So, here we are again, in lockdown, after 160 days of freedom and live music. In fact, unlike most places on earth we had been free to roam safely within our borders for 361 days since the lockdowns began. Because of our shifting realities it is important to savour each gig and especially those immediately preceding each lockdown. These gigs are important markers as the sound of the music outlives the silenced bars and clubs. On Wednesday 11th August, days before the recent lockdown, the Kevin Field Supergroup appeared at Anthology.
Any Field project is a magnet for improvised music lovers and many of his tunes have become local standards. His Supergroup project is a developing story and we saw the first airing of this interesting new configuration late last year. For me, that particular gig was extra special because my son and his partner had recently returned from San Francisco and had attended the gig with me. Now, nine months on, there are new compositions and new arrangements to enjoy.
Fields tunes have delicious hooks and all are memorable, but as several musicians have confessed, they can also be tricky. To do the tunes justice good players were needed and that’s what he got, a supergroup, ‘true to label’. With musicians like this a challenge lifts their game and consequently they tore it up on the bandstand.
Field is somewhat of a raconteur and possessed of sharp wit. In true Kiwi fashion it is usually delivered deadpan. His enigmatic and obliquely referencing tune titles and his on stage introductions reveal this to the attentive. It would therefore not surprise me at all if the term supergroup, while perfectly accurate, was selected with his tongue firmly in his cheek. The dictionary definition reveals the following meaning; an exceptionally successful rock group or one formed by musicians already famous from playing in or leading other groups. E.g. The Beatles were not a supergroup but Led Zeppelin were.
This is an inside joke where Jazz is concerned, because virtually every lineup of established players fits the bill. Successful Jazz musicians spend their entire careers moving from one acclaimed lineup to another. Supergroups therefore form night after night in a kaleidoscope of perpetually shifting parts.
Two of the tunes were from his recent ‘Soundtology’ album, High Crane Drifter and Good Friday; the latter a Kiwi Jazz standard that first appeared on Field of Vision. With the exception of Where Jazz Lives (Matt Penman) the rest were new Field originals. I missed a few of the titles but among them was Mahi Tahi (working together as one), B’s River, Unconditional, Manhattan and Hullo Jesus (the latter describing a moment in lift when he suddenly came upon a large religious poster). The new tunes are worthy of inclusion on a new album and I have no doubt that that will occur sometime.
I have posted a tune written for the band by bass player and composer Matt Penman, an important musician who has always been supportive of New Zealand Jazz endeavours (and Kevin). ‘Where Jazz Lives’ is a fine piece of writing and the instrumental configuration gave voice to the tensions and timbres that underlie the composition. The other track posted ‘Manhattan’ (Field) is a ballad (trio only). This is a very beautiful tune and the ideal vehicle for Field’s rich harmonic ideas. The trio sounded like they had been playing together for years. Field, Thomas and McArthur interacting in such a way that they felt like a single entity. There were some great solos, especially from Field, but the nicely crafted ensemble sound and the quality of the compositions wowed us most.
Nathan Haines is one of New Zealand’s best known improvisers and he doubled on saxophones and flute, his melodic inventiveness very much to the fore. Beside him on bass clarinet and alto saxophone was Lewis McCallum. The bass clarinet is a gift to a medium sized ensemble and the resonant woody tones added depth and weight to the arranged passages. Having Keith Price on board counterbalanced the deeper and mid registers, his tight ensemble playing rounding out the colour palette nicely.
The Kevin Field Supergroup: Kevin Field (piano, compositions, arranging), Nathan Haines (flute, soprano and tenor saxophones), Lewis McCullum (bass clarinet, alto saxophone), Keith Price (guitar), Cameron McArthur (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums). That’s a whole lot of fire-power
JazzLocal32.com is 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.