Rob Luft UK Guitarist ~ Interview

One of the few pleasures of lockdown is that it has afforded me time to conduct long-form interviews. But while I had the time, the subject of this interview was back touring again and his hectic schedule meant that dates and time zones had to be navigated with precision. Consequently, our pre-interview messaging often occurred during gig breaks. Guitarist Rob Luft is a significant presence on the UK and European Jazz scene. He is articulate and a good storyteller and so transcribing our zoom call has been a pleasure. We talked for nearly two hours. 

It was basically a long-distance hang, and when Jazz people are interviewed they tend to intersperse the geeky stuff with funny asides. This was no exception. For my part, I couldn’t wait to hear about his ECM experience with Manfred Eicher, but the unexpected foray into the joys of Arab music and being alone with Tutankhamun were the icing on the cake. It was never in doubt that Luft’s star would rise and it has risen on the back of sound judgement and hard work. And in aligning himself with astonishing vocalists like Alina Duni he has broadened his horizons. It is unusual to hear a young guitarist embracing thoughtful minimalism but in doing this he has shown real maturity. Under his fingers, less is invariably more.

JL32: Hi Rob, nice to see you again man and thanks for agreeing to an interview when you are so busy gigging.  I know that you had a gig in Oxford last night and were at Ronnie Scotts much of last week, before that on tour in Europe.

Luft: Hi John, good to see you too after a long strange few years. It’s been a while since we last met up. 

JL32. Yes, after your trip to New Zealand in 2016 (see review) we got together in London, first at the Barnes Jazz Club for the launch of Luna Cohens ‘November Skies’ album and then, a year later at Ronnie Scotts where you were playing with Kit Downes.

Luft: And I have played with both since, with Luna on my recent album and with Kit on a gig recently.

JL32: According to your discography you have been very busy since we last spoke. There was your Riser album with Joe Wright (sax),  Joe Webb (keys), Tom McCredie (bass) and Corrie Dick (drums), and then, a follow-up album with the same lineup adding vocalist Luna Cohan and on ‘Flumpit’ Byron Wallen. And over that same period, you were sideman on around eight albums. 

Luft: Yes and other projects, but, 2020 was almost completely dry of gigs because of COVID. We had the inverse experience to New Zealand because the UK was hit early and we were not open like your country.  Especially gig wise.

JL32: The last time we spoke you told me that you and the Albanian Jazz vocalist Elina Duni had an ECM album under discussion, and of course that came to pass with the beautiful ‘Lost Ships’. Looking at the release date, that must have coincided with the arrival of restrictions in the UK.

Luft: Well in the rest of Europe, after the initial lockdown, there were still gigs happening, I was able to play gigs in France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Switzerland throughout the summer. In the UK it was very different.

JL32: I’d like to come back to that, but before we proceed further,  a few biographical details if you don’t mind. I know that you were born in the London area and that you went to the Royal Academy of Music where you won the Kenny Wheeler Prize. 

Luft: Yes, and I had a bizarre sort of experience at the Academy. The class groups for the Jazz Studies Bachelor’s course were very small and in my year there were only five, then later four of us. And in my group was Jacob Collier, so for the best part of four years, I was there with Jacob who was obviously a multi-instrumentalist. We had no drummer in our year and so usually you would have a full group playing with you, and so Jacob would play a different instrument when each guest artist came to visit us. There was John Abercrombie, Kenny Wheeler, Stan Sulzman and so on, and Jacob would be there playing a different instrument for each ensemble. There was no sense of continuity or band sensibility because Jacob was fulfilling so many roles, quite bizarre actually.  

JL32: So in some ways your studies forced you to forge your own path.

Luft: I guess because the Academy only took in pupils who had advanced abilities at the outset. Less teaching and a more autodidactic approach, they encouraged that. They would get these great artists like Jerry Bergonzi to come in and play with us rather than teach us in the traditional sense. It was amazing to have people like John Abercombie come in and I’d be with him for a couple of days at a time.

JL32: That must have been especially good for you as a guitarist.

Luft: For me it was optimal. And obviously, the people coming in with Kenny Wheeler, like John Taylor, Norma Winstone and that class of musicians. 

JL32: Abercrombie, Wheeler, Taylor, they are no longer with us. 

Luft: Yes, back then Kenny Wheeler’s Big Band would come in and rehearse, imagine, you’re eighteen years old and you watch these legendary Jazz figures come in and rehearse in your music hall, it was amazing. Kenny had a huge influence on me, on my harmonic and textural approach. And Stan (Sulzman), a lovely player, and Ray Warleigh, they were all in that band, Ray was originally from Australia I think (Sadly Warleigh is also no longer with us).  

JL32: Kenny was across every style huh.

Luft: He was eclectic, as was Stan, across everything from playing alongside English folk guitarist Nick Drake to playing free alongside Evan Parker. And I love that open eclecticism, the Academy was like that, never dictatorial or saying, you have to play like this. 

JL32;  The UK scene historically, appears to have possessed enough confidence to do its own thing, not thinking that they had to sound exactly like American players. It appears to have an original voice, much as the Scandinavian scene does. What do you think?

Luft: Yeah it’s very similar to the Scandinavian Jazz scene. You will understand, because we meet up in London, that it’s a melting pot, with influences coming from all over Europe and everywhere else. Afro Caribean musicians because of the connections formed way back in colonial times. Or the Indian community in North London creating a hub of South Indian music and by the same token, there is a huge West African community bringing their traditional music, Ghanain, Congolese for example.

JL32: Like Shabaka Hutchings?

Luft: Exactly, Shabaka comes from a Barbadian background and is influenced by Calypso music.

JL32: And earlier, Joe Harriot from Jamaica, who was world-leading in his free and world fusion explorations.

Luft: Yes, and that’s the melting pot of London. So many forms of music around and played at a high level. And you came to see us in Barnes with the Brazillian vocalist Luna Cohen and her band features Brazillian musicians. I played with them again recently and Luna is on one of my recent albums. 

JL32: She sung wordless vocal lines, I love that.

Luft: I especially love that as a guitarist, the Pat Metheney group of the eighties, and Kenny with Norma Winstone, I can’t get away from it in my head, the vocalese. And the psychedelic jazz of the seventies, Mahavishnu and Alan Holdsworth. One of the first gigs I ever saw was Holdsworth with Jimmy Haslip and Gary Husband (Gary playing the drums and not keyboards). For better or worse, seeing that trio changed my life. 

JL32: Is Gary Husband English (Luft nods) I had no idea? 

Luft: A few months after my New Zealand trip I met McLoughlin at the Montreaux Jazz Festival and he adjudicated in a competition I had entered. Then his band played with the two winning bands, I got second place, all of us jamming a blues together and doing solos. I had to pinch myself and say, is this happening (laughs). He’s lovely, just lovely, and he speaks incredibly good French, but I was slightly dismayed that his North Yorkshire accent has all but disappeared. 

JL32: So moving to 2020 and your album ‘Life as a Dancer’, did you record that before or after the ECM album ‘Lost Ships’?

Luft: That was recorded six months before. I remember that session well because Byron had been held up. He needed to pick up his Flumpet which had a sticky valve. It sounds like a comedy sketch now (laughs), very Monty Python, me on the phone saying we need your Flumpet. We were recording and only had the studio booked for a limited time. When he arrived we only had time left for one take and he nailed it. 

JL32: I admire openness in writing, even after adding two extra voices (after Riser), that album still sounds spacious, and the palette creates a nice textural balance.   

Luft: I think you could say that the quintet was more inspired by textual, ambient ideas, perhaps Eno, more open and a washier sound, more open to explorations. We laid down a very simple progression and let the music go where it wanted to.

JL32: Are you drawn to open, model or spiritual jazz?

Luft: Yes, that new Coltrane album exemplified that, it blew me away. I am always inspired by that modal era, and when you add the electric guitar, electronics, which touches on those psychedelic influences, Eno, Byrne, then that whole world of sonic exploration opens. 

JL32: Jon Hassell?

Luft: Oh yeah, a huge loss. In 2019 I was on tour with Arve Hendrikson (Norwegian Trumpeter associated with Hassell), and I discovered Hassell after I had heard Arve, and I said to him, ‘hang on, there is so much in your playing that comes from Jon Hassell and I had no idea’.  

JL32: And guitarist Eivind Aaset, electronics improviser Jan Bang?

Luft: ‘Dream Logic’ is one of my favourite albums. The Norwegians are masters, they are like folk musicians. I met Eivind and Arild Anderson recently when I played at the Molde Jazz Festival, and I came to the realisation that these are deep folk musicians. Masters of sound, it’s about sound and the local roots. And Sidsel Endresen who is the biggest influence on Elina is astonishing. 

JL32: And last year, there was another album that was released. A trio with Norwegian bassist and vocalist Ellen Andrea Wang, You on guitar and Jon Falt on drums (Falt is the long time drummer with the ECM Bobo Stenson Trio). 

Luft: I’m a huge fan of Jon Falt and I love Bobo Stenson, a big influence across Europe, Here, he has an almost Jarrett-like status. 

