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 tohttps://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
With humankind and their dogs confined to home, I set up a Zoom call with an innovative Wellington-based Jazz musician, John Rae. I knew instinctively that he was the right musician to initiate the lockdown interview series with. Rae is an important musician; here and well beyond these shores. He is a natural storyteller.
Born in Edinburgh to a musical family, he began gigging at age sixteen. Accompanying him on those youthful gigs was his friend, saxophonist Tommy Smith. Later Rae worked with Smith in the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. Rae’s recording output is prodigious and there is much to bring a listener joy among those offerings. I will add links.
While those in Scotland or England will associate him with his two BBC albums of the year or his ‘Herald Angel Award’ from the Edinburgh Festival, New Zealanders will love him for his work with The Troubles. A Joyous anarchic Mingus like ensemble telling it like it is. Rae’s compositional work looks out toward the world and it frequently blends with ethnic music; Celtic, Japanese Koto, Middle Eastern. As a drummer he exhorts the band, standing up and urging them on, while his beats roil beneath them like a gathering storm cloud supporting the sky above. I was not surprised to learn that he had frequently visited New Orleans (and played there). I can hear that unique influence in his drumming. The perfect cushion and always conversational.
The good news is, that he has a number of albums ready for release or re-release. The re-releases include his ‘Best of John Rae’s Celtic Feet’ from the 1990s and amongst his newer offerings, a Troubles album ‘KAPOW’ (live at Meow). His website is johnrae.biz His current recording labels are: Thick Records at www.thickrecords.co.nz, Rattle Records at Rattle-Records.bandcamp.com Please buy these albums and keep this important original music alive. Check out the samples on the website.
John Rae: composer, bandleader, arranger, educator, drummer, Celtic Fidler ~ improviser in all styles from swing to free.
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 tohttps://news.jazzjournalists.org/catagory/jazz-on-lockdown/
Buy from Bandcamp March 20 to help the Musicians during Covid-19 lockdown
Bandcamp informed us that they would be supporting artists during the Covid-19 pandemic. In an effort to raise awareness around the impact on musicians, they are waiving their revenue share on Friday, March 20.
Jazz Journalists are supportive of the Bandcamp platform for a number of reasons. Firstly because it gives musicians control, and they can choose a pricing range for their albums. Of equal importance are the revenue returns where the artists share easily outstrips the other models. Bandcamp takes only a 15% share of revenue on albums and 10% on merchandise. Compare this to Spotify, Pandora or other platforms that can pay less than a cent per stream. The Bandcamp share drops even further once the album sales exceed $5,000. Buyers can also pay more than the artists recommended price and surprisingly over 50% do pay more. This feels more like a community than a business enterprise. It can also accommodate self-released material as well as cater to independent labels.
The Bandcamp site is beautifully designed and user friendly, unlike Spotify which is clunky by comparison. You can listen to a track once for free and it’s yours to keep for unlimited streaming (or download) once purchased. Remember iTunes downloads which had an expiry date? The app is free to download and once done you can set up your identity and share your playlists if you choose.
For Jazz lovers, there are other considerations and in particular sound quality. Lately, I have been downloading albums from Bandcamp in a whopping 32bit/48kHz format. That is audiophile quality and there are gizmos that enable you to stream this directly into your Hi-Fi system.
Another benefit is that liner notes, artwork and full credits are back. When the big streamers stopped providing artists details it was insulting. I listen to high quality streamed music while reading the liner information on my iPad. Old school, new school rolled into one
The above paragraphs illustrate the divergence in philosophy between Spotify, other streamers and Bandcamp. Bandcamp is a grassroots platform and on the app, you can interact directly with the musician via a message box or post a recommendation. Spotify works a different way and it is aimed at the less engaged listener. An artist can do really well on Spotify if an album is streamed millions of times, but that is another world entirely from ours.
The lockdowns won’t stop jazz! To assist musicians who’ve had performances cancelled, get their music heard around the globe. The Jazz Journalists Association created a Jazz on Lockdown: Hear It Here community blog. For more click through to https://news.jazzjournalists.org/category/jazz-on-lockdown/.
March fifteenth began as good days should, with sunshine, a cool breeze off the ocean, and a message from a Jazz Journalist colleague in Australia. ‘Would I like to meet some award-winning Greek Jazz musicians’? I had stuff planned, but the plans were easily shelved and I drove from my leafy hilltop retreat into the city. The musicians had flown into Auckland to join a passing cruise ship and were only in town for eight hours. Ahead of them lay four months of playing standards, original material (if lucky), and the inevitable but often regrettable requests. We met up in a central city cafe. ‘John’, they yelled as I walked around the corner. For the briefest second, I wondered how they had recognised me, ascribing it to a Jazz sixth sense, then remembering my tee shirt was emblazoned with the words Prahu Jazz. We introduced ourselves, and headed for the waterfront at my suggestion, chatting as if we’d known each other for years. That’s the way in the Jazz community. You travel to a place you’ve never been before and someone will message you with the contact details of ‘cats’ to hang with. Such hangs generally follow a well-trodden path. ‘Do you know this or that cat – killing?’ Always followed by outrageous road stories and laughter.
Evgenia Karlafti is a B3 organist, pianist, and vocalist. Her husband Nester Dimopoulos is a guitarist. They were joined on the cruise by Argentinean bass player Julia Subatin and Mexican drummer Gerardo Lopez. Everyone spoke English which is lucky because I have no Greek or Spanish. After hours of discussing music, the topic took a political turn. Earlier the musicians had made a point of referencing the peaceful laid back Auckland vibe. I recall boasting that our geographical isolation, independent foreign policy, and nuclear-free legislation protected our Island from many of the problems besetting other parts of the world. “We are an independent social democracy very like Norway,” I said, little realising how strong the synergies were. I pointed towards the Pacific ocean at our doorstep, adding, “trouble is inclined to lose its way long before it reaches our shores”. We discussed the Greek political situation and I asked how the Syrian refugee situation had impacted on everyday life. We discussed compassion and the problem of compassion fatigue. We discussed Turkey and the unhelpful belligerence of President Recep Erdogan.
Evgenia and Nestor promised me a physical copy of their latest album titled ‘Cut to the chase’, messaged me a link and we agreed to meet up again when the ship was in port next. After we had parted I grabbed my phone and listened to a track from their album titled ‘Senior Citizen’. Perfect. As I drove home I recall thinking that this was a day among days and then I turned on the car radio. The news spoke of an attack on a Muslim community. I am used to hearing such reports. Tragedies which occur elsewhere – reported on by Christiane Amanpour or Lyse Doucet. In this case, I heard a tearful Kiwi voice. Had one of our foreign correspondents been caught up in a terror attack in London or Paris? The word Christchurch soon dispelled that notion and numbness set in as more facts emerged. A massacre of fifty innocents was happening on our soil and perpetrated by an Australian Neo-Nazi white supremacist. The carnage had started at around the exact time I was boasting about our immunity from such horrors. I don’t remember driving the rest of the way home.
Our amazing Prime Minister set the tone for what followed while we glued ourselves to the TV sets silently grieving. Why here we all asked and the Prime Minister gave us the answer we needed.“For those of you who are watching at home tonight, and questioning how this could have happened here, we, New Zealand, we were not a target because we are a safe harbour for those who hate. We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, or because we are an enclave for extremism. We were chosen for the very fact that we are none of those things. Because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion. A home for those who share our values. Refuge for those who need it. And those values will not and cannot be shaken by this attack”. Norway and New Zealand were now linked in more ways than I had ever imagined.
The next day New Zealand fell silently numb as people watched TV or visited the local mosque with flowers and cards. The Prime Minister’s words “They are us” rang out as we donated millions of dollars to the survivors and their families. Biker gangs offered themselves as bodyguards and our sadness grew as we contemplated the fifty innocents slain in our midst. Powerful images flashed across our screens. Jewish Rabbis, Imams, Anglicans, Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus and Coptic Christians arm in arm outside the Mosques. For the first time, our police carried weapons in public as our terror alert went from low to high. It had never been anything else but low. The unusual spectre of armed police, softened by the policewomen wearing headscarfs and clutching roses to their weapons. An entire nation heard the muezzin call the Adhan when the Islamic prayer rang from our Parliament the next day and from our public broadcast outlets. Surely, one of the most beautiful and evocative pieces of music ever conceived. For a day, following the lead of the Prime Minister, secular and Christian woman donned the hijab out of respect. ￼
This was an outrage hard to talk about; it was so new to us and so raw. We let the images guide us through our grief and as if urged by an unspoken force, started to debate our colonist past. The evils of racism and wrongs yet to be righted. Some days later I was back in our local Jazz club and the place was packed. There was no mention of the horror but it hung in the air. We had come there to be transported and to heal. Albert Ayler put it well when he said, ‘Music is the healing force of the universe’. On offer was Ron Samsom’s much-loved band ‘The Neutrino Funk Experience’. The band, understanding the vibe went absolutely wild as they sent their crazy danceable tunes heavenward. They turned happy into crazy happy and the barman, moved by it all, turned on the rock-effect strobe lighting. Each funk ridden note healed our bruised souls. We didn’t need overly complex or sad tunes; we just needed this.
Ted Gioia recently tweeted a finding by scientists, indicating that music may possess mass. A day later I read a piece by a prominent scientist reminding us of the absolute interconnectedness of life forms. It is likely then, that music is the glue; music that most ancient of languages. In my world, improvised music is super glue and the balm for all life’s ills.I have played both the Neutrino Funk Experience album and the Music Soup album endlessly during the last few weeks and with each hearing, my belief in humankind restores.
Dedicated to the victims of the Christchurch Massacre and to the musicians who heal us.
With thanks to Rom Samsom, Roger Manins, Grant Winterburn and Cam McArthur of The Neutrino Funk Experience & to Evgenia Karlafti and Nestor Dimopoulos of Music Soup.
I had been to Amsterdam before but never tracked down Chet Baker. I blame the city for this oversight because it swallows travellers whole, reorders their plans and confuses them with a multiplicity of temptations. You arrive, you drift through the alleys and before you know it, it’s time to check out. This time I was not to be distracted. As soon as I awoke I grabbed an early breakfast, noted down Chet’s address and headed for the red light district. His hotel was located in Prins Hendrikkade, a street on the edge of sanity. A quarter where bored-looking sex-workers knit cardigans in dimly lit shop windows.
At first, I missed the address as the hotel was being refurbished. I wandered around confused and eventually stopped for a coffee. After gulping it down I asked the young barista for directions. ‘Oh yeah – Chet’ he said shaking his head sadly. I was amazed that he had heard of Chet Baker as he looked about eighteen. He grabbed me by the arm and led me onto the pavement and pointed to a spot directly above us. A third story window was propped half open- and behind it – Chet gazed out in silhouette. “Talk to Pim next door”, he said. “He’s the man to help you”. I navigated my way around a stack of building offcuts and entered a crowded lobby. “Chet Baker”, I said and the man behind the desk beamed in my direction. “I’ll be with you in a minute,” he said, pointing me toward a glass cabinet containing a few items of Baker memorabilia. It was an odd assortment, a copper bugle, secondhand books on Chet, some faux Delftware and two paperweight trumpets.
When Pim was free of his duties he led us to a padlocked door which in turn led us to where the construction was happening. Inside, behind the plywood panels and stacked tools was another smaller door which hid a commemorative brass plaque. “He died right here,” he said, pointing to the ground below the plaque. We all stood silent for a time, reflecting on this gifted but flawed genius and his legacy. The beautiful youth with James Dean looks who morphed into a drug-ravaged parchment skull. The trumpeter who impressed Parker, the melodic improviser, the man with the mesmerizing androgynous voice. The man who could break your heart because he fell in love too easily.
Looking up at the third-floor window I pondered over the many versions of his untimely death. I ran them past Pim who had clearly heard them all before: (1) he had nodded off in front the open window, (2) he owed money and was trying to escape angry drug dealers by climbing across to the next balcony, (3) he was pushed out the window by the drug dealers, (4) he was locked in his room by mistake and was trying to jump to the next balcony (5) suicide. Pim looked thoughtful for a minute and then spoke, “There’s another credible theory” he said as he paused for effect. We were all ears. “I believe that he was abducted by aliens because he was so uniquely talented, and after they had mapped his brain they tried to return him to his room. At this point, a tragic miscalculation occurred as their coordinates were out by a metre. It is rumoured that one of the younger aliens had not allowed for the warping of time during transportation. A rookie mistake that robbed us of his musical genius”.
As we returned to the foyer I asked him if he would accept a tip as he had gone to so much trouble. He nodded happily and I handed him ten Euros. He held it up to the light, beaming as turned it over. “I like this so much that I will take it on holiday with me next week”. I favour this new theory as it gives me hope that the aliens, appalled by their miscalculation, are working to correct it; planning to travel back in time and return Chet to his third-floor room in the Prins Hendrik. If they do I am certain that Chet and Pim will appreciate each other’s company.
Posted from San Francisco – John Fenton October 21, 2018.
