Daniel Cho / Leo Coghini

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Cho (3)Last week brought us another emerging artist’s gig and this time it featured a Wellington band followed by an Auckland band. Each brought different aspects of improvised music to the bandstand and in a very nice touch, jammed together at the end; a happy meeting place between approaches. With so many international acts scheduled over coming months, it was great to see these young emerging bands given a shot: Again, this was good programming by the CJC.Cho (8).jpgThe Leo Coghini Quartet from Wellington took a straight ahead approach and it was obvious from the first number by Coghini, a solo rendering of ‘It Could Happen To You’ (Van Heusen/Burke), that he was an interesting pianist. He is classically trained, but with a good feel for swing oriented tunes. There were some nice originals in the set, but they were most comfortable on standards. I particularly liked the way they played Parker’s latin infused classic ‘My Little Suede Shoes’, also Kenny Garrett’s ‘Wayne’s Thang’. Both were approached in interesting ways (especially the nicely phrased Parker tune). The last number the quartet played was Stevie Wonders swinging groove classic ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ (which I have posted). Cho (6)In relation to ethnicity and gender, the modern New Zealand Jazz scene is increasingly reflective of the wider population; It is, therefore, good to see women picking up instruments that were once regarded as being exclusively in the male domain. Louisa Williamson was up front on tenor. She overcame some initial nervousness and played well. The other band members were electric bassist Zane Hawkins and Jeremy Richardson drums (both accomplished players).Cho

The second group, a quintet, had a very different approach. Their set list was entirely originals; they also took a loose no prisoners route. The set was clearly owned by the leader, altoist Daniel Cho. During his introduction, he placed a firm marker down; I am on a lifelong spiritual journey and this informs my music. While some ballads were played, he clearly favoured the ecstatic; that mood was reinforced throughout as he embarked on a very Coltrane fueled journey; and late Coltrane at that. His modal approach on some numbers would often move outside, at times leaning toward microtonality. In listening to him, one thing cut through above everything else, the deeper intent of the music; something beyond melody or harmony. This is a brave path for a young musician to take and one that requires enormous self-belief. He certainly possessed that attribute and he communicated it with a confidence beyond his years. Communicating intent is a hard thing to do; it’s selling an impression; it also requires audience deep listening.Cho (1)The tune ‘Within Hymn’ had clear references to Coltrane, but it was also interestingly modern. Although there were distinct parts to it, the piece made more sense as an entirety. It began with a bold statement on the horn, then unwound as it momentarily descended into chaos; next came the body of the piece, a building story, a probing at an idea, then changing again and ending with a climax. None of this would have been possible without the right support. Crystal Choi’s percussive chromaticism as she stabbed at the keyboard, the fourths, dissonant flurries; sometimes swinging as if to provide a counterbalance. Her solo was immaculate and each time I hear her now I’m amazed. Watching her musical journey encompass the avant-garde end of town and everywhere on the way is a treat.Cho (10) It was not just Choi who made this work, but Denholm Orr and Dean Rodrigues as well. Watch the clip through and judge for your self – these guys are amazing. Now a few bars of arco bass, now free or walking bass, and all the while, edgy polyrhythms dancing underneath. I was also pleased to see Kathleen Tomacruz on guitar – a very credible first gig for her.. The stylistic divergence was fused in the last two numbers when the bands became one on the bandstand. The way they achieved such unity in an impromptu jam says a lot about them all. Big ups to the musicians.

Leo Coghini Quartet: Leo Coghini (piano), Louisa Williamson (tenor saxophone), Zane Hawkins (electric bass), Jeremy Richardson (drums).

Daniel Cho Quintet: Daniel Cho (alto saxophone), Crystal Choi (piano), Kathleen Tomacruz (guitar), Denholm Orr (bass), Dean Rodrigues (drums).

Alan Broadbent ​& Georgia Mancio – ‘Songbook’ – Broadbent ‘Developing Story’ at Abbey Road

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Songbook Qrt LIVE by Carl Hyde 2016.IMG_8193Since ‘Songbook’ was released three months ago the accolades have come pouring in and it’s no wonder. This is a superb album and destined to remain forever embedded in the Jazz songbook lexicon. The worldwide release was timed to coincide with Broadbent’s seventieth birthday; opening to an enthusiastic audience at Ronnie Scotts; then touring the major clubs and festivals throughout Europe and New York. Much about ‘Songbook’ is classic Broadbent; warm, lyrical, and intimate; not to take anything away from the co-credited Georgia Mancio, a highly acclaimed UK-based vocalist. Unknown-1This pairing of voice and harmony, lyrics and melody could hardly be improved upon: it is therefore unsurprising that comparisons are made with the classic songbook era. Here, Broadbent has found the ideal foil for his engaging brand of lyrical Jazz, and as a first, every one of his tunes has accompanying lyrics crafted by Mancio. In Songbook, Broadbent’s Quartet West classic, ‘The Long Goodbye’ has become ‘The Last Goodbye’; a moving reference to the passing of Mancio’s father. Tunes like that have long begged such lyrics and it’s nice to see them penned so beautifully. Back in New Zealand, we watch Broadbent’s ever unfolding story with wonder. UnknownWe are proud of him here in his hometown, understanding that his many projects keep him busy; so busy that so we seldom see him these days. As long as we have his albums it is enough, they all have a generous portion of New Zealand buried deep within them. Last month he recorded a new album in the Abbey Road studios, an album with former Woody Herman band mate, drummer Peter Erskine and the amazing bassist Harvey S – plus the London Metropolitan Orchestra. These arrangements could only be Broadbent’s – lush and achingly beautiful. Could there be more Grammy’s on the way?  .

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Sam Swindells: ‘Quiet’​ Octet

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SSw (1)During the first half of 2017, a significant number of respected international artists and established local artists appeared at the CJC Creative Jazz Club. While everyone enjoys such a cornucopia of riches, it is also important to keep sight of emerging artists, those who are just below the radar. No local venue manages to showcase the rich diversity of improvising talent as well as the CJC.  This is no accident, as there is a guiding philosophy behind the programming of gigs. No artist, however good, gets an ongoing residency; the gigs, therefore, are different every week, are identifiable projects, and this keeps the audiences engaged. An important part of this is showcasing emerging artists.SSw (3)

Sam Swindells recently completed an Honours degree at the University of Auckland Jazz School and although not a new-comer to the scene, it is his first gig at the CJC. I recall someone telling me that his Honours recital created a buzz; that those who attended were impressed by it. On Wednesday he brought us that project and it was well received. One of the exciting things about the New Zealand Jazz scene is the growing strength of the writing and arranging. In Swindells case, he has taken a path less trodden; arranging and composing for an unusually configured brass-heavy octet. His inspiration was the stunning 1990’s John Scofield octet album ‘Quiet’.

When arranged music is at its best, the skillful management of contrasts is at its heart; tension and release, textural variance, tricks of modulation, surprise, clarity emerging from density; and if done well, presented as a coherent whole. This was an ambitious project, but in spite of that it worked. I would like to see Swindells develop the concept further, write or arrange more material like this, coral a group of musicians and rehearse them to within an inch of their lives. I have long thought that the nonet/octet ensemble form is under represented in Auckland (better represented in Wellington).SSw

There are some marked stylistic differences between the Scofield ‘Quiet’ band and Swindells’. Scofield used an expanded ensemble, which at times numbered eleven and included tubas, French horns, English horns and bass clarinets (and an acoustic guitar). Swindells worked with a smaller palette and in spite of being brass-heavy, he managed to achieve a delightful airiness. With fewer instruments utilised, the arrangements were closer to Frisell’s ‘This Land’ in effect. The combination of brass instruments (flugelhorn, trumpet, and two trombones) acted as a counterweight to his guitar and that required skillful arranging.SSw (4)The first number was ‘Tulle’ from the Scofield album, after that we heard a number of his own compositions interspersed with standards. His ‘Who is Kenneth Meyers?’ appealed as did an angular rendition of ‘Surrey with the Fringe on Top (Hammerstein). Given the project in hand, it was unsurprising that he included ‘Boplicity’ by Miles Davis; ‘Birth of The Cool’ being the springboard from which all such arranging sprang. In the second half we heard trumpeter Mike Booth’s ‘Major Event’ – Booth is a skilled arranger and an experienced ensemble composer. It is possible that he has also influenced Swindells’ direction.

The octet was a mixture of older hands and younger musicians. The ever popular Finn Scholes on trumpet, Mike Booth on trumpet and flugel, Jonathan Tan and Jonathan Brittain trombones, Roy Kim alto saxophone and flute, Wil Goodinson bass and Tom Leggett drums. The stand out instrument was the guitar – A confident and competent performance from Swindells throughout.

Performed at the CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K’Rd, Auckland, August 2nd, 2017.

 

Chris Mason-Battley Group

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CMB (1)Hearing people talk about the Chris Mason-Battley Group reminds me of the Hindu parable – the blind man and the Elephant.  “Oh yeah, that guy has a smooth sweet sound’ one said as if that settled the matter. Well yes, he has got a smooth sound when playing a ballad, but anyone who thinks that defines his music has simply not been paying attention. This band has enormous depth; playing anything from a melodic ballad to music that is way off the grid. What we experienced on Wednesday was music with integrity; at times raw and inventive, drawing us into its heart, emotionally engaging and above all satisfying.  CMB  The first number was ‘Mountain Song’ (by CMB); then they moved to a series of pieces from the CMB John Psathas project ‘Dialogos’ (progressing through excerpts from ‘Song for Simon’ and ‘Demonic Thesis’). As that set progressed we heard a new composition or two and lastly ‘Tahuna Caravan Park’ from his ‘Two Tides’ album. This gave us a broad sweep of his past projects and the Psathas album in particular. Dialogos was widely acclaimed as an exciting and bold step forward for the band – I can highly recommend the album (out on Rattle). Before the band left the stage for a break, Mason-Battley said; “That was the nice half – the second set is nasty half” (quoting from an album titled ‘The Jaberwocky comes to Town’ which had a ‘nice side’ and a ‘nasty side’.)CMB (3) As pleasing as the band were in the first set, they reached much deeper for the second; pulling out an utterly engaging and masterful performance. It began with several of the blacker pieces from ‘Dialogos’, ‘The Calenture Suite’. The drummer Stephen Thomas must be mentioned at this point – His work was integral to the overall performance and it underlined his maturity as a musician. At times subtle, at others incredibly complex – and all made to look easy in his hands. Thomas was extraordinary throughout and although a relative newcomer to this long-established band, his searing flames licked at their underbelly, an indispensible presence. In perfect contrast to the complex drum flurries was Sam Giles on electric bass. Giles is a master of the ostinato – repeated motifs, perfect time feel and the voodoo factor writ large. He is also an influence on the bands direction; favouring Zorn like explorations and paths less trodden. CMB (4)The CMB Group keyboardest is David Lines, an intersting and in my view under-rated musician. On this gig he played a Roland RD-700. What a beautiful piano and Rhodes sound. A  machine hardly heard these days, replaced by the Nord Stage or modern Korgs. While the newer keyboards have more bells and whistles, I am unconvinced that their piano sound is an improvement. Perhaps it sounded so good because of Lines touch? He is not a busy pianist and every note counts, in this gig his often voice leading role was perfect for the project (his solos were stunning). I only wish we saw him more often.

As good as the rest were, Mason Battley stood out; especially on soprano and alto. He has a real stage presence and his luminous lines are always well conceived. It is great to hear him reaching ever deeper as time goes by. The number I have posted is a tune of his titled ‘Drum Dance 4 (Psathas)’; a Coltrane-esk exploration that exemplifies a way-point on their interesting journey. On that tune, everything is in perfect balance, Thomas taking a leading role while the others work off that, each bar taking us deeper, highly charged and sparse.CMB (2) The last tune of the evening was free and political. It was titled ‘The Emperor Has No Clothes’; an obvious reference to the greedy authoritarian amoral elites that hold sway in the world; particularly the Trump administration.  It was free and it was raw emotion – in the background a loop recited ‘billions and billions’ – then, faintly at first, we heard the strains of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’. The band read the mood of the audience well with that one – people stomped and cheered afterwards as if someone had taken the words right out of their mouths and rendered them into abstract musical form.

CMB Group: Chris Mason-Battley (soprano, alto, tenor saxophones, compositions arrangements, electronics), David Lines (keyboards), Sam Giles (electric bass), Stephen Thomas (drums) @ CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K’Rd, Auckland, July 26, 2017

Rubim de Toledo (Canada)

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Rubim (1)There have been two bass-player led groups at the CJC in as many months and both have been excellent. Last weeks featured group was a trio led by Rubim de Toledo: a Canadian from Alberta, of Brazilian origin and a well-established musician. Like many modern improvisers, his influences are diverse; that said his music fits squarely into the Jazz mainstream. The first thing to grab me was his big rounded tone, gifting the tunes with a richness and beauty that captivated from start to finish. While most bass sits deep within the mix, de Toledo’s voice spoke clearly; not by overcrowding his band-mates nor by punching through the others as an electric bassist might, but because every musical utterance sounded right. His melodicism and clarity of ideas were enhanced by devices which I found appealing; his occasional and appropriate use of vibrato at the end of a line, sometimes, rarely, he combined this with a slight bending of the note. He is definitely a successor to the Evans trio model; a bassist who communicates as an equal.Rubim (2)In a live setting and with unfamiliar sidemen, the best plan is to loosen the reigns. This he did and with Kevin Field on Rhodes and fellow Canadian and long time friend Ron Samsom on drums the gig gelled. Much of the gig showcased his compositions, some from his 2014 album ‘The Bridge”. The three standards he played were a killing version of Maiden Voyage (Herbie Hancock), Work Song (Nat Adderly) and a rendering of ‘Recordeme’ (Joe Henderson). His own compositions ranged from the thoughtful ‘Autumn Celeste’ to evocative panoramic tunes like ‘The Gap’ (about the Rockies) and ‘Red Eye’ (about a Brazilian train known locally as the train of death). The gig was a pleasure from start to finish and the enthusiastic audience response said it all.RubimAs I was leaving de Toledo handed me a copy of his recent album ‘The Bridge’ and it wasn’t until yesterday that I found time to play it. What a truly beautiful album this is; beautifully crafted arrangements and tunes which burn with a quiet intensity at any tempo.  On ‘The Bridge’, he is surrounded by an ensemble of talented Albertans and a guest artist from the USA. The lineup of bass, trumpet, saxophone, trombone, keyboards, drums (and on track 8 a vocal) is well conceived – balancing airiness with textural richness. The musicianship throughout is noteworthy; particularly Sean Jones on trumpet, a well respected musician from the USA: the keyboardist and everyone making this album memorable. As you would expect with an ensemble and with an album as skillfully recorded as this, de Toledo is less dominant. Here he lets his charts tell the story and they certainly do.. The audio clip is ‘Winters Here’ from the album.

Rubim de Toledo Trio: Rubim de Toledo (upright bass, leader), Kevin Field (Rhodes), Ron Samsom (drums), The trio played the CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K’Rd Auckland, July 19, 2017.

