Dixon Nacey Band ~ CJC December 2020

With 2020 nearly done, the penultimate gig at the CJC was an optimistic signpost; signalling hope and possibility. After a long and turbulent year, the music had bounced back better than ever and in spite of the obstacles along the way new energies were flowing. In amongst the offerings from our up-and-coming artists were gigs and albums by our finest. Last Wednesday’s Dixon Nacey Band and the release of Kevin Field’s ‘Soundtology’, stand out as musical high points. In a year of plague and pestilence, the music only grew stronger. There is a thing about genuine creatives; when the bats start to circle, they work with the chaos and create better. Dixon Nacey is very much in that category; what an extraordinary musician. 

Nacey appeared this time, with the same lineup that accompanied him on his Tui award-winning ‘Edge of Chaos’ album. There were numbers from the album, plus a few new tunes. In addition, he played a blues and two arrangements of Pat Metheny tunes which delighted everyone. I had missed his Ponsonby Road Metheny gig, which everyone who attended, raved about for weeks afterwards. 

Punching Bag (Nacey)

Nacey is a musician who keeps moving forward, and with each passing year, he reaches new heights. He is less inclined these days to rely on pedals and an uncluttered spaciousness is evident in many of his compositions. What he has absorbed has now been internalised, so there is no over-thinking, and out of that comes clarity and a cleaner sound. This enables him to say more and to give deeper meaning to the notes and phrases and underlying everything is some great writing. Playing like this demonstrates the best features of his Godin guitar, which in return, reveals its best self. The tune above is a recent Nacey composition. New Zealand Jazz at its finest.

And Then I knew (Metheny)

The band were superb and the tricky unison lines were executed well. Roger Manins is an excellent reader, and you could not have slid a cigarette paper between his and Nacey’s lines in the head arrangements. And behind those, adding fills or comping unobtrusively was Kevin Field. Responding exactly as he should and consequently giving the music a floating quality. There were rhythmic complexities on many of the numbers, but because they were navigated so well, they were rendered as easy. One or two pieces came close to being a shuffle beat, but not quite. This was a layered sound and the complexity of the overlaying time signatures needed skilled craftsman to make them fit properly. The reason it held together so well was down to Oli Holland on bass and Andy Keegan on drums. This is how a tight unit should function. What we got was a superb night of engaging music and it brought us end-of-year joy.

Dixon Nacey: guitar, arrangements, compositions – Roger Manins : tenor saxophone – Kevin Field: piano – Olivier Holland : bass – Andy Keegan : drums

The gig took place at Anthology K’Road for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, December 9, 2020

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. Many of these posts also appear on Radio13.co.nz – check it out.

Umar Zakaria ~ Fearless Music Collective

Umar Zakaria is an easy-going soul, but on the bandstand, he is a sonic warrior. He evokes a Mingus like presence with his powerful resonating bass lines; pushing, urging, as he rides the momentum. Although he was situated behind the horn line, his presence was palpable. You could see him dancing in the shadows, as his bass moved frenetically, and your ears took you straight to the nexus of fingers and strings.

 It is good to see that a band arising from Zakaria’s award-winning Fearless Music album survives. The album was marvellous and I would urge anyone who has not checked it out to do so. It brought a new perspective to New Zealand’s Jazz scene and one which we embraced. The album won the 2018 Jazz Tui against some very stiff opposition and deservedly so. It was a showcase for Zakaria’s compelling compositions, which drew upon the music of his Malaysian roots. It was a quartet featuring Roger Manins, Leo Coghini and Luther Hunt. 

The current Fearless Music Collective has an expanded lineup. This time, there was a four-piece horn-line and that opened up new possibilities. Zakaria’s arrangements, in particular, were impressive, as the players were given room to interact organically. It was nowhere more evident than on ‘Deadline’ with its textural qualities and interwoven communicability. It kept to a simple theme but told a big story. It was slick and appealing, but with a controlled raggedness that you usually find in a New Orleans street-band (or in a Mingus ensemble).  

The over-arching kaupapa of any collective is to provide a vehicle for its members to contribute, and they did. The compositions were varied in nature and often quirky, like the trombone players ’See You on the Launchpad’.  Others were more reflective like Zakaria’s ‘100 Homes’, evoking the impermanence of his student years.  Apart from the leader’s tunes, I was impressed by the pianist’s tune ‘Well Kept’, and the trumpeter’s titled ‘Freight Train’. The latter was a recreation of the trumpet led Hard-Bop era and it crackled with life. It is good to see young trumpet and trombone players coming through. Compared to Australia, New Zealand has lagged behind. 

Throughout, however, it was the powerful presence of the bass which guided and spoke from the music’s heart. It was not that the bass overwhelmed, but that it spoke with such authoritative clarity. It was obviously a bass players band, and no one would wish it otherwise. The album can be sourced from https://www.umarzakaria.com or purchased from NZ retail outlets.

The Fearless Music Collective: Umar Zakaria (bass), George McLaurin (piano), James Guilford (trumpet), Martin Greshoff (trombone), Nicholas Baucke-Maunsell (alto saxophone), Aiden McCulloch (tenor saxophone), James Feekes (drums). 

The gig took place at Anthology K’Road for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, December 9, 2020JazzLocal32.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. Many of these posts also appear on Radio13

Bonita ~ Chelsea Prastiti

Chelsea Prastiti’s Bonita gig was a phantasmagoria of warm evocative sounds. I have the greatest respect for her work and in this case, she curated something rare; she conjured up the vibe from another place and time, and she did so without a hint of contrivance. The Brazil of the sixties and seventies with its Bossa Nova soundtrack was an era of infinite possibility. In the end, the dream was stolen by a repressive authoritarian regime but the music, a timeless gift to the world, lived on. Over the last half-century, the Jobim songbook, in particular, has remained popular, and while some interpretations have been breathtaking, others, have been pale imitations. 

What Prastiti has done here is both respectful and innovative. She has composed a suite of tunes that nails the vibe as it taps into the essence of New Wave Brasileira while evoking the founding era. The concept for this gig and many of the tunes were conceived years ago. Prastiti had other projects cooking back then, and so she waited her time. As it turns out, she timed it perfectly. With our borders closed, the desire for high-quality Kiwi music is at an all-time high. Audiences are not being distracted by ‘once again and for the very last time’ tours by fading greats, and the realisation is dawning that homegrown is often better. 

Stars above water below

Another plus for holding the gig now was that her friends and collaborators were all within reach: notably, Elizabeth Stokes and Ben Sinclair of ‘The Beths’. The recent winners in the Best Group category at the NZ Music Awards would probably have been back on a world tour right now, but the pandemic curtailed that. The ensemble members all go back quite a way with Prastiti and I believe that the warmth they radiate arises from those long-held connections. 

Cassandra

The ten-piece ensemble oozed a Brazilian vibe, with its flute players and fingerstyle acoustic guitar. Add to this the unmistakable rhythms of Samba and Bossa Nova and the course was set. There was a horn section of trumpet and a tenor saxophone and one of the flute players doubled on clarinet. Behind them was an upright bass, drum kit and percussion and in the darkness, and to one side, a piano. The arrangements were beautifully textured and the harmonies absolutely gorgeous. As well as the instrumental harmonies, there were vocal harmonies contributed by two of the instrumentalists (one being Stokes, who has a fabulous voice – the success of the Beths underscores that). Prastiti composed all of the tunes and arranged most of them. The other credits go to Sinclair who arranged Prism, Callum Passells who arranged Bumblebee and Kenji Iwamitsu-Holdaway who is co-credited for the composition titled ‘Stars Above and Water Below’. 

Chelsea Prastiti is one the most innovative vocalists to appear on the local scene and she is never afraid to take risks or to explore new territory. The rest of her ensemble were: Elizabeth Stokes on trumpet and vocals, Crystal Choi, who appeared last week, this time on piano and vocals; bringing a beautifully voiced minimalism to the proceedings and echoing Tom Jobim’s delicate spidery lines. Roger Manins was on tenor saxophone with fills and some tasteful solos – J Y lee played an edgy melodic flute (it is not his primary, but he brought expression to an instrument that in the wrong hands can lack it). Beside him was Ben Sinclair (bass guitarist from the Beths), alternating between clarinet and flute, the ever-reliable Adam Tobeck was on the drum kit, with Ron Samsom on percussion. Lastly, and hidden in the shadows was Michael Howell, utilising the voicings and fingerstyle of the Brazilian acoustic guitar. He absolutely nailed those warm pulsing rhythms which fell about us like a warm summer shower.  

Eleven years ago, I began this Jazz blog and one of my first posts was an opinion piece about this era. I looked back at it today for the first time since writing it, and apart from a few missing commas, it stands up. I was worried when I wrote it that it might get something wrong, but a Brazilian musicologist messaged me to thank me for it. Anyone wanting to gain an additional sense of this era could follow the link to my original post. It is an opinion piece, but it could serve as a springboard to more authoritative, Brazilian-sourced information. https://jazzlocal32.com/2011/06/07/wave-antonio-carlos-jobim/

The gig took place at Anthology K’Road for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, November 25, 2020

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. Many of these posts also appear on Radio13.co.nz – check it out.

Choi/Howell ~ Kõmanawa

Kômanawa is a duo, and duos are seldom heard in the bigger Jazz clubs. The gig was billed as a first for the CJC, but what of ‘Showa 44’ I thought? That was an Australian duo featuring Carl Dewhurst & Simon Barker, so I checked back, and although Showa 44 was a duo, they had included Roger Manins as guest. So yes, Kõmanawa was a first. 

There is a unique kind of intimacy to a Jazz duo performance and it is quite unlike other configurations. It is a fluid conversation between equals and in that regard Chrystal Choi and Michael Howell were well matched. They may have different styles, but they are both attentive listeners and they showed respect for each other’s musical space. 

Over the years there have been plenty of fabulous Jazz duos and the best of the duo albums remain perennially popular: Charley Haden & Pat Metheny, (also Haden with Hank Jones or Kenny Barron), Bill Evans & Jim Hall, and my favourite, Carla Bley & Steve Swallow. The Jazz duo is a unique form and especially suited to nuanced musical conversations.  Out of that a skillful interplay arises. People took particular note when Evans cut the two albums with Hall, because a piano and guitar can all too easily occupy the same register and get in each-others way. 

All of the above had been assimilated by this duo and they wove around each other with care. Their performance was also warm and engaging, and as they played, you felt like you were eavesdropping on an intimate conversation. That is how a duo performance works best, avoiding any fireworks, and by modulating showiness. The audience got that and paid close attention. 

While both musicians contributed tunes, the majority were from Choi. I was so engaged that I failed to notice that I had not switched on the external camera mic. The absence of the small green light dawned on me just before the end of the gig and the tune that I most wanted to post is recorded as a well-choreographed silent movie. The tune in question was titled ‘Playground Song’ (Choi) and it swung softly like a Carla Bley/Swallow tune. You will have to take my word for that, but it really did. There is an EP or an LP waiting to happen here, and I hope that they record this material. I captured only one tune, the second to last tune. It is an arrangement of a tune that Choi wrote for her Indie pop group.

Throughout, Choi moved between the piano and vintage Wurlitzer, Howell sometimes used a slide and produced wonderfully atmospheric sounds. The gig took place at the Creative Jazz Club, Anthology, November 18, 2020.

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. Many of these posts also appear on Radio13.co.nz – check it out.

Kevin Field ~ Soundtology

With closed borders and venue restrictions biting, the release date for Kevin Field’s ‘Soundtology’ album became a movable feast. The original proposal would have seen some of his New York band appear, but because of the pandemic, that plan was ditched. If he was flustered by these frustrating circumstances it didn’t show. Making a virtue out of necessity he engaged local musicians and launched his album anyway. It was a night to remember.

Field is one of our finest musicians and his reputation stretches far beyond these shores. He has previously recorded with highly-rated New York Jazz musicians and also with the best of New Zealand’s improvisers. As an adventurous musician, Field eschews stasis and his developmental arc is particularly evident with this latest album. He is an artist who arrives at a successful formula and then turns it on its head. With each album, he makes references to his earlier works, and then he moves foreword. Everything that has gone before becomes a springboard to a new moment and each iteration is better than that preceding it. 

There is a lot to like about Fields new album ‘Soundtology’. The tunes are sublimely melodic, and as always, his trademark harmonic developments astound. I have always enjoyed his avoidance of cliche and in this case, there is something else. Even when upbeat, the tunes feel more contemplative, and the space afforded, lets the music speak with clarity.  This is the album of a mature composer and it is deserving of wide acclaim.

‘Good Friday’ Live in Auckland

The album has eleven tunes and features two quartets (alternating throughout). This provides contrast while not affecting the flow and continuity. All of these tunes belong together and each unit locates something special. The first quartet features Field (Piano Rhodes),  Nir Felder (guitar), Orlando Le Fleming (bass) and Charles Haynes (drums). The second quartet has Field (piano, Rhodes) Mike Moreno (guitar), Matt Penman (bass) and Nate Wood (drums). These are heavy hitters and Field could not have chosen better crews to spin gold out of his compositions. I was immediately drawn to the inclusion of Moreno, one of the worlds great guitar improvisers. I once flew to Sydney just to catch a concert of his. 

‘Soundtology’ is a beautifully presented album and it was recorded to perfection.  It is an album to be enjoyed on many levels; for its beauty and freshness and for its accessibility. If ever there was an example of complex music made to sound easy, it is here. The tunes are beguiling and memorable, but underlying them are twists and turns which elevate the tunes into listening adventures. A good example is the first track Quintus Maximus. It opens over an ostinato sequence, where a broken rhythmic pattern is established by bass and Rhodes. The intro is a teaser as it hints at possible directions without necessarily committing to them; then the melody soars and brings it together until the underlying ostinato phrases reappear. An interesting and enjoyable piece of music. 

The second tune, ‘Good Friday’ is a great composition. It is among the most melodic of Fields tunes and it has been around since he first recorded it on his 2012 Warner release ‘Field of Vision’. Back in 2012, the tune was a slower-paced offering. Over the last few years, I have heard it performed often; now, it has emerged as a punchier version of its former self. It is fascinating to hear good tunes like this under constant development. This is what Field does and it is his impulse toward reinvention that elevates him beyond the pack.  It is not surprising that he was recently awarded a doctorate.