As I write this it is International Jazz Day, a UNESCO sponsored day honouring the diversity and depth of the world improvising scene. It was, therefore, serendipitous that Carl Dewhurst and Simon Barker brought ‘Showa 44’ to town – especially in the days immediately preceding the big celebration. This gig offered actual proof that the restless exploration of free-spirited improvisers, lives on undiminished. I have sometimes heard die-hard Jazz fans questioning free improvisation, believing that the music reached an unassailable peak in their favourite era. To quote Dexter Gordon. “Jazz is a living music. It is unafraid …. It doesn’t stand still, that’s how it survives“. While a particular coterie prefers their comfort zone, the music moves on without them. Younger ears hear the call and new audiences form. Life is a continuum and great art draws upon the energies about it for momentum. Improvised music is not a display in a history museum.It is through listening to innovative live music that our ears sharpen. When sitting in front of a band like this the mysteries of sound become visceral. This was an extraordinary gig, at times loud and confronting, mesmerising, ambient and always cram-packed with subtlety. Fragments of melodic invention and patterns formed. Then subtly, without our realising it, they were gone, tantalising, promise-filled but illusory. We seldom noticed these micro changes as they were affected so skillfully – form and space changing minute by minute, new and yet strangely familiar – briefly reappearing as quicksilver loops before reinventing themselves.With the constraints of form and melody loosened new possibilities emerge. In inexperienced hands, the difficulties can overwhelm. In the hands of artists like these the freedom gives them superpowers. Time is displaced, tonality split into a prism of sound, patterns turned inside out. The first set was a single duo piece, ‘Improvisation one’ – unfolding over an hour and a quarter; Dewhurst and Barker, barely visible in the low light. This was about sculpting sound and seeing the musicians in shadow added a veneer of mystique. Dewhurst began quietly, his solid body guitar lying face up on his lap. The sound came in waves as he stroked and pushed at the strings, moving a slide – ever so slightly at first, causing microtonal shifts or new harmonics to form, modulating, striking the strings with a mallet or the palm of his hand. The illusion created, was of a single drone repeating. In reality, the sound was orchestral. As you listened, really listened, microtones, semitones and the occasional interval appeared over the drone. Barker providing multiple dimensions and astonishing colour, responding, reacting, crafting new directions.In this context, the drummer took on many roles, a foil to the guitarist, creating silken whispers, insistent flurries of beats and at times building to a heart-stopping crescendo. I found this music riveting and the audience obviously shared my view. In the quiet passages, you could hear a pin drop. If that’s not an indication of the musical maturity of modern Jazz audiences, nothing is. One of the prime functions of art is to confront, to challenge complacency. This music did that while gently leading us deeper inside sound itself. No one at the CJC regretted being on this journey. This is territory loosely mapped by the UK guitarist Derek Bailey, the Norwegian guitarist Aivind Aaset and the American guitarist Mary Halvorson. They may take a similar path, but this felt original, perhaps it is an Australian sound (with a Kiwi twist in Manins). The long multifaceted trance-like drones suggest that. The second set was shorter, ‘Improvisation two’ had Roger Manins aboard. I should be immune to Manins surprises but he frequently catches me off guard. His breadth and depth appear limitless. ‘Improvisation Two’ began with a broader melodic palette. Dewhurst and Barker set the piece up and when Manins came in there was a stunning ECM feel created. Barker tap-tapping the high-hat and ride. Achingly beautiful phases hung in the air – then, surprisingly they eluded us, unravelling as Manins dug deeper – dissecting them note by note. These interactions give us a clue as to how this music works, each musician playing a phrase or pattern and then re-shaping it, passing the baton endlessly.
This requires deep listening and turn on a dime responses; as the overarching but perpetually shifting theme guides them. By the time Manins had played for five minutes, the mood and pace had mysteriously changed. By fourteen minutes we were in free territory – at twenty minutes the Tom fell over. Barker swept it up and changed to brushes in an eye blink. The falling drum was seamlessly blended, a fresh percussive option. I have seldom seen such captivating responsive drumming. Making an accident a virtue.
I have watched the twenty-two-minute segment of ‘Improvisation two’ ten times in a row and it is just as jaw-dropping each time. It is not the purpose of this Blog to rate and compare, but if it were, I would need extra stars to do this gig justice.
Showa 44; Carl Dewhurst (guitar), Simon Barker (drums & percussion), with guest Roger Manins (tenor saxophone) – CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, Auckland, New Zealand, April 27th, 2016.
Footnote: After posting this I spoke with Carl Dewhurst. I explained that I had an overwhelming sense of the Australian desert – hearing the textures and wide open spaces in the improvisations. In the end, I was overly cautious, not wanting to offend indigenous sensibilities, deleting a reference to the Didgeridoo and Clapsticks. After speaking to Carl I am adding the references back in here. He informs me that this project actually began in the vastness of the northern deserts, playing alongside indigenous Australians. I heard right.
A seasoned New York veteran when asked to comment on the quality of playing by young artists emerging from the Jazz Schools said, “Man they’re such great players. Many of them have chops to burn, but what is lacking is ‘character’. That is not taught in Jazz schools, you gain it inch by inch out of life experience”. To paraphrase Lester Young who put it best, ‘I hear the notes, but what is your story’. The character of a musician (or the lack of it), shows up in the music. Jim Langabeer has ‘character’ to burn. He tells wonderfully human musical stories and they are utterly beguiling.Langabeer is hugely respected on the scene and deservedly so. He has worked with greats like Gary Peacock and Jaco Pastorius and in spite of absorbing the essence of North American Jazz, his ideas and sound possess a Kiwi authenticity. When he plays his tenor there is often a street-raw raspy intonation. The sound is at times reminiscent of Archie Shepp, but the story and flow of ideas are entirely his own. His flute playing is soulful and as soft as silk in the breeze. Because he is so comfortable in his own space he can incorporate everything from the avant-garde to indigenous music without it sounding contrived. These seamless references work beautifully in his hands. We talked of this after the gig and agreed that many of the earliest attempts at blending middle eastern, far eastern or ethnic music were less successful than now. As the boundaries between cultures blur in a globalised world, the mutual respect between improvising traditions grows. I have posted an example of this effortless genre-blending in a clip from the CJC gig titled ‘Ananda’s Midnight Blues’. Those who are familiar with Buddhism will grasp the meaning immediately. Ananda was Gautama Buddha’s childhood friend and later his disciple. Beloved, worldly and yet never afraid to challenge his enlightened teacher. There is a feeling of deep questing spirituality in the piece – reaching beyond mere form.Whether Langabeer plays flutes or reeds, everything serves the composition. His spare lines (which are devoid of undue ornamentation) establish a theme and then vanish like a will-o-the-wisp, giving a nudge to the imagination and enriching the piece as a whole. There are no wild flurries of notes on the saxophone or flute because the story resides elsewhere. His writing creates an over-arching logic and the ensemble has the freedom to move in and around tonality. In some pieces ostinato patterns create a drone effect, becoming a single note over which to restate the melody. This freedom allows for an organic interaction, free or inside and with a deep gut-felt pulse.When putting a band like this together the choice of musicians is supremely important. Not every musician could handle such freedom. Needless to say, Langabeer chose well. The ensemble was rich in contrasting colour, rich in character. It was our good fortune that Jim Langabeer’s daughter Rosie Langabeer was back in town. I can’t imagine a better-qualified pianist for this role. A leading avant-gardist and experimental musician who crafts compelling filigree and rich beauty into her music. Rosie Langabeer can play outside one minute and the next you hear a deep subtle swing, a rare kind of pulse that you can feel in your bones. A gifted composer and leader in her own right, an extraordinary sides-women when required. Moving from percussive, richly dissonant voicings to heart-stopping arpeggiated runs – somewhat reminiscent of Alice Coltrane’s later piano offerings. Her iconoclastic playing delighted the audience.On alto was Roger Manins. Although the alto is not his main horn he is extraordinarily fluent on the instrument. Langabeer has been focussing on multiphonics and microtonality of late and he and Manins showcased some atmospheric numbers utilising various blowing techniques. Manins has long impressed by playing in a variety of styles with equal facility. On guitar and pedal steel guitar was Neil Watson, bringing his mix of blues, Jazz punk, and avant-garde to the fore. Another iconoclast and one we love hearing. The pedal steel guitar has been in his possession for a year now and his rapid mastery of the instrument is impressive. A difficult beast tamed beautifully. On Bass was Eamon Edmundson-Wells. A versatile young bass player most often found in the company of experimental musicians. His performance on this gig was right on the money.On drums and percussion was Chris O’Connor. Perhaps more than anyone else O’Connor personifies this free-ranging music. Of all the New Zealand drummers, his are the widest-ranging skills. Colourist, minimalist, indie rocker, straight-ahead jazz, avant-garde, experimental percussion and film work. There is nothing he won’t tackle and everything he touches benefits from his musicianship. When a piece titled ‘Tapu’ was played O’Connor stole the show. While Langabeer played the difficult and wonderfully atmospheric Putorino (a traditional Maori flute of the Taonga Puoro family), O’Connor simulated the Tawhirimatea (A traditional whirring instrument dedicated to the god of winds). The effect was eerie and electrical. Later in the piece he blew through the stem of his snare stand – recreating the effects of the Pututara (a conch trumpet). Only O,Conner could have pulled this off so well. Like Langabeer, he has a deep awareness of multicultural issues.The one standard was Strobe Road (Sonny Rollins). A lesser known standard and played with enthusiasm. The remainder was a selection of Langabeer tunes, many referencing Maori of Kiwi themes. His tune Rata Flower was a stunner – it deserves to become a local standard. He has obtained funding from Creative New Zealand for this project and we might see a ‘Sketches of Aotearoa’ album soon. I truly hope this occurs and I will be the first to purchase one.
Sketches of Aotearoa: Jim Langabeer (flutes, Taonga Puoro, tenor saxophone, compositions), Rosie Langabeer (piano, keys), Roger Manins (alto saxophone), Neil Watson (Fender guitar, steel guitar), Eamon Edmundson-Wells (bass), Chris O’Connor (drums, percussion). Performed at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, Auckland, New Zealand – 20th April 2016.
Musicians of a certain calibre are peripatetic, going where the music or the work takes them. This partly arising out of necessity, but also out of an impulse to explore new sonic and cultural environments. When a child or a grandchild arrives the musicians journeys circumscribe smaller arcs and are less frequent; the local scene being the beneficiary. This is the case with Nathan Haines; happily young Zoot tethers him in our midst for the moment. Haines has a solid reputation here and in the UK, with a loyal fan base in both locations. He has never been afraid to push in new directions, but at the heart of whatever explorations he embarks upon, a default soulfulness underpins the enterprise. This leads him to productive collaborations with like-minded artists, and not necessarily all Jazz purists. From the Hardbop-infused to Soul Jazz to DJ funk – it all works for him. While all of these collaborations are pleasing, none is more so than when he plays alongside brother Joel Haines.The Haines brothers have different musical careers, Nathan Haines outgoing, a public performer and award-winning recording artist – understanding well, the vexed world of marketing and the presentation of non-mainstream music. He balances these competing forces better than most. Brother Joel is a successful composer and a gifted performer as well, but his career these days centres on TV and film work. An engaging musician and a crowd pleaser; less in the public gaze by choice. Improvised music thrives on contrasts and the rub between different sounds always works well in the right hands. Nathan creating soulful innovative grooves and catchy melodies over traditional Jazz offerings, Joel bringing a warm-as-toast Jazzgroove edge, wrapped in a blues/rock package.
The first set kicked off with ‘Eboness’ by Yusef Lateef. A number that Nathan Haines recorded on his award-winning and popular ‘The Poets Embrace’ album. That album recreated the vibe of a particular era – the edge of Blue Note and the warmth of Impulse updated. This version is an exercise in skilfully blended contrasts. The enveloping warmth of Joel Haines and Keys/Synth player Michal Martyniuk created a platform for Nathan Haines to work over. This skilfully juxtaposed blend of ‘cool’ and ‘soul’ is not done often and hearing this I wonder why. Haines playing Lateef is a natural fit, as Lateef was never afraid to stretch beyond mainstream Jazz sensibilities.Next up was ‘Desert Town’ a Haines tune from ‘Heaven & Earth’. That was followed by an earthy version of ‘Set us Free’ (Eddie Harris) and then ‘Mastermind’ (Haines) from his recent ‘5 a Day’ album. Last up on the first set was ‘Land Life’ a tune based on a Harold Land composition. It pleased me to get a mention from the bandstand at this point. It is no secret that I’m a real Harold Land enthusiast. The band tore up the propulsive changes and moving free, made the tune their own.
The second set began with the stunning tune ‘Right Now’ (Haines/Crayford). This collaboration was extremely fruitful and we will see a new project from these musicians in the near future. Next up was a tune by keys player Michal Martyniuk. This had never been aired in public before and its trippy synth-rich vibe took me back to the space Jazz/funk of the 80’s. Appropriately, and immediately following, was a Benny Maupin number ‘It Remains to be Seen’. This is a space-funk classic from his fabulous ‘Slow Traffic to the Right’ album. The album cut in 1978 – at a time when a plethora of wonderful analogue machines entered the market. It was great to hear a number from this scandalously overlooked experimental era – and reprised so effectively. More of this please guys, much more.
The set ended with two more numbers, including a reflective and soul drenched composition by Joel Haines. The tune is temporarily titled ‘Untitled’. Whatever the name, it worked for us. The ‘Nathan Haines Electric Band’ is by now an established entity and the ease with which they hit their groove confirms that. Having the ever inventive and highly talented Cameron McArthur on bass gave them a groove anchor and punch. Rounding that off with Stephen Thomas on drums gave lift off. I highly recommend this group as there is something there for anyone with Jazz sensibilities. History and modernity in balance.
Nathan Haines Electric Band
Nathan Haines Electric Band: Nathan Haines (winds and reeds), Joel Haines (guitar), Michal Martyniuk (keys and synthesiser), Cameron McArthur (upright bass), Stephen Thomas (drums). The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, 13th April 2016
While it is easy to feel discouraged by the state of the music industry and to agonise over the plight of long-form investigative journalism, there are pathways through the morass. Better alternatives, however tentative are forming and the emergence of more equitable models a possibility. These debates are worth having and the creative sector needs to become more vocal and activist. Everything of value is at stake here and the market rationalists will happily plunder the creative sector if artists and consumers leave them to it. As we ponder the challenges it is tempting to think of the music world as being too broken to fix. Acquiescence and inertia are the antithesis of creativity. The artists and journalists who care about this must do what we do best – confront, shock, overwhelm stupidity, dispense joy, start revolutions; throwing in the towel is for those devoid of imagination and banality produces nothing worthwhile. I recently watched two thought-provoking documentaries on the fate of the book and of in-depth journalism. ‘Out of Print’ and ‘Stop the Presses’. The first threw up a lot of intriguing questions, while the second provided some answers. Every new media platform brings with it a multitude of doom sayers and the invention of the printing press was no exception. Books have been with us for over four thousand years and while there are few local book-shops left in 2016, there are more books being printed than ever. The ability to record data and preserve it is the greatest of human achievements and the modern world rests upon it. In spite of determined efforts throughout history to burn books or to shut down the information flow, knowledge and information proliferates.