JL32: Again that open airy free sound – like the American pianist, Marilyn Crispell,   minimalism and depth.

Luft: The trumpet player who appears on ‘Life is a Dancer’, Byron Wallen, has an album. I’m on tour with him at present. He plays trumpet, Flugel, Flumpet, piano, conch and reads poems. He’s of Belizian Descent and has this gorgeous dulcet voice, and while he reads a poem I play minimalistic triadic chords. A beautiful conversation, voice above the texture.  

JL32: Obviously, the thing I am keen to explore is your co-led album ‘Lost Ships’ and your impressions of recording with ECM. ‘Lost ships’ is the album that I am most likely to recommend to friends and your playing is a great example of less being more. You are understated, not all over the vocalist, but it feels so expansive. And all of you, relatively sparse instrumentation, Flugel, piano, guitar, vocals and not always at the same time, but a big sound.

Luft: I can tell you an amazing story about that recording. At that point, some countries like Italy were beginning to experience COVID but for us, it was a vague awareness of distant storm clouds gathering. We were there in the south of France and the days were mild. The studio Manfred had hired was in Avignon and the Israeli pianist Shai Maestro had just finished recording. And Manfred was there setting up the mics and desk levels, and then he had to return to Munich unexpectedly. So the set-up was complete and we had the engineer, but we were suddenly self-producing. 

I was initially gutted, but Alina who had recorded with Manfred before, said, this is an opportunity. His presence is everywhere in the studio, so we should draw on that and record as if he were here guiding us. We should play as though he were sitting on the other side of the glass. And we would do a take and listen and say to ourselves, how would Manfred view this, and it was kind of liberating because we had unexpected freedom and as a young guitarist, I might have been intimidated otherwise. 

JL32: Tell me more about the vibe.

Luft: I mean Manfred has produced some of my favourite albums like Metheney’s ‘Bright Sized Life’, John Abercrombie’s ‘Timeless’ with De Johnette/Hammer and many of my favourite guitar albums, so it took some of the weight off my shoulders to be imagining his presence. And as you pointed out, I felt able to play in a minimalist spacious way and I didn’t deploy all of my usual tricks and language.  I just told myself, be an ECM guitarist and it worked. I’ve been told that Manfred loves the album and that he plays it at dinner parties, so it’s a good sign. 

JL32: I would like to touch on the arranging, the writing, configuration etc. 

Luft: I did a fair bit of the arranging and we were lucky to bring onboard other musicians, Matthieu Michel on Flugelhorn, they call him the Kenny Wheeler of Switzerland, a mellifluous tone reminiscent of the Northern Europeans. Manfreds a fan of his playing and he’s featured on a few ECM albums, with artists like Susanne Abbuehl. And Fred Thomas who is a multi-instrumentalist. He went to the Academy about ten years before me, in the same year as Kit Downes (also an ECM artist). What I’m trying to say is that it is all very incestuous (laughs). It’s a beautiful thing that the entire Jazz world is so connected.

Getting back to ‘lost Ships’, it came out in November 2020, during the month that Europe called a circuit-breaker lockdown.  So right on release after the promise of clubs finally opening up again, lockdown. It was like a switch being turned off.  We were gutted that we could not promote our album and only one concert survived. We had a big release tour locked down and suddenly in my diary, everything had to be crossed out. 

The one remaining concert was the Cairo Jazz festival, Egypt! So in the middle of a lockdown, I showed up at Heathrow, guitar in tow, and boarded an Egyptian Airlines flight, without Matthieu. We were a trio with just Alina and Fred. But there was one gig on the way in Galicia Spain which was streamed and from there we flew directly to Cairo. (clip shown)

As we exited the Cairo terminal, the wafts of heat just swept over us, in stark contrast to wintery London. Taxi touts everywhere, shouting, and obviously no lockdown. We had two gigs at the festival and instead of live-streaming with no audience, we had a gorgeous venue and a full capacity audience. The Cairo Jazz Festival is amazing and we learnt an Arabic song for it, an ancient maqam from the 14th century. 

We met loads of great musicians and the director of the festival, Amr Salah said, why are you getting on a plane to fly into a lockdown? What will you do when there are no gigs? Why don’t you just miss the flight and stay in Egypt? It was a wine-fueled evening and we decided on the spot to do just that. We soon found ourselves exploring the wonders of upper and lower Egypt. There were no tourists and we had the ancient sites virtually to ourselves. I must be one of the few people to stand beside Tutankhamun without company. And it was just us inside the anti-chamber of the Great Pyramid of Giza. And one thing led to another and I stayed there seven months.

JL32: Did I hear you correctly, seven months?

Luft: I was there living my life as normal, learning a bit of Arabic, and I fell in love with the country. And for whatever reason, the desert or perhaps a lack of testing, but very few cases of the virus appeared. 

JL32: And are there any projects underway, ECM or otherwise?

Luft: Well three months ago Alina and I received an email from Manfred asking us to do another record. The finer details of which are under discussion right now and we might be recording in March 2022. And although we suffered through missing the lockdown release gigs, all of those bookings are suddenly active again, with promoters wanting us to appear all over. Strangely, I am busier with gigs now than I have ever been. In a few days, we head for Paris for a week of gigs, then around France. And another factor is that Elina and I work perfectly well as a duo and promotors find that easier to plan for. (some European countries have numbers restrictions again).

JL32: And how is the album doing?

Luft: By modern standards well and the sales are constant with gigs opening up again.  Loads of Radio Play in Germany and Italy especially. ECM is essentially an old fashioned business and what they do is remarkably successful. Manfred is across it all and he uses only a small number of studios and a handful of trusted engineers. There’s one in the South of France where we recorded, there’s one in Lugano south Switzerland. Even the famous Rainbow Studio in Oslo is not used anymore because the room is different. He values spaces and forms high trust relationships with certain engineers, and he probably delegates more than people think. Including delegating to the musicians. I have been told by other ECM musicians that his presence is felt, but not inserted into the project. Not insisting, I want you to do this now.  

JL32: Any plans for a down-under tour in future? 

Luft: The Melbourne scene is an important Jazz hub and the Melbourne diaspora (of jazz musicians) is felt throughout the world. We have a good friend in Melbourne who keeps threatening to organise a tour. If we were to go to Melbourne we would certainly try to facilitate a trip to New Zealand.  And I would tour with Alina, it’s just a question of time. My mentality now, since we started touring again is, every concert is a blessing, a gift. Even if it’s stressful to get there with quarantine or with testing, we brush that aside and give the concert our all. I don’t want to lose that.

JL32: And I want to mention another name, someone you know. James Copus the Flugel player. I reviewed the recent Scottish National Jazz Orchestra album where they honour some free-jazz titans and James was playing in the orchestra. I loved his ‘Dusk’ recording.

Luft: Yes, James is one of my oldest friends, we shared a flat in North London, we drank too much, jammed too loudly and annoyed the neighbours. We would rehearse in our room with Balkan brass ensembles and the poor neighbours were incensed. We have known each other since we were fifteen as we were both in the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. And in the Royal Academy, we were in the same year with Jacob Collier. James and I are going to record together next year.

JL32: I see that you recorded as guest guitarist with the SNJO.

Luft: Yes one album. Tommy Smith is amazing, the UK Michael Brecker. 

JL32: A few final questions. On ‘Lost Ships’ there is no bass player and minimal drums. How did you approach that?  

Luft: Yes, it freed up space, but it also put a lot of responsibility onto my shoulders as a guitarist. So that’s why I used the electronics to give me an octave below and to fill out that space a bit more. And if there is a drummer they needed to be very aware. Play more with the lower toms and bass drum. I played bass lines sometimes while comping, it’s a flavour. You can’t talk about bassless jazz without thinking, Paul Motian Trio. In my head, that’s the textbook on how to do it. 

JL32: Current influences? 

Luft: I try to listen to new stuff all the time. Actually, Egypt was amazing for that. Being immersed in a whole world of Egyptian singers and musicians was great, I had no idea it existed. And now I hear that and it touches me deeply. It’s incredible the way the Oud players, singers and violinists improvise within a mode and often microtonally. No pianos anywhere. I’m a huge fan of Anouar Brahem, so to walk into a cafe, drink a really strong coffee and hear musicians doing what he does, magic, all of that drone-based modal music. 

It’s lament music. Alina often points out to audiences, that once you cross the Bosphorus and arrive in the Middle East, something fundamental in the music changes. So in the West, a major key song is a happy song and a minor key song is a sad song. Once you cross the Bosphorus, the minor key becomes the happy song. And Jazz gets that as it understands dancing the sadness away. 

JL32: So with Alina, you will have been exploring this type of music.  

Luft: Because she’s from Albania, an ancient cultural melting pot, the Ottoman Turkish influence is strong, but it’s also a Mediterranean country with Italian and other influences. So Turkish microtonality blended with an Italian folky balladesque. And touches of Rock and Pop. The Balkans region influences me more and more. So I have an Oud now and I am beginning to explore that. The Oud shops of Cairo are the Tin Pan Alley of the Middle East. We have to innovate to keep moving.