There is no better example of its ongoing trajectory than the version of Good Friday we heard at Wednesday’s live performance. It had been rearranged to include a bass clarinet and a soprano saxophone. There were two guitarists as in the album, but the addition of the horns gave us yet another vantage point from which to examine the composition. A band member told me afterwards that the charts were interestingly structured. They forced the soloists to think outside of the square and to avoid any formulaic approach. 

‘People factory’ was the perfect vehicle for Moreno, Penman and Wood. This number is like silk in a ruffling breeze, I have never heard Moreno sound better (and he always sounds good). The responsiveness Field extracts from Wood and Penman is also marvellous. This is seamless interplay at its best.  Actually, everything is great on this album and there’s plenty of variety.  This one is 4.5 stars. My advice is, buy multiple copies and impress everyone with your hip good taste.

‘Soundtology’ by Keven Field ~ Released on TimezoneRecords.com 2020

Album: Keven Field (piano, Fender Rhodes), Mike Moreno, Nir Felder (guitar), Matt Penman, Orlando Le    Fleming (bass), Charles Hayes, Nate Wood (drums).   

Live gig: Kevin Field (piano, Fender Rhodes), Michael Howell & Kieth Price (guitars), Nathan Haines (tenor, soprano saxophones), Lewis McCallum (bass clarinet), Cam McArthur (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums).

The live gig took place at Anthology K’Road for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, November 11, 2020

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. Many of these posts also appear on Radio13.co.nz – check it out.

Caitlin Smith ~ You have reached your destination

This has been a season of upheavals and delays, and Caitlin Smith’s album, ‘You Have Reached Your Destination’ was no exception’. The gig sold out long ago, but then it was delayed twice. It finally went ahead last Wednesday and there was a rush to get a good seat. In typical kiwi fashion, what passes for a queue had formed; a ragged line, reordering itself in illogical surges as it snaked across the footpath of K’ Road. Smith is popular and like many vocalists, she has followers from across the music spectrum. 

She brought a medium-sized ensemble with her, including backing vocalists, piano, keyboards, two guitars, drums, basses and a pedal-steel/slide-guitarist. I am used to hearing Smith with her trio, but this was new to me. 

The band had a warm and enveloping sound, with Smith, clearly relishing the energy surrounding her. She has a strong voice, and it cut through. The first number was pure Americana, not just because of the pedal steel guitar, but the organ and backing vocals, and above all the lyrics. On several of the later numbers, they were joined by the gifted Nigel Gavin, and if anyone can channel authentic Americana he can. 

The setlist followed the album order (minus a few tunes). There were few introductions, and this was intentional. The night was about letting the music speak and to achieve that best it needed an uninterrupted flow.  I enjoyed the gig and couldn’t wait to hear the recorded album. 

The physical album comes in exceptionally beautiful packaging, and importantly, the front cover has a brail title. In doing so, the senses are immediately directed within, or as Smith puts it, ‘let your ears guide you through this experience without other sensual distractions’. It was an invitation to a deep listening experience. The first tune, Grand Companion, was the perfect start point and from that point on you are guided between tracks by footsteps.

Much as Joni Mitchel or Rickie Lee Jones did, Smith uses predominantly Jazz Musicians in her bands. Musicians who can respond to nuance and work with her (not just back her). On the album’s opening track, Grand Companion, you hear John Bell on vibes, and what an inspired choice. His silken fills adding textural contrast: and Keven Field on Rhodes and piano. The live gig featured 10 musicians, but the album has a bigger cast (for example, pedal steel guitarist Janek Croydon, other backing vocalists and drummers). Paul Symons picked up this role on Wednesday and he doubled on slide guitar and vocals. The well known Aaron Coddel on bass(s).

On both the album and at the gig, the interaction between the chordal instruments was central. What a delight to hear Alan Brown and Kevin Field finishing each other’s musical sentences or trading fills. And Dixon Nacey, a guitarist who can accompany a vocalist with incredible sensitivity and a first-choice musician for a gig like this. 

Track two ‘The Story so Far’ has a southern soul feel and the backing singers are the icing on a beautiful cake. ‘No Mans Land’ picks up the overarching theme of the album which is self-realisation on a sometimes difficult journey. Prayer for a miracle reminds me of Patrice Rushen’s disco-funk, ‘Tug of War’ closer to a straight-ahead Jazz number. 

This is an honest album that touches on loves lost, inner struggles and sobriety. Smith is sight impaired, but she never complains. It is part of who she is, and she occasionally jokes about it. In between numbers, a few band members slipped off stage to grab a drink and when it was time to call them back, she said, ‘I can see what you’re doing’. ‘What can you see’ yelled someone in the front row, ‘Very little actually’ she replied, grinning. 

When I looked at the album liner notes, I was surprised to see when it was recorded. This album is a gem. It was worth the wait and I hope it puts Smith where she deserves to be; a widely acknowledged vocalist among our greatest. It has been over 10 years in gestation and now it has arrived. It is a credit to Smith and to all involved, and it also underscores just what magnificent work Roundhead Studios do. As I played it through, a tug of emotion brought a lump to my throat. The mahi paid off royally and the wait was worth it, we have our own Joni.

Album: Caitlin Smith (vocals, Wurlitzer, and compositions), Kevin Field (piano, Rhodes), Alan Brown (keys, B3), John Bell (vibes), Janek Croydon (pedal steel), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Aaron Coddel (bass), Nick Gaffaney (drums), Chris OConnor (drums), Jeremy Hoenig (tabla loop), Finn Scholes (trumpet), Oliver Emmitt (trombone), vocal backing: Mate Ngaropo, Rebecca Le Harle, Callie Blood. 

Gig: Caitlin Smith (vocals, piano), Kevin Field (piano), Alan Brown (keys), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Nigel Gavin (guitar), Aaron Coddel (bass), Paul Symons (pedal steel, slide guitar, vocals), Jono Sawyer drums, Callie Blood + Chelsea Prastiti (backing vocals).

 The gig took place at Anthology K’Road for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, Nov 4, 2020. Order the album from stores or Caitlin Smith.com

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. Many of these posts also appear on Radio13.co.nz – check it out.

Haines/Crayford/Singh

Any jazz club gig involving Nathan Haines, Jonathan Crayford and Manjit Singh is bound to catch the attention. It was programmed to occur months ago and unsurprisingly tickets sold out so quickly that many missed out. Then, out of the blue, the virus crept back among us and we found ourselves back in lockdown. There was a new date suggested, but for safety reasons that did not transpire, and we waited. October brought us warm weather, freedom of movement, and above all, it gave us our gigs back. This time the Haines/Crayford/Singh gig actually happened and more tickets were released as restrictions no longer applied. 

The gig was a fusion of Jazz and the Indian musical traditions and in particular the northern styles. Accompanying them on harmonium and with vocals as a guest artist was Daljeet Kaur, the wife of Tabla player Manjit Singh. Chelsea Prastiti also appeared as a guest artist on one number. To pull off this type of fusion and yet do so respectfully, requires careful programming and good musicianship. The three co-leaders were particularly suited to this task. 

Singh was a respected Tabla player and teacher long before he travelled from the Punjab region to New Zealand. He has since completed a musicology degree at Auckland University and his involvement with the UoA Jazz School brought him into frequent contact with local jazz musicians. Haines and Crayford are internationally renowned and together they are a versatile dream-team. Bringing Singh into their orbit made perfect sense as both can comfortably play outside of the strictures of genre. 

There are particular subtleties to Indian music and perhaps most formidably the rhythms. The scales, although model, and thus familiar to Jazz practitioners also have aspects of difference. The northern Indian scale has twelve notes and is moveable. When western harmonies are added, unusual challenges crop up. Jazz, however, is the art form of flexibility and its practitioners thrive on playing over drones and exploring harmonies. I believe that is why this worked so well. 

As soon as I heard the harmonium and tabla together I was transported back in time; back to a night in the Himalayan foothills where I once heard a wandering troupe play. Two youths who we had befriended in Katmandu, called by late one night and led us up into the mountains. We walked in the moonlight and eventually arrived at a rustic farmhouse; cattle on the ground floor, a farmer ushering us up a ladder to the first level. A troupe of wandering musicians who crossed borders secretly at night and played in private homes by invitation only. A four-piece unit of sitar, tambura, flute, harmonium and vocals. They were brilliant. Not the sort of thing anyone could forget.   

I had always assumed that that the harmonium was a traditional Indian instrument, but I have since learned, that it came from the West around 250 years ago. Once adopted by Indian musicians, it was modified, and it entered the repertoire of the northern part of the sub-continent. Its entry was not without controversy. Because it sits at the juncture between east and west, it feels an appropriate instrument to bring to an Indian, Jazz fusion gig. 

There were a number of original tunes, a classical piece, a Beatles tune and an old Pakistani folk tune. The arrangement of Norwegian Wood was well adapted. The Beatles had been exploring modal Indian music at the time. When Chelsea Prastiti joined them, she and Daljeet Kaur sang a New Zealand composition, Olympic Girl. That number received wild applause, but my favourite segment was when the trio played Heitor Villa-Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras No 5. This gorgeous tune with its sensual Latin rhythms and Spanish tinge has been played and adapted by Jazz musicians before – notably by Wayne Shorter. The trio’s version paid it homage in the very best way. 

 Nathan Haines|flutes, soprano saxophone – Jonathan Crayford | piano & keys – Manjit Sigh | Tabla, tala & percussion – Daljeet Kaur | harmonium & vocals – Chelsea Prastiti | vocals

The gig took place at Anthology K’Road for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, October 21, 2020

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. Many of these posts also appear on Radio13.co.nz – check it out.

Kang / Rainey ~ Christchurch

Last weeks CJC/Anthology gig brought the Christchurch Brad Kang/ Jimmy Rainey duo to Auckland. While I have heard both artists before, this gig was a step up for them. Both looked comfortable on the bandstand and their confidence was justified. It is always a pleasure to witness early promise being realised and while neither could be considered veterans, both have received a measure of favourable attention. Both are well travelled and tested in the wider Jazz world.

I am more familiar with guitarist Kang as he has gigged in Auckland several times. The last time he played here he was just about to depart for the USA and that and his other trips have yielded dividends. He was always a competent player but a noticeable change has occurred. He is now playing fewer notes and the way he phrases resonates. I know that he has studied with Mike Moreno and it showed. The virtuosity is still there, but never at the expense of the music itself. 

The last time I heard Rainey was at a CJC emerging artists gig but much has happened since then. He has benefited from overseas experience and his exposure to new ideas; particularly in his writing. This is a duo that writes to their strengths and because they understand that, they can play up a storm in consequence. At one point Rainey studied in Amsterdam, a Jazz loving genre-diverse proving ground. Anyone who has attended ‘Bim’ gigs will know what I mean. There’s a lot of freedom and innovation happening in that city.

From the first to the last tune they held us. The tunes while of varying tempos and alternating between the two composers, all spoke of the now. This is the type of music that is owned by younger players. It was unselfconsciously forward-looking and immediately brought ‘James Farm’ to mind. It did not lean heavily on harmony but the harmonic development was implied; there were clean unison lines and above all, the melody dominated. It was evident on the tune Spiral, where the cascade of lines emerged in sonic waves, while behind them piano, bass and drums carved up the rhythms. 

And this was made possible by the skilled anchoring of Tom Botting’s bass lines and by the steady pulse from drummer Adam Tobeck. With Field, comping minimally the effect was enhanced. Wise heads and good players always adjust to accommodate. If he was alive today, it is tempting to think that Tristano might have embraced this direction?

The first tune Herfst was a majestic and evocative composition by Rainey. Herfst is a Dutch word meaning August (majestic and the season). This was a good warm-up tune as it gave us an idea of what would follow and the course once set, remained steady.  Other tunes that Rainey penned were ‘Daze’ and ‘jubilate’. As well as the piece that I have posted on YouTube (Spiral), Kang composed ‘Passing Thoughts’ ‘A Quiet Place’ and ’Five Five Four’. 

Brad Kang|guitar, Jimmy Rainey|tenor saxophone, Kevin Field|piano, Tom Botting|bass, Adam Tobeck|drums. The gig took place at Anthology K’Road for the CJC Creative Jazz Club October14, 2020

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. Many of these posts also appear on Radio13.co.nz – check it out.

JCJ ~ Baxendale /Allardice /Lovell-Smith

As our local pandemic restrictions were lifted, so our spirits rose, and the easing brought us, welcome travellers, from Wellington. It felt like our old lives were creeping back, but we should not underestimate how difficult these lockdowns have been for musicians. They are performing again, but with fewer venues, and reduced availability of flights. To top that there is the perpetual hassle of finding affordable accommodation. Because this is a new reality, music lovers need to redouble their commitment; religiously attending gigs, purchasing albums and getting the word about town. Luckily, Jazz audiences get that and there was a solid audience on Wednesday. 

The Band is named JCJ, which may or may not be a play on Auckland’s CJC Jazz Club; it does, however, align with the initials of the co-leaders forenames: Jasmine Lovell-Smith, Callum Allardice and Jake Baxendale. Together they represent a formidable presence on the bandstand with their international experience, various awards and accolades. In addition, the gig leaned heavily on their much-vaunted compositional skills. All have appeared on successful albums but never together as a co-led unit.

The soprano is Lovell-Smith’s primary horn and it shows. She is dextrous and inventive, she conveys deep emotion or surprises, but of equal appeal is her tone. There is a depth to it and because of that, she can move from the reflective to the edgy as naturally as breathing. When you hear her playing a ballad, it is tempting to think, how beautiful — that’s her forte then; but she will play completely free on the next number. I have heard her in a free ensemble and she’s as comfortable there as when tugging at the heartstrings with a lovely folksy ballad. 

Baxendale like his co-leaders is Wellington-based and we have seen him in a variety of visiting bands since the Creative Jazz Club’s earliest days. Aucklanders will likely associate him with ‘The JAC’ ‘Antipodes’ or ‘The Troubles’, but he has fronted or played in a number of Wellington bands. He is primarily regarded as an alto player, but on this gig, he played mainly bass clarinet. The instruments earthy underpinning, providing a lush cushion beneath the airy registers of the soprano and guitar.  

