The Long Train Ride (1); London – Ghent

During the next two months, the weekly New Zealand Jazz gig posts will be replaced by blog posts from the road. I am  writing this from Amsterdam, the 3rd stop in a road trip around the edges of Europe. Time permitting I will cover the music I encounter along the way, but also literature, art and architecture. The golden rule of any blog is to keep posting on time, so I will try to achieve that (iPad and WiFi allowing). The JL32 blog gets upwards of 36,000 hits a year, every visitor expecting Jazz; I hope this expansion of topic sits well with them. 

Somewhere over the arctic circle I watched the new Miles biopic (‘Miles Ahead’) on the inflight entertainment. My expectations weren’t high; purely on the basis of my past experiance of Jazz movies (I hated ‘Whiplash’). I always want them to be good, but they seldom are. On the other hand Jazz documentaries like the CharlesLloyd ‘Arrows into infinity’ and the sad but lovely Chet Baker doco ‘Let’s get Lost’ are beyond reproach.  In spite of the many time blurred flashbacks and the strange plot, the ‘Miles Ahead’ movie worked for me. A drug-fuelled fictionalised clash with gangsterish music industry hired guns, took us deep inside the seedier aspects of NY nightlife – it was the music though that carried the movie to sublime heights. Sensibly, every frame, every scrap of dialogue served as a backdrop to the music. The tasteful segments of ‘Sketches of Spain’ or his later fusion tracks were simply haunting. Don Cheedle was superb as director and as Miles. Ewan McGregor’s character stretched credulity a bit, but hey – see this movie.

When we landed at Heathrow that tired old gag, ‘breakfast in San Francisco, dinner in London, luggage in Paris’, became a reality for us. Wild eyed, temporarily luggage less and frazelled, we rode across a very warm London towards our hotel. While in the taxi I posted that we’d landed in the UK, and almost immediately I received a gig invitation from the gifted London Jazz guitarist Rob Luft. Jet lagged and all I jumped at the chance, having caught and reviwed one of Luft’s New Zealand gigs earlier in the year. A guitarist with impeccable chops but more importantly a guitarist who makes the instrument sing. I would rather hear a joyous performance than a technically proficient one. With Luft you get both. The gig I attended had Luft playing in the band of a fantastic Brazilian singer ‘La Luna’ (Luna Cohen Fonseca Ramos). The remaining band members were Sam Watts (piano) (UK), Matheus Nova (bass) (Brazil), Jansen Santana (percussion) (Brazil). 

I set out through the bank holiday mayhem towards Barnes, a leafy London suburb I had never visited previously. The underground presented me with a variety of puzzles of the sort that chess masters thrive on. The change machine was out of order, and the only train to Barnes was not running due to line closures. To make matters worse my phone wouldn’t roam and so the directions were locked out of sight.  Luckily I had been well briefed by Robb Luft, so by changing trains several times and catching a bus, I eventually arrived at Barnes Station. Barnes Station is not actually in Barnes and a 20 minute walk through woodland followed. Two fox sightings later I arrived at the oldest Jazz venue in London. ‘The Bulls Head’ hotel beside the Thames. 

The club is small and cosy and it was jam-packed (note to Jeremy Corben there is no such thing as ram-packed). La Luna is from one end of Brazil while the remaining Brazilan band members are from a different region. Regional separation often brings stylistic variation, especially with South American music, the differences can be subtle but they really do matter. This blending of styles works well, especialled when the rythmic accents of the Brazilian rhythm section are leavened by the piano of Watts. His nice bright touch and interesting voicings skilfully blending with the punchy electric bass lines of Nova and the complex polyrhythms of Santana. As I anticipated, Luft was superb. Sometimes comping behind the vocalist, sometimes deploying tasty fills, the perfect counterpoint to La Luna. She sang soulfully, and as with all authentic latin vocalists, the voice came from deeper in the throat. I have often listened to singers like the immortal Elis Regina and marvelled at the intonation and the unique time feel. So it was with La Luna. The interplay between the two Londoners and the Brazilians made for a happy cross pollination. Two numbers in particular made the gig special, a composition by Luft which allowed him to stretch out a little; a piece with a clever head arrangement that snagged you on its hook. The other, a song in English by La Luna – a funky happy number that swung like crazy. Luft is hoping to return to New Zealand sometime soon – I really hope so – he was truly magnificent.

I had two more days in London and so I sought out the Tate Modern. Last time I visited there I encountered my first Jackson Pollack. I can remember the moment of contact clearly; a sudden encounter during which I felt that I was being shot through with high voltage electricity. The kinetic power of those splotches and dots could light up half of London. On arrival I learned that the big pollock was on tour (as were the Roy Lichtenstein works). I slowly made my way through photography exhibitions and rooms full of installations.  Eventually I arrived at the remaining Pollock – stunning. It has been said that his splashes were better controlled than a fine sable brush in another painters hand.  In adjoining rooms were Kandisky’s, several Picasso’s, a Degas, a room full of Rothco paintings (alongside a Monet) – Braque, Matisse – and then I saw it, the Miro. Any Miro enthrals me but this one is in a class of its own. Love at first sight.

When we arrived in Ghent we were able to relax for a few days. There are several Jazz clubs in that beautiful city, but our stay was filled with lazy walks on the cobbled streets,seriously over eating, boat trips up the canals and viewing the artistic gems on offer (and in nearby Bruges). The famous triptych by Van Eich in St Baafs cathedral was undergoing restoration, but a smaller replica conveyed the power of this famous painting.  A tentative step towards humanism in art. A Peter Paul Rubens is located in a side chapel. It was the Flemish architecture which stole the show in the end. Medieval factories, store houses, churches, castles and guild buildings dotted along the ancient canal system. The old town is a living, working, compact museum. Right outside our hotel window was the castle Gravensteen, a perfectly formed castle, looking like it could resist any seige. It was built in 1180 by the famous Crusader Knight Philip de Alsace. It had every feature that you’d expect from a perfectly formed castle of the Middle Ages – slots through which to pour boiling water onto attackers, turrets for the archers, a deep moat and an impregnable towering inner keep.  The walls looked higher than in most castles.  . . . . Next stop the sweet smoky streets of Amsterdam. 

Posted from Amsterdam 1st September 2016.

The Long Train Ride (2) – Amsterdam to Berlin

imageI was always going to love Amsterdam and it didn’t disappoint. The city has long been associated with the arts and with quality improvised music. It is a mature, liberal city comfortable in its skin, a place where you can legally purchase honey-cured Moroccan Hash in coffee bars, visit astonishing art galleries or enjoy good music at  Jazz clubs like the Bimhuis.  It is a city like few others, a truly happy place moving at its own pace. In spite of its laid back feel, the unhurried chaos, there is an underlying work ethic that makes everything run like clockwork. Like Venice it is a maze of pretty canals. Unlike Venice, the main source of transportation is the bicycle. An incalculable number pass you as you walk the canals, they even have their own multi-story parking buildings.image

After easing the aches and pains of the road in a coffee house, I made for the Stedelijk, a museum – dedicated to modern art and design. This impressive building with its stunning contemporary architecture, sits in a large park of extraordinary museums. Nearby is the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijks Mueum and along the canal the Nemo Museum of science for children (plus seventy five more). Many are impressive architecturally, spaces where stories are told well. After missing the Lichtenstein’s in London I found an iconic triptych here. Also a good collections of Piet Mondrian paintings and furniture. The great thing about this museum was the presentation. Art does not exist in a vacuum, it arises out of life experiences and is connected to them. The display narrative connected the art works to changes in world view. The leafing contemporary Dutch artists on display were also extremely impressive. image

There are a number of important Jazz clubs in Amsterdam and none more important than the Bimhuis. It had just started a new season after a break (most European jazz clubs close during August). The gig featured a number of important Dutch musicians, mostly associated with the avant-garde. One name stood out immediately – the wonderfully crazy drummer Han Bennink. On this this gig he lived up to his formidable reputation. Han, a true colourist,  utilising extended technique; anything at hand is part of his kit. He also uses his feet to alter the pitch of the snare – much like a tabla player uses the elbow.

The leader was pianist Frank von Bommel. A Jazz Times reviewer likened him to the early Cecil Taylor. The majority of the set list were Bommel’s compositions, interspersed with a few by Mal Waldron and a tune by Eric Dolphy. The Dolphy, Waldron connection gave a broader context to the music, it was free ranging and engaging at every turn. The Eurofree style is embedded in the memory of those familiar with the earlier ECM catalogue; hearing this music live is a great experience. Throughout there were long freetonal intro’s – often followed by swinging head arrangements, then mesmerising solos amping up the intensity and every segment balancing the last.image

The rich open textures were augmented by the combination of instruments, the earthy bass-clarinet, tenor saxophone, upright bass, drums and piano –  both horn players doubling on standard clarinet. My partner, who has not been exposed to free music before was engaged from start to finish. This was not an intellectual exercise in high brow music, it was approachable, joyous and engaging. The announcements were in Dutch so I can’t name the tunes, but who cares. The band spoke the universal language of good improvised music. They were: Frank von Bommel, Tobias Delius, Joris Roelofs, Paul Berner & Han Bennink.

imageThe Bimhuis (or Bim as it is affectionately known) is an amazing venue, acoustically perfect; with seating sloping towards the stage and clear sight lines. It seats about 150 people and has an excellent restaurant attached. From the restaurant you can see the busy harbour, from the auditorium you can see intercity trains passing below. The Bim has its own online radio station and is set up for high quality recording. If you’re ever near Amsterdam, you’d be crazy not to treat yourself to a to meal and music there.

After three days in Amsterdam we hit the road (again by train) – the idea of hiring a car less appealing by the day. Trains felt the better option, better than facing the terror of driving into an unknown city at night and especially when tired. There is an ebb and flow to travel and if you get the pace right the rhythms of the journey guide you. European trains are marvellous and not overly expensive. You get used to them quickly – the only terror there, negotiating the time sensitive train changes when the signs are in a language you don’t comprehend.image

Berlin is hard to imagine if you haven’t been there, it’s a city reinvented. The Berlin of Isherwood or even Le Carre just doesn’t exist anymore. It was bombed to oblivion by the Allies and out of the rubble grew a modern city. While there are isolated pockets of old Berlin they are few and far between – some notable exceptions, the museums or converted palaces east of the Brandenberg Gate. In the middle, near the domed Reichstag building stands an area of linden woodland. Even that was bombed. While many bombed cities were rebuilt to mirror their old selves, Berlin was not. I suspect that this was a concious decision but perhaps a decision forced on the planners by the realities of the Cold War. Today it is the home of spectacular modern architecture and even the central railway station the Berlin Hauptbahnhof is a marvel of engineering and aesthetics. The above picture is of a glass encased street installation, all that remained of a prestigious hotel, a single wall set in glass.image

Our must-see list was large, but topping it was a trip to the Neues Museum, where the famous painted Nefertiti bust is housed. The fact that most of Schliemann’s Troy finds are displayed clinched the deal. This museum houses a peerless collection of Egyptian, Greek and Roman archaeological finds. With the Greek statues you could clearly see the stylistic changes as the heroic period progresses through the classical period. The statues are stunningly beautiful and reflect ideals. During the Roman era the forms changed subtly (even though the Romans and Greeks of that period imitated the earlier forms). For the first time we see the gentle human faces of slaves or an emperors imperiousness (or nastiness). Marcus Aurelius looks wise and friendly, Caracalla a monster. If you read history these are familiar faces and being among these life sized statues is like meeting them.

The best images I saw were those of the emperor Hadrian, an unwilling emperor who loved architecture, beside him was his beautifully realised young lover Antinous (in above pic). There was also a deeply moving funery carving of a two freed slaves – husband and wife. They are depicted lovingly holding hands. About the Egyptian queen Nefertiti, wife of Akhenaten, there is not much I could add – volumes have already been written. This is perfection from 1360 BC.

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john Fenton – posted from Gdansk Poland

Oli Holland’s Jazz Attack

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2016 has seen more internationals passing through our Auckland Jazz club than ever before. Most of these offshore artists were extremely polished, playing at a level you’d expect from musicians tested in the hot-house of big city venues. Against that back drop it is exciting to encounter a first time up local band that can turn on a gig like this. ‘Oli Holland’s Jazz Attack’ is a fun band and an engaging one. The band’s leader (Dr) Olivier Holland, is an extraordinary bass player, renowned throughout New Zealand; the other experienced band member was trumpeter Finn Scholes, the remainder of the sextet were students.Oli 2016 121From early in the first set, I felt the passion behind the performances, the sheer exuberance that is generated when a group know that they are performing effectively. Seasoned touring musicians sometimes sacrifice this – perhaps the effort of being on the road, the effects of jet lag, robbing them of warmth. It reinforces my view as a listener, that an artist needs more than chops to fully engage with an audience. When a band is comfortable on stage, properly rehearsed and above all up for a riotous night, magic can happen.

I enjoyed this gig and what I will take away is that joyous enthusiasm they generated. This is largely down to Holland, a seasoned bass player who generally downplays his role as spokesman. “Bass players are not supposed to speak,” he said, “but I will anyhow”. A leader who can move from grin to deadpan in an instant; a natural talker, who milks the hell out of his spoken lines. He is extremely funny, the master of throw away lines and in between numbers storytelling. This clearly rubs off on the band members and establishes the mood.Oli 2016 126Trumpeter Finn Scholes can always surprise and over recent years he has impressed me increasingly. His vibrantly brassy ‘south of the border’ sound in the Carnivorous Plant Society is well-known, but anyone who thought that was all there was to him, hasn’t been paying due attention. He is raw and raspy on avant-garde gigs, mellow and moody on vibes and in this lineup reminiscent of the young Freddie Hubbard. His solo’s had bite and narrative, his ensemble playing was tight; above all, he generated palpable excitement, the sort that brings people back to live music again and again.Oli 2016 125

There were four students in the line up and the thing about students at this level, they have the ability to step up. Often though, they lack the confidence to do so. Many will over think a performance or only tentatively express what is in their heads – a careful observer can see that hesitation. The four students here stepped free of that hesitation, especially the tenor player Misha Kourkov. Being in the moment and bringing your skills to bear instinctively is what good Jazz performance is about.Oli 2016 129

Kourkov delivered some blistering solos and the best came surprisingly early in the gig. It has been a while since I saw him play (as a first or second year student I recall); he has come on in leaps and bounds since then. He looked and sounded good on the tenor, as if the instrument was a natural extension of his body. There was no mistaking the influence of Roger Manins either – that preparedness to reach for impossible notes, that full-bodied rich golden sound, storytelling.Oli 2016 123

On piano was Nick Dow from Christchurch, completing a Masters in Auckland. A nice touch and avoiding the trap of playing too many notes. On guitar was Michael Howell, no stranger to Auckland audiences, another AUJS student: playing an attractive solid body instrument; rounding out the sextet sound nicely and not over peddling. The remaining band member was Daniel Waterson (drums). Like the others he was obviously enjoying himself – he took a few solos and acquitted himself well. At the end of the first set, special guest ‘Heidi’ performed the jazz standard ‘Nature Boy’, rounding off the set nicely.

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I have posted ‘The Baseline Tune’ (Holland) which was second up in the first set, a tune which allowed everyone to stretch out. In Hollands introduction he warned the audience, “If you think you know where this piece is going you’ll be wrong. I don’t compose any tunes like that”. A typical Holland comment and accurate. All of the tunes were composed by him and all were quirky in some way. I liked the quirkiness, the way the tunes moved through many phases – often like a suite. In spite of their complexity they lingered in memory – you couldn’t hum them, but tasty fragments remained in your head. Challenging, satisfying, edgy improvised music for grownups.

Oli Holland’s Jazz Attack: Oli Holland (bass, compositions), Finn Scholes (trumpet), Nick Dow (piano), Michael Howell (guitar), Misha Kourkov (tenor saxophone), Daniel Waterson (drums) – guest Heidi (vocals). CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel basement, Auckland, Wednesday 17th August, 2016

Dan Bolton

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Dan Bolton 126Dan Bolton is an Australian born, New York based musician, at present touring New Zealand. His first show was at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) in Auckland. While singer, songwriters who accompany themselves on piano, are a firmly established tradition in Jazz, we see them on tour very rarely. Many Jazz vocalists (like Ella Fitzgerald) could accompany themselves well, but few choose to do so. A number of notable musicians mastered this skill, notably Nat Cole, Ray Charles, and Shirley Horn. Doing two jobs simultaneously is always harder than doing one and especially where vocals and piano are concerned. The energies and postures require careful coordination and I suspect that this is harder than accompanying yourself on guitar.Dan Bolton 125Bolton is unusual in that he composes tunes which feel modern, but in a style reminiscent of the Great American Songbook; many of his tunes, are not dissimilar from those which came out of Tin Pan Alley, having the vibe of Irving Berlin or Cole Porter. The melodies are catchy in a time honoured way and the lyrics often biting; sometimes capturing our post-millennial angst. Many of Bolton’s tunes centre on the age-old themes of love and loss, others sarcastically critique modern American life. All maintain their sense of originality, in spite of the above comparisons.Dan Bolton 123Travelling with Bolton is the perennially popular drummer Mark Lockett. Lockett, like Bolton, lives in New York, but for several months of each year, he travels as band-leader, (or as hired gun as in this case). Lockett was born in New Zealand and he always gets a welcome reception when he makes it back. Watch out on gig noticeboards for him. He has another tour coming up shortly and this time with an organ trio. On tenor saxophone and flute was Auckland’s Roger Manins, his swoon-worthy ballad chops manifesting in their full glory. Mostyn Cole featured on upright bass, a regular at the CJC and an able musician. We heard some tantalising snippets of arco bass from him – more of that, please.Dan Bolton (USA) (compositions, vocals, piano), Mark Lockett (USA) (drums), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone, flute), Mostyn Cole (upright bass). CJC (Creative Jazz Club), basement, Albion Hotel, downtown Auckland, 10th August 2016.Dan Bolton 122

 

 

Jennifer Zea

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Zea 122Last Wednesday saw the Venezuelan-born vocalist Jennifer Zea performing at the CJC. Her appearance was long overdue, the audience enthusiastic in anticipation of spicy South American Rhythms and the warm tones of the Spanish language in song form. When you look at where Venezuela sits on the map, you learn a lot about its music. Located in the northeast of South America, bordered by the Caribbean and by Brazil, positioned on a unique musical axis. Music blithely ignores the artificial barriers imposed by cartographers and politicians. Even Trump’s insulting wall could never be built high enough to stem musical cross-pollination. Music goes where people go, and remains as an echo long after they have moved on. Jennifer Zea is an embodiment of her country’s music; folk traditions, newer forms (Jaropo), Jazz, Soul, Bossa influences from Brazil and a pinch of Mambo, Salsa or Merengue.Zea 124The Caribbean region is the prime example of musical cross-pollination; rhythms and melodies, vocal forms and hybrid harmonization, a constant evolution into new and vibrant forms while updating and preserving the discrete pockets of older folk music styles. A weighty tome titled ‘Music and the Latin American Culture – Regional Traditions’ makes two observations; the music of the Venezuelan region is mostly hot or vibrant (see the definition of Salsa) and there is a strong underlying tradition of shamanism (manifest in musical form). The hypnotic rhythms and chants remain largely intact according to Schecter. With percussionist, Miguel Fuentes backing her, Zea conveyed the compellingly hypnotic soulful quality of her traditional music to good effect. Zea K 120Fuentes was born in the USA but grew up in Puerto Rico. These days like Zea, he lives in Auckland. Music like this demands high-quality authentic latin percussion and that’s exactly what happened. Traps drums were not needed here. Regular Zea accompanist, Jazz Pianist Kevin Field was also in the lineup. Field plays in many contexts and his accompanist credentials are second to none. He has regularly worked with Zea and (like Fuentes) most notably on her lovely 2012 release ‘The Latin Soul’. If you have a love of Cubano or Caribean style music, grab a copy of this album. Even on straight-ahead gigs, I have heard Field sneak in tasty clave rhythms. If you want to hear cross-rhythms at their best – skillfully woven by Field and Fuentes, it is on this album. An added incentive are the compositions, mostly by Field and Zea (and Jonathan Crayford). On upright bass for this gig was Mostyn Cole, an experienced bassist now residing in the Auckland region.Zea 123The gig featured some Zea compositions, three standards and to my delight some authentic Bossa. The Bossa tunes were mostly by the Brazilian genius Tom Jobim and sung in Portuguese (which is not her native language). Although Portuguese is the most commonly spoken language in Latin America, it is only the main spoken language of one country, Brazil. To learn Bossa she spent time with a teacher in order to understand the nuances and deep meanings. While respecting the Bossa song form she had the confidence to bring the music closer to her own Venezuelan musical traditions. Even her intonation was redolent of her region, unmistakably Hispanic South American.While hearing strong elements of Cuban or Brazilian music, North American standards (or a spicy salsa of the above) you also felt that each influence was deftly filtered through a Venezuelan cloth. Her rendering of ‘Fever’ (Cooley/Davenport) and ‘Georgia on my Mind’ (Carmichael) exemplified this. There was even a little Kiwi influence in there. I would like to think so because we all need happy music like this in our lives.Zea K 120 (1)

Jennifer Zea; (Vocals), Kevin Field (piano), Miguel Fuentes (percussion), Mostyn Cole (bass). CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel Basement, Wednesday 3rd August 2016.

