I purchased a copy of ‘Seven’ from Rattle Records not long after it was completed. The cover art portrayed black sand, which is strange to those unfamiliar with it. For those who have not encountered it before, black sand can also be surprising. Subtle light-shifts can throw up a myriad of purple and blue hues, and the textures revealed by the drift patterns are in constant flux. ‘Seven’ reflects Tim Hopkins’ music in much the same way.
Tim Hopkins is well-known to those us who have followed the New Zealand Jazz diaspora. He has recorded extensively as a sideman with the likes of Mike Nock (and many others) and he has recorded a significant number of albums as leader. Tim lived in Sydney for many years but he eventually returned to New Zealand where he is now based. He teaches and performs in the capital city. His long experience as a tenor player has taught him to throw caution to the wind. He is adept at developing free-flowing Post Bop lines, but he is not limited by that. While quite capable of playing sweet and low he does not invite complacency, as he can just as suddenly deliver a scalding declamation. His style is to conduct an honest conversation with the audience and few punches are pulled. This is not to say that he is too serious for he has a highly developed sense of humour which he uses to advantage.
Tim started the gig by explaining some of the concepts behind the ‘Seven’ band. “Someone is missing from this band” he said gesturing behind him and I initially thought that he was referring to Richard Nunns (who had appeared on a few tracks of the album). Tim meanwhile continued to explain, “He wasn’t invited, (pausing) it is the bass player”. A bass player is the compass and when a band plays adventurous and complex music the lack of a bass places a heavier burden on the remaining musicians. These guys were fully aware of the job in hand. It is often the case that an experienced leader will develop an uncanny knack for selecting just the right sidemen and this was evident here.
Dixon Nacey is not only a versatile and superb guitarist but he is a musical free spirit. His eyes light up when he is thrown a challenge and he soon throws a challenge back. This guy is one of our finest musicians and the younger guitarists watch his every move. I suspect that a lot of the weight fell to Dixon in this gig, but you wouldn’t have known it to see him smiling as he dared Tim or John to answer his challenges. This was call and response at its best.
The drummer was also perfect for the role. It was the first time that I had seen John Rae on traps and I hope that it will not be the last. He is unlike many of the drummers we see, as his approach is loose and organic. If he wants to up the ante he will suddenly shout at the others; exhorting them to give even more. He is also far from a locked-in drummer as he will punctuate and change the groove at will. I really liked this approach as it was the ideal foil to Tim and Dixon.
I also sensed that the band was unafraid of being overt and about confronting the political realities of our times. This flowed through the music and I loved that about them.
At the beginning of the second set Tim was about to introduce the number when he looked into the audience and said, “Can someone bring a bouncer and throw out that old man talking in the front row”. The talking continued and Tim said in a slightly menacing northern Irish accent, “old man – go home to your wife – go home to your children”. A short silence followed and then “Dad shut up”. The smiling offender was Tony Hopkins his father. Tony is much-loved on the Auckland scene for his skillful drumming. I saw him when I was young and I would like to acknowledge his influence on my generation and beyond.
Another good example of Tim not taking himself too seriously was the introduction to ‘23rd century love song‘. He explained that this was the result of endless navel gazing and that the market he was aiming for was probably chemistry professors.
While aspects of the gig were challenging, the night has left me with a lot to think about. Music should occasionally challenge us and it should make us think. I find myself going back to the album to re-examine a track or a phrase and this is a good thing. The communication is still happening.
The numbers that have stuck with me are ‘Road From Perdition’, ‘All Blacks & Blues’ and the lovely ‘The Sleeping Giants’. for a copy of this go directly to Rattle Records at http://www.rattle.co.nz – failing that try ‘Real Groovy’ ‘JB HiFi’ or ‘Marbecks’.
The Jam: After the gig there was a jam session and it quickly morphed into a mammoth affair. Drummers, saxophonists, guitarists and singers crowded the band stand while fours and honks were traded to the delight of the audience. I don’t think that I could name everyone who played but I will try: Roger Manins(ts), Tim Hopkins(ts), Noel Clayton(g), Aron Ottignon(p), Matt Steele(p) Tyson Smith(g), Dan Kennedy(d), Tony Hopkins(d), Tim ?(d), a young drummer (?), Dixon Nacey(g), Callum Passells(as), Holly Smith(v). Roger played a lovely breathy Ben Webster sounding ‘Sunny Side if The Street’, Holly sung a fabulous bluesy ‘Summertime’ while Tony played just like he always does. Sitting just a fraction behind the beat and in perfect time.