Allardice has had a long and fruitful association with Baxendale. They often share a bandstand, they have toured together, and both have won prestigious awards. I have always liked his tone on guitar, which is best described as silken. The first time I heard him perform there was an unmistakeable Rosenwinkel influence, but now I am hearing an original voice. His compositional skills have always been a forte and these were very much in evidence during this gig. 

The set opened with a gorgeous number by Lovell-Smith. It was titled ‘leaves of grass’ and its Whitman reference was apt. Whitman was the bravest of poets and a favourite with Jazz composers (‘I Sing the Body Electric’ Weather Report or tributes by Fred Hersch). And this was not the only literary reference by Lovell-Smith as a later tune was titled ‘The Pillow Book’ — this had an appropriately Japanese vibe.  Her other tune ‘Song for May’ is a stunner. I have heard it before as it is on her New York album ‘Towering Poppies’.  I would have put it up as a video, but a music stand had obliterated all view of her (note to artists: if you are being filmed, angle the music stands sideways or keep them low).  

Allardice’s compositions were as intriguing as ever, his moody ‘Dark Love’ and especially his upbeat tune with a beautifully memorable intro titled ‘Peaceful’. Baxendale brought some great tunes as well, and as he often does, he injected some off-beat humour. A tune titled ’Sleep (a glimpse of Plimpse)’ recounted a guilt-wracked dream. His tune ‘The Test’ was all that remained, of a failed attempt to break into the fantasy gaming genre (I think that I got that right). It was free-ranging and delightful and I have put that up as a video clip.

The pick-up rhythm section were Aucklanders. All three have been delighting Auckland audiences for years. To have them playing together and bouncing off a Wellington lineup was a rare treat. Firstly, Crystal Choi, who never puts a foot wrong and who is one of Auckland’s most inventive pianists. She is similar to her bass playing friend and bandmate, Eamon Edmundson Wells. Both lean heavily toward the avant-garde. On drums, there was Julien Dyne. Dyne is a powerhouse drummer and his beyond-genre approach allows him to excel in any given situation.  These three are the other reason that I put up ‘The Test’ video clip. This is a space that the Aucklanders relish, and the Wellingtonians matched them note for note. A little freedom never hurts a gig. 

JCJ were Jasmine Lovell-Smith (soprano saxophone), Jake Baxendale (alto saxophone & bass clarinet), Callum Allardice (guitar) with – Crystal Choi (piano), Eamon Edmundson Wells (bass) and Julien Dyne (drums). The gig was held at Anthology, CJC Creative Jazz Club, K’Road, Auckland October 7, 2020.

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. Many of these posts also appear on Radio13.co.nz – check it out.

Dr Tom Botting Rediscovers Aotearoa

Bass player Tom Botting recently returned to Aotearoa and his first Auckland gig was well received. Even as a gangly student he impressed, and the regular attendees at the CJC hold fond memories of those Britomart Jam Sessions where he featured so prominently. Soon after that, he moved overseas, gaining a doctorate at the Sydney Conservatory. Like many of our musical exports, he returning annually, and many of the tunes that we heard last Wednesday were first showcased during those back-home tours. 

His compositions are always memorable and often evocative. Now, he has returned to weather out the pandemic, bringing with him some new tunes, and updated arrangements of older ones. They are no longer isolated in a disparate setlist but are played sequentially and in geographical alignment. While the tunes are not presented as a suite, they nevertheless evoke a strong sense of place. And whether intended it or not, they present a cinematic journey across our landscapes. Here, Botting has achieved what locals often cannot. His yearning from afar for our landscapes and archetypes has led him to create something sublime. 

The tune titles in these sets speak of mountains or the places immediately in their shadow; Mitre Peak, Mt Aspiring, The Remarkables, Hamner Springs, etc. I have posted a YouTube clip titled Hidden Waterfall and it is one of his more recent compositions. It begins with a pedal tone on piano, around which the bass introduces striking motifs, and then, a new line is introduced by the alto. 

The piece is simply captivating and clarity is achieved by ensuring that no instrument gets in the way of another. It’s not easy to strike that fine balance and it’s extremely clever writing. Each segment stands on its merits, and yet, sits comfortably within the arc of the overall composition. It is a good example of less being more or to put it another way, as something complex rendered into ear-grabbing approachability. 

Botting is a superb bass player and he poured everything into his tunes. He was always one to absorb himself in his playing and that has not changed. As he plays you see nothing but hair and fingers, but what you hear is the essence of the man. Beside him was Callum Passells on alto and he pulled out a great performance. An approach at times reminiscent of Shorter, and always with that gorgeous tone.  Partially hidden on the left of the stage was guitarist Michael Howell, and again a good performance from him. His newfound confidence is reaping dividends. To complete the quintet were Kevin Field and Jono Sawyer. Both are consummate professionals and they maintained the standard of playing that we have come to expect of them. Pick up bands of this quality make a visitor happy to return.     

There is a rich tradition of pastoral music in Aotearoa, most notably Douglas Lilburn. There is also the extraordinarily beautiful Ondas Album (ECM) by our premier Jazz Export Mike Nock. It is good to see a body of work of this quality adding to that tradition. Botting had already performed a concert in Wellington prior to reaching Auckland and a recording from that gig may soon be in the offing. The Auckland concert was recorded by RNZ and those unable to make the gigs should watch out for the broadcast. This music will appeal to most Jazz lovers, whatever their preferences. 

Tom Botting (upright bass, compositions), Kevin Field (piano), Michael Howell (guitar), Callum Passells (alto saxophone), Jono Sawyer (drums).  The gig took place at Anthology, K’Road for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, 5 August 2020

Joe Kaptein / Ben Gailer

The gigs introducing young emerging artists are a time-honoured tradition at the CJC Jazz Club. It is one of the reasons why Carolyn and Roger Manins formed the cooperative well over a decade ago. It is a vital part of club programming, as it tests the metal of emerging musicians by exposing them to a seasoned Jazz audience. The gigs also give us a glimpse of the future; they reveal who has yet to shine, and who will soon be nipping at the heels of seasoned musicians.

Both Joe Kaptein and Ben Gailer are students at the University of Auckland Jazz school.  Kaptein is in his third year of studies and Gailer has recently completed his honours studies. Stylistically, the musicians presented very different offerings and the contrasting approaches gave us a unique insight into the breadth of teaching available at the Jazz school. It was a showcase for the band leaders and a showcase for their tutors, with many of the latter hiding in the shadows and beaming throughout. 

First up, was the Joe Kaptein sextet. The band was a mixture of former and current Jazz students (plus two tutors), with Kaptein leading on keyboards, Michael Gianan on guitar, Roger Manins on tenor saxophone, Will Goodinson on electric bass, Elijah Whyte drums and Ron Samsom on percussion. The compositions were all Kapteins and it was immediately obvious why he chose keyboards over the piano. I have heard Kaptein perform as a sideman on several occasions, and his preferred palette is that drawn from the older analogue keyboard instruments. On this occasion, he had a Render Rhodes as his primary keyboard and a variety of augmentations (one machine in an intriguing case, the knobs and dials reminiscent of the moon landing console). 

The first time I heard Kaptein was like hearing 70s Jazz reimagined. I have always thought that the era deserved further appraisal, as the journey back then was curtailed by the Jazz police. It is possible, that Kaptein found this style without reference, but nevertheless, he has encapsulated a modern version of that older trippy explorative vibe. His compositions are mature and packed with surprise.  In typical post-bop fashion, there were references to the waypoints of the jazz journey; but above all, these numbers spoke of joy.  

The second set featured a sixteen-piece ensemble led by Ben Gailer and what he presented wowed everyone in the room. Arranging and composing for an orchestra is a complex task, but to bring such an orchestra to a Jazz club on your first gig there is beyond brave. All of the charts had been arranged by Gailer and many of the compositions were his own. His own material stood up very favourably amongst the standards ’There will Never be Another You’ and a fresh sounding take on Hancocks ‘Maiden Voyage’. That speaks for itself.

It’s hard to know where to start in evaluating a set like this as it covered so much fertile ground. There was his energised conducting, somewhat reminiscent of Darcy James Argue with its expressive flourishes as he urged the sections on. There were the finely textured arrangements which balanced dissonance with melodicism in a precise and pleasing measure, and then, there was his pianism which shone through all of that. That is a lot to bundle together but he did so with real class. I can’t wait to hear where his journey takes him next.

Ben Gailer

Because of the sight-lines and the seating, I could not set my video up for that set and I cursed that I had not brought audio-recording equipment with me. What I did, was record it on my phone as an aid in evaluating the performance. Posting iPhone capture is not ideal, but with luck, a better recording of this large ensemble may become available at a later date. I certainly hope so.

Joe Kaptein Sextet: Kaptein (keyboards, effects), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Michael Gianan (guitar), Will Goodinson (electric bass), Elijah Whyte (drums), Ron Samsom (percussion)

Ben Gailer Orchestra: Ben Gailer (compositions, arrangements, piano, Fender Rhodes), Lukas Fritsch (reeds), Cameron Kelso (reeds), Felix Hayes-Tourelle (reeds), Daniel McKenzie (reeds), Charlie Harmer (reeds), Jake Krishnamurti (Trumpet), Jack Thirtle (trumpet), Nick Curry (trumpet), Caleb Probine (trumpet), Jono Tan (trombone), Esther Simpson (trombone), Zachary Lim (trombone), Michael Gianan (guitar), Hank Trenton (bass), Rhohil Kishore (drums).

The orchestra was a mixture of present and recently graduated UoA Jazz school pupils.

Passells/Howell/Deck

This trio has been around for a while, but the musicians are all active with a variety of other projects. They frequently appear as sidemen and they first teamed up during their Auckland University Jazz School years. Passells has been teaching, composing, appearing as an altoist (and a drummer), and adding his skills to some adventurous and diverse projects. Howell is a member of various bands, such as the Jazz Tui nominated Alchemy and the Jazz Tui Award winning GRG67 who launched their second album recently. It was reviewed on this site. Deck is a gifted and versatile drummer and his work as a member of the much lauded Indie Pop group The Beths is as noteworthy as his Jazz offerings.  He is also a member of GRG67.

 As a composer and a performer,  Passells takes a path less followed. He’s a melodicist and often appears in units where the arc is not reliant on chordal harmonies.  This moves the attention to melody, and most of all, it reveals his lovely tone. The alto is an unusual instrument in this regard, as its tonal qualities can alter markedly, depending on who plays it. Perhaps, because it is aligned so closely to the human voice? It has also been suggested that the airway of an alto player can exert a stronger influence than with other horns. While a tenor can also be individualised, it is more inclined to speak on its own terms. Passells alto voice is distinctive,

There was no bass with this unit and without such anchoring, the melody lines seemed to float unencumbered. When the alto was playing the guitar would either play unison lines, lay out or provide timely interjections. The reverse occurred when Howell played. The drums however, were a solid presence and provided continuity and momentum. As a result, the tunes felt conversational and at times, thoughtful. And the ears followed the musical dialogue easily, in spite of the elided grammar. Passells introduced the tunes as he usually does and his trade-mark humour was evident. He has an easy going banter, often self-deprecating, and laden with random references.

The band played in near darkness which provided atmosphere, but made filming a difficult proposition. By the second set, the lighting had improved slightly and I have posted a tune from that set. The tune I posted is interesting, as there are frequent unison lines played, with guitar and alto speaking as one. It is reminiscent of Marsh with Konitz, but the drums pull the music in a different direction. Out of that confluence come interesting tensions. This is ripe territory for a group of this configuration and the seasoned listeners picked up on the various references. 

Callum Passells (alto sax), Michael Howell (guitar), Tristan Deck (drums)

The gig took place at Anthology K’Road, for the CJC, Auckland 22 July, 2020

Keith Price Double Quartet

Last week saw the welcome return of Canadian born guitarist Kieth Price to the bandstand. This time with his re-formed Double Quartet. The question that immediately arises, is an octet a double quartet? If you were looking for a point of difference, it is hard to find in dictionaries, as the terms are generally interchangeable, but a doubling up of a particular voice is often indicated for the latter. That brings us to the Kieth Price Double Quartet: two drummers two keyboards and two bass players. A big sound.

Two drummer gigs are well established in the lexicon, becoming more prominent with the arrival of the New Thing and Hard Bop; similarly with the doubling up of keyboards and bass. Ornette Coleman had a notable double quartet. Doubling up like this can be tricky, but skilful writing and good musicianship mitigate such difficulties. Loud and strong, but not leaden, is the aim. 

The Canadian recorded Double Quartet and the contemporary Auckland unit, both convey raw power. Price summed it up with his tongue in cheek comment on Wednesday.

‘I couldn’t make enough noise with a single quartet’.

It was loud but it was also nuanced, drummers blending as if one or finishing each other’s sentences, crafting a rhythmic polyphony.  The keyboards keeping out of each other’s way, but adding accents throughout. The upright and an electric bass taking different roles, balanced against  guitar and a tenor saxophone. 

While not strictly fusion, the band had a funky fusion feel and would have been welcome at Bill Graham’s Fillmore gigs. There were interesting contrasts in the music, and the interplay between the stylings was especially appealing to those who like full-on adventurous music.

It is unusual to see Olivier Holland on the electric bass, but he obviously relished the chance. The audience enjoyed it also. Instead of pedals, he fed his bass through a laptop. This gave him interesting options and he deployed them enthusiastically.  The blending of electric bass and Cam McArthur’s upright was seamless. 

Many of the tunes conveyed a deep-funk feel, driven by punchy interwoven bass lines. When Kevin Field took his piano solos, Joe Kaptein, on keys, laid out, and when Kaptein soloed, he brought a classic 70s analogue vibe to the proceedings. The pairing created texture, and best of all, the fabulous club Yamaha piano was back. With Ron Samsom and Malachi Samuelu on drums, and with Roger Manins’ channelling a wild saxophone funk, you were soon cocooned inside a spacious and warm soundscape.   

It was Price’s deft hand guiding all of these interactions as he cued the musicians. While not quite free jazz, it was freedom within walls, and it sounded free. The springboard for the solos, the solid grooves sitting underneath the lead instruments. Price providing an interesting contrast as his playing was deliberate and at a lower volume. When he ran unison lines with Roger Manins crazy it set up the mood for what was to follow. It was a good gig to catch.

