Some weeks ago it was posted on the CJC website that Nathan Haines would be bringing his new band to the club and that this particular band was to be an acoustic Jazz lineup. The talk among local musicians was that Nathan had been wrestling with some bold musical ideas and that after a trip to France and three months of wood-shedding he was now ready to unleash those ideas on a Jazz audience.
Anyone interested in the Auckland music scene will have followed Nathan Haines career and know that he has wide crossover appeal (here and overseas). As a multi-reedist and flutist he is proficient on a number of horns and for a while people wondered which instrument he would play for this gig. That was soon made clear when the details were posted. He would be playing a classic 1963 Selmer Mk VI – purchased from Brian Smith earlier in the year. This is an instrument with real provenance and in a way that set the bar even higher.
The acoustic feel that the band are striving for goes way beyond the choice of instruments, because they intend to record in a few weeks and will wherever possible avoid using modern equipment. It is Nathan’s view that recording technology has deteriorated over the years and so they are intending to use old style Neuman mics, the fabled EMI Neve desk and to record directly to tape with no mixing or overdubs. There is also talk of them hiring a Steinway B for the recording.
As the threads of information gradually came together it was clear that this would not be any run of the mill gig and in line with expectations the band attracted the biggest crowd the club has yet seen.
The members of this band are all well-known to club attendees, but Nathan Haines and Kevin Field (piano) are obviously the veterans here. The name Kevin Field alone is enough to pull a good crowd, but couple his name with Nathan Haines and a capacity standing room only audience is the result. On bass was Thomas Botting (who has recently taken Movember to its extreme limits). He may be young but he is a terrific bass player. I often stay back for the Jam Sessions just to hear Thomas and his friends, (usually playing alongside Peter Koopman and Dan Kennedy). Thomas can edge up the tension by executing a well placed pedal point or walk his bass lines in a way that is reminiscent of Jimmy Garrison. This makes him a good choice for this uber-acoustic hard-driving lineup. The remaining band member is drummer Alain Koetsier. This is the third time that I have seen Alain play and I have always been impressed. His ability to lay down complex polyrhythms and push a band hard is well-known. On this night he was at his fiery best.
The first number ‘Universal Man’ (by Nathan Haines) was intense and up tempo and this signaled the get-down-to business mood of the band. They were ready for this gig and clearly ready to push at the boundaries. While they conveyed a strong sense of purpose this did not constrict them in any way as they ate up the changes; hungry for the next layer of the tune to be unraveled. Nathan soared on this and on other numbers, reaching into the past for reference points but more importantly bringing all of his recent experience and learning to the moment. This was a 2011 version of a classic jazz lineup.
Next came a ballad ‘Poet’s embrace’ which was both lyrical and deeply probing. Nathan continuously mined the tune for newer and deeper meanings. His tone was luminous and his playing (even on the ballads) conveyed the intensity of the moment.
That chiaroscuro effect established the vibe; which became a hallmark of the programme. These contrasts in tempo and mood were well placed as they kept the audience focused. Two pieces perfectly illustrate this skillful placement.
While Nathan had written and arranged most of the pieces, the fourth number, Ravel’s Pavan (Pavane pour une infante défunte) deserves comment. This famous piece was a miniature of perfection. To have added another bar or even another note would have ruined the mood. Very few bands can resist the inclination to over-egg-the-pudding in situations like this and I congratulate the band for keeping to the spirit of the piece. What was added was subtle and it revealed a deep understanding of the music. Colourist drumming, well placed bass lines and skilful minimalist chord placement; giving Nathan the platform he needed. This illustrated perfectly the maxim that less is sometimes more.
The last piece ‘Consequence’ was a powerhouse performance. So intense was the mood and so up-tempo was the pace that the audience seemed to lean back; as if a freight train was passing. Each instrument soloing often and with each solo the tension increasing. The drumming was so powerful that one of the audience swore that the kit remained airborne throughout. This was an in-the-pocket performance and over that crescendo of sound Nathan blew up a storm.
At one point Brian Smith had joined the band and to see him and Nathan performing Wayne Shorter’s ‘Speak no Evil’ was great (I have always loved Shorter’s material). Two of our best tenor players belting out the unison lines and constantly challenging each other during solos. Kevin Field had also contributed one piece ‘Raincheck’. Kevin’s compositions are well constructed and appealing.
The band finished after two long sets looking exhausted but satisfied. So were we.
I will await the new recording with great interest. This was a performance that it would be hard to improve on, but with a band this focused that may just occur.