The Bonita Project is fueled by good compositions, nice arrangements and above all by the exuberance of leader Chelsea Prastiti. It is the second time that Bonita has appeared at the CJC in recent times and people returned for more. It is a worthy project as it reimagines a time and rides on a powerful vibe; the sort that the world needs right now. There was always an easy-going breezy quality to post-war Brazilian music and that quality could beguile. Underneath, however, there is a powerful engine, as the melodies float over a plethora of complex rhythmic structures.
It is impossible to listen and to keep your feet still as the urgency underlying the beachy vibe captures you. It is also true that in this golden era there were dangerous political undercurrents. Out of that dashed hope came a flowing of art forms and the authoritarian colonels who tried to snatch it all away could not silence the music. Many of the musicians like Elis Regina were harassed, but the music never faltered.
There were three arrangers credited on the gig, Prastiti, Sinclair and Passells. The compositions were by Prastiti (and with one co credited to Kenji Hollaway). Some of the tunes we had heard before, including the lovely ‘Cassandra’ (posted as a video last time). There were also new tunes and among them ‘Peter Pan’ was especially appealing. The band had changed slightly from last time, with Connor McAneny replacing Crystal Choi. McAneny had been out of the country for a few years and his return is welcome. His piano playing has a muscular quality to it, which was less evident before he left.
The opportunity afforded by a diverse sound palette was well utilised by the arrangers; bringing out the best in the music without overwhelming melody. This was achieved with three vocalists, an acoustic guitar, piano, double bass, percussion, kit drums, trumpet + flugelhorn, clarinet + flute, tenor saxophone and a second flute. It was pleasing to hear a 12 piece ensemble perform in this way. A configuration like this allows an arranger to impart a degree of airiness out of a large ensemble sound. This was achieved by having the instrumentalists or the vocalists moving in and out of the mix as required. The tunes had lyrics, but just as often there was wordless singing. I love to hear the human voice used as a (non-verbal) instrument. Perhaps because of my ongoing enthusiasm for Winston/Wheeler/Taylor in their ECM ‘Azimuth’ days. This was a nice project and all the more so because it was presented with infectious enthusiasm.
Bonita: Chelsea Prastiti (vocals, arranging), Eamon Edmondson-Wells (upright bass), Ron Samsom (percussion), Tristan Deck (drums), Connor McAneny (piano), Michael Howell (guitar), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Elizabeth Stokes (trumpet/flugelhorn), Ben Sinclair (clarinet, flute, arranging), J Y Lee (flute), Rachel Clarke (vocals), Gretel Donnelley (vocals), Callum Passells (arranging).
JazzLocal32.com is rated as one of the 50 best Jazz Blogs in the world by Feedspot. The author is a professional member of the Jazz Journalists Association, poet & writer.Some of these posts appear on related sites.
Lost Ships on ECM is an album that rewards deep listening. It is deliciously spacious and unbelievably beautiful and the powerful images and exquisite stories will remain with you long after listening. It speaks in many languages, as disparate as Albanian and English. The Romance, Germanic and Balkan tongues unified in improvised song form. The album is a collaboration between UK Jazz guitarist Rob Luft and Albanian born Jazz vocalist Elina Duni. Together they have crafted a rare and precious document. It is especially relevant for current times while gently referencing a fading past.
Like many ECM albums, originals, traditional folk tunes and jazz standards are approached with a Euro-Jazz sensibility. An approach where less is much more and an almost preternatural clarity is realised Everything sounds fresh and the album achieves this by breathing new life into what we recognise and by delighting us with the unfamiliar. As always with ECM albums, the recording quality is impeccable, and the musicians take full advantage of this.
The first number ‘Bella Ci Dormi’ (Beauty, You Sleep) is a traditional Italian song conveying intense longing. It opens with the piano and guitar setting up the tune for Duni; her voice, caressed by the delicacy of the arrangement. Duni has an extraordinarily beautiful voice and Luft has gifted her the perfect arrangements. The next tune ‘Brighton’, an original by Duni and Luft is sung in French (with the flugelhorn as another dominant voice).
There is a songbook standard, ‘I am a Fool to Want You’ (Sinatra/Wolf/Herron) and a loved chanson classic ‘Hier Encore’ (Charles Aznavour). This establishes the pattern throughout. Songs from many sources sitting comfortably together. The song ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ (trad USA) was made famous by Johnny Cash, but it has previously been recorded by Jazz musicians (Charlie Haden and Shirley Horn). The two traditional Albanian songs are a rare treat. In ‘Kur Me Del Ne Dere’ or ‘N’at Zaman’, it is not hard to discern the eastern European flavour.
Among the originals are some wonderful tunes, ‘Flying Kites’ is stunning as are ‘Lux’ and ‘Empty Street’. As lovely as the rest are, my highest praise goes to the title track ‘Lost Ships’. The song pays tribute to the migrants who lost their lives in the Mediterranean; gently but powerfully urging us to take action on environmental and humanitarian issues before we find ourselves lost ships on an empty sea.
The trio accompanying Duni is not of a typical alignment. It has two chordal instruments and the pianist doubles on drums. Then there is the flugelhorn. Such sensitive players all. And Luft is on every track and he is a powerful presence without being overt. It is his astonishing voicings and delicately placed runs; none intruding on the vocalist but never-the-less conveying a quiet strength by exploiting timbre and speaking whisper-soft. This was a perfect match and I am not surprised that ECM picked them up.
The last time I encountered Luft, was at Ronnie Scotts, playing a gig with Kit Downes, and it was there that he told me of this ECM project. At the time I had not heard of Duni, but a few months later and back in New Zealand, I posted enthusiastically on the Norwegian avant-garde vocalist Sidsel Endresen. Luft messaged me immediately to say that there was a connection between Duni and Endresen. Intrigued, I kept an eye out for the album, and then the pandemic hit.
I was determined to grab a copy, a real copy, complete with brooding artwork and an outer sleeve. ECM has the imprint of artistic integrity and I avoid listening to any ECM recording in a compressed format if I can. I badly wanted to hear the album, but I waited. I was informed that it could take two months due to pandemic shipping delays, but it took much longer. It finally arrived as winter approached and I took it out of the letterbox as dusk fell. I put it on as darkness fell and let the sounds wash over me. I loved it from the first note. It had been my lost ship, and now it was found.
Lost Ships: Elena Duni (vocals, compositions), Rob Luft (guitar, compositions), Fred Thomas (piano, drums), Matthieu Michael (flugelhorn).
JazzLocal32.com is rated as one of the 50 best Jazz Blogs in the world by Feedspot. The author is a professional member of the Jazz Journalists Association, poet & writer.Some of these posts appear on related sites.
Mireya Ramos was an unexpected musical treat because our borders, with very few exceptions, have been long closed to all but Kiwi returnees (and most recently Australian tourists). Ramos is from New York. Very few international musicians have managed to cross the border, and only if they obtained an exemption and subjected themselves to a strict quarantine.
With the Australian Bubble just opened I assumed that Ramos must have come from Australia, but in fact, she arrived here with her acclaimed Flor de Toloache all-female Mariachi styled band to perform at WOMAD 2020. Within days of arrival, the borders had closed behind her. For many pre-lockdown international visitors, the border closure proved to be a silver lining as visas were extended and they could avoid the horrors unfolding elsewhere in the world.
Mireya Ramos is a multi Grammy-nominated (and winning) artist and although the rest of her all-female mariachi band members returned home, she and her partner Andy Averbuch did what creatives do best, they got busy. During the year she has recorded and toured the country and her gigs have attracted enthusiastic audiences everywhere. Her CJC gig featured a variety of Latin and Central American styles with the addition of popular standards.
Her music draws on many genres, but all coloured by a stylistic uniqueness. She is both a vocalist and a violinist and that appealed as well. The violin is not unknown in improvised music, but sadly it is still uncommon. I am fond of the violin in Jazz and Jazz fusion styles and particularly so with Argentinean music.
Listening Jazz audiences are always eager to hear traditional and blended South American music. A good example was the version of ‘Fever’ which morphed into an Afro-Cuban groove. Of all the tunes, that appealed to me the most. It is not often that we get to hear the many and varied Latin styles and whenever we do, we are left wanting more.
Guitarist Andy Averbuch and Bass player Alex Griffith had opportunities to stretch out during solos and they made the most of that, but when Dr Mark Baynes and Lance Bentley locked into a Clave, the magic happened. Ramos has been received enthusiastically in New Zealand and after the pandemic recedes, I am sure that she will be encouraged to return. The band: Mireya Ramos (vocals @ violin), Andy Averbuch (guitar), Dr Mark Baynes (piano, keys), Alex Griffith (bass), Lance Bently (drums).
JazzLocal32.com was rated as one of the 50 best Jazz Blogs in the world by Feedspot. The author is a professional member of the Jazz Journalists Association, poet & writer.Some of these posts appear on related sites.
It’s impossible to over-estimate the influence that the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) has had on the Auckland and wider New Zealand Jazz scene. For those unfamiliar with its history, the club was set up over a decade ago, as a place to bring original improvised music to discriminating listening audiences. A secondary function was to ensure that emerging artists were given a shot on select gig nights. Last week brought two bands, the Ben Frater Band and the Rachel Clarke band.
Frater is an undergraduate at the UoA Jazz School and for an emerging performer, his drum-work shows surprising maturity. In common with many up-and-coming performers, his approach is not confined to any particular style and this openness has informed his approach. The gig was billed as swing influenced, but leaning towards fusion, and the descriptor was accurate. Frater is a compelling drummer and he will further enrich the local scene.
The leader enrolled former and current students for this gig and in consequence, a shared vision was evident. CJC audiences are by now quite familiar with guitarist Michael Gianan and with keyboard wiz Joe Kaptein; both have featured often during the last year. The other band members were Jimmy Olsen on electric bass, Andrew Isdale on tenor saxophone and Jack Thirtle on trumpet.
Olson was a powerhouse with those urgent pumping bass-lines; the sounds of Jazz-fusion deserve slippery grooves like that. And Kaptein impressed as he always does, his calm demeanour belying what was flowing from his fingertips. He backed into the pieces like a pro and established grooves on top of grooves; then he reached underneath the bonnet and messed with the sound in a good way.
The groove tunes took a bold step in the direction of improvised Jazz electronica; the direction of Eivind Aaset in particular. I hope that Frater takes us further down that road. It has until now been a Nordic sound and it is extremely popular in the northern regions. This band gave it a Kiwi flavour, and I for one am ready for more. I have posted a clip titled ‘Montgomery’ (Frater).
The second set brought us, vocalist, Rachel Clarke’s band. Clarke had assembled some formidable firepower. Ben Frater and Jimmy Olsen were present again, Gretel Donnelly and Chelsea Prastiti as backing vocalists, Nathan Haines on flute, Alex Pies on guitar and Ron Samsom on percussion. Clarke is a recent graduate from the UoA Jazz Programme and I first heard her when she was called on at short notice to replace Caitlin Smith at a live gig, just days before the first lockdown.
All of the tunes in Clarke’s set had a Latin flavour and more specifically, a Portuguese flavour. Many of the tunes were sung in Portuguese. Again, it is a credit to the Auckland University Jazz School that they nurture such diversity within their programme structure. Out of this diversity, an Auckland sound is being forged.
It can be daunting to find yourself in front of a large discriminating Jazz audience, but Clarke demonstrated her ability to win an audience over. She has a fine voice and she mastered the rhythmic complexities of her Latin tunes with ease. Alex Pipes also nailed the rhythms, with Olsen, Samsom and Frater adding counter pulse and texture. Nathan Haines provided perfect fills and a gorgeous solo or two. His Latin Flute chops are legendary.
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.
The pandemic hasn’t stopped the music, and while it is true that the clubs, bars and concert halls are placed out of reach for many, music has the qualities of water. It will flow through the cracks until it has found its own level. The recent Kiwi lockdown was mercifully short, and in random and serendipitous ways new music found me. As always, I was happy when it did. Below are three very different albums – check them out.
Early Risers ~ John Scurry’s Reverse Swing
During our recent lockdown I received an album in the post from Lionsharecords. The album, ‘Early Risers’ is John Scurry’s Reverse Swing ensemble, his second such release. Scurry’s earlier Reverse Swing album ‘Post Matinee’ was showered with praise, with one American reviewer describing it as ‘Ellingtonian’. The 2020 album has 19 original tunes spread over two CD’s and we are invited to view each volume as distinct but complementary.
Having recently travelled to New Orleans, I detected those influences in this band immediately. When you spend any time in NOLA, you realise that that city’s influences are very broad indeed. Everything from swing to soulful gator-funk, from Sun Ra to the various free jazz offshoots. It is a living, breathing up to the minute music and one with its own flavour. So it is with ‘Early Risers’, and with this album there are also a multiplicity of rich local influences.
I loved the album for its warmth and approachability. It is instantly engaging, but this is not a nostalgic romp. There is real depth here and many treasures are revealed to the deep listener. The interplay between the musicians is simply stunning and their time feel beyond caveat. Track one on the first album is my favourite and while comparisons can be odious, this gave me the same feeling as I had when first hearing the Cy Touff Octet & Quintet album. Perhaps there is even a hint of ‘West Coast’ as well – Sheldon ?