JL32: And the recent album by Norwegian bass player Ellen Andrea Wang that you featured on. That is a prime example of the forward-momentum of improvised music. I get quite a few albums from that region for review, and many are similar to ‘Closeness’ in that they blend pop sensibilities with hardcore Jazz. Like folksy ballads alongside tunes like Ornette’s Lonely Woman or some Americana like Wayfaring Stranger.  

Luft: All over London there are Jazz gigs in small venues featuring this exact type of music, so you get teenagers coming along in droves, and sometimes I do gigs like that. We will throw in a Radiohead or a Nick Drake number with Jazz harmonies.  I love the excitement on the faces of new audiences as they hear that mix but also relate to the straight Jazz content. Brad Mehldau led the way.  Many young Londoners are becoming tired of shallow formulaic pop music and they are searching. And they discover new stars like Shabaka Hutchings who is very popular. Myele Manzanza from Wellington is also very successful in London, he has real crossover appeal. 

JL32: I am interested in your work as an accompanist, your sensitivity and awareness of the vocalist. Not every guitarist gets that, many overplay, miss the nuances when comping. Although you have a number of instrumental albums, you also gravitate towards vocalists. Are you drawn to them or do they seek you out?

Luft: I’ve always been drawn to singers because I love the spoken word. A number of years ago I studied at University College London, a degree course in the science of language. Along the way, I managed to pick up two additional languages, with a degree of proficiency, French and Italian, and I’m fascinated with the connection between poetry and melody. Voice and guitar, that extra layer that can be added. So I am drawn to them, but maybe it works both ways as they call me back for more gigs.

JL32: It appears that we’ve been talking for nearly two hours so I’d better wrap up and let you get some sleep (it’s Midnight in the UK). Thanks, for giving me so much time man, it’s been a really interesting and fun catch-up.

Luft: And you too John. Let’s hope that our paths will cross sometime in the new year or very soon after. 

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.

The Brian Smith Interview

As Aotearoa’s Jazz musicians become increasingly confident of their place in the world, it is timely to acknowledge those who paved the way. A significant figure in this journey is saxophonist and winds player Brian Smith. I had been meaning to interview him for some time and the recent lockdown provided the ideal opportunity. I have long been aware of just how innovative London Jazz was during the 60s and 70s. The output was considerable, different from what was happening elsewhere and it stands up well to this day and there is an increasing interest among jazz fans and Jazz historians in pouring over this material. Over a lengthy Zoom call, we discussed his musical career and in particular his involvement in the UK Jazz scene. What follows is extracted from that wide-ranging discussion. 

Where Smith grew up and how he first engaged with music was the obvious place to start, but then as we proceeded I was struck by how modest Smith was, quietly brushing aside his considerable achievements in true Kiwi fashion. And the more we talked, the more I realised that a colourful piece of Jazz history was unravelling. 

JL32: Hi Brian, thanks for agreeing to the interview. 

Smith: Greetings John, where would you like to start? 

JL32: Where were you born?

Smith: I was born in Wellington but I grew up in Stratford, Taranaki. It was there that I learned piano and later switched to the saxophone.

JL32: Did you start gigging in the Naki?

Smith: Yes as a schoolboy I was part of a band that played for local dances. It was so much fun that I stayed at school an extra year; beyond when I’d intended to leave. 

JL32: what were your musical interests at that time?

Smith: It was then that my friends and I encountered 78s by the likes of Humphrey Littleton, Bennie Goodman, Louis Armstong, Lionel Hampton. I still have those under my bed (laughs and points). So, my first jazz interest was more Eddie Condon and I particularly liked the clarinet player Edmund Hall. It was his ‘feel’. It was hard to get records here then. But also among those recordings, I soon discovered Joe Newman, Wardall Grey, and early Miles. 

JL32: Did Wardall Grey lead you to discover Dexter?

Smith: No, I discovered Dexter later, also Miles album ‘Around Midnight’ a little later again, those was significant albums for me. 

After playing in a few small bands, Smith moved to Auckland (1958) and it was there, that he joined the Bob Paris dance band, later moving to Australia with them. During his time in Auckland, he became increasingly active on the jazz scene, playing at places like Trades Hall. When the Bob Paris band moved across the ditch,  he went with them, joining the exodus of Kiwi musicians like Mike Nock who had left for Australia a few years earlier. 

JL32: When we were discussing the Auckland clubs and musicians, you mentioned trumpeter Dave Ironside. I knew Dave well and I often wonder what became of him as I went to Sydney with him in 1967.

Smith: Yeah, Dave was a great bloke, he had a really good sense of humour, very funny.

JL32: And when was your move to Australia?

Smith: It was in 1960, I went on the Wanganella with Rick Laird, Barry Woods, Neddy Sullivan and Mike Walker, I was sick for two or three days as I recall (laughs). The trip cost us £30 each, a fortune in those days.

JL32: Did you get much work across the ditch?.

Smith: Well, after moving to Australia with the band, I met up with lots of musicians, such as Kiwi pianist Dave McCrae and our association was to continue later in London. (reaches into a box and produces a few Bob Paris recordings – one with vocalist Ricky May ). Later I obtained a residency on the Gold Coast through Bob Paris. That was where I met my wife. We were given accommodation and a percentage of the door. My wife was a receptionist at that hotel, she made sure that I was fed.

JL32: You connected with a lot of interesting Jazz musicians while in Sydney, notable Aussies, Kiwis such as Mike Nock, and others from much further afield.     

JL32: Did you by any chance meet up with a blind multi-instrumentalist Claude Papesch while you were there? 

Smith: Yes, I was driven around Kings Cross by him. (much laughter as we reminisced about this as we had both been nervous passengers while Papesch drove). Bob Gillett, Andy Brown, and I lived near Claude, and once after he’d painted his flat, he asked us to check the bits he’d missed and tap the wall to show him. He was such a character, a nice guy, he would call around and knock, and we would sit there quietly, then he would enter and find us one by one, feeling our ears and faces and naming us. I heard that he eventually became mayor of the Blue Mountains. Anyhow, after two years of gigging around Australia I moved back to Auckland. Once back home I played regularly with the likes of Tony Hopkins. 

JL32: Lachie Jamieson was around then, did you know him?

Smith: Oh yes, a great drummer and vibes player. I played with him a bit too, and another drummer back from the USA, Ray Edmundson. Lochie was a big deal in Auckland as he’d played with Sonny Rollins, Ira Sullivan, and bands around Chicago. And apart from Tony Hopkins, I played regularly with Mike Walker, Marlene Tong, different people. Some tours happening around then. 

Then a few years later, I packed up and decided to move to the UK as my wife came from Lancashire. On the way, I had a one-night stopover in New York, and during that night, I attended three gigs. I heard John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, and Herbie Hancock.  Clifford Jorden was the tenor player with Mingus which was at the Half Note.

JL32: What was your first destination in the UK?

Smith: I went to Manchester and met a few people on the scene. One of them was a bloke called Ernie Garside, who managed a Jazz Club there. I would sit in from time to time and my wife’s brother would come with me. He eventually became Maynard Ferguson’s manager. At that time Maynard was playing in Manchester. This was not long before his London concerts. Ernie Garside asked if I wanted to play in Maynard’s band and I did. It got busy as I was juggling three bands.

JL32: If it’s 69/70 you would have been playing with Nucleus, Tubby Hayes Big Band, and Maynard Ferguson.

Smith: Yes, and one or two other things were happening. I was playing with Alan Price as well.

JL32: I have listened to recordings of Tubby Hayes from that period. Nice band.

Smith: There was a TV Show and bits that were recorded. I had no solos but I was in the saxophone section with Alan Skidmore and Peter King. Peter King was great, I played with him quite a bit, a real nice guy.

JL32: I have jotted down a list of the significant UK bandleaders of that era you’ve played and recorded with: Graham Collier (70), Maynard Ferguson (65-75), Michael Gibbs (63-70), Keith Tippett (78), Mike Westbrook (69), Humphrey Littleton, Tubby Hayes, and particularly the Scottish horn player and composer Ian Carr (69-82). You have regularly played alongside UK-based Jazz greats like Kenny Wheeler, Stan Sulzman, John Marshall, Alan Holdsworth, Peter King, Tony Oxley, Stan Tracey Barre Philips, Jack Bruce, John Surman, and many more. And course Alexis Korner, the proto blues unit that influenced John Mayal, the Stones, etc. That’s some list.  

Smith: It was a busy time.

JL32: I want to spend a bit of time on ‘Nucleus’, but before I do, I see you played regularly with Kenny Wheeler.

Smith: Yes and he was such a humble guy. He would come away from a concert or recording session after playing well, look concerned and ask us if he played alright. 

JL32: At around that time was Kenny working with John Taylor and Norma Winstone, right?

Smith: Yes Norma Winstone and John Taylor were actually in Nucleus at one point, during my time the only other vocalist was Joy Yates (a Kiwi). But back when I first arrived, there were other people important to me. Rick Laird was in London by then and he was working at Ronnie Scotts. He introduced me to a drummer, percussionist called John Stephens who ran the Spontaneous Music Ensemble.

