‘Blue Train’ – New Zealand’s funk warriors

‘Blue Train’ have been around for about twenty years and most Auckland Jazz lovers will be very familiar with them.   On Wednesday night they returned to the CJC by popular demand and as anticipated the club filled up quickly with an expectant crowd.    This band is everything you could hope for if you are looking for a get-down & dirty – groove Jazz funk outfit.    Not only did they play well, but they hardly needed a glance at their charts.    They had a world of tunes already in their heads and they locked into each others wave-length so quickly that a collective brain appeared to possess them when they played.   Not all of the band members had been with them from the beginning but the band still meshed into a tight working unit and from the first number the crowd knew that their expectations would be more than met.

They opened with an Alan Brown number ‘Lets Dress Up‘ and it hit a real sweet-spot – deep groove heaven fed by a Fender Rhodes sound, funk guitar, electric bass, tenor sax and drums.  This sound put a ten-mile wide smile on our faces and if anyone had wanted dark and tortuous they’d have had to look elsewhere.    This jazz is about kinetic energy and a mesmerizing groove, which makes listeners feel that they could dive right into the music and swim in the ocean of sound.   The club was alive with happy people giving cries of encouragement.      After a while some in the crowd started dancing and before long the majority were either dancing, swaying or tapping the beat out on their chair arms.  In the second set the flailing hands of a man flickered across my sight line creating a strobe effect in the soft club lighting.   I just love it that Jazz like this absolutely compels people to dance.

Alan Brown was clearly in charge of the unit and he would give an occasional glance to the soloists who needed no extra cues than that.     Andy played a few tracks on the club piano but would often switch to a small red electric keyboard mounted beside him: the latter holding a good bank of funk orientated sounds.   He would sometimes play both instruments at the same time.     With special guest Dixon Nacey on guitar this band was always going to hit the Jazz funk stratosphere, because this man is a monster on his red guitar and he can do the seemingly impossible without needing to think about the curve balls being thrown at him by Alan.

Steve Sherriff (soprano sax/ tenor sax) and Jason Orme (drums) are veterans of the group, but newer member Chip Mathews on bass did more than hold up his end. Chip is a skilled bassist and able to jump into any band I suspect.

Steve Sherriff is well-known about town and he can be seen working in a number of  Jazz styles.    While his tenor playing is always great, his soprano saxophone playing is free ranging and often ecstatic.    The band regularly hit fever pitch and the energy they floated on was ably abetted by Jason Orme’s high energy drumming.     Jason appeared to be using the locked in style made famous by Byron Landham and others; where he would enter into a powerful intense groove and then push the band as hard as he possibly could.    We just loved watching him.   This is as far from colourist drumming as it gets, but it is exactly the right style for a Jazz-funk unit like this.

I eagerly await their new album which is due out next month.   See this band whenever you get the opportunity and purchase their CD’s.   The ‘Parachute label’s ‘Blue Train’ album ‘No Free Lunch‘ can still be found and a more recent organ trio album ‘All about time‘ is quite readily available (Alan Brown ‘Hammond’, Dixon Nacey ‘guitar’, Josh Serenson ‘drums’) – ‘Ode Records‘.

‘Blue Train’ clips are hard to find on You Tube but I did locate their version of ‘Nasty McFly” – this track was simply riotous on Wednesday  – enjoy.

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