Keith Price Double Quartet, Canada (CD): 

available from www.keithprice.ca

Keith Price: Guitar

Neil Watson: Alto saxophone

Jeff Preslaff: Keyboards

Dallas Nedotiafko: Keyboards & synthesiser 

Marty Thiesson: Electric Bass

Julian Bradford: Acoustic Bass

Jamie Carrasco: Drums

Kevin Waters: Drums

Keith Price Double Quartet ( Auckland)

Keith Price: Guitar

Kevin Field: Piano

Joe Kaptein: Keys & Synth

Roger Manins: Saxophone

Olivier Holland: E-bass

Cameron McArthur: upright bass

Ron Samsom: Drums

Malachi Samuelu: Drums

The Auckland gig took place at CJC, Anthology, K’Road Auckland, 15 July, 2020

For a fuller version, go to Radio13 – Portions of the above have been excerpted from that article which can be located at Radio13.co.nz

GRG67 ~ Happy Place

The first gig after lockdown restrictions brought a record audience to the Creative Jazz Club.  Now, a week later, with a second gig achieving similar results, it is obvious that the thirst for quality live-improvised music in Auckland has not been dented. And what better way to whet the appetite than with the 2019 Tui Award-winning band, Roger Manins  GRG67. This is a truly magnificent quartet and it occupies a special place in the lexicon of Kiwi improvised music. Sitting at the juncture between free and inside, and doing so with an ease that pleases everyone.

Roger Manins is a drawcard and the highest level of playing is always expected of him. His long years of playing on the bandstand, and often in challenging situations, has honed his craft to a fine point. To burnish his already impeccable credentials he has now added a Doctorate of the Musical Arts to his resumé. Most of the compositions and arrangements on the album are Manins, but as with the previous GRG67 album, there is also a tune by Mostyn Cole featured. 

The GRG67 album The Thing won a Jazz Tui, but the band has not rested on its laurels. Happy Place is not just more of the same. On this album, the writing and playing have taken on an additional edge. It explores form in many oblique ways and then roams into freer air. They sounded cohesive before, but now they sound even more so. There is new confidence to their playing and it is nowhere more evident than with guitarist Michael Howell. 

Howell has long shown such promise and it is pleasing to see it realised. He took obvious delight in sparring with Manins and his solos were masterful. Tristan Deck on drums likewise. His role here was to stretch the ensemble, to urge them on when the moment called for it. He achieved that while never losing sight of his interactive role. Deck has many irons in the fire, but I wish we saw him playing here more often. On electric bass was Mostyn Cole, a regular bass player at CJC gigs. He is reliable and experienced and one of an elite group of first-call bass players when an overseas artist is in town. In this band, he was liberated from that role and his obvious delight in the music shone through. 

I have posted a clip titled ‘Frizz’ which is deliciously melodic. Listen to more tracks on Rattle Bandcamp, and if you do, purchase a copy. The tight unison lines on MayWayDay will blow you away and the free-spirited Shoint 67 will groove you to your soul. 

There were no weak links in this chain. They wove in and around each other and fired off crazy lines over urging pulses, and from the safety of our chairs, those present swayed along. This was also our happy place. So this is where Jazz sits in 2020. Forward-looking, but bringing the old into bright fresh spaces, and doing so without contrivance.  

Roger Manins (tenor saxophone)

Michael Howell (guitar)

Mostyn Cole (electric bass)

Tristan Deck (drums)

https://rattle-records.bandcamp.com/album/happy-place

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  

Jazz on Lockdown series

Some missing music for those missing music. Hear it Here

Mark de Clive-Lowe (keys) in Auckland’s CJC a few weeks ago with Brandon Combs (drums) and Marika Hodgson (bass)

‘Don’t Dream it’s Over (N Finn), Chelsea Prastiti (vocals), Kevin Field (piano), Mostyn Cole (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums), Mike Booth (trumpet). CJC Auckland at Alchemy Live

Bird Song (Smirnova) Simona Smirnova (vocals), Alan Brown (piano), Cameron McArthur (bass), Jono Sawyer (drums) at Auckland’s CJC, March 2020.

The lockdowns won’t stop jazz! To assist musicians who’ve had performances canceled, 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/

Jazz on Lockdown ~ Hear it here series

My normal weekly post has been sitting in my ‘drafts’ folder for over two weeks. Since writing it,  my attention has been focused elsewhere.  Although in isolation, I am not referring to my personal situation but to the J JA ‘Jazz on Lockdown’ project which has rallied Jazz Journalists from every corner of the globe and asked them to respond collectively to the pandemic. My colleagues and I are now working together using an online workspace and our individual blogs may be delayed. Those who are able to have volunteered to join an editing working group as we grapple with the challenges of a fast-moving situation. This is a Jazz Journalists Association project aimed at keeping improvised music current and to get updates to and from countries on lockdown. 

Because of that, Spain first captured our attention. When the virus hit, a popular Jazz musician succumbed and soon every resident was under lockdown. As the virus spread, so did our focus and within days the problem had reached every country. One by one the great Jazz centres like New York closed and the iconic and much-loved Jazz clubs closed with them. When the city that never sleeps locks down, you know that you have urgent work to do. Jazz Journalists are not going to sit around moping; nor will we restrict ourselves to watching another era’s YouTube clips. It is the current musicians who need us the most. We are learning new ways of working and it is our intention to direct you to live gigs or the gigs of working musicians where we can. 

We need Jazz fans and Improvised alternative music fans to keep buying current albums. If there is a live-stream concert with a tip-button give them a few dollars. This is a new version of the pass-the-bucket tradition which goes back to the earliest days of Jazz. Many of the live-streamed concerts will be free, some could be pay-per-view. Buy their music and on Bandcamp or their website if possible. ‘Jazz on Lockdown’ will inform you of the links.  

Barry/Metheny/de Clive-Lowe/Alchemy/Smirnova/Martyniuk

The week before the virus arrived was a week of plenty in Auckland, but the above-named artists did not all appear in the same band. Nor at the same gig. They probably won’t mind if you think that though. Attending Ronnies a few years ago, I caught English pianist Kit Downes at the late show. This followed a sold-out earlier show featuring Kurt Elling. I informed Downes that my write up would begin ‘Elling opens for Downes at Ronnie Scotts’. He liked that. 

Arriving in a rush, as if waiting for the cooler weather came Pat Metheny, Steve Barry, Mark de Clive-Lowe, Alchemy, Callum Passells, Trudy Lyle, Simona Smirnova, and Michael Martyniuk gigs. As always, painful choices were required. 

Steve Barry Trio: Barry left Auckland many years ago; settling in Sydney and returning yearly to perform. Each time he visited there were new directions on offer, highly original material and each iteration offering glimpses of lesser-known composers. His recent albums have taken him into deeper waters still, moving beyond the mainstream. For those of us who like adventurous music, they have been compelling. Two albums were released last year. The first is on Earshift Music and the second on Rattle; both available on Bandcamp.  

‘Blueprints and Vignettes’ trod a path reminiscent of 60’s Bley; boldly striking out for freer territory and edging its way confidently into the classical minimalist spaces. That album was followed by ‘Hatch’ which is an astonishing album of stark pared-back beauty. It is an album pointing to new possibilities in improvised music. This concert felt more exploratory, with denser compositions and jagged Monk-like moments. He played one Monk tune halfway through and this reinforced the connection. 

Mark de Clive-Lowe: It was barely six months ago since de Clive-Lowe passed through Auckland during his ‘Heritage’ album release tour. He attracted capacity audiences then (and now). After years of living away from his home city, he is now reconnected to the Auckland improvised music scene and we hope that he will maintain that link. Having a room like ‘Anthology’ certainly helped, as its capacity is significant. During this tour, he treated us to a wider range of his innovative music; especially his Church Sessions. Showcasing the genre-busting underground gigs that he began in LA and which spread like wildfire throughout the world; giving fresh impetus to the improvised music scene and the endless possibilities looking forward.  

On tour with de Clive-Lowe was the respected LA drummer Brandon Combs. A drummer who can hold down a groove beat while working it every which way; able to interact intuitively with the electronic beats generated by de Clive-Lowe as he dances across the multitude of keyboards and devices. Together with locals Nathan Haines and Marika Hodgson, they created wizardry of the highest order. This artist is the wizard of hybridity and we are happy to remind people that he came from this city. Live re-mix, dance, groove beats, jazz, whatever: it has all been captured, mined for its essence and released for our pleasure.

Alchemy Live: This was the first live performance of the ‘Alchemy’ project. It followed the successful release of the eponymous album which got good airplay and deserves ongoing attention. The concept was the brainchild of producer Mark Casey and its realisation by the musical director and Jazz pianist Kevin Field. The pianist has created some truly fine Jazz charts and the assemblage of musicians he brought into the project brought it home in spades. The tunes have been selected from the New Zealand songbook. Perennially popular and chart-busting classics like ‘Royals’ and ‘Glad I’m not a Kennedy’. Artists as diverse as Herbs, Split Enz and Phil Judd. Because of mounting travel restrictions, several of the artists on the recording were replaced for the live gig. New to us, was Jazz student vocalist Rachel Clarke and she won us over that night.

Pat Metheny: This concert had been long anticipated and it was only the second time that he has appeared in New Zealand. In spite of the looming health scare, the town hall was packed. This was a retrospective of sorts as it featured his best-known tunes. Who would not want to hear a fresh version of Song for Balboa or the joyous ‘Have you Heard’? I loved the concert but two quibbles. I didn’t like the way the piano was miked and mixed except for one number. Gwilym Simcock is a great pianist. It would be nice to hear him in a trio and with an acoustically mic’d up Steinway. The star of the show (Pat aside) was bass player Linda May Han Oh. How stunningly melodic and how sensitive she was in each situation she encountered; solos to die for.

Simona Smirnova: This was Smirnova’s third trip to Auckland. By the time she had arrived in the country, people were becoming cautious about attending crowded gigs. She still attracted a good audience and those who did come were delighted with her show. The setlist was similar to her last year’s show but in the bigger Anthology venue, it sounded stronger. Smirnova interacts extremely well with audiences and they respond in kind. Her beautiful ballads (accompanied on the Lithuanian Kanklas) and her upbeat Slavonic styled scatting were the highlights. Her material is delightfully exotic, being an original blend of Jazz, Lithuanian folk music and beyond. Her voice is simply beautiful and her zither playing beguiling. She was accompanied by Auckland veterans Alan Brown on keys, Cam McArthur on bass and this time, Jono Sawyer on drums & vocals). I have some nice footage which says it best.

Michal Martyniuk: The last gig I attended before isolating myself was the Michal Martyniuk Trio. I did not have video equipment with me but I captured the concert in high-quality audio. I will post on that shortly and will be adding sound clips. You can purchase Michal Martyniuk’s albums at michalmartyniuk.bandcamp.com His ‘Resonance’ album review can be viewed on this site if you enter his name in the search button.

Jazz On Lockdown‘ posts will now move to the principle page and the Jazz on Lockdown page will feature information and links from around the world as the information comes in.

The lockdowns won’t stop jazz! To assist musicians who’ve had performances canceled, 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/.

The artists featured were:

Steve Barry (piano), Jacques Emery (bass), Alex Inman Hislop (drums),

Mark de Clive-Lowe (keys), Brandon Combes (drums), Marika Hodgson (bass), Nathan Haines (saxophones).

Marjan Nelson (v) Allana Goldsmith (v) Chelsea Prastiti (v) Lou’ana Whitney (v) Rachel Clarke (v) Kevin Field (piano), Roger Manins (saxophone), Mike Booth (trumpet), Mostyn Cole (bass) Ron Samsom (drums), Stephen Thomas (drums)

Pat Metheny, Gwilym Simcock, Antonio Sanchez, Linda May Han Oh

Simona Smirnova (v, Kanklas) Alan Brown (piano, keys), Cameron McArthur (bass), Jono Sawyer (drums).

Michal Martyniuk (piano), Cameron McArthur (drums), Ron Samsom (drums).

Griffin / Chisholm / Meehan

Norman Meehan and Hayden Chisholm are always well received when they perform at Aucklands CJC Creative Jazz Club. There have been various iterations of their line ups over recent years and all of them compelling in different ways. The Unwind quartets attract big audiences and rightly so. This particular band was co-led by Chisholm, Meehan and Griffin, with Julien Dyne and Cameron McArthur rounding off the quintet. I was particularly delighted to see Hannah Griffin on the bill, as she occupies a unique and interesting musical space among improvising vocalists. The gig showcased iconic twentieth century New Zealand poets and Griffin’s impressive vocal skills were exactly what was required.   

Jazz lovers of a certain age often categorise vocalists according to how well they enunciate their lines. Whether that is important or not is debatable and it depends very much on context. I am generally more focused on phrasing and time feel and I like to hear a word stretched to fit an interpretation. If it’s a standard, then we know the words and having them messed with is part of the joy. I also listen to a lot of wordless vocal improvisors like Sidsel Endresen. 

When it comes to interpreting poems though, the clarity of the words does matter and Hannah Griffin gave a master class in balancing the many aspects of vocalisation. She does not merely intone a poem, she is part of the band and her melodicism is paramount in the mix. She can enunciate and still pay phrasing its due.

The first thing about this band is the way they respond to each other, sometimes finishing each others musical sentences. This seamless interaction is especially evident between the three leaders. Meehan is a master of understatement and his gentle swing can quickly bring a smile.  His default minimalism always serves the music well but it is on reflection that you realise just how powerful and judiciously placed those chords and sparkling runs are. He doesn’t require a percussive touch to make a big statement. I suspect that most of the arrangements are his as well. 

Chisholm always takes your breath away and from the first note, the emotional content in his playing is quite unmistakable. This is the sort of gorgeous alto playing seldom heard and you dwell on each note and phrase, marvelling at the purity of tone and the compelling story telling. His ability to deploy his multi-phonic technique, simply jaw dropping.

The other thing which grabs you is the sheer beauty of the bands sound. By that, I do not mean just pretty for it goes well beyond that. All of the emotions are engaged and the effect on a room is noticeable. Dyne is a popular local drummer who works across genres and who is sought after  around town. He has played with Meehan and Chisholm previously. Griffen has appeared predominantly with Meehan and in gigs similar to this. McArthur was the new-comer to this particular lineup but you wouldn’t think so. His reading abilities and his intuitive grasp of the music maintaining his usual high standard.   

