The DOG project was conceived two years ago and during its public outings the band garnered enthusiastic support. Those who heard DOG urged them to record and eventually they did. The long-awaited album was ready for release on International Jazz Day 2014; a gestation time roughly equivalent to that of an elephant. The time however has been very well spent, as the band members have composed a wealth of new material. DOG (formally Dr Dog) is Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Oli Holland and Ron Samsom. Manins, Field & Holland are lecturers at the Auckland University School of Music (Jazz program), Samsom is the senior lecturer. They are all in demand for the best gigs about town. They are the big dogs on the block.
International Jazz day was the perfect time to release this album, underscoring as it does a local Jazz scene crackling with life and teeming with invention. Anyone familiar with the Auckland Jazz Scene will know that these musicians are a driving force; inspiring, challenging and empowering emerging artists. It is a band of titans but it is also a true band of equals. In the Jazz world bands made up of many leaders often fall short. A juggling act’s required to unify a multiplicity of visions. That problem does not apply here. These men appear to breathe in unison and react to each other intuitively. At the ripe old age of two DOG is in peak condition.
The album is beautifully recorded and the mix could hardly be improved upon. Credit to the York Street Studios in Auckland and to the tasteful mixing by Rattle’s Steve Garden (and DOG themselves). ‘Rattle Records’ are going from strength to strength and if the last three months output is anything to go by, this will be their best year yet. From the first few notes the album reels you in and holds your attention throughout. There is a virtuosity and a tightness to the performances but it is more than that. Beneath the unquestionable musicianship there is a radiating warmth and a bounty of good humour which shines through. This was especially evident during the International Jazz Day performance at the CJC. It was a humour filled affair and delightfully laid back.
Roger Manins was the front man for the release gig and the dog jokes and banter had people in fits of laughter. He teased the band mercilessly and they responded with sad looks or dismissive gestures. The Zeppo Marx to Manins Groucho. This is a role that he is well suited to and his jokes are quintessential Kiwiana. Some of the titles contained obscure dog references. ‘Race to Space’ honours the Russian dog which led off the space race, others inspired by loveable but hapless dogs of good breeding as in ‘Evolution’. At one stage Manins directed people to a comparative dog intelligence chart. “This is my spaniel rated at number fifty three, which is around the middle of a descending scale”. Next he asked, “Does anyone here own an Afghan Hound?”. No one owned up, perhaps guessing what was to transpire. “Ladies and gentlemen they are number ninety two on the list, almost at the bottom of the intelligence scale”. Some brave soul responded, “Surely not”. “Have you ever tried to play cards with an Afghan Hound” was Manins quick response. Roger Manins drawings for the cover art say it all.
Because there are four composers, the tunes have a variety of moods and tempos. I like them all, but if forced to choose one I would go for Hollands ‘Didel Didel Dei’. There are burning solos on this uptempo track and the interplay is quite exceptional. On this track you will hear Manins at his best. As usual there is no sugar-coating as he pushes the tenor to its outer limits. Field, Holland and Samsom responded in kind. This music they play has the utmost integrity and the audience laps it up.
International Jazz Day has become the premier event on the International Jazz Calendar with the brightest stars in the Jazz firmament showcased. Auckland, New Zealand can hold its head high in the midst of these international celebrations. This album and this live performance did us proud.
Who: ‘DOG’ is Roger Manins (tenor Sax), Kevin Field (piano), Oli Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) – compositions by all band members