Gjazz5 ~ Olivier Holland

Olivier Holland’s GJazz5 Album release (NZ) was bound to be a significant event as Holland doesn’t do half-measures. When he commits to a project he gives it his all and this project was no exception. Sometime in 2018, he and fellow Auckland musician Roger Manins flew to Germany to record 13 new compositions. Joining them, a formidable lineup of internationally acclaimed musicians and their destination, the renowned Fatorria Musica Studios in Osnabrück.

Holland’s compositions are always engaging and these ones, especially so. To give them their best airing he had engaged a number of Jazz luminaries; Geoffry Keezer pianist and educator (USA), Terreon ‘Tank’ Gully on drums (USA), Denis Babel on tenor saxophone (Germany), Roger Manins tenor saxophone (NZ) and guest artist Joscho Stephan guitar (Germany). Holland was formerly from Germany but he is now a senior tutor at the University of Auckland Jazz School.

When you put good material in front of good improvising musicians you can expect good results, but sometimes, that little bit extra is extracted and then the magic. This is a marvellous album and deserving of acclaim. It traverses a range of moods without ever detracting from the overarching mellow vibe. This is a recording you will want to play over and over, and each listening will yield fresh gold.  

The first track ‘$10 Per Rat’ has both edge and humour. Holland is known for his throwaway verbal lines on stage and this bleeds through into his writing. He will quickly tell an audience that they shouldn’t read any particular meanings into his tune titles, but then he will follow up with an improbable story to the delight of all present. Good musicianship and good banter are happy bedfellows in my experience. 

Track two, ‘Mrs Bombastic’ is the perfect vehicle for Keezer who sets the mood with his evocative intro. There is nothing bombastic about this tune which is reflective, spacious and beautiful. Following that is Morse Code, a tune true to name, dancing over compelling rhythmic patterns with an insistent ostinato bass line. The next tune ‘What?’ appeals to me enormously with its Afro Cuban feel and its funky danceable street vibe – Gabel, ‘Tank’ and everyone, killing it.

‘For Heidi’ was written for Holland’s partner. An achingly beautiful ballad and wonderfully realised by the musicians. The first album is rounded off by ‘EasyAz’. No Kiwi needs to have this term explained, but for the benefit of others, it’s a laid-back vibe that we value so much in this country.  The musicians at the live gig told me that playing the tune was far from ‘easyaz’. The old adage about Jazz holds true here, complex music made to sound easy, ‘easy as’. 

The only tune not composed by the leader is the first number on the second disk, ‘Tanktified’ by ‘Tank’ Gully. This is a cleverly constructed groove piece and it ties the album halves together nicely. On ‘Dog’ we hear Manins at his best, navigating the warp and weft of the bass lines and beats as he rides over the stop-start segments effortlessly. Another great solo from Keezer as well. Guitarist Joscho Stephan appears on tracks (1), (6) and 13) and his fluid delivery is tightly focussed, enhancing the vibe. ‘EasyAz’ drops into a nice swing feel which soloists Manins Stephan, Gabel, Keezer and Holland, power through as easy as – pumped by ‘Tank’s high octane fuel. 

There are no B side tunes here — Venus Fly Trap (a gorgeous solo by Gabel), ‘Bad Tuesday’ which made me smile (Kiwi Jazz fans will get the reference immediately as it is a big nod to Hollands friend and colleague Kevin Field and his delightful composition ‘Good Friday’), ‘Don’t Worry’ (has that dreamy Pharaoh Sanders like vamp), ‘Van Dump’ (tasty unison lines and forward momentum riding on top of a flurry of heart-stopping beats, and those two blistering tenor solos), Lastly ‘10c A Fly’ a joyful tune co-credited to Holland and his son David. What a treat, and as with all of these pieces, carried on Hollands impeccable bass lines and his gravity-defying compositional architecture. None of the musicians can be set apart from the whole because all of the musicians stand out, this was truly a meeting of musical minds.

Following the recording, Holland made several trips to the northern hemisphere, nurturing the project to completion. Then, COVID happened and the American and German musicians were unable to travel to the album release. It would take more than an international pandemic to put a crimp in Holland’s style though and a release was planned using Auckland musicians (colleagues and former pupils). 

The New Zealand gig was well signalled on social media with album teasers and a commitment to donate part of the album proceeds to a marine sanctuary off the coast of Africa. On top of that Holland generously forwent sales profits above cost. $5 from each sale plus a generous contribution from his own pocket was destined for Avaaz, a well respected oceanic environmental cause. If anyone is surprised at this generous turn, they don’t know him. His environmental interests are well known and based on first-hand observations as a diver and a blue water yachtsman (he originally sailed to New Zealand from Europe). 

I have posted several numbers from the New Zealand gig and they are a small sampling from a superb nights entertainment. Beside Holland was Roger Manins, the only two from the recording band. Filling in for the internationals and killing it, were Dixon Nacey on guitar, Thabani Gapara on alto saxophone, Joe Kaptein on keys and Malachai Samuelu on drums. I am sure that these tunes were challenging, but you wouldn’t know it. More guitar parts were included in the charts and why not with Dixon in the mix. Roger was on top of his game as always and the other three were marvellous. The University of Auckland Jazz School alumni and tutors under Holland’s leadership did the University proud.

In addition to the Auckland clips, I have included some clips from the album. The local gig took place at Anthology for the CJC Jazz Club on 26 May 2021.

JazzLocal32.com was rated as one of the 50 best Jazz Blogs in the world by Feedspot. The author is a professional member of the Jazz Journalists Association, poet & writer. Some of these posts appear on related sites.