At the previous Griffin, Chisholm, Meehan gig the band had Bill Manhire on stage, and as icing on the cake he introduced the poems. Gigs like that are hard acts to follow, but fast forward to 2020 and the band more than pulled it off. By extending the range of poets and poems our interest was engaged in new ways. My greatest pleasure was hearing more poems by the much lamented Dave Mitchell. More gigs like that please. You can purchase albums featuring these artists from Rattle Records at rattle-records.bandcomp.com

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. 

Porter / Rozenblatt @ CJC

It is seldom that we encounter a critically acclaimed New York Jazz Trumpeter with an Auckland tour itinerary, but this week the drought was broken. Charlie Porter is a versatile musician and one with impeccable credentials. He is a Grammy-winning artist whose star is on the rise. When you check out his bio you learn many things of interest, for instance, that he has parallel careers in Jazz and classical. The inclusion of Auckland was partly down to bass player Mat Fieldes (and of course Roger Manins). Fieldes is a popular musician who has recently returned from a long stint in New York and he has worked with Porter previously. Sharing the top billing was Grammy-nominated New York drummer David Rozenblatt.  Rozenblatt is another musician who works across genres and like Porter, his Jazz chops are something to behold. 

Charlie Porter

I arrived early and watched the brief rehearsals, noting that Porter exhibited a focussed down-to-business demeanour on the bandstand. The sort of discipline you need to survive in New York. As soon as he was satisfied he smiled and thanked the musicians, then moving among those setting up the club, he introduced himself, friendly and relaxed. These are the hallmarks of the professional. Playing with an unfamiliar rhythm section may be commonplace in Jazz but pulling together a good performance while on the road, and with pick-up musicians requires a good leader. Porter and Rozenblatt share a history, performing together often. The remainder of the group were Mat Fieldes (bass) and Dixon Nacey (guitar). The latter was meeting the two New Yorkers for the first time.

David Rozenblatt

Porter possesses a fulsome clean tone (think Brownie), but his rich strong sound can change in an instant when he swoops to the lower register, his trumpet emitting a dirty growl and rises as the bell emits a cascade of fluttering squeaks.  While the growls and flutters are not dominant features of his playing they add vital splashes of contrast and colour. You can hear the deep south in his sound, and especially New Orleans, but on upbeat numbers, he can edge closer to the second Miles quintet. The elided phrases, the sting. His compositional strength was on show as well and although there were a variety of moods there was a logical arc to the setlist.  His eponymous new album has the same logical progression and on that, there is an even greater stylistic variance. He is not a slave to style or even genre and perhaps this why he sounds so fresh.

Dixon Nacey

When performing before an audience Porter exudes easygoing confidence, that belies his years. Such confidence is usually found in older musicians, but check out his story and all of the above makes perfect sense.  He was trained in classical trumpet and won a Fulbright scholarship to study in Paris, he was mentored by Winton Marsalis and is connected spiritually to the music of the deep south. During the evening he played one or two numbers which referenced New Orleans (particularly Rhumba for Sticky) and on his album, the tune ‘Morning Glory’ caught my attention. I have just returned from New Orleans and Morning Glory connected me back to Henry Red Allen.  

David Rozenblatt’s drumming fascinated me. It was joy-filled, wildly exuberant but purged of unnecessary clutter. Many of the younger drummers I hear are time tricksters, and while this is impressive it can also clutter up a sound canvas. Rozenblatt had something of the swing drummer about him, but overlaying that was a colourist sensitivity, the warmth of a great rhythmic conversationalist. Fieldes was also right on the money. His melodicism and lovely time feel filling out the sound without getting in the way. We export many great bass players from New Zealand, but having Fieldes back on home ground is our good fortune. Dixon Nacey needs no introduction to either Aucklanders or to wider New Zealand. He is rightly regarded as one of our finest guitarists and consequently, his work schedule is frantic. Because of the many projects he juggles, he has less time to perform in local Jazz venues but happily, he was available for this. He is a favourite with club audiences and a draw in his own right. We have come to expect the best of him over the years as his trajectory is ever upward. He has long been noted for his Sco-like credentials but as we saw last Wednesday, he can adapt to a variety of improvising situations with ease. 

I have posted a track from the gig titled ‘divergent paths’.  It was the first up and it set the tone for a crackling evening to follow. To purchase the album go to www.charlieportermusic.com (digital downloads, CD’s and vinyl available. The posted track was supplied by Charlie Porter. 

Mat Fieldes

Alex Ventling Trio (Switzerland)

The summer break seemed endless with its hot nights, warm breezes and parchment dry days.  Nature shrivelled as the birds stopped singing and the trip to the Hi-Fi became too onerous. There is something about a prolonged heatwave that makes you both lazy and restless at the same time. This is also the time of year when Aucklands premier Jazz club takes its Christmas break and so the resumption of the gigs was happily anticipated.  The first gig of the year was the Alex Ventling trio and what a great way to ease into February. Ventling is a New Zealand ex-pat, but one who settled in Switzerland many years ago. He and his fellow musicians are all from Basel, a part of the Swiss Confederation and speakers of a German dialect.  I passed through there once but all that I can remember was a recommendation from a friend. Stop there if you can, Basel is a jazz city.

This was Ventling’s first gig for the CJC Creative Jazz Club and it attracted a large audience. They poured through the doors escaping the evening’s heat; needing cool and finding it. The venues piano is not without its challenges but on this night it sang sweetly. Partly because it had just been tuned but it was mainly because of Ventling’s sensitive touch. Many pianists tend toward the percussive in a larger room, but this programme required subtlety, room to breathe. The set-list tunes were well crafted and with a heavier touch, the expressiveness would have been sacrificed.  We don’t get too many piano trios through and this trio operated as the best of them do. The musicians listening to each other, reacting, and playing as if they were one entity. It is almost impossible for this level of communication to occur unless a trio has been together for a time, and in this case, they were not only long term bandmates but on the last stop on the tour.

Most of the tunes were originals, but two were interesting reharmonisation of Jazz standards. For instance ‘All Blues’ which hinted at Mehldau Americana voicings;  the astonishing reharm of ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’; the latter truly delightful, surprising, and decidedly edgy. The original melody cast to the four winds as new joys were plucked from the changes. The originals were captivating and especially ‘Expecting the Unexpected’ and ‘Vorfreude’. The later title, one of those uniquely precise German words meaning the joy you feel when looking forward to something. Whatever the German word is for looking back with pleasure, that was the emotion the audience was left with at gigs end. The interactions throughout were impeccable, reminding me of a Pieranunzi trio. The bass player James Kruttli and the drummer Phelan Burgoyne were as riveting as the pianist. This was a trio where your eyes and ears moved constantly from one to the other. We watched in utter absorption and for two hours we forgot the swelter looming ominously outside.

A recent album by the Alex Ventling Quartet was on sale at the door and it is stunning. ‘Alex & the Wavemakers’ has a different lineup and features a vocalist Yume Ito. This is closer to the ECM esthetic and is Jazz Art Music at its very best. The fourth track ‘Trailblazer’ was to my ears furthering the blissful journeys begun by Norma Winstone, John Tayler and Kenny Wheeler. You can find Alex Ventling on Bandcamp or at http://www.alexventling.com.

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. 

‘Alchemy’ Album Review

Alchemy2 (1)Have you ever heard one of New Zealand’s iconic pop songs and wondered how it would sound reimagined as Jazz? The journey from popular song to Jazz piece is a well-trodden path. Many tunes that we now refer to as ‘Jazz standards’ began their life as tunes written for broadway musicals or for the popular music market. For a tune to successfully cross that divide it needs to be well constructed and to lend itself to reharmonisation. With ‘Alchemy’, this elusive symmetry is realised.

In the late twentieth century, classic Beatles tunes or those of Michael Jackson, Prince and Stevie Wonder were effortlessly adapted as Jazz vehicles. If you hear Uri Caine, Brad Mehldau, Herbie Hancock or the Kiwi Jazz pianist Jonathan Crayford playing ‘Blackbird’ you might conclude that Blackbird was written with a Jazz pianist in mind. These crossovers are a tribute to the composer and to the transformational skills of arranging Jazz Musicians. Alchemy2 (3)

A few years ago the award-winning New Zealand writer/director/producer Mark Casey embarked on an ambitious project to recast a number of New Zealand’s best-loved pop songs as Jazz tunes. It was a significant and perhaps a risky undertaking but gradually the project gathered momentum. In mid-December, ‘Alchemy’ was released and immediately, it rose up the NZ music charts. This is a significant achievement but it is not down to Casey alone. His masterstroke was engaging leading New Zealand Jazz Pianist Kevin Field as the Musical Director. Field is not only a gifted Jazz Pianist and acknowledged Warner recording artist, but his skills as an arranger and vocal accompanist are beyond question. Creative New Zealand came to the party and backed the proposal.

As the project moved forward a variety of Kiwi Jazz musicians were approached, some working in New York, most local, and one by one they came aboard. When the album was about to be recorded, I was asked by Field and Casey if I would be interested in witnessing the recording process. I was. I seldom pass up a chance to become a fly-on-the-wall during recording sessions and this project fascinated me. Being an embedded observer in such situations is always intriguing. It affords a writer the opportunity to gain insights that would otherwise be invisible. As the musicians turned up to rehearsals and to recording day there was a palpable sense of enthusiasm. No one questioned Fields guidance as he tweaked the charts and made suggestions. And any sense of disconnect between the pop and Jazz world evaporated swiftly. This was not pop Jazzed up. It was Jazz, and although there were reharmonisations and Jazz rhythms, the integrity of original tunes remained intact.

In the recording studio were Auckland’s premier Jazz and Soul singers and a selection of experienced Jazz instrumentalists. On vocals were Caitlin Smith, Lou’ana Whitney, Chelsea Prastiti, Allana Goldsmith, Bex Peterson and Marjan Nelson. On piano and keyboards was Keven Field, Roger Manins was on tenor saxophone, Richard Hammond on electric and acoustic bass, Michael Howell on acoustic and electric guitar, Ron Samsom and Stephen Thomas on drums and percussion. In addition, there were two special guests, Michael Booth (trumpet) and Nathan Haines (soprano saxophone). This was serious firepower and thanks to the arrangements, all well deployed. The NY based ex-pat bass player Matt Penman had arranged tracks 7 & 12 and Marjan co-arranged tracks 4 & 8 with Field. Alchemy2

There are six vocalists on the album and they sing two tunes each. Careful thought had obviously been given to who would sing each song because the strengths of the individual vocalists were well matched to the tunes. For example, the warm but wistful lyricism of Chelsea Prastiti paired with ‘I’m glad I’m not a Kennedy’ (Shona Laing), the heartfelt reflectiveness of Caitlin Smith with ‘I hope I never’ (Tim Finn) or the engaging bell-like clarity of Marjan singing ‘Brown girl’ (Aradhna Patel). Together the musicians delivered something unique. This is a project which works and the more you listen to it the more you are beguiled. It is Kiwiana and it could be the perfect soundtrack for your summer.

‘Alchemy’ the album is available in New Zealand stores or from online sources. 

Emma Gilmartin & James Sherlock

Gilmartin Sherlock.jpgI was barely off the plane and my brain was full of dense fog, no doubt a legacy of San Francisco Karl who had been circling me like a spectre for a good month. I gamely fought the malaise off and because I am a creature of habit, dutifully made my way down to Auckland’s CJC Creative Jazz Club. In my experience, it pays never to miss a live improvised music gig, because if you do, you risk bitter regret. Believe me, I often lie awake lamenting a missed chance to see John McLaughlin. 

Last week the Australian Duo, Emma Gilmartin and James Sherlock were on the bill accompanied by Christchurch Bass player Michael Story and Wellington drummer Mark Lockett. Lockett, who helped organise the tour, is a mainstay of the Wellington Jazz scene and offshore musicians like this arrive due to the skilful tour-on-a-shoestring wrangling of his ilk. We get to hear these Aussie, European and American bands in our New Zealand Jazz clubs, largely because of the work put in by a handful of dedicated musicians like Roger and Caro Manins (and Lockett). These organisers pitch in uncomplainingly as they lock down the events and we benefit as a result. Consequently, New Zealand has developed a rich improvised music circuit and a debt of gratitude is owed to the organisers (and to the volunteers who quietly assist). 

Emma Gilmartin is a Melbourne based vocalist, composer and teacher and it was her first time performing in Auckland. She has received praise from the Australian music press and is one of an increasing number of gifted vocalists emerging out of the Australian Jazz scene. She is pitch-perfect and her appealing voice finds the corners of a room with ease. Like all good Jazz vocalists, she imparts a mood of engaging intimacy. Her co-leader on this tour, was guitarist James Sherlock, a notable musician and the perfect foil for a vocalist. An accompanist who understands how to enhance vocal performance by offering challenges and he knows how to comp without getting in the way. He is a gift to any vocalist.  On solos, he also excels, at times bringing to mind earlier greats like an Oscar More (behind Nat Cole). Christchurch Bass player Michael Story rounded off the quartet nicely and it was obvious that he was enjoying himself. Again, he was the right person for the ensemble.

The program was a mix of tasteful standards and interesting originals. I have put up a clip which demonstrates the strengths of the quartet – witness the tasteful musicality of Lockett’s drum solo as the band digs into a swinging version of ‘Nica’s Dream’ by Horace Silver.  Gilmartin appeared to be relishing her time in New Zealand and she announced that she would try and return next year. We hope so.

Emma Gilmartin (vocals), James Sherlock (guitar), Michael Story (bass), Mark Lockett (drums). The gig took place at Anthology, K’Road, for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, 4 December 2019

Ben Winkelman Trio @ CJC

IMG_1305I was just about to fly out of the country when I realised that I could squeeze in one last CJC gig. I am glad that I did because the gig was the Ben Winkelman trio. Winkelman has long been resident in New York and so to be included in his two weeks down under tour was our good fortune. He is originally from the USA but he grew up in Melbourne, where he followed the well-trodden musician’s path to New York. There is no greater testing ground for a Jazz musician and those who persevere can reap rewards beyond mere name recognition. Winkelman is a pianist with a sensitive touch and open ears and like all good musicians, he has assimilated the sounds around him and forged his own style.  