There are many moods and whether a gentle ballad or a hotter number, all contribute uniquely to the whole. Underpinning each number are the quiet urgings of leader John Scurry’s guitar. We hear swing style guitar infrequently these days and more’s the pity. The tunes here were all penned by Scurry and he is also the co-arranger and producer. He has been a popular feature of the Australian scene for many years and I wonder what took him so long to launch this particular project. to listen go to Early Risers Lionsharecords
The other arranger (and horn arranger) is trumpeter Eugene Ball. Ball is another veteran of the Melbourne scene and a Bell award winner. I associate him with the moderism of Andrea Keller. Here you are overwhelmed by the richness of his sound. His tone production is often reminiscent of the latter-day swing trumpeters like Harry Sweets’ Edison and Henry ‘Red’ Alan.
I have also encountered James McCauley, and again I associate him with Keller. He is perfect in these very different rolls. The band members here are John Scurry (guitar, arrangements), Eugene Ball (trumpet, arrangements), Brennan Hamilton-Smith (clarinet), Stephen Grant (alto sax), Matt Boden (piano) Howard Cairns (bass), Danny Fischer (drums), + Sam Keevers (piano). The textures, tunes and uncanny interplay render this a terrific album. It may have its roots in traditional swing, but I defy anyone, whatever their taste in jazz, not to love this. It is released on Julien Wilson’s lionsharecords.com and on bandcamp. All art-work by John Scurry.
Wax///Wane ~ Lucien Johnson
Wax///Wane was released over summer and I’ve just caught up with it. I am always keen to check out gigs or albums featuring Lucien Johnson, so I downloaded it on Bandcamp. There was no information about the band or the recording on the album page, but my ears began to fill in the gaps. John Bell had to be the vibes player, surely it was him (an online search confirmed that)? Few south of the equator punch out modal grooves quite as convincingly as Bell. Of the remaining four musicians, two were known to me and two not. Michelle Velvin was on harp, Tom Callwood on upright bass, Cory Champion on drums and Riki Piripi on percussion (listed under the undividual tks).
The album features six compositions and each of these has an evanescent quality. They hint at places we think we might know, but can’t quite remember. Blue Rain, Forest Rendezvous, and Rubicon appear as if in a dream and as with the missing liner notes, we are encouraged to fill in the gaps with our imagination.
Johnson has chosen his bandmates well. Bell and Callwood are genre defying and have open-ears, and as with Johnson are well immersed in the freer regions of improvised music. I have seen Cory Champion several times, but never heard him in this context; very impressive. Adding a harp player and percussionist added texture in finely hued layers, and this gave the album that delightful Alice Coltrane feel. It’s great to see the harp revived as an improvisers instrument and especially with the vibes. They could get in each others way, but in skilled hands this is avoided and a shimmering pulse arises to good effect.
Johnson is a musician we most often associate with the Wellington scene, but these days he is perhaps better termed an international musician. Like all modern saxophonists, there is a foundation of Coltrane in his sound. There is also an airy freedom. Here, he has curated a groove fest. The sort of grooves that Bobby Hutcherson, Alice and John Coltrane, Julian Priester and others explored. It is what might be loosely termed spiritual Jazz. Music defying the mundane, an invitation to a better place where gravity is abandoned. In times like this we need music, and actually, we need more music like this. Music that stimulates the imagination and doesn’t preach. The playing here is superb but don’t over think the experience, sink into it and enjoy the trip. The cover-art is by Julien Dyne. Available on Bandcamp Lucienjohnson.bandcamp.com
Alan Broadbent/Georgia Mancio ~ ‘Quiet is the Star’
Alan Broadbent has an unerring ear for melody and this is in part, why he makes such a sensitive accompanist. While his albums can really swing, they also take direct aim at the heart. An astonishing technical mastery is evident but it is never allowed to obscure the essence of a tune. To put it more simply, he connects us to real emotions and to human life with its manifest joys and frailties. There are innumerable facets to his long and formidable career and none should be overlooked.
Most recently, he released ‘Trio in Motion’ his second album with bassist Harvie S and drummer Billie Mintz. And if you haven’t done so before now, check out his discography, a body of work that astounds; critically acclaimed albums, two Grammys and so it goes. The man is a legend.
‘Quiet is the Star’ is the second album from the Broadbent/Mancio duo. Their last album’ Songbook’ aired in 2017 and it was pure delight; this new release is a welcome follow up. Georgia Mancio is a London-based award-winning vocalist and lyricist and the pairing has reaped dividends. They have performed together since 2013 and toured Europe and elsewhere to acclaim.
Mancio has a lovely voice and she uses it to great effect, her emphasis though is on breathing life into her lyrics. The stories she reveals are intimate and she invites the listener to share in these experiences. While all good duos are conversational, here we are invited in on the conversation and it is a privilege. Released by Roomspin Records 27 March. Cover artwork Simon Manfield.
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.some of these posts also appear in other music sites. When purchasing, please support the Bandcamp platform whenever possible. Respect musicians rights.
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.
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.
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.
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 O’Connor (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.
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/
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.
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.
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.
I 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
As Wednesday nights at the new Anthology venue move into high gear, a tried and trusted CJC programming philosophy remains constant. To provide a quality venue for local and international musicians to showcase their original projects, and to provide a performance space that up and comers can aspire to. As before, two or three gig slots are kept for emerging artists, and this year those slots have expanded to include Wellingtonian and Christchurch improvisers. Performing on Wednesday were Wellington musicians Frank Talbot and Ella Dunbar-Wilcox. Both sets had the same rhythm section; pianist Kevin Field, Bassist Cam McArthur, and drummer Adam Tobeck.
First up was Frank Talbot. A tall tenor player with a clean tone and nimble articulation. Talbot is a recent graduate of the New Zealand School of Music and he is currently completing his honours degree. New Zealand produces many good tenor players and judging by Talbot’s confident performance on Wednesday, he will go from strength to strength. He is certainly making all of the right moves and testing himself in varied situations, so he will certainly be one to watch.On his setlist, there were all originals and I have posted his interesting tune ‘Inquisition’. I also liked ‘Intervalic’ and a moving tune (which I heard as) ‘Steak and kidney pies, no goodbyes’. The latter was dedicated to his mother who is going through very tough times health wise. A nice heart-felt tribute.
The second set featured Ella Dunbar-Wilcox. A vocalist in her third year of studies (also at the New Zealand School of Music). Her performance showed considerable maturity as she tackled some challenging arrangements and tunes. Not many emerging vocalists would tackle the more upbeat Coltrane tunes or a tricky stop-start McLorin Salvant arrangement. She navigated these charts with ease. I also liked the balance in her set list which provided us with pleasing contrasts. The cheerful, upbeat (and rarely heard) Bobby Timmons number ‘That There’. This followed her own ballad ‘Lonely Eyes’. Then there was ‘Night Hawks’, a reference to the Edward Hopper painting and capturing perfectly that sense of isolation and ennui.I have put up her interpretation of ‘I didn’t know what time it was’.
Engaging a quality local rhythm section for both sets was a sensible move. Field, McArthur, and Tobeck are adept accompanists and used to working with unfamiliar musicians. And more importantly, all have worked extensively with vocalists. This draws upon very different skills and in this regard especially, Field is superb.
Frank Talbot (tenor saxophone)
Ella Dunbar-Wilcox (vocals)
Rhythm Section: Kevin Field (piano), Cameron McArthur (upright bass), Adam Tobeck (drums) The gig was for the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) @ Anthology, K’Road, Auckland, 3 July 2019
Australia produces some fine vocal talents and Kate Wadey certainly fits that category.Her relative youth is contrasted by a stylistic maturity and when she sings you are transported. She has a way of engaging an audience and of personalising a story. It is a communicated sincerity, a something of herself that hangs in the air as the notes fall. She makes it look easy, but I doubt that mere happenstance lies behind her skilled delivery. It was the little things that caught my attention; the flashed smile during a lyrical punch line as if inviting you to share in a hidden aside. The way she moved from coy to world-weary in an instant – changing the pronunciation of certain vowels or consonants to good effect – and occasionally leaning back on a word.Holding it just long enough for its import to hit home.
Many vocalists sing ‘The Great American Songbook’ but with such universally loved and familiar tunes, choices must be made with care.Picking a few favourites and belting them out will only set you among the pack. To add distinction a fresh interpretation is needed. These days that means a reharmonisation or taking an angular approach to the tune. There is another way, however. Make the tunes your own while still approaching them in a traditional way. This is where superior storytelling skills and subtle vocal mannerisms come into play. The ability to inject freshness while referencing the best of what has gone before. She did this, not by mimicking the greats but by communicating the essence of what made those versions timeless.
As if to underscore this I found myself thinking of Anita O’Day and June Christy. It’s not that Wadey sounded like either, but there they were, living inside her delivery.That flash of vulnerability in a sideways glance, the vibrato-less hard hitting clean tone, The sass, the time feel, the supreme confidence – it is hard to put into words but it was all there without being overt.
The other strength was the way the setlist was put together.Both sets were opened with guitarist Peter Koopman playing instrumental originals. A good warm-up for what was to follow, Wadey launching into a spirited ‘East of the Sun, (and West of the Moon)’ or the lesser known standard, ‘There’s a Lull in my Life’, which was lush and beautiful. After that a composition of her own ‘The Moon Song’ – followed by a stunning rendition of ‘The Song is You’.It could be risky to perch such beautiful standards on each side of an original but the standards were as much enhanced by ‘The Moon Song’ as the converse.The last song in the first set, while from the ‘Songbook’, is seldom sung. What a great tune it is; ‘Nobody Else But Me’ (Kern/Hammerstein), and how clever to eliminate verses from the original. In doing this the song was modernised and brought into line with modern sensibilities without needing to change a word.She also achieved this in the second set with ‘Sweet Loraine’ – singing it woman to woman – earlier referencing the belated passing of the same-sex marriage legislation in her country.
On tour with her, was expat New Zealander Peter Koopman and it was good to see him in this role. Koopman is popular here and although we have seen him in many guises, never as vocal accompanist. With a musician as accomplished as this, it is a good test to see how they perform in a supportive role. Koopman was superb – never once making it about him and giving the vocalist exactly what she needed – pushing when required of him and fitting gorgeous chords neatly beneath the lyrics.On bass was Sydney musician Samuel Dobson, alternating between standard playing and arco to good effect, a long time musical associate of Wadey’s.Local musician Stephen Thomas was on drums and as superb as always. A duo number featured Wadey and Thomas doing ‘Goody, Goody’ (Maineck/Mercer) was a treat.I will put that up on YouTube shortly – I have posted a cut of ‘Nobody Else But Me’ with this post.There are a number of very good YouTube clips of Wadey but I highly recommend that you purchase her albums.‘Moon Songs’ & ‘A Hundred Years From Today’.
Wadey (vocals, compositions), Peter Koopman (guitar), Samuel Dobson (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums). The gig was at Backbeat for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, 24 April 2019Kate Wadey
Lou’ana is a vocalist on route to wider recognition. During the last few years she has been performing at festivals throughout the country and she is billed to appear at the Waiheke Jazz Festival this month.He vocal style has general appeal as it blends elements of Jazz, Soul, and Funk. Her smokey nasal intonation and back on the beat phrasing carry echoes of Amy Winehouse.Out of this brew comes a sound that is recognisably her own and it is refreshing to see how comfortable she is with that. At the CJC gig, an opener for her tour, she had wisely chosen the material which favoured her preferred register, rather than trying to dazzle with pointless pyrotechnics. In her case, vocal-gymnastics would be quite superfluous as her well-chosen phrasing and smouldering delivery give her plenty to tell a story with.
The first set was mostly her favourite standards; often songs that she had heard as a child when her musical family played them for her (e.g. ’Just Squeeze Me’). Her approach to Autumn leaves was particularly interesting as she sang it in Samoan – the challenge being, that there is no Samoan word for Autumn. Her linguistic translation flowed beautifully and the essence of the tune transcended all mere words.I know that her biggest audience lies elsewhere, but I hope that she will keep working on these Jazz tunes. A smokey voice and a Jazz standard belong together. During the first set, she was accompanied on piano by special guest Kevin Field (and for the last number of that set joined by her regular guitarist Jason Herbert).Field is arguably New Zealand’s premier Jazz piano accompanist and I could detect his arranging skills in at least one piece.
The second set contrasted the first as it featured a funkier, rockier selection. These are the tunes that undoubtedly please her wider audience. In spite of that, they also pleased her Jazz audience. Who can resist a Hendrix number done well? Especially when the vocalist slams out the opening bars on guitar before giving us a Janis Joplin like rendering of the tune. Who can resist a homespun ‘viper’ song with its Waller like lyrics or a soulful funk number accompanied by soaring guitar, organ and gut-punchy bass lines?Her bass player was the ever popular Cam McArthur, who switched from upright to electric bass for the second set. Both sets featured drummer Cam Sangster – a versatile drummer, equally at home in the popular funk, Indie rock, and Jazz worlds.
