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.

Steve Barry Quartet (with Martin Kay)

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It felt good to back at the CJC after nine weeks away and all the more so when I discovered that the Steve Barry Quartet was playing. Since attending my last CJC gig I had travelled 40,173 kilometres (as the crow flies), journeyed through ten very different countries, confused innumerable people along the way with my slender grasp of their deliciously exotic languages (including American English); I visited six Jazz clubs and numerous jazz bars, experienced hundreds of poetry encounters – travelled on more ships, trains and planes than I can remember and wore out a brand new pair of shoes. In spite of feeling befuddled and seeing at least two of everything, I decided that a dose of improvised music might impose a semblance of order on my disordered senses. Still jet lagged I drove expectantly into the city, surprised to find that dozens of large buildings had been sneakily removed in my absence. The Albion stood precariously on a precipice – all nearby buildings gone without a trace; giving the block the appearance of a toothless grin; apart from one well-worn molar.

No one is ever going to be disappointed by a Steve Barry  gig, an adventurous and constantly evolving pianist and composer. I was also delighted that he was featuring Martin Kay, a gifted and adventurous saxophonist. As the lights went down and the music washed over me, order returned. My neurones settled into familiar grooves as I felt myself exploring the sound and it’s endless possibilities. I closed my eyes for a moment, but on opening them saw the strangest apparition. The jet lag was far worse than I thought because a young woman appeared to be gyrating dangerously across my vision – her long hair flying in all directions. She lurched one way and then another, at times bent double, her movements so erratic that I decided that it was probably a mirage brought on by crossing too many time zones.barry-2016-121

She rushed here and there, dancing (well sort of), a look of strained intensity on her face, eventually deciding to up the ante by falling heavily onto the tables and sending my equipment and drinks flying. A guiding hand came out of the darkness and led her away to a corner where she sat forlorn and motionless – at least for a few minutes. As a finale and before anyone could restrain her, she sprinted toward the band, launching herself free of gravity. This weightless state lasted mere seconds, then an untidy crash followed as she fell heavily into the centre of the bandstand – a slow motion train wreck in an odd time signature.

What impressed me enormously was the composure of the band. Grinning from ear to ear they played on, never missing a beat – true improvisers, reacting to and utilising the moment. Barry has accumulated many accolades and awards over recent years but he is never one to rest on his laurels; spending the last year composing – finding new ways to express his evolving musical ideas. The music was superb, ranging from open and free to adventurous standards, beguiling, labyrinthine. The gig guide had accurately described Barry’s compositions as modernism, melodicism and minimalism combined. As themes were probed and developed, new soundscapes opened up. The addition of the gifted Martin Kay an asset, enabling a fuller realisation of Barry’s vision.barry-2016-122

Kay was on alto for this gig, bringing every ounce of his considerable talent to bear as we experienced his full-throated sound. His solos took us deep inside the music and at times he utilised extended technique. His use of multi-phonics was impressive but never gratuitous, adding colour and fresh dimensions to the innovative compositions. A piano does not have the freedom of a saxophone in this regard, but Barry played off the others with increasing intensity during his solos. The contrast was extremely pleasing. On bass was Cameron McArthur and on drums Andy Keegan, both performing like the veterans they are. McArthur is a regular and popular at the CJC (deservedly so). Keegan we see less, but on the basis of Wednesday nights performance I would hope to see him more often. This was complex though accessible music and well rendered. Barry’s year of hibernation has been a fruitful one.

A seldom played standard Juju (Wayne Shorter) was marvelous. The angularity and endlessly unexpected turns paying Shorter deep respect. This gig showcased musicality at the highest level (and with the added benefit of some impromptu free fall performance art thrown in).  I was glad to be back home for this.

I heard quite a bit of music while travelling and I also heard the varying cadences of the spoken word along the way (especially in poetry). In Vienna I heard a the cross-pollination of Americana and European folk rhythms (Chico Freeman), in the Bimhuis Amsterdam I heard Euro Free Jazz (Frank von Bimmel and Han Bennink) – in Gdansk I heard improvised music that was Polka infused. Improvised music is a universal phenomena but it has regional dialects. I like our Australasian dialect very much.

Steve Barry Quartet: Steve Barry (piano, compositions), Martin Kay (alto saxophone, compositions), Cameron McArthur (upright bass), Andy Keegan (drums). The gig took place on 26th October 2016 at the Albion Hotel basement – CJC (Creative Jazz Club).

The Long Train Ride (1); London – Ghent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted from Amsterdam 1st September 2016.

The Long Train Ride (2) – Amsterdam to Berlin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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john Fenton – posted from Gdansk Poland

Oli Holland’s Jazz Attack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Bolton

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

 

 

Jennifer Zea

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

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

 

 

Mooga Fooga

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

Kevin Field Group – Winter 2016

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

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

Michal Martyniuk Trio

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

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

 

 

 

Peter Koopman’s Inner City Westies

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

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

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

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

 

 

Caro Manins – Joni Mitchell’s Mingus Experience

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

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

Dreamville Jazzmares album

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

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

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

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

 

 

Jonathan Besser & The Zestniks

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

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

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

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

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