Now, Where Were we?

Michal Martyniuk reprised.

The last live gig that I attended was just before the level 3 lockdown. That seems like forever ago now, but in truth, it was only in March. Now, in the closing days of June, here I was, strolling down Karangahape Road; the home of indie music and the Creative Jazz Club. Live improvised music was back. 

I can remember every moment of my last pre lockdown gig and I savoured the memories during my period of isolation. As the weeks rolled into months, I managed the interregnum well, but the absence of live music cut deep. I missed its sweet voice in my ear, so music, please never leave me again. 

By a strange coincidence, the last band I heard, the one on that March night, was the Michal Martyniuk Trio. Now, here they were, performing the very first post lockdown gig. As I dashed across K’Road to avoid the rainstorm I wondered if the weather would affect the turnout. The restaurants and the streets were eerily empty, but huddled in the stairwell of Anthology were people shedding raincoats and talking excitedly. Long before the gig started the club had filled to capacity. 

The trio was now a quartet, having added 2020 Tui Award-winning guitarist Dixon Nacey to their number. It turned out to be a match made in heaven. Four highly rated and award-nominated artists merged into one killer unit.

After months of being deprived of live gigs, the musicians were pumped and similar energy flowed from the audience. When expectations are this high, what stretches ahead, is a dangerous high wire act. Also, the piano had been idle for months, lonely and unloved. In truth, the instrument is a difficult beast, but Martyniuk soon found his way to its heart and he coaxed it to sing again. Harnessing unruly forces is the anvil on which good improvisers produce their best work. 

Most of the tunes were Martyniuk’s and although his music is quite different from Nacey’s, the contrast worked nicely. Martyniuk’s post-bop European voicings and memorable melodies were gifted an interesting edge.  Nacey’s tunes, which often feature surprising twists and rhythmic complexity, were turned in fresh directions. Out of contrast comes the best Jazz and this was truly the sound of surprise.  

Michal Martyniuk Quartet: Michal Martyniuk (piano), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samsom (drums). The clip recorded is Martyniuks Polish unit (not the Auckland band as reviewed above)

michalmartyniuk.bandcamp.com  

Adventurous Spirits

The Following albums are all adventurous in their own way. All reach beyond the strict confines of genre and while each approaches from a unique vantage point, they offer a cross-section of trans-Tasman pandemic era music. The music may or may not have been influenced by the lockdown itself, but the association resonates. We are on a long journey. Moving from isolation towards an unfamiliar landscape. We will inevitably cling to yesterday, but we will hopefully also take the braver step of jettisoning what has become superfluous. We do not need bankers and snake oil merchants to guide us, but we do need adventurous musicians. 

Dark Energy: Paul Williamson Quartet

A few years ago a visit to Melbourne coincided with the launch of Paul Williamson’s ‘Finding The Balance’ album at JazzLab. There was a lot to like about the album and I wrote a review after I had returned to New Zealand.  Now in the midst of the pandemic, Williamson has released a new album titled ‘Dark Energy’. This time he invokes different spirits and in doing so he taps into new and exciting realities.  

This is an edgy and forward-looking album and although it offers glimpses of the familiar, it quickly strikes out for freer air. Popular music seldom strays beyond the angst of loves lost, but Australasian improvisers increasingly move beyond the confines of gravity. In fact, astrophysics is often an inspirational touchstone for our down-under improvisers. In the early seventies, these themes were convincingly referenced by the likes of Bennie Maupin and Eddie Henderson. Dark Energy picks up the batten, combining galactic revelations with the discovery of wondrous interior worlds.

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On certain tracks, Williamson’s trumpet playing contains hints of Tomasz Stanko or perhaps the quieter moments of Kenny Wheeler. A wistful moody quality is evident and especially on tracks like Al-egance; his tone is especially gorgeous in these settings. On the more ethereal tracks, he utilises extended technique and skilfully embeds the instrument into the spectrum of the bands sound. In all of these explorations, his band is in lock-step. Letting the compositions speak with clarity, and understanding, that close confinement is unnecessary in space. 

