NOLA /New Orleans

My excuse for not posting for a month is a good one. I was travelling in places where the internet was bad and where the music was just too good to sit around posting stuff. I refer to New Orleans, Crescent City, Jazz City, The Big Easy or as the locals say, ‘NOLA’. We had been planning a reunion with our American based family for some while when my son said, ‘we have to go to New Orleans, and without further ado he organised it’. It’s a no brainer for a Jazz writer and in fact for anyone who wants to understand musical evolution. Almost everything we call modern music emanated from that steamy delta city, a place where happenstance and oppression caused cultures to collide.

Louisiana was once the home of the Choctaw, Natchez, Atakapa, Caddo, Houma and Tunica, the first nation peoples, but after colonisation it was French, then Spanish, French again (almost German or British) and finally after the Louisiana Purchase, a part of the United States of America. It was the greatest real estate bargain of all time and it happened because Napoleon was broke (it was a wonderful bargain unless you were Indian, creole, or a slave). Today it is a place where the old music lives on in its original forms and if you look beyond the lights of Bourbon Street, you realise, that what began in Congo Square lives on; it is the Buddy Bolden, King Oliver gig; a hundred years along the road and the bands are still marching to those hypnotic voodoo beats.

We began our journey in San Francisco and had a few days to spare before heading south. I checked out the S. F. Jazz offerings and spotted the name, Carmen Lundy. We booked immediately. The show was at the San Francisco Jazz Centre and it lived up to expectations. Hers is the Jazz of the deep south and her voice overflows heartfelt soulfulness. Carmen Laretta Lundy was born in Miami which is east of New Orleans across the Gulf of Mexico (Cecile Mclorin Salvant comes from nearby well).  ‘Hi y’all, are you ready’ said Lundy and from that moment the southern vibe was locked-in ready for the trip ahead. She has variously been compared to Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha Franklin and all of those comparators are accurate. She is also noted for her ability to cut through to diverse audiences. She performed no standards, but sometimes referenced them as her voice moved through the styles with ease; then she just as quickly she would reference gospel blues and in a way that brought a lump to the throat. She had a recent New Zealand visitor Terreon Gully in her band (a powerhouse drummer). He sends his greetings to his Kiwi Jazz friends.

Lundy has always attracted the best musicians and this band was no exception. A few albums ago she had Geri Allen on piano, on the next album Patrice Rushen. As we travelled to the airport next day I heard an unmistakable bassline and double-clap emanating from the car radio. Wow, I said to the driver, they’re playing ‘Forget me Not’ by Patrice Rushen. It’s just been re-released he told me. There on local Jazz radio was the gifted Jazz pianist who for a brief time blazed across the firmament as a disco-funk diva. Check it out, black disco-funk, Patrice Rushen.

I had been suffering from a bad cold and so I planned an early night. It had taken over four hours to fly down to NOLA and on US domestic flights four hours in the air requires stoicism and lots of Vicodin. Our brains were also stupefied after watching days of congressional impeachment hearings (why you may well ask). It was winter in the North and not winter in the South. We arrived in the French Quarter just on nightfall and within minutes all ideas of an early night evaporated. The street music was seeping under the door and when the voodoo beat calls there is no option but to rise up and follow. Outside the hotel and almost invisible in the shadows, an old guy played a sad delta blues, along Royal Street a brass-heavy ensemble testified and around the corner skinny kids were playing on makeshift drums. The combined effect was hypnotic, and it gave us a taste of the heady stew that is NOLA. Throughout the next day, we discovered the food; cornbread, grits, gravy, gumbo, jambalaya, collard greens, Beignets and my guilty favourite; Southern Fried Chicken. I was definitely going to add some weight in that town; and as for Beignets, well imagine a pillow fight in an icing sugar factory and as a forfeit, you are made to eat crunchy crusty doughnuts.

On the second night, we found Frenchman Street. I had previously asked musician friends where we should go to hear the best music. ‘Just head up to Frenchman Street and follow your ears’ was the advice. Frenchman Street and not Bourbon Street is where the best music happens (although the daytime street musicians in the Quarter can be amazing as well). As you near Frenchman Street the music grabs you, amplifies and intensifies until it reaches crazy. You turn into the sound and are confronted by a special kind of mayhem. Bar after bar and the music spilling onto the pavements and fighting for supremacy. Pure New Orleans Jazz (and real old school), New Orleans funk, washboard blues; songs by WH Handy, Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima or Henry Red Allen and everyone wailing and thumping. It was vibrato rich, the horns played licks as filthy as swamp mud; the brass players whooping as they shook off the ‘dirt’ and all of it floating joyously above a seething dancing throng. On the street corners, attractive dancers held out buckets, strutting their stuff while just behind them, Second Line Parades formed. Call and response while the drums roiled the air with heart-stopping polyrhythmic beats. To experience that was really something. This is where it all began, and this is where the flame burns purest.

I was also amazed by the funk units with those pumping groove lines; three drummers, percussion, horn-heavy, organ, guitar and always an e-bass, leading with a groove like a prizefighter, landing killer blows. The received wisdom is that James Brown invented funk, but New Orleans funksters tell another story, ‘Yes, brother Brown nailed that mother down, but it took a third drummer from NOLA to get it just right’. I was informed (correctly it appears) that funk was recorded in NOLA long before JB recorded and the evidence is there for anyone to check out.

