CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians, vocal

Vivian Sessoms CJC 2018

Vivian (3)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). Vivian (1)

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.Vivian (4)

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).

 

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Big Band, Concerts - visiting Musicians, Swing, USA and Beyond

Basie Orchestra’s Auckland gig 2018

Basie (1)There are a number of things that should be on every music lovers bucket list. Experiencing a Basie Orchestra gig live is one of them. This band has the history of modern music in its DNA and after 83 years on the road, they are in their prime.  Goodman was always referred to as the ‘king of swing’ but in my view Basie was a better contender for that title. His brand of swing had it’s nascent stirrings in 1927 when Basie joined Bennie Moten. When that band folded he took many of the musicians with him to form the Basie Band in 1935. The Basie band possessed a unique sound, fueled by a nine-piece line up featuring legendary greats like Lester Young, ‘Papa’ Jo Jones and Walter Page. Johnny Hammond heard them in 1936 and invited them to New York where at his suggestion they expanded to become a thirteen piece jazz Orchestra. At this time they were joined by Freddie Green and others. Skillfully, they incorporated the nimbleness of the Kansas City small ensemble swing-feel into a new sound.

When we listened to the Orchestra in Auckland a few nights ago, every iteration of their 83 years was touched upon. Early and contemporary charts, the gorgeous highly arranged charts from Neil Hefti, Frank Foster and Quincey Jones ‘second testament’ era, some newly arranged material, plus a fabulous tribute to the Basie/Amstrong/Fitzgerald collaborations. Giving added weight to that celebration was the inclusion of vocalist Carmen Bradford. Bradford was originally hired by Basie himself and so she has a long association with the orchestra. Hers is a big voice and an instrument perfectly suited to Ella’s songbook. She is a Jazz vocalist in the traditional sense and it is no wonder that Basie gave her a shot.  At times she sang duets with various of the band members, but it was when she and Scotty Barnhart got together that the sparks really flew. Basie (3).jpg

Barnhart, a two times Grammy winner is the musical director of the Basie orchestra and a featured soloist. His Louis Armstrong tribute captured not just ‘Pops’ but the great man’s contemporaries, an often overlooked cohort who deserve to be examined more often than they are. Modern trumpet styles are a long way removed from the street rich dirty growls and blues-infused storytelling of those times. A sound which always communicated a world of raw emotion and deep humanity. As the tribute tunes moved through the era, we heard everything from the lighter-hearted ‘A Tisket a Tasket’ (a traditional nursery rhyme), to Gershwin classics like  ‘A Foggy Day in London Town’ or ‘Summertime’.  Some of the numbers predated the Basie bands like ‘Struttin With Some Barbecue’ (Armstrong 1927) while others were more contemporary like the gorgeous arrangement of Stevie Wonders ‘Ma Cherie Amour’.

Among the most enjoyable moments were the sensitive trio rendition of ‘Hello Dolly’ (Herman) and the ever wonderful and always compelling Hefti arrangement of ‘April in Paris’ (Duke/Harburg). Doug Lawrence the tenor soloist astounded as always (I was sitting next to a young tenor player and his jaw dropped in amazement during Lawrence’s solos). These musicians are so tight that an atomic blast couldn’t separate them and they swing like crazy.  I guess 84 years on the road will do that.  I have seen this orchestra before and with any luck, I will see it again and again.  There is only one thing you can say in summing up a Basie Orchestra performance; “ONE MORE TIME – please”.

The concert took place at the Aotea Centre, Auckland City, New Zealand, July 30, 2018

Backbeat Bar, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians, vocal

Berardi/Foran/Karlen – NZ tour

KBerardi (1)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. KBerardi

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.KBerardi (3)

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. IMG_0433

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.

Concerts - visiting Musicians, Lewis Eadys, New Zealand Jazz Gigs, Piano Jazz

Michal Martyniuk Trio + Jakub Skowronski

Martyniuk (1)When Michal Martyniuk left Auckland for Poland last year, it was hot on the heels of a successful appearance at Java Jazz; the biggest Jazz festival in the world.  It was always on the cards that Martyniuk’s Auckland trio would fare well, as they are the epitome of an inventive, high energy unit and all of that is wrapped up in a very European sound.