His playing is bursting with odd meters, Latin rhythms and a gospel tinge.  While his Latin stylings inform most of his compositions there is much more to it than that. In fact, he is not a Latin purist and many Jazz streams are fused skilfully into his playing. He is post-bop in the truest sense, incorporating the entirety of his musical influences and making a music of his own. After the gig, I asked him how his musical evolution led him in the direction it did. ‘Once you have the foundations you need to get out there and work and by chance, I ended up landing a lot of New York Salsa gigs and a regular gospel gig’. 

Winkelman’s ability to deliver exciting and original music has been noted by the NY Music press and his recent album ‘Balance’ alongside expat Kiwi bass player Matt Penman and New York drummer Obed Calvaire is a testament to his artistry.  All of the tunes are his own except Bye-Ya  (Monk). The album is beautifully recorded and is out on OA2 Records. For the down under tour he teamed up with old friends and his bandmate choices were spot on. The highly regarded Melbourne bass player Sam Anning accompanied him for the whole tour while the drummers alternated between Ben Vanderwal and Alex Hirlian (the NZ leg). It was Auckland’s first time to hear Anning and Hirlian and they certainly won us over. I once heard Anning while visiting Melbourne and I was deeply impressed. He also features on many of my favourite Australian albums. Hirlian gave an extraordinary performance. He is like a bata drummer and a skilled Jazz kit drummer rolled into one.

To purchase the ‘Balance’ album go to OA2 Records or for Sam Anning to samanningmusic.com. The gig was on 30 October 2019 at Anthology, for the CJC Creative Jazz Club.

Ocelot

OcelotA while ago the program director of the Creative Jazz Club, Roger Manins mentioned that he had booked a great young group from Christchurch to appear in the emerging artist’s slot. He went on to say that many of these young emerging artists were so good that he was considering renaming the slot, something like ‘young guns’. He was right. Ocelot exuded easy-going confidence, uncommon in younger players and by the second number they owned the bandstand; navigating some slippery lines with disarming ease and swinging. This was a tight unit and it was obvious that they had put in the necessary work beforehand. That gave them the freedom to relax into the music and the results were evident.

While a little hesitant at first, they progressively engaged with the audience. This has been a theme of mine in recent months, a desire to sense the person behind the instrument. It is not about exhibitionism but about something infinitely more subtle. Something that tells a live audience that they are an essential part of a performance triangle, instrument, musician and audience. Seasoned Jazz audiences are fine-tuned to detect enthusiasm on the bandstand and likewise, they can detect disengagement.  Ocelot got that and was well received. 

The setlist was nicely thought through as it balanced originals with tasty tunes by established and lesser-known artists. Bravely, and to their credit, they played a Jazz arrangement of Prokofiev’s (Concerto No 2). These forays can be fraught with danger, but this interpretation was handled with ease as was Jonathan Kreisberg’s ‘Strange Resolutions’. The latter required them to navigate some tight Tristano-like unison lines in the head and emerge swinging. They did, and to see a young band do this with apparent ease was pleasing.  I have posted Strange Resolutions in the YouTube clip.

 

The originals in the setlist were penned by the bass player and guitarist and a tune which took my fancy with its danceable Klezmer vibe was titled ‘Rakia Nightmares’ (Jonah Levine Collective). The bar is being lifted all the time, as our various Jazz Schools flourish, but what is most encouraging about this, is that they are not producing clones. 

Ocelot: Finley Passmore (drums), Mitchell Dwyer (guitar), Finnzarby Richwood (piano), Callum McInnes (bass), Cheena Rae (alto saxophone). The gig took place at Anthology for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, K’ Road, Auckland CBD, 23 October 2019

  

 

Dixon Nacey ~ The Edge Of Chaos

 

Nacey.jpgThis Dixon Nacey album has long been anticipated and although Nacey has previously recorded as co-leader, this is the first album to be released exclusively under his name. Nacey is firmly on the radar of Jazz loving Kiwis, but his fan base extends well beyond that. He is a professional musician of considerable standing, an in-demand teacher and in recent years the musical director of CocaCola Christmas in the Park. To up and comers he is a guitar legend and on this album, they have something to aspire to; twenty years of experience distilled into excellence.     

The material arose from his Master’s degree which focused on advanced compositional techniques and which was completed last year at the UoA Jazz school. In the process, he gained important realisations and applied these to his art. As listeners, a music degree is not needed as the album has visceral appeal. Just follow your ears and you will get to the heart of things, and that is the point of compelling Jazz performance. 

I have caught many of Nacey’s performances over the years and they never disappoint. I have also gained a sense of the man. He is generous, open-hearted, enthusiastic and very hard working. He takes his craft seriously, but never at the expense of his human qualities. All of the above are evident in his warm playing. The man and his music are not separate. He was aiming at a modern sound here and he has achieved this beautifully and done so without a hint of contrivance. This is how guitarists sound post-Rosenwinkel or Moreno, but he has made the sound his own. A more exact equivalency would be to place him alongside the top-rated Australian guitarists. Price (1).jpg

On the album, he is accompanied by former colleagues and friends and it reminds me how lucky we are to have such musicians in our city. Keven Field on Rhodes and piano, Roger Manins on tenor saxophone, Olivier Holland on upright bass and Andy Keegan on drums. One track features Chelsea Prastiti and Jonathan Leung on vocals. With friends like this to help him realise his vision, he has received an added boon. They are all in peak form here and Rattle Records has also done the artist proud. Steve Garden and UnkleFranc you are extraordinary.

The launch at the CJC Jazz Club, Anthology room had Alan Brown on Keys and piano instead of Keven Field. I looked into my database and learned that it was exactly six years ago to the night that Dixon Nacey led a band at the CJC, and as it was last Wednesday with Alan Brown on keys. It was a great night filled with enthusiastic applause as everyone bathed in the vibe; and the soaring runs which glissed and glowed like silken fire. As well as numbers from ‘The Edge of Chaos’ album we heard a few earlier Dixon compositions like ‘Sco’ and ‘The all Nighter’. I have posted a video of The all Nighter from the gig – how could I resist. To listen to a sample of the album go to Rattle Bandcamp where you can order a hard copy or download it in any format. Try a sample track and you will certainly buy. And while you are at it, take time to reflect on our extraordinary musicians. 

The gig took place at Anthology for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, K’Road Auckland, 16 October 2019. Purchase the album from Rattle Records Bandcamp

Keith Price ‘Upside Downwards’

coverCanadian Jazz guitarist Keith Price is a welcome addition to the Auckland scene. He brings with him fresh ideas and a musical connection to his hometown. Manitoba is associated with Lenny Breau and Neil Young who both grew up there. Perhaps it’s the proximity to the open spaces which echo in the music, that wide-open sound (and in Young’s case an overlay of dissonant melancholia)? Whatever it is, it certainly produces distinctive musicians. Lenny Breau is an important Jazz guitarist and one who is sadly overlooked, Hearing Price’s respectful acoustic homage on Wednesday, cast my ears in that direction again.  

Before moving to New Zealand, Price recorded a collaborative album in his home state of Winnipeg and that material formed the basis of what we heard last Wednesday. While the album features Canadian musicians, it was released on our premier Kiwi label Rattle. ‘Upside Downwards’ is a terrific album and from the first track, you become aware of how spaciousness informs the compositions, a note placement and phrasing which allows the music to breathe deeply. This feeling of expansiveness is also underscored by a certain delicacy. In the first track especially, you marvel at the touch; the skilfully deployed dynamics grabbing your attention, but it is the artful articulation of Price’s playing that is especially evident. Listening through, it impossible not to feel the presence of the open plains and of Lenny Breau. 

The co-leaders are perfectly attuned to each other throughout; playing as if one entity. There are no ego-driven flights here and in that sense, it reminded me of an ECM album. I had not come across either the pianist or the drummer before but they impressed deeply. From Jeff Presslaff, that delicate touch on the piano and the ability to use a minimalist approach to say a lot. The drummer Graydon Cramer a colourist and musical in the way Paul Motian was.  

Wednesday’s gig was in part an album release, but Price also traversed earlier albums and played a short acoustic set. The album was a trio, but this time he brought four of Auckland’s best to the bandstand. The quintet format worked beautifully and his bandmates were clearly enjoying themselves. These guys always sound good, but it felt like they there were especially onboard for this. In the acoustic set, Price played what looked like a Martin (a Breau and a Young tribute). The other standard was a killing arrangement of Wayne Shorter’s Ju Ju. Why do we not hear that more often?

When setting up my video camera I made the mistake of locating myself near the bar and because of that, there is bleed-through from the air conditioners (the curse of all live recordings). The sightlines are also poor from that end. Never-the-less, I have put up a clip from the first set titled ‘Solstice/Zoom Zoom’. It was worth posting in spite of the defects. I have also posted a sound clip from the album titled ‘6 chords commentary’.  

Album: Keith Price (guitar), Jeff Presslaff (Piano), Gradon Cramer (drums)

Auckland Quintet: Keith Price (guitars), Kevin Field (piano), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Olivier Holland (upright bass), Ron Samsom (drums). Anthology, CJC Creative Jazz Club, K’Road, 09 October 2019. Recoding available at Rattle Bandcamp.

Reuben Bradley ~ Shark Variations

SharkPost Trump’s inauguration, improbability is the new normal and in keeping with the mood of the times Wednesday’s gig emerged from improbable beginnings. It began with an international cat rescue mission, an attempt to thwart a ‘catricidal’ former neighbour. Before the mission had even been concluded a subplot had emerged; one involving the inhabitants of three cities, two countries, and assorted sharks. Those familiar with Reuben Bradley will not be surprised at this turn of events as he’s known for his humour, good nature and above all for his ability to turn improbable adventures into really good music. ‘Shark Varieties’ is a drummer led trio and a vehicle which showcases a bunch of the leader’s original tunes. It also showcases a joyful reunion.

The Shark Variations album was released by Rattle in 2017 and it followed a successful tour by the band a few months earlier. Bradley was in the process of moving to Australia at the time and he was keen to record with longtime collaborators Roger Manins and Bret Hirst. He needed to do this while they were all in the same place and this was his best window of opportunity. Hirst is an expat Kiwi who lives in Sydney, Manins is based in Auckland and Bradley was at that point, about to head for the Gold Coast. Because of their shared history, the musicians knew exactly what they were aiming for; an open-hearted collaborative and spontaneous expression of their art form. That they realised this vision will be apparent to those who listen to the album.

As a leader, Bradley never shies away from an opportunity to leaven his gigs with humour. He tells jokes against himself (the trademark of all good Kiwi humour) and as you peruse his tune titles you find a plethora of throwaway lines and in-jokes. During live gigs, the titles become hilarious stories and his delivery is always pitch-perfect. Improvising musicians frequently tell an audience that the title came after the composition and that they struggled to name tunes. In Bradley’s case, I suspect the reverse is true; that a series of off-beat incidents have stimulated his already vivid imagination and the incidents become the catalysts for his compositions. ‘Wairoa or L.A.’ ‘Wake up call’ Makos and Hammerheads’ are all examples, the latter giving rise to the title, in spite of the fact that he could only name two shark types (which he felt was more than enough). 

Humour aside, this is seriously good music. Bradley is a gifted and popular drummer and musicians love having him alongside. It is therefore not surprising that he would choose these collaborators. Manins is undoubtedly the best known contemporary New Zealand saxophonist and a musician whose formidable abilities are attested well beyond these shores. Hirst left New Zealand many years ago and is regarded as a bass heavyweight on the Australasian scene. He is frequently found performing with Mike Nock and his resume includes playing alongside James Muller, Greg Osby and other notables. 

The reunion gig took place on a cold wet Auckland night and many gladly braved the chill to get a piece of this. I have put up a video from the gig titled ‘Wake up Call’, which Reuben assured the audience had only the thinnest connection to an actual wake up call. In keeping with the ‘spirit’ of the gig, I miscalibrated my camera and the resulting shot turned Bradley and Manins into ghosts. The album is available from Rattle Records. The gig took place at Anthology, for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, 02 September 2019. 

Footnote: The cats were rescued safely and after an unfortunate travel accident they both found asylum abroad.

Louisa Williamson Quintet

Louisa Williamson (1)Louisa Williamson is a gifted young tenor saxophonist who has visited Auckland on previous occasions. This time, and for the first time, she visited as a bandleader, showcasing her beautiful compositions. I have always admired her tone and improvisational abilities, but this was a step up. Freed from the comfort of a band she knew well, she cast herself among an array of experienced Auckland musicians. Stephen Thomas on drums, Tom Dennison on bass and Michael Howell on guitar. The only Wellingtonian (besides Williamson) was pianist George Maclaurin and together as a band they delivered. This was engaging straight-ahead Jazz. 

In the history of this music, only a handful of female tenor or baritone saxophonists have received their due. If Williamson keeps playing like this she will surely inspire others and that is how the music grows. She has already come to international attention when she became the first New Zealander to join the JM Jazz World Orchestra in 2016. She is at present working towards a Masters in composition at the NZSM. After hearing her compositions on this date, the outcome should prove interesting. Her tunes possess an appealing melodicism while underpinned by an unfussy harmonic cushion. It is post-bop mainstream but there is nothing stale about it.  Afterwards, a band member from among the Auckland pick-ups remarked how well the charts were constructed.Louisa Williamson

I have put up the first tune from the first set titled ‘Slightly run-down’.  A tune where the underlying motifs are opened up as the theme develops. It is a story with a beginning, middle and ending and it is told without artifice. Everything felt in balance, the short phrase of arco bass during a changeup, the staccato restatement of the theme on the guitar, and above all the horns careful parsing of the melody.

The keyboardist Maclaurin was familiar with the leader’s tunes and consequently, he was the perfect harmonic anchor point. He also delivered some nice solos. The Auckland contingent of Howell on guitar, Dennison on upright bass and Stephen Thomas on drums took no time in establishing their credentials. I was particularly happy to see Dennison on the bandstand as he is seldom seen at the club these days. A fine bass player who always finds the best notes; a melodicist and a musician who has an impeccable feel for time. Howell and Thomas we see regularly and both are deservedly popular with audiences. I look forward to Williamson’s continued journey as she is learning to show more of herself. Being the leader, she spoke and told stories and I hope she does more of that. Jazz is at its best when it shows some emotion and in live performance, the artist’s engagement with an audience is the X factor lifting the music ever higher.

