Jonathan Crayford has long intrigued me as a musician so I make a point of catching him when the situation presents itself. He’s an artist embedded so deeply within his music that his persona reflects in those terms. It’s as if he were the embodiment of sonic shapes and forms.
I have seen him perform on a number occasions but there’s no second guessing what will materialise on any given night. His experiences in music lead him in many directions and all of them interesting. While some describe him as genre busting, I think the descriptor is overly simplistic. I have heard him perform a killing version of, “I Pity the Poor Immigrant” (Bob Dylan). Yes, he appropriates the sounds about him and often performs with artists from outside of the Jazz spectrum, but at heart he’s an improvising musician. No matter what notes he plays you can feel the integrity; the perpetual questioning of a deep level interpreter.
For the CJC gig he showcased a folder of new tunes; the charts interpreted by a six piece band that he had assembled for the gig. As he explained, “this band is work shopping some new ideas which I will record later in Europe”. The numbers were all in extended form, giving the musicians space to develop the themes and ideas. Many of the tunes began and ended with a percussive vamp and as a groove established the horns congas, bass and drums swelled the sound. The textures and complex layers of sound created an implied centre over which the soloists improvised. Watching over this was the leader, a benevolent presence who knew just when exhort, when to extend or curtail a solo and when to pull the explorations back to the head. The tune titles where intriguing also; ‘Groove 21’, ‘Strange Tune’ and others which told a more cerebral story.
‘Bruno’s Dream’ in particular piqued my interest. Jonathan Crayford has worked extensively on film scores and his association with the actor/musician Bruno Lawrence gives us the context for this piece. After Bruno’s passing Jonathan dreamed this tune, a kaleidoscope of images as imagined through Bruno’s eyes. This is wonderful expansive music and the band entered into the spirit of it. As with all dreams the evolving and often surreal story has several parts. In this piece we saw the best of Crayford’s keyboard artistry and writing skills. There were solid solo performances by Kim Patterson on valve trombone and Finn Scholes on trumpet. Kim Patterson is the elder statesman here, having recorded over his long career with most of the luminaries of New Zealand Jazz. The last section of the tune, an intense modal sequence was a gift to Scholes, who grabbed the opportunity with glee mining it convincingly for all it’s worth (echoes of ‘Teo’).
Early in the second set a brief change in pace occurred, when we heard a duet between Crayford and Patterson. They performed the only standard of the evening, the gorgeous ‘Old Folks’ (Robison). It lived up to its heart-string tugging potential. At the end satisfied sighs were heard from the audience. Piano and valve trombone work extremely well together and I was briefly minded of the duet recordings between Bob Brookmeyer and others.
Having both traps drums and congas was integral to the sound as they added heft and edge. On traps was Julien Dyne, an energetic and multi faceted drummer who has worked previously with Jonathan Crayford ( ‘Pins & Digits’ – Dyne’s album). On congas (and facing the band) was Miguel Fuentes, a highly experienced percussionist who never flagged during the long and energised grooves. The remaining band member was Chip Matthews on electric bass. His presence was integral to the mix and he managed to provide both an anchor and groove lines without crowding out the others. The sound scape was dense at times and intentionally so, but the overall momentum was never lost. With Jonathan Crayford at the helm this is hardly surprising.
The other departure from the format occurred when Jonathan invited Miles Crayford to sit in for a number. Miles a pianist and keyboardist also, came to wider attention when he participated in Reuben Bradley’s award-winning ‘Resonator’ album.
If you ask Jonathan Crayford where he lives now you will get vague answers. He lives where the current project is happening and where the music is. For the next two month’s he’ll be gigging around New Zealand and then returning to New York to mix and master his next album (with the well-known New York bassist Ben Street and drummer Dan Weiss). The album is intriguingly named ‘Dark Light’. Crayford tells me that he wrote the music during a long winter sojourn in London, where the seemingly endless days of low light are commonplace. Having lived in London I understand this focus with radiating light. The interplay and intensity of light occupies your thoughts there as it never does in sunnier climes.
If you Google this artist you’ll notice that he’s recorded as ‘currently living’ in Spain or Paris; throw in London and New York and the picture becomes a little clearer. This is a musician chasing the music and living in the moment. In Spain he records two solo albums, in New York trios and a sextet and then on to new projects in other cities. We gladly claim him as an expat Kiwi but in reality he’s a citizen of the world.
Who: Jonathan Crayford (piano, keyboards, compositions, leader), Kim Patterson (valve trombone, percussion), Finn Scholes (trumpet), Miguel Fuentes (percussion), Chip Matthews (electric bass), Julien Dyne (drums).
Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland. 19th February 2014
Jonathan Crayford albums (and streamed samples) are available from his website, Rattle or iTunes – jocray.com