Christchurch resonates strongly with Kiwi’s from elsewhere, but the images we bring to mind are fused realities. The best of colonial Victorian architecture, a fading Englishness; blurring into an empty post-quake wasteland or an alpine framed Hiroshima. Behind the rubble the city’s creative life has continued unabated. This is not about ‘defiant resilience’ or any of those other overused phrases. Creative artists create no matter what the circumstances and no errant fault line can dislodge that force. It is about being human and it is about the inner life of a city. Improvising artists are among the best placed to tap into this wellspring.
With that rich southern burr in his speech, Glen Wagstaff is clearly from the mid to lower South Island. Like other Jazz musicians from Christchurch he has impressive skills. The Christchurch Jazz School has done well by us, especially evidenced in the fine musicians emerging. I first heard Wagstaff in 2013 when he came to Auckland with his Christchurch octet. I was impressed then; even more so now.
The number of New Zealand musicians who write or arrange big band charts is relatively small and there are good reasons for this. It is time-consuming and very hard work. To have a younger musician writing so well and to be so adventurous is unusual. There are two clear influences on Wagstaff’s writing and these are the late Kenny Wheeler and the Brian Blade Fellowship band. I am a big fan of both and these musicians are evoked in the charts. Similar in style maybe, but with a strong Kiwi focus. While the above influences are detectable, Wagstaff is developing a unique voice. A voice that imparts a strong sense of place. Mountains, clear skies, wide-vistas and textured landscapes.
His small ensemble work puts you in mind of a larger ensemble, while his orchestral work has sufficient space to imply the opposite. The style (like Wheeler’s) is airy and textured with strong melodic hooks. In spite of the dark tinged corners, the pieces impart warmth.
The other part to Wagstaff is his solid guitar work. This was especially evident during this gig. The ringing clean tone and the strong well paced lines could blend with the orchestra when appropriate. At other times the guitar led strongly. Whether as composer or guitarist, Wagstaff was in command. I have rendered a clip of his composition ‘Firefly’ and the music speaks for itself. Nothing further I could write could add or detract from this extraordinary piece of music.
The AJO was a good choice as they are a capable Jazz orchestra. What they need most are more challenges like this. These charts were not the easiest and the rehearsal time was brief. What they managed in this narrow window was entirely creditable. It would be nice to see them record something like this and I believe that they have just such a project coming up with Tim Atkinson’s suite (to be recorded shortly). Conducting the AJO was Tim Atkinson while Mike Booth (trumpet) and Andrew Hall (alto, soprano) took the main solos. Matt Steele’s piano worked beautifully with Wagstaff during the guitar dominant passages.
In the octet were: Glen Wagstaff (guitar), Matt Steele (piano), Richie Pickard (bass), Ron Samsom (drums), Andrew Hall (reeds), Mike Booth (trumpet), Ben McNicholl (tenor saxophone), Glen Bartlett (trombone), The rest of the AJO were; Jo Spiers (trumpet), Oliver Furneaux (trumpet), Mathew Verrill (trumpet), Mike Young (trombone), Darrell Farnley (trombone),Michael Tidbury (trombone) David Edmundson (tenor) Andrew Baker (baritone) Trudy Lile (Flute), Callum Passells (alto, soprano).
More of this please Glen Wagstaff.
What: Glen Wagstaff + AJO (Auckland Jazz Orchestra)
Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand 19th November 2014