JL32: He was a notable early free player. Tell me more?

Smith: He was good to me. He had a caretaker flat off Harley Street. He let me stay there and I played with him at the ‘Little Theatre Club’, with Trevor Watts. I played with the Spontaneous Music Ensemble a bit at that time. Dave Holland would come up, Kenny Wheeler, Jeff Klien, Evan Parker. One night Chick Corea turned up and sat in and I didn’t know who he was at the time. We were playing a lot of free stuff and he was stomping and slapping the piano sides.   

JL32: Anyone else?

Smith: Oh yes I was with Alexis Korner between 1965-66).

JL32: Did you ever encounter the legendary Phil Seaman?

Smith: yes, once I recall we were on the same gig. 

Note: Alexis Korner Blues Incorporated was a very important band at the time and the great British blues bands like the Stones and John Mayal were all heavily influenced by it. Musicians like Jack Bruce, Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, Ginger Baker, and Graham Bond were all in the band at some point. The Alexis Korner band moved freely between jazz and blues venues and included Jazz standards in the repertoire.

JL32: Was the 1970 album ‘Elastic Rock’ the first Nucleus album you were on? I think that you were a founding member of that band.

Smith: I was. The band was formed by the Scottish trumpeter and arranger Ian Carr and multi-instrumentalist (Sir) Karl Jenkins, I was with them right up to when I left the UK and on many of the albums between 1970-82, except when I was touring with Maynard Ferguson. 

JL32: It was very successful. I arrived in London in 1985 and it was still popular then. Don’t you think the term Jazz-Rock Fusion was a bit of a marketing exercise? To my ears, you were a jazz unit edging at times into free territory. Not nearly as rock-sounding as in the guitar-heavy fusion bands. Listening again I find stronger synergies between Nucleus and the late 70’s output by Bennie Maupin or Eddie Henderson etc. And it sounded like a true collective with no egos dominating.

Smith: Yes we were a collective and you could argue that there was a synergy between our music and the era you mention. Nucleus did do well and there were a few other Kiwis who joined the band after I did. Billy Kristian, Dave McCrae, Roger Sellers, Joy Yates. 

JL32: Overall, 45 members are listed as passing through the band, and there were 21 albums by my count. You are credited on many of those albums. And some well-known figures from the London Jazz scene came and went; Kenny Wheeler, Tim Whitehead, Tony Coe, Gordon Beck, John Taylor, Norma Winstone, Allan Holdsworth, Neil Ardley and so many more. And of course, you were in the core group. I notice that your playing attracted favourable mentions from reviewers. 

Smith: Oh well (downplaying it), I got along with Ian and it worked out for me. There were quite a few of us (Kiwis) in London during the 70s, Frank Gibson and Bruce Lynch for example. We were all doing different things. Anyhow, the last tour I did with Maynard was March 75, and I went back to Nucleus and played with them right up until when I returned home. Bob Bertles the Australian saxophonist filled in while I was touring with Maynard. 

During his time in London, Smith was often in brass sections accompanying well-known popular musicians or visiting artists. These included: Gladys Night And The Pips, Donavan, Dusty Springfield, Nancy Wilson, T Bone Walker, Georgie Fame, Alan Price.

JL32: You played tenor, soprano, and alto flute. Your soprano sounded great and the arrangements were interesting. Did you write any of the tunes?

Smith: Yes I wrote a few.

JL32: I’m guessing that the tune Taranaki would be you, there’s a clue there.

Smith: Yes that’s me (laughs).

JL32: What about arranging?

Smith: The arranging was basically whoever wrote the tune and then everyone had input.

JL32: And so not long after, Nucleus won the Best European Band competition at Montreux.

Smith: Yes that was 1970 around the time we released Elastic Rock, our first album. The big radio stations used to sponsor bands, all of the big European stations, and our sponsors were the BBC and we won (laughs). So because we won at the Montreux Jazz Festival, as best European band, the prize was an appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival.

JL32: How was that?

Smith: Fantastic, yeah, so after Montreux, we travelled to Newport. It was in the afternoon, I can’t remember which day, but it was funny actually, because Dave McCrae and Rick Laird were there also with the Buddy Rich band. And Mike Nock with Fourth Way on the same weekend as well. 

JL32: So you got together for a hang?

Smith: Yeah, because we hadn’t seen each other for quite a while. And then we played one night in New York at the Village Gate. It was amazing.

JL32: Did this lead to more work for Nucleus?

Smith: After we returned, we toured a lot, Italy and Germany in particular, Festivals and clubs. It became a regular thing.

Nucleus gained a significant following and after Elastic Rock, many successful albums followed. They reflected the times and the restlessness of 70s youth culture, complete with psychedelic cover art and cross-genre appeal, but they were firmly grounded in the Jazz tradition. The albums following: We’ll Talk About it Later, Solar Plexis, Belladonna, Roots, Labyrinth, Under The Sun, Snakehips Etcetera, Alleycat, In Flagranti Delicto, Out of The Long Dark, Awakening (and more after Brian Smith left). The labels during the 70s were Vertigo, Capitol, Mood. Some are still on issue and most will be available on streaming sites (one Nucleus album is also available on Bandcamp featuring Smith) 

JL32: You played with Kieth Tippett’s Frames around then? You are credited on ‘Music for Imaginary Films.  With Stan Tracey.

Smith: Yes I played with Stan a few times, but there was a trombonist named Malcolm Griffiths. He and I got a quintet together for just a little while in 1977, and we did a couple of gigs and a broadcast and Stan Tracey was on that with Brian Spring and Dave Green. And another one I did some playing with was a great piano player, Gordon Beck. I was in a band with him called Gyroscope right at the beginning. At around that time I started touring America with Maynard and Gyroscope hired Stan Sulzmann.

JL32: I associate him most strongly with Kenny Wheeler’s ‘Music for Small and Large Ensembles’. (we agree that this double album is an essential desert island disk) 

Smith: yeah Stan and I were pretty good friends and still keep in touch. Oh, and in the late 70s, Dave McCrae put a band together called ‘Pacific Eardrum’. That band did two or three albums, one before I joined, and several later, including one after I returned which we all did back here in New Zealand. 

JL32: So looking back over that period, what gave you the most satisfaction?

Smith: Well playing Nucleus, but playing with Maynard especially so. I’d always had this thing about the big band era, the bands that toured America constantly, and (having) the chance to do that in 1974. I spent a whole year in America and I was touring around the whole time. It was just that whole road thing, being on the bus with a bunch of guys and having a good time, playing some good music. Once upon a time, it was like going to school, that’s where musicians made a name for themselves. I learned a lot playing with that band. Sometimes it was the incidental things, like playing at the Bulls Head in Barnes, playing with small units, like the Tony Lee Trio as a guest, or with Martin Drew. And Paz, that was a Latin Band run by Dick Crouch and we recorded a few things. That was a great band and I enjoyed that.

JL32: Do you think that it gives you an edge playing with big bands?

Smith: Well it depends on the person, but it is a good training ground, and for young players, they must play with lots of different people, whether in small ensembles or large. Learning to read but also learning to blend in, hearing the phrasing, and knowing how to react.

JL32: When you returned to New, Zealand I guess people wanted to take lessons. I heard somewhere that you taught Roger Manins for a while. 

Smith: He used to come to my place in Glenfield when I lived there, maybe for a year or so. I like Roger, we get along fine.  

JL32: And in the years after you returned I recall the Brian Smith Band and an album ‘Southern Excursions’.

Smith: Yes that was with Frank (Gibson) and Billy (Kristian), and my friend Jeff Castle, a pianist from England. He came out here and lived with us for a year in 1984. And then there was the collective ‘Space Case’. We did three or four albums with that band. There was Kim Paterson on trumpet, Murray McNabb on piano and Bruce Lynch on bass (and later on, Andy Brown) and George Chisholm did some trumpet things as well, that was around 84-86. I also did an album with Jacqui Fitzgerald in the 80s. Then there was the time when Roger Fox brought Anita O’Day out and Louis Bellson and we did a brief tour. Lastly my album Taupo (Ode), with Billy Kristian, Kevin Field, Kim Paterson, Lance Sua, Kevin Haines, Alain Koetsier. The two Moonlight Sax albums did pretty well also.

JL32: Have you done much teaching?

Smith: Yes I’ve done a lot. I taught at Northcote College for 20 years and other schools, Papakura, Rosehill College, Kings College. The last school I worked at was Whangaparaoa College. 

JL32: I don’t suppose musicians ever retire because I’ve seen you doing gigs about town over recent years.

Smith: Yes there have been a few, and I had a regular gig at a local bar called the Paroa Bar until this lockdown. With Frank, Dean Kerr, and Neville Grenfell on trumpet. Then we had a band with Dean and his brother and a Sunday spot at Muldoon’s in Orewa for a time. Again that was with Frank and Dean, and an occasional gig at Downbeat as well. We don’t know what will happen at present, but I’m hoping the Paroa Bar opens up soon. They’ve got a nice big stage. 