The tablets and engravings of antiquity are the most durable as the oldest texts known to us are readable today (the Hittite Linear B clay tablets). While a surprisingly large number of ancient books and texts survive, some modern attempts to ‘save the book’ have fallen flat on their face. Recently libraries rushed to put their catalogues into the CD Rom format. This marvel of modern technology was the answer to saving the printed word and so encyclopaedias and written texts were laboriously digitised. As suddenly as it appeared the platform vanished and a technical museum is now the only place where you can find a CD Rom reader (or a floppy disc). The ways of storing music, although covering an infinitely smaller time span have a comparable history. Platforms that seemed forever solutions came and went while the music migrated to newer formats. This process will continue and the new formats are not the problem.
The player-piano was a real threat to live music as was the Edison cylinder. Live music survived and recorded music morphed into the 78/EP/LP/tape/CD/Digital download and cloud streamed content. The changes will continue, probably accelerate, but we have learned that the best of the older formats can co-exist with emerging forms. The printed newspaper will survive with the digital for many years to come. It will likely become prestigious; a symbol of quality like the re-created LP. Platforms will come and go as music good and bad is created – this will continue until the end of time. The eternal conundrum remains.
Who will reap the benefits, who will pay the piper and how will distribution occur.
The second documentary ‘Stop the Presses’ featured interviews with forward-looking media identities. There was a deliberately left/liberal bias and the programme did not feature the likes of Murdoch. Those of Murdoch’s ilk are part of the problem and not the solution. The Editor of the New York Times, Guardian reporters, leading investigative journalists (such as those from the now defunct Rocky Mountain News) and a number of important European print media spokespeople gave their views. In spite of the carnage and catastrophic job losses there were glimmers of hope.
Immediately after World War Two ‘Le Monde’, the premiere French evening paper created a new model. Their charter ensured that no media barons like Lord Beaverbrook, Randolph Hearst or Rupert Murdock could ever exert editorial control. The paper ran along the lines of a worker collective and only the journalists (who had tenure) could choose the editor – elections were held for the post. Investors could invest but they could not exert influence. Sadly Le Monde ran into financial difficulties as the digital revolution bit harder and during a recent bailout new financial investors strove to exert editorial control – the staff refused and that situation has yet to play out.
One digital news-media outlet ‘Mediapart’ is particularly interesting. The editor (a former editor of Le Monde) Jerome Calhuzac puts up convincing arguments for a model better suited to the digital age. This digital only outlet has a rapidly growing circulation and it is successful by any measure. The business model is similar to the early Guardian and Le Monde – managed and owned by the reporters and the editor – the creators of content. It has a strict pay-wall, contains no advertising and employs the highest quality investigative journalists. Mediapart offers in-depth opinion pieces and makes no apology for having a point of view. It rejects advertising outright as that can influence editorial integrity. It does not see its role as outlining the broad sweep of daily events. It focuses instead on the important news stories, examines them in-depth and is beholden to no-one. Investors are welcome to a point, but they have no influence. Fifty percent of the cost of getting out print newspapers was in the distribution. Under a digital model that cost is infinitesimal and efficient high quality newspapers are now possible (more on distribution later). The only remaining obstacle is a generation of readers who expect quality information without having to pay for it.
Calhuzac sees the enemy as being the ‘entertainment’ model; driven by the relentless neo-rationalist imperatives of the marketplace. Mediapart’s mission is simple. ‘We are a cornerstone of democracy and as such independence and fearlessness is everything. We do this because it is our duty to humanity and to the fabric of democracy. It is not just about the journalists, the editors or the readers but a commitment to the principles of democracy’. Crucially the paper determined that quality has never come free of charge and that everyone must contribute a fair share – this is a public good – it has a price just as democracy has a price’. The subscribers agreed and have responded extremely well. ‘Trying to provide quality content for free has never worked and we avoid that trap’. Free content funded by advertisements is a flawed approach leading to a once-over-lightly product – an overload of fragmented information of undesirable quality. In short news as sound-bite entertainment.
Giving content away free was a bold but flawed experiment. It was a recipe for dumbing down and the new aggregated sites like the Huffington Post pillaged the content from other newspapers. When doing this they not only steal but they close down the very newspapers they steal from. As the aggregator websites don’t pay investigative reporters (to replace those being laid off by their actions), that content will eventually vanish. Musicians, independent labels and informed music consumers will see the parallels here.
This is exactly what is occurring in the music world and the equivalent of the Huff Post and to a lesser extent Buzz Feed are the digital streaming platforms. Most are parasitic and return nothing of value to the creators of the music. You Tube is a little different as it can act as a feeder to artist run websites, independent labels and offer teasers. Some users go too far and put up whole albums without the artists permission. It is popular but as a business model it struggles.
To bring this full circle, I received my copy of Maria Schneider’s latest album, ‘The Thompson Fields’ yesterday. The album won the best of category in the prestigious NPR poll and is receiving accolades from the various music industry papers. It was not produced by a major label and yet it is one of the most beautiful albums you will ever hear(or see). The label is ‘Artists Share’ – a cooperative run by musicians and their associates – interacting directly with the consumer. ‘The Thompson Fields’ is a rich convergence of the arts as it features fine art prints, poetry, extraordinary photographs, old maps on art paper and well written prose. It is also stakes out a strong environmental position without being preachy. This is an album of rare beauty and it even smells like a rare book (the album booklet has aged patterned end papers). Schneider’s album gives us extraordinary music (performed by nineteen of the improvising worlds best) but it also has detailed liner notes, credits for the musicians, various collaborations with artists, poets, photographers and a connection to like minded community organisations.If such an extraordinary album can rise to the top utilising a fan-funded artist controlled model there is hope. Progress is painfully slow but these projects can work. The Artist-Share label is not a recent innovation and the model doesn’t yield quick results. If better focused and more equitable distribution models developed then the high-end independents could gain a significant foothold in the market. There is a feel good factor in associating ourselves with models like this.
The New Zealand equivalent is Rattle Records. Like ECM it knows what it stands for and provides a consistently beautiful product. This is surprising given its reach. Like Schneider’s album (and ECM albums), Rattle has retained either liner notes (or quality photography) – even poetry appears on occasion. I declare a vested interest in this as my photographs, liner notes and poems have featured on a number of Jazz albums.
This convergence of music journalism, compelling art and high quality musicianship provides for a richer experience. It is possible for the digital download format to deliver liner notes, musicians credits and artwork but it seldom does. I would happily pay a few extra dollars to get such an enhanced version. Above all it is grossly disrespectful to the musicians when their names are excluded from download information. As the old models fail and the greedy few extract the lions share of revenue (without permission), the consumers of music need to become better informed. This is the point that Jerome Calhuzac of Mediapart makes. The listening public needs to grasp the fact that quality offerings have a cost. Lets get behind Rattle Records and other labels like Artists Share – where ever possible we should become ‘commissioners’ (a term used by Schneider for fan-based contributors).
The missing piece of the puzzle is distribution and as with Mediapart subscribers have a role. Buzz Feed gives us some clues here. Powerful algorithms can detect trends and this has a multiplier effect when an album is noticed. Those observing a trend then recommend the album to those with similar tastes. At present those algorithms serve the big players like Amazon but there is no reason why the technology could not work across the non Amazon Indie Label spectrum. New (albeit clumsy) distribution models utilise platforms like Facebook, Twitter and other vehicles.
It is often commented upon that I am a ‘busy’ Facebook user and blogger. There is a method in my madness. I have a respectable readership on my JL32 blog site. I also host a small Facebook group page and have a Twitter account. The people who follow my sites often take up my recommendations and hopefully this assists distribution. The consumers are increasingly a key factor in distribution and everyone should tout their musical recommendations to like-minded friends. Leaving it up to disinterested money men is not an option.
Lets ramp up the dialogue around streaming and the problems arising from free content. Paying a fair price for quality music is our duty to the creative arts. Support the independent musician run labels, recommended albums online and sponsor (crowd fund) a musician that you respect. We are all in this together.
When I saw that pianist Chris Cody was coming to New Zealand I immediately recognised the name. For a moment I couldn’t fill in the blank spots of memory but I sensed that the connection was both Australian and international. My CD collection is huge and I knew that the answer lay buried somewhere in the unruly muddle of music lying about the house. Then it came flooding back; Cody recorded a great ‘Chris Cody Coalition’ album in the nineties. The first international Jazz NAXOS recording titled ‘Oasis’ and produced by Mike Nock; an innovative exotic project brimming with warm middle eastern influences. Some quick research told me that the Chris Cody Coalition was still an entity and what equally excited me was to see the name Glenn Ferris on several of the albums credits. ‘Oasis’ featured the Australian Trombonist James Greening and on several of the later Coalition albums Cody features trombonist Ferris (an utterly distinctive player). His whispers, growls and smears are at times otherworldly, but also mysteriously human. Cody works especially well with trombone players and his writing reflects this on the latest album.
I trawled the Paris Jazz clubs in the nineties and recall seeing Ferris perform. Later I picked up an album by Henri Texier ‘Indians Week’ and loved it. Ferris has appeared on 179 albums; everyone from Stevie Wonder (‘Songs in the key of life’), to a co-led album with Chico Freeman and an Archie Shepp album (‘Meeting’). The new Chris Cody Coalition album ‘Conscript’ is enjoyable from start to finish. An accessible album that bathes you in warmth and light. There is real intimacy about the recording, a feeling that you are in the front row and this is as much about Cody’s writing skills as the strong confident performances. It is also about the recording quality which is superb. I strongly recommend this album. I first heard the quartet at the Tauranga Jazz Festival. A CJC Jazz stage showcased the finale and the Jazz Tui Awards presentation. I spoke to Cody in a break and quickly learned that he had New Zealand blood running in his veins. Born in Australia of Kiwi parents he studied music before moving to Paris. Based there ever since and gaining a strong reputation on the wider scene. He has very recently move back to Australia but he intends to return to Paris to work periodically.
It is the diversity of life experience that makes for interesting Jazz musicians and Cody has the aura of Paris cool about him. While he often draws on very American sources like Jamal, he is also in the mould of pianists like Jacky Terrasson (also a Parisian). Cody’s compositions are well thought out and replete with interesting asides. We heard many of these at the CJC and the album ‘Conscript’ is all originals. I am a sucker for a Cole Porter tunes and when he opened with ‘I love Paris in the springtime’ I couldn’t have been happier. Happy because I love the song and above all happy because the quartet played it so well. I have posted a video of the CJC performance and the title track from the ‘Conscript’ album with Ferris (the latter an official video release). His pick up band are the familiar and popular Roger Manins (tenor), Oli Holland (bass) and Ron Samsom (drums). In the rush of the Tui awards there was little time to rehearse, but it didn’t show. This is 3/4 of DOG and they are the 2015 Jazz Tui winners after all.
Who: Chris Cody Quartet – Chris Cody (piano), Roger Manins (tenor sax), Oli Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums).Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand, 8th April 2015 #jazzapril #jazzappreciationmonth http://www.jazzapril.com
The DOG project was conceived two years ago and during its public outings the band garnered enthusiastic support. Those who heard DOG urged them to record and eventually they did. The long-awaited album was ready for release on International Jazz Day 2014; a gestation time roughly equivalent to that of an elephant. The time however has been very well spent, as the band members have composed a wealth of new material. DOG (formally Dr Dog) is Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Oli Holland and Ron Samsom. Manins, Field & Holland are lecturers at the Auckland University School of Music (Jazz program), Samsom is the senior lecturer. They are all in demand for the best gigs about town. They are the big dogs on the block.
International Jazz day was the perfect time to release this album, underscoring as it does a local Jazz scene crackling with life and teeming with invention. Anyone familiar with the Auckland Jazz Scene will know that these musicians are a driving force; inspiring, challenging and empowering emerging artists. It is a band of titans but it is also a true band of equals. In the Jazz world bands made up of many leaders often fall short. A juggling act’s required to unify a multiplicity of visions. That problem does not apply here. These men appear to breathe in unison and react to each other intuitively. At the ripe old age of two DOG is in peak condition.
The album is beautifully recorded and the mix could hardly be improved upon. Credit to the York Street Studios in Auckland and to the tasteful mixing by Rattle’s Steve Garden (and DOG themselves). ‘Rattle Records’ are going from strength to strength and if the last three months output is anything to go by, this will be their best year yet. From the first few notes the album reels you in and holds your attention throughout. There is a virtuosity and a tightness to the performances but it is more than that. Beneath the unquestionable musicianship there is a radiating warmth and a bounty of good humour which shines through. This was especially evident during the International Jazz Day performance at the CJC. It was a humour filled affair and delightfully laid back.
Roger Manins was the front man for the release gig and the dog jokes and banter had people in fits of laughter. He teased the band mercilessly and they responded with sad looks or dismissive gestures. The Zeppo Marx to Manins Groucho. This is a role that he is well suited to and his jokes are quintessential Kiwiana. Some of the titles contained obscure dog references. ‘Race to Space’ honours the Russian dog which led off the space race, others inspired by loveable but hapless dogs of good breeding as in ‘Evolution’. At one stage Manins directed people to a comparative dog intelligence chart. “This is my spaniel rated at number fifty three, which is around the middle of a descending scale”. Next he asked, “Does anyone here own an Afghan Hound?”. No one owned up, perhaps guessing what was to transpire. “Ladies and gentlemen they are number ninety two on the list, almost at the bottom of the intelligence scale”. Some brave soul responded, “Surely not”. “Have you ever tried to play cards with an Afghan Hound” was Manins quick response. Roger Manins drawings for the cover art say it all.
