).  On pedal steel guitar and Fender was Neil Watson, a much admired musician who can subvert and then create afresh like few others.  Sam Giles was pumping out-deep groove electric bass lines and it was good to see him on the band stand again.  At the rear and barely visible, but clearly audible, was Ron Samson, a drummer as respected as he is versatile.  Carried on the pulses of blue light were shimmering outlines, accompanied by mesmerising waves of sound; intensely textural grooves, layer building upon layer.

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At times Melhuish would set up a loop on tuba, tweak the sound and then play wonderful figures over it on trumpet or flugal.  In behind, bending notes on fender or adding fills on the pedal steel guitar was Watson.  This unusual combination of instruments works so well that it should definitely be repeated.  It begs further explorations.  With Samsom and Giles in the mix a pulsing original sound scape unfolded; perhaps best described as a Second Line gumbo meeting psychedelic Americana.  The festival finished up with a Jam session at the same venue.

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Those who attended the various festival gigs were very pleased with what was on offer and those who found out too late cursed their ill luck.   I understand that the notification period will be longer for next years festival, so watch out for it next Spring.

What: The Auckland Jazz Festival  17th to 26th October 2014

Who: The Troubles (septet), The Mike Nock Trio, The Benny Lackner Trio, Francisco Torres/Roger Fox (quintet), Alex Ward Trio, Harry Himself (quartet).

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), The Portland Public House, The Golden Dawn.

Note: I will add a Torres/Fox video shortly

Trudy Lile @ CJC 2014

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Trudy Lile is always in demand whether it’s cruise liner gigs, winery gigs or bar and club gigs.  Last night she was at the CJC with Kevin Field on piano, Cameron McArthur on bass and Ron Samsom drums.   This particular quartet is a regular lineup for Lile and it is hardly surprising.  Musicians like this are a gift to a leader, as each of them has pulling power, but they operate as a high functioning unit when together.   Lile is also an energetic and engaging performer and the enthusiasm she radiates is always evident in her music.

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As a singer/flutist Lile often favours standards or latin material, as these suit voice and flute so well.   She still surprises though with appealing lessor known tunes or sometimes popular tunes which lend themselves to wider explorations under her coaxing.  She is keen on finding new standards from the latter and we often hear material from sources not usually tapped by improvising musicians.   This use of popular material is becoming more commonplace and another recent example of this was Benny Lackner opening with a number from the latest Bowie album.   Lile also brought some interesting new compositions to the gig.    IMG_3140 - Version 2

The clubs audience numbers could have been better during the last month, perhaps they were saving for the festival,  but Lile being a true professional worked the room and fed off the interaction.   She has an abundance of charm, humorous banter and above all musicality.   The band responded to her lead with enthusiasm, amping up their performances to match hers.   Kevin Field is the sort of pianist who understands the accompanists role, comping sparingly at times and launching into heart stopping solos at others with McArthur and Samsom responding to each nuance.   I have posted a clip from the gig which is a favourite of Lile’s.  An Eliane Alias number titled ‘An Up Dawn’ from the album ‘The Three Americas’.

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Footnote: My ability to comprehend the softly spoken human voice with any accuracy has declined in recent years; probably due to the endless procession of loud gigs in intimate spaces that I attend.   What I heard Lile announce was a tune called “An Up Storm’ and so I labeled the You Tube clip accordingly.  When I saw Lile a few days later she laughingly told me what the actual title was.  Unfortunately I misheard that as well, as ‘An Up Swarm’.  The clip now correctly refers to ‘An Up Dawn’, but I do like my rogue re-titling.   Perhaps Trudy Lile could reharm the tune, utilising my imaginative and thought-provoking title(s)?  I am sure Eliane wouldn’t mind.  There is more than a hint of Chaos Theory in what I had originally settled on;  An up swarm of bees in Brazil causing a storm in Auckland.

Who: Trudy Lile (leader, flute, vocals), Kevin Field (piano), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samsom (drums)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885 basement, Auckland New Zealand 15th October 2014

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

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.

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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

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

 

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.

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.

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

 

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/

 

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

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

Tiny Hearts ‘Alluvium’ Review

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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/

 

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   

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

‘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

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/

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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