Her first set was great but she visibly relaxed into the music during her second set. Perhaps because of the familiar material and because she had her regular keyboards player and guitarist with her.These two players, along with Sangster have been alongside her for much of the journey. On keyboards and organ was Dillon Rhodes and with more than a hint of the rock god, Jason Herbert on guitar. Together they had a great sound and one that I suspect will endure over time. The audience however never took their eyes off Lou’ana. She has an allure, and her charm on stage will serve her well as she gains wider recognition.
Lou’ana (vocals, compositions), Kevin Field (piano), Cam McArthur (electric & upright bass), Cam Sangster (drums), Dillon Rhodes (keys & organ), Jason Herbert (guitars),The gig was at the CJC Creative Jazz Club, Backbeat, Auckland, 27 March 2019
When the Soulful vocalist Vivian Sessoms visited in June last year, we were stunned by her voice and by her powerhouse delivery. We seldom get to experience American R & B styled vocalists in New Zealand and if we do we never see them in intimate settings like the Backbeat Bar. Her voice carries the history of her music and her vocal range and control are approaching the operatic. Sessoms is a vocalist with serious chops and an interesting backstory. Last week she returned.
Since her last visit, she has released a Soul/Jazz album titled ‘Life’. The album is receiving favorable attention and it is not surprising that she has been picked up by the Ropeadope recording label. During her two Auckland gigs, she performed a number of tunes from the album; including a few that were recorded at the same time and will likely appear on a future release. The first set opened with her take on the Stevie Wonder classic ‘I can’t help it’. This was pure R & B, but the set swiftly dived into bold reharmonisations of Jazz standards plus one or two pop tunes (‘Love is a losing game’ – Amy Winehouse and ‘Under the Cherry Moon’ – Prince).
The Standards in that set were the lovely ‘Stella by Starlight’ (Victor Young), ‘Lush Life (Billy Strayhorn) and ‘The Waters of March’ (Tom Jobim). All of the above were reharmonised and made fresh. ‘Lush Life’ conveyed that sad world-weary vibe that Strayhorn penned so well and ‘The Waters of March’ (Aguas de Marco) was sung in English. Jobim wrote both the Portuguese and the English lyrics and the song is a masterpiece. Sessoms infused it with a subtlety reflecting modern American life. When she came to the line ‘the shot of a gun, in the dead of the night’ you picked that up immediately and understood her message.
Sessoms is an activist for civil rights and this thread runs through all of her shows (and the ‘Life’ album). Last time she came to New Zealand it was her ‘I can’t breathe’ number – this time it was her take on ‘People (make the world go round)’, a tune made popular by the Stylistics (composed by Thom Bell + Linda Creed). Before the tune, she spoke a little of her life growing up in Harlem and how normalised that daily struggle was to African-American people at that time. This tune in her hands was a plea for people to do better and to fight on until equality is a reality, not just a distant hope. An interesting song choice which got the Sessoms treatment was ‘I who have nothing’. We associate it with Shirley Bassey or Joe Cocker but long before that Ben E King released it. Actually, it is an old Italian song titled ‘Uno Dei Tanti’ (by Carlo Denida).
This time Sessoms had her husband Chris Parks touring with her. Parks is a well-known bassist and producer on the New York scene and on the album, he is co-credited in all of the arrangements. Parks played a punchy electric bass, Jonathan Crayford and Ron Samsom were the band members for this gig, Crayford having accompanied her convincingly last time she came.
The album is widely available and I have included a Spotify clip from ‘Life’. Her take on Strange Fruit is the standout for me. A harrowing song based on the poem by Abel Meeropol and made famous by Billie Holiday. In light of recent comments made during the US primaries and on the banners of the Alt-Right, these issues are scandalously still with us. I have also put up a clip from the gig – ‘Waters of March’ (the sound quality is quite good but the glare of the spotlights affected the focus slightly in places).
Life Tour: Vivian Sessoms (vocals), Chris Parks (electric bass), Jonathan Crayford (keys), Ron Samsom (drums) – Backbeat Bar for the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 22nd November 2018).
Whenever a young and talented vocal improviser appears on the scene, it piques the interest of Jazz lovers and beyond. Lauren Nottingham fits this bill perfectly and she is definitely someone we should take notice of. She is bound to have an upwards career trajectory over the coming years and with the talented pianist Mark Donlon as a collaborator, this is all the more assured. She has previously toured as co-leader with Donlon, but this time she stepped out as sole leader.
The setlist was a mixture of original compositions and reharmonized standards from well outside of the Jazz songbook; David Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Stole The World’ and The Beatles ‘Lady Madonna’ (McCartney). Both of the latter went down well. There were also a number of compositions by a singer-songwriter Matt Sagen and above all Nottingham’s own offerings. We also heard a tune by her drummer and one by Donlon. Her satirical ‘You can’t spell triumph without Trump’ and ‘Who you are’ felt personal while the composition ‘On a rooftop in China’, composed by drummer Dexter Stanley-Tauvao had a delightfully swinging feel to it. I have posted Donlon’s tune titled ‘Sarabande’ (Nottingham wrote the lyrics for this). This was a nice band all round with tasteful playing from Beernink and Stanley-Tauvao.
Nottingham began singing publically at around the age of fourteen and before long she was singing in the National Youth Choir. She always had an interest in Jazz and in her senior year won a competition run by the NZSM. Later she completed a Jazz Studies degree with the NZSM. Following that she spent a year in Berlin, where according to her bio, she worked in a Jazz bar and did a lot of listening. For any developing artist, moving out of their comfort zone is important as academic learning is only a starting point; character and authenticity arise from life experience. The harder won and the greater the risks the better the stories. Nottingham through composition and her vocal interpretations has tales to tell us and her original approach is already evident.
Some time ago I heard a different tune by Donlon also titled ‘Sarabande’. I particularly love this latter one, as in Nottingham’s hands, the tune conveys a crystalline and even a lachrymose quality – entirely fitting for the wistful sarabande; that slow dance beloved of Baroque composers and with ancient Spanish origins. My only complaint about the gig – I hope that we get more wordless vocalising next time – we love her doing this (ref. her work with Mark Donlon’s Shadowbird Quartet).
The Band: Lauren Nottingham – leader, vocals, Mark Donlon – piano, Chris Beernink – bass, Dexter Stanley-Tauvao – drums. The gig took place at The Backbeat Bar for the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), November 14, 2018.
Julie Mason’s gap year gig came hot on the heels of my returning home from Northern Europe. Unlike Mason (who was in Europe for a year), I was only missing for two months but my fogged brain was telling me otherwise. As I headed for the CJC, using my windscreen wipers as indicators and constantly telling myself that driving on the left-hand side of the road was now acceptable, I congratulated myself. I was back into the rhythms of my normal life. This self-congratulatory phase was all too brief as I soon discovered that I had forgotten to charge the camera and the video batteries. A few hours later an unscheduled power outage occurred, making me wonder if that was caused by an oversight on my part. Luckily, none of the above spoiled an enjoyable gig.
The gig title ‘Julie’s Gap Year’ references two recent and significant events in Mason’s life. Firstly the year she spent in France with her partner Phil Broadhurst during which time she wrote some new material and reworked a few favourites. And secondly, it drew a line under some very tough years health-wise which occurred preceding the Paris sojourn. The latter is thankfully now behind her. At one point during the night, she played a solo piece which referenced her mental health struggles and every one was deeply moved by the honesty and raw beauty of it. Everything she played and spoke about she did with confidence and her skills as a vocalist, composer and pianist were all on display. This was the Mason of old and the audience was delighted.
Her rhythm section was Ron Samsom (drums) and Olivier Holland (bass). Her guests were Phil Broadhurst (piano), Roger Manins (saxophone), Maria O’Flaherty & Linn Lorkin (backing vocals) and for the last number a French accordionist. The night was not without its challenges though, as the power outage could have brought the gig to an abrupt close. Instead under Mason’s guidance, the band morphed seamlessly into an acoustic ensemble and played on in the darkness. Nothing of the previous mood dissipated during a half hour of darkness and when the club regained partial lighting the programme continued as if the whole thing had been planned.
This was a nice homecoming and In spite of passing through a number of wonderfully exotic places and experiencing interesting music on my travels, it was nice to be back home.
The gig took place at the Backbeat Bar, K’Road, 5 November 2018 – a CJC (Creative Jazz Club) event.
Chelsea Prastiti was not long back from Cyprus when her band Leda’s Dream appeared at the Backbeat Bar. Prastiti is well known in the Auckland improvised music scene and especially so at the avant-garde end of town. She’s a compelling vocalist and composer who approaches her craft as a free spirit, unfettered by others expectations. When she sings she dives deep and puts herself out there fearlessly but her risk-taking is not a mere academic exercise; it cuts to the very heart of what it means to be a thinking, feeling human. Her compositions are therefore always interesting and out of that a raw beauty and an honesty arise. Although the ensemble played material that we have heard before, they sounded incredibly fresh – even different. Crystal Choi confined herself to accompanying vocals (no keys), Michael Howell stepped further into a measured chordal role and Callum Passells on alto and voice effects was the archetypal minimalist (saying a lot more with less). This felt very right and the re-configuration gave the ensemble a lot more freedom. They stretched out as the spirit took them and the first two tunes filled the entire first set. The voices, in particular, were liberated by the change and this gave wings to the melodic lines and mood. The harmonies were there in spades but that was not what drew you in. It was ‘mood’ and the pictures that those moods created. Prastiti’s is a brave path and I would expect no less from her. This is a musical space that is sparsely populated and more’s the pity. Think Sera Serpa (duos or trios), Think Norma Winstone (Azimuth 85) or perhaps the brilliant Nordic vocalist Sidsel Endresen (Endresen live with Jan Bang). In this ensemble, she has the musicians to give her the freedom she deserves. Passells, who is unafraid of soft trailing notes or of minimalism, Howell who can follow a vamp to eternity and make it sing, Choi who instinctively makes the right moves, and Eamon Edmundson-Wells and Tristen Deck who know when to lay out and when to add colour or texture. The music drew from free improvisation, standard Jazz and deep Folkloric wells. It did so without undue introspection. The band brought the audience along with them and the bouts of enthusiastic applause proved it. For some reason, and it was partly their attire, the gig felt like a postmodern version of a Pre-Raphaelite tableau. Oh yes indeed, that always works for me.
Leda’s Dream: Chelsea Prastiti (vocals, compositions), Crystal Choi (vocals), Michael Howell (guitar), Callum Passells (alto sax, sound effects), Eamon Edmundson-Wells (upright bass), Tristan Deck (drums), Backbeat Bar, 8 August 2018
So many great improvising artists gig on our New Zealand and Australian club circuits that we could easily become complacent and we shouldn’t be. This golden age for hearing hi-quality live Jazz is the result of hard work behind the scenes, and a dedicated few, mostly volunteers, make this happen for us. They deserve our thanks and above all, they deserve our commitment to the cause of live music. This year and last year were especially interesting at the CJC, as the breadth and quality of the music hit new highs. What the performing artists put into these tours or gigs is beyond estimation – but we, the audiences are lucky; all we have to do is climb out of our chairs, throw on a coat (yes it is cold out but warm as toast in the venues) and experience the magic.
For the second time in less than a month, we had a pre-eminent and award-winning Australian vocalist in our city, Michelle Nicolle. A quick perusal of her YouTube clips or pages is quite enough to reel you in; experiencing her quartet live is a great Jazz experience. Nicolle has a big voice and a voice with an astonishing vocal range. In spite of that, she is remarkably expressive, even at a whisper. Her quartet has a long history together and because of that, the accompanying musicians know how to react to the vocalists every nuance. Good accompanists know when to hold back and when to answer a phrase and they did. They gifted the tunes a spaciousness, allowing the notes or phrases to breathe and their good judgement caused the lyrics to flow with ease.
The setlist was a mix of originals and standards, many of the standards being Ellington or Strayhorn tunes. Her own compositions although different in flavour were a bridge between past and present, updating the sentiments that Strayhorn often expressed, but dressing them in modern clothing. ‘Drop that smile’ being a good example. There was a very tasteful interpretation of Cole Porters ‘So in Love’ and a great rendition of Ornette Coleman’s ‘The blessing’, but as good as those tunes were, it was her Strayhorn that captivated.
On guitar was the impeccable vocal accompanist Geoff Hughes (reputed to be an expat Kiwi), on upright bass was Tom Lee and on drums Ronny Ferella. No wonder the quartet received a Bell Award in 2017. The clip is ‘The Days of Wine & Roses’ from an earlier MNQ tour and possibly with a different guitarist.
The concert occurred during the days immediately proceeding the Wellington International Jazz festival and it was cold and wet outside. In spite of that, those who were still in town wrapped up and made their way to the Backbeat Bar and everyone who braved the cold was very glad that they did.
MNQ: Michelle Nicolle (vocals, composition), Geoff Hughes (guitar), Tom Lee (bass), Ronny Ferella (drums). The gig took place at the Backbeat Bar, K’Road, Auckland, for the CJC Creative Jazz Club. June 06, 2018.