The Bridge (Album): Rubim de Toledo (bass), Guest artist: Sean Jones (trumpet), Jim Brenan (saxophone), Carsten Rubeling (trombone), Chris Andrew (keyboard), Jon McCaslin (drums), Allison Lynch (vocals).Rubim (3)

Stephen Thomas – No Hawkers

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Steve Thomas (1)In spite of his relative youth, Stephen Thomas is counted as one of New Zealand's better Jazz drummers. He approaches his craft with care and intelligence and it shows in his playing. While his technical skills are superb, he can also communicate on a human level and this is important as it speaks of character. Thomas is a regular on the scene, but like many sidemen and most drummers, he prefers to remain in the shadows. On Wednesday he changed that focus and convincingly staked his claim as band leader.Steve Thomas (4)The ingredients that contribute to a successful gig are often intangible, but this gig ticked a number of those boxes. While tailored to suit a Jazz audience, it did so without being remote or elitist. Another reason the gig worked was because Thomas used humour to good effect; not just his on stage banter but in the music as well. In a live setting this is important – interacting with the listeners on some level, bringing them inside the circle.Steve Thomas (3)Thomas has an abiding interest in the Ellington/Mingus/Roach, 'Money Jungle' recording and Wednesday provided him with a further opportunity to explore that project. While unusual as a source of standards material, it is a great album to focus on – the perfect vehicle for deconstruction. At the time it was recorded, it stood out for a number of reasons. In fact it shouldn't have worked at all, as the trio members reputedly disliked each other. Each had marked stylistic differences and Ellington was of an earlier generation. Ellington told the others that what they would play on the record should be a collective decision; then he turned up with a set list of his own tunes. The one tune which was not Ellington's was by Juan Tizol – a man who Mingus had once been in a knife fight with and because of whom, he was sacked by Ellington. What should have been a disaster for many reasons was a success. A brave post-bop recording by artists firmly rooted in other eras.Steve Thomas

Chosen from the Money Jungle material were 'Wig Wise and 'African Flower' (Ellington). Both of these tunes were given interesting treatment. The latter rendered into a dreamy fusion like vibe and the former, given a wonderful vaudevillian twist; the head melody line played on an analogue Prophet 08 synth. Reverence and open exploration in equal parts.Thomas's own tunes were interesting as well. 'No Hawkers' was a cleverly constructed solo piece; his engaging beats triggering pre-recorded samples, which he played over. 'Rat Race' was another great tune, this time with the full ensemble.Steve Thomas (5)

The other two standards were Giant Steps (Coltrane) and 'Fascinatin' Rhythm' (Gershwin). His quintet featured Crystal Choi, Michael Howell, Tom Dennison and J Y Lee and what a great band they were. Choi was especially wonderful; she's comfortable in a variety of settings and she just keeps growing as a musician – she really digs in and the sky's the limit for her. Howell was also decisive in his playing and it really suited him. Lee and Dennison are seasoned professionals and we are never disappointed by either. I was still buzzing from Dennison's previous weeks gig on electric bass – that boy can do no wrong.

No Hawkers: Stephen Thomas (arrangements, drums, samples), Crystal Choi (keyboards), Michael Howell (guitar), J Y Lee (alto saxophone), Tom Dennison (upright bass) – CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K' Road, Auckland, July 12, 2017

Ari Hoenig as Time Lord

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When drummer Ari Hoenig was among us recently, it was as if he came from another dimension; he was future and past – a Jazz time lord. The elements of the old were all there at his finger tips, but also something that was forward looking. He could lead with a melodic line, he could set up a groove, he was a colourist plus and he could subdivide time in ways that made me doubt reality. As he played, stuff happened on the kit that I had not seen before; it felt like a new dawn of drumming, but here’s the thing; as fresh as it was, it was also the most natural thing imaginable – nothing jarred – everything flowed from a deep well of musical knowledge. He was deep inside the music, looking half crazy – inside the tune and outside. He was so integrated with the keyboardist Nitai Hershkovitz that they appeared as a single unit. I detect Ari’s influence in modern drummers and because his influence is so palpable, I thought it a good idea to engage some local Jazz drummers on the topic. Here are Ron Samsom, Mark Lockett and Stephen Thomas with a few insights.Hoenig (2).jpg

JL32: Ron, when you introduced Ari and Nitai in Auckland you spoke of Ari’s influence on modern Jazz drumming. You described him as an innovator; suggesting that he may not be aware himself of the extent of his influence. Could you expand on that and tell us why?

Ron Samsom: Well, Ari is a pretty humble guy really and I didn’t want to embarrass him in my introduction. But in reality, what he has accomplished in terms of the development of new drumming language, is pretty remarkable. I mean coming out of the tradition of implied pulse modulation with drummers like Tony Williams, Elvin Jones or even newer generation players like Jeff Watts, Ari has developed the ability to stay “outside” the ground rhythm for what seems like an eternity. The influence on younger players coming out of NYC is pretty evident. Just check out Henry Cole, Marcus Gilmore to name a couple of guys who seem to be going even further with this concept and their own language.

JL32: Mark, I think that you have had previous contact with Ari and maybe with Nitai as well. Can you tell me something about that and about bringing the project to New Zealand?

Mark Lockett: I studied with Ari for six years, I would travel to NYC and take several lessons go away transcribe my lessons and practice like crazy for a few months then do it all again.  Last year we were hanging at Smalls after Ari’s gig one night and I said ‘Hey you should come out to New Zealand sometime I’ll hook it up.’  As soon as we moved back to NZ Ari contacted me and asked if we could do something so I organised a New Zealand tour on the back of him visiting Australia.

JL32: Stephen, I saw you at the Auckland gig and like the rest of us you were blown away. How do you evaluate Ari’s work and how do you see his place among modern drummers?

Stephen Thomas: Ari Hoenig is the type of drummer who has inspired a whole generation of jazz drummers and music enthusiasts in general. Because of this, we were all amazed to see Ari play “in the flesh” as for us kiwis, our exposure to his playing comes from things like YouTube and mp3’s and the like. When I went to his gig in Auckland, from the very first stroke of the cymbal it was clear to me he was on a completely different level to anything I’d really seen before. Ari is clearly a pioneer of modern jazz drumming that has inspired a whole generation of musicians. His mastery of rhythmic subdivisions, polyrhythms and musical time has inspired not just jazz drummers but musicians in general far and wide. He really is at the forefront of modern drummers.

JL32: Ron, Ari appeared to hold the sticks differently, firmer, at times further down – perhaps because of this his flurries and modulation were so precise. Old school drummers must puzzle at this. Can you tell me a little about these evolving hand positions?

Ron Samsom: When he was in the workshop, Ari was quick to point out that “praying mantis” was a visual term used by one of his early teachers as a descriptor of his unorthodox style. I think we need to remember that the ‘drum set’ is a fairly new instrument and there are lots of options in terms of technical approach. The bottom line is really ’the sound’ and I don’t think you could ever fault Ari in terms of dynamic control and timbre. I think he is all about the sound. He plays drums that are wide open in tuning and resonance but finds a way to control this through his approach. You can hear him use the harmonics of the drums to create colour and depth – it’s a beautiful thing. How he achieves this is a great question.

JL32: Mark, I have seen you hold the sticks in a similar way. Can you talk us through this and explain how it alters control?

Mark Lockett: A lot of drummers in NYC e.g. Bill Stewart and Paul Motian hold the sticks a bit more rigidly and different to a lot of drummers I see out here.  I remember Michael Brorby at Acoustic Recording Studio (NYC) saying that this grip which is using more forearm helps create a much more accurate and defined cymbal pattern.  It was the great Australian drummer Darryn Farrugia who turned me on to holding the sticks a lot further up closer to the middle as this gives you more bounce and it worked for me.

JL32: Stephen, I think that so called Jazz drumming orthodoxy is being subtly deconstructed post millennium. Can you comment on his technique from a drummers perspective?

Stephen Thomas: I think this question really sums up the music world we find ourselves in post millennium especially in the internet era. We are exposed to such a wide variety of music through online mediums that it is hardly surprising the traditional art form of “jazz” is evolving at a rapid pace and taking on influences from many other sonic worlds and styles of music. I think in this same vein, individual drummers are finding their own voice which is informed not just by the history of jazz but also by other distinct styles and sounds of music. Although this is not a new concept, Ari Hoenig is very far down this road, as he is such a unique voice behind the instrument, you would know his playing from just hearing the first few measures of music. This is no easy feat and something we all aspire to.

In terms of technique, I think Ari has developed his own technique which has allowed him to pursue this unique voice. In some ways, his technique is quite unorthodox and from my humble observation, it seemed to me he was using a lot of tension in his physical body to generate his sound. The fact he has been able to make this work for him is very unique and I think is a good reminder that there is no real ‘right or wrong’ in terms of technique as it is what brings the individuality out in drummers. As as a small side note, however – although this works for Ari, mere mortals like myself who have had body tension/pain issues in our playing have found it to be a stumbling block that we are seeking to overcome and I think long term, too much tension can become an issue.

JL32: Ron, I saw some astonishing neo-colourist drumming; subtle accenting and gentle cymbal work, but then turning on a dime. Ari seemed to extend the concept way beyond the Paul Motian model. He would suddenly create a melodic line or just tap out an accelerating beat in the centre of the snare. Can you comment on this extension of the colourist palette?

Ron Samsom: I don’t really know enough of Paul Motian’s playing to offer a solid opinion – but the trio records with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell are pretty great examples of how a drummer can colour and support melodic ideas or become an entity in its own right. I think what Motian’s playing did for everyone, is suggest that the drummer could be more. Drums could be melodic, textural, a motivating soloist/accompanist, a complete musical statement onto itself. Ari’s playing has all of these things in spades but I’d hesitate to say it’s beyond Motian’s achievements – It’s just context. Ari is communicating with his generation of improvisers that are versed in rhythm scale, odd time, implied modulation etc. but these are just tools to convey music. They are not music without context and personalisation.

JL32: Mark, that was some seriously deep stuff that Nitai was playing. I have heard Brad Mehldau do something similar. This is brave, as it will leave the purists behind. It sounds exciting to me. Would you like to comment on their use of deep improvisational groove music as a vehicle?

Mark Lockett: I don’t really think this is anything new, but in this setting, there was only a duo so this gave Ari and Nitai lots of space to stretch out and they weren’t confined to a bass player or another comping instrument being in the mix.  I think the rhythmic vocabulary they draw upon brings a real element of excitement to the music.  I think Ari chooses his sidemen very wisely and consequently, they sound like a band and want to play together rather than have their own agenda.

Stephen Thomas: I really dug how at the Auckland show I was at, Nitai had some PHAT bass synth going on. So much so that at one point, because he and Ari were so locked in, I thought the bass drum had like a sub-bass mic or something on it which was a good indication of how impeccable their time feel was and how locked in they were even just as a duo! This is probably what I meant before about jazz taking on influences from other sound worlds and musical styles, with electronic timbres in the fold more and more. What stood out to me and I said this to Ron after the show, was that although there were only two musicians playing, you never felt like there was any lack in terms of sound or textures which was kind of mind blowing. Also, it was clear that both Ari and Nital are so versed in jazz vocabulary that even though some of what they played was “non-traditional”, there was a depth to what they were playing which was hard to describe. The well of musical concepts and language that they both had was very deep, to say the least, and I was left feeling very inspired indeed.

JL32: Guys, what do you want your students to take away from this experience?

Mark Lockett: The students I spoke to after the concerts were totally blown away and I saw them beaming.  I heard one student say ‘this concert changed my whole musical trajectory’.  I think if the students can be inspired to listen, learn, practice, want to get better and create that’s really all anyone could hope for their students.

Stephen Thomas: think Ari gave us a fantastic provocation to pursue individuality behind the instrument, whilst reminding us to pursue a depth of knowledge and language of the jazz tradition. Although this can sound like an oxymoron, Ari Hoenig seems to personify this as he is such a unique voice whilst having all the language and depth there too. This is inspiring for students to keep checking out the history whilst also pursuing what gets them going musically and sonically, to hopefully find their own place in the music world and create something which is ultimately fun and rhythmically/musically satisfying! Every time I see an inspiring player, the thing that really gets me is the amount of joy and playfulness they have whilst making music and Ari had this in spades, which I think we can all learn from. It’s a great reminder that music ultimately should be a joyful and playful experience which we can bring our own personality and emotions to which can ultimately move people and bring joy and healing to a world which needs it!

JL32: Thanks for your insights guys. I know how busy you all are and I appreciate that you put down the sticks to answer these questions so thoroughly. Finally, thanks for supporting JazzLocal32.com.

Ron Samsom is a Canadian born Kiwi and the course coordinator at the University of Auckland Jazz School. He is well recorded and has worked with Jazz musicians from many continents. Mark Lockett has just returned after many years in New York and he teaches, tours and gigs around Australasia. Stephen Thomas is a gifted New Zealand drummer who is increasingly in demand for high-end gigs and highly regarded on the New Zealand Jazz scene.Hoenig.jpg

Tom Dennison Quintet

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Tom D (6)Dennison is a first class musician and someone we don’t hear nearly enough of on the Jazz circuit. He rarely gets to the CJC but when he does it is always a treat. These days he is mostly found doing session work or backing visiting artists and it is hardly surprising that he is a bass player of choice. Whether on upright bass or electric bass he is equally proficient; always an engaging presence, always demonstrating a deep musicality. He has one more string to his bow which can’t be overlooked and that is composition. His tunes are often whimsical, but whatever the mood, a deftly crafted structure sits beneath every phrase. Never over done, bass driven and just right. There is also a thread of melancholia and wistfulness in his ballad writing: these are difficult emotions to evoke and anyone with knowledge of poetry will know, that only the most skilful poets do the moods justice. Dennison can.Tom D (4)Passels playing was another high point of the evening for me. He just gets better every time we hear him. He is also exactly the right person to interpret mood. I liked the way he approached the tunes, working his way inside them methodically. Sometimes angular, at other times teasing at the melody. During the ballads, he often began with sparse phrasing, establishing mood without overstatement; then, slowly telling his story as if looking at the theme from differing viewpoints. Although he plays decisively, he carefully modulates; generally without flourish or vibrato – pushing at a note until subtle multiphonic textures form – his paper-thin Konitz-like tone saying more than any honk. His versatility is also an asset. Any player who can comfortably move outside and inside while still maintaining a theme is a person worth listening to.Tom D (3)McAneny, who initially faced a cable problem, overcame it quickly and delivered a fine performance. Having a Rhodes and a guitar together can be problematical, but the charts and McAneny’s nimbleness enabled him to avoid crowding the space. Howell gave a nice performance and his lines are terrific; He knows what he’s doing but I’d like to hear him bite into his solos a bit more. Drummer Adam Tobeck was on solid ground with this group, he obviously enjoyed the company and reacted well to whatever was thrown his way. After not playing here for a few years, he is now a regular on the bandstand. I like his drum work very much.

Dennisons post-Zoo material is terrific. Fresh, adventurous and deeply appealing. I hope this gig presages a ‘Zoo Two’ album (or ‘Zoo Two by Two’?).  From Zoo we heard ‘The Cat’ – of the newer material there were many great pieces – I loved ‘Unkindness’, also the punkish take on the Beatles ‘Day Tripper’ and ‘J Y Lee’ (a contrafact of ‘Donna Lee’ which in turn is a contrafact of ‘Indiana’).

Tom Dennison Quintet: Tom Dennison (5 string electric bass, compositions), Callum Passels (alto saxophone), Connor McAneny (Rhodes), Michael Howell (guitar), Adam Tobeck (drums). CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, July 5th 2017.