Because there are four composers, the tunes have a variety of moods and tempos. I like them all, but if forced to choose one I would go for Hollands ‘Didel Didel Dei’. There are burning solos on this uptempo track and the interplay is quite exceptional. On this track you will hear Manins at his best. As usual there is no sugar-coating as he pushes the tenor to its outer limits. Field, Holland and Samsom responded in kind. This music they play has the utmost integrity and the audience laps it up.
International Jazz Day has become the premier event on the International Jazz Calendar with the brightest stars in the Jazz firmament showcased. Auckland, New Zealand can hold its head high in the midst of these international celebrations. This album and this live performance did us proud.
Who: ‘DOG’ is Roger Manins (tenor Sax), Kevin Field (piano), Oli Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) – compositions by all band members
I attended three Jonathan Crayford gigs while he visited New Zealand. All of the bands were different and all were exceptional in their way. This tells me something important about the artist; a leader able to communicate a vision with the utmost clarity and bring out the best in other musicians. Just over a month ago I interviewed Crayford and my first question was, “What projects do you have in the pipeline?”. He told me about an album that he is going to record in New York in a few months. We then talked about ‘Dark Light’, his new ‘Rattle’ album. As the title implies this is about that mysterious place behind the light. This recurring theme is regularly mined by improvising musicians. Monk, Jarrett, Maupin, Towner, Pieranunzi and others have peered into this chiaroscuro world, where the shadows between light and dark reveal subtle wonders. This piano trio album recorded in New York in late 2013, has the stellar sidemen Ben Street on bass and Dan Weiss on drums. The album was pre-released to New Zealand audiences during Crayford’s gig on Wednesday which was the fourth of the Creative Jazz Club’s 2014 #jazzapril series.
I hear a lot of music these days and much of it I like, but occasionally an album comes your way that really stops you in your tracks. This is just such an album. It has a profundity and a depth to it that works on so many levels. It is an album that deserves hearing over and again and since obtaining a copy I have done just that. At first impression I thought of game changing pianists like Esbjorn Svensson or some of the modern Scandinavians, but this has a strongly original feel. As in all Crayford’s compositions, we hear a skilfully written head, that gradually evolves into an ever-widening groove, begging deeper exploration. While it is music played at the highest level it is neither self-indulgent nor introspective. The album has real depth but it is also incredibly accessible. This is music that everyone will recognise at some level: partly because it is so articulate, but also because the blues and a myriad of other familiar song forms are neatly distilled into it.
It was obviously not practical to fly Street and Weiss (who are New York based) down for the CJC launch and so Crayford engaged two New Zealand musicians. While not hearing the full recorded trio was a shame, we were not disappointed by their substitutes. He could hardly have chosen better. On bass he had Wellington musician Patrick Bleakley and on drums was Auckland musician Chris O’Connore. I am less familiar with Bleakley but I certainly know him by reputation. The last time I saw him was with ‘The Troubles’, a delightfully anarchic Wellington band. He is an experienced and melodic bass player with an instinctive feel for time. On the album with Street and with the New Zealand trio, the bass player anchored the pieces; leaving piano and drums to react to each other. O’Connore is one of the finest drummers on the New Zealand scene and he routinely plays in diverse situations. This open skies approach gives him a real edge. He is a drummer and percussionist with a highly developed sense of space and dynamics and in this case his colourist tendencies were strongly in evidence.
The tracks have an organic logic in the way they’re ordered and a natural ebb and flow is discernible. The set list at the gig followed that order, creating the sense that we were on a journey. The titles of the pieces reference the ‘Dark Light’ theme and none more so than ‘Galois Candle’. Galois was a genius French mathematician (1811 – 1832) who used abstract algebra to prove the links between field theory and group theory. He suffered unbelievable bad luck in his short life and was not appreciated or understood until the 20th century. Many of his proofs were accidentally or careless destroyed by others, hence the title. As I play this sad evocative piece, the story of Galois unfolds before me. This is what Jazz can do well; steal a moment out of time and create a compelling narrative.
There is a luminous quality to Crayford’s playing; a quality which sounds newly minted and yet familiar. Crayfords contribution to Jazz deserves wider recognition and with this album it could happen. I would therefore give the album four and a half stars out of five, not out of some Kiwi patriotism but purely on merit. No Jazz lover will regret the purchase
I have posted a track titled ‘Bikes in Space’ below.
Who: Jonathan Crayford (piano) Ben Street (bass *album), Dan Weiss (drums *album) – Patrick Bleakey (bass *CJC), Chris O’Connore (drums, percussion *CJC)
When a Hammond B3 artist hits town, organ combo fans cheer and roadies duck for cover. The B3 is not the sort of instrument that musicians bring with them on a plane (unless they have chartered a Lear Jet or a Hercules). These mysterious musical behemoths are now harder to find, as the Hammond company folded in 1986 and the original tone-wheel B3/C3 has not been made since 1974. The instrument barely fits into a utility van and weighs more than 435 lb; with the accompanying Lesley Unit you can add 150 lb. The first problem for a travelling B3 artist is therefore to source a well restored working machine in the town where the gig will be held. Auckland is lucky in this respect as there are a few of the instruments around. To locate one in full working order is often difficult but the first port of call in Auckland is always keyboardist/organist Alan Brown. Alan has just restored his beloved C3 (an even heavier version of the B3).
Young unsuspecting musicians and a few experienced ones who should have known better, cajoled by Roger manins, moved this fabulous machine halfway across town, down two flights of stairs and into the basement of the 1885 building. They suffered for our enjoyment.
Its been over a year since Michele Benebig and Shem were in town and we love them here. Their blend of hard swinging old school B3 Jazz groove and evocative South Sea Island referencing vocals is a perfect fit for New Zealand audiences. The Author Lawrence Durrell* once described a rare disease called ‘Islomania’. This affliction of the spirit causes a form of intoxication; an overwhelming desire to live on lush green Islands surrounded by limitless expanses of sea. For the afflicted this is a source of inner happiness. While Michel and Shem are often seen on the West Coast of America; in Australia, New Zealand or France, it is their Island home base of New Caledonia that defines them. Shem in particular fills her compositions with descriptions of exotic papillon (French for butterfly), colourful birds who warn the locals of impending storms and of the Pacific. She and Michel are clearly afflicted by Islomania and as a fellow sufferer I empathise. When this affliction meets the Jazz B3 obsession a potent hybrid arises and from the grip of this there is no escape.
After seemingly endless months of blue skies it poured down on the night of the gig. This was bound to affect attendance, but those who braved the storm heard something exceptional. If there is one compelling reason to brave wind and rain it is to hear a B3 Combo. There is a primal warmth radiating from a B3 that seeps into your body. From the first few chords you feel at one with the world and during the intense slow burning grooves you are lost to your cares altogether.
Several numbers into the first set we heard ‘State Highway Blues’, composed and arranged by Fabienne Shem Benebig (the previous day) while driving up the North Island. This blues in Ab was absolutely captivating and the way the musicians gently pulled back on the beat gave it a deep swing (a number that reprised in my dreams for days to come). This number had enough tension and release to power Big ben. There were many new compositions from both Michel and Shem plus the odd tune from Michel’s earlier albums ‘Black Cap’ and ‘Yellow Purple’. One notable exception was the inclusion of a number by the French organist Eddie Louiss. Several years ago Michel wrote ‘Blues for Rog..’ (for Roger Manins) and in this number much of his formidable technique is evident.
Fabienne Shem Benebig always accompanies Michel on the road and she is also a gifted musician. Her well thought out compositions and strong vocal presence are integral to the combo. ‘Shem’ mainly sings in her native French tongue and hearing the blues in that language is pleasant to the ear. That said she is not there for mere novelty value as her voice is authoritative. Whether whispering a ballad or belting out a Basie number she is equally compelling. Like Michel she has a captivating stage presence and her playful humour is the perfect foil to his studied cool.
Michel Benebig is gaining wider attention and his recent trips to California have resulted in two stellar albums. His command of the B3 is astonishing and if you want a masterclass in technique and cool watch him in action. He has an intuitive feel for this genre and every move, every pregnant pause and every gesture becomes part a his unfolding story. As the last of the old B3 masters leave us, Michel Benebig and others like him will be swiftly identified as the new cadre, ready to move up and occupy that hallowed space.
No organ combo is going to work properly without the right sort of guitarist and for this gig Michel used Auckland’s Dixon Nacey. Dixon Nacey and drummer Ron Samson had not long been back from New Caledonia where they joined Michel and Shem for the official opening of the new Astro Jazz Club (run by Michel and dedicated to organ Jazz and in particular Brother Jack McDuff). Dixon always looks happy when playing, but never more so when playing blues or groove. He really pulled out some great performances on this gig and the chemistry between he and Michel was evident. The multi faceted (and by default polyrhythmic drummer) Ron Samsom was cast in the unusual role of groove drummer here. He exercised restraint and kept the tight focus needed, stepping free at appropriate moments. The most important role for a groove drummer is to lock into the organs groove and he achieved that. Roger Manins and Ben McNicoll made up the horn section and while Roger played the heads and an occasional solo, Ben mostly played counterpoint. The tenor sax and baritone sounded wonderful together. Everything about this gig felt right and the genre was well served.
We are now halfway through the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) #jazzapril series and the program offers depth and variety. As we approach International Jazz Day we should reflect on the gift that we have at our disposal. While it is tempting to say that we’re lucky (and we are) I also mindful that the music we call Jazz is the result of hard work and dedication. This American art form has long had global outreach and down at the bottom of the Pacific we legitimately own a piece of that, thanks to a plethora of gifted musicians and enablers like Roger, Ben and Caro.
*Reflections on a Marine Venus – L Durrell
Who: Michel Benebig (Hammond C3), Fabienne Shem Benebig (vocals), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Ron Samsom (drums), Roger Manins (tenor sax), with Ben McNicoll (baritone sax).
Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland New Zealand. 16th April 2014
The second gig in the CJC #jazzapril series featured a quintet led by veteran Auckland musician Phil Broadhurst. Phil is a very familiar figure on the New Zealand Jazz scene thanks to his many recordings, his broadcasting, gigs and Jazz education. He is also a finalist in New Zealand’s 2014 Jazz Tui awards and we will hear the results this coming Easter weekend. The last two years have certainly been busy for Phil. In between running the Massey University Auckland Jazz Program and hosting visits by overseas Jazz musicians he has found time to compose new material and to record several highly rated albums. I have previously reviewed his passionate tribute to the diminutive Jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani ‘Delayed Reaction’ (he’s an authority on Petrucciani’s work), and his beautifully crafted ‘Flaubert’s Dance’ (now up for the Tui).
Phil Broadhurst compositions are well constructed and seldom just head arrangements. There is always a subtler framework behind the obvious; something that invites you to look beyond the tune. The song titles and the stories that accompany them give a strong sense of place or sometimes touch upon an all but forgotten quirky interlude from the past. Phil Broadhurst is well read in several languages and it shows in his work. His compositions reference this but never in a preachy way and there is a strong sense of seeing the world through his eyes. This experiential vantage point rather than any particular idiom informs his work most. His compositions also convey ideas and at the conclusion of a piece we feel like examining them further.
The first set began with ‘Delayed Reaction’ from his Petrucciani album, followed by a number of newer tunes. I have posted a You Tube clip from the latter titled ‘Precious Metal’. It initially sounded familiar but I couldn’t quite grasp why. It is a tribute to Horace Silver and the form here is recognisably hard bop. This gives a strong impression of the famous Jazz pianist and it was that impression which sounded so tantalisingly familiar. This is what Phil Broadhurst does so well.
As is normally the case with busy musicians there had been no time to rehearse other than a twenty-minute run-through before the gig. In situations like this it is essential to have good readers and if you are lucky musicians who are familiar with your work. With Roger Manins (tenor sax), Mike Booth (trumpet, flugelhorn), Oli Holland (bass) and Cameron Sangster (drums) it was always going to go well. There is a subtle difference between bands who work well together and those who really gel. There were no high octane numbers and the mood was consistent rather than variable. This worked very much to the bands advantage and the laid-back feel gave them a chance to delve deeply into the compositions during solos. Everyone pulled out great performances and you could tell afterwards how pleased they were that the gig had gone so well. It just goes to prove that nights like this can bring about just as pleasing results as the edgier higher octane ones.
Roger Manins and Mike Booth blended perfectly and Booth has never sounded better. Their solos were thoughtful, probing and often intensely melodic. They clearly understood what Broadhurst had in mind and worked with it. Oli Holland who sings lines during his bass solos was in great form (when is he not). Having played with Manins and Broadhurst often he needed no prompting, his powerful bass lines giving just the right momentum. Phil has used several drummers in the past but he obviously likes working with Cameron Sangster who is the youngest band member. “He has subtlety and gives colour where it’s needed” said Broadhurst afterward.
#jazzapril is a about sharing the joy of Jazz and it is about celebrating the diversity of the music. Improvised music is increasingly embraced by younger audiences and those audiences and the many younger musicians performing bring exciting new sounds to the mix. Getting the mix right between the experienced and the up-and-coming is a challenge but at the CJC appears to get it right. Jazz has long been established in New Zealand and this is a time to celebrate its longevity and its diversity.
Auckland’s CJC (Creative Jazz Club) has created a Jazz Appreciation Month program with all of the above in mind. This week there is a B3 master from French New Caledonia, next week the globe-trotting genius of the keyboard Jonathan Crayford. Best of all is the long anticipated album launch of ‘Dr Dog’ on International Jazz Day. I feel lucky to live near a club that can present such wonderful artists. Grab this opportunity by the ears Kiwis, now is the perfect time to enjoy this music and above all share it with others.
Who: Phil Broadhurst Quintet – Phil Broadhurst (compositions, piano), Roger Manins (tenor sax), Mike Booth (trumpet), Oli Holland (bass), Cameron Sangster (drums).
The Auckland Jazz gigs during Jazz April have been high quality (see last four posts). Above all they have encompassed the breadth of improvised music. Song FWAA from Australia was therefore a perfect choice to round off a smorgasbord of tasty events. They (Song FWAA) are quite possibly the illegitimate love children of ‘Sun Ra‘ and while no DNA evidence has validated that theory the lineage is manifest in their music.