JL32: We’ve covered a bit of ground.

Smith: Yes that’s about all I can recall at the moment but there may be a few holes in it. 

JL32: Thanks for giving me so much of your time Brian. 

Smith: Well, I’m off to play a few notes. 

 The interview covered a lot of ground, but I knew that there would be much more to uncover. I have always had an interest in British Jazz and so when a new Bandcamp label, Jazz in Britain Archival Project was launched, I took note. Going through it this morning I have located four albums featuring Brian Smith. Some of these contain never-before-released material. Smith expressed a particular fondness for Paz and there is a Paz recording among the Ron Mathewson archival tapes. There is an unreleased Live Nucleus session titled Solar,  and best of all Neil Ardley’s ‘Kaleidoscope’ and Alan Cohen’s band Oracle. Here is the lineup on the Oracle Album: Kenny Wheeler, Henry Lowther, Mike Osborne, Alan Skidmore, Brian Smith, John Surman, Chris Pine, Mike Gibbs, Martin Fry, Ron Mathewson, Trever Tomkins. I will watch this space with keen interest. 

I can’t help but wonder if the kids’ Smith taught, realised, that he’d once played a part in the wild and heady days of London’s music scene.  

Additional sources: The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, The Rough Guide to Jazz, The British Jazz Project, ephemera such as posters and pamphlets. Acknowledgments British Jazz Archives.

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

Rare, Obscure, Overlooked

I’ve always been attracted to the albums which populate the margins. The material that is overlooked, and when discovered, brings with it a sense of having unearthed something rare. These discoveries make us feel like insiders, the inheritors of secret knowledge. And once we possess the navigation tools we join other explorers. Crossing terra incognito on a quest for sonic treasure.  

The albums are often rare private issues or bootlegs. Or they appear, then vanish during the collapse of a niche label, never to be reissued. Sometimes they are recordings taken by clubs from a live feed. Many archival treasures have been unearthed from these sources. This is the realm of mislabeled or rejected treasures, languishing in the vault of a disinterested multinational or forgotten in a private home. But by far the richest source, the recordings made by musicians, and stored away for posterity.  

Before the era of digital micro-recorders, people with scant respect for copyright smuggled recording devices into concert halls or practice rooms (obsessives like Dean Benedetti, Bird’s stalker, dangling his crude mic through a hole in the ceiling and covertly recording Bird practicing). I met people who wired themselves like police snitches and secreted a mic up each sleeve (stereo capture) and held their arms aloft during a concert in order to get the best sound. 

In my collection, I have examples of all of the above which leads me to the focus of this post. When the domination of 33rpm LPs was overrun in 1983 by the CD format, record companies had a field day, reissuing popular albums. For the big labels, it was largely about estimating the number of units that could be sold. For the smaller labels, it was a marginal enterprise and runs could be limited. During this period a determined group of obsessives digitised the bootleg tapes and the missing 78’s, EP’s and LP’s, old favourites which never made the cut. In Tamaki Makaurau there were several local musicians who had worked in broadcasting and they possessed the expertise to clean up and digitise scratched or hissy analogue recordings. This involved mysterious processes like ‘de-clicking’ and transferring micro-segments to fill a dropout. They did this for altruistic reasons and a number of rare recordings survive because of these efforts. 

Hawes Live At The Great American Music Hall #2

One of my lockdown projects has been to sort through these older albums and craft a playlist. Because of the nature of the material, some of it I have not posted as it has not yet become available on streaming services. Here are a few that took my fancy.

Paul Bley ~ Mr Joy (Limelight 1968). This album doesn’t appear in Spotify or in most discographies. It is an interesting and very rare album filled with great material. With Bley (p) are Gary Peacock (b) and Billy Elgart (d). The liner notes are hilarious and random. ‘Voice: Why do they call you Mr Joy? MJ: Because I’m unhappy about a lot of things’ Mr Joy went on to say that he was unhappy about imitators and impersonators, his own performance, but happy about people with open ears like Gary Peacock and Billy Elgart. The ghosts of Annette Peacock and Ornette Coleman inform this album.  

Anita O’Day ~ Angel Eyes (Emily Records/Lobster Records 78-81). These fabulous Anita O’Day small group sessions are a hybrid of two Japanese recording dates – 1979 and 1981. It came at the most troubled period of her life when her addiction problems were made public after a bust. Here, she is with her partner John Poole (trio leader and drummer). Poole has been blamed for her woes of that time, but later evidence suggests that he took the heat to protect her. She kept in touch with him and gave him work long after they parted. This is not the bright sassy O’Day of later years, but a smoky-voiced vocalist channelling her pain. Some may think that material like this should be forgotten, but I disagree. Would we ditch the difficult Billy Holiday years? This is Anita at her most soulful. A later limited compilation from these sessions was released by Kayo. My copy was extracted from two EP/LPs and has bespoke liner notes. John Poole (drums), Don Abney (piano), Dwight Dickerson #2 (piano) Harvey Newmark (bass). My converted copy finally corrupted.

Jimmy Giuffre 3 ~ Flight Bremen 1961 (Hat Hut / Radio Bremen) This Giuffre/Bley/Swallow album was taken from the live feed by Radio Bremen and later released by Hat Hut. It does not appear in many discographies and is particularly interesting as it proceeds the ground-breaking album ‘Free Fall’ and ‘Free Fall Revisited’. This adventurous music shocked many Giuffre fans who purchased it thinking that they were getting more of ‘The Train and The River’ trios. He changed his trio to include Bley and Swallow in 1961 (after 17 folksy albums with his old trio). During this period the discographies can be confusing. An album called ‘Fusion’ came out and ‘Fly Away Little Bird’ on the French OWL label. In 1989 ‘Life of a Trio: Sunday’ came out.   Free music was still very controversial in 1961 – ‘Flight Bremen’ is a bridge between the two styles. My copies are all extracted from LPs. Giuffre on clarinet.

Turkish Women at the Bath ~ Pete La Roca (Fresh Sound May 1967). This recording has an interesting tale to tell. After it was recorded, a well-known member of his band (not the leader) released it under his own name. La Roca was incensed and went to court over the copyright. After a long court battle, he won the case, and all existing copies were recalled. It was later released by Fresh Sound with the correct attribution. La Roca studied and became a copyright attorney and had a successful practice defending artists against violations like those he suffered. It is an exceptional album filled with modal grooves and open compositions. The personnel, Pete La Roca (drums), John Gilmore (tenor sax), Chick Corea (piano), Walter Booker (bass). La Roca is an interesting drummer who could create a loose swing feel over freer music. Gilmore is fabulous. 

Steve Kuhn ~ Oceans in the Sky (Owl 1989). The French label Owl was always worth checking out and this straight-ahead album is a gem. With Kuhn are Miroslav Vitous (bass) and Aldo Romano (drums). It was recorded in Paris, probably to suit the Czech bassist and Italian drummer. Nothing in Jazz quite evokes the feeling of looking down from space like this. Every time I listen to it I am overjoyed afresh. I wore out one copy and purchased a new one upon re-issue. ‘The Island’ by Ivan Lins is glorious. Such a lovely slow swing feel and if they laid any further back on the beat, they’d surely fall.

Playboy styled covers were popular on the West Coast

Curtis Counce ~ You Get More Bounce With Curtis Counce (Contemporary 1956). Curtis Counce was a star that burned out far too soon. He died of a heart attack while his career was on the rise. Counce, a stellar bass player, managed to play with an extraordinarily talented range of musicians before forming his own quintet in the Bay Area. In his lineup were some of the finest musicians on the west coast. Carl Perkins (piano), Harold Land (tenor), Jack Sheldon (trumpet), Frank Butler (drums). It was opportune for Counce, that Land quit the Clifford Brown/Max Roach band because he missed his family. Land has one of the most recognisable sounds on tenor saxophone, Perkins was a rising star, but tragically, he died of a drug overdose just as the band was becoming famous. He is one of those pianists who was reaching for a fresh approach and his loss at such a young age is lamented to this day. The album cover would possibly not pass muster today. Contemporary often took a playboy approach to cover art.

Jazz Studio 2 ~ Holywood (Decca monaural LP 1954). There were at least three in this set, volume 1 featured east coasters like Hank Jones. ‘Volume 2’ is an early example of the cool west coast sound and the nonet features heavyweights of the day. The personnel: Don Fagerquist (trumpet), Milt Bernhart (trombone), John Graas (French horn), Herb Geller (alto saxophone), Jimmy Giuffre (tenor, baritone, clarinet), Marty Paich (piano), Howard Roberts (guitar), Curtis Counce (bass), Larry Bunker (drums). Unsurprisingly, Paich does most of the arrangements with a few by John Graas. Bunker is always attention-grabbing as a drummer (or vibes player), most memorably with Bill Evans in the ‘65 trio’.

