It has always been said that troubles arrive in pairs. In this case the old adage was woefully awry as ‘The Troubles’ arrived in nonet form. Their arrival may have ‘Rattled’ us somewhat, but we are built of stern stuff in Auckland. We fortified our ourselves with strong liquor and pep talks, adjusted our parental lockout settings to allow for some serious swearing and settled in for the realpolitik of John Rae’s and Lucien Johnson’s crazy-happy Jazz. ‘Oh Yeah’, we told ourselves, ‘We are ready to handle anything a Wellington band can throw our way’.
There are bands that I like, bands that I respect and bands which drive me wild with pleasure. ’The Troubles’ are of the latter kind. I’m besotted with this band and their deliberately ragged, madly political, quasi-serious satire. This band digs deep into the well-springs of life and what bubbles up is a joyous lake of barely controlled madness. The anarchic overtones are deliberate, but there is a scream-in-your-face humour that overshadows all else. This is about chiaroscuro; a bunch of opposites vying with each other for attention.
This band is about plunging us without warning into the troubled spots of the world and then showing us humour where we thought none existed. The overt political messages were a joy to me as I have never quite understood why this space is not filled more often. The history of Jazz is intensely political and to describe ‘The Troubles’ music as a continuation of the work done by Carla Bley, Charlie Haden and especially Charles Mingus (even Benny Goodman) is not too far-fetched. This band is a talented group of clowns shaking us by the scruff and saying; laugh or cry but for god’s sake look at the world about you. There is no solace for Lehman Bros, Merrill Lynch, Barclay’s or John Key here. For Jazz lovers with big ears there is joy aplenty.
This band is about call & response; not just between instrumentalists, but by the band vocally responding to John Rae’s trade mark exhortations. Although he leads from the drum kit, that doesn’t prevent him standing up and shouting at the band (or the audience) to elicit stronger reactions. During one of the middle Eastern sounding numbers (which appeared to lay the Wests hypocrisy bare), he shouted in what I can only assume was faux Arabic. A flow of equally Arabic sounding responses flowed back . It was the string section verbally responding as they wove their melodies around the theme.
On another occasion John Rae announced that we would be celebrating an often ignored trouble spot. “I will now express solidarity with the North Americans”, he announced. ”The Sioux, Cherokee, Iroquois, Apache, Mohave etc”. He began with a corny war dance drum beat which quickly morphed into a tune from ‘Annie Get Your Gun’. As the melodic structure unwound into free-Jazz chaos we all understood the history lesson and laughed at the outrageousness of the portrayal.
Another Tango melody written by Lucien gradually reached a joyous fever pitch. During the out-chorus the instruments dropped out one by one and as each instrument stopped playing the musicians raised a closed fist in a revolutionary salute. Although it was quite dark in the club we had all picked up the cues. This was a musical night beyond glib definition.
Like life, the music gave us lighter and then more thoughtful moments. Musically it was amazing fun and after a difficult week I was suddenly glad I was alive.
Mission accomplished I think John and Lucien – keep shaking us up please.
John Rae (drums, co-leader, co-writer, co-arranger). Lucien Johnson (sax, co-leader, co-arranger, co-writer). Patrick Bleakley (double bass). Daniel Yeabsley (Clarinet). Jake Baxendale (saxes). Hanna Fraser (violin). Charley Davenport (cello), Tristan Carter (violin). Andrew Filmer (viola). Buy a copy of ‘The Troubles’ today at Rattle Records Ltd. Venue – CJC Jazz Club Auckland.