Mike Nock; outrunning the pack

Mike Nock is one of the best Jazz musicians New Zealand has produced and when he visits; we listen to him and feel proud that he is one of us.  Small town New Zealand could never contain him and in a sense nor could America.  Departing New Zealand (as a stowaway) in 1958 he was soon to establish himself on the Sydney/Melbourne Jazz scene; but just when his co-lead ‘3-Out Trio’ had achieved success he moved on again.  This time he moved to the USA, taking up a Down Beat scholarship at the prestigious Berklee School of Music.  He was soon gigging in New York and other cities where he played and recorded with many of the jazz greats like Yusef Lateef.  Mike’s stay in the USA was to span 25 years but he seldom stood still and often left good bands just when his tenure was the most secure.

I always felt that Mike was a restless musician outrunning the established grooves of the moment.  He would listen to what was going on, in what ever scene he was in and then move it up a notch.  This meant that he was often ahead of the record buying market and a good example of this was his ECM album ‘Ondas’.  Mike was a perfect fit for ECM, but the ‘Ondas’ album never sold in the numbers it should have.  His band mates on that album were Eddie Gomez(bs) and John Christenson(dm).  This album fits perfectly into post-2000 ECM offerings, but it was cut in 1981.  It is a lovely album and the sense of space and depth tells a very New Zealand story.   He eventually returned to the Southern hemisphere, settling in Sydney.   Since then Mike Nock has travelled across the ditch at regular intervals and we can say that he is home again.    For a full account of Mikes life I highly recommend the Norman Meehan book ‘Serious Fun – the life and music of Mike Nock’.  This book is extremely well written, rich in detail and as a bonus it conjures up wonderful snapshots of the Australasian Jazz scene.  Mike appears less restless now but his music still pushes hard at the boundaries.   This is after all the imperative of jazz, as the music was never meant to stand still.

Improvisation is a high wire act and the bolder the steps the greater the reward when the artist succeeds.  Mikes recent album ‘An Accumulation of Subtleties’ is an embodiment of that principle.

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