 

 

Mooga Fooga

Joel 120Mooga Fooga are well travelled, and as they move about they carve deep grooves into the sonic landscape. Their music is deliberately genre blending, with funk, rock, soul and Jazz shuffled together. Their music is often loud but they can play in a muted voice. While all of those influences are unambiguously in the mix, based on what I saw on Wednesday, they can tilt the emphasis any way they choose. This eclecticism is not the result of a random amalgam, but a clever fusing of the base metals underpinning the genres. In some of their online clips they are reminiscent of groups like Cream (albeit funked up), but on this gig, their Jazz Funk roots were most in evidence. I suspect that saxophonist Kushal Talele was the compass in that regard.Joel 133Years ago I picked up a guitar trio album featuring Bareli Lagrene, Jaco Pistorius, and a European drummer (I can’t recall his name). I marveled at the seamless blending of styles, as they performed Hendrix and Shorter with equal integrity, paying due respect to each. This music has a heavier funk element; Jazz funk with a little touch of metal and the occasional the choppy lines of Monk thrown in. Apart from their punchy lines and the exchanges during the head, there was room for improvisation as the tunes developed.Joel 121I am familiar with Kushal Talele, Adam Tobeck and Joel Shadbolt as I have encountered them all before. Each in different situations to what was on offer last night. Talele has a distinct post-Coltrane sound and is very much in the camp of the New York modernist tenor players. He returned last year from overseas and played a gig at the CJC. Sadly, we are to lose him again as he heads to New York for a few years. Tobeck is versatile and notable for his tightly focused groove beats. He was essential to this lineup and this band was a natural fit for him. I have seen Shadbolt less often but I enjoyed his loud bluesy funk at the 2015 Tauranga Jazz festival. He is a crowd pleaser and looks every inch the part as he pumps out his ear-pleasing lines and phrases.  While I had not previously heard electric bassist Rory Macartney, he is well-respected about town. There is a real bite to his playing, a bite that is perfect for a lineup like this.Joel 122The tunes were seldom given titles and I suspect that most were originals. Details like that don’t matter on a gig like this – it is about the groove. I gained the impression that the three regulars, Macartney, Shadbolt and Talele all contributed compositions and arrangements. There are some good YouTube clips up from this group and I have added one more from this gig. Mooga Fooga: Kushal Talele (tenor saxophone), Joel Shadbolt (guitar), Rory Macartney (electric bass), Adam Tobeck (drums) at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel basement, 27th July 2016.Joel 118

Kevin Field Group – Winter 2016

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Kevin Field 124Kevin Field has for many years been regarded as a phenomenon on the New Zealand Jazz scene. A gifted pianist and composer whose approach to composition and harmony is strikingly original. When you listen to many pianists you can hear their influences, discern the pathways that led them to where they are. With Field, those influences are less obvious. I suspect that this independence, originality, makes it easier for him to strike out in any direction of his choosing. On his ‘Field of Vision’ album, he moved into uncrowded space, one occupied by very few Jazz pianists. It was Jazz without compromise but utilising grooves, rhythms, and melodies of other genres. The music contained distinct echoes of the disco/Jazz/funk era, crafting it carefully and forging a new post-millennial sound.Kevin Field 123The tunes were all memorable and within a few listenings, you could hum the themes. This is not so common in modern Jazz and less so with music (like Fields) which retains its Jazz complexity. In Fields case, the clean melodic hooks do not come at the expense of harmonic invention. That is a tricky balancing act and one he achieves convincingly. His co-leadership of ‘DOG’ took him in a different direction again, but the same deftly crafted grooves astounded us. His recent album ‘The A-List’, was a further excursion into the disco/Jazz/funk realm. It is slightly tongue in cheek while still challenging the listener to think outside the square. Artists like this take the music forward, it is up to us to catch up.

The Kevin Field Group often meets up to work through new and old compositions – this work ethic is evident in what we hear. While personnel changes occur from time to time, the group has a core membership. Field, Dixon Nacey, Clo Chaperon, Cameron McArthur, and Stephen Thomas. While we heard tunes from recent albums there were also a number of new tunes on offer. The new material took his earlier conceptions further out, while the older material was cunningly reworked. I have heard this group a number of times and each time I hear them I sense the progressive momentum.Kevin Field 129They played at the Wellington Jazz festival recently and for many Wellingtonians, this was their first exposure to the group. I saw that show and I immediately noticed how the familiar tunes had subtly changed. ‘Perfect Disco’ with its energised danceable funk momentum was recast as a duo piece. Field and vocalist Chaperon wowed them with that number. We also heard this duo version last week. Other familiar tunes had developed into profoundly interactive exchanges. The sort that can only occur between highly attuned musicians. This is where the guitar mastery and the deep listening of Nacey came into its own. His Godin guitar soaring with stunning clarity while Field reacted in kind, urging them further out with each challenge.Kevin Field 122Again we see Thomas and McArthur doing what they do best. Working hard and rising to the challenge. Thomas laying down the tricky rhythms and while McArthur runs his bass lines. While pleasant to the ear, there is not doubt at all that these compositions required skill and concentration. It is on gigs like this that the musicians familiarity with the material and each other pays dividends. It was also nice to hear Chaperon on some new and old material. She is a real crowd pleaser – she looks great on stage and sings up a storm.Keven Field Group: Keven Field (piano), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Cameron McArthur (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums), Clo Chaperon (vocals), CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel 20th July 2016.

Michal Martyniuk Trio

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Michal 099I can’t remember when I first became conscious of Polish Jazz, but after Tomasz Stanko, Poland was forever on my listening radar. After that, I would listen to Polish improvisers whenever I came across them, Wasilewski, Komeda etc, and all the more so when I discovered later in life that I was a quarter Polish. In light of the above, I was naturally interested when I came across an Auckland-based, Polish-born pianist Michal Martyniuk. He was standing in for Kevin Field at a Nathan Haines gig – around the time of “The Poets Embrace’ release. Since then I have seen him with various iterations of Haines’ bands but until last week, never at a gig where he was the leader. Michal 107It is an oft-debated topic, but I sometimes hear references to time and place in original music. After hearing Martyniuk I could identify his northern European influences. When I asked the pianist about the artists he most admires, he quickly identified Lyle Mays and Pat Metheny (also Weather Report plus Miles and Herbie). The Metheny/Mays reference is definitely evident but sifted through a Eurocentric filter. Mays, although influenced by Evans never sounded like a typical American pianist. Martyniuk’s compositions and performance contain all of the hallmarks of modern Euro jazz, a sound I hear in the Alboran Trio, Wasilewski and younger pianists like Michal Tokaj. A warmer sound than the Scandinavian pianists but as light filled and airy. There is a beauty to Martyiuk’s playing, a stylistic identity. For such a young pianist to have located this special sound is impressive.Michal 105Something that many post-millennial Jazz musicians avoid, is evoking a sense of beauty. I can understand that because it must be done well or not at all. It is the territory of balladeers like Ben Webster and the territory of artists like Metheny. This was done well. The compositions were cleverly constructed around developing themes and with nothing was rushed, allowing melodic inventions to manifest. The tunes were also cleverly modulated, subtly amping up the tension to good effect at key points. Like Bennie Lackner, he used electronic keyboards to enhance or emphasize a phrase, but very sparingly.Michal 102Again we see a musician deploying a top rated rhythm section to good advantage. With McArthur and Samsom behind him, he again showed wisdom. He worked with them and they gave him plenty in return. Although we often see this particular bass player and drummer in diverse situations, they appeared very comfortable here. The overall effect was that of interplay and cohesion.

Martyniuk is often asked to play in Haines bands and he returned the favour here. Haines joined the trio for four numbers. This was Haines in a reflective mood, in spite of his status, fitting in comfortably. His beautiful soprano tone a good fit for these compositions and his richer tenor likewise. Again the arrangements created a particular mood. After the unspeakable ugly horrors in the world at present, it was a relief to hear such a gorgeous performance. A night of music to heal our bruised souls.Michal 103Martyniuk came to New Zealand around ten years ago and he attended the Auckland School of Music. Along with producer Nick Williams, he is soon to release a Jazz infused Soul album which will feature internationally renowned artists like Kevin Mark Trail, Nathan Haines, Miguel Fuentes and others. Judging by the huge audience at this gig his future looks very rosy indeed. The Jazz club turned away dozens of attendees in the end. A good problem to have.  Michal Martyniuk Trio (+ Nathan Haines). Michal Martyniuk (compositions, piano, keys), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samsom (drums). The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel basement, 13th July 2016.

 

 

 

Peter Koopman’s Inner City Westies

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Koopman 101When I started attending the CJC, I heard Peter Koopman quite often. He was always impressive, but never a showy guitarist. His approach matched his quiet demeanor, an easy-going manner obscuring a real determination to excel at his craft. Before long he moved to Sydney and although the local Jazz scene laments this musicians rite of passage, we also know it is the right thing. At best, these offshore journeys produce the Mike Nocks and the Matt Penmans, and we all benefit from that.

It is harder to track the progress of a musician once domiciled in another country, but news of Koopman’s milestones often reach us. Since he moved to Sydney in 2011 he has worked with a variety of bands; his own, and sometimes as a sideman. He has also placed himself in interestingly diverse musical situations and the learnings arising from these interactions are evident in his current compositions and playing.Koopman 104We have seen him back in New Zealand a few times during the last five years, but this is his first visit leading a guitar trio. As anticipated, we experienced a more mature Koopman, his guitar work showcasing well-honed skills. Australia is a merciless testing ground for improvising musicians and especially so for guitarists. Working in the same scene as Carl Dewhurst or James Muller, and holding your own, the proof of the pudding. In 2014 Koopman was placed 3rd in the Australian National Jazz Awards, which are held at Wangaratta each year. These awards are fiercely contested and that is no small accomplishment. Koopman 103The Inner Westies Trio for the New Zealand trip was Peter Koopman (guitar), Max Alduca (bass) and Stephen Thomas (drums). The guitarist and Bass player from West Sydney, the drummer from West Auckland. Alduca is a compelling bass player, and a drawcard on his own. He often includes a touch of tasteful arco bass in his performance. I last saw him when he toured with the ‘Antipodeans’, an innovative young ensemble, populated with musicians from three countries. Alduca made a hit then and reinforced our positive view of him this night. He has a number of gigs about Auckland aside from the CJC gig. A player bursting with originality and with a notable way of engaging with audiences. Nice to see him back and especially in this company.Koopman 099

In spite of his age, Stephen Thomas has long been established among New Zealand’s premier drummers. He is often a first call for visiting improvising artists. Although primarily a Jazz drummer he is as comfortable in avant-garde settings as in large rock auditoriums. This unit worked well for Koopman and his interesting compositions and new takes on old standards all sounded fresh. Koopman originals dominated the gig, often intensely melodic, modern sounding and at times with real edge. Among the standards, and the final tune was Joe Henderson’s ‘Isotope’; a warm rendering, with enough fire to melt the coldest night. Below is an original Koopman composition.

Peter Koopmans Inner Westies: Peter J Koopman (guitar), Max Alduca (upright bass), Stephen Thomas (drums). Performed at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, 6th July 2016.

 

 

Caro Manins – Joni Mitchell’s Mingus Experience

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Joni 104The Joni Mitchell/ Charles Mingus project is always ripe for reevaluation and I’m glad that Caro Manins was the one to explore it again. The connection between Joni and Jazz experimentalism runs deep. Rolling Stone Magazine figured it out early on, describing her as a ‘Jazz savvy experimentalist’. While the connection is obvious in her 1979 ‘Mingus’ album the move toward a freer music and towards harmonic and rhythmic complexity began earlier in the mid 70’s. Initially coming up through the American folk tradition, she gradually embraced a different style. She would later say, “Anyone could have written my earlier music, but Hejira (and later albums) could only have come from me”. From the 70’s on, she utilised her own guitar tunings and often incorporated pedal point, chromaticism, and modality in her compositions. If you look at her later musical collaborations, names like Jaco Pastorius, Herbie Hancock, and Wayne Shorter stand out.Joni 099 (3)To her amazement at the time, a dying Charles Mingus asked Joni to call by. He told her that he had written a number of songs for her. Mingus passed before the completion of her project, but he heard all of the tunes except ‘God must be a Bogey Man’. Her ‘Mingus’ album followed soon after.  “It was as if I had been standing by a river – one toe in the water. Charles came along and pushed me in – sink or swim”.

Taking on a project like this is more daunting than it may appear to the casual observer. Understanding that, Caro Manins got busy writing new charts. This is not the sort of gig that you just throw together; this is not a covers band. Joni tunes don’t always behave in expected ways, there is a high degree of abstraction, layers of subtlety, places where the tunes change direction under their own impetus. Doing the Mingus album justice is not for the faint-hearted. The listener tends to associate Joni Mitchel with her biting lyrics and adamantine melodic clarity. In reality, although accessible, her tunes pivot on clever musical devices. The end result here was well worth the effort. A genuine commitment to the project made this happen, imbuing it with the integrity it deserved.Joni 101The project deserved a good lineup and it got one. Caro Manins, Roger Manins, Jonathan Crayford, Cameron McArthur and Ron Samsom. Crayford was especially interesting on this gig. His abstract explorative adventuring replaced by rich traditional voicings – his solos a history lesson; from locked hands chord-work to impressionistic delicacy. All of the musicians were respectful of Joni’s body of work and they understood that the best way to honour her legacy was by interpreting her work honestly and imaginatively. Not every tune came from Joni’s ‘Mingus’ album but all followed the Joni/Mingus/Jazz theme.Joni 102The gig was very well attended (no surprise there) and the audience enthusiastic. This was a CJC (Creative Jazz Club) event and it took place at the Albion Hotel on 29th June 2016. Caro Manins (leader, arranger, vocals), Jonathan Crayford (piano), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Cameron McArthur (Bass), Ron Samsom (drums, percussion).

Dreamville Jazzmares album

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Henderson 099 (2)The alternative music scene in Auckland is surprisingly strong and although at times appearing hermetically sealed against the outside world, it flourishes in discrete self-contained units. There are no neon signs proclaiming ‘underground music found here’. If you visit Karangahape Road on the right night, deploying a seismometer to the footpath outside St Kevin’s Arcade, or to the walls of the Parisian Tie Factory, the readings will red-line. The digital spikes an indication of subterranean life. I love these basement venues and reclaiming them in the right way is an art form. The basements I refer to were once utilitarian storehouses from a bygone era, a monotoned boring past wearing walk shorts – now softened by memory. Now they emit a frisson of mystique and risk – alternative music lives here. A towering presence in this shadowy world is musician Jeff Henderson. Henderson 102The aptly named ‘Dreamville’ project came to my attention when Henderson appeared at the CJC in 2015 it floored me, the concept grounded in a reality we often overlook at our peril. The primal bubbling energy underpinning sound itself. The first time I heard ‘Dreamville Jazzmares’ the lineup was different – a quintet; reeds, vibes, guitar, upright bass and drums. Now, the album features an octet and for the Auckland release, Henderson added an extra horn and electric bass. While it is tempting to reference a Sun Ra band or perhaps Zorn’s Electric Masada, this is overwhelmingly a manifestation of Henderson’s originality. A gifted composer, talented musician and tongue in cheek visionary.Henderson 105While the careful listener may initially find a lot that feels familiar, the familiar is illusionary, snatches of past and future, wearing clothes made of mist. The relationship to other projects is in the end superficial. This is an important original work and there is no mistaking that. When listening to the Auckland release an additional realisation struck me. Rhythm is the dominant force in Henderson’s compositions. His deeply woven rhythms extend way beyond the drums and percussion (there are two drummers – at times three). Here every instrument is rhythmically charged under his guidance. During the live performance in Auckland Henderson often picked up a bright red parade bass drum. As he tapped out rhythms on the side or accented beats behind the complex interwoven traps drummers, a marvelous polyrhythmic effect occurred. An effect heard in Polynesian drumming. The beats, strums, wails and chords often falling in step – primal morse – dot-dash-dah in myriad combinations.Henderson 104

The Dreamsville Wellington recording band is:  Jeff Henderson (alto, baritone, c-melody saxophones, voice, bass drum), Bridget Kelly (tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet), Gerard Crewdson (trumpet, trombone, tuba, voice), Daniel Beban (guitar), Julian Taylor (guitar), Tom Callwood (acoustic, electric bass), Joe McCallum (drums, Percussion), Anthony Donaldson (drums). This is a suite that lends itself to variation and interpretation like few others. Kelly and Crewdson worked well with Henderson, creating a cohesive multi-horn dialogue, rich in texture and fulsome. Having two drummers, two guitars, and a strong doubling bass player, gave the contrast and gut punch required.Henderson 107The Auckland band were; Jeff Henderson (alto, c-melody, baritone saxes, voice, bass drum), Jim Langabeer (alto flute, sopranino, tenor, soprano saxes), Liz Stokes (trumpet, trombone), Tom Rodwell (guitar), Phil Dryson (guitar, voice), Tom Callwood (electric bass), Eamon Edmunson (upright bass), Anthony Donaldson (drums, percussion), Chris O’Connor (drums, percussion). Although different, this was a rich heady brew – the composition loosened, but always guided by Henderson’s astute hand. His method of guiding the composition riveting to onlookers, his signals unusual but effective, call and response signalling a new direction. An entire language developed – a conduction that could lengthen, shorten or guide a musician towards untapped zones.

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My favourite signal his use of voice – eerie otherworldly high pitched vocal phrases – mimicking instruments, some of which have not yet been invented, strangely beautiful, deeply human. Langabeers alto flute was the counterweight, earthy, sonorous, but his sopranino was freed from gravity (at times he played multiphonics on tenor or played two horns at once). Everyone gave their best – exhausted as they were afterwards.