When Kristin Berardi, Sean Foran and Raphael Karlen started to play I knew exactly what I was hearing. It was modern and original and it rekindled fond memories of the Winstone/Wheeler/Taylor group Azimuth. A world of beautifully crafted harmonies communicating their message with effortless clarity; the individual voices of the musicians hovering in the air like free spirits but interconnecting in profound ways. There was also a contemplative essence to their music which took us deep inside the music, a quiet centre that emanated strength and vibrancy. This fine balance of opposites was evident throughout – it was a performance to remember for its soul touching beauty.
This was the band’s first stop on a whirlwind tour of New Zealand and as soon as the weather gods realised that Queenslanders were approaching they behaved capriciously. As Brisbaneites, imagine the shock of leaving 24-degree temperatures, only to be greeted in Auckland by an unseasonable 13 degrees. Berardi told us that her under-utilised ‘warm coat’ was finally getting an outing. The temperature shock certainly didn’t hold the trio back, and those who braved the wet and cold were well rewarded for their perseverance.
Berardi, Foran and Karlen are well-respected musicians in their own right. All are well recorded and between them, they have many significant music awards. This project is their first collaboration as a trio and their recent album titled ‘Hope in your pocket’ was available at the gig. That album has a particular theme as it captures the dislocation and poignancy of Australian family life during WW1: a mothers letter to a 15-year son who had enlisted far too young, a soldier struggling to comprehend the wasteland of the European battlefields, a nurses story, a family holding fast to hope.
Many of the tunes were based on actual letters written at the time. All of them moving and all disquietening. Perhaps to leaven the mood, a few older or more recent compositions featured. For example, the first number of the first set, Berardi’s ‘Revolving Doors’. I have posted that clip here as it was simply stunning. Later when talking to the pianist Foran I mention Azimuth and he acknowledged the trios debt to that music. He was once a pupil of the lost lamented John Taylor and very familiar with the northern European Jazz scene. Foran is a gifted educator and a pianist with a beautifully light touch. He has interesting things to say musically and his minimalism is exactly right for this trio.
The vocalist Berardi is highly regarded in Australia. Among her successes are two Bell awards and the best vocalist award at Montreux. On a subsequent Montreux visit, she accompanied Al Jarreau and George Benson. She also completed a project with the inimitable Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra. The saxophonist Raphael Karlen is another gifted musician – also the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships. Together they are formidable. For those in Wellington or Christchurch about to attend the gigs, savour it. For those who are tossing up whether to go – make the effort. You won’t regret it.
Kristin Berardi (compositions, vocals), Sean Foran (compositions, piano), Raphael Karlen (compositions, tenor saxophone). The performance was at the Backbeat Bar, CJC Creative Jazz Club, May 23rd, 2018.
The heart of the modern improvised and experimental music scene is always an interesting place to be. Audiences tend to be open-eared and accustomed to music from a wide variety of sources. Improvising musicians have always drawn on diverse influences and it is a narrow-minded few who whine about dilution or the good old days. We should never undercut the deeper purpose of music, which is to share stories, communicate on a primal level, interpret. We tell stories to live and how we listen or react to music speaks to our musical maturity. When Simona Minns performed in Auckland last week, she brought with her a variety of influences. and all were approached with integrity.
She is billed as a Jazz Singer, composer, arranger and artistic director, and she is unafraid to mash up or blend genres. All of the above descriptors were on show when she performed at the Backbeat Bar and everything she did, communicated an innate sense of fun and adventure. She is a natural performer, but behind that lies careful preparation. Her easy-going confidence disarms, but it arises out of hard work and commitment. A good example of the care she brings to her art lies in her charts. The musicians all commented on how beautifully they were crafted and judging by the solo’s, they were not constrained by them. We heard Jazz standards, old Lithuanian folk songs, tunes from her musical ‘A Hunger Artist’ and some jazz-mashed classic rock. The audience loved it all and got the musical jokes embedded therein. The fact that she was cleverly comedic in her introductions, enhanced the overall effect.
I first read Franz Kafka as a 14-year-old, and once read, his tales cannot easily be forgotten. They are dystopian and thus disturbing, but a mature reading reveals clever questions, posed for our consideration. Kafka’s ‘A Hunger Artist’ is just such a tale – disturbing, yet raising important issues for all times. Issues which cut to the heart of performance art itself.
The tunes from Minns musical were delightful, and the fact that she could frame them without overdoing the pathos reminded us of the deeper questions posed. Her choice of standards appeared commonplace until you heard them and then they took on a life of their own. All were either re-harmonised or arranged in unique ways. As if to underline this point of difference she created mash-ups from them – blending classic rock and Jazz; often dancing as she delivered her lively performances.
She had a very fine Jazz unit backing her – a truly superb band and ideal for the task. Alan Brown on keyboards, Cameron McArthur on bass and Stephen Thomas on drums. She also played a classic Lithuanian harp (the Kanklas). While it is a small instrument, it is capable of producing extraordinary melancholic sounds. The sort you hear throughout the eastern block (and even down as far as Turkey or Greece). My favourite number was her mash-up of Gershwin’s Summertime. The band really broke loose on that number and the effects were electrifying. An Alan Brown band in full flight is a wonder to behold indeed.
Simona Minns was born in Lithuania where she obtained a music degree, later moving to Berklee (Boston, USA) where she obtained a degree in composition. She also founded ‘Syntheatre’ a performance company in Boston. Her albums can be sourced from her website or from iTunes or the various streaming platforms. Her website is simonaminns.com The Performance was at the Backbeat Bar in K’Road and presented by the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) and the Auckland Fringe Festival on Tuesday 20, February 2018.
I have posted a short clip of her performing a song from the Kafka inspired ‘A Hunger Artist’ – where she plays the Kanklas.
New Zealand is an incubator of creative spirits and many of the best are hidden in plain sight. They deserve better attention but we fail to notice them because the soulless dazzle of consumerism obscures our sight lines. Last week Richard Hammond, an important New York bass player flew into Auckland and a lucky few got to hear him play live. Hammond is a legend in music circles, but many who are familiar with his work don’t realise that he is an ex-pat New Zealander; raised in the North Kaipara region and establishing himself on the New Zealand music scene while still at high school. Later he won a scholarship to attend the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston. After moving to New York he studied at the Manhattan School of Music where he completed a Masters. Hammond has toured with many significant artists; he gigs regularly in New York clubs, works in Broadway shows and is a first call bass player in the recording studios.
When I learned that he would be recording in Auckland, I made sure that I had an invitation to the recording session. My head was still spinning after a crazy two weeks in Australia, but I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to hear him play. The recording session took place at the UoA School of Music in Shortland Street, where Maggie Gould was laying down a few cuts for an album. On this session, Hammond played upright bass, extracting a beautifully rounded tone from a ‘seen better days’ borrowed instrument; living proof that good musicians sound good on any old instrument. Recording sessions are not concerts, but they are never the less fascinating places for those beguiled by the process of music making. What strikes me on a good recording session is the heightened collaborative element; the way an artist gives without invading another’s space, and all of this in slow motion as they mull over playbacks. I positioned myself behind Hammond (who was well baffled) and I watched, listened and photographed between takes. Photography in a studio or a rehearsal is generally easier than at a gig.
The CJC, sensing an opportunity and knowing that they had only a few days, organised a special one-off Richard Hammond gig and billed it as an all-star event. The programming fell to keys player Kevin Field. Field playing Rhodes, Ron Samsom on drums, Nathan Haines and Roger Manins on saxophones and Marjan on vocals. Hammond alternated between upright bass and electric bass and he wowed us on both instruments. On upright bass, he has a tone to die for; one that only the best bass players locate; on electric bass his lines bite, speaking the language of Jaco or Richard Bona.
The tunes were mostly Field’s and Haines, but it was also a pleasure to hear Marjan’s evocative Desert Remains performed again. Every time she sings her vocal and compositional strengths astound listeners. She gains fans every time she steps up to the microphone. The gig was held at the Backbeat Bar in K’Rd, the venue packed to capacity. The musicians were all in excellent form; clearly feeding on the shouts of encouragement from an enthusiastic audience. First up was Haines, who goes back with Hammond at least 20 years – Hammond appearing on Haines first album ‘Shift Left’. You could sense the old chemistry being rekindled as they played. I also enjoyed Manins playing, especially on one of the Field tunes. Perhaps because they hit their stride so early, and made it look such fun, it was the trio of Hammond, Field and Samsom that will stick in my mind. These cats talk music in the dialect of joy. In this troubled world, we need a lot of that.
Richard Hammond: (upright and electric bass)
The All Stars: Kevin Field (Fender Rhodes), Nathan Haines (Tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Marjan (vocals), Ron Samsom (drums). Backbeat Bar, K’Road, Auckland Central, 21 November 2017
I like South American music and the more I hear, the deeper I am drawn in. A rich and ancient fusion of African, European and Amerindian music, each coast and region nurturing distinct flavours. There are also highly localised variations; all rhythmically complex and all deeply infectious. This week the CJC featured the highly respected Brazilian musician Nanny Assis and New Zealand born vocalist Maggie Gould. Assis was born in Salvador, North Eastern Brazil; a region especially rich in musical traditions and heavily influenced by African rhythms. The coast below Bahia nurtured Tom Jobim, Roberto Menescal and a cohort of like-minded innovators; the creators of the Bossanova (new music) form. In a world where saccharine versions of great music often assail us, it is necessary to return to the source from time to time in order to refresh our ears. Listening to Tom Jobim and Elis Regina on the album ‘Elis & Tom’ – ‘Chovendo Na Roseira’ especially, is a good place to start. The time feel is subtly different from North American versions and the unique rhythmic tensions dance with life. Jobim is long gone but authentic practitioners of the various traditions are still there if we look. Assis is just one of these; a master of rhythm and of the many distinct Bahia styles.Gould was a successful photojournalist in an earlier life. When the pressures of that lifestyle became too much, she decided to abandon the frenetic media world and follow her passion instead. Rekindling a youthful dream she became a Jazz vocalist and has followed that path ever since. Eventually, her journey took her to New York where she met Assis and a musical collaboration began. While living in New York Gould has performed with a number of luminaries, notably the pianist John de Martino (who has also recorded with Assis). Gould and Assis have just toured New Zealand, appearing in festivals and clubs throughout the two Islands. They have toured with great musicians and they intend to record soon in Auckland. When they do, the well-known New York-based ex-pat Kiwi bass player Richard Hammond will join them.
It was not only the gentle Bossa rhythms that we heard on Wednesday but other livelier types of South American influenced music as well. These were danceable and energy fueled treats. During one such number, the room morphed into a seething mass of swaying bodies, hands raised as they danced. The last number, Magalena was a type of North-Eastern Brazilian rap – fast-paced and reminiscent of Jon Hendricks’ scatting. There were also quieter numbers, some Brazillian and a few from the USA; the standout among the latter being Gould singing the gorgeous ‘Some other time’ (Bernstein). On that, Roger Manins added whispering fills and Kevin Field provided the perfect understated accompaniment on piano. It is said that Latin American music is ‘the other swing music’. That makes for great synergies between Jazz and Latin musicians. It can work well, but only if the musicians have the ears and the courage to submit to the weave. Utilising the considerable skills of pianist Kevin Field, Alex Griffiths on 5 string bass and drummer Ron Samsom (plus for the CJC gig, saxophonist Roger Manins). The mix of Jazz musicians and Brazilian created a spark. Alex Griffiths is obviously well versed in Brazilian rhythms as his lines could not have been better placed. Field has for some time been immersed in this music and he is no stranger to the various clave rhythms either. His understated delicate lines in place of comping held the echoes of Jobim’s own tasteful piano accompaniment. During solo’s he gave both hands full reign in clave rich explorations. Samsom is a talented drummer and throughout the night, he and Assis worked in concert. With Assis on percussion and Samsom on the kit, a wonderfully rich sound scape emerged. At one point Assis beat a cowbell to hold the centre – allowing Samsom additional freedom to move. This was a moment of pure magic.
I read once, that a Jazz drummer playing Bossa or Samba is doing three basic things; the right hand replaces the shaker or cowbell, the left hand has the clave pattern and the kick drum follows the bass line. Add in actual congas shakers or cowbell and the interplay has the magnitude of a sonic earthquake.The number that I have posted is ‘O Barquinho’ or ‘My Little Boat(of Love)’ – a tune by Roberto Menescal and sometimes wrongly attributed to Jobim. It is a nice example of the Brazilian Bossa rhythms; rich in subtlety and contrast. It is a long-held tradition in this music to have a female and a male voice – call and response. Gould in English, imparting the wistfulness of the lyrics – Assis in Portuguese – taking me back to the master Joao Gilberto. The Portuguese language is extremely pleasant to the ear, while often masking incredibly sad songs. We didn’t need a dictionary or interpreter on Wednesday as we were transported without them. Nanny Assis’s voice, like his percussion and guitar playing, is pure magic – together the musicians gave us a great night.