On guitar, Theo Carbo displays a deft touch, clean and appropriate to the task in hand. Again there is a gentle moodiness and one which owes much to improvised Americana. The bass and drums also strike the right balance, never overreaching, and yet every voice and flurry is heard perfectly. 

Paul Williamson (trumpet, compositions), Theo Carbo (guitar), Hiroki Hoshino (double bass), Miles Henry (drums)

paulwilliamson.bandcamp.com

 

Wind & Wire: Alan Brown solo piano

‘Wind and Wire’ is a third of a set of solo albums that Alan Brown has released. His first two albums teased out the subtitles of an acoustic piano, and they did so in a setting which allowed the acoustics of the room to inform the improvisations. This album compliments the earlier albums while expanding the sonic possibilities. With keyboards and digital enhancements come fresh choices, and this is a logical progression for which Brown is well-fitted. He is an acknowledged master of the digital and analogue keyboard, and he understands how to judiciously apply enhancements. 

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The album is a set of 10 improvised pieces and the titles set up the mood for each. ‘Mood’ is an important ingredient in any ambient composition for it is the mood and not melody or rhythm which invites us inside a piece. Brown is always careful to establish this. His improvisational development follows a logic evolved from the preceding phrases. It is more than sound shaping as it flows like a river from start to finish, and this in spite of being unconfined by written charts or cycles of scales. 

In Wind and Wire, there are varying moods and not all are quiet or reflective. Where you start is not always where you expect to finish. There are surprises embedded within. While these are essentially interior landscapes they are no less real for that. They invoke vistas and engage with our ever-changing realities. Something we have hopefully learned to value in these days of inner reflection.

alanbrown.bandcamp.com

 

Trouble Spots: Ivan Zagni/Steve Garden)

A few days ago ‘Trouble Spots’ appeared in the Rattle Records Bandcamp catalogue. I listened and was captivated. Because humans are hard-wired to categorise I looked for descriptors. Among the tags were: acoustic instrumental, experimental, atmospheric, improvised. I listened to the rest of the album and then once through again. Wow, I thought, this is engaging but it studiously evades categorisation. How can something so enjoyable and so strangely familiar remain so elusive?  

The cover art was also mesmerising. So much so, that for a while I failed to register, that the album was the result of a long collaboration between Steve Garden and Ivan Zagni. Garden, the local Manfred Eicher, the presiding spirit of Rattle Records (and what is often overlooked, a fine drummer and percussionist). Zagni is the co-leader and a significant figure in the music world, long acknowledged as a gifted multi-genre experimentalist. Born in London and moving to New Zealand many years ago where he soon became a significant presence on the local scene. The Rattle label grew out of Garden’s early work with Zagni and Don McGlashan. 

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Keen to get the low-down I contacted Garden and during our conversation, he suggested some additional tags for the album: absurdist, filmic, musical jokes, sonic circus, accidental improvisation, sonic collages and experimental music. Most musical disciplines have a vocabulary and the listener is therefore accustomed to locating fixed reference points; seeking out the elements that indicate genre. If a style is too rigid however, then that implies stasis and the improvising arts are the antitheses of stylistic inertia.

So this is an album that tells wonderful stories and the stories are best constructed (or deconstructed) in our heads. The music here facilitates that with its evocative but elusive cover image, it’s glimpses of Beirut or Nicaragua, of Punch & Judy, Cat & Mouse. Think of it as musical Dada or a Zen Koan. There is serious intent and good musicianship here, but that should not prevent us from laughing in pure delight. 

rattle-records.bandcamp.com

 

 

Phil Broadhurst Obituary

In a month where sad tidings constantly emerged from the Jazz diaspora, we lost one of our own. Phil Broadhurst was not claimed by the virus, as so many were, but by a cruel and familiar disease. As he battled through his various treatments he played on regardless. Seldom wavering, as he composed new tunes; organised concerts or met friends for coffee, and all the while managing to put us at ease. Phil had a gift for that. He was dignity personified. 