The album is selling out fast but copies can be obtained or ordered from Henderson in Auckland or in Wellington from Slow Boat Records or Rough Peel. It is also available on Bandcamp at iiiirecords.bandcamp.com. I strongly advise ordering the double CD as it is a thing of beauty, the size of a penguin paperback. The artwork was created by band member Gerard Crewdson, a multi-talented artist, and musician. The images are simply exquisite with a subtle disquiet lurking behind the peaceful overarching beauty. Here I am minded of the engravings of John Buckland Wright (a New Zealand born illustrator and engraver who attained considerable fame in 1930’s London). The live gig took place in the Wine Cellar on the 23rd June 2016.

 

 

Jonathan Besser & The Zestniks

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Besser 099To the best of my knowledge, Jonathan Besser has not played at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) before. While he is best known as an important composer for The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, The New Zealand String Quartet and The Royal New Zealand Ballet, he is also a significant leader of small ensembles. Ensembles which venture far into the territory of experimental, electronic and improvised music. It is impossible to separate the man from his music. It is eclectic, original and often plaintive but generally with a sly twist of humour thrown in. In spite of his standing in the music world, Besser is modest. At the CJC he was happy to lead from the piano, which was in partial darkness and at the rear of the ensemble. His instructions were brief and staccato as if part of the unfolding suite. When he did pick up the microphone to speak to the audience he exuded an eccentric charm, bandstand asides peppered with self-effacing humour, garnished with sudden smiles.Besser 106

I first encountered Besser’s work in 2011 when Rattle released ‘Campursari’. This is an amazing album featuring some of my favourite musicians (Chris O’Connor, John Bell, Nigel Gavin, Jim Langabeer etc). It resonated immediately as it referenced a number of genres that interest me. Ambient improvised music, crossover World/Jazz. The album is intensely filmic, deeply evocative of vast exotic landscapes and since obtaining a copy I have played it often.Besser 103I met Besser briefly during Natalia Mann’s ‘Pacif.ist’ tour and later at the Auckland Art Gallery during the opening of Billy Apples ‘Sound Works’ exhibition. On that occasion, the Nathan Haines Quartet played Besser’s innovative compositions. I really hope that someone recorded that. It was extraordinary music, based upon prescribed letters of the alphabet. These were then allocated using the 12 tone scale as a formula to locate equivalent notes. The order of Billy Apple’s words dictating the order of notes.

The ‘Zestniks’ is a newer incarnation of the many Besser ensembles. The main focus of the CJC gig was the performance of ‘Gimel Music’, a suite composed by Besser and performed at the ‘Shir Madness Jewish Festival in Sydney in 2012’. Gimel is a Hebrew word associated with the third letter of the Hebrew alphabet (The Kabbalah, in particular, makes much of the mystical numeric and alphabetic association). 3/4 time, three chords, three inversions, three bars conjoined, the melody often running over the 3 bar lines, but never manifesting as waltz time. While not the complete story, embedded in the music were strong elements of Jewish music and to my ears, the distant echoes of Argentinian music.Besser 102The music was not Klezmer and later I asked Besser about his influences – were there strong Jewish influences? “I am a Jewish man and I used Jewish scales, but apart from that no. I draw upon many, sources”. It interested him that I heard Argentinian references. “I have done Tango projects in the past and that is possible”. It was partly the combination of instruments, the delicious overlay of melancholia and the accents – not so far from the music of master musician Dino Saluzzi.Besser 105The segments of music making up the suite seldom lasted longer than 4 minutes. The spaces between them brief. The mood seldom deviated from the wistful, evoking a sense of intangible longing – for something remembered – but just out of reach, a nostalgia as ancient as time itself. There were a few cheerful pieces as well, but I preferred the former. The Zestniks update themselves regularly, this time adding Caro Manins vocal lines, her wordless vocals followed the viola or clarinet in gentle unison. No one is better suited to this than Manins – she has worked with the likes of Norma Winstone after all.Besser 101

The septet personnel at the CJC were, Jonathan Besser (piano, leader), Asher Truppman-Lattie (clarinet), Iselta Allison (viola), Finn Scholes (vibes, trumpet), Eamon Edmundson (double bass), Yair Katz (drums), Caro Manins (voice). The combination of voices worked well, viola and clarinet giving strength to the melodic figures. The vibes cutting deep into our psyche – at times ringing clear, then softening as melody dissolved into subtle counterpoint, woven into the piano lines, the latter adding harmonic depth. The drum kit interested me as it was not the Jazz kit we normally see. Larger drums and fewer of them, ride cymbal and high hat, the beat suited to this ancient to modern music. There was once talk of Besser recording for John Zorn’s Tzardik label and the synergies are obvious. That said, his current home with Rattle Records is an excellent fit.

Jonathan Besser and The Zestniks played at the Albion Hotel for the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 15th June 2016.

 

 

 

 

Wayne Shorter Quartet – beyond the time/space continuum

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Shorter 099When we talk about Wayne Shorter’s music we immediately run into obstacles. Wayne is like a Zen Master, deliberately confounding our every expectation. To begin such a journey our rational minds need emptying. As the journey unfolds we move beyond comforting reference points; this requires a letting go, real courage. The 2016 Wayne Shorter band is a musical ‘Voyager’, a spacecraft assembled out of earthly components, but sending encrypted sonic messages from an unknown place. What is on offer is a shared journey – but only if we are brave enough. Once you commit there is no looking back.

To attempt a detailed description of a concert like this is utterly pointless. Only the ears, eyes, spiritual mind, can evaluate this experience. That is the point – you have to be there – really be there – engaged – then let go. All I can say is how lucky I feel to have seen this band twice in my life. Once in a Roman amphitheatre in Verona Italy during the ‘Standards Live’ 2002 tour. Now 14 years later almost to the day, at the Wellington 2016 Jazz festival. The same band, Wayne Shorter, Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade. Immortals all. Back in 2002, the band unbundled tunes from Wayne’s long career – a career always advancing beyond the edge. It sounded brave and edgy back then. On this tour, he transcended those earlier reference points. Yes, there was form, even charts; just as a spacecraft has a shell. Inside the craft, the band moved freely in the weightless air.

This tends to confound some critics, people who need firm ground beneath their feet. A few have even puzzled over the constant adjustment of saxophone mouthpiece and neck. The perpetual adjustment phenomenon is common to all great saxophonists – it is a manifestation of the never-ending journey deep into sound. In the marvelously written Cook & Morton Penguin Jazz Guide, the word elided appears when describing Wayne’s sound. He often puts the saxophone to his mouth, then pauses and takes it out again – interpreting this or his frequent adjustments as uncertainty is missing the point entirely. The dictionary definition of Elision is; deliberately omitting components of speech or sound. When taken to its logical conclusion the remaining sounds (or letters) become a code. A code we must decipher unaided.

I think it was Lee Konitz who said. ‘Old men should play like old men. When I hear them trying to play like their young selves it sounds wrong’. Old men have important things to say from the viewpoint of life experience. Wayne played like his older self, wiser, braver and unafraid to show vulnerability. I am glad that he did.

After the gig, I spoke to a number of musicians. Almost all were in a deeply reflective mood, basking in the experience. Dixon Nacey a prominent New Zealand Jazz guitarist said to me. Man, I was thinking of you in there and wondering how you could find adequate words to review that? Of course, I can’t.

Dixon and I decided to walk a while, needing to clarify our thoughts. We walked the back streets, weighing it all up, sometimes discussing a particular facet, seeking to understand the importance of what we had seen and heard. Dixon said at one point, “I found that I needed to abandon my trained musician’s brain, the brain that looks for fixed rhythmic, melodic or harmonic structures. A profound lesson I learned from this was, if you decide not to come in, to lay out in unexpected places, that is OK. Trusting another band member to pick up the thread”. There were probably mistakes and this also created deep connections. This music is humanism personified. That vulnerable sound that Wayne emits from his horns is his Bodhisattva voice – it can confront precisely because it is so human.

All worthwhile journeys lead back to the start point, a place where art, imaginings, and life merge. We already understand this music, we just need reminding. Shorter 099 (2)Wellington Jazz Festival 2016, Opera House, Manners Street, Wellington

Karrin Allyson with Tom Warrington Trio

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Allyson 089Thanks to Rodger Fox and the CJC management we were lucky enough to see five times Grammy nominee, Jazz vocalist Karrin Allyson in our Auckland Jazz Club last Wednesday night. Seeing an artist like this in a concert hall is one thing; seeing her in the warm intimate surroundings of a small Jazz club and just a metre away is quite another. Always a sucker for quality Jazz vocalists I first heard her in 1992 (the album ‘I Thought About You’ was the first of hers I purchased). On the basis of her recorded output, I booked for both the CJC gig in Auckland and the Wellington Jazz Festival concert. The flights between these cities are surprisingly affordable when you book in advance, and these opportunities don’t come around often when you live in the South Pacific.Allyson 096Following her 1992 release further albums came out and by the time ‘Ballads: for Coltrane’ and ‘In Blue’ were released there was no mistaking it. This was an important vocal interpreter. Her voice has particular qualities, an attractive smoky veneer, but then there’s that extra something. A sense of shared intimacy, a way of interpreting lyrics in an original way while still paying tribute to earlier interpreters. Her version of ‘O Barquino’ or ‘Double Rainbow’ (both by Jobim) immediately brings to mind the fabulous Elis Regina. Her ‘West Coast Blues’ conjures up Wes Montgomery just as much as the instrumentalists. She scats in ways that adds value to the narrative content of the song, never overdone and always wonderfully inventive. It came as no surprise, therefore, that she could conquer an audience in a heart beat.Allyson 091From the first vocal number, Allyson teased the audience, turning the lyrics into a conversation. Her set list spanned her Concord recordings including her recent release ‘Many a New Day: Karrin Allyson Sings Rogers & Hammerstein’ (When I think of Tom/Hello Young Lovers). Everything she performed was extraordinary but when she moved to the piano and accompanied herself on ‘Bye Bye Country Boy’ I was especially delighted. For some unaccountable reason, few vocalists interpret Blossom Dearie and more’s the pity. Dearie was a true original and a fiendishly clever Jazz vocalist. Her voice had a deceptive depth if you listened properly and like Allyson her ability to communicate was perfectly honed. It is fitting that Allyson should tackle Blossom Dearie as she is able to convey the same wry humour and wrap it up in a very attractive vocal package. She was simply killing in her interpretation.Allyson 090Accompanying Allyson was the Tom Warrington trio. Although it is five years since we saw them last, they have been regular visitors to New Zealand thanks to Fox. Tom Warrington is a superb bassist, having worked with everyone from Peggy Lee to Stan Getz. His list of credits is staggering. Formerly based in LA, where he was constantly in demand and no wonder. The choices underpinning each note he plays are beyond caveat. His musicality, teaching and compositional skills of the highest order. Today he lives a quieter life in rural New Zealand. When you hear his bass lines, and especially during a ballad, you recall the classic piano-trio bass players. Loading each note with meaning and carrying as much weight as any chordal instrument. Warrington has released four superb albums with this trio and all are highly recommended.Allyson 094On chordal duties was Larry Koonse, playing a lovely hollow body Borys guitar. An impressive guitarist and a stalwart of the LA Jazz scene. Again, he is widely recorded, also releasing a number of albums under his own name. In many ways, Koonse encapsulates the best of the pre-millennial guitar tradition. That said, his fresh approach to tunes is also very much evident. His voice leading is a masterclass; dissonant/consonant inversions that have more bottom than most guitarists can muster in a lifetime and a gorgeous warm tone which lingers in the memory long after the gig. This, together with his other skills, makes him the perfect accompanist for a vocalist. When he played ‘Bolivia’ (Cedar Walton) with the trio, it took on the urgency and excitement that the tune demands. On ‘Whisper Not’ (Benny Golson) he extracted unalloyed beauty. I have known Larry for a decade and speaking to him after the gig, I complimented him on those tunes. At that point, my mouth raced way ahead of my brain and I said, “that was ‘Speak Low’ wasn’t it”? That fact that my slip of the tongue had accidentally come up with an exact antonym of ‘Whisper not’ made his day.Allyson 095Last but not least is the Warrington Trio drummer Joe La Barbera. No one needs reminding of his long list of credits and impeccable credentials. As Warrington said during the introductions. “As everyone knows, Joe La Barbera was in the last Bill Evans trio. This puts us in some rarefied air”. Along with Marc Johnson, he breathed new life into that trio. While rightly famous for his superb drum work with Evans, he is a multi-faceted drummer; having also worked in avant-garde settings and with medium to larger sized ensembles such as ‘The West Coast All Stars’, ‘The Woody Herman Band’ and with ‘Kenny Wheeler’. He has often worked with famous vocalists such as Tony Bennett and Karrin Allyson. La Barbera has an inclusive quality that enhances bass and guitar but never overshadows them. When he solos, it is to the point. His stick and brush work add subtlety and texture – the effect always jaw-dropping. It is easy to see why he is so much in demand. A musical drummer who gives so much while working so hard to support the others.

Karrin Allyson records for Concord and her albums are easy to locate – for more information about the artist go to www.karrin.com

The Tom Warrington trio records on the Jazz Compass label which the artists created along with Clay Jenkins. Their latest album ‘Nelson’ is a good start point.

The gig took place at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, Auckland, June 1, 2016.

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Michel Benebig & Carl Lockett tour 2016

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Benebig-Lockett 087Auckland spoils us with long runs of clement weather, but when winter hits we suffer. Having effectively avoided any meaningful autumn we suddenly plunged into a week of cold wet days. There was no better time for the Michel Benebig/Carl Lockett band to arrive. As we grooved to the music, a warmth flooded our bodies within minutes. Nothing invokes warmth like a well oiled B3 groove unit and the Benebig/Locket band is as good as it gets. The icing on the cake was seeing Shem with them. A singer with incredible modulation skills and perfect pitch, able to convey the nuances of emotion with a casual glance or a single note. The way she moves from the upper register to the midrange, silken.Benebig-Lockett 089Michel Benebig has been travelling to New Zealand for years, and his connection with the principals of the UoA Jazz school has been a boon for us. He generally brings his partner Shem with him, but last time work commitments in her native New Caledonia kept her at home. Michel just gets better and better and the way his pedal work and hands create contrasts and tension defies belief. It is therefore not surprising that Michel attracts top rated guitarists or saxophonists to his bands. The best of our local groove guitarists have often featured and a growing number of stand-out American artists (see earlier posts on this band). Of these, the New York guitarist Carl Locket is of particular note. I first heard Lockett in San Francisco four years ago and he mesmerised me with his deep bluesy lines and time feel. Although comfortable in a number of genres, he is the ideal choice for an organ/guitar groove unit.Benebig-Lockett 090The band played material from their recent album (mostly Benebig’s compositions) and a few standards. There were also compositions by Shem Benebig. Their approach to arranging standards is appealing – numbers like Johnny Mandel’s ‘Suicide is Painless’ are transformed into groove excellence. We heard that number performed at the band’s last visit and the audience loved to hear it repeated. This visit, we heard a terrific interpretation of ‘Angel Eyes’ (Matt Dennis). I confess that this is one of my favourite standards (Ella regarded it as her favourite ballad). Anita O’day performed it beautifully as did Frank Sinatra and Nat Cole. The only groove version I can recall is the relatively unknown Gene Ammons cut (a bonus number added in later years to his ‘Boss Tenor’ album with organist Johnny ‘Hammond’ Smith). That version took the tune at a very slow pace, so slow in fact that you initially wondered if Ammons had nodded off before he came in. It was wonderful for all that (who can resist Ammons).Benebig-Lockett 092The band began the tune at a slow pace (but not as slow as Ammons), then once through, picking up the tempo, the band settling into a deeper groove, drummer Samsom and the guitarist really locking together, giving the Benebig’s room to create magic. That locked-in beat is often at the heart of an organ-guitar unit and when done well it adds bottom to the sound. Locket’s style of comping is the key to that effect, the entry point for the drummer, the way the guitarist lays back on the beat and comps in a particular way. Samsom heard and responded as I knew he would. He is a groove merchant at heart. On tenor saxophone, Roger Manins was on home turf. Dreamily caressing the melody before his solo.

On an earlier blues number, we saw Manins at his playful best. He is always up for a challenge and this time, it came from Shem Benebig. This blues (sung in French) was about the demon drink and the dangers lying therein. As Shem ran through the tune she gestured accusatively, as if berating the audience. She had transformed herself into a firebrand preacher and her playfulness went down a treat. Tunes like this contain the DNA of their ancient beginnings and the Sanctified Church, ‘call and response’ at their very heart. Having berated the audience she turned on Manins as they exchanged phrases in a time-honoured way. The musical conversation went on for a number of bars until Shem delivered the coup-de-grace. Manins came back whisper-soft in mock submission. Shem, hands on hips flicked her hair triumphantly – a delightful moment of ad-lib musical theatre. I have put up this blues clip – more clips to follow later.

And all the while that fabulous B3 grooved us to a place we never wanted to leave.

Michel Benebig (B3 organ), Carl Lockett (guitar), Shem Benebig (vocals), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Ron Samsom (drums). CJC (Creative Jazz Club, Albion Hotel, May 25th 2016.

 

 

 

Twisting the Swing / La Luna & the Gadjos

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Gypsy 089This is the second gypsy swing project at the CJC in four months. The last gypsy gig brought us Wellington band Black Spider Stomp. This time, we experienced the local variant. Wellington is arguably the home of New Zealand Manouche, but it definitely exists around Auckland. Thanks to Caro Manins (La Luna) and Misha Kovalov we feasted on catchy melodic tunes, marvelled at their hard-swinging lines. ‘Twistin the Swing’ and ‘La Luna & the Gadjos’ worked their magic and swing, they certainly did. It doesn’t matter what your Jazz preferences, I defy anyone to keep their feet still during a spirited Manouche gig.Gypsy 097This is a music that stirs heart and limbs, a holiday from the cerebral manifestations of improvised music. It makes you feel good and the desire to move with it is overwhelming; that is its charm. I recall a recent discussion with Roger Manins about the diversity of Australian improvised music and he said this. “learning to play in really diverse situations is important. It is a feature of the Sydney scene. One minute the musicians are playing in an avant-garde ensemble, then straight ahead and the next minute playing Trad or Manouche”.  For developing musicians, learning to swing in bands like this is invaluable, whatever their eventual calling. It was, therefore, good to see up and coming younger musicians in these lineups.Gypsy 090The first set was ‘Twistin the Swing’. A very tasty quartet led by the ensemble leader, composer/guitarist Misha Kovalov. The group featured two Manouche guitars, an upright bass, and a reeds player. Kovalov was a leader in every sense of the word, virtuosic in an almost offhand way and oozing good-natured charm. He made us smile and he made our feet tap; what more could you want in a Manouche leader.  This was a hybrid kind of Manouche, as many of the latter-day manifestations are (a perfect example is Lagrene playing Stevie Wonders ‘Isn’t She Lovely’). We heard some Django Reinhart compositions, a familiar sounding Russian tune (whose name I can’t recall but it was a total riot) and a lot of Kovalov’s own compositions. These compositions varied in style between 40’s swing and acoustic blues; sometimes with crazy quotes embedded.Gypsy 091On rhythm guitar was Phillip Beatson, on clarinet and tenor saxophone Asher Truppman-Lattie and on upright bass Djordje Nikolic. Beatson was largely hidden from sight, working his solid rhythm guitar in the shadows; the others all took short solos. It was nice to hear Nikolic playing arco at times, good for a swing rhythm section. It was also good to hear the licorice stick played – a hard task master but especially rewarding in the swing context.