Matka Joanna ~ Tomasz Stanko Quartet ( ECM 1994). This and the two albums that follow are in the overlooked category, hiding in plain sight. ‘Matka Joanna’ (Mother Joan) is a tribute to the award-winning Jerzy Kawalerowicz film about a group of possessed, eroticised, nuns on the rampage and set in the middle ages. The unusual genre called Nunsploitation thrived in the eastern bloc and became an outlet for artistic subversives during the communist era. Thirty-three years after the film came out Stanko produced this open, free-exploration in tribute. There are many reasons to like this with its dreamy vibe, but high on the list are the musicians. Stanko was a trailblazer with his euro-free inside-outside approach, an original. His east European style of Jazz was always informed by the world he grew up in, and particularly by Kristof Komeda. With Bobo Stenson on piano, Anders Jormin on bass, and best of all, Tony Oxley on drums, how could this not be extraordinary? Very few people know of this album and that puzzles me.

Nothing Ever Was Anyway. Music of Annette Peacock (ECM 1997) Marilyn Crispell Trio. This is a highly rated album, but perhaps because it is free improvised it remains on the margins. Marilyn Crispell is living proof that free improvised avant-garde music can also be beautiful. Her spaciousness, phrasing, and interactions with others, mark her out as one of the greats. She has recorded in New Zealand with Jeff Henderson and the late Richard Nunns (check that out on Rattle, it’s still available and streamed). 

Hampton Hawes At the Great San Francisco Music Hall (Concord 1975). There were two issues of this album and the details are sketchy. Mine was a vinyl conversion with no liner notes. Also hard to find is the Swedish ‘Black Lion’ album ‘Spanish Steps’. Hawes was a superb pianist and his playing was always recognisable (increasingly, passionately, funky over the years). Everything by Hawes is worth having and a lot is up on Spotify. Sadly the ‘Great American Music Hall’ album is not. On that disk, he shouts and stomps as he builds the tension. The rare ‘Black Lion’ albums only appear on YouTube. The clip below is from a year later than the ‘Great San Francisco Music Hall’ recording. 

The best source for small-label, rare, and previously unreleased recordings is Bandcamp. There are some great Dewey Redman recordings there for example. For Dewey, check out Barney McAll’s ExtraCelestial Arts page (a never before heard Dewey release) and also check out the great Canadian free Jazz unit, Jon Ballantine Trio with Dewey. I would like to acknowledge Welly Choy and John Good, who started many on this journey for the overlooked.

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 ~ Duni/Luft

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

Michal Martyniuk Trio + Dixon Nacey

The old adage ‘good things are worth waiting for’ proved correct last Wednesday. After two lockdown cancellations, the Michal Martyniuk Trio (+ Dixon Nacey), finally performed their long-awaited CJC gig. There had been much anticipation as the band is popular, and when the gig finally happened, everyone was excited. The European continent is a long way away and so we don’t hear many European bands live. The Martyniuk Trio (whether playing alongside Kiwi or Polish musicians), always manages to capture a piece of that northern vibe for us. 

I have previously reviewed Martyniuk gigs and they never disappoint. I like them because they are uplifting. I like them for their melodic and harmonic richness. Martyniuk is a gifted pianist, but his compositions and arrangements are real standouts. The Awakening, The Opening’ Jazz Dance etc. His tunes feel like modern standards and I never tire of hearing them interpreted afresh. He doesn’t rest on his laurels either, bringing memorable new tunes to the bandstand with each gig. 

A case in question was a soulful tribute to Lyle Mays (For Lyle). A reflective ballad, celebrating a creative giant now lost to us. The tune, captured the essence of Mays the musician while evoking sadness at his untimely passing. It was also somehow fitting that Martyniuk’s own tunes should be bookended by two Metheny tunes. Metheny’s and Martyniuk’s had been the last gigs I attended in the hours prior to the first lockdown. When tours stopped I recall wondering; when will I ever hear live music again? I listened to both Metheny and Martyniuk over the turbulent months that followed and recaptured the joy of those events. We are lucky to have live music again, and especially when so many others are deprived of it.

Another obvious reason for adding Metheny tunes to a programme of originals was the inclusion of Dixon Nacey in the band. Nacey’s interpretations of Metheny tunes are standouts. During recent gigs, he has introduced many of these into his repertoire and to much acclaim. He was very much on form last week and his soaring smooth as silk delivery filled the room. His warm sound also complimented the richness of the Martyniuk compositions. One of Nacey’s own compositions was also played.

Videoing this gig proved extremely difficult, as the room was dark and the sightlines impossible. It was also a packed house and so capturing the sound from a suitable location was compromised Those who want to hear more of the group should buy an album or go see them live.

The remaining band members, Cameron McArthur (bass) and Ron Samsom (drums) have long been part of the Martyniuk trio (NZ), having played with him for years and having appeared with him at ‘Java Jazz’. They are highly experienced musician’s and familiar with the material so they can explore its facets.  

Dixon Nacey

My recommendation is to buy Martyniuk’s records and to check out some of the recent YouTube vids captured in his native Poland or Auckland. I don’t know how long he will remain in New Zealand as his career in Poland is on the rise. While he remains here, do check his band out.  It’s a treat you should not deny yourself – from michalmartyniuk.bandcamp.com

The gig was at Anthology, CJC Creative Jazz Club, Wed 14 2021. Michal Martyniuk (piano), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samsom (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.

Multiple Streams, Deeper Rivers

I have been absent during the last month as my computer was deliberately unplugged. I needed time to walk among trees, read and spend time with visiting family. None of the above kept me from checking out new music and it afforded me some time to reflect more on the global changes feeding Jazz. There is nothing quite like a pandemic to make us re-evaluate our place in the world and to make us value comity over isolation. These connecting threads lead us into every corner of the improvised music diaspora. 

Just in time for the holidays, I gave several Christmas presents to myself. The first was Keith Jarrett’s magnificent ‘Sun Bear Concerts’ box-set, recorded in Japan (which I had long lusted after). It was fitting in light of the news that Jarrett is unlikely to perform or record again due to a debilitating stroke. This boxset has often been overlooked. It is a musical statement of pure genius.  The second album was a recent release ‘Architexture’ by the German Jazz musician Florian Ross. ‘Architexture’ is an extraordinary album, sitting astride the broader traditions of ensemble Jazz. It is configured atypically and consequently it has a distinctly airy feel to it. 

The album features a traditional jazz quartet, augmented by a conducted seven-piece wind ensemble. Ross is a gifted composer (and pianist) and his music has often been performed by large jazz orchestras such as the WDR. In this case, a more unusual configuration has let in additional light, while at the same time offering a rich and diverse textural soundscape. Using this palate Ross has crafted a programatic and personal journey through the world’s architecture.   

The music speaks strongly of place, but not just Germany (where Ross lives). It speaks of the locations where his favourite architecture is found, and out of that comes an idiosyncratic chiasma. The streams that feed this album are plentiful and among them the twentieth century western classical tradition. The only composition not his own is an arrangement of Elgar’s Nimrod (var.9) for saxophone and wind ensemble. Elgar composed many of his works in a rented cottage and it is ‘Brinkwells Cottage’ in conjunction with Elgar’s works which inspired that particular arrangement.  

From start to finish, this is a worthwhile journey, an evocation of archtectural visions, the places and sounds that inspired their constructions, and of course of Ross’s connection to those places. Alvaro Siza of Portugal, Antoni Gaudi of Catalonia Spain, the incomparable Oscar Niemeyer who designed Brasilia and many more. His Developments 1-4 are short through-composed pieces dedicated to specific architectural spaces or forms; Brazilian Architecture, the floor plan of a cathedral, the suburban prefabricated house, Bavarian Rococo; and dear to my heart ‘Glebe Cottage’ the home of Jazz pianist John Taylor.  

The Album is out on the German Naxos label and can be accessed on streaming sites. I urge you to buy a physical copy as the booklet is a small masterpiece. Featured are some wonderful musicians, Florian Ross (piano, compositions) Sebastian Gille (saxophone), David Helm (double bass), Fabian Arends (drums), The Event Wind Ensemble, Susanne Blumenthal (noted conductor). The album can be ordered in stores or online. For more information check out www.florianross.de 

Just before Christmas I attended a concert by Auckland based Musician Ben Fernandez. The occasion was the release of his latest album ‘The Music Never Stopped’ but it also served as a homage to the spirit that was evident in the community during the New Zealand COVID lockdowns. Fernandez is of Goan extraction but was musically active in Mumbai before settling in New Zealand. He studied Jazz at several Auckland institutions and is a regular performer about town. He has also maintained a connection to the Bollywood Film industry. Along the way his musical influences have been rich and varied and he showcased many of those during his concert of mostly original compositions.  

There was a spontaneous improvised piano piece, A tribute to his former teacher Phil Broadhurst, tunes written for various family members and of particular interest to me, a duo involving Persian musician Rasoul Abbasi.  Abbasi played a Kamancheh which is an ancient-bowed instrument with a wonderfully mournful tone. The composition itself, and the contrast between piano and Kamancheh worked to the advantage of both (I have posed a sound clip). This ability to make strong and authentic intercultural connections is where Fernandez excels. It spoke to the universality of the improvised music traditions, and of empathy and the Jazz sensibilities. 