During his last concert at the Auckland Jazz & Blues Club, he bantered with a capacity audience while delivering a formidable set or two. Beside him on the bandstand were his loyal friends from the London Bar days and never far away, his beloved Julie. I suspect that the last gig took all that he had, but you wouldn’t know it. During hard times jazz musicians shine brightest and Phil did. 

He was well established on the Jazz scene long before he left the UK for New Zealand. Upon arrival he quickly made his mark. In clubs and bars and in the recording studio, in education and in broadcasting, and all through the lean years he kept the flame burning. Now we mourn along with his family for the music not yet formed and denied us, knowing that the scene will be poorer for his passing. 

Many years ago as I was taking my first tentative steps in documenting the local Jazz scene, Phil phoned me. He made an offer that no Jazz writer could refuse.

‘How would you like to spend time with Bennie Maupin and Dick Oatts’ he asked? A phrase from a review of Bitches Brew flashed across my consciousness, ‘Maupin, who patrols the lower register like a barracuda’. I uttered a strangulated sound (which translated as yes) and in fact I got to spend two days with them. It was a kindness that I will never forget. 

I learned two important things that weekend. Never ask a doubling musician why they are equally proficiant on seven reeds & winds. I was told sharply that the secret was, practice until you drop and then do it seven times more. The second thing I learned was that Phil was an enabler. He put people in situations where they could grow. 

Last year, Phil invited me to observe and photograph his quintet as they recorded ‘Positif’, his fourth Rattle album. I have posted images and a link to that and his other albums. Today all Bandcamp revenue goes back to the artists. There is no better way to celebrate the life of an artist than by buying their works. Go to Phil Broadhurst Bandcamp.

Phil was a powerful presence on the New Zealand Jazz scene and we will miss him dearly. Over the years his output has been considerable and his Rattle albums in particular provide us a lasting testimony. A multi awards winner, a friend, but now we must wait until the lockdown is over for his final parade. Until then, and ever after, let his tunes and recordings remind us. And beyond that, the teachers of tomorrow, the ones who Phil mentored are bringing on another generation of improvisers. Perhaps, that is the ultimate legacy.

The lockdowns won’t stop jazz! To assist musicians who’ve had performances cancelled, get their music heard around the globe. There Jazz Journalists Association created a Jazz on Lockdown: Hear it Here community blog. for more, click through to https://news.jazzjournalists.org/catagory/jazz-on-lockdown/ 

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

Vanessa Perica ~ Love Is A Temporary Madness

Jazz on Lockdown Releases

On a gloomy autumn lockdown day, nothing is more welcome than a fresh and exciting piece of music. It brings sunshine, and if the artist is a gifted up-and-comer, it brings hope. In the days before lockdown, I saw a press release for Vanessa Perica’s ‘Love Is A Temporary Madness’. It could easily have been lost among the hundreds of emails warning me of the impending crises, but happily, it wasn’t. I listened to the sample track and found it instantly compelling.

There is nothing easy about composing and arranging Jazz orchestral charts and few musicians embark on this tortuous path. Thankfully Perica did, and her charts are magnificent. On ‘Love is a Temporary Madness’ she draws on a large palette, a seventeen-piece orchestra. Using contrast, texture, and modulation to great effect; she balances piano, guitar and the various soloists against a fulsome horn section and all to the best advantage. Big orchestras like this can easily maroon soloists, but these charts nurture the individual voices as much as the ensemble.

I know many of these musicians and I can’t help but wonder if she wrote with specific artists in mind; Andrea Keller in particular, as she is always such a distinctive performer? Very few pianists speak with such clarity and few can imply so much with well-crafted understatement. Add in renowned Australian musicians like Julien Wilson, Jamie Oehlers, Ben Vanderwal, and the other first raters and you understand why the ensemble sound is so fine. A sound that breathes in unison and when required urges a soloist to greater heights. 

This is the first time that I have encountered Vanessa Perica’s work and I am slow off the mark there. She’s increasingly coming to attention of the wider Jazz world and no wonder. When you’re compared to Maria Schneider and praised by luminaries like Ted Gioia, you are well on your way.

