Jazz was famously described by Whitney Balliett as the ‘sound of surprise’. This is at the very essence of improvised music as it strives to unravel, reveal, polish and at times shock. What you think you know is often challenged and this confrontation is the primary role of art and improvised music. When a familiar tune is reinterpreted and presented afresh it’s pleasing (if done well), but there are many ways that music can surprise. What we sometimes hear is an aggregation of profound subtleties and that is harder to define. We need ears attuned to nuance and a memory capable of recalling just what has preceded these vignettes. It is in these less obvious corners that we often find the most profound of revelations.
The Kevin Field trio (plus guest) appeared at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) on the 17th April. This was an important CJC/Jazz April event. Everyone on the New Zealand Jazz scene is familiar with Kevin Field the pianist, composer, teacher, and gifted accompanist. He delivers and so good sized crowds turn up.
Kevin had earlier humped his Fender Rhodes down into club and it sat nestled respectfully against the grand piano. The bass was lying on its side like an expectant whale and the drum kit was sparkling out of the gloom. Behind the drum kit you could barely make out the image of a guitar on a stand. Those gifted with 20-20 vision would have discerned that this was a Godin Guitar which can only mean one thing in Auckland; Dixon Nacey would be sitting in for a few numbers.
When Kevin Field and his trio filed to the band stand I experienced a tinge of anticipation. I had been looking forward to the gig because Kevin Field never settles for a mediocre performance and he is certainly no journeyman. With Cameron McArthur on bass and Stephen Thomas on drums we hoped for sparks. While Kevin often appears in support of others, or fronts bigger lineups he had not brought a piano trio to the club for a quite a while.
What happened next caught me quite off guard and perhaps it shouldn’t have. When you rate an artist highly you can easily fall into the trap of thinking that you know everything about them and that is plain foolish. There is also something about the CJC that urges musicians reach deep and many visiting artists have commented on that. The CJC is more than just a benign space, it is an enabling one. A performance space that says to an artist, ‘there I’ve created the ambiance for you, now make it happen’. It would take a subterranean ‘Feng Shui’ specialist to analyse this phenomenon .
The Kevin Field that we saw perform was quite extraordinary. It is hard to put into words but he approached the keyboards with such confidence and invention that was almost supernatural. At times I thought that I heard hints of Hamp Hawes or the modern Europeans (rich, spacious and original), but mostly I heard Kevin Field, alive to the moment and brim full of fresh ideas. His voice is definitely post Herbie Hancock and it engages with the realities of the post millennial world. This is a voice that marks Kevin Field out as an original stylist.
The numbers were all originals and while a few were written for his recent ‘Warners’ album ‘Field of Vision’ (shortlisted for a Tui award), many were new to me. They came bundled up with stories and anecdotes and to see Kevin in the role of raconteur was delightful. When commenting on his second number of the evening ‘Complex Blue’, he told us that it was written with a Simply Red cover-band in mind. “Complex Blue could be a new type of Simply Red cover-band who would play everything but Simply Red tunes, thus giving them a broader repertoire”. The hilariously improbable tall stories and the incredible music made this a perfect evening of Jazz. I asked Kevin later if he had plans to record this new material and he indicated that he would be doing so shortly. If he captures half of what we experienced it will be well worth buying.
Cameron McArthur (bass) has experienced a meteoric rise to prominence and he has achieved this while still a student at the Auckland University School of Jazz. I can clearly recall his first tentative performance steps. Confidence, chops and musicality have become the default for him now and he is increasingly accompanying our best musicians. Stephen Thomas has been studying drums and performing at a high level for some time and he was an obvious choice for Kevin. We are seeing more and more of what he is capable of and as with Cameron there will be a lot more yet. This band works exceptionally well together and while Kevin is clearly in control as leader there is plenty of room for the others to shine.
In guest slot was Dixon Nacey. A guitarist who attracts superlatives and accolades as few others do. He always injects that special ‘Dix’ quality into a performance; brilliance tinged with unalloyed happiness.
Sometimes when the stars align the gods of music breathe extra life into a performance. When this occurs, those who are there feel incredibly fortunate and vow never to forget it. This was such a night.
Because this was the main CJC – Jazz April gig night the audience learned what the month stands for, who’s involved and why it is important. Everyone was challenged to do three things, (1) visit and ‘like’ the JJA Jazz April pages and International Jazz Day site (2) bring one or more friends to future gigs and spread the word (3) Hug and thank a Jazz musician tonight and in the following days. By sharing and growing this wonderful music we will see it survive.
This has been a Jazz April Event; visit the Jazz Journalists Association Web Site and JJA Facebook page, plus International Jazz Day page and all of the Jazz April gig review pages on this JazzLocal32.com site. Please ‘like’ all sites as it helps.
What: Kevin Field Trio (plus guest) -Kevin Field (piano and fender rhodes), Cameron McArthur (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums), guest Dixon Nacey (guitar)
Where and When: CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 1885 building, Brittomart, Auckland. April 17th 2013