The second set brought leader, vocalist Caro Manins (La Luna) and tenor player Roger Manins to the bandstand (Manins replacing Truppman-Lattie). The band was ‘La Luna & the Gadjos’. This set was also unmistakably gypsy but with some Piaf and a few mainstream swing standards in the mix. Caro Manins has a terrific voice and we don’t hear her often enough. The audience reacted with real enthusiasm. Prior to the gig she had expressed some anxiety because a sudden cold had affected her vocal chords. She needn’t have worried. On the bandstand, her voice came through strongly. It was good to hear Piaf interpreted so well, a singer seldom heard by modern non-French audiences. The crowd pleasers from the second set were definitely the standards ‘Swing Brother Swing'(lyrics Billie Holiday) and the ever popular ‘Lullaby of the Leaves'(Bernice Petkere).Gypsy 087

To add to the delights of Caro Manins vocals, Roger Manins was crooning on tenor saxophone. Not his fire-breathing post-Coltrane style, but gentle fills or perhaps laying down a muscular Ben Webster swing style solo, complete with vibrato notes which hung in the air, suspended only by breath. On a cold winter night, nothing warms you more.Gypsy 096 ‘Twistin the Swing: Misha Kovalov (leader, compositions, Manouche guitar), Phillip Beatson (rhythm guitar), Asher Truppman-Lattie (reeds), Djordge Nikolic (upright bass). ‘La Luna & the Gadjos‘: Caro Manins (leader, vocals), Misha Kovalov (guitar), Phillip Beatson (guitar), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Djordge Nikolic (upright bass) The gigs took place at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, 18th May 2016.

 

Mark Donlon’s Shadowbird Quartet

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Donlon 087This is pianist Mark Donlon’s second appearance at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club). On this visit, his Shadowbird Quartet featured Aucklanders Roger Manins on Saxophone and Cameron McArthur on bass. The gig also brought Wellington drummer Lance Philip to the CJC for the first time. Both the bass player and the drummer have previously recorded with Donlon. The British-born pianist, educator, conductor is the senior lecturer at the New Zealand School of Music in Wellington

Mark Donlon is a highly competent musician and much praised by luminaries such as the UK’s John Fordham. When you hear him play, working his clever compositions, you hear why. As much as I appreciate technical skills it is the human connection I look for and I found it in two Donlon compositions. Making such connections is about locating musical intersections – the place where energies and paths meet. When audience and artist reach for that elusive space, communication happens. The artist creates, the audience gives back. For that instant, time and the music are outside of self and the performance more than the sum of its parts.

Every good tune has a back story. Sometimes the banter provides a map, enabling the listener to probe deeper. It is especially so with new compositions. At other times, the meta-data of a tune embeds in its DNA as with a standard or a contrafact. A standard takes you to a place you have been before, but a new composition asks us as listeners, to imagine. While melody, pulse, and harmony draw us in, a few well-chosen words can conjure additional imagery. Active listening is about more than sound; context matters.Donlon 090The first tune of the second set was ‘Nibiru’ and it was rich in narrative and melody. A thing of strange and compelling beauty. The piece began with a repeating pattern on piano, a pattern which shifted harmonically as it progressed. Over this Manins began by stating the melody – seldom straying far from the matrix in the opening stages. McArthur on bass intensified the mood by establishing a counter pattern and then repeatedly plucking at a single note, Philip free to add colour and texture – and he did. I liked this piece very much as it sounded both old and new (a nice effect if you can pull that off). The story behind it added another dimension entirely. ‘Nibiru’ is an imaginary planet beloved of conspiracy theorists, the ones who wear tin-foil helmets when venturing outside. The ones who see an absense of smoke as conclusive proof that the fire is well hidden. The planet evidently reveals itself to the chosen few and is the home of lizard people. I’m not so sure that the believers deserve a tune this nice. The tongue in cheek rendering of this odd belief is anything but ‘end of times’.

The other tune I liked was ‘Otzi’. It referenced a 4000-year-old ‘Ice Man’ mummy found on the alpine border between Austria and Italy. I had followed this story from the day of his discovery in 1991. Although it struck a deep chord at the time I had forgotten the Ice Man’s nickname. What Donlon captured so effectively was the melancholia. The story of a human ancestor from pre-history, who wandered into our modern consciousness after a long time lost. Apart from Tutankhamun, no figure from that era has touched us so deeply. Otzi trails echoes of sadness in his wake. A palpable sadness which his family must have felt, never knowing what become of him. I think Otzi would have loved this melancholic piece; as much as the modern harmonies would have puzzled him.Donlon 088You would expect a group of musicians of this calibre to play well and they  did. There are two Donlon albums out shortly and a few earlier ones available. Support local music by experiencing this artist or the bands various iterations. One place to do that will be at the Wellington Jazz Festival in early June.

A few facts about Otzi: Although Otzi came from the Italian side of the alps, he has 19 known descendants living in Austria today. In spite of suffering from some mobility limiting health issues, he set out on his journey well equipped for alpine travel (better than many trampers of today). He had tatoos from head to foot (the earliest known inker) and his last meal consisted of pollen, grain and goats meat.

The Shadowbird Quartet: Mark Donlon (piano, compositions), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Cameron McArthur (bass), Lance Philip (drums). CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel May 11th 2016.

 

 

Sam Weeks & Sean Martin-Buss @ CJC

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Sam & Sean 094This year has seen a lot of international acts through the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), compelling musicians with interesting stories to tell and often with serious gig miles under their belt. As exciting as it is to see the high-end performers of the scene, it is just as important to recognise and evaluate those who might one day take their place. Not all will last the course, but the persistent and the passionate can make that journey. Standing in front of a discerning club audience tests young musicians in ways not easily replicated. Unlike the Jazz School environment, the musicians technical prowess is subservient to the authenticity they bring to the bandstand. Fluffing a line is more likely forgiven than delivering a technically perfect but lifeless performance. Sam Weeks and Sean Martin-Buss tested themselves and came through the fire relatively unscathed.Sam & Sean 095The gig was part of the emerging artists series and the musicians first time at the CJC as leaders. Both have previously played as sidemen at the club, but standing anonymously in a horn line is a different thing entirely. I am happy to give this gig the thumbs up as they performed well. It took the first few numbers for them to warm up properly, but warm up they did. The rest of the first set and the one after that delivered crackling performances. All of the material was their own and their writing skills were favourably displayed (especially those of Weeks). A piece titled ‘Missing Together’ by Weeks was a gem – opening with some tricky unison lines, followed by a few bars of counterpoint. They made it sound easy, but clearly, many of these compositions were not. The act of embracing the difficult is how a musician grows. I am glad they took some risks, as Jazz functions best in the absence of complacency.Sam & Sean 093Sean Martin-Buss was on alto saxophone with Sam Weeks on tenor saxophone. Each gave the other ample room and the contrast between the horns was therefore amplified. They also differed stylistically and this gave an added piquancy to the gig. They made good use of interactive Banter, musician to audience and to each other. Off the wall comments came out of nowhere, and the audience included in the joke. The humour was not in the lines but in the offhand delivery. A very Kiwi type of onstage banter – self-effacing, mumblingly casual.Sam & Sean 098Emerging musicians are often tempted to rely heavily on musicians from their own graduate class. There is nothing wrong with that per se, but the first question is always, which musicians will serve the gig best? Again the co-leaders made good choices in Tristan Deck (drums) and Eamon Edmundson-Wells (upright bass). The remaining band member was Crystal Choi on piano. Deck and Edmundson-Wells perform in public regularly and both have earned considerable respect. They personify good musical taste. They have talent and better yet, they work extraordinarily well together. It was this combination that tightened up the performance – real assets. Choi was extremely interesting on this gig. I have sometimes noticed a tiny hesitancy in her delivery. On this night, her performance exuded confidence and several of her solos were stunning. The enthusiastic audience responded throughout the night.Sam & Sean 103Although the leaders possess perfect vision and are clearly not Venetian, the project was ‘The Blind Venetians’. This was also the name of the final number of the last set; a roistering finale bringing down the cantilevered shutters at gigs end.

The Blind Venetians: Sam Weeks (tenor saxophone, compositions), Sean Martin-Buss (alto saxophone, compositions), Crystal Choi (piano), Eamon Edmundson-Wells (upright bass), Tristan Deck (drums). Performed at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, Auckland, New Zealand, 04 May 2016

 

‘Showa 44’ Dewhurst & Barker (+ guest R. Manins)

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Carl Dewhurst 093As I write this it is International Jazz Day, a UNESCO sponsored day honouring the diversity and depth of the world improvising scene. It was, therefore, serendipitous that Carl Dewhurst and Simon Barker brought ‘Showa 44’ to town – especially in the days immediately preceding the big celebration. This gig offered actual proof that the restless exploration of free-spirited improvisers, lives on undiminished. I have sometimes heard die-hard Jazz fans questioning free improvisation, believing that the music reached an unassailable peak in their favourite era. To quote Dexter Gordon. “Jazz is a living music. It is unafraid …. It doesn’t stand still, that’s how it survives“. While a particular coterie prefers their comfort zone, the music moves on without them. Younger ears hear the call and new audiences form. Life is a continuum and great art draws upon the energies about it for momentum. Improvised music is not a display in a history museum.Carl Dewhurst 087It is through listening to innovative live music that our ears sharpen. When sitting in front of a band like this the mysteries of sound become visceral. This was an extraordinary gig, at times loud and confronting, mesmerising, ambient and always cram-packed with subtlety. Fragments of melodic invention and patterns formed. Then subtly, without our realising it, they were gone, tantalising, promise-filled but illusory. We seldom noticed these micro changes as they were affected so skillfully – form and space changing minute by minute, new and yet strangely familiar – briefly reappearing as quicksilver loops before reinventing themselves.Carl Dewhurst 089With the constraints of form and melody loosened new possibilities emerge. In inexperienced hands, the difficulties can overwhelm. In the hands of artists like these the freedom gives them superpowers. Time is displaced, tonality split into a prism of sound, patterns turned inside out. The first set was a single duo piece, ‘Improvisation one’ – unfolding over an hour and a quarter; Dewhurst and Barker, barely visible in the low light. This was about sculpting sound and seeing the musicians in shadow added a veneer of mystique. Dewhurst began quietly, his solid body guitar lying face up on his lap. The sound came in waves as he stroked and pushed at the strings, moving a slide – ever so slightly at first, causing microtonal shifts or new harmonics to form, modulating, striking the strings with a mallet or the palm of his hand. The illusion created, was of a single drone repeating. In reality, the sound was orchestral. As you listened, really listened, microtones, semitones and the occasional interval appeared over the drone. Barker providing multiple dimensions and astonishing colour, responding, reacting, crafting new directions.Carl Dewhurst 091In this context, the drummer took on many roles, a foil to the guitarist, creating silken whispers, insistent flurries of beats and at times building to a heart-stopping crescendo. I found this music riveting and the audience obviously shared my view. In the quiet passages, you could hear a pin drop. If that’s not an indication of the musical maturity of modern Jazz audiences, nothing is. One of the prime functions of art is to confront, to challenge complacency. This music did that while gently leading us deeper inside sound itself. No one at the CJC regretted being on this journey. This is territory loosely mapped by the UK guitarist Derek Bailey, the Norwegian guitarist Aivind Aaset and the American guitarist Mary Halvorson. They may take a similar path, but this felt original, perhaps it is an Australian sound (with a Kiwi twist in Manins). The long multifaceted trance-like drones suggest that.  Carl Dewhurst 090The second set was shorter, ‘Improvisation two’ had Roger Manins aboard. I should be immune to Manins surprises but he frequently catches me off guard. His breadth and depth appear limitless. ‘Improvisation Two’ began with a broader melodic palette. Dewhurst and Barker set the piece up and when Manins came in there was a stunning ECM feel created. Barker tap-tapping the high-hat and ride. Achingly beautiful phases hung in the air – then, surprisingly they eluded us, unravelling as Manins dug deeper – dissecting them note by note. These interactions give us a clue as to how this music works, each musician playing a phrase or pattern and then re-shaping it, passing the baton endlessly.

This requires deep listening and turn on a dime responses; as the overarching but perpetually shifting theme guides them. By the time Manins had played for five minutes, the mood and pace had mysteriously changed. By fourteen minutes we were in free territory – at twenty minutes the Tom fell over. Barker swept it up and changed to brushes in an eye blink. The falling drum was seamlessly blended, a fresh percussive option. I have seldom seen such captivating responsive drumming. Making an accident a virtue.

I have watched the twenty-two-minute segment of ‘Improvisation two’ ten times in a row and it is just as jaw-dropping each time. It is not the purpose of this Blog to rate and compare, but if it were, I would need extra stars to do this gig justice.

Showa 44; Carl Dewhurst (guitar), Simon Barker (drums & percussion), with guest Roger Manins (tenor saxophone) – CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, Auckland, New Zealand, April 27th, 2016.

Footnote: After posting this I spoke with Carl Dewhurst. I explained that I had an overwhelming sense of the Australian desert – hearing the textures and wide open spaces in the improvisations. In the end, I was overly cautious, not wanting to offend indigenous sensibilities, deleting a reference to the Didgeridoo and Clapsticks. After speaking to Carl I am adding the references back in here. He informs me that this project actually began in the vastness of the northern deserts, playing alongside indigenous Australians. I heard right.

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Jim Langabeer – ‘Sketches of Aotearoa’

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Jim Langaber 087 (2)A seasoned New York veteran when asked to comment on the quality of playing by young artists emerging from the Jazz Schools said, “Man they’re such great players. Many of them have chops to burn, but what is lacking is ‘character’. That is not taught in Jazz schools, you gain it inch by inch out of life experience”. To paraphrase Lester Young who put it best, ‘I hear the notes, but what is your story’. The character of a musician (or the lack of it), shows up in the music. Jim Langabeer has ‘character’ to burn. He tells wonderfully human musical stories and they are utterly beguiling.Jim Langaber 090Langabeer is hugely respected on the scene and deservedly so. He has worked with greats like Gary Peacock and Jaco Pastorius and in spite of absorbing the essence of North American Jazz, his ideas and sound possess a Kiwi authenticity. When he plays his tenor there is often a street-raw raspy intonation. A sound is at times reminiscent of Archie Shepp, but the story and flow of ideas are entirely his own. His flute playing is soulful and as soft as silk in the breeze. Because he is so comfortable in his own space he can incorporate everything from the avant-garde to indigenous music without it sounding contrived. These seamless references work beautifully in his hands. We talked of this after the gig and agreed that many of the earliest attempts at blending middle eastern, far eastern or ethnic music were less successful than now. Jim Langaber 089As the boundaries between cultures blur in a globalised world, the mutual respect between improvising traditions grows. I have posted an example of this effortless genre-blending in a clip from the CJC gig titled ‘Ananda’s Midnight Blues’. Those who are familiar with Buddhism will grasp the meaning immediately. Ananda was Gautama Buddha’s childhood friend and later his disciple. Beloved, worldly and yet never afraid to challenge his enlightened teacher. There is a feeling of deep questing spirituality in the piece – reaching beyond mere form.Jim Langaber 088 (1)Whether Langabeer plays flutes or reeds, everything serves the composition. His spare lines (which are devoid of undue ornamentation) establish a theme and then vanish like a will-o-the-wisp, giving a nudge to the imagination and enriching the piece as a whole. There are no wild flurries of notes on the saxophone or flute because the story resides elsewhere. His writing creates an over-arching logic and the ensemble has the freedom to move in and around tonality. In some pieces ostinato patterns create a drone effect, becoming a single note over which to restate the melody. This freedom allows for an organic interaction, free or inside and with a deep gut-felt pulse.Jim Langaber 088When putting a band like this together the choice of musicians is supremely important. Not every musician could handle such freedom. Needless to say, Langabeer chose well. The ensemble was rich in contrasting colour, rich in character. It was our good fortune that Jim Langabeer’s daughter Rosie Langabeer was back in town. I can’t imagine a better-qualified pianist for this role. A leading avant-gardist and experimental musician who crafts compelling filigree and rich beauty into her music. Rosie Langabeer can play outside one minute and the next you hear a deep subtle swing, a rare kind of pulse that you can feel in your bones. A gifted composer and leader in her own right, an extraordinary sides-women when required. Moving from percussive, richly dissonant voicings to heart-stopping arpeggiated runs – somewhat reminiscent of Alice Coltrane’s later piano offerings. Her iconoclastic playing delighted the audience.Jim Langaber 093On alto was Roger Manins. Although the alto is not his main horn he is extraordinarily fluent on the instrument. Langabeer has been focussing on multiphonics and microtonality of late and he and Manins showcased some atmospheric numbers utilising various blowing techniques. Manins has long impressed by playing in a variety of styles with equal facility. On guitar and pedal steel guitar was Neil Watson, bringing his mix of blues, Jazz punk, and avant-garde to the fore. Another iconoclast and one we love hearing. The pedal steel guitar has been in his possession for a year now and his rapid mastery of the instrument is impressive. A difficult beast tamed beautifully. On Bass was Eamon Edmundson-Wells. A versatile young bass player most often found in the company of experimental musicians. His performance on this gig was right on the money.Jim Langaber 091On drums and percussion was Chris O’Connor. Perhaps more than anyone else O’Connor personifies this free-ranging music. Of all the New Zealand drummers, his are the widest-ranging skills. Colourist, minimalist, indie rocker, straight-ahead jazz, avant-garde, experimental percussion and film work. There is nothing he won’t tackle and everything he touches benefits from his musicianship. When a piece titled ‘Tapu’ was played O’Connor stole the show. While Langabeer played the difficult and wonderfully atmospheric Putorino (a traditional Maori flute of the Taonga Puoro family), O’Connor simulated the Tawhirimatea (A traditional whirring instrument dedicated to the god of winds). The effect was eerie and electrical. Later in the piece he blew through the stem of his snare stand – recreating the effects of the Pututara (a conch trumpet). Only O,Conner could have pulled this off so well. Like Langabeer, he has a deep awareness of multicultural issues.Jim Langaber 092The one standard was Strobe Road (Sonny Rollins). A lesser known standard and played with enthusiasm. The remainder was a selection of Langabeer tunes, many referencing Maori of Kiwi themes. His tune Rata Flower was a stunner – it deserves to become a local standard. He has obtained funding from Creative New Zealand for this project and we might see a ‘Sketches of Aotearoa’ album soon. I truly hope this occurs and I will be the first to purchase one.

