John Scofield is a magnet for guitarists world-wide, drawing them into the Jazz fold in ever-increasing numbers. Locally, a similar thing’s said of guitarist Dixon Nacey. The logic therefore that Nacey should do a Scofield project is inescapable. That he should do it exceptionally well, unsurprising.
Playing a gig well requires a high degree of focus and anyone who has spent time around musicians will tell you that a type of disengagement from peripheral matters occurs just prior to any performance. As the musicians busy themselves with a multiplicity of leads, pedals and last-minute adjustments you often detect withdrawal. It is as if their sensory perceptions are being momentarily realigned. Once the performance begins the focus changes again and what has been in deficit is given back ten fold. Dixon Nacey is somewhat of an enigma in this regard, as his extravert good nature is evident on or off the band-stand, before, during and after a gig.
He is cheerful and easy to engage with off the bandstand and when he plays a look of pure delight flashes across his face. As the strings bend under his fingers and his beautiful Godin guitar moves with him, the effect’s magnified. This is about the joy of creating high quality accessible music. What he communicates in body language to an audience is as much a part of the music as the notes he plays. To experience Dixon Nacey live is to receive a gift, because some of that joyous exuberance infects you as listener. As the recipients of this you find yourself smiling throughout and feel very lucky.
I have seen John Scofield twice and his concerts are much like this. Exuberant crowd pleasing and heavily groove based. In spite of the fact that the material was nearly all Scofield compositions this was no slavish covers gig. This was Dixon telling the Scofield story in his own way.
When working on projects like this leaders know who they’d like to engage, but availability often defeats them. Dixon was in luck here as he got exactly who he wanted. On Nord C1 Hammond B3 was the often illusive Grant Winterburn. Winterburn’s often talked about by Jazz musicians but seldom seen at club gigs. As he set up his gear a musician whispered in my ear, “This is one of New Zealand’s best groove organ players and we’re lucky to catch him”. The reason he is seldom seen is because he gets so much work with large production shows. This cat has it all down. The hard-driving grooves, the staccato chord work and a way of playing with time, tension and release that has you shouting encouragement and punching the air. Moments before a killing run he appears to fall sideways while a hand snakes to the keyboard. Sometimes he leaps up and jams his knee into the upper register. These crowd pleasing antics mirrored Dixon’s moves perfectly and they were never at the expense of the stellar musicianship.
There’s another band member seen far too infrequently and that’s Pete France on tenor saxophone. The Scottish born France has the ability to coax lovely melodic ballads or raunchy groove numbers out of his elegant silver tenor. I have caught him playing standards gigs but also tackling more challenging material. I like the way he approaches tunes, never overly busy and often saying more with less. It was nice to see him back at the CJC.
Once again drummer Stephen Thomas showed how valuable he is in a line up. He gets plenty of top-level work these days and rightly so. In recent years I’ve seen him excel in diverse situations ranging from gigs requiring sensitive brush work to firing up hardtop units. For all that, I’ve not previously seen him in this context. Scofield tunes have more twists and turns than a dangerous mountain road and he executed them to perfection. Here he was locking down the beat as a groove drummer and adding that special something. there was one non Scofield tune in the mix and that was the Booker T & the MG’s R & B classic ‘Green Onions’. Thomas pounded this out like a born again rock god while freeing up the others to let loose (and they surely did). Take my word for it the tune never sounded so good.
The remaining band member was Junior Turua on electric bass. Turua is always at the heart of the music and totally in the pocket; able to punch out mesmerising grooves, tasteful licks and solos. It may be a cliche but this band is greater than the sum of its parts. I stated earlier that I’d seen Scofield live, but in honesty I enjoyed this band just as much.
The tunes traversed Scofields recording career with perennial favourites like ‘A go go’ and ‘Chank’ alternating with lessor know compositions like ‘Let the Cat Out’. All of the musicians took delight in what the others were doing and their acute interaction amplified the intensity of the music. As marvellous as the band was you can take nothing away from Dixon Nacey, whose virtuosity shines like a beacon.
The band do an Auckland University gig on the 10th March and I will certainly be there for that. Hopefully it will be recorded by someone.
What: Dixon Nacey ‘Lets Sco’ Project – Dixon Nacey (guitar, leader), Grant Winterburn (Nord C1 Hammond B3), Pete France (tenor sax), Junior Turua (electric bass), Stephen Thomas (drums).
Where: The CJC (Progressive Jazz Club) 1885 Britomart Auckland. 26th Feb 2014.