Nick Granville

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NickThe last time Nick Granville played in Auckland was 2014.  A year prior to that he released his Rattle Jazz album ‘Refractions’ here  At that time the CJC was located in an old downtown basement venue and that feels like a lifetime ago. Wellington is his home base and Wellington keeps Granville busy. He teaches, he gigs about town, he backs visiting artists, he plays in shows, he records, he tours and he is the featured guitarist in the Rodger Fox Big Band. The last time I saw him play was in Wellington, but that was a few years ago. Much water has passed under the bridge since then and his reputation has meantime grown apace. I have also kept an eye on his teaching clips, and his ongoing evolution as a musician is evident in these.  Almost everything Granville plays is coloured by the blues in some way; that is his thing. On a mid-winter night, it is my thing as well.Nick (1)With the exception of ‘Alone Together’ by Schwartz/Dietz, all compositions were Grenville’s.  Some were from his Rattle Album, such as Tossed Salad & Scrambled Eggs or Blues For Les, while others were much newer. The compositions were all ear-grabbing and most appeared to reference geographical locations or old TV programs. ‘Funky New Orleans Groove Thing’ was certainly true to label; a rhythm-driven groove piece that generated white heat. With Stephen Thomas on the job, the New Orleans beat never sounded better. Thomas is an exceptional drummer.Nick (2)A tune that I have heard Granville play previously is ‘Somewhere You’ve Been’. The title is a clever play on Wayne Shorter’s ‘Footprints’. The tune, although not a contrafact of Footprints is close enough to bring it to mind, It is nicely constructed and a good vehicle for a band to play off. For this gig Granville had wisely engaged old friends; Roger Manins, Oli Holland and Steven Thomas. Together on the bandstand, they represented genuine firepower and everyone dug deep when it came to delivering solos

Footnote: If things go according to plan, Granville will soon be off to the Monterey Jazz Festival with the Rodger Fox Big Band, followed by a recording session in a famous LA recording studio.

Nick Granville (guitar, compositions), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Olivier Holland (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums). The gig took place at the Thirsty Dog K’Road for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, 28th June 2017.

 

 

After ‘Ours Odyssey

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This album had me from the first listen. The vibe is very much in the vein of Robert Glasper’s 2012 album ‘Black Radio‘; but while the comparison is inescapable, this tells a very Pacific story; one based on our own urban grooves.  Anyone who has ever walked the black-sand beaches of Auckland’s west coast or chilled out with friends on a long summer evening will feel that this album is just for them. While Jazz rich it is beyond category; a Neo-soul, Jazz Funk, Hip hop album with a pinch of Disco groove thrown in. If you browse the credits you will immediately be grabbed by the line up; many are important figures from the New Zealand or European Jazz/Soul scene, but having such an international cornucopia of talent has in no way spoilt the broth. The album works all the better for it. It is beautifully mixed, the tracks flow together like a dream and the quality of the production is immaculate.

The project was the brainchild of Jazz keyboardist Michal Martyniuk, with the assistance of percussionist, multi-instrumentalist and producer, Nick Williams. If there was ever an album that oozes urban cool from start to finish, this is it. Along with the talented Martyniuk and Williams are instrumentalists Nathan Haines, Miguel Fuentes, Mike Patto, Karika Turua, Adam Cabacinski, Andy Smith, Jacub Skowbonski and others;  on vocals Sharlene Hector, Keven Mark Trail, Matt Nanai and Angie Saunders. It took a while from conception to finish but the wait was well worth it. Martyniuk is at present in his native Poland and the album was well received there – last month it was featured as album of the week on a Polish radio station. This is an album that really deserves to do well. ‘After ‘Ours Odyssey’ is out on Studiozone and can be found in leading record stores, @afteroursnz – also at Bandcamp, Apple Music or iTunes   When Glasper was asked why he blended Soul Funk and Jazz he replied: “It was a slap on the arse of Jazz”.  This album is more like a long kiss on a sultry summer evening

Monsters of the Deep (Crayford/Haines)

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Monsters (4)This was trippy stuff. A band that gnawed at the bones of form while the music swept us along; taking us ever deeper, forcing us to loosen our grip, as the waterfalls of sound consumed us. This was most definitely filmic music; throwing up subliminal specters like a Burroughs cut-up montage: an indie soundtrack, Voodoo but with four Papa Docs urging us toward trance.Monsters (1)Attempts to confine improvised music within historic boundaries is plain foolishness. Never has this been more obvious to me than at last week’s ‘Monsters of The Deep’ gig.  Superficially it sounded like, looked like classic fusion; but it was and it wasn’t.  The keyboard instruments were classic analog, the lighting otherworldly; various delays, distortions or effects echoed across the room. While the overall vibe nodded in the direction of Jazz/Rock, the musical language was that of deep improvisation. The accessibility hiding worlds of complexity and there’s the wonder of it. Few local musicians could pull this off as well as Crayford and Haines did.Monsters (2)The collaboration between Crayford and Haines is certainly not their first; that took place in New York a long time ago. Since then they have both gained international reputations, recording in the UK or in New York. Both have separately won the Best New Zealand Jazz album of the year during the last decade, both attract sizable audiences. These artists are generally offshore but we caught a break this year –  they are domiciled in Auckland at the moment.Monsters (3) While the project draws on various inspirational sources like Alice Coltrane and Igor Stravinsky it is also brimming with originality. This is ‘spiritual music’ of the highest order and it uses the devices of the Shaman: long intensifying vamps and hypnotic beats which slip deftly into the consciousness. Throughout the night, it was Haines who took the melodic path while Crayford provided magnificent architectural structures. If even one element was removed, the edifice could fail; this was a music built from layers, each balancing delicately on the one beneath; only exposed incrementally, like a nested Russian doll. Marika Hodgson was the perfect choice for running those long ostinato bass lines. Her time feel is impeccable and she creates a gut punch while blending seamlessly into the mix. Not many know it, but Crayford is also a gifted bass player – he knows exactly what is needed and he trusts Hodgson to deliver.  The one musician that I had not seen before was Mickey Ututaonga. He has a long history with Haines and again he was a good choice. Because the music was so carefully balanced, the last thing it needed was a busy splashy drummer. Ututaonga synced with the others, his every beat enhancing the overall hypnotic effect. MonstersThe other stars of the show were the instruments and pedals. For Crayford a Fender Rhodes and an equally vintage Clavinet; for Haines, his beautiful horns fed through a vintage SM7 Shure Microphone, then into a preamp and guitar FX board.

I have put up a clip titled ‘Stravinsky Thing‘ (Crayford). The piece is inspired by Igor Stravinsky; first an intro, then building slowly over a vamp, ratcheting up the tension on keyboards as an ostinato theme builds – the insistent bass line, the hypnotic drums, these freeing up the horns – soprano and tenor saxophones exploring; weaving in threads of vibrant colour. If only Stravinsky had been there – he was never afraid of modernity. These musicians are real monsters and their music is deep. I hope that they hang around in Auckland long enough to do it again.

Monsters of the Deep: Jonathan Crayford/Nathan Haines.  Crayford (Clavinet, Rhodes, effects, compositions), Haines (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, effects, compositions), Marika Hodgson (electric bass), Mickey Ututaonga (drums). CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K’Road, Auckland, June 21, 2017.

 

 

Vivian Sessoms (New York)

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Vivian SessomsWhen Vivian Sessoms sings, she takes you deep inside the music. Whether singing the American Songbook, or her own compositions, her storytelling resonates. She sings of American life with all its contradictions; joy and pain both laid bare. Her rendering of Herbie Hancock’s ‘Butterfly‘ tender: the rendering of her own composition, ‘I Can’t Breathe‘, a song referencing the ‘black lives matter’ struggle – raw.  As she sang ‘I Can’t Breathe‘, people brushed tears away; feeling the loss, the injustice; sharing in the incomprehension. She sang it for the families of the young lives so senselessly snuffed out; dying at the hands of those sent to protect them – she sang it for us, a people located an ocean away. We listened and understood the message. Art is at its best when it is fearless and truth-telling – Sessoms gets this.Vivian Sessoms (6)Sessoms is Harlem born and bred; an activist, the niece of Nancy Wilson, the daughter of musicians and a gifted performer with a long string of credits to her name. She was raised in the Jazz world but found early acclaim as a soul singer. Now she is returning to her Jazz roots with her ‘Life‘ album. The tour reviews have been overwhelmingly positive and no wonder; At age 9 she opened for Marvin Gaye, later working with Michael Jackson, Cher and Stevie Wonder. As a performer she is simply riveting; her voice a miracle  – to have her here in an intimate Jazz club setting, a rare treat.Vivian Sessoms (5)What we were hearing was counter-intuitive. A voice of incredible power, but a voice filled with subtlety: A voice that dominated a room, but never at the expense of nuance. Although powerful, her instrument never strained, a voice which flowed as naturally as breathing. These are rare qualities when considered together in one package. Her material was also well thought out; The standards timeless but each one interestingly reinterpreted: ‘Tenderly’, ‘Love for Sale’, ‘Round Midnight’, ‘Never Let Me Go’, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ and others. Sessoms New Zealand pick-up band was assembled at short notice and credit must go to Caro Manins for organising this. She chose well, but with Jonathan Crayford on keyboards, it was always going to work out fine. Just days after winning the New Zealand Jazz Tui album of the year, he stepped in as an accompanist, giving us a truly magical performance. His solos often stunning us with their brilliance, especially so the extended solo on Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good‘.  The others in the rhythm section were Mostyn Cole (electric and upright bass) and Adam Tobeck (drums). They were every bit the professionals an artist like this deserves. Sessoms looked about her at one point and asked the audience; “Just what do you put in the water here – your musicians are amazing”?Vivian Sessoms (7)Sessoms is a generous entertainer, happy to mingle with the audience, comfortable enough to tease them a little; posing for endless selfies and promising faithfully to return.  She even shared the microphone with several first-year students. That is the common touch – a thing Kiwis love; she read our love of informality well. For details about her ‘Life‘ album go to the website link below. If we support the album, it might just hasten her return.Vivian Sessoms (1)She departed New Zealand the next morning on an early flight; arriving in the USA to be greeted by the news, that yet another jury had acquitted a police officer of killing an unarmed black youth. In these troubled times, more power to her.

Vivian Sessoms (vocals, composition), Jonathan Crayford (keyboards), Mostyn Cole (electric bass), Adam Tobeck (drums). CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, Auckland, June 14th, 2017 – viviansessoms.com

Alan Brown Trio + guest

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Alan Brown 2017 (3)While some of us didn’t make it to the Wellington Jazz Festival, we had no need to cry into our beer. What Auckland had on offer was the Alan Brown Trio, returning to the Creative Jazz Club after a long hiatus, and in very good form. I have long thought that an organ trio is the best dish to serve up on a wet winter’s night. This trio proved the pudding with its down-home goodness, tasty grooves, and with all the trimmings. While Brown is across many genres, this is the one most music lovers associate him with. His deft touch calling down the good times and bathing us in a warm orb of sound.Alan Brown 2017 (4)We heard mostly new material with a few well-chosen standards thrown in; all of it sounding fresh, the arrangements for the standards updated and interesting. Brown is a prolific composer – he always writes interesting tunes. His Between the Spaces album came out years ago, but I can still remember the tunes note for note. He is never afraid of melody either, balancing it nicely with his rich harmonies and all the while providing a solid improvisational vehicle. His final strength, and perhaps his greatest, is his feel for a groove. Although rooted firmly in the organ groove tradition, much of the new material felt evolutionary – taking us in a similar direction to that of Lonnie Smith. There is a lot to like about this direction. Alan Brown 2017 (2)

This was essentially the original Grand Central band; Dixon Nacey on Guitar, Josh Sorenson on drums and for some of the gig, vocalist Chris Melville. Even though many of tunes were new to the rest of the band, they got down to business quickly. Nacey, as ever, the consummate professional – at times reading the chart before him, but always diving deep inside the groove as he internalised the music.  Sorenson is a groove drummer from way back and although he works with his own rock group these days, he had no trouble doing what an organ trio drummer should; laying down a steady rhythmic cushion.Alan Brown 2017 (1) It was good to see Melville perform again. I had not seen him on the bandstand since the Grand Central days. He’s an in-demand vocalist these days and deservedly so. I think that it was on his insistence that ‘I didn’t know what time it was’ was included (the Cecile McLauren-Salvant treatment). I have always loved his wonderful ”Come what may’ (Melville/Nacey) – surprisingly it is seldom heard.  Alan Brown 2017 Although my battery died half way through, I have uploaded a clip from the gig – one of Alan Brown’s newer compositions. The trio’s incredibly warm vibe is well captured on this clip – a sound enhanced by the use of a Leslie Unit and of course by Nacey’s Godin guitar. This was the place to be; as the woody tones and warmth enveloped us, Winter was dispelled from our lives.

Alan Brown Trio: Alan Brown (B3 organ with Leslie Unit), Dixon Nacey (Guitar), Josh Sorenson (drums),  – Guest Chris Melville (vocals). The gig took place at the Thirsty Dog Tavern for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, 7th June 2017.

Leda’s Dream

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Chelsea‘Leda’s Dream’ has been around for some time, but this is the ensemble’s first appearance at the CJC. When vocalist Chelsea Prastiti first conceived of the project, she saw it as a vehicle for unfettered collective improvisation. Her writing cleverly expands on that concept, encompassing real places, the past, abstract ideas, and opening the listener to endless possibility. There is a structure to her vision, but to grasp it you must let go of what you think you know. The pieces are mirage-like; if you look too closely they will disappear.  As you listen, fragments of the familiar appear, then dissolve. These are seamless journeys; cleverly fusing reality with dreamscapes. Leda’s Dream is to be experienced and enjoyed, not pigeonholed.Chelsea (1)

This is avant-garde music, perhaps the bravest we have heard at the CJC this year. The traditional Jazz references were there, but the freedom to expand or contract themes characterised the tunes. During ‘Faster down ice’ I heard echoes of Mingus; driving, pulsating rhythms over which freedom was explored. Tristan Deck and Eamon Edmundson-Wells at the heart of this pulse (on drums and bass respectively). With a human voice in the mix, the ideas became multi-dimensional. The human voice is the oldest of instruments and when it moves beyond words, the forms which anchor it – a rawer emotion is exposed. Sometimes it is pretty or melodic, at other times a primal scream. Listening to this music is to experience sound on its own terms.Chelsea (5)Prastiti’s ‘Time Lapse Photography’ was filmic. Revealing the essence of unfolding plants – magical realism – biology expressed as music. In a similar vein was her piece,’Rain Flood’. As she sang, you experienced the droplets of water – falling slowly at first, then faster until they became a deluge. Communicating in this way is a gift few possess, the images seeming to emerge from nature or from experience, not from the musical form. I immediately thought of my favourite Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray and his mystical Monsoon scene from ‘Pather Panchali’. The effect created by Ray there, also swept us to the heart of a poignant interaction between man & nature (musically assisted in that case by Ravi Shankar and Mingus alumni Charlie Mariano).Chelsea (3)The Leda’s Dream ensemble are alumni from the UoA Jazz School. A lot of talent emerged during the years they attended and during this particular gig it coalesced. It was a pleasant surprise to see Crystal Choi playing this innovative abstract music. Choi is a musician who is fast evolving and growing in interesting ways. At Jazz school she stayed closer to traditional forms, or those referencing the folk infused ECM albums. Later I saw her giving a concert on solo piano, Jarrett like in its scope and quite wonderful. On Wednesday she embraced freedom. She was innovative, interactive and confident. Callum Passells was the lead-horn on alto saxophone. Beside him in the front line for part of the gig was Liz Stokes on trumpet.  Passells is especially comfortable in this space. Playing sparingly and never playing a note for the sake of it, each note meaning something. Michael Howel came on stage for the second set as the full Leda’s Dream experience emerged. First as a quintet then sextet and finally as a septet.

Leda’s Dream: Chelsea Prsatiti (voice, compositions), Chrystal Choi (piano, voice), Callum Passells (alto saxophone, voice), Liz Stokes (trumpet), Michael Howell (guitar), Eamon Edmudson-Wells (upright bass), Tristan Deck (drums), 16th May 2017, CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K’Rd Auckland.