They open the Wellington Jazz Festival this year on 30 November. The bottom photograph is by Reuben – the top 3 are mine.
Nanny Assis (percussion, vocals, guitar), Maggie Gould (vocals, arrangements), Alex Griffiths (electric six-string bass), Kevin Field (piano), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Ron Samsom (drums) – at the Thirsty Dog, CJC Creative Jazz Club, 25 October 2017
When Vivian Sessoms sings, she takes you deep inside the music. Whether singing the American Songbook, or her own compositions, her storytelling resonates. She sings of American life with all its contradictions; joy and pain both laid bare. Her rendering of Herbie Hancock’s ‘Butterfly‘ tender: the rendering of her own composition, ‘I Can’t Breathe‘, a song referencing the ‘black lives matter’ struggle – raw. As she sang ‘I Can’t Breathe‘, people brushed tears away; feeling the loss, the injustice; sharing in the incomprehension. She sang it for the families of the young lives so senselessly snuffed out; dying at the hands of those sent to protect them – she sang it for us, a people located an ocean away. We listened and understood the message. Art is at its best when it is fearless and truth-telling – Sessoms gets this.Sessoms is Harlem born and bred; an activist, the niece of Nancy Wilson, the daughter of musicians and a gifted performer with a long string of credits to her name. She was raised in the Jazz world but found early acclaim as a soul singer. Now she is returning to her Jazz roots with her ‘Life‘ album. The tour reviews have been overwhelmingly positive and no wonder; At age 9 she opened for Marvin Gaye, later working with Michael Jackson, Cher and Stevie Wonder. As a performer she is simply riveting; her voice a miracle – to have her here in an intimate Jazz club setting, a rare treat.What we were hearing was counter-intuitive. A voice of incredible power, but a voice filled with subtlety: A voice that dominated a room, but never at the expense of nuance. Although powerful, her instrument never strained, a voice which flowed as naturally as breathing. These are rare qualities when considered together in one package. Her material was also well thought out; The standards timeless but each one interestingly reinterpreted: ‘Tenderly’, ‘Love for Sale’, ‘Round Midnight’, ‘Never Let Me Go’, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ and others.
Sessoms New Zealand pick-up band was assembled at short notice and credit must go to Caro Manins for organising this. She chose well, but with Jonathan Crayford on keyboards, it was always going to work out fine. Just days after winning the New Zealand Jazz Tui album of the year, he stepped in as an accompanist, giving us a truly magical performance. His solos often stunning us with their brilliance, especially so the extended solo on Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good‘. The others in the rhythm section were Mostyn Cole (electric and upright bass) and Adam Tobeck (drums). They were every bit the professionals an artist like this deserves. Sessoms looked about her at one point and asked the audience; “Just what do you put in the water here – your musicians are amazing”?Sessoms is a generous entertainer, happy to mingle with the audience, comfortable enough to tease them a little; posing for endless selfies and promising faithfully to return. She even shared the microphone with several first-year students. That is the common touch – a thing Kiwis love; she read our love of informality well. For details about her ‘Life‘ album go to the website link below. If we support the album, it might just hasten her return.She departed New Zealand the next morning on an early flight; arriving in the USA to be greeted by the news, that yet another jury had acquitted a police officer of killing an unarmed black youth. In these troubled times, more power to her.
Vivian Sessoms (vocals, composition), Jonathan Crayford (keyboards), Mostyn Cole (electric bass), Adam Tobeck (drums). CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, Auckland, June 14th, 2017 – viviansessoms.com
Dan Bolton is an Australian born, New York based musician, at present touring New Zealand. His first show was at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) in Auckland. While singer, songwriters who accompany themselves on piano, are a firmly established tradition in Jazz, we see them on tour very rarely. Many Jazz vocalists (like Ella Fitzgerald) could accompany themselves well, but few choose to do so. A number of notable musicians mastered this skill, notably Nat Cole, Ray Charles, and Shirley Horn. Doing two jobs simultaneously is always harder than doing one and especially where vocals and piano are concerned. The energies and postures require careful coordination and I suspect that this is harder than accompanying yourself on guitar.Bolton is unusual in that he composes tunes which feel modern, but in a style reminiscent of the Great American Songbook; many of his tunes, are not dissimilar from those which came out of Tin Pan Alley, having the vibe of Irving Berlin or Cole Porter. The melodies are catchy in a time honoured way and the lyrics often biting; sometimes capturing our post-millennial angst. Many of Bolton’s tunes centre on the age-old themes of love and loss, others sarcastically critique modern American life. All maintain their sense of originality, in spite of the above comparisons.Travelling with Bolton is the perennially popular drummer Mark Lockett. Lockett, like Bolton, lives in New York, but for several months of each year, he travels as band-leader, (or as hired gun as in this case). Lockett was born in New Zealand and he always gets a welcome reception when he makes it back. Watch out on gig noticeboards for him. He has another tour coming up shortly and this time with an organ trio. On tenor saxophone and flute was Auckland’s Roger Manins, his swoon-worthy ballad chops manifesting in their full glory. Mostyn Cole featured on upright bass, a regular at the CJC and an able musician. We heard some tantalising snippets of arco bass from him – more of that, please.
Dan Bolton (USA) (compositions, vocals, piano), Mark Lockett (USA) (drums), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone, flute), Mostyn Cole (upright bass). CJC (Creative Jazz Club), basement, Albion Hotel, downtown Auckland, 10th August 2016.
Last Wednesday saw the Venezuelan-born vocalist Jennifer Zea performing at the CJC. Her appearance was long overdue, the audience enthusiastic in anticipation of spicy South American Rhythms and the warm tones of the Spanish language in song form. When you look at where Venezuela sits on the map, you learn a lot about its music. Located in the northeast of South America, bordered by the Caribbean and by Brazil, positioned on a unique musical axis. Music blithely ignores the artificial barriers imposed by cartographers and politicians. Even Trump’s insulting wall could never be built high enough to stem musical cross-pollination. Music goes where people go, and remains as an echo long after they have moved on. Jennifer Zea is an embodiment of her country’s music; folk traditions, newer forms (Jaropo), Jazz, Soul, Bossa influences from Brazil and a pinch of Mambo, Salsa or Merengue.The Caribbean region is the prime example of musical cross-pollination; rhythms and melodies, vocal forms and hybrid harmonization, a constant evolution into new and vibrant forms while updating and preserving the discrete pockets of older folk music styles. A weighty tome titled ‘Music and the Latin American Culture – Regional Traditions’ makes two observations; the music of the Venezuelan region is mostly hot or vibrant (see the definition of Salsa) and there is a strong underlying tradition of shamanism (manifest in musical form). The hypnotic rhythms and chants remain largely intact according to Schecter. With percussionist, Miguel Fuentes backing her, Zea conveyed the compellingly hypnotic soulful quality of her traditional music to good effect. Fuentes was born in the USA but grew up in Puerto Rico. These days like Zea, he lives in Auckland. Music like this demands high-quality authentic latin percussion and that’s exactly what happened. Traps drums were not needed here. Regular Zea accompanist, Jazz Pianist Kevin Field was also in the lineup. Field plays in many contexts and his accompanist credentials are second to none. He has regularly worked with Zea and (like Fuentes) most notably on her lovely 2012 release ‘The Latin Soul’. If you have a love of Cubano or Caribean style music, grab a copy of this album. Even on straight-ahead gigs, I have heard Field sneak in tasty clave rhythms. If you want to hear cross-rhythms at their best – skillfully woven by Field and Fuentes, it is on this album. An added incentive are the compositions, mostly by Field and Zea (and Jonathan Crayford). On upright bass for this gig was Mostyn Cole, an experienced bassist now residing in the Auckland region.The gig featured some Zea compositions, three standards and to my delight some authentic Bossa. The Bossa tunes were mostly by the Brazilian genius Tom Jobim and sung in Portuguese (which is not her native language). Although Portuguese is the most commonly spoken language in Latin America, it is only the main spoken language of one country, Brazil. To learn Bossa she spent time with a teacher in order to understand the nuances and deep meanings. While respecting the Bossa song form she had the confidence to bring the music closer to her own Venezuelan musical traditions. Even her intonation was redolent of her region, unmistakably Hispanic South American.
While hearing strong elements of Cuban or Brazilian music, North American standards (or a spicy salsa of the above) you also felt that each influence was deftly filtered through a Venezuelan cloth. Her rendering of ‘Fever’ (Cooley/Davenport) and ‘Georgia on my Mind’ (Carmichael) exemplified this. There was even a little Kiwi influence in there. I would like to think so because we all need happy music like this in our lives.
Jennifer Zea; (Vocals), Kevin Field (piano), Miguel Fuentes (percussion), Mostyn Cole (bass). CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel Basement, Wednesday 3rd August 2016.
Kevin Field has for many years been regarded as a phenomenon on the New Zealand Jazz scene. A gifted pianist and composer whose approach to composition and harmony is strikingly original. When you listen to many pianists you can hear their influences, discern the pathways that led them to where they are. With Field, those influences are less obvious. I suspect that this independence, originality, makes it easier for him to strike out in any direction of his choosing. On his ‘Field of Vision’ album, he moved into uncrowded space, one occupied by very few Jazz pianists. It was Jazz without compromise but utilising grooves, rhythms, and melodies of other genres. The music contained distinct echoes of the disco/Jazz/funk era, crafting it carefully and forging a new post-millennial sound.The tunes were all memorable and within a few listenings, you could hum the themes. This is not so common in modern Jazz and less so with music (like Fields) which retains its Jazz complexity. In Fields case, the clean melodic hooks do not come at the expense of harmonic invention. That is a tricky balancing act and one he achieves convincingly. His co-leadership of ‘DOG’ took him in a different direction again, but the same deftly crafted grooves astounded us. His recent album ‘The A-List’, was a further excursion into the disco/Jazz/funk realm. It is slightly tongue in cheek while still challenging the listener to think outside the square. Artists like this take the music forward, it is up to us to catch up.
The Kevin Field Group often meets up to work through new and old compositions – this work ethic is evident in what we hear. While personnel changes occur from time to time, the group has a core membership. Field, Dixon Nacey, Clo Chaperon, Cameron McArthur, and Stephen Thomas. While we heard tunes from recent albums there were also a number of new tunes on offer. The new material took his earlier conceptions further out, while the older material was cunningly reworked. I have heard this group a number of times and each time I hear them I sense the progressive momentum.They played at the Wellington Jazz festival recently and for many Wellingtonians, this was their first exposure to the group. I saw that show and I immediately noticed how the familiar tunes had subtly changed. ‘Perfect Disco’ with its energised danceable funk momentum was recast as a duo piece. Field and vocalist Chaperon wowed them with that number. We also heard this duo version last week. Other familiar tunes had developed into profoundly interactive exchanges. The sort that can only occur between highly attuned musicians. This is where the guitar mastery and the deep listening of Nacey came into its own. His Godin guitar soaring with stunning clarity while Field reacted in kind, urging them further out with each challenge.Again we see Thomas and McArthur doing what they do best. Working hard and rising to the challenge. Thomas laying down the tricky rhythms and while McArthur runs his bass lines. While pleasant to the ear, there is not doubt at all that these compositions required skill and concentration. It is on gigs like this that the musicians familiarity with the material and each other pays dividends. It was also nice to hear Chaperon on some new and old material. She is a real crowd pleaser – she looks great on stage and sings up a storm.
Keven Field Group: Keven Field (piano), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Cameron McArthur (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums), Clo Chaperon (vocals), CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel 20th July 2016.
The Joni Mitchell/ Charles Mingus project is always ripe for reevaluation and I’m glad that Caro Manins was the one to explore it again. The connection between Joni and Jazz experimentalism runs deep. Rolling Stone Magazine figured it out early on, describing her as a ‘Jazz savvy experimentalist’. While the connection is obvious in her 1979 ‘Mingus’ album the move toward a freer music and towards harmonic and rhythmic complexity began earlier in the mid 70’s. Initially coming up through the American folk tradition, she gradually embraced a different style. She would later say, “Anyone could have written my earlier music, but Hejira (and later albums) could only have come from me”. From the 70’s on, she utilised her own guitar tunings and often incorporated pedal point, chromaticism, and modality in her compositions. If you look at her later musical collaborations, names like Jaco Pastorius, Herbie Hancock, and Wayne Shorter stand out.To her amazement at the time, a dying Charles Mingus asked Joni to call by. He told her that he had written a number of songs for her. Mingus passed before the completion of her project, but he heard all of the tunes except ‘God must be a Bogey Man’. Her ‘Mingus’ album followed soon after. “It was as if I had been standing by a river – one toe in the water. Charles came along and pushed me in – sink or swim”.
