P J Koopman and Thomas Botting joined the ‘music drain’ exodus to Australia two years ago but Auckland still draws them back from time to time. When they do return they are always booked at the CJC Jazz Club and this invariably draws old friends and new. PJ Koopman is one of those guitarists who makes it look easy, but like all dedicated musicians he works extremely hard at his craft. The CJC gig on the 3rd of October featured many of the fast flowing post bop tunes that PJ excels at, but there was something else in the mix. His repertoire soon expanded to include some country tinged material of the sort Bill Frisell and Bruce Forman exemplify and while there were only two such numbers, it gave the evening a flavour that it would otherwise not have had. This had the feel of an interesting project in the making.
Thomas may not have put on any physical weight but he has certainly beefed up his compositional credentials . After a week of listening to Americana just prior to returning to New Zealand, he has composed a tune, which I will now include as a You Tube clip. This is a great composition and one which they executed well. The tune called ‘Wylie Coyote’ had been written to honour alto saxophonist James Wylie, who joined the band for this one gig. James is an ex-pat Kiwi who lives in Thessaloniki Greece and was due to return there within hours of the gig finishing. James is well-known for his oblique takes on country tunes and so this title was appropriate on so many levels. His out of left field rendition of Wichita Lineman is a perennial favourite.
P J Koopman was exactly the right guitarist to tackle this tune and I’m certain Thomas had that firmly in mind when he composed it. I had not heard PJ do this type of material before, but the fact that he did it so well is scarcely surprising. He has open ears, good mentors, great chops and above all taste. His Frisell like slurred chords portrayed the roots of the genre (and perhaps his other influences); but without sacrificing his originality. The other country tune was the gorgeous ‘Tennessee Waltz’ and the first few chords took me back to a film I saw in the 70’s. Antonioni’s movie Zubritzki Point was a portrayal of the youth counterculture and its soundtrack has outlived the popularity of the movie. The soundtrack featured Pink Floyd (‘Heart Beat Pig Meat’ – who could forget the exploding food in slow motion), The Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia solo (playing etherial improvised licks while the actors writhed in a strange love-making frenzy which stirred up lots of desert dust). best of all was the version of Tennessee Waltz which twanged out sweetly while tumbleweeds blew past a silent desert bar. This track conjured up all that happy madness again and this is the power of good music.
The drummer on the gig was Andrew Keegan, who has recently moved up from Christchurch to Auckland . Andrew is an invaluable asset to the Auckland scene. ‘Wylie Coyote’ was in 4/4 time but the feel was different because of the way the beats were accented. Andrew handled his traps like he had been playing with these cats for months. Nice work all round.