Another tune of Fernandez which captured a pan-global essence was a piece written for a beloved family member ‘Chuchi’.  I have included that as a video clip. The line-up was varied and featured many of the musicians he had studied with such as Andrew Hall (who gave a great saxophone solo on the heartfelt tribute to Phil Broadhurst). The musicians on the trio number were Jo Shum (bass) and Ron Samsom (drums).  The concert finished up with Auckland vocalist Maria O’flaherty singing a great rendition of the much-loved standard ‘What a Difference a Day Makes’. In light of the pandemic, the tune had added resonance. ‘The Music Never Stopped’ features Ben Fernandez (compositions, arrangements, piano), Jo Shum (bass), Ron Samsom (drums), Warren Mendonsa (guitar), Rasoul Abbasi (Kamancheh), Jess Rogers (vocals), CeleBRationChoir conducted by Alison Talmadge. The album is available from benfernandez.com 

While writing this, a number of interesting review copies and new releases hit my inbox. Among them, a soon to be released album from a Lebanese Jazz bassist Makram Aboul Hosn titled ‘Transmigration’. This wonderfully inventive musician has released his first album under extremely adverse conditions. As well as facing the devastation of COVID19 in Lebanon, there have been ongoing violent political upheavals, Banks froze the artists touring money, and if that were not enough, there was a devastating Port Explosion. The recording of ‘Transformation’ went ahead anyhow only three days after that last mentioned cataclysm. His is an album well worth checking out and to top off the stelar ensemble performances there are a number of guest artists like Joe Locke (who appeared remotely). The album will soon be available from all major streaming platforms. This is proof that high-quality Jazz exists everywhere. The artists are Makram Aboul Hosn, Nidal Abou Samra, Christopher Shaheen, Khaled Yassine, Joe Locke, Tariq Amery, Sima Itayim. Release date 18th February.

The last album to be mentioned is an ECM offering by Norwegian Kantele player and folk/Jazz vocalist Sinikka Langeland. The cut I will post is from her last release and it is so measured and so beautiful that it sends a shiver down the spine. Langeland is accompanied by Jazz Nordic legends in this album. She performs with the likes of Arve Henriksen, Trygve Seim and Anders Jorman. The YouTube track posted is ‘Deep in the Forest’. Available from all music stores and from streaming sources.  

All of the above demonstrate the multiplicity of influences feeding Jazz. From multiple streams come deeper rivers. 

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.

Tigran Hamasyan ~ The Call Within

Any album by the brilliant Armenian Jazz pianist Tigran Hamasyan is going to elevate our spirits, and his new release, ‘The Call Within’ does just that. The title suggests quiet introspection, but instead, a vast cosmology is revealed. It is infinitely expansive and any expectations of meditative reflection should therefore be set aside. In the album, Hamasyan utilises the richness of his birthplace Armenia, but in doing so he paints the tunes onto a broader canvas. 

‘The Call Within’ features a core trio plus guests. The guests however, are so well integrated into the mix that the unit feels like a medium-sized ensemble. Alongside Hamasyan: Evan Marien (bass) and Arthur Hnatek (drums). Guests: Tosin Abasi (guitar), Areni Agbabian (vocals) and Artyom Manukyan (cello). The generous use of keyboards interwoven with piano is also a factor in providing this unusually rich palette.  

The first track, ‘Levitation 21’ begins with a meditative chant over a simple motif. Then, without warning, the music comes at you like a freight train. This sudden mood switch is deftly executed and it sets up an other-worldly syncopation. The effect constantly catches you off guard as the tension rises then drops. It is call and response and it is stop-time, but not as we know it. 

The use of stop-time is even more pronounced on ‘Our Film’ and as the album progresses, the listener becomes aware of many such contrasts. Some of these contrasting figures are deftly interwoven, placing one inside of the other. The heavily percussive co-exists with gently rippling arpeggios, which by contrast, are played with extraordinary delicacy. And over this come the drums and bass who dance like magical dervishes. 

On ‘Old Maps’, rippling arpeggios introduce a celestial choir and the notes fall from Hamasyan’s fingertips like rain drops. I especially loved this track, as it felt like the universe singing to humanity. Poets and musicians are beguiled by maps and love them as archetypes. The maps theme is again updated in the last piece titled ‘New Maps

There are quieter moments as well, such as the intriguingly titled ‘At a Post-Historic Seashore’ but whatever the mood, your attention never flags. As each new vista appears you feel like a wayfarer on a beguiling quest. This is the genius of the album and what ever the phrase or section, you feel like it is was just for you. Throughout, Hamasyan draws on ancient Armenian scales and on modality. Perhaps that is why it sounds both familiar and exotic. 

At each turn, Hamasyan and his collaborators deliver energised performances and in doing so they shake us from our pandemic-induced inertia. This is the album we need right now. It is an affirmation of all that is wonderful in the world. It is European Jazz at its finest. Like three of his previous albums, this one has been released on the Warners ‘Nonesuch’ label. It is available through Bandcamp or from record stores.

Tigran Hamasyan (keyboards, piano, voices), Evan Marien (electric bass), Arthur Hnatek (drums) and with guests: Tosin Abasi (guitar), Areni Agbabian (vocals), Artyom Manukyan (cello)

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

Now, Where Were we?

Michal Martyniuk reprised.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

michalmartyniuk.bandcamp.com  

Italy & New Zealand ~ Lockdown Releases

Creativity is essential to human survival. It is the fuel of adaption and as Darwin pointed out, those who fail to adapt fail to thrive. Creatives understand this and none more so than improvising musicians. It is therefore not surprising that musicians increased their outpoint in a variety of ways during lockdown.

In the early weeks, I noticed a feverish burst of activity from improvisers as solo concerts streamed and unreleased albums materialised; appearing as if conjured out of nowhere. Many of these albums landed in my inbox but because I was caught up in an international journalism project I put them aside for a time. As my posts appeared more frequently and in far away places an increase in review copies landed.

It has been my usual practice to confine my posts to New Zealand or to Australian artists and I try to confine offshore posts to artists I’ve heard live. I rarely venture beyond those self-imposed limits, but during the pandemic, I have broken that rule and moved beyond. These albums provide a snapshot of two diverse locations. They portray an interrupted world but also the constancy of improvisers. Their creativity is what keeps us sane. Improvised music illustrates our connectedness as it builds new languages out of old. It is a universal heart beat created from the babel that is life on earth.  

The Gathering’ (The Jac) New Zealand

From the time of their formation, accolades for the ‘The Jac’ have kept coming. They are an eight-piece ensemble with a great sound and underpinning that are experienced players, nice compositions and some tasteful arranging. Although they are essentially a Wellington ensemble they have attracted musicians from all over, this giving them a distinct and cosmopolitan flavour. The talented Jake Baxendale is the front person, but there is also real depth surrounding him. On this latest album the quality of the overall musicianship is particularly evident.

While some long-established groups remain static, ‘The Jac’ keeps reaching for new heights. They are rooted in the now and reflect multi-genre inclusiveness. The future of Jazz demands this, as it is not a dead language.  

The sound clip I have embedded is titled Tui (composed by Jake Baxendale). This delightful tune is nominated in the composition category for this year’s New Zealand Jazz Awards. The powerful contribution of Nick Tipping on bass and Mathew Allison on trombone especially grab the attention.

Tui (Baxendale)

This is the Jac’s third studio album but the release plans have been impacted by the pandemic. They have therefore decided to release part of the album on Bandcamp and to release the rest closer to 2021. Why not download the early release digital tracks now and pre-order the rest? The musicians deserve your support. You really need to hear this.

Jake Baxendale (saxophones, compositions),

Alexis French (trumpet)

Matthew Allison (trombone),

Chris Buckland (saxophones)

Callum Allardice (guitar, compositions),

Daniel Millward (piano, compositions)

Nick Tipping (bass),

Shaun Anderson (drums)

www.jakebaxendale.com

‘Totem’ ( Ferdinando Romano / w Ralph Alessi) Italy

Some albums take a few listenings to get inside, but I fell for this one instantly. With further listening, the attraction increased. Having a modern trumpet stylist like Alessi on board was an inspired choice, but it was also Romano’s engaging compositions that reeled me in. This is a master class in less being more. It is minimalism but it is not stark, perhaps, because it’s from the warmer south. 

The musicians move like dancers. Gliding between the fluid embrace of the ensemble playing and the crystalline melodic solo lines with ease, and also playing with real conviction. This is definitely a European sound and at times reflective, but while the music resonates cerebrally, it can find the heart in an instant. 

Compositions as finely balanced as this could easily be overwhelmed, but the band reacts to every nuance. There is texture, but melody is dominant. There is dissonance, but never overdone. The tone is set from the first number titled ‘Gecko’; opening over the leader’s pedal on bass, Alessi beguiling us with gentle smears and caressing lines. Then, seamlessly, Caputo picks up the thread, Magrini next, then the ensemble and outro. As a composition, it flows beautifully.