Louisa Williamson Quintet: Louisa Williamson (tenor saxophone, compositions), George Maclaurin (keyboards), Michael Howell (guitar), Tom Dennison (upright bass), Stephen Thomas (guitar). The gig was at Anthology for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, 25 September 2019Louisa

Stephen Thomas Electric Band

Thomas 2 (1).jpgThe history of music is the history of instrument development and from the earliest of times, musicians have expanded the reach of their instruments. The mother of instruments, Al’ Oud was first documented 3500 years ago, but documenting the development of the drum is a nebulous task. It almost certainly arose in Africa and along the way it has undergone a multitude of modifications. On Wednesday there was another waypoint along the continuum under the forward-looking beats of Stephen Thomas. Thomas is a gifted drummer and percussionist and in his hands, the instrument takes on a new life by transcending the mundane. The gig arose out of his last years Masters recital and the focus was on extended technique; combining physical drum rhythms, electronics via a drum pad, prepared drum heads and samples. 

Improvisers are the masters of extended technique, but even so, it is comparatively rare to hear these effects applied to drums, winds or reeds in Jazz. The most obvious examples occurred during the 70’s fusion era, but post 70s Shorter and Harris, who carved a credible path, only a brave few have followed. In my view, it requires experienced musicians to do this well and Stephen Thomas is well qualified to realise this project. Done badly it can look like a botched attempt to blur technique deficiencies. Done well it is an opening into a brave new world and another set of tools to build on what has gone before.

True to label, The Stephen Thomas Electric Band was wired and utilised effects, including the horn section. There were various configurations from sextet to duo and each configuration teased out a particular facet of the interesting compositions. The full line up was: drums (+ electronics), two saxophonists (+ electronics, one playing alto and the other playing tenor, soprano or Ewi). There was a keyboard player, an electric bass player and two electric guitarists (+ one guitarist playing prepared guitar). The horns often played in unison as did the bass and keyboard. With the octave or chorusing effect deployed, this made for a rich and full-throated palette of tonal colours.

I have posted two very different tunes from the gig, One is MG40 with the sextet and the other a duo between Thomas and Joel Vinsen (the latter on prepared guitar). If you listen closely to MG40, you will detect the echoes of a distant past. An echo from the 1950s in fact when the conductor Leonard Bernstein attempted to explain Jazz to a very young audience. That footage is hopelessly time-locked as the plummy voice of a high-brow white man ‘explaining black music’ overshadows the message. Notwithstanding, I have no doubt that many of the Bernstein Philharmonic attendees would go on to explore improvised music after hearing Benny Golson and the sextet perform. What Thomas does with this piece is both playful and respectful. Bernstein would get it and laugh out loud. MG40 refers to Mark Giuliani – a drummer on the same trailblazing path. 

The other piece I have posted involves the sextet. With Alan Brown on keyboards and Andy Smith on guitar, the piece soars as it morphs into a multi-layered groove piece, one reminiscent of the Fusion era. The overall sound has lots of bottom, with the bass effects and saxophone effects creating a surreal lower register cushion; over which Smith and Brown build towards the heart-stopping crescendo. This was a group of heavyweight performers with Chris Mason-Battley and Markus Fritsch the horn line. And none of it possible without the invention, vision and superior chops of Thomas. 

The Stephen Thomas Electric Band:  Stephen Thomas (drum kit, drum pad + effects, triggered samples, percussion, prepared drums), Alan Brown (digital keyboard), Andy Smith (guitar + effects), Chris Mason Battley (saxophones, Ewi + effects), Markus Fritsch (alto saxophone), Mostyn Cole (electric bass + effects), Joel Vinsen (prepared guitar + effects). The gig took place at Anthology, CJC Creative Jazz Club, 18 September 2019

Spirograph Studies @ CJC Auckland

SpirographThe Melbourne group Spirograph Studies was exactly as described, modern and eclectic. In this quartet, there were no horns to carve out melodic lines. Instead, a guitar and piano spun intricate layers one on the other, focussing more on well-crafted motifs and harmonic development. There was melody but it was mostly implied, nestling comfortably among richly dissonant textures and emerging out of the subtle interplay. It was often voice-led but not as we know it and the overall effect was beguiling.  

The playing was great but what also stood out were the compositions. What we experienced was an unmistakable Jazz Americana vibe. There were no actual Frisell tunes played but the great man’s essence hung in the air; residing most strongly in the interactions between leader Tamara Murphy and her bandmate Fran Swinn; Murphy the enabler and Swinn the ideal vehicle for realisation. As Swinn stroked the chords, the soulful utterances reeled us in; urged on by the bass. With music as delicately layered as this, no band member can afford veer off coarse and none did. This was a disciplined ensemble but in spite of that, the music flowed effortlessly. Their overall sound was warm and yet it tugged on the heartstrings, hinting at a distant sadness. The signature sound of Americana, where every note is weighted with nostalgia.

 

The other core band member was drummer James McLean. A drummer who showed his ability by responding appropriately to the textural subtleties and propelling the gentle swing feel. His brushwork was crisp and his stick-work understated so as to reside inside the music and not all over it.  The pianist on the ‘Kindness not Courtesy’ album was Luke Howard, but on their Australasian tour, his role was alternated with Sam Keevers. I have heard Keevers before as he is a well respected Australian pianist. For a long period, he held the piano chair in the Vince Jones group (a coveted position held before him by Barney McAll).  Having Keevers onboard during the New Zealand leg worked a treat. A skilled accompanist who knows a lot about supportive playing and comping. The Piano and guitar interacting seamlessly and moving in and around each other’s phrases like dance partners.  

The album titled ‘Kindness Not Courtesy’ is available from Bandcamp and the link can be followed here. spirographstudies.bandcamp.com/. The Auckland gig was at Anthology for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, 11 September 2019.

Spirograph Studies: Tamara Murphy (bass, compositions), Sam Keevers (piano), Fran Swinn (guitar), James McLean (drums). 

Mark de Clive-Lowe ~ Heritage Tour

De Clive-LoweMusic is the highest form of communication. It is universal. It reveals truths, tells stories, entertains, and in Mark de Clive-Lowe’s case, it evokes other realities. This was a masterclass in storytelling; an unfolding kaleidoscope where the contradictions and sublime realisations about the human condition were brought into focus. ‘Heritage 1 + 2’ the albums reflect his personal story, a journey of reconnection, an exploration of culture and of family history. He revealed it through moments of spoken narrative, but above all through his reverential musical examination of Japanese art forms. This was a musical journey where the highly personal overlapped the philosophical. It was a journey back to his Jazz roots and undertaken entirely on his own terms.  

At least twenty years have passed since I last heard MdCL perform in Auckland. Back then he was regarded as a youthful Jazz prodigy and people flocked to hear him.  Accompanying such acclaim comes expectations and that can be a straight jacket. It was the era of the media-hyped ‘young lions’, when up and coming Jazz musicians were expected to showcase standards and reclaim a glorious past. While the die-hards repeated their time-worn mantras, something else bubbled beneath the surface; musicians like MdCL shucked off others expectations; in his case moving a world away to engage with the hybrid music/dance scene in London. From there he moved on to LA where he built a solid and enduring reputation. These days Auckland has a flourishing improvised music scene and audiences value innovation. In this space, Jazz and other genres merge effortlessly. Because of that, it was exactly the right moment for MdCL to bring this project home. Auckland heard the call and the concerts reached capacity club audiences.   

When MdCL introduced the sets he talked about his childhood and of cultural disconnection. Experiences like this although disquieting feed the creative spirit. The recent album and the tour follow a time spent in Japan where he immersed himself in his mother’s culture. The album opens with ‘The Offering’ an apt and beguiling introduction piece. Like a ritual washing of hands before a tea ceremony, a moment to sweep away preconceptions. Another standout honoured his mother by evoking her family name. ‘Mizugaki’ is perhaps the most reflective and personal tune of the sets. This cross-cultural feel is evident from the opener to the tunes which follow. While the scales and moods speak of Japan, the interpretations belong to an improviser. Throughout, MdCL maintains this fine balancing act. Evoking the unique moods of the haiku or ink wash. Illusory moods that are best described in the Japanese as no English phrase is adequate. And to all of this, he brings his lived experience. A kiwi-born musician with a foot in many camps.

With the exception of two traditional folk tunes, the compositions (and arrangements) are his own, other elements of his musical journey are also evident: tasteful electronics, drum & bass, Jazz. For copies of the two albums and MdCL’s other recordings go to Bandcamp (links below). Perhaps we can lure him back more often as he certainly has a following here. On the New Zealand leg of his tour, he was joined by Marika Hodgson on electric bass, Myele Manzanza on drums (and in Auckland by Lewis McCallum on flute and alto). The Kiwi contingent sounded good alongside MdCL and for a return-home tour, there was a rightness to utilising Kiwi musicians. I have posted a tune from the Auckland gig titled ‘Silk Road’. The Silk Road carried music, ideas, goods and culture, travelling by any means and from Japan to Spain; and now New Zealand.   

https://markdeclivelowe.bandcamp.com/album/heritage

https://markdeclivelowe.bandcamp.com/album/heritage-ii 

Heritage (Auckland): Mark de Clive-Lowe (keys, electronic wizardry), Lewis MacCallum (alto saxophone, flute, effects), Marika Hodgson (e-bass), Myele Manzanza (drums). CJC Creative Jazz Club, Anthology, K’Road, 4 September 2019.

Eve de Castro-Robinson ~ The Gristle of Knuckles

Eve de Castro-Robinson is Associate Professor of Composition at the University of Auckland. She is well known as a New Zealand classical composer and although widely acknowledged in that field, she is strongly associated with the improvising and experimental music community.  Those who attended the CJC Creative Jazz Club last Wednesday witnessed the scope of her compositional output, with compositions interpreted by a plethora of gifted improvisers. The night was a rare treat.  Last year de Castro-Robinson released an album titled ‘Gristle of Knuckles’ and on Wednesday we experienced a live performance. When introducing it she explained, ‘although I am described as a contemporary classical composer, I am best placed at the ‘arts’ end of that spectrum’. In this space genres, overlap and artificial barriers are torn down. Out of these collisions comes original and vibrant music.

While de Castro Robinson is primarily seen as a composer, she is also an enabler and a canny collaborator; expanding her vision through skilled pedagogy. The above project has her engaging with colleagues from the UoA Jazz school plus a handful of gifted musicians from the diaspora of the avant-garde. The project comes close to being conduction; guiding the improvisers with a feather-light touch, letting them find their truth as her works are re-imagined.  The pieces were composed over a period of years, taking us on a journey from the primal to the avant-garde.       

The first set opened with Roger Manins and Ron Samsom playing ‘Doggerel’. A multi-phonic utterance which set the mood. That was followed by a moving ensemble piece featuring Don McGlashan, Kingsley Melhuish, Keith Price, Kevin Field and Ron Samsom titled ‘The Long Dream of Waking’ (a Len Lye poem). That juxtaposition, duo to quintet, worked well, in fact, most of the compositions were quite unlike those preceding them. These contrasts were an integral part of the ebb and flow and the contrasts worked to the advantage of the whole. There was also another factor in play and it was significant. Between numbers, de Castro-Robinson introduced the pieces, not in the usual way but by telling stories. She has a terrific stage presence and while I shouldn’t be surprised by that, I was. Her talk is peppered with wry humour, that understated self-deprecating Kiwi humour. She quickly had us eating out of her hand and although not playing an instrument, was very much a performer herself. 

Everything was interesting, everything engaged. ‘Twitch’ featuring Kristian Larsen, a piece for piano (but kinetic and expansively sonic),  ‘Passion Flower’ played by Kevin Field, a work inspired by a painting and by ‘The March of Women’ composed by the suffragist Ethyl Smyth. The original is a feminist classic but under Fields fingers de Castro-Robinson’s tune it took on a moody reverential feel. Consciously or unconsciously and deep inside the voicings, it captured the mood of another ‘Passionflower’ the Billy Strayhorn masterpiece; a perfect alignment in my view. ConunDRUMS featured Samsom, Melhuish and Larsen, a delightful percussive exploration, a sculpture. ‘Stumbling Trains’ a fiery piece on cello played by Ashley Brown of NZTrio (and co-composed by him). Check out the embed and above all go to the Rattle site and check out Field’s interpretation of ‘Passion Flower’.

 

The second set opened with ‘Countercurrents’ a solo piece played by alto saxophonist Callum Passells. It began in a stairwell and moved among us, resonating beautifully as the figures and melodies filled the room progressively. ‘Small Blue’ had Field, Melhuish, Price and Samsom paired (a Tuba taking up a bass line), ‘Hau’ featured Mere Boynton on voice and crystal and Melhuish on Taonga Puora. This particular piece was a standout. An ancient-to-modern story of the passing of the spirit and told in a way that evokes New Zealand’s pre-colonial past. I defy anyone to listen to this and not experience a shiver run down the spine.  ‘Trouble Trouble Mind’ brought McGlashan back to the stage with Boynton, Price and Samsom. With two guitars a backing vocal and a raw bluesy feel, this was prime McGlashan territory. The vibe here hinted at a Dunedin punk sound. Rattle records Steve Garden also took to the stage with an array of vocal sounds on ‘The Gild’ (we often spot him launching a Rattle album but we forget that he is a drummer. His percussive vocalisations added quirky additions to the interactions between Samsom and Larsen).

On the face of it, the gig was a collection of interesting compositions, but it also felt a lot like theatre. However you describe it, it was great performance art and the audience loved it. The album can be purchased from Rattle at Bandcamp (as hard copies or high-quality downloads). The musicians were; Eve de Castro-Robinson (compositions and narration), Don McGlashan (guitar and voice), Kevin Field (piano), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Ron Samsom (drums and percussion),  Kingsley Melhuish (conches, tuba, Tango Puora, tenor horn), Kristian Larsen (piano, live sound, gilded cello), Kieth Price (guitar), Mere Boynton (voice, crystal glass), Steve Garden (sounds), Callum Passells (alto saxophone), Ashley Brown (cello).  The gig took place at Anthology, K’Road, CJC Creative Jazz Club, 28 August 2019.