As a scene matures listening ears get tweaked through exposure to new sounds. The demand for a wider range of musical experiences follows that. This doesn’t happen by accident. It begins with musicians stepping into uncharted territory and ends with the listener reacting. The mere mention of ‘adventurous music’ can cause cold sweats from venue management and all the more so if an ‘out’ gig is proposed. Happily for us Roger Manins of the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) takes some risks and as the club audiences continue to grow that policy is vindicated. It is the job of artists to confront or challenge and listeners should welcome this. Settling for bland entertainment leads to musical confection, not jazz, not art. Some people are perfectly happy leading the lush life in some small piano bar, but that is not where the music develops. Improvised music is as much about audience engagement as about performing and without the feedback loop a musical project would become an unheard conversation between band members. Those who heard Song FWAA, heard edge, originality and musical humour so cunning that no weasel could better it.
The band has garnered rave revues around Australia and their 2011 album ‘Ligeti’s Goat’ is highly recommended. If you listen to the album you feel that you are listening to a much bigger unit. At first this seems attributable to the rhythm instrument, which is of the guitar family but quite different in timbre. This is a specially made 8 string ‘Frame’ played by David Reaston. The voicings, pickups and pedals used (i.e Moog pedal) give it distinct and very different sound. Not loud but other-worldly; a strangely subtle sound that can impart real richness.
Martin Kay plays alto saxophone and although this is a standard instrument he also manages to coax a range of different sounds from it. Martins multi-phonics and extended techniques give depth to the performance, just as drummer Jamie Cameron’s colourist approach and extended drum technique added depth. At the end of the evening I felt that the musicianship more than the instrumentation created this special groove.
The gig (and the album) was replete with compositional parables about animals and their epic adventures. Martin is adept at telling these tales; which have a ‘Hunter S Thompson’ quality about them. ‘Ligeti’s Goat‘ the title track for instance explores the eating-cycle of a goat. “Tonight” said Martin, “we will only be playing the second section – ‘digesting carrots’ “. Another number was a moving tribute to a peripatetic Polar Bear. To quote from the liner notes regarding the tune ‘Olefeig’ (AKA that which should not be shot): ‘Documents the transformation of scenery through the eyes of a Polar Bear, drifting on a shard of ice from Greenland to Iceland, where his destiny finds a bullet’.
A number titled ‘Mugwump‘ was most enjoyable. The gist of the introduction by Martin was that Aliens had come to earth to seek Moroccan desert fuel and somehow this referenced William Burroughs and the Dogon people of neighbouring Mali. He had me hooked as soon as he mentioned Morocco and Burroughs.
Song FWAA’s music is at times ‘free’ and at other times working long ostinato grooves. This moving ‘outside’ one minute and then playing ‘inside’ or following a melodic hook to its conclusion works. The group has something to say and they say it with genuine originality. I hope that they come back soon and share more animal sagas with us.
Their promo material describes them as the ‘wrong band for the right people’. I love that descriptor, but the one sour note struck was their failure to paint their faces ‘Art Ensemble of Chicago Style’ for the gig. This is how their webpage profile shows them and we are mature enough in NZ to handle that. As Roger Manins says, ‘truth in advertising is at the heart of jazz’. I have no idea what that means but we do love face paint.
What & Who: ‘Song FWAA‘ – Martin Kay (alto sax), David Reaston (frame guitar), Jamie Cameron (drums). Buy the album from www.songfwaa.com
I am writing this on International Jazz Day and reflecting on the diversity of improvised music occurring in my city of Auckland, New Zealand. We have straight ahead Jazz, free improvised music and everything in between. For me a livable community is better defined by its relationship to the arts than by any other measure. Having venues like ‘The Wine Cellar’ and the ‘CJC (Creative Jazz Club)’ is at the heart of this relationship, for that is where artistic experimentation and community interactions occur.
There is a tendency to compartmentalise music and it is the way humans like to view the world. These subdivisions are sometimes unhelpful but in the end the meanings we invest in the descriptors are largely subjective. I agree with the premise of semiotician, writer (and experimental Jazz liner notes author) Umberto Ecco. His viewpoint is that humans feel compelled make endless lists in order to plot their way through a chaotic world. It is a way of remembering ancient pathways, while embarking upon new and often scary ones. In the world of improvised music the riskier path is always taken and the charts are abandoned at some point. This music embraces the chaos and seeks out new patterns and motifs, however fleeting. Using charts (whether Braxton like or traditional notation) the form is merely the starting point. In this way both ancient & future are embraced.
The K’Party Spoilers of Utopia (formerly T’Party Spoilers of Utopia) is a nonet led by vibist, tenor horn player and musical explorer John Bell. His vision has been the guiding force for this extraordinary grouping of musicians and it is respect for him that spurs them on. I have known John for less than a year and I find him an immensely likeable and down to earth person. Beneath that matter of fact exterior lurks a keen mind, teaming with profound musical insights. I have read and re-read his exegesis on the Albert Ayler legacy and his views on alternative music are well-developed and worthy of examination. Like all musicians he has many facets to his character. When I asked him recently how long he had been a musician he casually replied, “quite a long while, but at one point I abandoned music for motorcycle racing”. “Do you still race motorbikes” I asked incredulously. “Definitely not he said”. I wanted to probe him further on this fascinating topic but the conversation turned back to music. On reflection I cannot think of a better career path for an avant-garde musician than motor cycle racing. Both are high-wire acts. I am wondering now if I imagined the whole exchange. Time will tell.
I’ve been aware of the ‘Spoilers’ for a year or more and have seen them play on a number of occasions. The collective began as a vehicle to explore Albert Ayler’s legacy and for a while you could hear brassy interpretations of the ‘The Truth Goes Marching In’ or other compositions by Ayler. There is however no such thing as a cover band of free Jazz offerings and band was always centred around John’s own compositions or his interpretations of Salvation Army and various evangelical hymns. In more recent times the repertoire has evolved to include compositions by band members. With John on hand to arrange, contribute his own charts and encourage, the project has finally been shaped into the ‘Spoilers of Utopia’ album. There are so many good compositions and vignettes in this music that singling out the individual musicians for praise would be a Herculean task. I can only congratulate them all and hope that there is more to come.
I have seen the band described as the purveyors of ‘apocalyptic’ sounds or ‘tongue in cheek’. I am not so sure about that, as there is is both structure and chaos in their music. The familiar sits comfortably with the unruly and the sweet with the sour. That sounds more like modern life than doom and gloom. Out of the completely free you will hear snatches of raw beauty and just as quickly the beauty dissolves into dissonance. I would call that a Zen koan – Life is a deadly serious stupidly happy joke.
There is no crying declamatory saxophone voice on this album (as there would be with an Ayler recording). This is a brassy sound closer to the military bands and to the street bands of the church militant. Any analysis of New Zealand’s colonial history will reveal a proliferation of such bands. Add in a Moog, squeeze horns and a skittering electric guitar and you have arrived at the Spoilers doorstep, Jazz April 2013. This is a manifestation of avant-garde New Zealand.
The Wine Cellar (Vitamin ‘S’) is a place for experimental and improvised music and under the watchful eye of out-guru Jeff Henderson it flourishes against all commercial odds. It is like the CJC located in a basement and in this case, deep in the bowels of Karangahape Road. Visit the website and call by some night. The music is can be utterly ‘free’ or follow a more structured pathway. It is always experimental though and improvisation is at its core.
John Bell left New Zealand for Korea two days after the album release gig, our loss. He will be sorely missed in New Zealand but the music goes marching on. We have a lot to hear from his band mates yet and I am already picking up whispers of new projects.
Where: The Wine Cellar – Vitamin ‘S’ St Kevin’s Arcade off K’Road
Who: K’Party Spoilers of Utopia – led by John Bell (vibes, tenor horn, misc sounds), Finn Scholes (trumpet, flugal horn), Ben Zilber (trombone), Don McGlashan (euphonium), Neil Watson (guitar), Owen Melhuish (tuba), Darren Hannah (double bass), Chris O’Connor (drums), Kingsley Melhuish (trumpet, flugal horn, trombone, tuba) + Cameron Allen (Moog), Gerard Crewdson (trombones), Jacob Unuia (pau), L J Unuia (pate), Tua Meti (pati)
Jazz was famously described by Whitney Balliett as the ‘sound of surprise’. This is at the very essence of improvised music as it strives to unravel, reveal, polish and at times shock. What you think you know is often challenged and this confrontation is the primary role of art and improvised music. When a familiar tune is reinterpreted and presented afresh it’s pleasing (if done well), but there are many ways that music can surprise. What we sometimes hear is an aggregation of profound subtleties and that is harder to define. We need ears attuned to nuance and a memory capable of recalling just what has preceded these vignettes. It is in these less obvious corners that we often find the most profound of revelations.
The Kevin Field trio (plus guest) appeared at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) on the 17th April. This was an important CJC/Jazz April event. Everyone on the New Zealand Jazz scene is familiar with Kevin Field the pianist, composer, teacher, and gifted accompanist. He delivers and so good sized crowds turn up.
Kevin had earlier humped his Fender Rhodes down into club and it sat nestled respectfully against the grand piano. The bass was lying on its side like an expectant whale and the drum kit was sparkling out of the gloom. Behind the drum kit you could barely make out the image of a guitar on a stand. Those gifted with 20-20 vision would have discerned that this was a Godin Guitar which can only mean one thing in Auckland; Dixon Nacey would be sitting in for a few numbers.
When Kevin Field and his trio filed to the band stand I experienced a tinge of anticipation. I had been looking forward to the gig because Kevin Field never settles for a mediocre performance and he is certainly no journeyman. With Cameron McArthur on bass and Stephen Thomas on drums we hoped for sparks. While Kevin often appears in support of others, or fronts bigger lineups he had not brought a piano trio to the club for a quite a while.
What happened next caught me quite off guard and perhaps it shouldn’t have. When you rate an artist highly you can easily fall into the trap of thinking that you know everything about them and that is plain foolish. There is also something about the CJC that urges musicians reach deep and many visiting artists have commented on that. The CJC is more than just a benign space, it is an enabling one. A performance space that says to an artist, ‘there I’ve created the ambiance for you, now make it happen’. It would take a subterranean ‘Feng Shui’ specialist to analyse this phenomenon .
The Kevin Field that we saw perform was quite extraordinary. It is hard to put into words but he approached the keyboards with such confidence and invention that was almost supernatural. At times I thought that I heard hints of Hamp Hawes or the modern Europeans (rich, spacious and original), but mostly I heard Kevin Field, alive to the moment and brim full of fresh ideas. His voice is definitely post Herbie Hancock and it engages with the realities of the post millennial world. This is a voice that marks Kevin Field out as an original stylist.
The numbers were all originals and while a few were written for his recent ‘Warners’ album ‘Field of Vision’ (shortlisted for a Tui award), many were new to me. They came bundled up with stories and anecdotes and to see Kevin in the role of raconteur was delightful. When commenting on his second number of the evening ‘Complex Blue’, he told us that it was written with a Simply Red cover-band in mind. “Complex Blue could be a new type of Simply Red cover-band who would play everything but Simply Red tunes, thus giving them a broader repertoire”. The hilariously improbable tall stories and the incredible music made this a perfect evening of Jazz. I asked Kevin later if he had plans to record this new material and he indicated that he would be doing so shortly. If he captures half of what we experienced it will be well worth buying.
Cameron McArthur (bass) has experienced a meteoric rise to prominence and he has achieved this while still a student at the Auckland University School of Jazz. I can clearly recall his first tentative performance steps. Confidence, chops and musicality have become the default for him now and he is increasingly accompanying our best musicians. Stephen Thomas has been studying drums and performing at a high level for some time and he was an obvious choice for Kevin. We are seeing more and more of what he is capable of and as with Cameron there will be a lot more yet. This band works exceptionally well together and while Kevin is clearly in control as leader there is plenty of room for the others to shine.
In guest slot was Dixon Nacey. A guitarist who attracts superlatives and accolades as few others do. He always injects that special ‘Dix’ quality into a performance; brilliance tinged with unalloyed happiness.
Sometimes when the stars align the gods of music breathe extra life into a performance. When this occurs, those who are there feel incredibly fortunate and vow never to forget it. This was such a night.
Because this was the main CJC – Jazz April gig night the audience learned what the month stands for, who’s involved and why it is important. Everyone was challenged to do three things, (1) visit and ‘like’ the JJA Jazz April pages and International Jazz Day site (2) bring one or more friends to future gigs and spread the word (3) Hug and thank a Jazz musician tonight and in the following days. By sharing and growing this wonderful music we will see it survive.
It is always great to see the renowned tenor player Brian Smith performing in the intimate space of the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) and whenever he plays older and newer fans turn up to see him. While it is tempting to refer to him as being ‘seasoned’ or ‘an elder statesman’, any notion of that has a built-in redundancy factor. He is a ball of energy and ageless on the bandstand.
Brian has played with so many great artists over his long career that it would chew up serious bandwidth to enumerate even half of them. Being a member of the Maynard Ferguson band and numerous other well-known line-ups saw him playing across the world. His co-led genre stretching ‘Nucleus’ (with Ian Carr) won the top European band award at the Montreux Jazz Festival (1970). Since returning to New Zealand to settle (if a musician ever really does that) he has worked on numerous film scores and put out some well received (and commercially successful) albums.
Accompanying him on the 10th April gig were Kevin Field (piano), Kevin Haines (bass) and Frank Gibson Jr (drums). With this particular lineup he could dive deeper into his favoured repertoire of Hard Bop Jazz standards (with a few originals thrown in). When ‘Footprints’ was played Brian Smith approached the warhorse in an interestingly oblique manner; giving us a tune that contained the merest hint of familiarity and a large dollop of brooding mystery. This was a highpoint of the sets and a good example of how good musicians can extract new wine from old bottles. The introduction began with a very personalised statement on tenor which caught the attention while offering no insight into where it was going. Then out of nowhere the melody was stated, only to disappear as quickly as it had appeared; merged in probing re-haromonisations and oblique explorations.