While it was obvious to Kiwis and to the enthusiastic Java Jazz festival goers, I wondered how Martyniuk would be received in Europe. I have travelled there often and there are thousands of good Jazz musicians and many fine trios vying for attention. Jazz is valued there, especially in the northeast, and audiences are inclined to be very discriminating. I got my answer shortly after Martyniuk’s arrival, as notifications of media events, club gigs, radio and TV interviews started appearing. He had broken through the clamour and received acclaim in his birthplace. His co-released warm as toast Jazz-soul-funk album ‘After ‘Ours’ and his Jazz gigs, equally acclaimed.  Martyniuk (2)

The journey back to the country of his birth had been important for Martyniuk and he has returned with heightened confidence, exuding a sense that anything is possible. This was evidenced by the trio’s live performance at the Lewis Eady showroom. Many New Zealand improvising bands have a laid back organic feel as that is generally our thing. In contrast, this band is tightly focussed, but without that in any way detracting from its appeal. The tunes by Martyniuk are melodic and often rhythmically complex. This is counterbalanced nicely by Samsom and McArthur who create contrast and interwoven texture. The first set was a mix of old and new tunes. His older tunes like The Awakening and New Beginning, familiar in the same way standards are – always pleasing, always yielding up something fresh. His more recent compositions a mix of burners and ballads. Martyniuk (3)

The Lewis Eady gig was augmented by the addition of visiting Polish saxophonist Jakub Skowronski. Skowronski has a beautiful even tone on tenor and like Samsom and McArthur, he’s the perfect foil for Martyniuk. While he made it all look effortless, his solos took us deep inside the music. These guys were made to play together and I hope they remain a unit. They have a lot more to tell us yet and with any luck, we will get to enjoy the continuing story as it unfolds. Those who wish to be part of this journey can contribute via a recently set up ‘Kickstarter’ campaign following this link. There was some really exciting new material recorded in Poland over the last year and the Kickstarter campaign is about getting that released into the world. No one ever regretted supporting great music like this.

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Michal Martyniuk (piano, compositions, leader), Cameron McArthur (upright bass), Ron Samsom (drums, percussion) + Jakub Skowronski (tenor). You can follow this band and order albums from Empire Agency Co. Bands / Michal Martyniuk Trio

 

 

Beyond category, Concerts - visiting Musicians, Piano Jazz, Review

Jonathan Crayford’s ‘Steinway Tour’

SoloJ (1) Rarely, do we get to experience something truly sublime and for this to occur a number of planets must be perfectly aligned. Art at this level cannot be forced as the realization is dependant on both tangibles and intangibles. The musician might be in peak form, but if the room or the instrument is mediocre then the fine edge of perfection is blunted. It is harder to achieve in a capacious concert hall; easier in a well-appointed studio or an intimate vibing Jazz club. There is no manual to guide us to the point of departure. It is a divine alchemy pure and simple.

When I heard that Jonathan Crayford would be touring the country with a Steinway D Concert piano and one with considerable provenance, my first inclination was to doubt. This was no small undertaking. The piano in question was special, played by luminaries such as Lily Kraus, who signed it. It was formerly owned by a branch of the Guggenheim family and if Crayford had not asked a friend to purchase it, we would have lost it to an offshore purchaser. The friend, surprisingly, agreed and said, “Now use it”. Crayford is one of the few musicians who could pull this off.

The piano and Crayford travelled up from Wellington a few days ago and the first concert took place on the day of their arrival in Auckland. The lovely Uxbridge Arts Centre in Howick was the first venue; a pleasant, modern 100+ seat auditorium with good acoustics (especially for a piano) and an intimate cosiness.  I arrived early as I was videoing and sat quietly in the darkness; watching Crayford and his magnificent piano get acquainted.

Crayford approaches pianos with reverence and sensitivity. I watched as he played a few phrases – then he paused when a particular voicing took his attention. Putting his ear close and playing it again with a look of delight. He was learning the secrets and subtleties of the instrument. Later during the concert, he gently tapped out a note which had taken his fancy. “Listen carefully”, he said to the audience, pointing to a particular key. A soft harmonic-rich sound reverberated gently through the room – revealing a warm golden timbre. As he shared these insights we felt privileged. Crayford treats fine pianos as living entities; beings to be understood, curated, exalted. When he finished a piece he would gently lift his hands and time would stall as the slow decay of chord or phrase created new harmonics and textures. Sound bouncing off wood, frame and room until it faded into infinity. SoloJ (4)

He opened with a composition of his own, a reflective piece of deep spacious improvisation, perfectly realised and just the right length to reel us in. The awed hush from the audience said it all. This concert was special and everyone there swiftly grasped that. Next, we heard his take on an obscure but unmistakable Monk tune, the familiar jagged lines morphing into new shapes as he went. There was no set playlist, no charts to guide him; just a small black notebook with dozens of possible tunes written down and in no particular order. The piano and his musician’s instinct informing him of the journey as he went. Tunes were chosen or rejected on the fly. His programme consisting mainly of reflective material but with a few faster-paced tunes to balance these out. A tune from the Spanish civil war attributed to Garcia Lorca was an example of the latter. On the slower reflective pieces like a Satie Gymnopedie, he left space for the music to breathe – space for the spirit of the piano to sing through.  He would often play three pieces together and then rise from the piano to quote a line from Shakespeare or to offer an insight into a piece. He is a fascinating speaker and his enthusiasm utterly infectious. Nothing was out of place, everything he did conveyed the magic of the moment. SoloJ (6)

I urge music lovers to clear their calendars and attend these extraordinary concerts as Crayford travels throughout New Zealand. It is seldom that we get to experience projects like this and extremely rare to hear them in such intimate spaces. The most difficult gig in Jazz is the free-ranging improvised solo piano concert. When it works (and this certainly did) it is the most rewarding. This was deep improvisation, sensitive interaction and piano/sound curation at it’s best.  It paid respect to the solo art form and above all to a very special Steinway piano. It was Jarrett like (but without the abuse). It was Crayford at his best and that is enough to satisfy any music lover.