Sketches of Aotearoa: Jim Langabeer (flutes, Taonga Puoro, tenor saxophone, compositions), Rosie Langabeer (piano, keys), Roger Manins (alto saxophone), Neil Watson (Fender guitar, steel guitar), Eamon Edmundson-Wells (bass), Chris O’Connor (drums, percussion). Performed at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, Auckland, New Zealand – 20th April 2016.Jim Langaber 094

Nathan Haines Electric Band (with Joel Haines)

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JoelNathan 087 Musicians of a certain calibre are peripatetic, going where the music or the work takes them. This partly arising out of necessity, but also out of an impulse to explore new sonic and cultural environments. When a child or a grandchild arrives the musicians journeys circumscribe smaller arcs and are less frequent; the local scene being the beneficiary. This is the case with Nathan Haines; happily young Zoot tethers him in our midst for the moment. Haines has a solid reputation here and in the UK, with a loyal fan base in both locations. He has never been afraid to push in new directions, but at the heart of whatever explorations he embarks upon, a default soulfulness underpins the enterprise. This leads him to productive collaborations with like-minded artists, and not necessarily all Jazz purists. From the Hardbop-infused to Soul Jazz to DJ funk – it all works for him. While all of these collaborations are pleasing, none is more so than when he plays alongside brother Joel Haines.JoelNathan 088The Haines brothers have different musical careers, Nathan Haines outgoing, a public performer and award-winning recording artist – understanding well, the vexed world of marketing and the presentation of non-mainstream music. He balances these competing forces better than most. Brother Joel is a successful composer and a gifted performer as well, but his career these days centres on TV and film work. An engaging musician and a crowd pleaser; less in the public gaze by choice. Improvised music thrives on contrasts and the rub between different sounds always works well in the right hands. Nathan creating soulful innovative grooves and catchy melodies over traditional Jazz offerings, Joel bringing a warm-as-toast Jazzgroove edge, wrapped in a blues/rock package.JoelNathan 087 (1)

The first set kicked off with ‘Eboness’ by Yusef Lateef. A number that Nathan Haines recorded on his award-winning and popular ‘The Poets Embrace’ album. That album recreated the vibe of a particular era – the edge of Blue Note and the warmth of Impulse updated. This version is an exercise in skilfully blended contrasts. The enveloping warmth of Joel Haines and Keys/Synth player Michal Martyniuk created a platform for Nathan Haines to work over. This skilfully juxtaposed blend of ‘cool’ and ‘soul’ is not done often and hearing this I wonder why. Haines playing Lateef is a natural fit, as Lateef was never afraid to stretch beyond mainstream Jazz sensibilities.JoelNathan 090Next up was ‘Desert Town’ a Haines tune from ‘Heaven & Earth’. That was followed by an earthy version of ‘Set us Free’ (Eddie Harris) and then ‘Mastermind’ (Haines) from his recent ‘5 a Day’ album. Last up on the first set was ‘Land Life’ a tune based on a  Harold Land composition. It pleased me to get a mention from the bandstand at this point. It is no secret that I’m a real Harold Land enthusiast. The band tore up the propulsive changes and moving free, made the tune their own.JoelNathan 088 (1)

The second set began with the stunning tune ‘Right Now’ (Haines/Crayford). This collaboration was extremely fruitful and we will see a new project from these musicians in the near future. Next up was a tune by keys player Michal Martyniuk. This had never been aired in public before and its trippy synth-rich vibe took me back to the space Jazz/funk of the 80’s. Appropriately, and immediately following, was a Benny Maupin number ‘It Remains to be Seen’. This is a space-funk classic from his fabulous ‘Slow Traffic to the Right’ album. The album cut in 1978 – at a time when a plethora of wonderful analogue machines entered the market. It was great to hear a number from this scandalously overlooked experimental era – and reprised so effectively. More of this please guys, much more.JoelNathan 096

The set ended with two more numbers, including a reflective and soul drenched composition by Joel Haines. The tune is temporarily titled ‘Untitled’. Whatever the name, it worked for us. The ‘Nathan Haines Electric Band’ is by now an established entity and the ease with which they hit their groove confirms that. Having the ever inventive and highly talented Cameron McArthur on bass gave them a groove anchor and punch. Rounding that off with Stephen Thomas on drums gave lift off. I highly recommend this group as there is something there for anyone with Jazz sensibilities. History and modernity in balance.

Nathan Haines Electric Band

Nathan Haines Electric Band: Nathan Haines (winds and reeds), Joel Haines (guitar), Michal Martyniuk (keys and synthesiser), Cameron McArthur (upright bass), Stephen Thomas (drums). The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, 13th April 2016JoelNathan 089 

 

 

Rob Luft @ ‘Third Way’ – Albion CJC

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Luft2 087With the Indian summer lingering, March rolled seamlessly into April, and in Jazz parlance, we got to JAM (Jazz April Month). This is the month when the International Jazz community reaches out and proclaims, listen up ‘world’ we have something to say. The month culminates with UNESCO world Jazz day; last year the main celebration was in Paris, before that Osaka and Istanbul. This year the Thelonius Monk Foundation and UNESCO will hold the WJD main celebration in the White House at the invitation of President Obama.

In the first week of Jazz April, Auckland’s premier Jazz Club the CJC moved to a new temporary location. There are always anxieties when changes occur, but we needn’t have worried. The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) is a powerful brand and the audience moved with them, their enthusiasm unabated. The last Britomart gig ended on a high note, the first Albion gig began likewise. This year has seen a steady stream of important internationals on the bandstand and last week it was Rob Luft. Luft is a rapidly rising figure on the UK Jazz scene and getting him at the club was another coup. Luft is something of a phenomenon and his rise is nothing short of meteoric. As his reach increasingly extends beyond his own shores, international audiences take note: his future is rosy from here out.Luft 093He is a different sort of guitarist and although in his early twenties, he already sounds like a member of that post-millennial cadre of improvising trend setters. As usual, I arrived during the setup and what I heard offered promise. His lines during the warm-up number were fast and furious, but the clarity of tone and of ideas, jaw dropping. As the first set began the band traversed various moods, from the Bop referencing to the reflective. Luft is a formidable technician, his fluency beyond the reach of many practitioners I suspect, but during the slower reflective numbers, we glimpsed subtly and depth.Luft 094

During extended periods of improvisation, he would intensify his focus; you could see it on his face as he hunched into the guitar as if merging with the instrument, mining themes until they were reborn. Occasionally I would hear the hint of a phrase or an arpeggiated effect in the upper register that made me smile. I had only heard that sort clarity and cleverly modulated sound from one other guitarist, Mike Moreno. Later when we spoke I told him that. Luft said that he was glad I picked up on that and in fact he once stayed with Moreno, undertaking a week of intense lessons. Luft’s full, clean, and cleverly modulated tone lends itself to such high-end comparisons.Luft 088The first set brought us the trio formation, and the set list ranged from the near avant-garde to ‘world Jazz’. I really enjoyed the material chosen as there were quirky originals, and material ranging from the familiar (Gismonti) to the unfamiliar – tunes by Portuguese or Brazilian composers including a delightfully outrageous rendering of a tune called ‘The bickering of the crazy musicians’. That one brought the house down. I was also delighted with his tribute to the adventurous guitarist Derick Bayley; a tune titles ‘Derick’. Again this showcased the breadth of his influences. Whether the reflective or quirky, handled with the supreme confidence that only a musician at one with his instrument can attain. Accompanying him was Tim Robertson, an expat with a long string of impressive credits to his name in the UK. Robertson and Luft were a tightly focussed team, enhanced by the addition of Chris O’Connor for the Auckland gig.  O’Connor is endlessly versatile and ever popular about the country – from Indie Rock or straight ahead Jazz through to experimental music. He adds enormous value to any bandstand, any genre, and the choice could not have been better.Luft2 088On the second set, the trio added local saxophonist Roger Manins and the tunes although standards took in a wide spectrum. Opening with a ‘groove take’ on Victor Young’s ‘Delilah’ and then in contrast diving headlong into a marvelous Ornette Colman piece. ‘Humpty Dumpty’ from Ornette’s ‘This is our Music’ was undoubtedly my favourite of the night. Everything these musicians played worked well, but this tune just bounced off the walls and had everyone whooping in delight. Next was a crazy little known Monk tune titled ‘Unidentified Monk Solo’ and lastly ‘Ray’s Idea’ by Ray Brown. From deep listening enjoyment to wild and free in one gig.Luft 095Two nights later I was watching the Sky Arts channel when a programme on guitarists came up. Then I saw him, a younger Rob Luft performing at Ronny Scotts, solo guitar, receiving praise from George Benson, recording at Abbey Road studios and winning the Jazz section of a prestigious UK guitar competition.  We sure lucked out getting this band for a Jazz April opener. The clip below is from a Ronnie Scotts gig – Rob Luft with ZiroBop – The clip  tells you everything you need to know about him as a guitarist.

Rob Luft (guitar), Tim Robertson (upright bass), Chris O’Connor (drums) and guest Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Performing at the Albion Hotel, April 6th, 2016

Jef Neve – extraordinary Britomart finale

Jef Neve 095Every few weeks, I casually glance at the CJC web page to see what lies ahead. When I spotted the name Jef Neve, I immediately cleaned my glasses and refocussed, just to make sure that I hadn’t imagined what lay on the screen. No, there it was, Jef Neve, Belgium. Neve is a significant figure on the European Jazz scene and described as Belgium’s best contemporary Jazz pianist. He has three significant careers, one in the Jazz world, one composing film scores and yet another in the contemporary classical music world. Wow! I thought – how did we score him for a club gig? The answer, of course, is the Roger Manins factor. Jef had worked with Roger during Maria Schneider’s tour of Australia and Roger has a lot of pull with musicians.

Like many, outside of Europe, Neve first came to my attention on the duo album ‘For All we Know’, released in 2010. He and vocalist Jose James created an album of extraordinary depth and beauty. James has since gone on to considerable fame in America, his velvety baritone voice is at times reminiscent of Johnny Hartman. It was the sparse, perfectly voiced chords behind James that really drew me in. A crystalline minimalism that stayed with you ever after. When I spoke to Neve he told me that the album started as an impromptu affair. Unexpectedly, Verve picked it up with such enthusiasm that the famous and long defunct ‘Impulse’ label was revived just for the release. This was the first ‘Impulse’ release since Alice Coltrane’s album ‘Reflections on Creation & Space’ 1973. In fact, Neve was picked up by major labels well before that and has eight albums as a leader to his name. His latter recordings coming out on Emarcy, Universal Music, and Enja.Jef Neve 089Although The Creative Jazz Club was the beneficiary, it was Neve’s formidable classical credentials which brought about his New Zealand trip. As we remember the ghastly carnage of the great WW1 battles a hundred years ago in Belgium, there are various commemorative events. In 2013, Neve composed ‘In Vlaamse Velden’ (In Flanders Fields), a significant work which tells the war tales of his native Ghent. For the New Zealand concert, the historic Flemish diary readings were interspersed with diary readings from New Zealand families who suffered loss. My family lost a great uncle at Passendale and my grandparents never shook off the sadness. The readings spoke of loss, but also of hope. Everything Neve does is informed by his peace-loving humanism. The audience was reminded of young soldiers dying, and young civilians as well. The Belgium government, The Auckland War Memorial Museum, and various other partners made this happen. Inadvertently, they brought us a significant Jazz event.Jef Neve 090The first CJC set was Neve playing solo. Much of the material drawn from his recent ‘One’ album. Second up was a thoughtful and moving rendition of ‘Lush Life’, the long intro giving little away. After the intro, a reflective minimalist version unfolded, with Strayhorn honoured affectionally. Most of the other tunes were Neve originals and appropriately they included a recently composed piece referencing the Belgium bombings. Typically the piece went beyond mere requiem, challenging the world to get along and to accept diversity. This hopeful humanism informs all of Neves work. At that point he looked up, smiled, and said to us, “I believe that we only have one life and so we should make a real effort to get along, no matter where we come from. After we are born we should party together until we die”. On that night, ‘party’ we did. The last number in that set was Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case of You’ – first he read the lyrics and then he played – just lovely.

His solo playing gave us an insight into his technique – his touch astonishing – even when playing percussively. On some numbers there was a tasteful hint of electronics, never overdone, always enhancing the natural sound. At times, the piano sang with harmonics as his figures interwove. I resolved to ask him about that when I interviewed him.Jef Neve 091The second half was a trio set and Neve was warmed up and ready to stretch out. With him, he had Ron Samsom (drums) and Cameron McArthur (bass). There had been one short rehearsal a few hours earlier but you wouldn’t have thought so. The first number, ‘The space we need’, was from his critically acclaimed ‘Imaginary Road’ album. They quickly dropped into what can only be described as an elevated state of being. Every move mutually understood, reacted to in kind, rendered into gold with a sonic alchemy. These guys worked extremely well together and the looks on their faces told you that they knew it. ‘The space you need’ was a hard swinging burner, filled with exhortations and joyous exchanges. During a later number, Neve hummed a melody and had the audience repeat it during the chorus. Later I heard him whistling a melody softly (whistling in unison with his right-hand phrases). The last person I heard do this so effectively was fellow Belgian Toots Thielmans. This was Jazz at its best. Throughout the second set, I was so absorbed that I forgot to take notes. Perhaps magic like this can not be captured anyhow.

Neve and his bandmates received wild applause and an encore was begged of them. What a finale for our final night at Britomart – the perfect ending to a fruitful five years. It also offered promise as to what may come in our new venue.

In spite of being jet lagged, Neve suggested that we conduct the interview back at his hotel. The music had given me plenty to reflect on but I eagerly sought his insights. I asked him how much classical music influenced European Jazz, I hear it in most of the European musicians? He answered from a slightly different perspective, so I reframed the question; did he think that there was a regional sound evident in Jazz musicians from Europe or even Australasia? His reply was, “yes definitely, but this comes with time”. He elaborated by adding, “Jazz musicians who have found their voice, reflect who they are as human beings and reflect where they live – their influences, the places they grew up in, the music they heard in the home, the sounds of the city streets and their everyday life experiences”. He explained that he grew up hearing Bach, Mozart, and the songs and sounds of Flemish Belgium. “That is in my sound, but I don’t consciously reflect on that”. Next, I put Sean Wayland’s theory to him, that Jazz musicians play in the dialect they speak in. “It’s that and more,” he said, “it’s also a sense of the musicians place in the world”.Jef Neve 087At this point, the conversation got really interesting. He clearly didn’t regard musical structures, be it blues, classical or otherwise as the dominant force guiding his improvising; These outside influences were his vocabulary. In the same way, a writer doesn’t regard the alphabet or grammar as directing the flow of ideas. In Neve’s case, it was not about form but about sound. “I see the universe as sound and I explore that, work with that”. ‘Sound’ is what drives him as an improviser. When I asked how he got those otherworldly acoustic harmonics from the piano. He said, “As I play, I look for unique sounds, probing until I locate them”. This was an iteration of something I had heard before, something uttered by pianist Jonathan Crayford, “I try to make piano’s sing, seek a oneness with their sound”. Later I spoke to Ron Samsom about this and he said, “There is a theme with the great musicians and it always comes down to sound and interaction. With Jef, we didn’t so much rehearse, as dive into the energy. We just jumped onto the wave and began. It was playing music from first to last note and exploring ideas”.

It is these insights that confirm Jazz as my true religion. When you hear stuff like this you have to believe in sound. It is the voice of life after all.

Thanks to Pieter Kindt for the access and the comps to ‘In Flanders Fields’ (Pieter is Jef Neve’s manager and a Jazz Trombone player)

Jef Neve (piano, compositions), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) performed at the last CJC night held at Britomart 1885 on 30th March 2016. Please note: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) will continue without interruption – there is a temporary venue over the next month and possibly a new venue after that (TBC) – the best way to keep informed is by checking out the CJC website or better yet subscribe to the newsletter.

 

 

Lex French Quartet @ CJC 2016

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French 2016 089In spite of living at the other end of the Island, Lex French is a regular fixture at the CJC. It is hardly surprising since his popularity with Jazz audiences is ever-growing. There are not many trumpeters of French’s stature in New Zealand and it is our good fortune that he remains. He obtained his Masters from McGill University in Montreal, a university with a strong focus on brass. A university which had an ongoing association with the UK-based Canadian trumpeter Kenny Wheeler while he was among us. I mention Wheeler, because as I walked down the stairs to the club to set up my gear, I heard the unmistakable opening phrase from ‘Smatter’ coming out of the darkness. Just the opening phrase and then silence.French 2016 088It was so Wheeler-like, that I assumed someone was setting up a Wheeler album on the club sound system. As my eyes accustomed to the low light I saw French standing alone – repeating the phrase. French is not a one-trick pony; he is as modern as tomorrow, but at other times, old school respectful. He can punch out high notes or swing hard bop like a Blue Note artist back in the day.  This is not a musician to pass up on.

His current working band travelled from Wellington with him, all of them known to Auckland audiences; Matt Steele on piano, Johnny Lawrence on bass and Cory Champion on drums. The set list was mainly French compositions, but in the middle of each set, a standard or two. The standards were well-chosen and contrasted the originals nicely. The best known was Benny Golson’s ‘Stablemates’, a perennial favourite, Kenny Wheeler’s complex tune ‘Smatter’ and ‘Nostalgia’ by Mingus.French 2016 090I particularly liked French’s compositions ‘Kasid’ from the first set. There were many reasons to like this; the musicians innovative explorations of the theme, the evocative middle-eastern mode underpinning it, and the fact that it referenced the wonderful Iraqi poet Abdulkareen Kasid. An achingly beautiful melody tinged through with bittersweet sadness, establishing itself delicately over a quietly incessant bass motif. When Steele came in, his opening chords were Oud like – giving the impression of soft strings jangling sweetly in the night air. I listen to a lot of middle-eastern improvised music and this performance stands beside the best of those. In the background, the drums tap tapped (like stones tumbling in a stream, and every so often swooshes).French 2016 093The poet Abdulkareem Kasid is new to me (and I have a huge collection of poetry). To discover a poet like this is exciting and I thank Lex French for this. What could be better than to experience a night of interesting music, and at the end, find a poet?  I finish this with some words from that poet – listen to the piece as you read the lines – I did.

In my hands / From past and future / I’ll grab two stones / And run with them / Even in the lightest / breeze I’ll fly / Summon a wind, to come / And wipe out every trace / And I’ll sit like an orphan / By the roadside mourning / My two stones”

                                         Abdulkareem Kasid

Lex French Quartet: Lex French (trumpet, compositions), Matt Steele (Piano), Johnny Lawrence (bass), Cory Champion (drums). CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland 23rd March 2016.

Jimmy Rainey & Byn van Vliet – Emerging Artists Series

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Bryn & Jimmy 091These events focus on emerging Improvising artists and allow them to gain wider exposure in front of a discriminating audience. They generally occur around three or four times a year. Some of those featured in the Emerging Artists Series are recent graduates, others are still pursuing their studies. In this case, we had two horn players from out of town; Christchurch and Wellington respectively. Their horns were different, and their approaches to the sets different, but both approached the gig with the confidence of seasoned performers. Such confidence translates well on the bandstand and it informs an audience that the musician means business. Artists often remark that playing in a small Jazz club like the CJC is a unique experience. It’s not like a noisy bar, where people often ignore you, and it’s more intimate than a concert hall where an audience gives limited feedback. Club audiences listen intensely, they react boisterously at the end of a good solo and they call in encouragement when a phrase resonates. Mostly they listen in silence and but they listen actively.Bryn & Jimmy 098Jimmy Rainey, a tenor player from Christchurch played the first set. He is a graduate of the Jazz School in Christchurch, now furthering his Jazz studies at the Auckland University Jazz School. In Christchurch, he’s involved with a number of groups such as the Symposium Jazz Orchestra (many will recall that orchestra on Glen Wagstaff’s album), and the earthy ‘Treme’ styled Justice Brass Band. On Wednesday, he had a premier Auckland Rhythm Section at his disposal, Kevin Field, Cameron McArthur and Ron Samsom. Most of the compositions were Rainey’s and they showed a developing maturity. His sound was interesting, especially on the down-tempo numbers, having that downtown late-night feel. He is in Auckland for a while and I am certain that we see more of him. His father is well-known on the scene but he is earning his own place in the light. With a Jazz-famous name like Rainey, he has a head start.Bryn & Jimmy 087Bryn van Vliet has visited the club before as part of the boisterous Wellington Mingus Ensemble. In that context, I have seen him play in Auckland and Wellington, but never as a leader. He is also a member of the Roger Fox Big Band and a graduate from the Wellington Jazz School. While van Vliet often doubles on tenor, he played alto for this gig. What immediately caught my attention was his clean tone. A compelling tonal quality that quickly drew you in. His playing has cut-through in ways that Paul Desmond’s did, but for all that it was a modern sound. Vliet is originally from the far North but his Wellington credentials will no doubt anchor him there. Like Rainey, he brought many of his own compositions to the bandstand and the same rhythm section backed both players. For the last number, a standard,  they were on the bandstand together.