The world as we knew it has been upended by a virus and the unfamiliar now demands constant attention; but as we reel from a plethora of new realities, we must not resile from re-examining what was under our nose. In isolation, few of us crave a conversation with our banker. Our desires centre around the arts. With our minds free to roam we form tableaus of reimagined paintings, we craft wonders out of found objects, we sculpt gardens, and above all, we immerse ourselves in music. 

Everyone loves music and as consumers, we have greedily accessed it without a second thought for the musicians. Now, they are our lifeline, our passport to sanity, and when we need them most they are there for us, giving us free concerts or releasing albums at the worst possible time. Income streams in the creative sector have been slashed drastically but the composing and performing continues unabated.  Artists must create, and for that to continue we need to support their endeavours. Buying albums like ‘Love is a Temporary Madness’ is the perfect way to do just that.  Purchase from Vanessa Perica Bandcamp

The lockdowns won’t stop jazz! To assist musicians who’ve had performances cancelled, get their music heard around the globe. There Jazz Journalists Association created a Jazz on Lockdown: Hear it Here community blog. for more, click through to https://news.jazzjournalists.org/catagory/jazz-on-lockdown/

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

 

 

Jazz on Lockdown ~ hear it here

Buy from Bandcamp March 20 to help the Musicians during Covid-19 lockdown

Bandcamp informed us that they would be supporting artists during the Covid-19 pandemic. In an effort to raise awareness around the impact on musicians, they are waiving their revenue share on Friday, March 20. 

Jazz Journalists are supportive of the Bandcamp platform for a number of reasons. Firstly because it gives musicians control, and they can choose a pricing range for their albums. Of equal importance are the revenue returns where the artists share easily outstrips the other models. Bandcamp takes only a 15% share of revenue on albums and 10% on merchandise. Compare this to Spotify, Pandora or other platforms that can pay less than a cent per stream. The Bandcamp share drops even further once the album sales exceed $5,000. Buyers can also pay more than the artists recommended price and surprisingly over 50% do pay more. This feels more like a community than a business enterprise. It can also accommodate self-released material as well as cater to independent labels.

The Bandcamp site is beautifully designed and user friendly, unlike Spotify which is clunky by comparison. You can listen to a track once for free and it’s yours to keep for unlimited streaming (or download) once purchased. Remember iTunes downloads which had an expiry date? The app is free to download and once done you can set up your identity and share your playlists if you choose.

For Jazz lovers, there are other considerations and in particular sound quality. Lately, I have been downloading albums from Bandcamp in a whopping 32bit/48kHz format. That is audiophile quality and there are gizmos that enable you to stream this directly into your Hi-Fi system. 

Another benefit is that liner notes, artwork and full credits are back. When the big streamers stopped providing artists details it was insulting. I listen to high quality streamed music while reading the liner information on my iPad. Old school, new school rolled into one

The above paragraphs illustrate the divergence in philosophy between Spotify, other streamers and Bandcamp. Bandcamp is a grassroots platform and on the app, you can interact directly with the musician via a message box or post a recommendation. Spotify works a different way and it is aimed at the less engaged listener. An artist can do really well on Spotify if an album is streamed millions of times, but that is another world entirely from ours.  

The lockdowns won’t stop jazz! To assist musicians who’ve had performances cancelled, get their music heard around the globe. The Jazz Journalists Association created a Jazz on Lockdown: Hear It Here community blog. For more click through to
https://news.jazzjournalists.org/category/jazz-on-lockdown/.

https://daily.bandcamp.com/features/bandcamp-covid-19-fundraiser

https://news.jazzjournalists.org/category/jazz-on-lockdown/

My Bandcamp playlist recommendations for this month are: Rattle Records at rattle-records.bandcamp.com catalogue plus Chris Cody ‘Astrolabe’ chriscody.bandcamp.com and ‘This World’ Nock/Wilson/Stuart/Zwartz on lionsharerecords.bandcamp.com

I am moving the Jazz on Lockdown posts to this main page, but check out the blog page titled Jazz on Lockdown for cancellations and smaller notifications.

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