Taking on a project like this is more daunting than it may appear to the casual observer. Understanding that, Caro Manins got busy writing new charts. This is not the sort of gig that you just throw together; this is not a covers band. Joni tunes don’t always behave in expected ways, there is a high degree of abstraction, layers of subtlety, places where the tunes change direction under their own impetus. Doing the Mingus album justice is not for the faint-hearted. The listener tends to associate Joni Mitchel with her biting lyrics and adamantine melodic clarity. In reality, although accessible, her tunes pivot on clever musical devices. The end result here was well worth the effort. A genuine commitment to the project made this happen, imbuing it with the integrity it deserved.The project deserved a good lineup and it got one. Caro Manins, Roger Manins, Jonathan Crayford, Cameron McArthur and Ron Samsom. Crayford was especially interesting on this gig. His abstract explorative adventuring replaced by rich traditional voicings – his solos a history lesson; from locked hands chord-work to impressionistic delicacy. All of the musicians were respectful of Joni’s body of work and they understood that the best way to honour her legacy was by interpreting her work honestly and imaginatively. Not every tune came from Joni’s ‘Mingus’ album but all followed the Joni/Mingus/Jazz theme.The gig was very well attended (no surprise there) and the audience enthusiastic. This was a CJC (Creative Jazz Club) event and it took place at the Albion Hotel on 29th June 2016. Caro Manins (leader, arranger, vocals), Jonathan Crayford (piano), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Cameron McArthur (Bass), Ron Samsom (drums, percussion).
Thanks to Rodger Fox and the CJC management we were lucky enough to see five times Grammy nominee, Jazz vocalist Karrin Allyson in our Auckland Jazz Club last Wednesday night. Seeing an artist like this in a concert hall is one thing; seeing her in the warm intimate surroundings of a small Jazz club and just a metre away is quite another. Always a sucker for quality Jazz vocalists I first heard her in 1992 (the album ‘I Thought About You’ was the first of hers I purchased). On the basis of her recorded output, I booked for both the CJC gig in Auckland and the Wellington Jazz Festival concert. The flights between these cities are surprisingly affordable when you book in advance, and these opportunities don’t come around often when you live in the South Pacific.Following her 1992 release further albums came out and by the time ‘Ballads: for Coltrane’ and ‘In Blue’ were released there was no mistaking it. This was an important vocal interpreter. Her voice has particular qualities, an attractive smoky veneer, but then there’s that extra something. A sense of shared intimacy, a way of interpreting lyrics in an original way while still paying tribute to earlier interpreters. Her version of ‘O Barquino’ or ‘Double Rainbow’ (both by Jobim) immediately brings to mind the fabulous Elis Regina. Her ‘West Coast Blues’ conjures up Wes Montgomery just as much as the instrumentalists. She scats in ways that adds value to the narrative content of the song, never overdone and always wonderfully inventive. It came as no surprise, therefore, that she could conquer an audience in a heart beat.From the first vocal number, Allyson teased the audience, turning the lyrics into a conversation. Her set list spanned her Concord recordings including her recent release ‘Many a New Day: Karrin Allyson Sings Rogers & Hammerstein’ (When I think of Tom/Hello Young Lovers). Everything she performed was extraordinary but when she moved to the piano and accompanied herself on ‘Bye Bye Country Boy’ I was especially delighted. For some unaccountable reason, few vocalists interpret Blossom Dearie and more’s the pity. Dearie was a true original and a fiendishly clever Jazz vocalist. Her voice had a deceptive depth if you listened properly and like Allyson her ability to communicate was perfectly honed. It is fitting that Allyson should tackle Blossom Dearie as she is able to convey the same wry humour and wrap it up in a very attractive vocal package. She was simply killing in her interpretation.Accompanying Allyson was the Tom Warrington trio. Although it is five years since we saw them last, they have been regular visitors to New Zealand thanks to Fox. Tom Warrington is a superb bassist, having worked with everyone from Peggy Lee to Stan Getz. His list of credits is staggering. Formerly based in LA, where he was constantly in demand and no wonder. The choices underpinning each note he plays are beyond caveat. His musicality, teaching and compositional skills of the highest order. Today he lives a quieter life in rural New Zealand. When you hear his bass lines, and especially during a ballad, you recall the classic piano-trio bass players. Loading each note with meaning and carrying as much weight as any chordal instrument. Warrington has released four superb albums with this trio and all are highly recommended.On chordal duties was Larry Koonse, playing a lovely hollow body Borys guitar. An impressive guitarist and a stalwart of the LA Jazz scene. Again, he is widely recorded, also releasing a number of albums under his own name. In many ways, Koonse encapsulates the best of the pre-millennial guitar tradition. That said, his fresh approach to tunes is also very much evident. His voice leading is a masterclass; dissonant/consonant inversions that have more bottom than most guitarists can muster in a lifetime and a gorgeous warm tone which lingers in the memory long after the gig. This, together with his other skills, makes him the perfect accompanist for a vocalist. When he played ‘Bolivia’ (Cedar Walton) with the trio, it took on the urgency and excitement that the tune demands. On ‘Whisper Not’ (Benny Golson) he extracted unalloyed beauty. I have known Larry for a decade and speaking to him after the gig, I complimented him on those tunes. At that point, my mouth raced way ahead of my brain and I said, “that was ‘Speak Low’ wasn’t it”? That fact that my slip of the tongue had accidentally come up with an exact antonym of ‘Whisper not’ made his day.Last but not least is the Warrington Trio drummer Joe La Barbera. No one needs reminding of his long list of credits and impeccable credentials. As Warrington said during the introductions. “As everyone knows, Joe La Barbera was in the last Bill Evans trio. This puts us in some rarefied air”. Along with Marc Johnson, he breathed new life into that trio. While rightly famous for his superb drum work with Evans, he is a multi-faceted drummer; having also worked in avant-garde settings and with medium to larger sized ensembles such as ‘The West Coast All Stars’, ‘The Woody Herman Band’ and with ‘Kenny Wheeler’. He has often worked with famous vocalists such as Tony Bennett and Karrin Allyson. La Barbera has an inclusive quality that enhances bass and guitar but never overshadows them. When he solos, it is to the point. His stick and brush work add subtlety and texture – the effect always jaw-dropping. It is easy to see why he is so much in demand. A musical drummer who gives so much while working so hard to support the others.
Karrin Allyson records for Concord and her albums are easy to locate – for more information about the artist go towww.karrin.com
The Tom Warrington trio records on the Jazz Compass label which the artists created along with Clay Jenkins. Their latest album ‘Nelson’ is a good start point.
The Briana Cowlishaw/Gavin Ahearn gig is the second CJC gig featuring international artists in a month. For those who follow Australian improvised music, these are familiar names. Both have rock solid credentials as both have traveled extensively with their music and attracted glowing critical reviews. This is a fortuitous musical pairing, and it is particularly obvious during duets. There is a mutual awareness of space and nuance and an understanding of just where interplay works best; neither over-crowding the other. There are a lot of pianists who accompany vocalists convincingly, but the true art of accompaniment is rarely seen. Ahearn is a fine accompanist and soloist. Unusually, you could say the same for Cowlishaw – an aware musician who watches and listens to her collaborators carefully – works with what she hears. Never greedy to hog the limelight and making every line count.For an artist barely past her mid twenties Cowlishaw has achieved much. Performing at festivals all over the world and being nominated for prestigious awards along the way. She has studied with top rated teachers in three continents and it shows (including Gretchen Parlato, Aaron Goldberg, Kurt Elling). Her confidence, compositional abilities and musicianship shine through on the bandstand. Hers is a modern voice and more importantly a fresh young voice. What worked so well so well for Gretchen Parlato also works for her; a clean delivery, imaginative interpretations and an interesting approach.The first set saw Cowlishaw and Ahearn performing as a duo. This format gifts artists with a degree of freedom and it was well utilised. As they took us through a mix of standards and originals, we saw just how attuned they are. The Cowlishaw compositions are particularly interesting, with words, wordless vocalising and interesting harmonic underpinnings from Ahearn – a subtle weave, blending threads to create evocative soundscapes.Both have visited Norway and the sparse honest northern sound was particularly evident in their first set. A recent collaborative album recorded in Norway arose out of an earlier trip there. More recently they performed at the Hemnes Jazz Festival in that country. As Cowlishaw said of these compositions, “After spending a lot of time on the road and in big cities, I found myself in the Fjords. The wild lonely freshness was so appealing that the thought arose – was this a place that I would want to live in one day”? Arising from that proposition came the compositions on their ‘Fjord’ album. Cowlishaw is obviously keen on the outdoors. She told an audience member that she intended to explore a few of New Zealand wildness places as the chance presented itself.The second set swelled the bands numbers to a quintet – joining the duo were Mike Booth on trumpet, Cameron McArthur on bass and Adam Tobeck on drums. All fine musicians and well able to rise to any challenge. The expanded unit gave her much to work with and Ahearn in particular jumped at the opportunity; utilising a more aggressive hard-swinging style. There were more standards in this second half and Cole Porters wonderful 1943 composition from ‘Something to shout about’ – ‘You’d be so Nice to Come Home to’ stood out as a rollicking swinger. The other memorable standard came from the duo – Michel Legrand’s 1932 composition ‘You must believe in Spring’. To Jazz audiences this means one thing – The achingly beautiful Bill Evans Warners album of that name. The rendition was remarkably beautiful – Cowlishaw tackled the number as Norma Winstone might, while Ahearn stamped his own authority on the ballad while allowing Evans to shine through.
I strongly recommend ‘Fjord’ – it is simply exquisite and the delicate renditions of the originals and standards will stay in your head long after the last note is played – as well as the rarely heard ‘Estate’ (Bruno Martino) there is a version of Herb Ellis’s ‘Detour Ahead’ which won me over completely. For the ‘Fjord’ and ‘Detour Ahead’ tracks alone, the album is worth double the asking price.
On Wednesday the UK-based vocalist, arranger composer Louise Gibbs brought her Seven Deadly Sins project to Auckland’s CJC (Creative Jazz Club). The audience, unrepentant antipodean sinners that they are, found much to enjoy. When premiered in the UK the project received much acclaim and in 2013 the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ album’ was released. As I glanced through the liner note credits one name jumped out, Tim Whitehead; an important English saxophonist with equal facility on soprano, alto and tenor. For any number of reasons this is an album worth having. The song suite has seven parts plus prologue & epilogue. This aggregation of cardinal sins does not originate with Peter Cook (as someone hilariously suggested) but comes to us from the fourth century AD. These very human failings were the obsession of the middle ages and Chaucer, Dante and Brueghel utilised the themes to great artistic effect (and often with rye humour). Debates on morality are still very much part of the public discourse as the dreadful events of Paris, the Lebanon and Mali remind us. Gibbs invited us to examine the sins afresh; a parade of human failings as seen through a jazz lens. Her evocative contrasting pieces leaving us in little doubt as to which sin they represented; a strident drum solo during anger, the fulsome sound of the trombone for gluttony etc. It is unsurprising that the tenor saxophone portrayed lust; an entirely appropriate pairing given the repeated historic accusations of lasciviousness levelled against that sensual instrument. The suite while highly arranged gave ample room for the soloists to demonstrate their particular vice. Crystal Choi was ‘pride’ on piano, Pete France was ‘lust’ on tenor, Haydn Godfrey was gluttony on ‘trombone’, Mike Booth was ‘envy’ on trumpet, Cameron McArthur was ‘sloth’ on bass, Steve Thomas was ‘anger’ on drums, Andrew Hall was ‘greed’ on alto & baritone. Gibbs was vocalist on all numbers including a prologue and epilogue. Many of the band members like Booth, McArthur, Choi and Thomas are regulars but we see Hall, France and Godfrey less often. That is a shame because they were amazing. A shorter first set preceded the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ suite – all Monk compositions. The band used stock arrangements but there was a sense of boisterous freedom in the renditions. This provided an appropriate segue to the second half. While everyone embraces Monk these days, his dissonant choppy lines certainly raised eyebrows back in his heyday. Monk was an iconoclast who channeled the rawness of the human condition through pen and piano. With the Seven Deadly Sins and its often dissonant passages we also experienced that. Louise Gibbs has been teaching and performing in the UK for 30 years, but she grew up in Auckland. In recent years she moved away from a distinguished career in academia to concentrate on performance and composition. There is a confidence about her work and she is unafraid as a performer. Her voice can move from silk to raspy as appropriate to the piece. Footnote: Earlier I drew attention to Tim Whitehead (on the Gibbs album). He was once a member of Ian Cars ground breaking and popular group ‘Nucleus’ – the highly respected Kiwi born saxophonist Brian Smith was a founder member of that group.
‘The Seven Deadly Sins’ (New Zealand Septet) – Louise Gibbs (vocals, composition), Andrew Hall (alto & baritone saxophones), Pete France (tenor saxophone), Mike Booth (trumpet, Flugel), Haydn Godfrey (trombone), Chrystal Choi (piano), Cameron McArthur (upright bass), Stephen Thomas (drums).