Emerging Artists Series: Jimmy Rainey (tenor) and Bryn van Vliet (alto). Rhythm section: Kevin Field (piano), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samson (drums) @ CJC Creative Jazz Club 16th March 2016

Crayford/Cuenca – The Jazz Flamenco Project

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Isabel & J 096When I recently interviewed visiting Flamenco dancer Isabel Rivera Cuenca she told me that she had met some wonderful New Zealand improvising musicians and, in particular, she mentioned Jonathan Crayford. They met at a party and briefly discussed doing a project together. As they had not been able to make contact since I supplied email addresses and the project quickly took shape. A talented sensuous Flamenco dancer from Barcelona and a gifted Kiwi improviser; irresistible.Isabel & J 099Jonathan Crayford has long been one of my favourite musicians and any project of his I will follow with enthusiasm. The thought of him doing a Jazz/Flamenco project filled me with joy. It takes a particular type of musician to reach across genres, and to do so with authenticity is a challenge. If anyone could pull this together at short notice it was Crayford; with his open ears and extraordinary musicality, he ticked all of the boxes. In recent years, he has performed in Spain, but only on Jazz projects. When I spoke to him two weeks before the gig he told me how pleased he was to work on this project, but that he knew little of Spanish music; I had no doubts that he would locate a pure essence and work with it and Isabel Cuenca was the perfect foil. As soon as they appeared on the bandstand the chemistry was obvious.Isabel & J 093 There is a real synergy between Jazz and Flamenco; they are musical cousins. Both musical forms fuse North African Rhythms with unique harmonic approaches, both created out of harsh repression. Underlining the driving rhythms of Flamenco is pure passion, contrasting a sad but beautiful dissonance. The musicians and dancers frequently call to each other in encouragement and this is not so different from the call and response in jazz. That they are similar in essence is hardly surprising – when the chants, dance and polyrhythms of Congo Square met with Creole melody, fed by a multitude of European influences (including Spanish music), Jazz was born.Isabel & J 100

Early in the first set, Crayford played a variant of his composition ‘Galois Candle’. This appears on his ‘Dark Light’ album nominated for a Jazz Tui award last year. This memorable tune although rhythmic is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of danceability. The synergy between dancer and pianist soon located a sweet-spot in the heart of the tune. I recall Cuenca telling me that everything else in Flamenco was subordinate to honest deeply felt emotion. That is where the Duende resides. A little later we heard an innovative and compelling version of ‘Will o’ the Wisp’ (from El Amor Brujo) by Manuel De Falla. Not the brooding version that Gil Evans used on Sketches in Spain but a paired down version. Stripped to the barest essentials of melody and rhythm. Crayford dampened the strings with one hand and created a simple clipped strumming effect, while Cuenca sang gently over this, softly clapping all the while. It could not have been more effective. After that came a tune by Fredrica Garcia Lorca, the poet who died at the hands of Franco’s Nationalists. This tune ‘Los Cuatro Muleres’ sounds pretty, even jaunty, but it hides a deep sadness as with all Lorca poems and tunes. Again done movingly, and both Crayford and Cuenca sang verses.Isabel & J 103During the second set we heard tunes which moved closer to the Flamenco idiom. In these free-ranging highly improvised tunes Crayford has few peers. Towards the end of the evening, the two were in absolute lock-step; Cuenca reacting to every nuance of the music and bringing her fluid kinetic brilliance to bear, dancing her way into the hearts of everyone there. The communication was simply electric.

I have posted a video clip from the first set (Galois Candle [Crayford]) and an audio clip from near the end of the second set. I hope that Crayford records some of these tunes as they were magical. Cuenca has many fans in new Zealand and she says that she will return here soon. I hope so because more of this project would please us.

Jonathan Crayford (piano, vocals, compositions), Isabel Cuenca (dance, vocals & compositions) – at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 09 March 2016.

Jamie Oehlers @ ‘The Burden of Memory’ tour

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Jamie 2016 091When the word gets about that a Jamie Oehlers gig is imminent, excitement mounts. Having turned people away last year, due to a capacity audience, the CJC offered two sessions this time. As expected, both were well attended. Oehlers is highly regarded in the Jazz world and it is not surprising. His astonishing mastery of the tenor saxophone is central to his appeal, but it is more than that. Every note he plays sounds authentic as if no other note could ever replace it, and all conveying a sense of musical humanism.

He introduced the numbers by painting word pictures; creating an expectation that the best is soon to come. The audience anticipating an interesting journey happily followed. He always gives us something of himself and it serves him well. Audiences like to glimpse the human being behind the music and not all musicians are capable of that. If done well (not forced), it must convey warmth. Oehlers is a natural in this regard. This affability applies to the man and to the musician. His egalitarian world-view inevitably seeping into his playing. This is how it is with all the greats. Their sound and their life eventually merge. The horn becoming breath.Jamie 2016 094Oehlers has a new album out titled ‘The burden of memory‘ and we heard many of the pieces as the sets unfolded. Accompanying him on the album is a dream rhythm section: Paul Grabowsky on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums. Each a heavyweight and living up to their formidable reputations. For the Auckland gig, there was Kevin Field on piano, Olivier Holland on bass and Frank Gibson Jr on drums. Jumping in where Grabowsky, Rogers, and Harland had gone was no doubt daunting but they pulled it off in style. All played exceptionally well, but Gibson was a standout. The exchanges between him and Oehlers memorable. These men have history and the old conversations were clearly rekindled on the bandstand. Roger Manins joined Oehlers for the last number of each set and the two dueled as only they can. Weaving skillfully around each other and sounding like two halves of a whole; grinning like Cheshire cats.Jamie 2016 092The album title and the song titles speak clearly of the musicians thought processes. He talks of his motivations and his horn takes us there. The burden of memory is a phrase he heard while listening to talkback radio and it resonated with him. He thinks deeply, examines the world about him and this communicates throughout the album. The second track ‘Armistice’ is a good example, possessing a melancholic beauty, and while it throws up the obvious images of a war ending, it also speaks of families and the tentative steps towards new possibilities.

The dreaming‘ references the indigenous peoples of Australia. An ancient meditative practice, the dreaming is an altered state of consciousness, where the past and future appear to those open enough to receive that gift. Of the two standards, the reharmonized version of ‘Polka Dots and Moonbeams‘ particularly appealed. The gig featured several tunes, not on the album; we were especially delighted by the ‘fast burner’ take on ‘After You’ve gone’. That particular standard by Turner Layton harks back to 1918. it was soon picked up by Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, and Fats Waller. This bebop referencing version breathed fire into the room. Those who attended the gigs were abuzz afterward and rushed to purchase the album. If you missed the tour and wanted a copy of the album I have included a link below. Recorded in Brooklyn New York at the System 2 studios, the album had the support of the WA Department of Culture and the Arts. Oehlers wrote six of the tunes and co-wrote a further three with Rogers, Harland, and Grabowsky. The remaining three tunes were by Grabowsky, Jobim and Van Heusen.

The event took place at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 02 March 2016. Britomart 1885 building, downtown Auckland, New Zealand.  You can purchase the album and learn more about the artists at www.jamieoehlers.com or http://www.jamieoehlers.bandcamp.com

 

Briana Cowlishaw & Gavin Ahearn

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Briana C 092The Briana Cowlishaw/Gavin Ahearn gig is the second CJC gig featuring international artists in a month. For those who follow Australian improvised music, these are familiar names. Both have rock solid credentials as both have traveled extensively with their music and attracted glowing critical reviews. This is a fortuitous musical pairing, and it is particularly obvious during duets. There is a mutual awareness of space and nuance and an understanding of just where interplay works best; neither over-crowding the other. There are a lot of pianists who accompany vocalists convincingly, but the true art of accompaniment is rarely seen. Ahearn is a fine accompanist and soloist. Unusually, you could say the same for Cowlishaw – an aware musician who watches and listens to her collaborators carefully – works with what she hears. Never greedy to hog the limelight and making every line count.Briana C 088For an artist barely past her mid twenties Cowlishaw has achieved much. Performing at festivals all over the world and being nominated for prestigious awards along the way. She has studied with top rated teachers in three continents and it shows (including Gretchen Parlato, Aaron Goldberg, Kurt Elling). Her confidence, compositional abilities and musicianship shine through on the bandstand. Hers is a modern voice and more importantly a fresh young voice. What worked so well so well for Gretchen Parlato also works for her; a clean delivery, imaginative interpretations and an interesting approach.Briana C 094The first set saw Cowlishaw and Ahearn performing as a duo. This format gifts artists with a degree of freedom and it was well utilised. As they took us through a mix of standards and originals, we saw just how attuned they are. The Cowlishaw compositions are particularly interesting, with words, wordless vocalising and interesting harmonic underpinnings from Ahearn – a subtle weave, blending threads to create evocative soundscapes.Briana C 091Both have visited Norway and the sparse honest northern sound was particularly evident in their first set. A recent collaborative album recorded in Norway arose out of an earlier trip there. More recently they performed at the Hemnes Jazz Festival in that country. As Cowlishaw said of these compositions, “After spending a lot of time on the road and in big cities, I found myself in the Fjords. The wild lonely freshness was so appealing that the thought arose – was this a place that I would want to live in one day”? Arising from that proposition came the compositions on their ‘Fjord’ album. Cowlishaw is obviously keen on the outdoors. She told an audience member that she intended to explore a few of New Zealand wildness places as the chance presented itself.Briana C 090The second set swelled the bands numbers to a quintet – joining the duo were Mike Booth on trumpet, Cameron McArthur on bass and Adam Tobeck on drums. All fine musicians and well able to rise to any challenge. The expanded unit gave her much to work with and Ahearn in particular jumped at the opportunity; utilising a more aggressive hard-swinging style. There were more standards in this second half and Cole Porters wonderful 1943 composition from ‘Something to shout about’ – ‘You’d be so Nice to Come Home to’ stood out as a rollicking swinger. The other memorable standard came from the duo – Michel Legrand’s 1932 composition ‘You must believe in Spring’. To Jazz audiences this means one thing – The achingly beautiful Bill Evans Warners album of that name. The rendition was remarkably beautiful – Cowlishaw tackled the number as Norma Winstone might, while Ahearn stamped his own authority on the ballad while allowing Evans to shine through.

I strongly recommend ‘Fjord’ – it is simply exquisite and the delicate renditions of the originals and standards will stay in your head long after the last note is played – as well as the rarely heard ‘Estate’ (Bruno Martino) there is a version of Herb Ellis’s ‘Detour Ahead’ which won me over completely. For the ‘Fjord’ and ‘Detour Ahead’ tracks alone, the album is worth double the asking price.

Briana Cowlishaw & Gavin Ahearn – Cowlishaw (vocals, compositions), Ahearn (piano), Mike Booth (trumpet & flugel), Cameron McArthur (bass), Adam Tobeck (drums). performing at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) Britomart 1886, Downtown Auckland 24th February 2016.

 

Black Spider Stomp – Jazz Manouche

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Black SS 094Wellington has long possessed a gypsy soul and Jazz Manouche thrives there. In Auckland there are fewer such groups and the common form here is hybridised Gypsy. I am more familiar with these hybrid forms, but as a devotee of improvised music I possess many Django Reinhardt and Bireli Legrene recordings. The Black Spider Stomp are a traditional Gypsy Jazz group and everything about them shouts ‘du Quintet de Hot Club of France’. For a start they look the part in their slick black outfits and they mirror the traditional ensembles – three Manouche guitars, upright bass and clarinet (the clarinet player doubling on soprano and trumpet).Black SS 089The hallmark of gypsy authenticity is the ability to swing in a particular way, and Black Spider Stomp achieves this. In western European gypsy the absence of a percussion instrument places heavier emphasis on guitar led rhythm. The rhythm guitars are essential to the momentum with their striking ‘la pompe’ strum. This hard swinging pumping style is very distinctive, with its dark chromaticism, bent notes, adherence to certain voicings, rapid arpeggios, powerful rhythms and regular use of vibrato. The tunes are mostly in 4/4 with a heavy accent on two and four (although waltzes are also in the repertoire).Black SS 093The style is so distinctive that it owns the tunes whatever their origin. Once while traveling in the Carmargue I stopped at a typical Provencal village. As dusk fell a group of Gitano guitarists started playing in the square. The tune was maddeningly familiar and I wrongly thought – this is a Reinhardt composition. It stuck in my head for days and then the penny dropped. It was ‘My Way’ – the tune popularised by Paul Anka and Frank Sinatra. Recently I learned that it is actually a French pop tune. Talk about music travelling where it will. Another perennial favourite in Jazz Manouche is Stevie Wonder’s ‘Isn’t she lovely’. Manouche Jazz itself is a hybrid of American Jazz and Gypsy – and each of those musical influences are sources as vast as an ocean.

Music has origins …. but no fixed abode.

Black SS 095The groups use of soprano saxophone (but in this case the straight-horn variant) is also authentic. While violinists like Stephane Grapelli regularly led Manouche ensembles (pre war), the arrival in Paris of horn playing musicians like Sydney Bechet influenced the post war style. Jazz Manouche reached maturity in Paris around the time of WW2 and it was so loved there, that a handful of Jazz loving occupying Nazi’s covertly protected it.  The use of a trumpet intrigued me for two reasons. For a reeds musician to double on trumpet is rare – the embouchure is so different. Post millennium we seldom hear such a distinct nod to Louis Armstrong – or to the early swing trumpeters. Perhaps with Armstrong or Bubber Miley in mind, reeds and brass man Baron Oscar Laven treated us to the occasional muted growl and smear. His cheerful enthusiasm for all of his horns was obvious.Black SS 087Guitars always fascinate me. These were obviously based on the famous Selmer ‘Maccaferri’ guitars favoured by Django. There are two main styles of Jazz Manouche guitar – the ‘D’ hole ‘large mouth’ with its broader rich tone and woody resonance (most often the lead guitar) and the ‘O’ hole ‘small mouth’, which is brighter in sound and has serious cut through. Solos from both were heard. These guitars are things of real beauty, earthy multi-hued wood-grained and framed in a blur of hands appearing from the darkness.

Nothing says acoustic quite like an array of wooden instruments carrying a gypsy tune.

Black Spider Stomp: Sam Thurston (guitar), James Quick (guitar), Adrian Jenson (guitar), Scott Maynard (upright bass), Baron Oscar Laven (woodwinds and brass) – find their work on Bandcamp   – The gig took place at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 17th Feb 2016.

The Circling Sun – midsummer heat

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Circling Sun 096As a group of the worlds leading astrophysicists excitedly ran one last check. At the precise moment that the astonishing mathematical proofs confirmed Einstein’s theory of ‘gravitational waves’, the Circling Sun hit the CJC. This rare cosmic event released fresh gravitational waves which pulsed throughout central Auckland; altering the molecular structure of any ear within radius. It was an appropriate evening for the Sun to manifest this ‘climatic singularity’, preceded as it was by a dog-day as hot as any on record.

There are five musicians in the Sun – four human and one android. On tenor saxophone, doogan & keyboards was Cameron Allen, on drums & electronics was Julien Dyne, on pedal steel guitar & electric guitar was Neil Watson and on electric & acoustic bass was Rui Inaba. When fine musicians like this play out-crazy music, influenced by sources as diverse as Yusef Lateef, Alice Coltrane, Mulato Astatke and Tom Waits, you know you are in for a wild and danceable ride. The doogan is a cunningly contrived android, assembled from antique parts and loosely controlled by Allen. It is an independent minded machine often exceeding the prime directive; a mechanical and musical ‘singularity’.Circling Sun 086The Circling Sun is more a phenomena than a group. They defy musical form and yet exist convincingly in their own orbit; circling an altered reality. As with all wonders there is much to appreciate. The intricacy of their many machines, the indelible sonic footprint and the sheer joy they bring. I took some guests down to the club that night. Flamenco artists Isabel Cuenca and Ian Sinclair (and Ian’s wife Zarina). I wondered how they would react to this wild unconstrained mix of free improvisation and world beat psychedelic Jazz. Isabel the Flamenco dancer was quick to respond. ‘This is amazing, it has deep passion’. Passion is the heart of many musics and like authenticity it is a vital component. Long live the avant-garde – long live passionate music – whatever the genre.Circling Sun 093In his seminal work “This is Your Brain on Music’ neuroscientist Daniel Levitin reveals the following. ‘A liking for dissonance is a development arising from deeper listening and on attaining musical maturity. A very young child prefers consonance over dissonance, the mature listener increasingly values contrast and enjoys having expectations confounded. After spending time listening to deeper or more complex music, lightweight consonant passionless music becomes boring. There is a neural basis for this’.

Instinctively, the Circling Sun understands this and they feed audiences a healthy diet of dissonance. At one point Watson called down thundering chordal dissonance (as the drum beats rained like Thor’s hammer and the keyboards created strangely intricate figures while the bass overlaid danceable grooves) . As Watson repeated the two chords over and over he varied them ever so slightly. It was recidivist mayhem, but there was a logic, a cosmic logic and a deep raw beauty in the onslaught. I loved every moment of it as I reeled from the sonic blows. Adding to the excitement was a strong kinetic effect, Watson dropping lower each time he struck the strings. Dyne dancing all over the kit. This was Ceramic Dog territory and done to great effect. Levitin talks of this also. ‘Experienced listeners often get more out of live music than recorded, because they read the musicians body language in micro detail. The body language of the musicians sharpens the listeners expectations’.Circling Sun 090The Montreal born Dyne was just the drummer for a band like this. His musical credentials are impeccable. His expertise extends well beyond the kit to that of producer and forward-looking experimentalist; electronic future beats, hip hop, house, afro beats, boogie funk and instrumental jazz. His work with Ladi6 has brought him to wider attention, but his own Lord Julien recordings and his deeply funky ‘Down in the Basement’ (Vol 2) cuts are well worth checking out. This band has few constraints and it gives him ample room to stretch.

Allen plays saxophone and a variety of other instruments. He has long been known for his hybrid mechanical/electronic creations. His tenor is a Buescher (a brassy beast of ancient lineage) and its earthy tone is always pleasing in Allen’s hands. In recent years he has given equal time to his android doogan and an assortment of strange keyboards. He flies in the face of the prevailing fad for tracking down quality analogue instruments. Instead he plunders the throw away machines from the early digital age. This is an interesting development, as the reason these instruments were often abandoned, was because they didn’t sound like the acoustic instruments they sought to emulate. They sounded like new instruments and fed through a variety of pedals they are reborn. This is a recurring theme of the new millennium, reoccupying old spaces in new ways. Recycling, conservation and ultra modernism in one package.Circling Sun 088I have long been a Watson fan. The man is fearless and his musical ideas cross territory few others dare to traverse. His increasing mastery of the pedal steel already sets him apart, but his ventures into the experimental avant-garde with the instrument are unique in the New Zealand context. While an accomplished studio musician his preferred gigs are those without boundaries. With Watson you get Americana, blues, Jazz psychedelia or wild forays referencing Marc Ribot & Sonny Sharrock. The Sun suits his wild eclecticism.Circling Sun 092

The remaining band member is Rui Inaba on bass. I have seen him play a number of times and most often with Watson. This is the first time I have seen him on electric bass and the instrument counterbalanced the free ranging explorations of the other three nicely. There was also a guest artist performing on Wednesday – the ever popular J Y Lee on Baritone saxophone. During one number Lee, Watson, Inaba, Dyne and Allen took the tune ‘outside’. It was mayhem and madness of the best kind. This is a very loud band and the enjoyment rang in my ears like summer locusts for days after the event.