The tunes of Wayne Shorter have remained perennially popular with Jazz audiences and they are constantly being reworked and updated. I have heard two versions of ‘Footprints’ performed in recent weeks and both mixed the familiar with the the new. These re-workings of familiar tunes have always been the bread & butter of Jazz and in the case of reworked ‘Footprints,’ Wayne Shorter sets the bar high. I saw him perform this in Verona, Italy a few years ago and after laying out a pathway to the melody he suddenly plunged us into a world of elision; forcing us to fill in the gaps as we listened. A familiar tune floating between chasms of crystalline emptiness; a tune more implied than played. I have posted a You Tube clip of the Brian Smith band playing ‘Footprints’ at the 10th April CJC gig.
Accompanying Brian on piano was Kevin Field who is so well-respected about town that he is a real drawcard in his own right. I have often mentioned his ability to add value to any band he plays with and this night was no exception (A post on his April 17th gig will be up shortly). On bass was Kevin Haines who is not only the most experienced bass player about town but one of the best. lastly there was Frank Gibson Jr on drums who is another respected and talented veteran Jazz identity about Auckland. Frank Gibson Jr, Kevin Field and Kevin Haines have all appeared recently leading groups. These guys will always impress and they proved that on this gig.
This particular CJC gig fitted in perfectly with the wider Jazz April ethos which is about profiling Jazz & Improvised music in all its diversity. The month had kicked off with a co-led trio featuring guitar, bass and drums (all original music by Samsom/Nacey/Haines), A few days later we saw Nathan Haines at the ‘Q’ Theatre (a tentet complete with French horns and vibes) – a few days after that the Auckland ‘Jazz & Blues club’ featured a gig with a Caribbean-Jazz ensemble. The Kevin Field trio on the 17th. Auckland benefits from a rich sonic diversity and clubs like the CJC, The Auckland Jazz & Blues Club and Vitamin ‘S’ deserve our ongoing support. The month of Jazz April will conclude with two avant-garde bands (one local, the ‘Kparty Spoilers of Utopia’) at Vitamin ‘S’ on the 23rd at 8pm and one visiting from Australia (Song FWAA) which is a CJC gig on the 24th at 8pm. This is a cornucopia of riches and not one of these gigs should be missed. Note: The Vitamin ‘S’ gig is the last chance to see John Bell vibist, who departs for Korea on Thursday.
Who: the Brian Smith Quartet – Brian Smith (tenor), Kevin Field (piano), Kevin Haines (bass), Frank Gibson Jr (drums)
After the success of ‘Poets Embrace’ it is hardly surprising that Nathan Haines new album ‘Vermillion Skies’ has climbed so high in the charts. The album was the fifth best selling New Zealand album the last time I looked and this happened within days of its release by Warners. For a modern Jazz album anywhere to achieve this success is unprecedented. This has followed hot on the heals of ‘Poets Embrace’ winning the Tui Awards ‘Best Jazz Album of 2012’.
Anyone who knows Nathan will hardly be surprised to learn of his obsessive commitment to the last two projects. His approach has been Ghandalf like, as it involved a long period of woodshedding, an epic journey in search of analogue equipment and a reconciliation with the gods of past times. While Poets Embrace plumbed the depths of Coltrane’s vocabulary, Vermillion Skies has opened up the perspective and tapped into the wider ethos of 1950’s Jazz. What Vermillion Skies is not however is a cosy journey down memory lane.
It is about examining the epiphanies and sounds of the 50’s era and interpreting them with modern sensibilities. With the exception of one number, these are fresh compositions; a happy synthesis between past and present. Deliberately retro though is the analogue recording methodology. A one-take take approach and sound augmented by the use of reverb (not using a plate).
I followed the Vermillion Skies project from its inception and because I was in contact with the musicians via Face Book it was not difficult to keep abreast of progress. Alain Koetsier was returning from China, Nathan was returning from the UK and to use ‘GCSB speak’ there was a heightened level of ‘chatter’ about town.
Their fist gig was at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) and at this point the tunes had never been aired before. Some tunes were in embryonic form and they had only been rehearsed briefly. We were a focus group Nathan informed us; musical crash test dummies. The audience loved the gig but they knew that even better was to come.
A month later the musicians and veteran London Producer Mike Patto headed into the York Street studios to cut the tracks. The album was recorded in around two days of mostly live takes. To obtain an authentic reverb sound Nathan used the studio car-park, which is a huge cavernous brick building, resembling a stripped out Victorian cathedral. The neighbours in the posh Edwardian apartments next to the studio lacked the cool to appreciate this innovation. The reverberating horns made one of them complain (in tears) as the fulsome brassy sounds echoed across Parnell rise.
A few weeks after the recording Nathan contacted me and asked if I would interview him at York Street for the promotional video. I turned up a few hours before the appointed time and asked Jeremy (who runs the studio) if I could hear the masters. Hearing the material in its final form and in that space was a revelation. I quizzed Jeremy and Nathan about aspects of recording. I learned that the piano was isolated in a booth, but the drums and horn section were in the larger space with the saxophone. When it came to the vocals the band went home; those tracks were recorded without onlookers.
Nathan has sung on a previous album but he readily admits that it is not his comfort zone. It interested me that he didn’t have the same degree of confidence in his singing abilities as his voice is simply superb. In my view it compares favourably with Mark Murphy’s. The charts are well written and the hooks in ‘Navareno Street’ are so powerful that I am still hearing them in my head weeks later.
Interviewing Nathan Haines is a pleasure as he is knowledgeable, articulate and expansive when prompted. Because he is across his topic he can talk at length about the minutia of the project, but what was surprising was they way he allowed me to discuss his vulnerabilities. His warmth and often self-effacing commentary gave the interview an added depth.
On April 9th the official launch occurred at the ‘Q’ Theatre in Queen Street Auckland. The tickets sold out quickly. The theatre is well suited for such a performance as it has the space, sight-lines and well padded surfaces. This enabled good sound control. Unlike the CJC gig, there were twelve musicians appearing (not quite the full album line-up which had a 15 piece band on one track). The first half featured the basic quartet with a few guest artists such as brother Joel Haines on guitar and two others. Joel can channel the rock god thing while fitting perfectly into a Jazz ensemble. His sound is modern but his lines are Jazz. Also on stage was John Bell the multi talented vibist. John Bell’s contribution added texture and depth. He does not rely on heavy vibrato, favouring a more minimalist approach. I reflected that I had last seen him in a decidedly avant-garde setting. This was far from Albert Ayler but as always his musicianship impressed. Mike Booth (lead trumpet in the horn section) also appeared in the first half. Mike Booth has a clean tone on trumpet and flugal and is the go to guy for anything involving horn sections or Jazz orchestras. His sight-reading skills are as impressive as his performance skills.
by John Chapman
In the second set, a six piece horn section joined in and the arranger Wayne Senior conducted the ten piece band. Wayne Senior is part of the history of New Zealand Jazz and he is especially renowned for his work with TV and Radio orchestras. His ensemble arranging is legendary. The six piece horn-section was two French horns, Two trumpet/flugal horns, a trombone and a bass trombone.
I love nonets and tentets as they have a big sound while leaving room for a band to breathe. The textural qualities of this tentet and the rich voicings were particularly noteworthy. ‘Frontier West’ (by Nathan Haines) left the audience gasping in delight as the ‘Birth of the Cool’ vibe in modern clothing gave us a rare treat. Such wonders are seldom heard in this country. The last item (and the only tune not written by Nathan) was the aching beautiful ballad ‘Lament’ by J. J. Johnson. The best known version of this is on the ‘Miles Ahead’ album. That Gil Evans arrangement involves a 20 piece orchestra. Wayne Senior re-arranged this for tentet and the results are amazing. Nathan caught every nuance of the tune as he built his improvisation around the rich voicings. I am in no doubt that the ‘Lament’ on ‘Vermillion Skies’ compares favourably with the best historic versions (Miles, JJ Johnson, Rahsaan Roland Kirk).
The performances on the album and at the various gigs have all been different. This is because it is Jazz where ‘you never play anything the same way once’ and because there have been personnel changes along the way. As leader and player, Nathan Haines always seems to squeeze that bit extra out of each performance. His intense focus on the tenor of late has been good for him and good for us as his approach to this material while fluid, never looses its edge. He is arriving at that enviable place where people will say after one bar, “oh….that has to be Nathan Haines”.
Kevin Field and Nathan go back a long way and their chemistry is evident. Kevin is the pianist of choice for many local and visiting bands. As an accompanist he never looses sight of what an accompanist is there for. He can shine during the piano solos, but his fills, deftly placed chords and subtle comping speak to his other strengths. It was often necessary for him to keep out-of-the-way of the other instruments (such as the horn section which occupied a register that he would normally utilise). Drummer Alain Koetsier returned to New Zealand for the recording and his drum chops and musicality had not subsided during his sabbatical away from Jazz performance. He is a fine musician and sorely missed on the Auckland scene now that he resides in China. The bass player Ben Turua is also rock solid on the recording. I have heard him play often but never better than here. Sadly he has since departed for Sydney, where he will no doubt flourish as do many Kiwi Jazz expats.
The departure of Alain Koetsier and Ben Turua left a gap and so the original recording lineup was amended for the gigs to include Stephen Thomas on drums and Cameron MacArthur on bass. I cannot speak highly enough of Stephen Thomas. He has been on the scene for a few years and if anyone was going to fill Alain’s shoes it would be him. He is a hard-working young drummer who demonstrates his passion and skill every time he sits at the kit. The other replacement was Cameron McArthur who is still a student at Auckland university. This was a big step up for him and he took it with ease. His bass solo at the ‘Q’ Theatre brought a huge applause and like Stephen Thomas we can expect great things of him.
This album marks another high watermark in New Zealand Jazz as it is brave enough to confront the past without being captured by it. Nathan Haines is heading back to London in a few weeks and we can’t begrudge him that. His ascendency offshore is our gain and we should never forget that these two great albums have been recorded in Auckland, New Zealand and with Kiwi musicians.
Who: The Nathan Haines Band. Album – Nathan Haines (tenor sax, vocals, leader, composer). Kevin Field (piano), Ben Turua (bass) , Alain Koetsier (drums), Joel Haines (guitar – 2,5), Leon Stenning (guitars -5), Mickey Utugawa (Drums – 5), Mike Booth (lead trumpet, flugal), Paul Norman (trumpet, flugal), David Kay (French horn), Simon Williams (French horn), Haydn Godfrey (trombone), John Gluyas (bass trombone), John Bell (vibraphone 2-5), ‘Big’ Cody Wilkington (steel guitar, vocals, percussion – 5), Wayne senior (arranger, session/launch gig conductor). ‘Q’ Theatre and later gigs replace Koetsier with Stephen Thomas (drums), replace Ben Turua with Cameron McArthur (bass).
The first ‘Jazz April‘ gig was at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) featuring the ‘Samsom/Nacey/Haines’ band. I can’t think of a better way to kick off Jazz April 2013 than by hearing seasoned musicians having fun, while at the same time stretching themselves as players and composers. The group formed in 2008 with the idea of providing a vehicle for new compositions. The outcome of these collaborations was an album named ‘Open to Suggestions‘ and later the 2010 ‘Oxide‘ album was released (with guests Kevin Field, Chris Melville, Neville Grenfell and Roger Manins). The albums have all been extremely well received with ‘Open to Suggestions‘ ending up as a finalist in the Tui Music Awards and ‘Oxide‘ (Rattle Records 2010) receiving critical acclaim from far & wide. The name ‘Oxide‘ arose from John Ruskin’s writings on crystals (artist, author, patron of the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood and proto-socialist philosopher). This album is still available in record shops or from Rattle Records and I highly recommend it.
It is hardly surprising that there was an expectation of a third album. The new release titled ‘Cross Now’ has no guest artists appearing. Left to bounce off each others ideas and in an uncluttered musical space, the three musicians made the most of the situation. This spirit of collaboration was particularly evident at the gig as they joked and constantly acknowledged each others skills while downplaying their own input. That is a very Kiwi thing and audiences take it as good form. No one would dare do this if they were uncomfortable with their performance. It is a matter of reading the cultural codes. When they were improvising, the interaction between players was both cerebral and intuitive. There were moments when they appeared as one entity.
As soon as the first set kicked off a sense of joy and playfulness emanated from the bandstand. Some the best music arises from joy and good humour; musicians tapping into an unconscious wellspring of creative goodwill and being at one with the world.
The material on ‘Cross Now’ is new and like ‘Oxide’ some tunes were only finished days before recording them (or even polished in the studio car park). This is Dixon Nacey’s forte; to write brilliant tunes in the eleventh hour. Someone told me that his ‘The Lion” was written on the way to the ‘Oxide‘ recording sessions. Kevin Haines informed us that Dixon’s moving tribute to the recently diseased and much-loved drummer Tony Hopkins, was likewise written days before the recording. The compositions represent the styles of the originators and even though the compositions are jointly attributed, it is possible to detect just whose hand has had the greatest influence over each number.
So often the back stories behind tunes can enrich a listening experience, but I am not sure how many musicians appreciate this fact. While it is true up to a point that the music should speak for itself, that liner notes or background stories are an added superfluity, that received wisdom obscures a deeper story. To many of us music is an experience extending way beyond the auditory senses. We pick up cues from the musicians movements, we absorb colours from the lights glancing off the instruments and we gain insights from the stories. To me improvised music is like a good film and a well shot film is like improvised music. A place to occupy empathetically for that one hyper-sensitised moment in time. No sensory input should therefore be denied.
Kevin Haines wrote ‘…With Eyes Averted…’ (which began with a poem about relationships) and this added a perspective to the tune that would not otherwise have been evident (I have posted a video of this which features Matt Bray on 2nd guitar) . His tune ‘Cross Now’ was about a particularly irritating crossing signal outside of a Tokyo hotel. In Kevin Haines hands the annoying beeps became a polyrhythmic pulse to build a tune upon. He also contributed ‘Broken Tones’.