Richard Hammond + Friends

R HammondSubject to availability, Richard Hammond is the kind of bass player that you would consider first for an important gig or recording.  He is known for his musicality, authenticity and above all for his deep groove. His upright-bass chops are immaculate, deep in-the-pocket; his electric bass, as punchy as a kicking mule. It is therefore unsurprising that he works among the elite ranks of New Yorks first-call session musicians. He also gigs around NYC, tours with well-known vocalists and works on shows like Hamilton.  Sometimes, when the luck falls our way, he visits Aotearoa. This time he returned primarily to play bass at Nathan Haines ‘Shift Left’ Civic Theatre gig.  The above show has garnered rave reviews. 

Hammond has real presence and his human qualities shine through all that he does.  I refer there to his warm and engaging persona, his instinctive friendliness and generosity. I mention those qualities because they appear to inform his playing. In his case, the man and his music are as one. Of late this has been a theme in my posts. I find myself increasingly looking inside the music to see if I can locate the human being behind the instrument. Seeking a musicians ability (or inability) to show us something of themselves. Such a manifestation can change a listeners perception and with improvised music, it is the bread and butter of good interactions. Hammond spends most of his time in the studio but he has never forgotten these essential communication skills. In live performance, this can be critical. It could be termed as ‘character’ and inevitably it feeds musical choices. A room filled with notes is one thing, but a room bubbling with musical life is quite another.

The setlist was a tribute to Hammond’s homeland. Apart from the two tunes written by a US musician, the rest were composed by Kiwis.  It was great to hear these tunes reprised and especially with a fresh and fired-up lineup. The most significant contributor was Kevin Field whose talent for composition and arranging is well known. Nothing appears to unsettle Field. At one point the sound was lost from a monitor (and from the piano). He immediately moved to the Rhodes and as usual, played at the top of his game. I have posted the version of his tune ‘Good Friday’. A familiar tune with numerous iterations but perhaps, never played as joyfully as this; the bass lines from Hammond giving it supersonic lift-off. 

The band were Richard Hammond (electric and upright bass), Kevin Field (piano and Rhodes),  Michael Howell (guitar),  Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Stephen Thomas (drums) and guest vocalist Marjan. Together, they celebrated aspects of New Zealand improvised music’ much of it upbeat and funk orientated. Marjan showcased some of her own tunes plus a well known New Zealand tune ‘Brown Girl’ which had been reimagined as a Jazz tune by Kevin Field (more on that in a future post). 

This is Hammonds third visit home in as many years and I hope that he makes it a regular fixture. We seldom hear electric bass like that.  The gig took place at the CJC Creative Jazz Club, Anthology, K’Road, Auckland, New Zealand on 21 August 2019

Elsen Price (Aust)

Elsen Price (5)Two bass, two drummer gigs while not unknown usually occur in service of a chordal instrument or of a horn line, and when a solo bass concert occurs, an audience is frequently shown ‘cleverness’. On this occasion, the bass of Elsen Price freed the instrument from the narrow confines of the standard rhythm section or the conventional solo bass repartee; instead, exposing the beautiful resonances and the reach of the instrument. This was sublime music and complete unto itself. It celebrated a gifted musician and a wonderful instrument but without displays of egocentricity. The feat was achieved by inviting us inside the music, and into a sonic cornucopia. We listened and we were captivated.

Life is full of unexpected sonorities and if we believe ourselves to be familiar with them all we are deluded. It is a paradox of modern life that popular music, while prolific, is cursed by formula-driven compositions. On Wednesday, Price and his ensemble teased the new from the familiar. Each instrument adding colour-tones and texture. Hands, fingers, ‘broom’ sticks, standard sticks, mallets, all deployed to good effect. Clicks, taps, scrapes on parchment, rim shots, gongs, bells and balloons under cymbals. And Price leading the way; a conduction answered by each musician and often in unison; acts of collective intuition. 

It is rare to hear Jazz arco bass played so well, it filled the room and swelled, but during the pizzicato passages Price was equally stunning. He is clearly a master technician but this was not about chops. He oversaw the ensemble as a true democrat, giving space and responding to the others. The first set was solo bass. Here Price showed us the breadth of his vision. He employed a looper peddle and would set up a drone or a motif. He would play counterpoint, either arco or plucked, sometimes creating a second loop over the first. He did not rely overly on the live samples, but harnessed them for discrete passages and always under his precise control. 

What we experienced in the second set were energised permanences by Price and his ensemble. Each revealing in their own way what lay deep within the music. That particular set ran a full hour and without interruption. It was a composition for improvisation but with no music on display and as far as I’m aware, no prior rehearsal. Price guided them with gestures or by changing pace. For these types of gigs to work well, the combined energies must feed a room. Music like this leans heavily on interplay, an intuitive reading of cues and deep listening by the musicians. Such high wire acts can easily falter, but this didn’t. That the terrain was navigated so effectively is because the right people were in place on the bandstand. 

Besides Price, on the second bass, was Eamon Edmundson Wells. Although the youngest member of the ensemble he is well versed in playing avant-garde situations. He would be among the first you go to for anything adventurous and he always delivers. On drum kit was Ron Samsom and it was pleasing to have him on this gig. Nothing daunts him and he has few stylistic limitations. He clearly relished the opportunity to play in the ensemble and to interact with another drummer. As he initiated cymbal scrapes, tapped with mallets and scuffed the ‘broom’ sticks the textures richened. This was colourist drumming of the best kind; extending the kit beyond the role of mere timekeeping. On hand drums and percussion was Chris O’Connor; the drummer most often seen in line ups like this. His ability to move seamlessly between genres is legendary; in these situations, he adds inestimable value. With O’Connor you get an ‘Art Ensemble of Chicago’ experience; all the tiny bells and gongs and with each one appearing exactly where it should for best effect.

Gigs like this can sometimes be difficult for audiences, especially those unfamiliar with a freer type of music. In this case, the audience showed enthusiasm, obviously enjoying the experience.

Elsen Price (upright bass, looper), Eamon Edmundson Wells (upright bass), Ron Samsom (drums), Chris O’Connor (drums, percussion) @ Anthology, CJC Creative Jazz Club, Auckland 14 August 2019

Kushal Talele

Kushal (3)It was four years ago and almost to the day, that Kushal Talele was last at the CJC. Then, as now, he had just returned from a long period overseas. I heard him for the first time then and I was impressed. That was in the cellar of the 1885, a place now a fond but distant memory. A few days ago he returned to the CJC and although he played with a different band, his unmistakeable upwards trajectory was evident. There is nothing unduly flashy about Talele as he radiates calm and absorption. At the microphone, he talks quietly, but there is passion in those subdued tones.  

It is especially evident when he plays, as you are taken directly to melody and it’s heartfelt melody carried on his distinctive sound. There were many influences evident last time, but on this gig one thing was clear. We were now hearing something closer to a modern New York tenor sound; the tonal qualities, the clarity of articulation when in full flow. On ballads, however, there was a hint of vibrato and at the end of phrases, the merest whisper of breath. Taken as a whole package, these stylistic approaches are appealing. 

Talele does not play at high volume, or at least he didn’t on this gig. He stood back from the microphone and this emphasised a number of acoustic subtleties. Small flurries, slight changes in modulation, nothing demanding greater amplification. Playing at lower volume allowed for more interplay and the conversations between instruments were more nuanced. There was however one uptempo number and to everyone’s delight, that channelled a bebop vibe. 

Talele’s compositions were also noteworthy and most of the tunes we heard were originals. In all of those, it was the melodic arc which grabbed your attention. Harmonically, they leaned toward romanticism, but every voicing was in service of the melody. Reinforcing this was his rhythm section, drawn from among the finest that Auckland has to offer; Kevin Field, Olivier Holland and Ron Samsom. Having the piano away from the bandstand is at times a little disconcerting, but Field always makes the best of any situation. He made that white piano sing and because the sound was well mixed, the proximity of the piano was not an issue.

This was an enjoyable gig and I hope that Talele gets to stay a while. New Zealand and Australian saxophonists are gradually developing their own distinct thing. They absorb what they hear elsewhere and bring an antipodean perspective to it. Perhaps a bit of the Chris Potter vibe, so evident in players like Talele will accelerate that process. 

Kushal Talele (tenor saxophone), Kevin Field (piano), Olivier Holland (upright bass), Ron Samsom (drums). The gig took place at Anthology, CJC Creative Jazz Club, Auckland 7 August 2019.   

Daniel Waterson / Wil Goodinson

How we hear and process music is the result of endless debate. When a resonant voicing or melodic fragment is freed from the wood, wire or chip, the vibrations refract; entering our consciousness through individualised prisms, and each note coloured by preference, mood and previous exposure. What I heard last Wednesday I can only process through my own lens and how I heard it may not be how it was conceived. The opening number took me directly to a place that I visit often. A warm and familiar place situated in a time before these musicians were born. That place was the early electric Jazz fusion era (I love that shit) and in the second set, to the atypical small ensemble arranging by the likes of Carla Bley, Jimmy Giuffre or French horn player John Graas.

I am not saying that either band were reprising those eras because they weren’t. What they played was freshly minted, modern and innovative. The connection and the intense pleasure both groups afforded me was that meeting place between my point of reference and what they created. This is the eternal triangle of improvised music; musician, instrument and listener. A cycle with an endless feedback loop, which brings me to a second point. The players communicated their passion well; something of themselves. It manifested in the leader’s smiles of delight or in the shouts of mutual encouragement. As young, as they were they had cracked a vital code of musical communication. It is not just chops or clever compositions that push you over the line, but putting yourself at risk, exposing a glimpse of the human being and the joy feeding the music. 

The musicians were mostly from the UoA Jazz Studies programme and the sets were interesting contrasts. First up was the Daniel Waterson Quartet with drums, keys, guitar and bass. The first number was titled ‘Not enough Lithium’ and it was this piece that contained embedded echoes of 70’s fusion. It had various motifs but as it developed, mood predominated. This enabled me to make my own emotional connection to the music. The piece didn’t tell us how to engage but it invited the listener in and I believe that that is important. Some tunes are so nailed down that they feel like a lecture. This was not. All of these musicians are a credit to the Jazz School and I was familiar with everyone except the keyboards player (more on him later). Michael Gianan showed how far he’d come since we last heard him at the club. I last heard Waterson when he played in the Indian Jazz fusion group Takadimi. He is an engaging and innovative drummer and it was good to hear his own compositions.

The second set up was the Wil Goodinson Septet and it was unusual in that it featured bassoon, bass clarinet, cello, bass, guitar and piano.  Goodinson is well thought of as a bass player and it is not unusual to catch him in others lineups. This was a chance for him to showcase his arranging skills and his charts were quite exceptional.  Apart from the first tune by Joe Henderson, all of the rest were his own compositions. All arrangements were his. This was an interesting ensemble and they navigated the charts with ease. The bassoon and bass clarinet were complimentary and their textural possibilities were well utilised (Asher Truppman Lattie demonstrated his skills here and I applaud his work on this lovely under-utilised horn). The guitar, while not dominant in the mix, was essential as it gave brightness, a gently articulated voice to contrast the bass-rich sound. Holding everything together was the bass. We could not see the leader but his cues were evident as he guided the others through the charts.

The drums and piano contributed with accents, pulse and solos and both were well placed in the mix I also have a fondness for cello in Jazz and the instrument was well deployed. When bass and cello played unison arco, the air vibrated as the low notes tugged at the senses. It was the sort of ensemble that ECM might feature, but the originality made it hard to pigeonhole as just that. 

For a few months now, people have asked me, have I heard Joe Kaptein play. Until last Wednesday I had not and after hearing him on Wednesday I admit to being caught off guard. What I heard was a high degree of pianistic maturity; unusually so for a Jazz Studies student partway through his second year. He leaned on no particular style and was as much at ease playing in a freer percussive mode as he was where gentler minimalism was called for. His comping was notable, as was his sense of time. He understood when to play and most importantly when not to; he could lay-out or enter a groove and milk it for possibilities. It felt good to be in on this at ground level and I will watch his journey with great interest. Kaptein and Goodinson played in both sets

.

Daniel Waterson Quartet: Daniel Waterson (drums, compositions), Michael Gianan (guitar), Joe Kaptein (keyboards), Wil Goodinson (bass).

Wil Goodinson Septet: Wil Goodinson (bass), Joe Kaptein (piano), Kathleen Tomacruz (guitar), Asher Truppman Lattie (bass clarinet), Karen Hu (cello), Monica Dunn (bassoon), Tom Legget (drums) 

@ CJC Creative Jazz Club, Anthology, K’Road, Auckland New Zealand 31 July 2019

Brad Kang Quintet

Brad Kang @ CJC (1).jpegBrad Kang has previously appeared at the CJC, but this time he was here with his own quintet. It is not too much of a stretch to say that most emerging Jazz guitarists during the last decade have demonstrated a liberal dose of Kurt Rosenwinkel in their playing. It is in their sound and their approach to melody and it was unmistakable with Kang. That clean bright tone and the fluent unison lines as he and saxophonist Louisa Williamson ran through the head arrangements.

His compositions were vehicles for showcasing a formidable technique and the tunes were internalised, allowing him to play the sets with barely a glance at his charts. It is common for older and more experienced musicians to internalise the music, but less common for younger musicians who like to keep the charts close at hand.  Kang’s confident familiarity with the music paid dividends for him.

Kang and Williamson are a natural fit; not only when they run those tight unison head lines, but also during solos. Williamson adding a necessary weight to counter-balance Kang’s guitar, which mostly traverses the higher register. On stage, Williamson tends to hide behind the horn, giving little of her self away. That is, until she solos. Then, she’s suddenly authoritative and an expansive storyteller. Her tone rich and her fluency beyond question.

Unlike Williamson and Kaa, the pianist George Maclaurin was new to the audience as were bass player Hamish Smith and drummer Hikurangi Schaverien Kaa. They hail from either Wellington or Christchurch; part of a nationwide and pleasing renaissance invigorating the New Zealand Jazz scene. 

Since his return from North Texas where he studied previously, Kang has become a fixture on the Wellington and Christchurch Jazz scenes. This New Zealand tour will be his last for a while as he is moving to New York shortly to study at the Manhattan School of Music.  When he returns, his musical journey can be updated and he will no doubt share that with New Zealand audiences.  

Brad Kang Quintet: Brad Kang (guitar), George MacLaurin (piano), Louisa Williamson (tenor saxophone), Hamish Smith (bass), Hikurangi Schaverien Kaa (drums), at Anthology, CJC Creative Jazz Club, 24th July 2019. Photograph by and with thanks to Barry Young.