Mukhlisa @ CJC 2017

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Two years have passed since Mukhlisa was last in Auckland and locals jumped at the chance to see them again. They are not your usual improvising group, fusing an exotic blend of middle eastern music, folk, and Jazz in a way that sounds totally authentic. While far from being mere novelty entertainment, the music is still fun, and because of its integrity and musicianship, other musicians flock to hear them play. It is rare to see such complex music communicated so convincingly and that is the key to their longevity and success.Mukhlisa (6).jpg

With rhythmically complex music like this, it is easy to misstep. With Mukhlisa there is no evidence of that; years of playing together has allowed them to play as if one entity.  While faithful to the old melodies and rhythms, a newer genre resides here. This is hopeful music for the new millennium; in these times of willful ignorance and political tomfoolery, the best way to understand our fellow humans is through the universality of art. When political systems fail us, the arts always come to our rescue.Mukhlisa (1)

Tim Sellars is the group’s leader and he has kept Mukhlisa together for many years. That the music at this gig sounded so fresh, is a tribute to him. Sellars is a master of middle eastern percussion instruments, and on Wednesday he had four hand drums with him; a frame drum, Darabuka, Riq, and Cajon. The Riq while the smallest of his percussion instruments, is the most fascinating. In the right hands, it is astonishingly versatile and Sellars takes full advantage of its possibilities. The soundscape created, often polyrhythmic, is impressive enough, but when Sellars plays his hands dance as if choreographed.

On amplified acoustic guitar was Glen Wagstaff, a leader in his own right, his softer acoustic sound enhancing the ensemble. His unison lines and counterpoint, adding just the right touch – balancing out the brighter sound of the flute, augmenting the bass and percussion. Few local bass players could pull this music off as well as Michael Story, his lines requiring the utmost precision. Lastly, there was Tamara Smith on flute. What a joy to see her back in town. A wonderful musician who breathes fire and magic into her instrument and who delivers tight ensemble playing and marvelous solos.  I wish we saw her more often.Mukhlisa (4)

The set list drew on three Sellars originals (all terrific tunes – especially his ‘Strategic Point’), a number of middle eastern tunes, a Bulgarian and a Korean tune. Mukhlisa has an album out titled ‘The Puzzle’.

Copies available at timsellarspresentsmukhlisa.bandcamp.com 

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Mukhlisa: Tim Sellars (leader, percussion), Glen Wagstaff (guitar), Tamara Smith (flute), Michael Story (double bass) – CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, March 10, 2017

Emerging Artists gig – Exploding Rainbow Orchestra – Equitable Grooves

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Emerging A (2).jpgI always look forward to emerging artists nights at the CJC.  They don’t happen often but when they do, they’re fun, full of surprise and most importantly they are hopeful events. It is usual for emerging artists to salt the mine with seasoned players. Both of the bands did well in that regard. The first band up was Misha Kourkov’s ‘Equitable Grooves’, a six-piece unit playing multi-genre Jazz focused music. The material was well written and at times ambitious. Aiming high on the bandstand is good because that is where real learning occurs. If you wish to extend your reach, then having Alan Brown on the piano is exactly what you need. With that sort of experience and groove behind you, you have a fail-safe mechanism. The set opened a little tentatively, but they quickly found their groove; the last two numbers were especially enjoyable.Emerging A.jpg

Misha Kourkov is a strong tenor player. I like his playing in Oli Hollands ‘Jazz Attack’ and as a leader, he has real potential. Most younger players have discernible influences and with Kourkov it is Roger Manins. As he grows as a musician he is increasingly finding his own voice. The track that particularly took my fancy was ‘Friday night at the Cadillac Club’. Early rock and roll stole licks from Jazz. Now the tide has turned. On that number, the group mined the Happy Days vibe while sneaking in snaking bebop lines. The pairing of tenor and soprano worked well, suiting the material they played; the guitar completing the front line by adding a bluesy feel, nice solos, and textural richness. The soprano player, in particular, is one to watch, nice bass and drums also. A popular practice among emerging players is to create cryptic and often unpronounceable tune titles – if that was their aim, then both groups succeeded. Emerging A (5).jpgThe second set featured the ‘Exploding Rainbow Orchestra‘. This was a very different type of ensemble. Freer ranging, a bigger sound palette and an electric bass with the heavyweight punch of Bona. The bass player Joshua Worthington-Church who led the ensemble is accurately described as a maverick. His set list contained genuinely diverse material; gripping vamp-driven originals plus tunes from ‘Radiohead’ and ‘The Mint Chicks’. Under the leader’s guidance, the band took the material to a place close to my heart; a fusion of Jazz and psychedelia. I am happy to see this done, as the genre is all but forgotten. During the mid-seventies, that style of music was sacrificed on the altar of Jazz purism, a pompous battleground that tried to stifle genre exploration. Emerging A (6).jpg

I have always loved the Belgium Jazz guitarist Philip Catherine. Today he is regarded as an elder statesman; admired for his work with Chet Baker, Mingus, Carla Bley, Dexter Gordon, Lagrene etc. His work with the psychedelic Jazz Fusion group ‘Focus’, or the amazingly tripped out violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, overlooked completely. This material is worthy of re-evaluation. With the Exploding Rainbows Orchestra, we moved closer to that. The band worked well as a unit but there was no doubt where the greatest strengths lay; Callum Passells and Chelsea Prastiti. A pair combining musical maturity with an inbuilt urge to push boundaries.Music that lays down a vamp, has a locked-in drum groove, can free up the rest of the band. When there is less rigidity in the harmonic structure, and if the musicians are brave enough, they interact organically: that’s what this ensemble took advantage of.  Passells on alto is a wonderful musician and he knows how to use space. When paired with Prastiti on vocals, otherworldly magic happens. In the background, almost hidden from sight, Crystal Choi layered moody fills and passages on a compact keyboard. The guitarist Michael Gianan took few risks, but his comping and his unison lines added another rich textural layer. I hope that this project continues – there are a few sound balance wrinkles to iron out, but hey, it really was a buzz.

Equitable Grooves: Misha Kourkov (leader, tenor saxophone) Alan Brown (piano), Nathan James (Guitar), Edwin Dolbel (bass), Daniel Reshtan (soprano ), Daniel Waterson (drums).

Exploding Rainbow Orchestra: Joshua Worthington-Church (Leader, electric bass), Callum Passells (alto saxophone), Sean Martin-Buss (tenor saxophone), Chelsea Prastiti (vocals), Crystal Choi (keyboards), Michael Gianan (guitar), David Harris (drums),

The event was at the CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, 03 May 2017

ANZAC Day Standards & Photo Essay @ KMC

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Haines K (14)Long after the ANZAC commemorations had finished, when The World Masters Games contestants were either celebrating their success or limping toward the nearest A&E, a largely unheralded gig took place at the KMC in Shortland Street. It was fitting, that on a day of remembrance, the faithful old war horses, the standards, were honoured. It is surprisingly rare to see a standards only instrumental gig these days. The event was curated by Kevin Haines and what a treat it was. The definition of what makes a Jazz standard is a moveable feast, but the safest definition is that the tunes are, or were, from the standard repertoire. Most, but not all standards come from the Great American Songbook, e.g. Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Victor Young, Duke Ellington Ira & George Gershwin etc.  Many of them, and often the best, from failed musicals. Other Jazz standards come from the pen of gifted composers like Sonny Rollins.Haines K (9) When introducing the band, Haines stated,” The ability to play the standards well, is the benchmark against which Jazz musicians are ultimately judged”. Assembled on the bandstand were some of New Zealand’s finest musicians. Kevin Haines (bass), Nathan Haines (tenor & soprano saxophones, vocal), Kevin Field (piano), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Ron Samsom (drums).  The band gave it everything and the exchanges were beautiful – Nacey and Field conjuring up the Evans/Hall duos, Nathan Haines making his tenor sound like the Desmond Alto. The night was well attended and it will certainly be remembered.

The set list on the night was magnificent, with several surprises nestled among the more famous standards: (1) Beautiful Love (tune composed in 1931 by King/Young/Alstyne – it was featured in two long forgotten movies during 1932) (2) Tarde (Milton Nascimento 1969 – immensely popular in Brazil but popularised in Jazz circles by Wayne Shorter). (3) Alone Together (Schwartz/Dietz 1932 – from the musical ‘Flying Colours’). (4) But Not For Me (tune George Gershwin, 1930, from the musical ‘Girl Crazy’). (5) impossible Beauty (Nathan Haines 2000 – a  New Zealand standard if ever there was one -from his album ‘Sound Travels’). (6) If I should lose You (tune by Rainger  1936 – used in the film ‘Rose of the Rancho’. (7) Stella by Starlight (tune by Victor Young 1944 used as the score in the film ‘The uninvited’ rated the 10th most popular standard in the world). (8) Detour Ahead (Herb Ellis, Johnny Frigo and probably Lou Carter, 1947 – a true Jazz Standard, famously played by BIll Evans on his Village Vanguard sessions and later, and closer to home by Vince Jones), (9) All The Things You Are (tune by Jerome Kern, 1939, written for the musical ‘Very Warm for May’ played frequently, sometimes parodied, often messed with, much-loved).

Thanks, Kevin.

DOG meets KOOPMAN

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KoopmanDog (1)There is never a guarantee that two good acts blended into one will work. This one did. DOG and the various iterations of the Peter Koopman trio are each in their way self-contained; exuding a confidence born out of time spent with familiar musicians. Bands that play together over long periods anticipate and react instinctively. Stepping outside of that circle can be a risk, but that is a large part of what improvised music is about.  DOG are a tight unit with quick-fire lines and nimble moves.  By adding a guitar, DOG risked crowding their musical space; with Koopman, this did not happen. He is an aware and thoughtful musician. The pairing aided by some well-written charts, a pinch of crazy and good humour. The result was a looser sound, but the joy and respect provided all the glue it needed for the gig to work well.

The first number up was Roger Manins ‘Peter the Magnificent’, a tune featured on the award-winning DOG album. Manins penned it years ago, but this is the first time we have seen he and Koopman play it together (the Peter referred to in the tune is Koopman).  Next up was Koopman’s ‘Judas Boogie’, a terrific catchy tune and a great vehicle for improvisation. It has memorable hooks and a feel good factor about it. It’s the third time that I have heard the tune and it is always mesmerising – weaving in and around a dominant bass note, a relentless pulse drawing you ever deeper into the theme. I like tunes like that, they are a gift to good interpreters.KoopmanDogThe unison lines and exchanges between guitar, tenor saxophone and Rhodes were just lovely. Kevin Field is always on form and the Rhodes with its chiming clarity was the perfect foil for Koopman and Manins. Field is the complete musician, tasteful, original and with impeccable time feel; Koopman’s guitar benefitting from the well-voiced chords, gently and sparsely comping beneath. Manins also gave a nice solo, and as we have come to expect, he reached for a place beyond the known world. Olivier Holland had a slightly different approach to Koopman’s regular bassist Alduca. Both approaches worked well on Judas Boogie. The interplay between Holland and Samsom was also instructive. As is often the case with good Jazz; the complicated was made to sound easy.KoopmanDog (2)

The craziest tune of the night was Manins ‘Chook 40’ – a crazy humour filled romp which swerved close to the avant-garde.  A Zappa moment filled with joy, and above all abandon. The last tune was titled ‘Home Schooled’.  This is a newer Field composition, one that regular CJC attendees will recall hearing during his last quartet gig. In this expanded context it sounded truly amazing – the tune was too long to post as a clip today, but I will try to do so later. The unison lines in that are particularly striking and the changes in mood and tempo revealed hidden delights.

DOG: Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Kevin Field (Rhodes), Olivier Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) – with Peter Koopman (guitar).

The Missing Video Series (1)

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Neil 2Around Christmas, I discovered that I could not upload video to ‘YouTube’.  I spent a few weeks trying to figure out what was causing the problem and then I made a fatal error – I consulted grown-up experts and that only delayed the problem. I should have asked a 12-year-old because none of the experts had the faintest idea what was occurring. After three months I finally nutted it out for myself, old as I am.  FYI – when you upgrade your operating system, the default setting on power-saver puts the machine to sleep half an hour after the last keystroke.Yesterday was Tito Puente’s birthday and so this is an appropriate time to post the first of the missing videos. First up is the Neil Watson Quartet playing a medley. The latter part of which is Tito Puente’s magnificent samba ‘Picadillo’. What a fabulous tune and what a hard-swinging rendition. It is all the more amazing due to the first two segments of the medley; An eye-popping version of the Erroll Garner classic ‘Misty, which swings between tradition and something akin to a Marc Ribot Ceramic Dog version. This Avant Jazz -Punk rendition gives us new ears on an old tune. Part two of the medley is ‘Moonlight in Vermont’ (Blackburn/Suessdorf). This particularly references the famous Johnny Smith/Stan Getz version but again inviting us to reconsider it from an altered vantage point. A brief and deliberately clichéd quote from ‘Stairway to Heaven’ caused hoots of laughter. The second video is from the DOG Live concert December 15th, 2016. This was a great gig and the performances were of the highest order. What a bad week for my videos to become unavailable! Posting the clip now makes amends and I have more to follow.  We can expect a new DOG album sometime this year – I can’t wait.  The tune in the video clip is titled ‘Push Biker’ by drummer Ron Samsom.  Roger Manins and the other DOG members are playing out of their skins here.  The intensity of this performance is astonishing, even by DOG standards. The group is by now well seasoned and it shows – in dog years they are well and truly veterans.DOG 254 2

‘Studies in Tubular’ available from www.neilwatson.co.nz. ‘DOG’ (a Tui winner as New Zealand Jazz album of the year) from Rattle Jazz. Both gigs were at the Thirsty Dog for the CJC Creative Jazz Club

More clips will follow incrementally.  I would also like to thank those who watch the videos – more than 70,000 of you have during the last two or three years.

John Fenton  – JazzLocal32.com

Peter Koopman Trio (Aust) 2017 Tour

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IMG_4434.jpgGuitarist Peter Koopman has long been established on the Australian Jazz scene. He returns once or twice a year and when he does he brings interesting projects with him. This tour was no exception; with new compositions, some refocused standards, and a re-jigged trio lineup he hit the mark. Some musicians reach a permanent plateau, and then make only incremental advances from there on. To date, Koopman has been on a steady upwards trajectory; and with little sign of slowing. It’s noticeable in the detail, but also in the overall impression. He is matter of fact on the bandstand, there’s even a hint of diffidence about him, but this only reinforces the impression that he is all about the music. From the first few notes, band and audience are subsumed in the performance. IMG_4437.jpgOne of the subtleties that I noticed between visits is in his tone. It is cleaner but broader, conveying more information, allowing listeners to hear nuance and micro changes in modulation. And on some numbers gentle harmonics, rising off the upper end of a rapid run. His newer compositions also enhanced the project; nicely paced, making room for the whole trio and very appealing to the ear. I was not alone in observing this trajectory. One of our best New Zealand guitarists was later heard to mutter, only half-jokingly, “Damn, I’m off home to burn my guitar”. Australia has a number of excellent guitarists and some are equal to the best in the world. The challenges and opportunities of working in such an environment, have obviously suited Koopman.IMG_4445 - Version 2.jpg Judas Boogie, Meth Blue, Dog Annoyance, and Hypochondria were Koopman’s tunes. The band also played a sizzling version of ‘Airegin’ (Sonny Rollins).  ‘Airegin’ (Nigeria spelled backward) is a relentlessly upbeat tune and often tackled by guitarists – at least those brave enough. Another Rollins tune was ‘Paradox’.  The others ranged from the familiar ‘The best things in life are free’ (De Silva), and ‘The things we did last summer’ (Styne/Cahn) – to the less familiar –  ‘The big push’ (by Shorter from his little known ‘Soothsayer’ album) and ‘Montara’ by Bobby Hutcherson (from his amazing latin album of the same name).  Why we do not hear more Hutcherson is quite beyond me (thanks for this one PJK).IMG_4452.jpg

Max Alduca was on upright bass and he came with Koopman last time he visited. He has also been active on the avant-garde circuit with NZ musicians. A thoughtful melodic player, leaving space where appropriate and always where he should be during a tune; an active and equal trio member. Tim Gelden was new to the CJC audience, instantly catching our attention, adding excitement with his crisp tasteful stick work; during moments of interplay with Koopman and Alduca, heart-stopping action.