It is natural that Alessi grabs our attention as he is a master of his instrument, but in spite of that, the septet sounds like a band of equals. There are no weak links. This is an album I am likely to play often and hopefully, there will be more like this from Romano. 

Ferdinando Romano (bass, compositions)

Ralph Alessi (trumpet)

Tommasso Lacoviello (flugelhorn)

Simone Alessandrini (alto, Soprano sax)

Nazareno Caputo (vibraphone, marimba)

Manuel Magrini (piano)

Giovanni Paolo Liguori (drums)

https://ferdinandoromano.bandcamp.com/album/totem-feat-ralph-alessi

‘Giulia’ (Francesco Cataldo)  Italy

Giulia’ was the second Italian album to come my way during the lockdown period and like the first, it is close to the ECM aesthetic. There is deliberation and a sense of purpose behind each phrase and you can feel this especially in the spaces between. At the centre, the clarity and silken softness of Cataldo’s guitar work. 

The airy compositions are all the leaders.  For the project, he engaged Marc Copland and Adam Nussbaum, both celebrated American musicians and both perfectly suited to realise his vision. The remaining band member is Pietro Leveratto, an Italian bass player of repute. Together they weave a cohesive storyline and in doing so enter the listener’s consciousness. Before you realise it you are on the journey with them. 

Levante (Cataldo)

I have often visited the Mediterranean and hold a deep love for Sicilia which is Cataldo’s home base. The moods here speak of languid salty air and of the startling blue of the Siracusa seafront. I can think of few places on earth so evocative or beautiful. It is the birth and the death place of Archimedes. When an errant Roman soldier was about to slay him, his last words were ‘do not disturb my circles’. Was this in mind when Cataldo wrote his epilogue piece ‘Circles’? 

The pieces here all evoke strong images. Some of the connections are obvious as with Levante (my favourite piece), while others are illusive. And presiding over all is the haunting cover art. Was there ever a more beautiful image. Giulia, the daughter of Cataldo and the presiding spirit over this beautiful album.

I live on another island deep in the South Pacific Ocean and that is a long way distant from Sicilia. It is physically distant but this music somehow connects the two places and for those who live on Islands, and who love Islands deeply, those connections hold mystical power. 

Francesco Cataldo (guitar, piano, compositions)

Marc Copland (piano)

Pietro Leveratto (bass)

Adam Nussbaum (drums)

AlfaMusic

https://www.francescocataldo.eu/prodotto/giulia-francesco-cataldo/?lang=en

John Pål Inderberg talks of Norway in lockdown & Lee Konitz

A few days ago I conducted a Zoom interview with the noted Norwegian musician John Pål Inderberg. I was interested to learn how the lockdown was affecting the musicians there, as Norway took a preemptive approach, much like my own country. That course of action happily yielded positive results and low risk concerts are now on the horizon for them. John Pål had many insights to share and his account of a long and fruitful association with the late Lee Konitz was especially poignant. 

Norway moved decisively to head off the COVID-19 disaster and normal life was temporarily placed on hold. Inderberg lost over 30 concerts overnight but his government stepped in with an income package which provided 80% of earnings based on the previous 3 years. Musicians along with everyone else were entitled to this. 

We learn how Konitz and Marsh combined differing approaches to improvisation and how Konitz was no fan of close mic’ing. Over the years Inderberg has toured and played with many greats including Warne Marsh and Chet Baker, and for a while he was in Gil Evans European orchestra. We learn that Lee Konitz liked to swim on his back and towards his feet, but my favourite insight was his recounting a time spent studying in East Germany during the cold-war years. The course was tiled ‘Socialistic Music Aesthetics.  

“We learned the right music and not the right-wing music”

There were many left-wing musicians in the Norway of his youth and so a left wing approach to music was important. 

Interviews with good talkers are the best sort and especially when they tell quirky stories. Our countries share political views but also a love of off-beat humour.       

His latest trio album, titled ‘Radio Inderberg’ is crisp and beautiful and I have included a clip from that. He has been credited in over 100 albums and a favourite of mine is the 2007 album titled ‘Live in Oslo’ staring Lee Konitz. That was awarded 5 stars.  

Radio Inderberg: John Pål Inderberg (baritone saxophone), Trygve Fiske (bass), Håkon Mjåset Johansen (drums), released by AMP Music & Records

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

Jazz On Lockdown ~ Florian Ross

Florian Ross ~ Reason and Temptation

The German musician Florian Ross is accustomed to working around the globe, but like the rest of us, he is now confined to home and studio. A prolific artist with more than 25 recordings to his name and a musical interconnectedness with countries as far-flung as Scotland and New Zealand. A few days ago he released a new album titled Reason & Temptation and releasing an album in these conditions is a challenge. There is no possibility of a live release tour, but happily, this album reached escape velocity and found us. It is a beautiful album and it will surely be grabbed up by improvised music lovers everywhere.  

I first came across Ross when his first album was released on Naxos. Since then he has constantly moved forward, listening carefully to the world about him and reflecting it back in his recorded output. His style while unmistakably European, draws on many sources, sometimes evoking a crystalline melodicism, at other times the jagged and joyful lines of Monks post-bop successors. His works are often composed for larger ensembles where the deftly woven textures are the first thing that come to mind. This album is about intimacy and space and the accompanying video gives it that context; manicured forests, vivid snowscapes, and comfortably distant cityscapes.

The album was recorded in a single day in July 2019 following a large ensemble recording. There is such clarity in these conversations and consequently, they bring a deep calm to the listener. In tunes like ‘Celeste’, the musicians interact without impeding each other’s space. One instrument becomes another and I found myself holding my breath so as not to spoil the magic.  In contrast ‘Teriyaki Terrier’ moves us closer to the profound otherness of Bley/Swallow/Giuffre’ in ‘Freefall’. Again, beautifully realised. ‘Shallow’ evokes snow falling through fir branches, ‘Swish’ is counter-punctual but as one voice, and so the album progresses. While these tunes offer differing moods or viewpoints, the whole ties together perfectly and the compositions rhyme as one. 

This is music to lose yourself in, to savour, so find a quiet place and take an inner journey. Perhaps there has never been a better time to do that with the traffic and aircraft all on mute.  You can purchase the album at www.florianross.de or the usual online outlets. The best way to support musicians is to buy their albums and to recommend them.

 

The musicians: Florian Ross (piano, compositions), Sebastian Gille (saxophone), David Helm (bass), Fabien Arends (drums), Recorded in Köln.

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

JazzLocal32.com was rated as one of the 50 best Jazz blogs in the world by Feedspot. The author is a professional member of the Jazz Journalists Association

 

 

Jazz On Lockdown ~ Hear it Here ~ Exiles

Michal Martyniuk

At the beginning of the pandemic, it all seemed so far away. As of today 1/3 of the world’s population are in lockdown and New Zealand with them. A busy South Pacific Island was suddenly disconnected from the world; adrift except for an undersea fibre-optic cable. As confusion dominated the interim period, aircraft were grounded without warning and among the travellers unable to proceed was a touring musician; an improvising exile. Now, we are all exiles from our former lives and major cities have fallen silent.

I refer above to the Polish Pianist Michal Martyniuk, here on holiday and about to return to Poland. Luckily, he has family here and a reason to feel safe in New Zealand. With East European travel curtailed, he organised a gig at the only place he could find, a showroom. This was the last gig I attended before the curtain of isolation fell and it is therefore special to me. 

The venue was the Lewis Eady piano showroom with space for only a dozen chairs, the audience encompassed by a circle of Steinways. Beautiful instruments all; dark polished lacquer and keys gleaming like fashion-models teeth. We were all beginners at social distancing and a few random hugs occurred. After greeting friends, I approached Martyniuk to ask about the format. 

 ‘Eadys have provided me with their finest Steinway B and the acoustics here are so good that the piano will not be mic’d. Nor will the bass or drums naturally’. 

Although the floors were marble, the soft curtains and the cavalcade of pianos soaked up any liveliness. I was able to record the entire concert (mostly Martyniuk originals plus three standards). When leaving home I had realised that I had no video equipment ready, so I grabbed a Zoom recorder and a high-end Rhode mic. They sat on a wooden chair a metre away from the piano.

Cameron McArthur and Ron Samsom completed the line-up; both players having a long association with Martyniuk, accompanying him at Java Jazz and on an album. A few days ago I uploaded the material, savoured the experience. I might not experience live music for quite some time to come. This recording may be unmixed but it sounds special to me.

Michal Martyniuk Trio (NZ). Michael Martyniuk (piano), Cameron McArthur (upright bass), Ron Samsom (drums). recent album Resonance – michalmartyniuk.bandcamp.com

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

Jazz on Lockdown series

Some missing music for those missing music. Hear it Here

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

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

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

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

Jazz on Lockdown ~ Hear it here series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The artists featured were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Ventling Trio (Switzerland)

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

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

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

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

JazzLocal32.com was rated as one of the 50 best Jazz blogs in the world by Feedspot. The author is a professional member of the Jazz Journalists Association.