Drummer Ron Samsom’s, ‘Happy Dance’ (a fast samba) was fabulous. Written about his dog, we could feel the exuberant bounding energy as the tune progressed. Ron Samsom had begun with the tongue in cheek announcement, “yes drummers write tunes too”. After ‘Happy Dance’ we heard ‘Seiko (in 13/8 time) and a ballad ‘Qua’. I heard someone murmur that drummers needed to write more tunes and in Ron’s case I agree (See You Tube Clip by Jen Sol).
Dixon’s contributions were ‘Song for Xavier’ (written for his son) and ‘Conversations with Mr Small’ which he explained as arising from, ” Well perhaps this won’t be such an interesting reason for title…ah…it is about my musical theory conversations with Dr Stephen Small”. In comedy and music, timing is everything and these guys had it down pat. The tune that we will never forget is Dixon Nacey’s moving tribute to the beloved and much lamented Jazz drummer Tony Hopkins. I found myself glancing at the places where Tony had sat and imagined him at the kit; knitting the band together in that particular way of his. This is the power of Jazz. The musicians interpret while we see, feel and hear a story unfold. The tune was, ‘The Remarkable Mr Hopkins’ and by the end a few of us were tearing up. From the bottom of my heart, thanks Dix.
The new album will be in the record outlets shortly, but your best bet is to contact Rattle online and order a copy.
On Wednesday 27th March several visitors arrived in town from Melbourne Australia. Visitors but not strangers, because saxophone player Paul Van Ross has played in New Zealand four or five times previously and drummer Mark Lockett is an expat New Zealander, originally from Wellington.
These are very friendly guys. Actually I find most Jazz musicians unfailingly cheerful and friendly. It is unlikely that this good humour arises from job security or because they have just managed to upgrade the Porsche . I stick cameras in their faces, ask searching questions during set breaks and pin them down for set lists when they are suffering from jet lag. Instead being told to clear off they indulge me. This goodwill must be pumped through the air conditioning unit of the CJC (Creative Jazz Club). It is a place like ‘Cheers’ where everyone has a smile and ‘everybody knows your name’.
One of those who indulges me is Steve Garden of Rattle records. A few weeks ago I received a tidy package of CD’s from him and among them was ‘The Buck Stops Here‘ led by Paul Van Ross. I had a lot of material to write-up at the time and I was working on the ‘Jazz Month’ program with the Jazz Journalists Association. I played my way slowly through the pile of releases as time allowed. It was not until I had received the CJC newsletter that I realised that Paul Van Ross would be doing an album release there in three days. I sorted through the CD’s and put it out to listen to but it was not until the day before the gig that it finally reached my Hi Fi. It was a really great album and I played it through three times.
How had a missed this I thought. This should have been one of the first things that I put on. Apart from a John Zorn obsession, I also suffer from an excessive liking for B3 combos. This album featured B3, guitar, drums and saxophone. I listened over and again while the textures and compositions reeled me further in. This is a very good example of the ‘new sound’ in organ/guitar/saxophone/drums.
Make no mistake, I love ‘chitlin circuit’ groove Jazz of the sort that Brother Jack, Joey ‘D’, Pat Martino, Wes and Grant Green created. My friend Michel Benebig is a B3 master in this field and he can groove you to the depths of your soul. That music will roll you out of bed and have you dancing like a fool before you gain your sea legs.
There is however another type of B3 sound and that reaches for new horizons. Jamie Saft (Zorn’s Dreamers), Tom Watson (Manu Katche’s new album) and Dr Lonnie Smith (Jungle Soul album), come to mind. The music still has a deep groove but there are no locked in drums and this subtle loosening up of the vibe makes space for a particular type of guitar work and gives a horn some room for exploration. This is a sound that absorbs influences from a diverse Jazz palette while still retaining a solid groove context. The Paul Van Ross Trio (and quartet) are of this latter kind. Their music draws on a wide spectrum of post and pre millennial Jazz; not just tugging at the heart and feet, but engaging the intellect as well.
Paul Van Ross is an exciting tenor player and I can’t help wondering if he studied under George Garzone. There is something different about tenor players who have studied under Garzone and Paul fits that bill. His rapid fire lines and fluidity never obscure the musical ideas that flow from his horn. On ballads he could wring a tear from a walnut and when playing uptempo he navigates the terrain with ease. His compositions are engaging.
The CJC launch gig employed a smaller lineup than on the album. Organist Alan Brown subbed for Kim Kelaart on the New Zealand leg of the tour and he needs no introduction to New Zealand audiences. Alan is another musician who takes the groove genre to new and exciting places. His keyboard skills are legendary. Choosing him was a sensible choice and while his style is a little different to Kelaart’s, it afforded Ross and Lockett opportunities to stretch out in different ways. Mark Lockett is a delight as he imparts humour into everything he does. His drumming is quirky in the best possible way and he is the drummer of choice for many bands. Like Paul Van Ross and Alan Brown he has also recorded as leader.
The first track on the album is the title track ‘The Buck Stops Here”. It was the first number up on the night (all of the material has been written by Ross). On this track in particular Lockett’s contribution was noteworthy. A solid New Orleans beat is laid down while edgy post-bop lines blow over that; the organ under Alan’s hands comps insistently in the background and this gave the tune a great feel. I saw a ‘second line’ parade in San Francisco a few months ago and this particular drum beat tells that kind of story. A story about a beat that bounced between the Americas and Africa until it became pure voodoo. I like everything on this album and so choosing video clips was hard. In the end I have opted for ‘The Buck Stops Here’ (filmed by Jenny Sol). Other standout tunes from the album are ‘Swami in the House’ and the beautiful ballad “Uncle DJ’. A number performed on the night but which is not on the album is ‘Break a Tune’ (filmed by John Fenton)
I must also mention the guitarist Hugh Stuckey who knows when to shine and when to merge into the mix. His lines are clean and impressive, with an approach to melody that is modern. This is the direction that Rosenwinkel and Moreno mapped out and it sits well with this lineup. A guest guitarist Craig Fermanis appears on track one only.
Notwithstanding the obvious resemblance between these grizzled old guys, Jazz April is no joking matter. To avoid being an April Fool participate in as many Jazz April activities as you can. Remember to ‘like‘ and ‘share‘ this and any other Jazz April pages that you come across. Don’t monkey about; ape the trend-setters and brand your Face Book picture with a Jazz April badge like cousin Boris (left) and I (right) did. This is a month set aside to promote and honour Jazz and its practitioners. The best way of achieving this is by sharing our enjoyment with others. If they see and hear what we experience they will want to participate. Take the pledge and agree that you will visit as many Jazz events as possible during April. If that is difficult you should at least participate online.
I have posted some logos which you should share indiscriminately. If the internet slows down due to the volume of ‘shares‘ we will know that you have done your bit. Think of it as a ‘Wikileaks’ for music lovers. The world needs to know this secret.
There will be hundreds of Jazz April celebrations occurring world-wide and the events will culminate in UNESCO’s ‘International Jazz Day‘ which is April 30th 2013. The venue for the main Jazz Day event this year is Istanbul Turkey and Herbie Hancock is joined by a number of Jazz Luminaries like Hugh Masakela, Marcus Miller and Manu Katche. If your city does not have an event planned you could consider hosting one. If you do let me know and I will pass the information on to the Jazz Journalists Association.
In New Zealand the ‘Waiheke Jazz Festival’ and the ‘Tauranga Jazz Festival’ can be considered a good segue into Jazz April as they are both held over Easter weekend. Auckland has a number of Jazz April events occurring and there will be a satellite party celebration at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) during April. Check out the CJC website as there is a good gig guide.
In Auckland the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) will be featuring some spectacular Jazz April Gigs and we will be making a presentation to a few deserving local musicians at a JJA Satellite Party (date to be announced shortly). The CJC line up so far is Nacey/Samsom/Haines (3rd April), Brian Smith Quartet (10th April), Kevin Field Trio (17th April) …more gigs to come. For those who missed last years satellite party at the CJC, Roger Manins was inducted as a ‘Jazz Hero‘ by the Jazz Journalists Association.
A highlight event will be the Nathan Haines‘Vermillion Skies’ album Release on the 6th April at the ‘Q Theatre’, Queen Street, Auckland. This amazing album involves a number of our best-loved Jazz musicians and it will be a high point in the Auckland Jazz calendar. Don’t miss this event or forget to buy the album (available in download/CD/vinyl).
There will also be gigs at the ‘Ponsonby Social Club‘, the ‘Grand Central‘ (both in Ponsonby Road) and for experimental improvised music ‘The Wine Bar ‘Vitamin S‘ St Kevin’s Arcade, The Auckland Jazz and Blues Club (Tuesday evenings Pt Chevalier RSA), The ‘Titirangi Music Festival’ Titirangi Village (where the Alan Brown band is playing in the ‘Tool Room” on Friday the 5th April@ 7: 30pm).
Jazz April is now a world-wide event and I know that NZ will not let the side down. My April posts will be profiled on the JJA Facebook page and or webpage. The choices Auckland is offering over April 2013 are many and varied. Locals have absolutely no excuse for not supporting Jazz this month, so see you all there.
JazzLocal32.com – Jazz Journalists Association member
I love Jazz big bands and couldn’t have been more pleased when Roger engaged the AJO to play on awards night. It is more than possible that I had dropped a hint. Nothing underscores an occasion like a Jazz orchestra and having a 17 piece band in an intimate space is the best of listening experiences. Those surges of raw power always please, but it is something else that I look for. It is their collective agility , the tension and release and the quality of their ensemble playing. This is quickly revealed if the charts are well written, and they were.
People like to compare big bands and as a spectator sport it has some currency. I can’t help wondering however if eggs are always being compared with eggs. There are rehearsal bands like the Village Vanguard Orchestra (Thad Jones Big Band) who meet once a week (but with ever-changing personnel). Less common are the professional or semi professional units who get regular work and whose core personnel are less likely change (The WDR, Mingus Big Band, Roger Fox Big Band). Lastly there are all-star bands which come together for a recording, a gig, a concept or just for fun (Bob Beldens ‘Miles Espanol’ Jazz Orchestra, The Kenny Wheeler Big Band).
The AJO falls mostly into the first group but there is another dimension to what they do: they are a writing band and part of their reason for existence is to write charts and/or to create original arrangements. Quite a few in the band write and that gives the band an Auckland flavour. The compositions tell our city’s story. As a city we need to value them more and ensure that they get the work and the recognition they deserve. The City Council needs to have them on their radar and call on them for appropriate official functions? Knowing Jazz musicians pay packets, the public purse would be left largely intact if they did.
The AJO is a mix of seasoned players and new talent and this gives them a certain flavour. With their unfamiliar charts they perform a high wire act and because of that there is a hint of risk; to pull this off and at the same time entertain, requires a deftness of touch. The AJO has this as the co-founders Tim Atkinson and Mike Booth manage to inspire and guide without stifling creativity.
During the night we heard tight ensemble playing, a number of nice solos (particularly from Mike Booth, Theo Clearwater, Steve Sherriff, Andrew Hall, Callum Passells, Jono Tan and Matt Steele). Vanessa McGowen was terrific on bass and her presence was felt in just the right way. Andrea Groenewald on guitar demonstrated her soloing and comping skills. The latter added just the right Freddie Green touch to the overall mix. Swinging a big band is not always easy but this band swung.
There were two sets and thirteen numbers – among them were ‘It doesn’t Snow There’ – Atkinson, ‘On the Water’ – Booth, ‘All the things you are‘ – Kern/Hammerstein, ‘Those Nights’ – Hall. I have included a You Tube clip of there AJO performing Tim Atkinson’s composition and arrangement of ‘It Doesn’t Snow There’ – see below.
The AJO’s personnel are: Mike Booth (lead trumpet, arranger, composer, co-founder), Tim Atkinson (conductor, arranger, composer, co-founder)
Altos; Steve Sheriff, Callum Passells – Tenors; Andrew Hall, Teo Clearwater – Baritone; Andrew Baker – Trumpets; Matthew Verrill, Mike Booth, Jo Spiers, Oliver Furneaux – Trombones; Mike Young, Mike Ashton, Jono Tan, Darrell Farley – Guitar; Andrea Groenewald – Piano; Matt Steele – Bass; Vanessa McGowen – Drums; Cameron Sangster
Stop Press: Tonight Auckland held its inaugural Jazz Journalists Association Awards Satellite Party. The Creative Jazz Club of Aotearoa (CJC) hosted the event and the club was packed to capacity. The CJC is the first Jazz club in the world to see the moon as there is nothing much between the club door and the International Date Line except ocean. In spite of the wet outside it soon became apparent that the Auckland Jazz community was going to turn up in force. No Jazz lover in their right mind would let an opportunity like this slip away and the club was soon filled up with a seething mass of Jazz fans; check to jowl with the who’s who of Auckland Jazz musicians.
Brian Smith & Roger Manins
During the evening Roger Manins was awarded the JJA Jazz Hero Award and this met with strong approval from the audience. Roger has been a popular choice as his work in promoting Jazz, teaching, mentoring and acting as programme director for the CJC have endeared him to everyone. Then there is his musicianship which astonishes and inspires, while setting the bar high. The work that Roger, Caroline and Ben do in running the CJC should not be overestimated. Having Roger in town and having a club like the CJC has been a game changer. More and more students are emerging from the Jazz schools and they need clubs like this to play in. Being tested is part of the journey.
Jazz musicians are the alchemists of the modern age: they forge a raw beauty out of the world about us. Musicians like Roger are the keepers of the magic.
This was a night of magic from start to finish and the Auckland Jazz Orchestra were superb. This nimble hard-swinging seventeen piece orchestra played its heart out and the audience never stopped smiling or tapping their feet. Sitting in front of a Jazz orchestra and feeling that surge of power is like nothing else I know. Tonight Auckland felt like the luckiest city on the planet.