Peter Koopman Trio: Koopman (Guitar, compositions), Max Alduca (upright bass), Tim Gelden (drums), performed at the CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K’Rd, Auckland, 12th April 20117.

Andy Sugg on tour

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Andy Sugg 254.jpgAustralia produces some distinctive, muscular tenor players and Andy Sugg is an example of that phenomena. The first thing that grabs a listener is an awareness of the raw power that fills a room when he blows. I am not just referring to volume or his fat rounded sound, but to the way he communicates an innate sense of musical purpose. This comes across as something beyond mere confidence. Deftly progressing through each tune; no over thinking, just a flow of connected ideas – and all carried on that delicious sound.Andy Sugg 261.jpgIt is always tempting to look for comparisons or patterns, it is what listeners do (and probably what many players wish they didn’t do).  It is part of how music works, our subconscious looking for a framework, for some reference point – a launching pad, a place of departure where the known departs for the unknown.  In Sugg’s playing you could could hear them all.  Name a great tenor player and that player was in there, listen harder and suddenly they were gone. Perhaps this is the hall mark of truly innovative players; they channel the essence of others and then dismiss them just as easily.Andy Sugg 256.jpgOne of the joys of improvised music is the  eternal conflict between the tangible and the intangible. You hear a phrase or a voicing that is maddeningly familiar, you feel a tingle of anticipation, you are on the verge of naming it – but before it takes form it is gone; dissolved into the intangible. Listening to Sugg is to catch a piece of Brecker, but listening to Sugg is also to hear an original. Tradition and innovation co-existing but ultimately spoken in his own dialect.

The tour was put together by Wellington based drummer Mark Lockett. Not long back from years of working in the USA, Locket has wasted no time since in stamping his hallmark on the Wellington scene. The WJC is a Wellington equivalent of Auckland’s CJC and between the two clubs (and affiliated venues) we are ensured a more viable touring circuit. Lockett simply oozes character (on kit and in conversation). As drummers go he is authentically original and a delight to hear. His atypical posture on the kit produces astonishingly good results. Like Sugg he is never hesitant, each gentle tap, pressed roll or flurry a moment of pure musicality. Like Sugg, he is an unusually decisive player – these two were made to be musically aligned.Kevin Field was on piano, this time well miked and able to do what he is renowned for. Mostyn Cole was on upright bass (also perfectly miked for the room). The band sounded terrific and although some of the charts were complex, they played like they had been together for years. It never ceases to amaze me, how well-rounded musicians can achieve such results after one quick rehearsal. Most of the tunes were Sugg originals and all were distinctive.  Among them were ‘Rollins’, (a tribute to Sonny), ‘Tran’, ‘Columbia’, ‘Manhattan Beach’, ‘Juna’ and segment from his ‘Hemispheric Suite’. Andy Sugg 256.jpg

The one standard he played was Johnny Green’s ‘Body & Soul’.  I don’t know why, but this warhorse is another in the ‘often avoided’ category. At one point it was the tune with the most recorded versions (perhaps that is why?). Following in the vapour trails laid by Bean, Dex or Trane could be another reason. Sugg however had the confidence to take it head on and he just killed it. After a stunning introduction the band swung through the changes, each revealing new wonders without being obtuse, reverently evoking joy and making us hear the tune – truly hear it – as if we were hearing it for the first time (version posted). The “Hemispheric Suite’ in three parts is simply magnificent. We only heard a segment or two on Wednesday but the full suite and many of the compositions mentioned above are on his recent album ‘Wednesday’s at M’s’. In these hands the Hemispheric Suite took us close to Coltrane Territory. That open skies brand of Jazz that moves ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ seamlessly, and which can only be described as spiritual.Andy Sugg 254 (1).jpg

Sugg’s albums are available from his website www.andysugg.com.  The Auckland band was Andy Sugg (tenor sax, compositions), Kevin Field (piano), Mostyn Cole (bass), Mark Lockett (drums) – CJC (Creative Jazz Cub), Thirsty Dog Tavern, Auckland, 5th April 2017

Kevin Field @ Thirsty Dog

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Kevin 3-2017 254 (1)It was appropriate that Warners ‘A List’ recording artist Kevin Field brought with him local A listers Dixon Nacey, Cam McArthur, Roger Manins and Stephen Thomas. Field has a substantial following in New Zealand and his innovative music attracts musicians and fans alike. Since his last ‘A List’ gig he’d clearly been busy – writing new material and rendering the familiar into something altogether different. Zoot Sims once quipped, “Jazz is a music where you never play the same thing once’. Field certainly exemplifies that tongue in cheek descriptor. Commentators and visiting musicians often remark on his innovative approach to harmony and rhythm. It is as if he has invented a new musical language out of the old. In truth, there are strong elements of related genres like R & B, latin and even disco funk there; under his fingers they become unique vehicles for improvisation.Kevin 3-2017 258Unlike Janet Jackson, Field never suffers from wardrobe malfunctions. He does however occasionally suffer from equipment malfunctions. I mention it only because his Rhodes had failed him during a previous weeks CJC gig. No one listening comprehended that he had lost some of the middle-register.  No one noticed because he re-voiced mid improvisation to work around the problem. I have heard of old timers doing this but seldom modern pianists. Field can effortlessly jump over obstacles and find a sweet spot.

On Wednesday he used the Thirsty Dog’s upright piano as well as his Rhodes. Miking an upright presents challenges that don’t arise when miking a grand, consequently the piano was a little quieter in the mix than the Rhodes (and Nacey’s guitar). It didn’t matter in the end because the music was wonderful and the others modulated their sound when necessary.Kevin 3-2017 256There were old favourites reworked like ‘Game Changer’, ‘Good Friday’ and ‘Left Field’, but the rest were recent compositions. Among the newer numbers were ‘Rain check’ and ‘Acme Music Corporation’ (the latter featuring Manins on soprano – a rare event). Another new number ‘Unconditional love’ was introduced by Field with the following story. ‘There are many types of love in the world and today an unusual  example came up in my twitter feed, – ‘Trumps deportation threats make my in-laws fearful. They live at 2b/34 Main St, Phoenix. My Mother in law arrives home from work at 4:30’ “.Kevin 3-2017 255The last tune ‘Home Schooled’ was the best possible number to finish the evening with. Far from being a wind-down number, the musicians reached inside themselves, each giving magnificent performances. Manins back for a second number was on tenor, and he sounded happy to be back on his favourite horn. Nacey was at his best, making his guitar soar, as if he had found an ancient alchemy, a way to condense sunlight into music; the epitome of sonic clarity, invention and virtuosity. McArthur and Thomas each in step and reacting to the challenges. With material like this good musicians can achieve wonders. 

Kevin Field: (Rhodes, piano, compositions), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Roger Manins (tenor and soprano saxes), Cam McArthur (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums). CJC (Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog Tavern, 29th March 2017.

Marc Osterer (NY/Austria)

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Marc Osterer 254Improvised music is a never-ending contest between the familiar and the unexpected. Everything is valid on the journey, but sometimes we forget that tradition can be a springboard and not a straightjacket. We had a good example of that on Wednesday.  Because he lives far from here, few if any locals had previously encountered Marc Osterer, but few who heard him will forget his exuberant CJC gig. Born in New York, Osterer has led an interesting musical life. Broadway Shows, New York clubs, principal trumpet (Mexico City Philharmonic) and the Salzburg Festival Austria. While he attended prestigious musical conservatories in New York, there is something else in his sound – something that can’t be learnt purely from academic institutions. Osterer’s Jazz has a firm foothold in the tradition. Louis Armstrong and the great swing-to-bop trumpeters like Sweets Edison. It made perfect sense therefore that the standards he played were from the Songbook and that his own compositions reached deep inside that era.Marc Osterer 256 (1)

There was something of the old time back streets and jazz alleys in his sound. The way he phrased and that tasty lip-shake vibrato coming straight after a ‘hot’ clean-toned blast. Sure he is a formidable technician, but there was more than that in his sound. Trumpeters not raised on his streets, not bottle fed on Armstrong, Eldridge, Stewart, Allen or Edison hesitate before diving into that particular sound. Swing-to-bop as played in the 50’s still contained the mellow soulful echoes of its New Orleans beginnings. This period is often overlooked today – perhaps it’s even seen as hokey by some?  That’s a shame because the era is a gift that keeps on giving (watch a clip of Roy Eldridge or Henry Red Allen sometime – ‘whomp whomp’). What Osterer showed us were modern interpretations which were credible and which shone fresh light on an oft neglected golden age of trumpet.Marc Osterer 255We also witnessed good chemistry between the visiter and his pick up band. It was not the band advertised but what we got was terrific. Matt Steele was flown up from Wellington and locals (fellow UoA Jazz School alumni) Eamon Edmundson-Wells and Tristan Deck completed the rhythm section. Pianist Steele has been gone from Auckland for over a year and is seldom heard here these days. We do hear Edmundson-Wells (bass) and Deck (drums), but to the best of my knowledge, none of them have performed in this context. Absent were the complex time signatures and post bop harmonies. The tunes stayed closer to the melody and the rhythmic requirements were often two-beat or even something closer to second line. As they played through the sets the joy of discovery showed on their faces and we felt it too. Marc Osterer 255These musicians were still students three years ago but their skills are now well honed. They met the challenge and more.  Locals who had not seen Steele play for a while, were buzzing; especially after the blistering Cole Porter standard , ‘It’s alright by me’. Steele’s fleet fingered solo was terrific, and matched by Deck’s bop drumming (complete with appropriately placed bombs and fluid accents). Edmundson-Wells dropped right in behind, pumping out his lines, and it was obvious they were enjoying themselves.  Osterer’s compositions tell us how Marc Osterer 254 (1)comfortable he is with this style of music. His ‘What’s that smell’ (Jazz should be ‘stinky’ he explained) – a New Orleans referencing tune, then ‘Tune for today’ and ‘Bite her back’ based on a Bix Beiderbecke tune. Among the standards was Chet Baker’s version of the little known ‘This is always’, a steamrolling syncopated version of ‘Limehouse Blues’ (Braham) [Note: I have only seen one Kiwi attempt that, Neil Watson on fender] and a version of Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘New Orleans’.

My favourite tune of the night was the bands version of the Mencher/Moll 1930’s standard,’I want a little girl (of my own)’. This slow burner is another that has dropped from fashion, perhaps due to the slightly creepy title (and the lyrics are definitely pre feminist).  What a tune this is though. This was less Armstrong’s version than the Cootie Williams/Eddie Cleanhead Vinson take or even Brother Jack McDuff’s. A low down dark-alley speak-easy version with growls, stutters and smears; giving us the full dose of ‘stinky’ jazz and we loved every second of it. A commentator once stated; “When they find out which part of the human brain holds the love gene, this tune, ‘I want a little girl’ will be present in the DNA”.

Putin recently opined that tolerance and the Western world’s fetish for embracing diversity are signs of weakness. Hermann Goering said something similar, “when I hear the word culture I reach for my gun”. This myopic world view is the domain of strutting fools. The improvised music circuit is our connection to innovation, tolerance and expanded consciousness. On Wednesday nights we forget Trump and Le Pen. For that short window in time we live in a world of exciting ideas and discover the hidden corners of human consciousness.  Keep them coming CJC, you enrich our lives.   

I have put up two sound clips: ‘I want a little girl (of my own)’ and ‘It’s all right by me’ – enjoy.

Mark Osterer (trumpet, arrangements, compositions), Matt Steele (piano), Eamon Edmundson-Wells (bass), Tristan Deck (drums). 22nd March 2017, CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Thirsty Dog, K’Road, Auckland.

 

Jasmine Lovell Smith – ‘Yellow Red Blue’

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Jasmine 258After years traveling the wider Jazz world,  Jasmine Lovell-Smith came home; launching her latest album ‘Yellow Red Blue’ at the CJC last Wednesday. The Album features a quintet ‘Towering Poppies’; a group she formed in New York over five years ago. Her New Zealand gig featured locals Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Eamon Edmundson-Wells and Chris O’Connor. After her New York release she garnered a number of favourable reviews and no wonder. This is a lovely album, her compositions and arrangements outstanding, the recording immaculate.

Lovell-Smith spent the last seven years in the United States and Mexico. Along the way she studied with the experimentalist, saxophonist and composer Anthony Braxton. When you first listen to ‘Yellow Red Blue’, the wild raspy joyous alto of Braxton is not the first thing that comes to mind. Good musicians, and Lovell-Smith is one, learn from their teachers while transforming the information into something all their own. Lovell-Smith has clearly assimilated a multiplicity of interesting influences. Her beautifully crafted  compositions teeming with ideas.Jasmine 257 Her soprano sound  is warm and enveloping, the cleaner tone of her straight horn nicely counterbalancing with the woody earthiness of the bass clarinet, the well constructed charts coming into their own when these delightful interactions occur. The rich textures are never overwhelming, even when strings enter the mix. This is chamber Jazz at it’s best, engaging the listener without resorting to cliché.

The compositions also travelled well. Wednesday’s gig had a different lineup from the album. Replacing bass clarinet was a tenor saxophone (Manins) and in place of the piano was a Rhodes (Field). Manins is incredibly intuitive in these roles and a hint of that wild (Braxton-like) unconstrained joy was evident. On the head arrangements they were captivating, on the solo’s explorative. Field and Manins are so in tune after years of interaction, that they can push each other to greater heights effortlessly. In spite of such familiarity the two avoided falling into familiar groves, stimulated by the charts and aided by Eamon Edmundson-Wells intuitive bass lines. Edmundson-Wells is a multifaceted bassist and often seen with avant-gardests.Jasmine 256

As a special treat we had the amazing Chris O’Connor on drums. I can never get enough of this guy. He can do anything on traps including hyper subtlety. On the last number of the first set he turned in a solo which was so coherent, so perfect, that the world moved into his orbit. This faster-paced tune ‘A nest to fly’, was from an earlier Lovell-Smith album.

The tunes were all by Lovell-Smith with the exception of Joni Mitchell’s ‘I had a king’. Her arrangement on that teased out fresh ideas. One particular version of that tune always sticks in my mind, the one from ‘The Joni Letters’ (with Shorter & Hancock). This version pleased me for its raw beauty and quiet intensity. The sound-clips posted here are ‘Moving mountains’ from the album and ‘A nest to fly’ from the live gig.

The title track ‘Yellow Red Blue’ is reflective and abstract. It is written in reaction to the Mark Rothko painting of the same name. I have recently been on a modernist painting viewing binge in Europe and America. The bold eerie magnetism of Rothko is still fixed in my mind’s eye, greatly refreshed after this homage. The title ‘Red Yellow Blue’ and the Rothko reference feels appropriate. Neither invite pigeon holing, both draw you deep into a borderless world.IMG_0263.jpg

Lowell-Smith is back in New Zealand to pursue a Doctorate in composition with John Psathas. Her albums are available from www.jasminelovellsmith.com

Towering Poppies: Jasmine Lovel-Smith (soprano, compositions, arrangements), Josh Sinton (bass clarinet), Cat Toren (piano), Adam Hopkins (bass), Kate Gentle (drums). A string quartet features on 3,5 & 7)

Towering Poppies live NZ: Jasmine Lovell-Smith (soprano), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Kevin Field (Rhodes, piano), Eamon Edmundson-Wells, Chris O’Connor (drums). March 15, 2017, CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Thirsty Dog, Auckland.