For tour, details check out: jonathancrayford.com – (video up later)

John Fenton  – March 2018

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Beyond category, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians, vocal

Simona Minns ‘A Hunger Artist’

IMG_6628 - Version 2The 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. IMG_6586

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.  IMG_6612 - Version 2

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. S Minns (11)

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.

Concerts - visiting Musicians, Review, Straight ahead

John Pal Inderberg Trio (Norway)

John Pal (1)

It is rare to have a Viking encounter in New Zealand as our Geographical isolation makes it difficult. A foolish few, claim, that Eric the Red visited here after he sailed to America. That is as fanciful as Trump’s claim to possess genius IQ.  I have had four significant Viking encounters in my life. The first was when I visited Yorvik in York. The second occurred in a crowded hall when a booming female voice hushed everyone by proclaiming – ‘Lookout a Viking has entered the room’ and pointed directly at me. Wives were gathered close as all eyes turned nervously in my direction (the embarrassment subsided after extensive counselling). The third occasion was when my DNA revealed that I was 21% Viking (the woman was right). A few nights ago, I had another Viking encounter and this one was perfect. A descendant of Eric’s finally made it, with a baritone battle horn and batterie in tow.  John Pal

It was 10 degrees below when John Pal Inderberg left Norway and 40 degrees above when he and Hakon Johansen landed in Sydney.  By the time they visited Auckland, there was only a 38-degree temperature differential. This gig, was as unexpected as my previous Viking encounters – coming out of nowhere.  Jeff Henderson had pulled it together at short notice and those who attended will be eternally grateful that he did. Henderson and Inderberg go back some way. Baritone saxophone gigs are extremely rare; baritone chordless trio gigs like hens’ teeth. Inderberg opened with a long intro; a beautiful Norwegian folk-influenced melody – the deep resonant notes bubbling up from the depths – pleasurable from the first instance. His rich tone, northern European, his ideas as he improvised, an endless stream of Nordic sagas.  I have only heard one baritone player who sounds like that – John Surman (who also lives in Norway). John Pal (3)

The setlist was a mix of originals and standards – the standards sounding wonderfully original, as breathy stories were unpicked. Woven into the tunes, were snatches of multiphonics – between the tunes, a cornucopia of humour. This was Nordic humour and extremely funny. At one point, he told us that a particular tune was difficult and required a lot of rehearsal. “This tune has a lot of de-crescendos and Vikings are very crescendo orientated. Loud shouting is embedded in our DNA after all of that pillaging”. He later explained that the band were enjoying their new uniform (although no one was dressed the same). “Not one of us is wearing underpants on stage,” he added. “In Norway at 10 below, our underpants stretch from here to here,” indicating his chest and ankles. In this heat, they are not welcome.  

Inderberg has an impressive resume. He has toured and recorded with Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Chet Baker, Gil Evans and Bob Brookmeyer. He teaches at Trondheim, is a multi-award-winning musician and a key member of many ensembles and Jazz orchestras.  He has definite Tristano leanings and this shows in his approach to improvisation. We discussed Warne Marsh’s sad final performance – dying as he played ‘Out of Nowhere’. We call it ‘Out of Norway’ he told me.

We were extremely lucky to have both Inderberg and the trio drummer Hakon Mjaset Johansen in New Zealand. Johansen was also extraordinary – whether as a colourist or laying down a steady pulse, he showed himself to be the perfect partner (the percussively finicky Lenny would have approved – no kick drum bombs). On bass was the Auckland musician Eamon Edmundson-Wells. Was the Nordic-sounding name an X-factor? It may have been as he played as if he had been with the trio for a long time. It is always gratifying when our local musicians kill it alongside the greats. John Pal (2)

Inderberg has over 30 albums to his credit. He will likely return before too long. Watch out for that, as his gigs are not to be missed. The Trio recorded an album in 2016 titled ‘Linjedalsleiken’ and it is superb. I have embedded two gig clips, just case people need further convincing and a sound clip from the album.  

The above album is recorded for Ponca Jazz Records and is available from that site, or from iTunes. Also available, are a number of recordings of Inderberg with Lee Konitz – ‘Steps towards a Dream’ is astonishingly beautiful. Well worth the download if you have a fondness for the post-Tristano movement as I do.