Conner McAneny has played at the CJC on previous occasions, but this is the first time that he has done two sets as leader. He was ably abetted by the Dixon Nacey trio (with Ron Samsom and Cameron Mc Arthur). The sets were a mix of standards and originals. It was particularly nice to hear the fabulous Dixon Nacey composition ‘The Lion’ played again and even better to hear Connor tackle the Lennon/McCartney composition ‘And I love Her’.
For me these two tunes stood out, but for very different reasons. ‘The Lion’ is from Oxide the second Samsom/Nacey/Haines album and it is a great composition. The tune moves through several distinct phases, drawing the listener ever deeper as the melody unfolds. The structure lends itself well to improvisation. Conner took a different approach to that of Kevin Field (who appeared with Dixon, Ron and Kevin Haines on Oxide) and it worked well. I like to see local compositions being taken up by other local bands , especially if they are compelling. We must create our own standards, because we have musicians with good writing skills in our midst. Having two of the Oxide band in his support group made this an obvious choice.
The Lennon/McCartney composition ‘And I Love Her’ worked very well as a Jazz ballad and if the arrangement was Connors particularly big ups to him. I can clearly recall the Diana Krall version (2009), arranged beautifully by John Clayton. There was also a John Abercrombie version from around that time. Both were terrific in different ways, but the Sarah Vaughn cover of 1969 sits very awkwardly in her repertoire. As much as I love Sarah Vaughn, this particular rendering sank like a stone.
I think time is the vital ingredient here. It was as if there was a musical ‘Wallace Line’ that separated older players from younger in this regard. For my generation (those alive when the Beatles arrived on the scene) the idea of their material ever becoming jazz standards was strange. When musicians of the 50’s and 60’s attempted Beatles or Rolling Stones tunes there was an awkwardness and a self-consciousness about what they were attempting. This is not at all evident in a younger generation of musicians like Uri Caine whose ‘Blackbird’ (McCartney) from the 2001 album ‘Solitaire’, stands up perfectly against any Tin Pan Ally tune. In my view only a Brad Mehldau could pull off a version of ‘Hey Joe’ so convincingly. He is young enough to see the tune for what it is and what it could be. My generation saw such massive hits as the enemy of Jazz; brilliant, compelling but still the enemy. Perhaps Gil Evans was the exception.
Connor works hard at his craft and each time he appears we see a more rounded artist. I have often written about the skills of the other band members and suffice to say, where they go good improvised music follows.
What: Conner McAneny (piano) with Dixon Nacey (guitar), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samsom (drums).
Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Basement, Auckland July 10th 2013