 

Flightless Birds – Callum Passells

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Passells 254Callum Passells’ newest project was an exploration which took us to the outer edges of Bebop. The title ‘Flightless Birds’ a wordplay; a pebble tossed into the pond, suggesting many possibilities. The obvious Jazz reference is a comparison  between flightless New Zealand birds and Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker – his musical descendants especially. A cohort that tried and often failed to catch his musical coattails. For a time after his death, alto saxophones were laid aside in favour of the tenor; only a brave few risked comparison with the troubled prodigy. As his legend grew he seemed unassailable. Attempts to demystify, to separate the legend from his musical  legacy came later. In the post millennium era few such sensitivities remain. Parker is deeply admired for his genius, then deconstructed unselfconsciously. The gifted altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa immediately comes to mind.

As the Wednesday CJC gig progressed the flightless birds theme was teased out with self-deprecating humour and clever asides. If the aim was to challenge us to view Bebop in fresh ways, while stripping away some of the worshipful churchy reverence, then it succeeded. Passells is able to strike that rare balance between irreverence and devotion, and all the while delighting his audience. He makes the outlying and complex accessible and this is his gift. His music makes us think, it makes us laugh, but never at the expense of enjoyment.Passells 256The two things that draw me to Passells are his tone and his communication of ideas. For a musician who leans toward the avant-garde he has a remarkably clean tone. This works well for him when he heads into uncharted choppy waters, cutting though the turbulent air incisively. There is obvious precedent for this in Albert Ayler (who strove to sound like Desmond or Konitz while tearing at the very fabric of harmony and form).Passells 254 (1)

The quartet had no chordal instrument and adding one would have subtracted from, not enhanced the performance. Accompanying Passells were tenor player Ben Sinclair, Bassist Tom Dennison and drummer Adam Tobeck. As tempting as it is to compare this to the Marsh/Konitz quartets, or even the piano-less Mulligan quartets would be superficial. This project was firmly grounded in the Bebop tradition and interpreted in an honest Kiwi way. Sinclair was the ideal foil for Passells, also possessing a clean tone and delivering pleasing and inventive solos. The warm harmonies struck between the two horns and the bass were at times spine tingling – more bebop than cool and often bookended by edgy heart stopping unison lines.  It’s been ages since I’ve seen Dennison on the bandstand and that was a treat in itself. He gets such a fat warm sound from his instrument and his time feel is great. This is the second week in a row that drummer Tobeck has played a CJC gig. He had different duties to perform on Wednesday and he obviously warmed to the challenge.Passells 255The tunes were all ‘contrafacts’ and cleverly constructed. I am crap at working out the mother tunes – a job best suited to musicians fed a rich diet of standards’ changes. The pieces had titles like “The Punisher” (Sinclair), or ‘Buy a Car’ (Passells).  The Punisher was written over the changes of ‘In a Mellow Tone’ (Ellington) and ‘Buy a Car’ over ‘Take the A Train’ (Strayhorn). After each tune the original was announced, then people got it immediately, cursing themselves for not getting the connection quicker. The tunes were close enough to hint at familiarity, but far enough away from the original to cause some head scratching. One tune needed no guesswork. “I’ve got it bad and so I’m obliged to notify all previous sexual partners” (Passells) – no prize for attributing that one.

My favourite contrafact of the night hands down, was ‘Parkers Dead'(Passells). This title was a double word play – referencing ‘Parkers Mood’ and the graffiti that arose in and around North American cities immediately after Bird’s death; ‘Bird Lives’. This tune was the purest Bebop, with a powerful unison line and hooks so strong they could snag a Great White. Because of a passing superficial similarity, I initially thought it to be based on Parkers ‘Bloomdido’ (my bad).  As is always the case with Passells gigs, I came away musically satisfied and challenged to dive deeper into the music I thought I knew.Passells 257

Flightless Birds: Callum Passells (alto saxophone, compositions), Ben Sinclair (tenor saxophone, compositions), Tom Dennison (upright bass, compositions), Adam Tobeck (drums). CJC (Creative Jazz Club) – Thirsty Dog, 08 March 2017

 

Andy Watts Quartet

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I missed the earlier Jazz gigs at the Backbeat Bar and was pleasantly surprised by the venue. A steep staircase rises directly from the busy pavement, ascending sharply until you find yourself in a pleasant oblong room; bar on one side, soft lighting and a surprisingly generous stage at the far end. This was a temporary venue but a good one. Since losing the atmospheric but sonically challenging Britomart basement, the CJC has become peripatetic. It currently has a number of homes and pleasingly, the audience seems happy to follow. Importantly, this particular venue has good acoustics.Andy Watts 132

The first of March brought a treat in the form of the Andy Watts Quartet. Watts has worked in London for ten years and this was his first trip back to New Zealand since leaving. He is that rarity, an active New Zealand trumpeter bandleader, a cohort you could count off on the fingers of one hand. Like Mike Booth and Lex French he was schooled here, but left to hone his skills elsewhere before returning. His years of performing in and around London have gifted him an air of confidence, one born out of wide and diverse musical experience.Watts has been busy in London, appearing on numerous albums such as the ‘Afrobeat Collective’ (which he helped form), ‘6 Day Riot’ and ‘Running Club’. This year he recorded an album with his country group Blue Mountain Rockers titled ‘Turn the lights out’. It is not just Jazz guitarists who effectively mine this seam (Trumpeter Mathias Eick’s ‘Midwest’ is a masterpiece of country Jazz invention). Also cut this year was his album ‘Otherwise fine’, tonight’s gig is the local release gig for that London recording.Andy Watts 128

His New Zealand quartet is largely made up of old friends from his Auckland University days. On guitar was Ben White, with Jo Shum on bass, and Adam Tobeck on drums. Six of the compositions were by Watts and three were White’s. These were juxtaposed between some seldom heard but great compositions by Roy Hargrove and Jerome Sabbagh. Rounding off each set was a standard. Many of Watts compositions are muscular, and at times you can detect his influences. Dave Douglas, Wheeler and others like Hargrove are clearly in his pantheon. I particularly liked ‘Smoke and mirrors’ and ‘Mr Cornelius’ by Watts, also ‘The Moment’ by White. The bands opening number in the second set was Hargrove’s lovely ‘Strasbourg/St Denis’ and it was a delight. To hear such a fine composition performed so well was worth the entry price alone. In this piece especially, the contrast between trumpet and horn was perfectly balanced.

White has a warm sound with lots of bottom to it. This contrasts nicely with Watts horns, who can swoop with heart stopping daring off the upper register or reach for impossible notes al la Wheeler. We see the reliable Tobeck often but less so Shum.  It was good to see both on this bandstand. I am still having problems with uploading to You Tube but I have clips. I will post the missing clips when it is sorted. In the meantime I have loaded an earlier clip of the Andy Watts London Quartet. For a copy of ‘Otherwise fine’ visit any digital outlet or go to andywattstrumpet.bandcamp.com  .

Andy Watts Quartet: Andy Watts (trumpet, flugel), Ben White (guitar), Jo Shum (upright bass), Adam Tobeck (drums). CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Backbeat Bar K’Rd March 01 2017.

Michal Martyniuk – Lewis Eady Concert

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Michal 17 128.jpgThe Lewis Eady special concert featuring the Michal Martyniuk trio lived up to its promise. It’s not often I get to hear Martyniuk and more’s the pity because his playing resonates strongly with me. He attended the Auckland University Jazz School, but he doesn’t sound like his contemporaries as he brings his Polish origins to the keyboard. His is the approach of Wasilewsky and other modern young Polish improvisers. Rhythmically adventurous, melodically rich and with harmonies often referencing the twentieth century European classical composers. Polish Jazz developed in isolation and in secret, the Nazi’s forbad it and the Russians strongly discouraged it. From Krzysztof Komeda onwards the music communicated a unique sense of place, an authenticity, self-contained inventiveness and at times even wistfulness. The initial impetus came from covert listening to Radio America but the rich wellsprings of Chopin, eastern bloc avant-garde and mazurka are there too.

Martyniuk came to New Zealand with his family in his late teens. His love of Jazz and in particular the Polish variant, began before he arrived. He had already begun his piano studies in Poland and attending a Jazz School in his new country was a natural choice. It was therefore fitting that his trio consisted of drummer Ron Samsom the programme coordinator of the UoA Jazz School, and bass player Cameron McArthur, a gifted ex UoA Jazz School student. These musicians are more than capable of working their own Kiwi magic into a European style of playing.michal-17-131  They were joined on three numbers by saxophonist Nathan Haines, a long time mentor of Martyniuk’s. The concert marked a cross-road for Martyniuk as he and the trio departed for the Jakarta based Java Jazz Festival soon afterwards. This prestigious event is the biggest Jazz festival in the world and it bodes well that they were chosen to perform there. The festival is attended by well over 100,000 people and it pulls in the who’s who of the Jazz world. After the concert Martyniuk is travelling on to Europe (and Poland) where he hopes to intensify his studies and absorb more of the Jazz of his youth. He informed me that he would probably return in about a years time. That is something for local Jazz lovers to look forward to.  The back room of the Lewis Eady complex is a good space acoustically, the audience embraced by an encompassing  circle of grand pianos. There is a sense that these resting machines add sympathetic resonance to the performance, it certainly seemed so last Wednesday.michal-17-129As the programme developed, the trio dived deep into the material. They demonstrated their skill as individual musicians, but also that they could play as a highly interactive unit. There was room for subtlety as well as bravura, together they sang. Having Haines join them rounded off the performance, especially on his trade mark cutting soprano. No one else locally sounds like him on that horn, he is a master of the instrument. As I listened, Haines brought to mind John Surman, an English improvising saxophonist who has a unique clarity of sound on the three horns he plays.

This is the pattern with our improvising musicians; they travel, work cruise ships and absorb new ideas in far off places, eventually to return, making us the lucky beneficiaries.

The piece I have posted is a Martyniuk composition titled ‘The Awakening’. An extraordinary piece of music where each trio member excels while leaving space for the others. Tension and release, excitement, interaction, it’s all there; very much in the European tradition and as good as anything I have heard in Europe. Samsom achieving a delicious flat-ride sound by sheer technique.

Michal Martyniuk Trio: Martyniuk (piano, compositions), Cameron McArthur (upright bass), Ron Samsom (drums) + guest Nathan Haines (soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone) Lewis Eady showrooms, 22nd February 2017

Neil Watson gig / Crystal Choi gig

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Neil W 128.jpgTubular Live: Having earlier reviewed the long anticipated Neil Watson ‘Tubular’ album I looked forward to the live launch. The Thirsty Dog gig was well attended, the audience extremely enthusiastic and no wonder. Although we saw a slightly different line-up from the album band, they were on fire from the first note. Watson, always a confident performer, was more in command than I have ever seen him and he communicated his musical vision effortlessly. Perhaps this was due to the long gestation of the material, but now he had a platform to extend the concepts further and he grabbed the opportunity.  The evening seamlessly covered the breadth of guitar jazz and beyond. While much of the material was influenced by Jazz/Rock or improvisations built on genres like surf guitar, the gentler mainstream Jazz heroes of the past like Johnny Smith and Errol Garner were also honoured. Neil W 130.jpgOn the ‘Tubular’ album his musical influences are evident. At the live gig, he stared those influences down and carved out his own space. He is one of the few New Zealand musicians who can convincingly occupy Frisell or Ribot territory and he demonstrated that. The perfect example was his rendering of the classic five beat Mambo Picadillo by Tito Puente. He began with a solo intro, dissonant chords offering brief hints as to where he was heading. As he developed his theme the audience gasped in delight as Errol Garners ‘Misty’ emerged, morphing into the gentler Johnny Smith version of ‘Moonlight in Vermont’. That it worked at all is a tribute to his musicianship, that it was done so well all the more so. The Mambo was well-arranged and just superb, not a foot remained still and the bar staff stopped in their tracks, swaying.  Another tour de force (not on the album) was his arrangement of ‘Hard rains are going to fall’ (Dylan). This followed his gentle ballad ‘Kerala’.Neil W 131.jpg

The band finished the last set with an upbeat number and there was no way the audience was going to let things lie there. Watson in keeping with his quirky humour and well within his brief; finished with the 1959 surf/rock guitar classic ‘Sleepwalk’ (Santo & Johnny). Accompanying him he had the talented and versatile Ron Samsom (drums) and Olivier Holland (upright bass). Replacing Grant Winterburn on Keyboards and Roger Manins on tenor saxophone was Cameron Allen. If anyone can replace two talented musicians and do so convincingly it is Allen. Instead of a tenor he played baritone saxophone and at other times his array of keyboards and ‘doogon’. I have video but I am still experiencing upload problems – I will upload when sorted.

Cryst 128.jpgCrystal Choi (private concert): This particular invitation-only concert was organised by Jonathan Crayford and the invitations were swiftly taken up. Crayford is a legendary figure on the New Zealand music scene and when he gets behind a young artist, people pay attention. I have watched Choi develop musically over the years, but I had not seen her perform for some time. In the past she has appeared with students, part of an ensemble, seldom stepping into the limelight for long. This was a departure, a brave step into the challenging world of improvised solo piano. Developing artists (and even experienced performers) struggle with this format, some panic and resort to noodling. When Crayford introduced the concert he stated, “Crystal is amazing, and what you are about to hear will speak for itself”. He was right.Cryst 129.jpg

What we witnessed was a rapidly maturing artist. She exuded a confidence I had not seen before and her ideas were well-developed, all communicated with the utmost clarity. There were two sets and most of the compositions were her own. It was a large crowd for such a small space, but not a soul talked, shuffled, clinked glasses or coughed. She had them all in rapt attention as she wove her stories around themes and explored harmonic visions. This is the right musical space for Choi and I hope she develops it further.  A sound that is more European in concept than American, where space, melody, and nuance are dominant. As she worked her way through the sets, everything flowed. If this is what she is like at 22 years of age, I can’t wait to hear her at 32. The sound was well captured and surprisingly, there were no awkward echoes or untoward harmonics considering the size of the room. It certainly helped that she had a ‘Grotrian’ grand to perform on. I hope that we see more solo piano from Choi.

Neil Watson ‘Tubular’ Live: Watson (guitars, compositions), Cameron Allen, (baritone sax, keyboards, electronics), Ron Samsom (drums), Olivier Holland (upright bass) @ the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Thirsty Dog, Auckland.15th February 2017

Chrystal Choi: Solo piano – 12th February 2017

Simon Barker

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simon-barker-129The Australian and New Zealand improvising scenes are a homogenous entity and long may it remain so. If the traffic sometimes appears one-sided, that is a natural consequence of our artists moving to the bigger scene; the exchange benefiting both. Many of those who jump the Tasman do well and they always return for gigs, tours, or sometimes to conduct workshops. Without these exchanges with Australia and beyond, our improvised music scene would be the poorer. This traffic brings us a number of talented Australians, musicians who probably would not have the opportunity to come otherwise; those collegial connections count for something.  Drummer Simon Barker is one of those.simon-barker-131Barker was in Auckland early last year with Carl Dewhurst. Together they are the amazing ‘Showa44’, a duo which I reviewed during their visit. Anyone who follows Barker will know how versatile he is, and above all the musical integrity and originality he brings to whatever situation he is in.  Barney McAll’s award-winning ‘Mooroolbark’ and ‘Showa44’ are very different propositions but Barker sits comfortably at the heart of both; of equal importance is his teaching. While in Auckland, he held a workshop at the Auckland University Jazz School and undertook three days of intensive one-on-one teaching with students (and established musicians). Students I spoke to said that they valued the opportunity enormously.simon-barker-130The first set featured Barker solo. It is not often that a drummer performs solo and to pull that off requires something beyond mere drum chops. Barker brings something that is uniquely himself to the kit, and he is able to communicate a story, not just a beat. He began with a tribute to an obscure central North Island Polynesian drummer (sadly the name alludes me). He has never met this person but saw a clip of him performing in the traditional Polynesian, polyrhythmic style.  He had a traditional wooden drum mounted beside his big tom and working between this and his kit, he created intricate cross rhythms, worthy of a row of skilled drummers.simon-barker-133His second and shorter piece he described as a chant and it was. The hypnotic intensity carried the audience to the last beat; just as the first piece had. He is not only a storyteller on his instrument but he is capable of creating an orchestral sound. The audience loved it. The second set was something of an impromptu affair but none the less enjoyable for that. Also on stage for that set was Dixon Nacey, Olivier Holland, and Roger Manins. So busy was Barker’s schedule that the quartet had not found time to rehearse. Even the set list was once settled on the bandstand.simon-barker-134They began with ‘All the things you are’ and turned it on its head. The introduction performed by Holland and Barker alone was a blast. Drummer and bass exchanging phrases, challenging each other, leavening the exchanges with humour. When Nacey and Manins came in they exposed the bones of the tune. It was well done and in spite of its raw originality, the echoes of the melody hung in the air as implied offerings.  The remainder of the set were original compositions and a rendition of the complex but ever popular Oleo (Rollins). Keep visiting Australians, we value you.