Because the human voice is the most primal of instruments it has the capacity to engage in unexpected ways. When a skilled vocalist performs we watch as carefully as we listen. The merest inflection, micro pause or slurred note can captivate, but it is also the non verbal cues; the ones we assimilate subconsciously that draw us ever deeper inside the song. When Caitlin Smith sings you are hyper aware of the entire performance. Hers are not gigs where listeners drift away or endlessly fiddle with phones. The audience are as engaged as she is. That is her gift as a musician.When Smith moves your attention moves with her. She will prance, dance, drop her head, pause for effect or sweep her hair back unexpectedly and all in service of the song. When you watch and listen to skilled performers like her (and they are few and far between) you discern a deeper truth. What appears extrovert can be something else. The actions and gestures are an act of losing oneself. This is the performers mask and behind it lies a certain vulnerability. When enough of this vulnerability informs the music we feel with them. During Smith’s performances there is a lot of interplay between band members. She is generous in her acknowledgements and genuinely appreciative of the musicians behind her – unlike some vocalists who make it very plain that this is all about them. She had two of her regular cohort with her, Kevin Field on piano and Oli Holland on bass. On drums was the talented Stephen Thomas and I had not seen him with Smith before. During the break I asked Thomas how he was enjoying the gig. His answer is worth repeating, as it illustrates the above points. Vocal artists who think disengaged equals cool might pick up a pointer here. “Working with Smith is perfect as you have so much to react to. Every gesture and look gives you new material to work with”. Smith followed her usual pattern of alternating originals with standards. The set list moved between Jazz and singer song-writer soul. She only repeated one tune from last Decembers CJC gig and that was the lesser known Ellington Number “I like the Sunrise”. This is from Ellington’s ‘Liberian Suite’ performed and recorded first in 1947. The original featured Al Hibbler on vocals, soon followed by a Frank Sinatra version (also with the Ellington orchestra). More recently Kurt Elling recorded a version but all of the aforementioned are at a slower tempo. At the risk of committing heresy, I like the upbeat punch and swing of Smith’s version best. The night was thoroughly enjoyable as I knew it would be, and with this rhythm section of Field, Holland and Thomas behind Smith that was guaranteed.
Caitlin Smith Quartet: Caitlin Smith (vocals, compositions, arrangements, percussion), Kevin Field (piano), Oli Holland (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums). The video is courtesy of Denis Thorpe
I made up my mind days before the Mexico City Blues gig that I would not, could not review it. It is some kind of crazy to review a gig where you’re in the band. Logic and custom sensibly warns you to walk swiftly in the opposite direction. The gig passed and I asked others if they would do the review; “You’re wrong man” they said, “You absolutely have to do it, but do it differently – tell a story about what it felt like performing for the first time, and what it felt like as a non musician being part of a high quality improvising band”. I thought about it for a while and gave in. In truth I had a world of stuff churning about in my brain and the subconscious urge to outline the experience was gnawing at me; my thoughts and impressions always seem to spill onto the page somehow (or into a poem) – so hell why not. It’s Gonzo journalism in its purest form; outlining crazy, using ones-self as the hapless protagonist.
Just over a week ago I got an email from Stephen Small. His email cut right to the chase; Would I consider performing Jack Kerouac’s poetry as part of his next gig. The invitation delighted me although I have a writers/photographers reticence about crawling out from behind the pen or the lens. Having read Kerouac from age fourteen I couldn’t resist. Those poems and that crazy-wonderful Beat vibe shaped my life and I needed to acknowledge that. I was certain that he wanted no more than one, or possibly two short verses; still daunting. I emailed Stephen asking how long we had to get this together. We’re up next Wednesday he replied, we will rehearse a few hours before the gig. Moments after agreeing a sense of terror overcame me; troublesome questions and self-doubt tumbled out the ether. Shit how do we do this, what will my voice sound like? Having never performed poems in front of an audience AND to music, I experienced brief bouts of wide-eyed terror over the next day. I confided my fears to a few knowledgeable friends, Chris Melville and poet Iain Sharp. Both were very sensible and reassuring in their advice; “Just own who you are man, own your voice. You know this stuff backwards and you know the music”, they said. When I explained the hazards of fitting existing verse to music, drummer Ron Samson told me, “Don’t worry man, we will follow you – your safe with us”. I discussed it further with Stephen and he gave me a set list. From that list I chose three poems that roughly matched the rhythms of tunes. For ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ (Mingus) I chose Kerouac’s chorus 66 from ‘Orizaba 210 Blues’, for ‘Blue in Green’ (Evans/Davis) I selected the beautiful mystical 1st chorus of ‘Desolation Blues’. I was sure that two poems would be more than enough, but as a precaution I prepared a third as back up – verse 116 of ‘Mexico City Blues’ to Horace Silvers ‘Peace’.
On the day of the gig crazy set in. It started with a series of small mishaps like an email and printer crash. I immediately recognised the portents. The Sirens of the unknown were calling me into uncharted waters. Luckily I had my three poems ready – printed off in large type (as befitting a person of my age). At the last-minute, as if by divine providence, I threw a paperback of Kerouac’s ‘Book of Blues’ poems into my bag and headed for rehearsal. What happened next was pure Zen. Jazz gig rehearsals tend to follow a formula, but viewing this process from the outside and being part of it are two very different things. From the inside your inbuilt detached observer gets fired from the cannon of weirdness. You realise just how random Jazz rehearsals are. They begin what becomes a slow descent into the controlled accident. The first hour of any rehearsal is a ‘hang’, insider jokes, war stories and talk of gear and gizmos. Then a sudden flurry of activity follows; disembodied items of musical machinery miraculously forming into new shapes. If the rehearsals are in a Jazz club the activity takes place in semi darkness. Instruments, microphones and amplifiers joined by a spaghetti of wires as the musicians stumble over precarious piles of instrument cases and zip bags. “Oh shit this channel is dead – (from out of the darkness) – don’t worry its the cable – have another in my car – its parked a few streets away. Can we route the cable through the Hadron-Collider? – clip click – sorry false alarm”.
Then the actual rehearsal begins; The rehearsal proper being tiny fragments of music accompanied by impossibly cryptic instructions in a language that sounds like computer machine code. “Twice through the head – I’ll lay out – transition to this key at 32 – we’ll play Kathy’s Waltz in 4/4 as 3/4 is way to corny”. None of this is reassuring to a first timer, but the band leader (Stephen) managed to communicate profound information subliminally. Above all and surprisingly, I learned that he had absolute confidence in me. This gifted me a deeper understanding of the leaders role. Zen Master. The communications were less about detail than vision, their main purpose to bind the collective and set them on a path to the promised land; a guiding hand in a deeply mystical process. On the band stand the subtlest of gestures hold the collective together. A glance is a cue or a change of plan – a call to ‘Jump now’ – everyone trusted to do the business – me included. I know poetry and especially Kerouac’s poetry – it was my job in the collective to sell that. Then came the truly random bit. “We can cue you in on each piece, or just dive in where ever you think best – we can follow”. The words ‘each piece’ threw me a curve ball. “I have only three poems printed off” I added lamely (or four if you counted a crumpled excerpt from ‘Desolation Angels’ tucked into the back of the folder). “No matter – just say anything – you’re a poet – it will be fine” said Stephen. Then I remembered the paperback of Kerouac’s ‘Book of Blues’ in my bag. “Great” said Stephen, “just pick the poems randomly – do it at the last-minute while we run through the head of each tune – perfect”. This was a band leader channeling the Zen Master – a role quite appropriate to a 1959 referencing gig – throwing me a Koan, an improbable musical puzzle, no escape route possible. When we got to the tune ‘Peace’ I gained confidence, “Ah I have something for this – yeah – Horace Silver”. At this point Stephen casually informed me that they were actually doing Ornette Coleman’s ‘Peace”, another tune entirely. Ornette, ORNETTE – holy crap – panic. Next the gig
I was tentative during my first seconds of delivery and that was entirely due to where my awareness was. I mistakenly looked out to see how it was coming across; people were giving me the thumbs up and the band sounded perfect. After that I just relaxed. Stephen’s final instructions were as brief as they were powerful. He leaned across and said to me; “There is only one thing to remember tonight and that’s to have fun”. Minutes into the gig the advice sank in and I did. As I relaxed the strangest thing happened. It was a quasi-mystical sort of thing and I can only explain it in those terms. All sense of self and separation vanished as I felt a golden thread of sound and colour run through me. I recall glancing about me and feeling totally at one with the band. These are exceptional musicians and I suspect that they were doing all the heavy lifting. They treated the poetry with respect and they treated me as an equal. As a non-musician I will never forget that. I was suddenly experiencing the music as an insider, a privileged viewpoint that few non musicians ever get to experience. I leaned across to Hadyn Godfrey (on trombone) and said, “Holy crap is it always this much fun, I’m totally tripping on this?”. As I read I started playing with the phrasing and found that as I moved, the band moved with me. Even more amazingly we managed to converse musically. Me clumsy and them eloquent, but it felt so fine, so damn fine. I have never previously experienced such power – the engine of a musical collective. I am a careful listener and I know this music backwards, but from the inside everything looks different. There is nowhere to hide but everything to gain; that’s what makes it so exciting.
The gig was about placing the famous Jazz standards of 1959 into a wider context. We all love these tunes, but few grasp the wider sociopolitical forces at work behind the times. These musicians were part of a vital modernist movement; A reaction against the suburban atrophy of racially segregated urban America. Miles, Colman, Coltrane, Brubeck, Mingus, Kerouac and the Beats were counter-culture warriors, bent on ushering in a better world. A place were fresh ideas, the arts and people mattered. I will not critique my performance, that is for others. What I will do however is comment on the extraordinary Stephen Small Group – the ‘Mexico City Blues’ musicians. Stephen Small is a man of broad musical tastes, real vision and very open ears. He empowered a wonderful band and under his skilful and subtle coaxing they gave it their best. His piano never gets in the way of others, but it adds amazing texture and substance to the performances. It is deeply in the blues tradition and lovely. Instinctively he knew who to hire and what to expect of them.
Olivier Holland brought his electric bass as well as his upright bass. I hadn’t previously heard Oli on electric bass, but he is simply killing. Ron is always marvellous and as a musician said to me, “With those beats pushing at your back and pulsating through your body anything seems possible”. Neil Watson on guitar and pedal steel is another talented musician; his feel for the blues is exceptional. He also has a happy grasp of the absurd and this is an essential prerequisite for any good improvising musician. Lastly there is Hadyn Godfrey, an experienced talented trombonist who effectively added electronics to his horn for this gig. The use of pedals, a small Moog and various forms of extended technique gave the gig an other-worldly dimension. 1959 never sounded so good.
I may never get to do this again but I will not forget this night. Stephen Small did what good leaders do. He made us all believe that the improbable could become magic. He took an idea from the margins and helped us realise it in a fresh way. Jazz at its best is a controlled accident, a high wire act, an intrepid exploration. For one truly wonderful night I was a small part of that.
Stephen Small Group: Mexico City Blues – Stephen Small (leader, piano, keys), Neil Watson (fender guitar, pedal steel guitar, electronics), Hadyn Godfrey (trombone, electronics), Olivier Holland (electric bass, upright bass), Ron Samsom (drums), John Fenton (Kerouac poems)
Special acknowledgement to Chris Melville for the photographs
‘The A List’ release has been a long time coming, or so it seems. Every recording of Kevin Field’s is noteworthy and when rumours of a New York album circulated I attempted to pin him down. Whenever I saw him playing as sideman about town or met him in the street I would pull him aside and say, “Kev, how is the album progressing, when will you release it?”. I invariably received iterations of the same cryptic answer; a knowing smile and a brief “it’s getting there, not too far away now”. the lack of specifics only fed my appetite. I have learned to read the signs and I can sense when an album pleases an artist. It is all in the body language, readable over the self-effacing vagaries of banter. Field had a look about him; a look that told me that he was nurturing a project that pleased him. As the months progressed I gleaned additional fragments of information in bite sized chunks. Firstly that Matt Penman was on the recording, and incrementally that Nir Felder, Obed Calvaire, Miguel Fuentes, Clo Chaperon and Marjan Gorgani also. The substantive recording took place at Brooklyn Recording in New York with additional recording in Roundhead Studios Auckland. That was pretty much the extent of my knowledge. I have encountered this phenomena before. Treating an album as a child, holding it close before sending it out into the world. It generally presages good things to come. In this case it certainly did. The title is probably tongue in check, but it speaks truth. There are a number of A List personnel on the album. Field is arguably Auckland’s first call pianist. No one harmonises quite like him and his consistency as pianist and composer is solid. New Zealand Jazz lovers also regard Matt Penman highly. His appearances with leading lineups and his cutting edge projects as leader always impress. In the same vein is Nir Felder; frequently mentioned in the same breath as the elite New York guitarists. Obed Calvaire the same in drum circles. This was an obvious next step for Field; having risen to the top of the local scene, it was time to record with New Yorker’s.
