James Wylie last passed through Auckland in late 2012 when he played two gigs at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club). A gifted alto saxophonist who doubles on clarinet, he has always been popular here. In his travels around the world, his natural creativity has found endless new avenues for expression, examining, dissecting and assimilating the sounds around him. What you get from Wylie is authenticity, an authenticity fuelled by indigenous music, country music, his own imaginings and all through a Jazz lens. Last time he appeared, Greek singer Egli Katsiki accompanied him for two numbers. This time we were again treated to some improvisations around traditional Greek melodies and to my delight a particularly lovely medieval Arab melody. This interface between the ancient streams of Mediterranean music and Jazz is one that I am always up for, but seldom get a chance to hear in New Zealand. Wylie is these days a resident of Greece.
The co-leader Miles Crayford, now based in Auckland, has appeared at the CJC several times in recent months. An interesting pianist and composer who compliments Wylie in unexpected ways. This meeting of musical minds stimulated both artists. The bass player was Mostyn Cole, but Crayford’s usual drummer, the Wellington based Reuben Bradley was replaced by Ron Samsom. While all respected musicians in their own right, putting such combinations together is not in itself a guarantee of success. In this case it worked well. I like Reuben’s drumming enormously, but Ron Samsom gave the lineup an unusual colour that would not otherwise have been there. Samsom can draw on an endless array of styles, in each case arriving at a feel that is indispensable to the improvisers around him. Like Wylie and Crayford, Cole contributed an original composition or two. Cole is also based in Auckland these days and that is our gain. He often incorporates passages of arco bass into his arrangements, perhaps more so than his local contemporaries.
The musical connection between Crayford and Wylie was obvious, with the deliciously dark voicings of the pianist giving the alto player much to work with. The first tune up titled ‘Taniwha’ (Crayford), set the tone for the evening. A compelling tune with a melodic head, opening out to reveal depth upon depth. In the second set Wylie showcased some traditional Greek tunes, unmistakable as to their origin, but somehow imparting a hint of that familiar Kiwi sound. Kiwi musicians are reflections of our national character, often excelling at what they do but seldom acknowledging their achievements. Many are deliberately self-effacing, only letting their music speak for them. Telling their stories in other ways is a writers job.
I enjoyed this band and judging by the enthusiastic applause, so did the audience. There was a time when I dreaded our more talented improvising musicians moving overseas as it felt like a loss. Now I think differently. Every-time James Wylie, Jonathan Crayford or Mike Nock returns home they bring back something new. Nothing is ever lost if we listen properly and keep supporting the music. These musicians and the many students who tread the same path are our legacy; where ever they live.
Who: James Wylie/Miles Crayford Group. – James Wylie (alto saxophone), Miles Crayford (piano), Mostyn Cole (bass), Ron Samsom (drums).
Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Brittomart, Auckland, New Zealand. http://www.creativejazzclub.co.nz