Simon Barker: Solo & Quartet at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Thirsty Dog – 8th Feb 2016

Simon Barker (drums and percussion), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Olivier Holland (upright bass)

Studies In Tubular

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IMG_0215.jpgA review copy of the album ‘Studies in Tubular’ arrived in my letterbox a few days ago and it is vintage Neil Watson. It was recorded in 2011 and left to mature like a fine wine; it was worth the wait. I haven’t asked Watson why he titled the album ‘Studies In Tubular’, but the title feels appropriate. My first thought was that it might reference Mike Oldfield’s trippy minimalist classic ‘Tubular Bells’, and then I recalled that the word ‘tubular’ was once surfer slang for ‘exceptionally good’. Whatever the reason, this is exceptionally good music. The surf reference is not such a great stretch either when you listen carefully. This is deliciously eclectic music and although it touches on many sources, it is an original and highly satisfying offering. Referencing many things but never beholden to any of them.

Watson’s influences are seldom mainstream, but in spite of his touchstones like Sonny Sharrock, Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot, he always brings fresh ideas to the music. His trademark humour is always present in abundance and the ability to avoid taking himself too seriously is a gift that more musicians could adopt to advantage. This is an album made for a long drive, a lazy day at the beach or a sultry summer evening. Track two ‘Wes da Money’ opens with a nod to Wes Montgomery, then deftly takes us into very different territory, this without losing the essence of the opening bars. Guitar surf music (the Atlantics), Jimi Hendrix (Band of Gypsies), early Rock, & Roll. It’s all in there – wonderfully overlaid, motif upon motif.

The beautiful track ‘Kerala’ starts as folksy Americana, evoking a vibe reminiscent of Bill Frisell or Greg Leiz. On ‘Five Bye Blues’ he adds organist Grant Winterburn and what a treat that is. While drummer Ron Samsom lays down a groove beat and bass player Olivier Holland locates the heart, Winterburn comps tastefully behind a lovely guitar line; this reminiscent of the groove merchants like Pat Martino. There is Booker T, Boogie, Zorn and more in this package. This is a music of heart and soul and it brought a smile to my face.  The weather has been a problem this month but with this album you can dispell that memory and lock in an endless summer vibe. Purchase a copy from www.neilwatson.co.nz or alternatively come to the launch at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) which has relocated to the Thirsty Dog, Karangahape Road, 8pm, 15th Feb 20017IMG_0217.jpg

Watson was accompanied on all tracks by Holland and Samsom – Winterburn added his grooves to 2,3,& 5 – additional guests Lewis McCallum and Roger Manins played on tracks 6 & 7 respectively. With a lineup like this, Watson was in good company, but so were they.

Studies in Tubular: Neil Watson (electric, acoustic & synth guitars, compositions), Olivier Holland (upright bass), Ron Samsom (drums and percussion), guests; Grant Winterburn 2,3,5, (organ & Wurlitzer), Lewis McCullum (alto saxophone), Roger Manins (baritone saxophone) – (disclaimer: the album rear photograph is mine)

Maps to past and future

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If you valued social justice and critical thinking, 2016 was confronting. Politically, it was the universe turned on its head. Pre-enlightenment thinking unexpectedly overwhelmed rational thought, barely literate misogynist tweets replaced policy announcements and the media discourse collapsed into alphabet rubble.  A constant throughout this mayhem was the focus of the creative sector. Writers still turned out exquisite prose, visual artists like Banksy spoke truth to power and improvising musicians played on. The year may have been chaotic, but good stuff happened in spite of it.

Alargo: During the last few months several recordings and books stood out for me and the first of these was the long anticipated Alan Brown-Kingsley Melhuish ‘Alargo’ album titled ‘Central Plateau‘. I first heard them at the Golden Dawn in Ponsonby Road and loved their atmospheric free-ranging explorations. Their palette is seemingly limitless as the two utilise a variety of instruments, loops and effects (eleven in all). These ranged from the oldest of instruments (Conch shells and horns) to live sampling and a variety of Synthesisers and keyboards.Alargo 128.jpg

In these hands, multi layered magic is woven into the mix. This is improvised music in the purist sense and it owes as much to the experimental innovators like Jon Hassell or Terry Riley as to anyone else. For Brown, in particular, the trajectory has been constant. It was inevitable that he should create an EP like this. His last album ‘Silent Observer’ took us deep into ambient territory. Now with the able assistance of the gifted multi instrumentalist Melhuish, a wonderful new soundscape is crafted. Jazz musicians have long played over drones or embraced mood over structural convention (locally, Gianmarco Liguori, Murray McNabb and Kim Paterson were early adaptors).

This is a local variant of the exciting explorations being undertaken by the Nordic ambient improvisers. It is however, a very New Zealand sound, as the sense of space, warmth and terrain evoked could only be ours. Last week I journeyed to the central North Island of Zealand where I spent time on the Desert Road and Central Plateau. I took this album with me and it was the perfect road trip soundtrack. The title of ‘Central Plateau‘ may refer to this particular place or perhaps to an imagined landscape. As I listened to the snow-fed mountain streams, and Tui, I marvelled at how perfectly Brown and Melhuish had captured the vibe. The album is available at alargo.bandcamp.com – in CD form or digitally.Alargo 129.jpgIn the months before Christmas, we were reeling from the twin body blows of Trump and Brexit. During this period of disbelieving paralysis, Norman Meehan, Paul Dyne and Hayden Chisholm came to town. What they played was a balm for our troubled souls, a sublime ballad gig. I reviewed the gig on November 27, 2016 (this site).  A week later Norman Meehan and Tony Whincup launched a new book titled ‘New Zealand Jazz life’.  This is a great read for anyone interested in New Zealand music history and a must for anyone interested in improvised music. Meehan’s prose is much like his playing, devoid of needless ornamentation but pleasing. he is a natural with words, but he also manages to impart vast amounts of information without the reader ever feeling force-fed. His interviews with significant New Zealand improvising musicians are carefully blended with personal observation. Musicians like Jim Langabeer, Lucian Johnson, Nathan Haines, Kim Paterson, Jeff Henderson, Anthony Donaldson, Frank Gibson jr and Roger Manins are featured. I highly recommend this book as a vital reference work and as a very good read. ‘New Zealand Jazz Life‘ is published by Victoria University Press and available at all good bookstores. img_0079

Most Anticipated Albums 2017 – 

Manins, Samsom, Holland, Field are rumoured to be recording a new ‘DOG‘ album.  If it is anything like DOG one, we can expect a wonderful album. In December the band performed at the Thirsty Dog, and on all indications this will be a contender for another Jazz Tui. The band is simply extraordinary and it is impossible to fault them. ‘DOG’ is renown for showcasing great compositions, superb musicianship and for generating joyous excitement.

Meehan, Chisholm and Dyne have also finished recording and the album will be released sometime this year. Anyone who heard them on tour will certainly want the album. I will keep you posted on that.

Poetry:

I spent the northern Autumn travelling extensively throughout Europe and on the return journey I stopped off in San Francisco. Along the way I collected ‘found’ poetry. My self-imposed task was to record any poem (or fragment of a poem) scrawled on a wall or pavement, or in a street handout. These stumbled-upon poets were often unknown to me and this personalised anthology is the perfect trip reminder. As I moved from city to train, my bags become increasingly heavy with volumes of verse. In Gdansk, North Eastern Poland, I discovered the Nobel Prize winning poet Wislawa Szymborska. IMG_0083.jpgHer Maps‘ anthology has seldom been out of my hands since. Szymborska communicates the Polish experience like few others. She evokes a sense of impermanence, an un-belonging that has characterised Polish life for millennia. I am descended from Pomeranian Polish stock and perhaps this adds a particular resonance in my case. This is a window into a floating world surprisingly free of rancour. ‘Maps’ in translation is published by Mariner Books.img_0085The City Lights book shop in North Beach San Francisco has always been at the centre of my universe. Whenever I’m in that wonderful city I head there immediately. I had just spotted a verse from a Diane di Prima poem in a street pamphlet and I couldn’t wait to get a volume or two of her poetry. I have long been familiar with di Prima’s work, but the gifted female Beat poets were unfairly eclipsed by their male counterparts. A book published by Conari Press titled ‘Women of the Beat Generation’ is now back in print and it’s a good starting point for examining their body of work.IMG_0082.jpg di Prima is still with us and some of her best work is contained in a recent volume titled ‘The Poetry Prize’ published by the City Lights Foundation. IMG_0087.jpgLastly I will post one of my own recent poems, which rounds off the theme of maps. I wrote this in the week before my journey began. As I was about to depart, a well-known New Zealand Jazz musician shared some travel tips with me, offering insights, drawing me an abstract map as guide. I was so pleased with it that I wrote this poem. I took his wonderful  map with me and although I was unable to strictly follow it’s path, the spirit of it was an inner compass to guide me. It made me happy to have it near – now a prized possession, a travel memory, a manifest.Screen Shot 2017-01-14 at 2.59.51 PM.png

John Fenton JazzLocal32.com January 2017

Live Dog @ Thirsty Dog

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DOG16 128.jpgAs another DOG night approached I could feel the excitement in my bones. I had followed their tracks from the groups inception, enjoying every moment along the trail. I was at their first gig in February 2013 and it amazed me then just how rounded and complete they were. If you search for the ‘(Dr) Dog’ post in this blog site you will find a video from that gig. Man that blew me away. I just couldn’t get the tunes and the excitement of that night out of my head. Later I used a cut ‘Dideldideldei’ (Holland) as the signature for my YouTube site. I also sent the cut to a Jazz DJ friend Eddie B in LA and he played it on his show. Unsurprisingly people phoned in immediately wanting to know, “who were those amazing cats”?  Before long the group decided to record – everyone who heard them wanted more. DOG seemed to encapsulate everything that was good and exciting about the local scene – DOG was, and still is, something special.DOG16 131.jpgThere are so many aspects to this group that it is hard enumerate them all; of course there are the outrageous dog jokes, the brilliant compositions from each band member, the powerful stage presence, but it is something else that excites me the most. This is a band that could gig anywhere in the world and we could hold our heads up, knowing that they would do us proud, tell our story. I felt excited when they were nominated for ‘album of the year’ and as pleased as a dog with two tails when they won the ‘Jazz Tui’. Now it is rumoured that a new DOG album is on the way. I can’t wait.

Most bands take a number or two to warm up, but not this one. At the Thirsty Dog the band leapt out of the starting gate like fixated greyhounds after a lure. The first number of the first set was a new composition by bass player Oli Holland (‘Scheibenwischer’ – this translates as windscreen-wiper) and it sounded great, setting the tone for the evening. Next was Ron Samsom’s tune ‘Push Biker’ (the first track on the DOG album). The intro begins with a long morse like pulse, everyone joining in but from a different perspective, then a melodic head – coming right at you like a freight train. A great vehicle for Roger Manins to use as a launch pad as he jets into orbit on his solo.DOG16 133.jpgThroughout the sets were a scattering of familiar DOG compositions – plus a few new ones (like ‘Merde’ by Samsom and Hollands ‘Shceibenwischer’). All of the tunes sounded fresh and somehow different, perhaps because Kevin Field was playing a Rhodes and not a piano. I love the Rhodes in all its antique glory and in Field’s hands it is especially wonderful. It cut through the room like crystal. Hearing the familiar tunes like ‘Peter the Magnificent’ (Manins), ‘Icebreaker’ (Field) and ‘Sounds like Orange’ was like meeting old friends. The last track of the evening was the familiar ‘Dideldideldei'(Holland). DOG ripped into it with the usual abandon, leaving us shaking our heads in disbelief and grinning like Cheshire cats.DOG16 129.jpgThe Thirsty Dog works well as a venue, having good acoustics, good sight-lines and a sizeable bandstand.  They also serve snack food and they are most welcoming. The first DOG album is available at Rattle Records and if you don’t own a copy don’t delay. Everyone wants a DOG for Christmas.

FYI: YouTube refuses to upload video, even though I have some great cuts from this gig – will post if I ever get it sorted.

DOG: Kevin Field (Rhodes, compositions), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone, compositions), Oli Holland (bass, compositions), Ron Samsom (drums, compositions) held for the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) at the Thirsty Dog, K’Rd, Auckland city, December 7th 2016.

GRG67 cries ‘fowl’

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GRG67 127.jpgAgainst a background of complacency in regard to the ever declining biodiversity on the planet, one band is determined to raise our awareness. Those who have encountered the quartet on prior occasions will know the back story, connect the dots. GRG67 arose out of an impulse of crustacean empathy, an emotion usually confined to marine biologists and not Jazz musicians. However, once you grasp the fact that the band’s founder is Roger Manins, the rest falls into place. A sustainable fisher and co-manager of a small menagerie, Manins could best be described as the David Attenborough of the tenor saxophone. His world is strewn with animals and that’s the way he prefers it.GRG67 131.jpg

GRG67 the band, was inspired by a sea crab named Greg (as there are evidently  no vowels in the crab language, the name was rendered as GRG – but still pronounced Greg by etymological purists). At the bands inception the improvisational possibilities of the crustacean kingdom were examined, then the net was widened. Wednesday nights gig set sail for chook territory, relentlessly braving the ‘fowl’ winds of the wild west coast. With one or two exceptions, chooks (Gallus gallus domesticus) were eulogised in composition. They were plucked at by Michael Howell and Mostyn Cole, given a thunderous improvisational makeover by Tristan Deck and vocalised in all their glory by Manins.GRG67 128.jpgEach tune title was accompanied by a personal story or zoological insight; each bird was treated with deep respect. With titles like ‘chook empathy’, ‘chook 40’, ‘ginger chook’, ‘dark chook sin’ we were afforded some rare insights into the avian world. ‘Chook 40’ was not about the 40th chook as you might suppose. It opened our eyes to the fact that chooks have one more chromosome than humans. During that particular tune you could really sense that extra chromosome. ‘Dark chook sin’ was an invitation to anthropomorphism. What would a chook sin look like? Manins felt that Mallard ducks were more likely to sin than a chook (anyone living near ducks who has a deck will have a view on this).GRG67 129.jpg The quartet played with wild enthusiasm in both sets and the good humour of the evening was infectious. Given the subject matter it was only fitting that the gig took place at the Thirsty Dog (dogs are also a recurring theme with Manins). The venue was congenial and the acoustics good. What more could you want on the last night of Spring. This band is a rallying cry, reminding us that in this troubled world we shouldn’t take the good things for granted. At a time when we are buffeted by the ill winds of international politics, the arts matter more than ever. New Zealand Jazz rewards us in so many ways and the diversity of improvised music in our city is a treasure. You get good musicianship and fun combined – and if you’re lucky a musical insight into the natural world around us.GRG67 133.jpg I have posted the bands signature tune GRG67 as it simply crackled (cackled) with life (and it broke a previous speed record). These guys are fine musicians and GRG67 was never better than on this night. These guys sizzle.