The album is a thing of beauty and satisfying on many levels. Under Field’s watchful eye a flawless production has emerged. Having an album released by Warners is a coup. The big labels rarely release New Zealand Jazz (Nathan Haines being an exception). All compositions are by Field (on the vocal numbers he is co-credited with Clo Chaperon & Marjan Gorgani). From the title track onwards the album engages. We generally hear Field in a straight ahead context but he wisely followed his instincts here. This album extends the explorations of his well received ‘Field of Vision’ release; turning his conceptual spotlight on genres like disco funk and the brightly hued guitar fuelled explorations of the New York improvising modernists. The album also features Miguel Fuentes tasteful percussion which is subtle but effective. Field has done what brave and innovative artists should do. Take risks in the search for new territory. The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) Auckland launch substituted ‘A’ List locals for the famous New Yorker’s. On guitar was Dixon Nacey, on bass Richie Pickard and on drums Stephen Thomas. The vocal section was; Clo Chaperon & Marjan Gorgani (as on the album). These musicians are superb and so the comparison with the album was favourable (Field is a little higher in the mix on the album and guitarist Felder is a little lower). The CJC was in different venue this time, owing to the refurbishment of the 1885. The Albion is no stranger to Jazz and in spite of the ‘livelier’ acoustics, it was a good space in which to enjoy the music. Dixon Nacey always sounds like a guitarist at the peak of his powers, but somehow he manages to sound better every time I hear him. This time he used less peddling and spun out wonderfully clean and virtuosic lines. Apart from a tiny amount of subdued wah-wah peddle on the disco number his beautiful Godin rang out with bell-like clarity (the clipped wah-wah comping was totally appropriate in recreating the tight disco funk vibe). The other standout performance was from Stephen Thomas, who is able to find a groove and yet mess with it at the same time. His complex beats added colour and he mesmerised us all. At the heart of the sound was Richie Pickard. Some of the material was definitely challenging for a bass player as timing was everything. Pickard navigated the complexities with ease. There are were three vocal numbers at the gig (two on the album). Chaperon and Gorgani are impressive together and well matched vocally. Hearing them on the album showcases them to best advantage, as sound mixing is harder in a club. Their presence certainly added excitement to the gig.Buy the album and if possible see Field perform this material live. This music is exciting and innovative; past and present rolled into a forward looking Jazz form.
Kevin Field: The A List – Keven Field (Piano, Keys), Nir Felder (guitar), Matt Penman (bass), Obed Calvaire (drums), Miguel Fuentes (percussion), Clo Chaperon & Marjan Gorgani (vocals). – Live performance: Kevin Field (piano, keys), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Richie Pickard (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums), Clo Chaperon & Marjan Gorgani (vocals). Performed at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, Auckland, 19th August 2015. Available from all leading retailers.
Last Wednesday the CJC took a step towards Robert Glasper’s ‘Black Radio’ project. At the time of its release the Glasper project shocked a few purists and delighted many others. It all depended on your point of view and your understanding of Jazz history. That particular album brought the ‘now’ of the urban streets into a Jazz recording; rap and urban soul coexisting with jazz keyboard harmonies. It is surprising that it shocked anyone! Surely this is an old story in the retelling. It is not hard to find earlier examples. George Russell’s ‘New York N.Y.’ and Gil Scott Heron’s output spring to mind. Words as poems, wordless vocals and instrumental Jazz are inextricably linked and always will be. Siobhan Leilani brought a Kiwi version of that to the Jazz club and we loved it. It felt in place and the nimble-footed danced. This constant reconnection with the streets is an essential part of our music and we forget it at our peril.The first set to play was the Andy Smith Trio. Smith has played at the club as sideman a number of times, but it has been quite a few years since he brought us a project of his own. I have always enjoyed his slick guitar work and especially when he plays with an Alan Brown band. This gig was different as it reached deeper into the modern Jazz guitar bag. Smith has always used pedals convincingly but this time he dialled the effects right back. This was a purer form of modern Jazz guitar and in taking that route the music must stand on its own. It did. I like his approach to harmony and his compositions are compelling vehicles for improvisation.The gig undoubtedly benefitted from having the gifted Stephen Thomas on drums. While a regular in the club it has been a few months since we saw him. Thomas is a drummer’s drummer and he can tackle any project and shine. He constantly pushed the others to greater heights and his solos were tasteful, un-showy and tightly focused. The bass player Russell McNaughton was new to me, but I will be mindful of his presence in future. I particularly liked his arco bass work on ‘The Gypsy’s Dress’. The first number ‘CJC’ (Smith) was a good opener. There were plenty of meaty hooks to reel us in and an ever radiating warmth to dispel the chill rain outside. When they played a tune named ‘Awakening’ I recognised it instantly, but couldn’t recall where I’d heard it (or which group played it). It is actually an older tune of Smith’s and I had remembered it from three or more years ago. Again a solid composition and the fact that it had stuck with me after one hearing underlines that. A very nice trio.Siobhan Leilani (Siobhan Grace) is an interesting musician and one I hope we see a lot more of. Her association with the UoA Jazz school has yielded dividends. She utilised the services of former and current students for this gig; her guest Chelsea Prastiti most notably. There is an inherent risk in putting a soulful Jazz rapper together with an experimental improvising vocalist. The risk was well worth taking. These two feed off each others energy on up numbers and a force field of ‘happy’ seemed to emanate from them. The opening numbers were more in the soul/Jazz idiom and these were compelling in very different way. The lyrics spoke of angst and identity and this worked well for Leilani. What impressed me most was the authenticity. The language and sentiments were honest; heart-felt and purely ‘street’. I am only sorry that she was not a little louder in the mix (when it comes to vocals my hearing is not as sharp as it once was). This was poetry and good poetry. Word play, syllables stressed for emphasis, cadence; telling a story in an original way.On piano was UoA student Sean Martin-Buss. He caught me completely by surprise with his confident piano accompaniment. I had only seen him perform once previously and that was on bass clarinet. He mostly took a two-handed approach, soloed well on two occasions and engaged in a brief but effective call and response routine with Prastiti. The drummer and electric bass player were unknown to me but again they gave good a good account of themselves. The pumping drum and bass groove was right for the music. On electric bass was Joshua Worthington-Church, on drums Olie O’Loughlin.This was another testament to the gig programming at the CJC. With rare exceptions every Wednesday night brings an original project. The decision to encourage innovation and originality pays off time and again. The audience now expects it and they wouldn’t turn up week after week for a diet of well-worn standards. With gigs like this a bitter Winter is flying by.Footnote:’lyrics and poetry are two sides of the same thing‘ (Levitin). Poetry purists often express disdain for song lyrics and especially rap lyrics. The same can occur in reverse when a rapper dismisses poetry as high brow. There is only good poetry and bad poetry. The earliest surviving piece of literature ‘The Gilgamesh’ was written in poetic form. The greatest epics in any language are Homers Iliad and the Odyssey; also written in verse and probably sung. If you want ancient earthy lyrics sung or chanted by a woman then try Sappho: Stuffy (male) scholars have tried for two and a half millennia to purify her verse. “Batter your breasts with your fists girls/tatter your dresses/its no use mother dear/I can’t finish my weaving/you may blame Aphrodite soft as she is/she has almost killed me for love of that boy” – Sappho born 612 BC
Andy Smith Trio: Andy Smith (guitar, composition), Russell McNaughton (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums) @ CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 22nd July 2015
Siobhan Leilani: Siobhan Leilani (vocals, composition), Sean Martin-Buss (piano), Joshua Worthington-Church (electric bass), Olie O’Loughlin (drums) – guest Chelsea Prastiti (vocals) @ CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 22nd July 2015
The last time I saw Rebecca Melrose perform was at a CJC gig, not long after her graduation from the UoA Jazz School. That was well over a year ago. Since then she has made her way as a vocalist, exploring several musical genres and recording an EP (yet to be released). This gig was straight ahead Jazz; her interpretations of various Jazz standards. I remember being impressed by Melrose the last time I heard her as there is a rich quality to her voice and she knows how to play with lyrics. At the last gig she took risks with her choice of material and it paid off. This time the sets were more mainstream but she exuded an easy-going confidence; the sort that comes with time in front of audiences.Accompanying her were three graduates from the UoA Jazz Programme. Crystal Choi on piano, Eamon Edmunson-Wells on bass and Jared Devaux de Marigny, drums. CJC audiences have seen a lot of Edmunson-Wells over recent years and increasingly we are seeing Choi. Desvaux de Marigny is not seen as often. These are all fine musicians. Additional to the core lineup were guest artists Callum Passells (alto) and Liz Stokes (trumpet).
The rhythm section worked well as accompanists and stood out during the brief solo spots (when they functioned as a trio). In this space Choi stood out in particular, her piano work showing edge and maturity. For a recent graduate she shows enormous promise and her own gig (to follow this) will be one to catch. I have put up the clip ‘Afro Blue’ (Mongo Santamaria) as it has a modernist feel about it. Her take being closer to the Robert Glasper/Erykah Badu version than the original.Melrose has been selected as a semi-finalist in the prestigious Shure Vocal Competition (the only Australasian/Pacific finalist). She will fly to Montreux shortly to compete in the finals at the 2015 ‘Montreux Jazz Festival on Lac Lemon. This gig and other events are to help her get there. I wish her well.
Quartet: Rebecca Melrose (leader, vocals), Crystal Choi (piano), Eamon Edmunsen-Wells (bass), Jared Desvaux de Marigny (drums).
CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, 17th June 2015
It has been a while since Julie Mason performed as leader. Mason is a pianist/vocalist who over the years taught and influenced a number of younger musicians. After a difficult few years battling health issues she has now started performing again and her new project titled: ‘compositions by piano playing Jazz Musicians’ is what she brought to the CJC. Most of these tunes are not standards in the American song-book sense and so they often lack wider recognition. That’s a pity because the tunes written by these musicians are some of best to come out of the last 90 years. It is always good to delve into this material. A perfect example of a composer/performer who deserves wider recognition is Enrico Pieranunzi. He is all too often overlooked outside of Europe. This formidable Italian improviser has performed with artists like Charlie Haden, Art Farmer, Kenny Wheeler, Chet Baker, Jim Hall and dozens of others. His output stands favourably when compared to the finest of the American Jazz issues. Of particular note is ‘Live in Paris’ and ‘Don’t forget the Poet’. The latter is a tribute to Bill Evans. Mason performed the title track from that album beautifully. She captured the lyrical quality of the piece.she has performed with these musicians for many years; Lance Su’a (guitar), Alberto Santarelli (bass) and Frank Gibson (drums). Her partner, the well known Jazz Pianist Phil Broadhurst sat in while Mason did a vocal number. The set list was split between vocals and instrumental pieces. The number Broadhurst accompanied her on was the fabulously evocative ‘The Peacocks’ (Jimmy Rowles/Norma Winstone). It is one of those tunes that is so aligned to Evans and Rowles that musicians tend to shy away from it. That’s a pity in my view: it was nice to hear it performed live. Other artists featured as sources were Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Billy Childs and Jacky Terrason.
Caitlin Smith is a vocalist who can quickly put a smile on your face or shamelessly tug at your heart-strings. She always finds a way to connect her audience to the essence of a song; deftly locating that illusive sweet spot. While there is often power in her delivery, there is also remarkable subtlety. You could describe her voice in many ways; pitch perfect, having an almost operatic range, but there is much more to Smith than chops. In the parlance she owns each song she sings and embeds it with a uniqueness. Like a seasoned saxophonist she tells beguiling stories in a distinctive way. There is a well-worn cliché that vocalists hog the limelight and in truth many go through their careers with barely a reference to the musicians that they work with. Caitlin Smith is the opposite. You are left in no doubt that her gigs are a shared project as she interacts with band and audience, picking up on every nuance from either. She works with a band as a vocalist should and she is comfortable giving them space to solo. There is a generosity of spirit about her persona and this manifests in the music. I have also witnessed her solid support for emerging artists. The ultimate litmus test for me, is that gifted improvising musicians enjoy playing in Caitlin Smith lineups. While Smith is widely acknowledged as a gifted singer-songwriter, it is her Jazz repertoire that is turning heads of late. Her performance with the AJO at the Tauranga Jazz festival won her many new fans. She is a wonderful interpreter of Jazz standards and this aspect of her repertoire deserves critical attention. Her vocal gifts and incredible musicality thrive with this space; of particular note is the delightful way she plays with lyrics. Smith is a natural performer and there is something wonderfully theatrical and engaging about her stage presence. This gives her gigs an added spark of life. On Wednesday she included some of her own compositions like the beautiful ‘In between’, but the audience was particularly wowed by her take on jazz standards such as Ellington’s ‘I like the sunshine’. I have heard her sing Ellington and Strayhorn at other gigs and I am always impressed by the way she freshens these standards up.
Her innate ability to carry off the more difficult of the Ellington/Strayhorn song-book tunes is beyond question. ‘Lush life’ in particular requires real vocal skills to pull it off well and her interpretation is flawless. This affinity cries out for her to record the material. It would be great to see an Ellington album someday; accompanied by the Kevin Field Trio, alternating with the AJO. Another song from a different genre was ‘River’ (Joni Mitchell). This classic Mitchell song was recently reinterpreted by Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. As Smith delivered her version she phrased it in such a way that I could hear those elided Shorter fills in my head. Her delivery was crystalline and it brought her two worlds together perfectly.
Who: Caitlin Smith (vocals, arrangements), Kevin Field (piano), Oli Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) (acknowledgement to Dennis Thorpe for the River video)