‘DOG’ unleashed on International Jazz Day

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland, New Zealandhttp://www.rattlerecords.net/   http://www.creativejazzclub.co.nz/

Jonathan Crayford – ‘Dark Light’ Trio @ CJC #jazzapril

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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.  IMG_0373 - Version 2

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.  IMG_0422 - Version 2

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

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Who: Jonathan Crayford (piano) Ben Street (bass *album), Dan Weiss (drums *album) – Patrick Bleakey (bass *CJC), Chris O’Connore (drums, percussion *CJC)

What: ‘Dark Light’ released by Rattle Records http://www.rattlerecords.net 

Where: Pre release CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland 23rd April #jazzapril

Michele Benebig @ CJC #jazzapril

 

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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.

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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.

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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.  IMG_0306 - Version 2

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.

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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.

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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

Phil Broadhurst Quintet @ CJC Jazz April gig

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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.

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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.  IMG_0233 - Version 2

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.  IMG_0226 - Version 2

#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.

IMG_0229 - Version 2  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).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885 Building, Auckland, New Zealand, 9th April 2014

 

Song FWAA@CJC – A Jazz April Event

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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.  IMG_6812 - Version 2

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’.   IMG_6811 - Version 2 

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

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Building, Brittomart Auckland 24th April 2013

This was a CJC Jazz April gig

K’Party Spoilers of Utopia Album@Vitamin ‘S’

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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.

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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.

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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.  IMG_6744 - Version 2

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.

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What: ‘Spoilers of Utopia’ Album release gig.  To purchase a copy visit iii xv or the ‘Spoilers of Utopia‘ FB site

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)

This has been a Jazz April gig

Kevin Field Trio@CJC Jazz April Event

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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.

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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 .

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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.  IMG_6708 - Version 2

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.

This has been a Jazz April Event;  visit the Jazz Journalists Association Web Site and JJA Facebook page, plus International Jazz Day page and all of the Jazz April gig review pages on this JazzLocal32.com site.   Please ‘like’ all sites as it helps.

What: Kevin Field Trio (plus guest) -Kevin Field (piano and fender rhodes), Cameron McArthur (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums), guest Dixon Nacey (guitar)

Where and When:  CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 1885 building, Brittomart, Auckland. April 17th 2013

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