Credit must go to the JJA who have been incredibly supportive throughout. Auckland is proud to have hosted its first JJA Jazz Awards Satellite Party and this is only the beginning.
The party continued long after the AJO had packed up and before long a Jam session was in full swing. To have Roger Manins (tenor), P J Koopman (guitar) and Brian Smith (tenor) on the band stand together was the icing on the cake. One by one the students got up to join them. Some looked nervous but they got up anyway. It is nights like this that guarantee the viability of this music we love.
A full review will follow soon – thanks to Jenny and Deepak for assisting.
Creative Jazz Cub & Auckland Jazz Orchestra presents the
JJA Jazz Awards Satellite Party
The 16th Annual Jazz Journalists Association Jazz Awards is an international black tie event held at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York on Wednesday 20th June and features hundreds of musicians, jazz journalists, educators and industry associates.
Auckland musician/saxophonist Roger Manins has been awarded a Jazz Hero Award by JJA, so to celebrate and honour New Zealand’s jazz heroes, Auckland’s Creative Jazz Club (CJC) will be hosting the world’s first 2012 Awards Satellite Party at the Britomart’s Basement Bar also on Wednesday 20th June. The Awards will feature music by the Auckland Jazz Orchestra (AJO) and as New Zealand will be acknowledged at the New York Awards event, willing musicians and Jazz fans should arrive early for photographs – to be posted on the Jazz Journalists Associations Awards official web sites. Don’t miss one of the biggest events on the Jazz calendar!
Wednesday 20 June – Basement Bar, AUCKLAND
Home of the Creative Jazz Club, 1885, Galway St Central, BRITOMART
8pm, Tickets GA $10, CJC members & students $7, student members $5
The Jazz Journalists Association (JJA) honours excellence in jazz music, recordings, presentation and journalism. The 2012 Jazz Awards has 39 categories of excellence including Lifetime Achievement and Best of the Year Awards for musicians, presenters, recordings, photos, journalists, publications, blogs and websites. A star-studded coterie of musicians, journalists and music-world movers and shakers will be honoured in jazz’s only independent, international, culture-and-community-wide awards celebration.
Creative Jazz Club (CJC) was set up two years ago by musicians Carolina Moon, Roger Manins and broadcaster Mark Robinson. Webmaster Ben McNichol and journalist John Fenton complete the team. Now a world-class jazz club, CJC fosters and promotes the development of Auckland’s creative jazz scene by providing musicians with a dedicated performance space, nurturing emerging artists, and the programming of innovative local, national and international talent in its weekly Wednesday club night. Vocalist and composer Carolina Moon – who is currently touring her medieval world music fusion Mother Tongue in-between teaching jazz vocals at the University of Auckland – said “I was motivated to start CJC primarily because there was nowhere for us to play our music, and I thought well there must be other people in the same boat too. When we first opened, one of NZ’s landmark jazz musicians said to me – ‘now I have something to practice for’ – and gee I just wanted to cry. So we started out at Cafe 121, Ponsonby Rd and over that first year we saw the creative scene really start to grow as it provided bands with an outlet for their creative projects – AND an audience which wants to listen and be part of it.”
Roger Manins won the Australian National Jazz Awards for saxophone in 2002 and this month, will receive a JJA Jazz Hero Award as international recognition of his outstanding musicianship and services to the community and education. Roger was born in Waiuku and currently teaches at the University of Auckland between touring nationally and internationally with various groups such as the Roger Manins Trio/Quartet, Hip Flask, Carolina Moon, Resonator, Manins Muller featuring Mike Nock plus a series of Trans-Tasman collaborations. Roger has released 3 CDs – Hip Flask, Trio and Latitude – and is recorded on more than 30 jazz albums with some of Australasia’s leading artists.
“an outstandingly gifted musician with a warmly passionate sound, remarkable instrumental ability and total musical integrity” – Mike Nock
“one of the best newly issued hard bop recordings I’ve heard in quite some time. Manins sounds incredible throughout, but is particularly exceptional on Monk’s Well You Needn’t. Manins et al. aren’t merely recreating—they’re creating new music by taking Hard Bop elements to new places” – Slim’s Spins, Cadence Magazine, USA (March 2012)
The 30th of April 2012 has recently been designated World Jazz Day by UNESCO. This significant recognition of our music is great and we will be celebrating this in Auckland along with the worldwide Jazz Community.
The Jazz Journalists Association is actively celebrating this world event and as part of their programme, members have been asked to nominate a Local Jazz Hero. To follow events go to www.jjajazzawards.org/. Here in Auckland, New Zealand we have nominated Saxophonist, Jazz educator Roger Manins as our first Jazz Hero. Roger is also the programme director and co-founder of the not-for-profit ‘CJC ‘Creative Jazz Club of Aotearoa’ (along with his wife Carolina Moon and friend Ben McNicoll).
Roger has been nominated for a number of reasons. He is certainly one of New Zealand’s (and indeed Australasia’s) best tenor players and as such he is an inspiration to up and coming Jazz Musicians. Of equal importance though is his role as an educator and enabler. Roger lived and worked extensively in Australia for 10 years (he also lived in New York for 2 years), and even though he returned to NZ in 2004 he is still very much in demand across the Tasman, gigging and touring at regular intervals.
Roger teaches at the Auckland University School Of Music Jazz Programme. Anyone who listens to Roger will quickly identify him as a person with killer chops, but he also has the ability to tell a compelling story on his horn.
“He is an outstandingly gifted musician with a warmly passionate sound, remarkable instrumental ability and total musical integrity”. Mike Nock
This story telling in almost any given context draws listeners to him again and again – a skill that was very evident in the likes of Lester Young or Dexter Gordon, but which is not always evident in modern players. Roger can play convincingly in any Jazz genre from free through post bop to mainstream traditional.
Roger is often generous with his time when it comes to nurturing up-and-comers. He will encourage and push those who he thinks need that, while gently insisting that they meet the required standard. With lots of younger players coming out of the two local Jazz Schools, it is essential that they get this real-world feedback in a way that keeps them challenged but not discouraged.
Having a world-class venue is part of this mix and the CJC is just that. Its vision is to stimulate and encourage the development of excellence in the creative improvised / jazz scene, and as programme director, Roger ensures that the diversity of the music scene is represented. The gigs are varied every week and feature prominent ex-pat Kiwis and international artists as well as national and local talents. It is Roger’s connections with the wider scene and the esteem in which musicians hold him that helps to make this happen.
Finally, I want to mention his very Kiwi sense of humour, which is evident both on and off the bandstand. He often slips in sly jokes or asides when introducing acts and his You Tube videos on ‘How to Play Smooth Jazz’ are simply hilarious. These have a cult following in NZ and Australia and the tongue in cheek delivery is so convincing that pupils of smooth jazz sometimes contact him to seek instruction without realising that it is all a delicious joke.
Roger is in demand in both Australia and New Zealand as a tenor player, multi reeds and winds player. He has recorded on many albums as an essential sideman and also as leader. He is married to fellow musician Carolina Moon (Manins) and has a daughter Milli.
Greetings to the world Jazz community on USA Jazz week from Auckland New Zealand,
This is snapshot of a gig held at the CJC Jazz club in Auckland just over a week ago
I have known Dan Kennedy for some time now and I have always enjoyed his propulsive energetic drumming. He has played at the CJC on a number of occasions and most often as drummer for the late night jam sessions. Dan is popular on the New Zealand scene and he has played beside some prestigious visiting artists and top flight locals. On this night he brought his own quintet to the CJC for a gig, where they entertained the audience with a mix of originals and lessor known but intriguing Jazz tunes by artists like Chris Potter and Dave Douglas.
I like to see a quintet playing well-arranged heads and this band had put together a number of well crafted vehicles. There were two numbers composed by Dan (leader and drummer), but the majority of the originals were composed and arranged by Finn Scholes (trumpet). This was a varied and original program and it created nice contrasts. They are a relatively young band with the oldest member being Cam Allen at 32 years.
Cam and Finn
Finn Scholes & Andy Smith
Cam Allen (Tenor) is an interesting musician, having played in New York and at other offshore locations. His maturity of style was evident from the start and like many of our good tenor men he does not hold back during solos. He can excoriate the audience or woo them with a set of ballad phrases and he is obviously a good reader as his playing on the head and out-chorus is always tight.
Andy Smith (guitar) has experienced a steady rise in popularity during the last year and it is no wonder. His sound is pleasing and often rock inflected. While the lines are pure jazz he uses the vocabulary of his day and this is a common trend with many younger guitarists. Guitarists like Lage Lund or Mike Moreno are 100% Jazz but they are not afraid of taking a different route to reach their destination. Andy’s tenure in the Alan Brown band has done him no harm at all and a good way to sample his playing is to locate a copy of Alan’s ‘Between the Spaces Album’ album. Read my review of this album). https://jon4jaz.wordpress.com/2011/10/09/alan-brown-between-the-spaces-cjc/
I knew who Finn Scholes (trumpet) was, but I had not previously heard him play. I am pleased that this omission has been remedied. He has a commanding presence on the band-stand and he can throw in the odd valve slur and muted growl when required. I hope that he comes down to club again as I am keen to hear more of him.
The electric bass was played by Cass Mitchell and she showed her chops and more importantly her good taste as she played through the sets. While she did not do too many solo’s, she never-the-less delivered the bass lines like a veteran. Electric bass players are often tempted to use ‘loud’ as their default volume level but Cass stayed exactly where she should be in the mix. At times it was hard to believe that she was not playing an upright bass so smooth were her lines.
Dan told the obligatory funny stories from the bandstand and his account of how he came to write ‘The Bouncer’ was a classic. “I often struggle to write tunes quickly” said Dan, “but after being beaten up by a night club bouncer for no good reason I managed to write this peaceful ballad in no time flat, go figure”.
I also liked ‘Awakening’ by Andy, ‘Pleasure Arp’ by Finn (“I made him change the title just before the gig”, explained Dan, “because the original sounded too bloody soppy”). The one genuine standard was ‘Oliloqui Valley’ by Herbie Hancock. They certainly did this tune justice and it fitted in mid-set as if it had always belonged there. Tune placement is important if the flow of a gig is to be maintained. It was Finn Scholes tune “Fast Swing’ that had me on the edge of my seat. To say that they stretched out and blew hard would be an understatement. Dan is soon to head to Australia and we wish him well (a little begrudgingly). We wish he would stay, but that is how it works between us and Australia. We loan them some of our best musicians and they do well there; only to return home and dazzle us at regular intervals. The stolen generation I call them. but they invariably make us proud.
The Dan Kennedy Band are: Dan Kennedy (drums), Finn Scholes (trumpet), Cam Allen (tenor saxophone), Andy Smith (guitar), Cass Mitchell (electric bass). The gig took place at the CJC Jazz club on Wednesday 4th April 2012. To connect with the CJC gigs guide http://www.creativejazzclub.co.nz/
Important Note: This post is to feed into the Jazz Journalists Association 2012 Awards program. Auckland is now part of a world-wide ‘blogathon’ occurring this week. The program kick’s off today because it is the start of USA Mayoral designated Jazz Week. Please visit the website of the JJA Awards Page and view the ongoing activities. On the UNESCO designated World Jazz Day (which is the 30th April), we will be announcing the Jazz Heroes candidates from around the world.
NZ will be featured and I can’t praise the JJA highly enough for making a real effort to include Auckland and New Zealand in its scheduled events. As a professional member I find the organisation to be helpful and incredibly supportive of what we do. This is just the beginning Jazzers, as the world-wide outreach (connecting us to New York and them-to-us) can only get better as technology assists us in reducing the tyranny of distance.
The judging panel has also been meeting via a closed group FB page and the nominees for best artists are now posted on the Awards Page. Along with other professional members I will be part of the final judging panel that determines the category winners. That will be announced at a party which is to be held at a top venue in New York. The good news for us is that Auckland Jazz fans will be participating through a Satellite Party.
That will be held in June and the details will be circulated through the CJC Jazz Club and the Jazz Journalists Association Awards page. If you look through the Jazz Photography page you will notice a pic of our own Thomas Botting glancing lovingly at the neck of his bass. I have also submitted a short You Tube doco about 3 nights at the CJC Jazz club. I will post it at the end of this blog but do visit the JJA site over the next few months:
When a musician reaches higher than other mortals to give us a glimpse of an unknown truth, we marvel at the invention and the daring. It is human to seek connection with greatness because we want to experience that sound again; weighing up what we have witnessed and desiring to understand it better. In the hands of the most gifted practitioners of the Jazz arts this connection can be made through photography, painting or the print media. If the ink, paint or emulsion is spilt for the sake of it then the magic is not communicated, but if the photographer is William Claxton and the wordsmith is Joachim Berendt then we are deeply enriched. In 1960 Claxton and Berendt undertook a massive road journey in a Cadillac; traveling the highways of America and capturing the ‘Jazz Life‘. Berendt is a respected musicologist and between them they recorded something else; an unvarnished glimpse into the America of the time. This is Americana in print and it gives a deep context to the music.
When viewing Claxton photographs we feel that we can almost touch the soul of the artist and while some of the portraits are deliberately posed they still convey the deepest sense of casual intimacy. This is the very essence of greatness that we have been seeking and we feel lucky to have these images, this music and these stories in our lives. It makes us part of the Jazz Life; insiders.
This is a truly great book in all senses of the word. It stands knee-high in its slipcase and weighs enough to have been the subject of warnings by physiotherapists. Once it has been safely transported home (using a heavy haulage transporter) and the (momentary) feelings of guilt at outlaying so much on one book have been overcome, get a friend to help you lift it onto the table.
The joy then unfolds page by wonderful page; touching greatness through the eyes of William Claxton.
Disclaimer: I certainly did not outlay the $1,500 per copy that the TASCHEN collectors edition sells for at Amazon, but I refuse to say what I actually paid on the grounds that could get me into trouble at home if I did.