One of the strengths of the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) is its varied program. Sixty years ago improvised music meant only one thing to the western world. Mainstream Jazz. From the late fifties onwards the music drew from an ever-widening array of influences, experiments with unusual and exotic instruments occurred, not always successful as the attempts were often self-conscious. At worst they felt like a size twelve-foot being jammed into a size six shoe, at best they tantalised, leaving us wanting more. Among the best of these explorations were Jimmy Giuffre’s. A Texas tenor man with open ears and an innate ability to double on reeds and winds. By the sixties his folk tinged Jazz with Jim Hall and Bill Crow (Train and the River) was considered mainstream. By then Giuffre had moved on to explore open skies atonal explorations with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow and to dabble in the ‘third stream’. The third stream referenced modern classical music as it sought to make a hybrid of the two forms. Attempts to bring in the exotic sounds of the Mediterranean, in spite of Django, were slower coming. The exotic of the sixties was more likely Cuban influenced Jazz or the music of Tom Jobim. Both wonderful, but unmistakably music rooted in the Americas, in spite of their ancient African influences.
Post millennium, there are interesting and innovative Jazz Projects proliferating across the globe. ECM in particular has long been adept at broadening Jazz tastes and over the last two decades it is repeatedly voted as the best-loved Jazz Label. Not once has it compromised its mission. Not once has it tried to travel down the populist route. It survives in a space where the iconic Jazz labels disappear, engulfed by amoral corporate machines or buried in an increasingly harsh market place. One ECM album in particular comes to mind, a wonderful collaboration between premier Italian Jazz trumpeter Paulo Fresu and a traditional Corsican mens choir, ‘Mystico Mediterraneo’. This acapella song form is combined with improvisation much like Caroline’s and Tui’s projects. Improvising around ancient forms and bringing back deeply evocative all but forgotten songs. This feels natural in 2014 and this brings me to the original point. Jazz now coexists comfortably around a variety of genres, from deep Americana (Bill Frisell), to Middle Eastern music (Dhafer Youssef). The self-consciousness is gone and the younger audiences in particular are more open. This feels right in a globalised world and from an ethnomusicological view-point, it helps catalogue musics that are fast fading from thecollective memory.
The ‘Acapollination’ project illustrates the above points perfectly. This acapella group, four women (two established Jazz vocalists), explore the harmonies and rhythms of Bulgarian folk music. I knew little of Bulgarian music but was keen to learn. What I now know is that there is an ancient tradition of folk singing and that the style is quite distinct. Differing markedly from other European or Slavonic music. When Bulgaria became communist the authorities appropriated these folk songs and under their guiding hand they morphed in propaganda tools. Complex meters became the norm, no longer left in the sole hands of peasants who had preserved them by oral tradition. In some cases purged of unwelcome minority ethnic influences. It is to the credit of Ron Samsom and the Auckland University Jazz School that this project was accepted. There are many improvising traditions in the world, some new, some ancient. When they meet new horizons open before us.
The second set was Carolina Moons Mother Tongue. This project has been around for a few years and has travelled extensively. There have been a few changes to the original line-up but the core performers remain. Wherever the Mother Tongue project has appeared it’s received to wide acclaim. Once again this is an ancient music, a hybrid form emerging from multiple sources in medieval Sephardic Spain. Not only are the melodies of the Jewish Diaspora heard, but the songs of the Moors and the other races surrounding them. This truly exotic and rich music just begs for modern interpretation and Carolina Moon has achieved that exceptionally well. Her voice is wonderful and her arrangements perfect. I have heard this group many times, but at each listening I gain new insights, fresh enjoyments. They are evolving with time and different facets emerge or fade as they progress. Nigel Gavin is always extraordinary but Roger Manins intense short modal improvisations on Bass Clarinet, Flute or Soprano saxophone make this special. Carolina Moon, Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Ron Samsom and Nigel Gavin are the original members. Cameron McArthur is a newer addition. This is a cohesive working group and long may they remain so.
What: Acapollinations – Tui Mamaki (leader, voice), Chelsea Prastiti (voice), Carolina Moon (voice), Siobhan Grace (voice). firstname.lastname@example.org
What: Mother Tongue Project – Carolina Moon -Manins – (Leader, arranger, vocals, bells), Kevin Field (piano), Roger Manins (winds and reeds), Nigel Gavin (guitars), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) http://www.moonmusic.com
Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland New Zealand, 28th May 2014 www.creativejazzclub.co.nz