Footnote: The doogan improves with age, but its strangest feature is an ability to time travel. As each improvement appears a proportionate regression in time occurs. When it first appeared it had wheels, an alarm clock and many more modern parts. The recent assemblage is altogether older – a regression to the beginning of the digital era. A small yellowed-plastic Cassio keyboard routed through various pedals and midi boxes, sitting opposite a mysterious plywood box. The box bristling with nobs, toggles and sporting an impressive amount of gaffer tape. Beside the pedals a Moog like instrument with an early AM transistor radio plugged into it. Below that an ancient weather-beaten Korg. The small wooden box is most intriguing and although it resembles the two-valve home made radios of my youth, I suspect that it is something like Orac (Google ‘Blake’s Seven’ for more information on Orac).

The Cycling Sun played at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 10th February 2016, They are Julien Dyne (drums, electronics), Cameron Allen (saxophone, doogan), Neil Watson (pedal and electric guitar), Rui Inaba (electric and acoustic bass)

Walters/Booth gig

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Walters - Booth 088January was hot and wet and the CJC was on holiday. If like me, you are a regular attendee at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) December to February is a long time between drinks. The El Nino humidity with its sullen skies and petulant storm threats rolled into February and suddenly we were back in business. The first gig of the year featured Craig Walters and Mike Booth. Walters, a well-known Sydney based tenor player, last performed at the club in 2012. Booth is a local and he features often; a gifted composer, arranger and trumpet/flugel player. Booth and Walters have a long history together.

The gig featured original material by Walters and Booth and as you would expect, nicely arranged heads augmented attractive melodies. There was also material by pianist Phil Broadhurst whose tunes are familiar, memorable and compelling. With Broadhurst on piano, Cameron McArthur on bass and Stephen Thomas on drums the evening was complete. The club was icy cool and as they started playing the sticky tropical night air faded to a distant memory. Improvised music is a medicine like no other; headaches and discomfort vanish in a trice as endorphins flood the consciousness.Walters - Booth 090The first number was a Walters tune titled ‘Easy’. Booth played flugel and the relaxed fluid interplay between horns set us up nicely for the evening. Walters plays with real fluidity and his tone has a certain quality – a hint of mid to upper register sweetness not dissimilar to that of Ernie Watts – but with an earthier colour overlay. While the first tune eased us the into the gig the second tune grabbed our attention in a different way. ‘A Kings Ransom’ is a seldom played Booth tune and its complex rhythms gave the band a solid work out. Broadhurst delivered a wonderfully solo on this – Monkishly jagged and totally within the spirit of the composition.

As we progressed through the first set we heard the first Broadhurst composition ‘Stretched’. It is impossible not to like Broadhurst compositions. It is a hallmark of his writing skill that his tunes are always warmly familiar. We treat them as fond friends when we hear them again. Two more Walters tunes rounded off the set (his ballad ‘Where have you gone to?’ was quite lovely). The second set saw the band stretching out and never more so than on Broadhurst’s fabulous Horace Silver tribute ‘Precious Metal’. The tune following was written for (and not by) Mike Booth. Written by a Dutch musician during Booths long years of working in the Netherlands. The tune has the eponymous title, ‘Mikes Theme’ and for me it conjured the vibe of the Clifford Brown ballads. As usual McArthur and Thomas never put a foot wrong. Walters - Booth 089Towards the end of the second set they played Walters ‘As close as you’ll get’. If the title didn’t trigger any memories the first bar surely did. This was a tune that I’d heard way back in April 2012. Its intricate hooks and counterpoint nailed it within seconds. This was not a tune easily forgotten – in fact I happily replayed it in my head for weeks after the 2012 gig. I was not putting up video way back then but have chosen this cut to put up now. Walters - Booth 092Last years attendance at the club was good and if Wednesday was anything to go by this years will be even better. There were many first time attendees and based upon the applause most will return. The artists create the music but they need engaged audiences to complete the circle. As the famous American bass player David Friesen said to us last year – ‘this is a virtuous circle and the magic only emerges when audience and musicians interlink. The sum of what comes from this interaction is often greater than the sum of its parts. Improvised live music at its best is profound and the thought that we might miss a wonderful and unique moment causes us to return time and again. That is how it works me anyhow.

Craig Walters/Mike Booth band – Craig Walters (tenor saxophone), Mike Booth (trumpet, flugel), Phil Broadhurst (piano), Cameron McArthur (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums). The gig was at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, downtown Auckland 3rd February 2016.

 

merging streams – deep rivers

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This week my copy of John McLoughlin’s ‘Black Light’ arrived (ARI X 050). A vibrant stream of groove fused with ancient oriental sources. All transformed utterly. Talas sounding like rap, deep groove and the reflective fusing with virtuosic Jazz bravura. In McLoughlin’s hands stylistic purity is a will of the wisp. Every note is fresh; past, present and future rolled into one. I feel the same way about ‘Dream Logic’ by Eivind Aaset and ‘Cartography’ by Arve Henriksen (both on ECM). Superficially the Mcloughlin album is a lot busier than the Aaset or the Henriksen but there are strong threads of commonality. Both draw on deep wells of music, shaping sounds derived from primal and untapped sources in equal parts.

All musical styles originate from another place. If music stands still it risks becoming a museum piece and whether it’s Mozart, Lennon, Bartok, Ayler or Miles Davis the influences are there. Forward looking musicians comprehend this instinctively and explore the vastness of sonic possibilities; knowing that musical innovation comes from open-minded exploration. Innovation never emerges from stasis. When people confine an improvised music like Jazz to a particular style or era they miss the point. Jazz like Latin music or Flamenco is a spicy fusion of rich influences. As older familiar tributaries recede to a trickle, new ones flow; filling the space. It is an immutable law of nature and of improvised music.

In the improvisers hands, nothing should survive unscathed because improvisers are shape shifters. They pirate, parody, transmute, transcend and remake. From older forms come newer forms; sometimes as illusive as silence. This artistic alchemy does not imply a lack of reverence for the past, it is the reverse. Finding new ways of interpreting the world is the highest calling of any artist and no matter what the change the DNA is never lost.

Four years ago happenstance led me to the Nordic improvising minimalists and the fascinating influences that inspired them. There are threads connecting these artists and these run in interesting and often unexpected ways. The ‘Eastern influence’ is an obvious source but there are so many more. Following the 1950’s recordings of Miles and Coltrane either playing over a drone or utilising other scales (like the Phrygian mode), new grooves entered the mainstream Jazz lexicon.

The musicians influenced by Kind of Blue are legion, but the connections are not always obvious. The Byrds, Beatles, Animals, Stones and the Who all made use of modal scales post Kind of Blue. I was surprised to read that U2 claimed that album as a prime influence. Terry Riley is an important figure in the minimalist school and he makes no bones about the effect of Coltrane and Kind of Blue on his thinking. Riley’s ‘In C’ was composed before the term minimalism and his stunning ‘A Rainbow in Curved Air’ took improvised minimalism to a new place. In the late 60’s the serialist trumpeter Jon Hassell met Riley and soon after they studied under the Indian master singer Pundit Pran Nath. Their increased awareness of what is now referred to as World Music became an added factor in their musical development. Along with Riley, Hassell experimented with electronics. 

Later both Riley and Hassell worked with Brian Eno and David Sylvian (ECM’s Manfred Eicher was paying attention). Eno credits Hassell with shifting his perspective considerably. Both coming out of experimental traditions and both unafraid of fusing lesser known ‘world’ musics with electronic music. Out of these discussions arose the concept of ‘Fourth World Music’ and ‘Coffee Coloured Music’ (World Music was not a common term at that time). Eno is a major figure in experimental Rock and World Music having collaborated extensively with David Bowie, Roxy Music and others.

The Nordic Improvisers are the most interesting development for Jazz audiences. Perhaps due to the influence of Jon Hassell, an incredibly strong Ambient trumpet tradition has developed in countries like Norway. Arve Henriksen, Nils Petter Molvaer and Matthias Eik. Eik is less associated with the Ambient improvisers, but his soft rich and at times flute-like sound places him in their ambit. The leading Experimental/Jazz/Electronica ambient improvisers are Eivind Aaset (guitars, programming), Jan Bang (live sampling, Beats, programming, bass), Erik Honore (synthesiser, Live field recording, samples), Arve Henriksen (Trumpets, field recording, voice) Lars Danielson (bass), Sidsel Endresen, (voice), Nils Petter Molvaer (trumpet) and Bugge Wesseltoft (piano, keyboards, electronics). Into this mix add a number of leading European, American and especially British Jazz and avant-garde experimenters like David Sylvian (voice, Programming,samples).

New Zealand Jazz has a foot in this camp with the fine work by Alan Brown on ‘Silent Observer’. Also Browns work with Kingsley Melhuish (‘Alargo’). To that I would add the experimental work of the Korean based kiwi improvising musician John Bell. The local offerings are as good as anything on offer elsewhere. We should trust ourselves to listen rather than struggle with genres. Too much time is spent worrying about definitions. This is ambient but it is not elevator music. It is a music of profound subtlety and if you relax into it, the grooves and pulses will take you deep inside. This is profound music that understands space and utilises silence. In Eno’s words, “an emphasis on atmosphere and tone replaces that of rhythm and melody”. This is a music that rewards careful listening and it goes where it wants without being time bound. Above all it engages the senses in new ways – it is utterly filmic in quality. I highly recommend Eivind Aaset’s Dream Logic on ECM as a starting point. I will keep you posted on New Zealand developments.

The Clips: Terry Riley, ‘A Rainbow in Curved Air 1969’ – Arve Henriksen, ‘Recording Angel’ from ‘Dream Logic’ (ECM) – Jan Bang, ‘Passport Control’ from ‘And Poppies from Kandahar’ (Samadhi Music) – ‘Alargo’ live are Alan Brown/Kingsley Melhuish – Gaya Day is by John Bell.

Sources: (Eno interview) The debt I owe to Jon Hassell – The Guardian. The Blue Moment – Richard Williams (Faber & Faber). 

 

 

 

Isabel Cuenca – Flamenco Dancer

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Isabel (1)Isabel Rivera Cuenca was born into a family who lived Flamenco. When her parents moved from Seville to Barcelona they took the music with them; opening an Andalusian cultural centre. Wonderful musicians soon filled their Barcelona home, dancing, playing guitar and singing day and night. Among Isabel’s earliest memories is feeling the rhythms of Flamenco seeping through the walls of her bedroom. Flamenco was the breath of her young life.  As a little girl she began to dance and she never stopped.

The dancing filled me with joy and it put a big smile on my face. When I took my first proper dance lesson my Gitano Flamenco teacher saw me smiling and said, ‘You mustn’t smile during this particular piece because it is about loss and suffering’. As I grew, I learned to express the emotions appropriate to the piece, but the joy never left me. My teachers were all dancers and musicians but there was no academy as today. When I was old enough I boldly declared to my father that I had only one goal in life. To embrace La Baile Flamenco and live the life of a dancer. He looked at me for a while and said, ‘this is a hard life with little financial reward’. I told him that I understood that better than most, because I had lived this music since birth”. He knew that she would not be deterred and he did not stop her.Isabel 2 (2)“To this day, every time I dance the happiness and passion returns; that is what I want to share. When I was older I decided that I must travel the world to share this happiness with people who cannot go to Spain. Since making that decision I have travelled almost continuously. Out of this I learn from other musical cultures (especially Jazz) and many collaborations and experiments are possible. With good musicians the traditions are always respected while experimenting. I have met many fine musicians in New Zealand like Jonathan Crayford and Chris O’connor. At the beginning of my travels I simply drew a map and from that I decided the countries to visit, especially those very far away from the home of Flamenco. New Zealand felt like a good place to go. It was 20,000 kilometres from my home and so I thought, if I can succeed there it will work in other places. Now I have returned with some guitarists and a singer and we will share our passion.

I like New Zealand very much as the people are warm and friendly. The climate is also nice and the natural areas are vast and beautiful. There are similarities in the way the Kiwi’s speak and act as well. When I travel in Mexico or South America people say to me, ‘You speak Spanish in a very direct way – without formality – unlike us’. If someone says, would you like this or that, I look them in the eye and say yes or no. The older polite forms of answering such a question are still evident in the Latin Spanish-speaking countries. They might say, ‘we are grateful for the offer and it would please us to accept’.Isabel 2 I found this comment interesting because Isobel is an extraordinarily gifted communicator. Her expressiveness exceeds that of anyone I have met. She is a wonderful talker, but the breadth of her expressiveness is particularly found in her hands and eyes. Her hands gesture endlessly and her eyes sparkle like fire when she is enthusiastic about a topic. It is as if the Flamenco dancer in her occupies the facility of speech. She is certainly a direct speaker, but there is an unusual fluidity, warmth and depth to everything she communicates. I have seen this before in improvising musicians and recognise it. It is a proof that they live in a world where their art matters beyond everything else. They have swum so far from shore that the coast is mundane and irrelevant.

We talked for hours about the forms, history and evolution of Flamenco. We shared a view that the Moors were a profound and benign influence on the world (and Flamenco) – the Vandals of the reconquista Espanola not so much. Flamenco history was not recorded in print until the late 18th and 19th centuries and there is conjecture about its origins. What appears certain is that cante (singing) came first. This was soon accompanied by rhythms beaten on the floor by a cane. The toque (guitar) and Baile (dance) came later. The music is ancient and mysterious and most strongly associated with the Spanish Gitano (Gypsy or Romani – originally from India). Into that mix add the displaced Morisco (Moors) as a prime influence. Also the music of the Jewish Sephardic diaspora. It is possible that the Gitano may have picked up Greek and Turkish influences on their way out of India. After the reconquista the persecuted minorities dropped out of sight and developed a culture in their isolation. Flamenco was not shown as a public performance until the late 19th century.Isabel 2 (4)There are many Tonas (families of song), most derive in some way from Cante Jondo (deep song). The last element is Jaleo (hell raising by means of hand clapping, foot stomping and like Jazz, yells of encouragement). When we talked of the Tonas Isabel always put her hand over her heart and said. “Whatever the mood It is always about expressing and communicating deep emotions, passion”.  She demonstrated some rhythms for me using hand-clapping.

There is a common 12 beat rhythm in Flamenco which accents the 2nd and 4th beats for three bars and then finishes with a surprising ending on the 3rd beat of the fourth bar. Like Jazz, the music is all about tension and release and the way she described the Buleria (to mock) illustrated that particularly well. The Buleria is fast and has 12 beats. There are a number of ways of counting the beats and one form goes 123, 456, 7 8, 9 10, 11 12.  She describes this as a friendly conflict between equals. The participants constantly challenge the others to do better or sometimes they just cause the other participant to back off. Out of this ritual comes a lot of tension and release. There is a high degree of improvisation allowed and the foot tapping here is intricate and complex. Of the 50 Palos or Styles around 20 are in common use. There is a distinct Flamenco scale which is the Phrygian Mode (Modo Frigio).Spain (44)Isabel expressed a particular liking for the Saeta, possibly of ancient Jewish or Aramaic origin and widely used during Holy Week processions. The date of its entry into the Flamenco repertoire is uncertain. It is a mournful form with great power and emotional intensity. On Miles Davis ‘Sketches of Spain’ he performs much of this over a drone. As the drone has a particular association with Indian music I discussed this with Isabel. It was not a concept (in English) she was familiar with, but upon further examination she decided that there are certainly implied drones or ostinato passages in Flamenco.

Before going to the interview I watched a You Tube clip of her performing and I asked if her performance was closer to Classical Flamenco than the Flamenco Puro of the Gitano. She declared her self not a rigid purist. “A dancer can interpret and mix forms to a point. In my view some experimenting is OK as long as you treat the traditions with respect”.

There are a number of interesting fusions of Flamenco and Jazz; some being closer to  one genre than the other. The ever lovely ‘Maids of Cadiz’ (by Delibes), later performed by Benny Goodman and Miles Davis may hint at Flamenco but it is not an example. It is actually an old French tune. ‘Flamenco Sketches’ from a kind of blue is closer to the spirit of the music and the ground breaking ‘Sketches of Spain’ even closer. More recent explorations such as those by the Jazz Flamenco pianists Chano Dominguez and Alex Conde have a more authentic feel. Dominguez replaces the leading guitar with piano and creates space for piano improvisation. The Cante (song), Baile (dance) Palmas (hand clapping) and Toque (guitar) otherwise remain. I also like the Jazz/Flamenco fusion group ‘Jerez Texas’ who come from Jerez in Western Andalusia (where the famous Arab horses and the Bulerias come from). Both Cadiz and Jerez are stunningly beautiful, as is all of Southern Spain.Spain (28)Once I was lucky enough to spend time in the Flamenco regions. The Moors called Southern Spain Al Andalus. Nowhere has more light and colour and nowhere feels the weight of history more keenly. Over thousands of years many ethnicities have passed through and the residual beauty remaining is mirrored in their arts. Architecture, songs and dances; speaking of beauty and suffering – in equal parts

The first thing I noticed when I watched the video clip was just how musically aware the troupe was. They exploited musical space as a collective and in the way a Jazz combo does. Conversing, pausing, reacting; then unleashing the power again. Behind the singer you could hear the guitar – those voicings – filled with a beautiful dissonance like the history of the music.

On this tour she has Albert Cases ‘El Gatto’ Flamenco singer, Paul Bosauder on Guitar plus NZ Artists Ian Sinclair (yes the well-known investigative reporter) and Claire Cowan on guitars.

Like Jazz, Flamenco was recently classified by UNESCO as a cultural heritage treasure for the world. In UNESCO’s words ‘a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’. No argument there.

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Book for the shows at the Q Theatre or at Tickefinder – 23rd & 24th February at the Q Theatre Queen Street Auckland (above the Town Hall). The pictures are mine except for the poster.

Overdue Album Reviews

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Grey Wing Trio – Amoroso

AmorosoIt is not very often that an album like this comes along and more’s the pity. This is an album for those who are properly engaged, who listen deeply; offering ample rewards to those who pay due attention. While there is a hint of the freedom of the 1961-62 Giuffre/Bley/Swallow albums, this is an album of the now. It tells a modern Australian story while claiming a portion of the space occupied by the sparse Nordic improvisers. People might find this darker approach unexpected as the Australian landscape resonates bright light and pastel colours. While not the norm there are recent precedents such as the astonishingly atmospheric ‘Kindred Spirits’ by Mike Nock. Pianist Luke Sweeting shows us from the first few notes that he truly understands form and dynamics. As he moves about the piano his fingers tease out endless shades of colour; the sort found in the shadows. The name Grey Wing Trio is apt too, because the subtlety of the shadings are endless here. Like the wing of a sparrow, what appears as mono-toned becomes multi-hued upon closer examination.