GRG67: Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Michael Howell (guitar), Mostyn Cole (electric bass), Tristan Deck (drums). Playing at the Thirsty Dog, CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Auckland November 30th 2016.

Hayden Chisholm Trio

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Chisholm 129.jpgWhile not located on the Jazz touring circuit in the way Europe is, New Zealand gets some surprising and unexpected treats throughout the year. This was certainly one of them. Because I’ve been travelling recently, I had not noticed this gig coming up and it caught me quite off guard. From time to time I’ve heard mention of the New Zealand born composer and saxophonist Hayden Chisholm, but I had never heard him play. The little that I did know, was that he’d lived in Europe for many years and that he’d been a microtonal innovator. His CV reveals an amazing diversity of achievements and among them; teaching, composing for large ensembles, recording around the world, film soundtrack scoring, festival directing, touring extensively and collaborating with installation artists. He is obviously not a musician to be pigeonholed easily and my expectations inclined me toward multi-phonic explorations or something akin to the wonderful Bley /Giuffre/Swallow ’61 trio’. What I heard was closer to the equally wonderful Bley (Karla)/Swallow/Shepherd trio.Chisholm 127.jpgThe gig subsumed us in pure unalloyed ballad beauty – beauty of a kind that is exceedingly rare. The programme (with one exception) was of original ballads; pieces composed by either Chisholm or Norman Meehan.  Meehan was exactly the right pianist for this gig – a tasteful musician who knows when to lay out, and who never over-ornaments. His sensitivity and minimalist approach creating a bigger implied sound; each note or voicing inviting the audience deeper into an unfolding story. Later when I commented on this he repeated Paul Bley’s advice, “If somebody else sounds good, you’re not needed. So you are like a doctor with a little black bag coming to a record date” (from ‘Time will Tell’ Meehan). Paul Dyne on bass was the ideal foil for Chisholm and Meehan. Again he made each note count without busyness. Because this was an acoustic trio with the piano and saxophone unmiked, the resonance of the bass carried more weight, every harmonic adding a subtle layer. With Meehan playing so sparsely and Chisholm sailing in the clean air above, the subtlties of the soundscape were liberated until the room sang.Chisholm 131.jpgThe compositions were varied but all were marvellous. Some so gorgeous as to take the breath away – others possessing edge – all beautifully constructed. The trio worked as an effective unit, but the Chisholm effect was inescapable. The man is simply exceptional, his lines, phrasing and tone jaw dropping. I have no doubt that his technical skills are second to none, but listening to him you never give that a thought. Every musical utterance plunged deep into your soul in the way a Konitz line does. Chisholm is quite original and modern but I fancied that I heard some faint echoes of the great altoists on Wednesday night. Perhaps that was just my imagination, but Lee Konitz (and surprisingly to me), even Art Pepper came mind; especially during Meehan’s wonderfully soulful tune ‘Nick Van Diyk’.  I have posted that clip (which is bookended with a lovely Chisholm tune ‘In Day Light Mourning’, where he plays a lament against a drone). The lament references the music of India and Japan, utilising extended technique (Chisholm has studied in both countries). Chisholm 128.jpgIt was one of those concerts that made you feel lucky. The sort of concert that you will recall in later years and regale those who missed it with vivid descriptions – enough to make them green with envy. For those who missed the gig or for those who want to relive it, the trio are recording this week. I will keep you posted on that and on where to obtain the album. In addition Norman Meehan has a new book out – a history of New Zealand Jazz. That can be ordered through any main street book outlet (my order is in).

Hayden Chisholm Trio; Hayden Chisholm (alto saxophone, compositions), Norman Meehan (piano, compositions), Paul Dyne (upright bass) – CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Kenneth Myers Centre, Shortland Street, Auckland 23rd November 2016.

 

Frank Gibson – New Quartet

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FrankNov16 129.jpgFrank Gibson is a drummer of international repute, a sideman, educator and bandleader.  While he is a versatile drummer, his predilection is for bebop and hard-bop (especially Monk).  On Wednesday the 16th November, our last night at the Albion for a while, we heard six Monk tunes (plus tunes by Wes Montgomery, Lee Morgan, Joe Henderson and Sam Rivers).

The first set opened with the Sam Rivers tune,  a biting trio number (Beatrice). This was followed by four Monk numbers -‘Monk’s Dream’, ‘I Mean You’, Light Blue’ and ‘Straight No Chaser’. With this Gibson quartet (as with any Gibson quartet), Monk becomes real; you experience the music in a visceral way. FrankNov16 127.jpgThis is not a clone of the original Monk bands, but a modern quartet connected to the Monk vibe by musical lineage.
While Gibson is obviously the driving force, the presence of guitarist Neil Watson is also an essential element in the mix. With Watson you get authenticity and unexpected twists. Watson is a chameleon who can play a swinging version of ‘Limehouse blues’, wailing Jimi Hendrix, or in this case Monk through a Sonny Sharrok lens.  The other (newer) band members were Craig Walters on tenor saxophone and Cameron McArthur on bass. McArthur we are very familiar with and he never puts a foot wrong. Walters is from New Zealand, but spent many years in Australia after studying at Berklee in the USA. Walters is now living in New Zealand which is our gain.FrankNov16 128.jpgThere were familiar, much-loved Monk tunes and a few that are seldom heard such as ‘Light Blue’ and ‘Eronel’. Monk wrote around 70 compositions and they are instantly recognisable as being his. The angularity, quirky twists, the choppy rhythms, the lovely melodies and particular harmonic approach – a heady brew to gladden the heart of a devoted listener. We never tire of him or his interpreters. After Ellington, Monk compositions are the most recorded in Jazz. We remain faithful to his calling whether our tastes run to the avant-garde, swing or are firmly rooted in the mainstream. These tunes are among the essential buttresses holding up modern Jazz. They are open vehicles inviting endless and interesting explorations.  They are a soundtrack to the Jazz life.FrankNov16 130.jpg

The second set began with a duo (Gibson and Watson). The tune was Wes Montgomery’s ‘Jingles'(this appears on ‘The Wes Montgomery Trio’ album, where he was accompanied by organist Melvin Rhyne and drummer Paul Parker). A nice groove number and well realised. Next we heard ‘Ceora’ a pretty tune penned by Lee Morgan. This appeared on the ‘Cornbread’ album (an iconic recording with the mouth-watering lineup of Herbie Hancock, Hank Mobley, Jackie McLean, Billy Higgins, Larry Ridley). Again the quartet did the number justice. The track I have posted is the Monk number ‘Eronel’. While not as familiar it is unmistakably Monk (the original appeared on Monks ‘Criss Cross’ and was later reprised as a solo number).

Frank Gibson New Quartet: Frank Gibson (drums), Craig Walters (tenor saxophone), Neil Watson (guitar), Cameron McArthur (bass).

 

Phil Broadhurst – ‘au revoir’ gig

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Broadhurst Nov16 128.jpgAu revoir is more than a simple good-bye. The fuller meaning is ‘until we meet again’. Jazz pianist, broadcaster and educator Phil Broadhurst is about to move to Paris, where he will reside for a few years (along with his partner vocalist/pianist Julie Mason).  He assures us that he will return and it is not unreasonable to expect him to arrive back with new compositions and new projects to showcase. A Francophile (and francophone), Broadhurst has long been influenced by the writers and musicians of France. His last three albums ‘The dedication trilogy’ all contain strong references to that country. Wednesdays gig was centred on his recent output, but with new tunes and a surprise or two thrown in.Broadhurst Nov16 132.jpgBroadhurst is an institution on the New Zealand Jazz scene and it will feel strange with him absent. The strangeness on this particular Wednesday night was compounded by the impending American election result. An election dominated by bizarre outbursts of racism, belligerence, stupidity and misogyny. As the first number of the evening progressed, everyone relaxed; Broadhurst’s melodicism a balm for what ailed us.  The tune was ‘Orange’ (a French commune in the Alps/Cote d’Azur region). Half way through the piece everyone’s mobiles lit up. I tried to ignore mine but the vibrating and flashing increased. I reached to shut it off and spotted the words – Trump wins US election. The ‘four horsemen of the apocalypse’ had just entered the room via electronic media. The tune ‘Orange’ is particularly beautiful (and I hope Broadhurst will forgive me for this association), but on this night, the title was also oddly appropriate.  An orange gargoyle was about to release the furies upon a surprised world.Broadhurst Nov16 130.jpgAccompanying Broadhurst were his regular quintet, Roger Manins (tenor), Mike Booth (trumpet), Oli Holland (bass) and Cam Sangster (drums – and with special guest Julie Mason (vocals). Broadhurst, and his various lineups have received numerous accolades. In recent years there have been nominations and awards; most recently the prestigious ‘Tui’ at the 2016 New Zealand Jazz Awards. Broadhurst Nov16 129.jpgAnyone who follows NZ Jazz will be familiar with many of the tunes played on Wednesday; ‘Orange’, ‘Precious Metal’, ‘Loping’ etc. The nicest surprise of the evening was hearing a Frank Foster tune ‘Simone’ (absolutely nailed by Julie Mason). A fine tribute to Nina Simone, and appropriate to the night, given Simone’s views on the lamentable state of race relations in America. This unit is supremely polished and I highly recommend that you purchase the recent albums if you haven’t already done so. They are all still available from Rattle Records.Broadhurst Nov16 134.jpg

I wish the couple well for the journey ahead and look forward to their return. In addition I fervently hope that they are spared a Marine Le Pen ascendancy during their stay in Paris.

Phil Broadhurst Quintet; Phil Broadhurst (piano, compositions), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Mike Booth (trumpet, flugel), Oli Holland (upright bass), Cam Sangster (drums), Julie Mason (vocals, lyrics), performing for the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel basement, Auckland, 9th November 2016.

Steven Small – Mexico City Blues & Soviet Modernism

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Small ! 127.jpgEvery time an article appeared in the late twentieth century proclaiming the death of Modernism, another appeared shortly after; pointing out, rightly, that profound echoes of the movement will linger and intrigue a while yet. Perhaps because of when I was born, (immediately after the second war), this movement fascinates me and will until my last breath. It was a profound moment in the human journey when the hegemony of historical artistic values were challenged, discarded. Schoenberg, Coltrane, Brubeck, Riley, Colman, Matisse, Picasso, Miro. Pollock, Rothko, Eliot, Pound, Kerouac, and even Freud are defined by this impulse to move free from the received wisdom of history.

Those names and others were significant among the game-changing modernists. The paradox is, that once defined, accepted, the movement they arose from became part of conventional history. The energies arising from the Modernist impulse were profound and so powerful that counter-revolutions are endlessly trying to reset the clock – to recapture late 19th century values, a time when empires and financially powerful men determined our world view (the Trump, Brexit phenomena).small-2016-125Stephen Small is a wonderful pianist but he is much more than that. He conjures up musical projects that catch people unawares; original projects, affording us a viewpoint on life and art that we would not experience otherwise. The concept behind the first outing of the Mexico City Blues band was to look at, examine the Jazz of 1957, fusing it with the Beat poems of Jack Kerouac  (Kerouac wrote Mexico City Blues in that year – see earlier post).  This was in part a re-imagining, but also a fresh look through post millennial eyes. When Stephen Small takes on a project he brings to it an immense musical knowledge, but more importantly an eye for the unusual, for quirky detail (no artist, musician, writer or poet worth their salt can succeed without this). When artists do their job well they show us the world afresh.

Mexico City Blues 2016, unexpectedly took us into the heart of Eastern Bloc Europe during the immediate post-war era. What a marvellous idea and what extraordinary music we heard. By coincidence, just before this gig, I was travelling through the former Eastern Bloc and I gained a strong sense of the wonderful music existing there – a music largely obscured from the anglo-centric view, created in an era of strong disapproval and inside hermetically sealed borders. A small cadre of Poles, East Germans, Czechs, Romanians and Russians listened to Jazz when they could. Forbidden LP’s circulated, Radio America broadcasts were devoured and later on there were a handful of US State Department Goodwill Tours (aka propaganda).  Small pointed out something important.small-2016-121

The Jazz that these musicians created, recorded, while referencing the American or Scandinavian music was also very much their own. They hated being told that Jazz was forbidden by the philistine authorities, but they were also suspicious of swallowing the US State Department line.  Jazz is and should be by its very nature suspicious of any party line. There is a little Evans, Ellington and Brubeck in their music but what defines these artists is an uncompromising originality. I am a longtime time fan of Polish Jazz, as it is interestingly melodic and distinctive. The most important thing I learned while in Poland was that the ethnic Poles did not rebel against Russia out of any yearning for American capitalism, nor did they despise socialism. They just wanted the jackboots of Russia and Germany off their neck. Nations and art forms are happiest when finding their own way in their own time. Hearing this music is to glimpse the soul of an artistically suppressed people, finding hidden pathways towards the light.

The gig traversed the compositions of four 1950’s to 60’s era Eastern Bloc musicians and paid tribute to the experimental free improvised music of Russia. There was a distinct flavour to all of the pieces. They were lush without over ornamentation, marvellously inventive, moody and original (perhaps tinged with the dark romanticism of Slavonic literature). After hearing these composers, my interest is piqued enough to want to lift this corner of the Iron Curtin further.small-2016-126

The artist featured most was the amazing Krzysztof Komeda, a wonderful composer and interesting pianist whose dark and moody compositions are forever associated with Roman Polanski movies; a match made in heaven. Anyone who follows the Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko will have heard Komeda often (Stanko was in many of the Komeda bands). If you saw Polanski’s ‘Knife in the water’, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ or ‘The Fearless Vampire Killers’ you have absorbed his music without realising it. ‘Astigmatic’ Komeda’s greatest album, is highly regarded to this day. It signals the first significant shift away from American Jazz sensibilities, establishing a new and predominantly European Jazz aesthetic. I once saw Polanski interviewed about his early movies and he spoke passionately about Komeda and his music. The Komeda compositions we heard were the achingly beautiful ‘Ballad for Bernt’ and ‘Crazy Girl’ (both from ‘Knife in the Water’).

First up was a solo piece, ‘Suite for Jazz Orchestra’ by the East German composer Pavel Blatny. Then Bassist Jo Shum joined Small for two Komeda numbers – following that the duo played ‘Gral’ by Ludwig Petrovsky (another East German). The last piece in the first set was a ballad by Murad Kazhlaev (an Azerbaijani).  I have not seen Shum perform for some time but she was magical – her touch and instinctive feel for this interesting music adding deep resonance. small-2016-120The second set was free improvised music in the tradition of, and honouring the all but forgotten experimental improvisers of 1960’s Russia. For this set Small was joined by Dave Chechelashvili on modular synthesiser. As Small carved out motifs and themes, developing them and exploring the possibilities, Chechelashvili shaped the sound. Small’s Korg keyboard was split and connected with the modular synth; as patch cords were adjusted and knobs tweaked, we heard a music that you don’t expect from Communist Russia. Evidently and surprisingly, this was tolerated because it was perceived as artistic exploration. It was hard not to think of Glass, Reich or Riley and wonder at this parallel development.

Mexico City Blues: Stephen Small (piano, keyboards, concept), Jo Shum (double bass), Dave Chechelashvili (modular synth). November 2nd 2016, CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, Auckland.