The lightness of Sweeting’s touch gifts him the opportunity to cycle through one crystalline moment after another and the echoes of each chord hang in the air with delicate subtlety. The music has dynamic richness – this in spite of the dominance of quieter moments. Trumpeter Ken Allars excels in this space. Few trumpeters play as he does and few have his tonal or dynamic diversity. He can say as much with a breathy whisper as he can with his gentle flute-like notes or sudden squalls. This references the territory of the Nordic improvisers like Arve Henriksen and Allars does it convincingly. The less is more approach has always served Jazz well and this is another proof. I am familiar with Sweeting and Allars as I have seen them perform on several  occasions. The drummer Finn Ryan is new to me. Again he is perfect for the job in hand. A true colourist and able to match the others in subtlety. His use of mallets and fluttering brushwork contrasting nicely with the stick work.

Running through the tracks is an over-arching thread of minimalism. Themes emerge, then evaporate into floating motifs. Realities form and dissolve as if mirages. What remains is deep evanescent beauty. (The sound clip from the album is Chords).

Grey Wing Trio – Luke Sweeting (piano, compositions), Ken Allars (trumpet), Finn Ryan (drums). Order from http://www.jazzhead.com or www.lukesweeting.com

The Voyage of William and Mary – Matt McMahon

Amorosa:mcmohanI knew of Matt McMahon long before I met him in the Foundry 616. Australian and New Zealand Jazz lovers respect him as an artist and his name often comes up when improvising musicians talk. In 2008 I picked up a copy of his Ellipsis album during a visit to Sydney. My album collection then as now, was out of control and so after listening to it, I filed the album with the intention of obtaining more by the artist later. Because my cataloging skills are poorly developed it soon slipped out of sight and did not resurface until 2015. That was the year I met McMahon at The Foundry. His gig was as the regular pianist and arranger/co-composer for the Vince Jones band. I liked his playing and noted my impressions of man and pianist on the back of my program; ‘friendly, of quiet demeanour – a pianist with a deft touch – uses beautiful crisp voicings. The perfect accompanist, serving the singer and the song and never his ego‘. We talked for some time after the gig and before I left he handed me a copy of his ‘The Voyage of William and Mary’ album.

As soon as I got back to New Zealand I played the album and loved its depth and scope. Solo piano albums seldom achieve this themed narrative quality. While all of the tracks appear to describe a journey experienced by his Irish ancestors William and Mary, the narrative is deeper and wider than that. It acknowledges McMahon’s Irish roots in subtle ways, but more particularly it outlines a musical journey experienced by the artist. This is the wonder of deep improvisation, a place where all is not what it seems. Each note here is a revelation; not just to the listener but perhaps to the artist as well. Solo albums are the hardest to pull off, as the musician must search deep within. In doing so there is often the risk of unapproachable introspection or worse still self-indulgent noodling. McMahon has convincingly avoided those traps.

Each time I listen to ‘Island of Destiny’ thoughts of my own seafaring ancestors overwhelm me; their imaginings, hopes fears. So much is encapsulated in a piece that somehow transcends itself. What ever the images this beautiful music evokes it is a tribute to McMahon. He shares his vision in a way that allows us to become absorbed and to feel like participants. That is no mean feat.

Matt McMahon (solo piano, compositions) PathsandStreams Records Foundry 616 (8)

 

The Matt Penman 2015 Auckland concerts

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Penman (3)2015 was an amazing year for the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) and just when we thought the gigs couldn’t get any better this gig happened. It was an unexpected bonus, appearing out of nowhere. During the break of the CJC’s penultimate gig, Roger informed us that an extra gig would occur just two days before Christmas. Matt Penman was in town and he would appear with Kevin Field, Dixon Nacey and Steve Thomas. A buzz of excitement ran through the room and within a few days the gig was booked out. A second gig was quickly announced and that sold out as well.

Having Penman perform in the club was a coup. I had not seen him since the Scofield/Lovano gig in the Sky City theatre. Like most Jazz enthusiasts I had numerous recordings of him, including those he released as leader. It was his work with The San Francisco Jazz Collective, Aaron Parks and James Farm that took him to a wider audience and since those albums Penman’s acknowledged as one of the great bass players. Even though he has been in America for a long time, we love that he is an Auckland born musician. Because of his origins (like Alan Broadbent and Mike Nock) we happily claim him as ours.Penman (4)Fittingly the gig opened with ‘Two Steps’ (Penman) which is from the second James Farm album. Everything about the number is compelling and it oozes a post millennial Americana vibe – close to that espoused by artists like Brad Mehldau. James Farm are an extraordinary group co-led by Joshua Redman, Aaron Parks, Matt Penman & Eric Harland. A super-group where everyone is a gifted writer and virtuosic player. This is the pinnacle of modern American Jazz and we were lucky enough to get an up close taste of it. A warm glow swiftly enveloped us and from the first pull on the bass strings and we sensed on mass that this a different type of bass playing; supremely authoritative, melodic and with more momentum than a downhill freight train. We were especially fascinated to hear that Split Enz inspired him to write this tune. We heard other James Farm compositions – the moody ‘Juries Out’ (Penman) and Otherwise (Aaron Parks). Delightful Penman originals dominated the rest of the set (with the exception of a haunting Jewish folk song).Penman (2)As approachable as this music is, there are many rhythmic and textural complexities. Putting such a set list together with a band not used to playing the material, perilous. Two factors undoubtedly assisted here. Penman, Field and Nacey are old friends. Nacey attended Avondale college with Penman and Field has known him since his time at Auckland University. Field also recorded with Penman in New York on his recent Warners album ‘The A List’. The remaining band member was Stephen Thomas, the youngest of the quartet. He only met Penman the day of gig. When you examine Penman’s contributions to James Farm, the SF Jazz Collective and other albums, you realise that he writes with unusually gifted improvising musicians in mind. For a young drummer to step into the space occupied by Eric Harland and Obed Calviare and not only pull it off but to do it well is a credit to him. Penman singled him out for praise and told us we were lucky to have a young drummer of his ability on the scene.Penman (1)Of Field and Nacey we expect only the best and we got it. Replacing Redman, Moreno or Rosenwinkel with Nacey’s singing Godin Guitar felt a natural choice. I have heard Mike Moreno perform and Nacey is heading for that level of virtuosity. He is a good reader and a master musician and he always delivers. Field was also at his best that night and his best is something to behold. Losing himself in a music quite different from his own and doing it with utter conviction. Collectively they brought Christmas joy to everyone present. The best of Christmas presents from the best of Jazz clubs. I hope the CJC features Penman again soon – we love him down under.

Buy the James Farm album and support these artists – it is readily available from leading stores, Amazon or iTunes

Matt Penman (bass, Leader, compositions), Kevin Field (piano), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Stephen Thomas (drums) – CJC (Creative Jazz Club) – 30th December 2015

Journalism, Digital Futures and Music

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Garden Jan 2nd (14)While it is easy to feel discouraged by the state of the music industry and to agonise over the plight of long-form investigative journalism, there are pathways through the morass. Better alternatives, however tentative are forming and the emergence of more equitable models a possibility. These debates are worth having and the creative sector needs to become more vocal and activist. Everything of value is at stake here and the market rationalists will happily plunder the creative sector if artists and consumers leave them to it. As we ponder the challenges it is tempting to think of the music world as being too broken to fix. Acquiescence and inertia are the antithesis of creativity. The artists and journalists who care about this must do what we do best – confront, shock, overwhelm stupidity, dispense joy, start revolutions; throwing in the towel is for those devoid of imagination and banality produces nothing worthwhile.Maria Schneider  I recently watched two thought-provoking documentaries on the fate of the book and of in-depth journalism. ‘Out of Print’ and ‘Stop the Presses’. The first threw up a lot of intriguing questions, while the second provided some answers. Every new media platform brings with it a multitude of doom sayers and the invention of the printing press was no exception. Books have been with us for over four thousand years and while there are few local book-shops left in 2016, there are more books being printed than ever. The ability to record data and preserve it is the greatest of human achievements and the modern world rests upon it. In spite of determined efforts throughout history to burn books or to shut down the information flow, knowledge and information proliferates.

The tablets and engravings of antiquity are the most durable as the oldest texts known to us are readable today (the Hittite Linear B clay tablets). While a surprisingly large number of ancient books and texts survive, some modern attempts to ‘save the book’ have fallen flat on their face. Recently libraries rushed to put their catalogues into the CD Rom format. This marvel of modern technology was the answer to saving the printed word and so encyclopaedias and written texts were laboriously digitised. As suddenly as it appeared the platform vanished and a technical museum is now the only place where you can find a CD Rom reader (or a floppy disc). The ways of storing music, although covering an infinitely smaller time span have a comparable history. Platforms that seemed forever solutions came and went while the music migrated to newer formats. This process will continue and the new formats are not the problem.

The player-piano was a real threat to live music as was the Edison cylinder. Live music survived and recorded music morphed into the 78/EP/LP/tape/CD/Digital download and cloud streamed content. The changes will continue, probably accelerate, but we have learned that the best of the older formats can co-exist with emerging forms. The printed newspaper will survive with the digital for many years to come. It will likely become prestigious; a symbol of quality like the re-created LP.  Platforms will come and go as music good and bad is created – this will continue until the end of time. The eternal conundrum remains.

Who will reap the benefits, who will pay the piper and how will distribution occur.

The second documentary ‘Stop the Presses’ featured interviews with forward-looking media identities. There was a deliberately left/liberal bias and the programme did not feature the likes of Murdoch. Those of Murdoch’s ilk are part of the problem and not the solution. The Editor of the New York Times, Guardian reporters, leading investigative journalists (such as those from the now defunct Rocky Mountain News) and a number of important European print media spokespeople gave their views.  In spite of the carnage and catastrophic job losses there were glimmers of hope.

Immediately after World War Two ‘Le Monde’, the premiere French evening paper created a new model. Their charter ensured that no media barons like Lord Beaverbrook, Randolph Hearst or Rupert Murdock could ever exert editorial control. The paper ran along the lines of a worker collective and only the journalists (who had tenure) could choose the editor – elections were held for the post. Investors could invest but they could not exert influence. Sadly Le Monde ran into financial difficulties as the digital revolution bit harder and during a recent bailout new financial investors strove to exert editorial control – the staff refused and that situation has yet to play out.

One digital news-media outlet ‘Mediapart’ is particularly interesting. The editor (a former editor of Le Monde) Jerome Calhuzac puts up convincing arguments for a model better suited to the digital age. This digital only outlet has a rapidly growing circulation and it is successful by any measure. The business model is similar to the early Guardian and Le Monde – managed and owned by the reporters and the editor – the creators of content. It has a strict pay-wall, contains no advertising and employs the highest quality investigative journalists. Mediapart offers in-depth opinion pieces and makes no apology for having a point of view. It rejects advertising outright as that can influence editorial integrity. It does not see its role as outlining the broad sweep of daily events. It focuses instead on the important news stories, examines them in-depth and is beholden to no-one. Investors are welcome to a point, but they have no influence. Fifty percent of the cost of getting out print newspapers was in the distribution. Under a digital model that cost is infinitesimal and efficient high quality newspapers are now possible (more on distribution later). The only remaining obstacle is a generation of readers who expect quality information without having to pay for it. 

Calhuzac sees the enemy as being the ‘entertainment’ model; driven by the relentless neo-rationalist imperatives of the marketplace. Mediapart’s mission is simple. ‘We are a cornerstone of democracy and as such independence and fearlessness is everything. We do this because it is our duty to humanity and to the fabric of democracy. It is not just about the journalists, the editors or the readers but a commitment to the principles of democracy’. Crucially the paper determined that quality has never come free of charge and that everyone must contribute a fair share – this is a public good – it has a price just as democracy has a price’. The subscribers agreed and have responded extremely well. ‘Trying to provide quality content for free has never worked and we avoid that trap’. Free content funded by advertisements is a flawed approach leading to a once-over-lightly product – an overload of fragmented information of undesirable quality. In short news as sound-bite entertainment.

Giving content away free was a bold but flawed experiment. It was a recipe for dumbing down and the new aggregated sites like the Huffington Post pillaged the content from other newspapers. When doing this they not only steal but they close down the very newspapers they steal from. As the aggregator websites don’t pay investigative reporters (to replace those being laid off by their actions), that content will eventually vanish. Musicians, independent labels and informed music consumers will see the parallels here.

This is exactly what is occurring in the music world and the equivalent of the Huff Post and to a lesser extent Buzz Feed are the digital streaming platforms. Most are parasitic and return nothing of value to the creators of the music. You Tube is a little different as it can act as a feeder to artist run websites, independent labels and offer teasers. Some users go too far and put up whole albums without the artists permission. It is popular but as a business model it struggles.

To bring this full circle, I received my copy of Maria Schneider’s latest album, ‘The Thompson Fields’ yesterday. The album won the best of category in the prestigious NPR poll and is receiving accolades from the various music industry papers. It was not produced by a major label and yet it is one of the most beautiful albums you will ever hear(or see). The label is ‘Artists Share’ – a cooperative run by musicians and their associates – interacting directly with the consumer. ‘The Thompson Fields’ is a rich convergence of the arts as it features fine art prints, poetry, extraordinary photographs, old maps on art paper and well written prose. It is also stakes out a strong environmental position without being preachy. This is an album of rare beauty and it even smells like a rare book (the album booklet has aged patterned end papers). Schneider’s album gives us extraordinary music (performed by nineteen of the improvising worlds best) but it also has detailed liner notes, credits for the musicians, various collaborations with artists, poets, photographers and a connection to like minded community organisations.Garden Jan 2nd (15)If such an extraordinary album can rise to the top utilising a fan-funded artist controlled model there is hope. Progress is painfully slow but these projects can work. The Artist-Share label is not a recent innovation and the model doesn’t yield quick results. If better focused and more equitable distribution models developed then the high-end independents could gain a significant foothold in the market. There is a feel good factor in associating ourselves with models like this.

The New Zealand equivalent is Rattle Records. Like ECM it knows what it stands for and provides a consistently beautiful product. This is surprising given its reach. Like Schneider’s album (and ECM albums), Rattle has retained either liner notes (or quality photography) – even poetry appears on occasion. I declare a vested interest in this as my photographs, liner notes and poems have featured on a number of Jazz albums.

This convergence of music journalism, compelling art and high quality musicianship provides for a richer experience. It is possible for the digital download format to deliver liner notes, musicians credits and artwork but it seldom does. I would happily pay a few extra dollars to get such an enhanced version. Above all it is grossly disrespectful to the musicians when their names are excluded from download information. As the old models fail and the greedy few extract the lions share of revenue (without permission), the consumers of music need to become better informed. This is the point that Jerome Calhuzac of Mediapart makes. The listening public needs to grasp the fact that quality offerings have a cost. Lets get behind Rattle Records and other labels like Artists Share – where ever possible we should become ‘commissioners’ (a term used by Schneider for fan-based contributors).

The missing piece of the puzzle is distribution and as with Mediapart subscribers have a role. Buzz Feed gives us some clues here. Powerful algorithms can detect trends and this has a multiplier effect when an album is noticed. Those observing a trend then recommend the album to those with similar tastes. At present those algorithms serve the big players like Amazon but there is no reason why the technology could not work across the non Amazon Indie Label spectrum. New (albeit clumsy) distribution models utilise platforms like Facebook, Twitter and other vehicles.

It is often commented upon that I am a ‘busy’ Facebook user and blogger. There is a method in my madness. I have a respectable readership on my JL32 blog site. I also host a small Facebook group page and have a Twitter account. The people who follow my sites often take up my recommendations and hopefully this assists distribution. The consumers are increasingly a key factor in distribution and everyone should tout their musical recommendations to like-minded friends. Leaving it up to disinterested money men is not an option.

Lets ramp up the dialogue around streaming and the problems arising from free content. Paying a fair price for quality music is our duty to the creative arts. Support the independent musician run labels, recommended albums online and sponsor (crowd fund) a musician that you respect. We are all in this together.

 

Anita Schwabe @ the CJC

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Anita (5)I was out of the country when Anita Schwabe performed at the CJC two years earlier. While I had seen her perform at the Bruce Mason Centre with the Rodger Fox Orchestra, I wanted to hear her in a more intimate setting. Her live (and recorded) performance on ‘Journey Home’ was impressive and as I recall a jet lagged Alan Broadbent watched her segments from the wings during the Auckland concert. As good as that concert and a later concert were, hearing an artist in close proximity is always a different experience. Schwabe didn’t disappoint. The first thing you observe when you meet her is her understated manner. Like many New Zealand improvising musicians she is self-effacing to the point of being dismissive of her own abilities. This contrasts strongly with the engaging confidence of her playing. From the first few bars you become aware that there is something special going on.

There is something of Broadbent in her ballad playing, perhaps even a hint of Evans, but she has a sound of her own. She initially evokes a sense of the familiar, but then you hear something deeper; a subtle richness underpinning her voicings. A lushness implied but not overtly stated and this quality lingers in memory long after the notes are played – above all she swings like crazy. Perhaps it was having Roger Manins, Ben McNicoll, Ron Samsom and Cameron McArthur in her band that created this particular rub. What ever it was they quickly gelled and played off each other like a band that had been together for years.Anita (6)Schwabe’s first number referenced the under-acknowledged and recently departed pianist Clare Fischer. “I like his unusual voicings”, she said before she played through her composition,’Fisching for Compliments’. The tune was intensely melodic, filled with clever references and a fitting tribute. Although a more reflective number (and her first of the night) we saw what she could do. The tune drew us in with a spacious intro and then imperceptibly we felt the swing. Block chords suddenly dissolving, close voicings appearing, disappearing; right hand running off the back of a phrase, subtly playing with time and rubbing against the chords in the left hand. This interaction between right and left hands created subtle and pleasing tension and we were to hear that often throughout the evening. That first number gave us a foretaste of what was consistently enjoyable music throughout the sets.

There were various ensemble configurations; trio, quartet and quintet. The bigger lineups with Manins and McNicoll were absolute cookers and the pair excelled themselves. An end of year holiday spirit had obviously descended upon them; the musicians interacting in a summery sweet spot. ‘The You Tube clip is ‘Fisching For Compliments’ (trio).Anita (4)The second number was a bossa, ‘No Winter Lasts Forever‘ and for that number she induced Manins (who is famously averse to putting aside his tenor), to play alto. There were whoops of delight and a lot of teasing, but Manins is killing on any of his horns. This was Manins at his formidable best. The saxophone deities of Conn and Selmer sensing the importance of the moment reacted and as he raised his alto, a halo of light formed directly above his head. This was clearly a sign of the gods pleasure. I have put the ‘alto’ bossa number up as the second sound clip. The last number of the evening titled ‘Anger Management’ burned with intensity (the first sound clip). This hard swinging Tyner-esk cooker had everyone on their feet. For Jazz lovers, burners like this are Christmas and New Year rolled into one and they fill us with endless joy.AnitaIt was great to hear McNicoll and Manins together – both playing their asses off and McNicoll sounding great on soprano. They obviously enjoyed playing together and we were the beneficiaries. Their different horns and their different approaches to soloing entirely complimentary. With McArthur, Samsom and Schwabe you had a formidable rhythm section. McArthur kept a wonderful pulse and Samsom was right in the zone, ever urging them to go one step further. This band floods the body with endorphins – they are a trip. A musician in the audience behind me said – “man that’s some rhythm section – some horn section – yeah thats how its done alright”. 

Anita Schwabe: (leader, piano, compositions), Roger Manins (tenor, alto), Ben McNicoll (soprano, tenor), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samsom (drums). performing at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart, Auckland 16th December 2015