I must also mention Congo Square. For those who love music and who understand the history, going there is akin to visiting an atmospheric cathedral. This is where the Spanish slave masters reluctantly ‘allowed’ their slaves to play music and dance. The slaves and Creoles responded with an inestimable gift to the future, the creation of modern music. Here, traditional African rhythms met European melody and civil war musical instruments were bent to new uses. It is a silent place now, surrounded by mature Live Oaks, each tree trailing dreamy sprays of Spanish moss while around the edges, statues of the luminaries like Louis Armstrong look benignly on.

That New Orleans happened at all is a miracle, as it’s an unsuitable site for any settlement. It has defied calamity after calamity and yet it survives, and at its heart, the Mississippi barges and the paddle boats ply their trades. On a calm day, the mighty river looks benign but the threatening waters wait patiently, and alligators and cottonmouth vipers wait in the bayous. Five pumps and a few meagre levies are all that protect it, but barely. The cities inhabitants were appallingly treated during Katrina and the federal authorities nearly closed the city for good. Indeed, they tried, but back the inhabitants came, and all the while the music played on.

‘Shuffle’ on Tour

Shuffle (6).jpgI reviewed the ‘Shuffle’ album in January and the band is now on the road, sharing its groove throughout the North Island.  As they passed through Auckland I attended the second gig, but this presented me with a problem as a reviewer. When you’ve already done a review, you don’t want traverse ground you’ve covered, and in addition, reaching for superlatives has its limits. During the live performance, the answer presented itself via my friend Stuart.  He and I have had this album playing constantly; in our cars and on our HiFi’s. In my case, I’ve sampled tracks on trains and while waiting in a supermarket queue.  It is that sort of album; addictive to a fault and quickly becoming an indispensable friend in times of need.  Last Wednesday we listened to the first number and as the set progressed, Stuart nudged me and whispered. ‘These are standards to us’ and he was right. 

We knew the head arrangements off by heart in the way you do for Stella or Autumn Leaves; everything internalised and ready for triggering before a single note was played. We knew the track order, we knew the rhythms – the tunes and arrangements. There were no official standards on the album but that was immaterial. The Shuffle tunes are memorable, danceable, filled with melodic hooks, and our minds raced ahead of the lines in anticipation; delighting at each newly improvised line; mentally comparing them to the album forms.

This is what happens with Jazz standards. We love the originals but we never want to hear a band slavishly repeating the material note for note. The crazier the interpretation the better. Performing mental gymnastics during an intro and gasping in delight as a key phrase or line hints at the destination.  That Roger Manins, Ron Samsom, Michel Benebig, Carl Lockett and stand in-guitarist Neil Watson achieved this with an album of originals was remarkable. Naturally, such a singularity is not a lucky accident but the result of good compositional skills and fine musicianship. In a troubled month, we have all needed good-hearted friends to lean on and what better friend than a Shuffle. Lockett is temporarily lost again as he wisely has no engagement with social media. Having Watson step in was inspired, as he brought the core Shufflers a new perspective. Crisp drums, deep organ grooves, stinging blues, and crazy horn lines. Shuffle is a wonderful band and I have no doubt that they will bring pleasure for years to come. An assembly of ’emerging standards’ winging their way across the land and demanding acceptance for what they are.  

The January Shuffle Album review is on this blog site or located at https://jazzlocal32.com/2018/12/18/shuffle-manins-samsom/

Definition of a Jazz Standard: Part of the repertoire of a Jazz musician, compositions widely known, recognised by listeners and played often by Jazz musicians.  Maybe Stu and I are not alone here.  These tunes will be performed often and when others recognise them as we do – they will become standards.

Roger Manins (Tenor saxophone, compositions), Ron Samsom (drums, compositions), Michel Benebig (Hammond Organ, compositions), Neil Watson (guitar) @ Backbeat, CJC Creative Jazz Club, 17 April 2019

Lou’ana (Whitney) @ CJC Auckland

Lou'ana (2)Lou’ana is a vocalist on route to wider recognition. During the last few years she has been performing at festivals throughout the country and she is billed to appear at the Waiheke Jazz Festival this month.  He vocal style has general appeal as it blends elements of Jazz, Soul, and Funk. Her smokey nasal intonation and back on the beat phrasing carry echoes of Amy Winehouse.  Out of this brew comes a sound that is recognisably her own and it is refreshing to see how comfortable she is with that. At the CJC gig, an opener for her tour, she had wisely chosen the material which favoured her preferred register, rather than trying to dazzle with pointless pyrotechnics. In her case, vocal-gymnastics would be quite superfluous as her well-chosen phrasing and smouldering delivery give her plenty to tell a story with.   

The first set was mostly her favourite standards; often songs that she had heard as a child when her musical family played them for her (e.g. ’Just Squeeze Me’). Her approach to Autumn leaves was particularly interesting as she sang it in Samoan – the challenge being, that there is no Samoan word for Autumn. Her linguistic translation flowed beautifully and the essence of the tune transcended all mere words.  I know that her biggest audience lies elsewhere, but I hope that she will keep working on these Jazz tunes. A smokey voice and a Jazz standard belong together. During the first set, she was accompanied on piano by special guest Kevin Field (and for the last number of that set joined by her regular guitarist Jason Herbert).  Field is arguably New Zealand’s premier Jazz piano accompanist and I could detect his arranging skills in at least one piece.

The second set contrasted the first as it featured a funkier, rockier selection. These are the tunes that undoubtedly please her wider audience. In spite of that, they also pleased her Jazz audience. Who can resist a Hendrix number done well? Especially when the vocalist slams out the opening bars on guitar before giving us a Janis Joplin like rendering of the tune. Who can resist a homespun ‘viper’ song with its Waller like lyrics or a soulful funk number accompanied by soaring guitar, organ and gut-punchy bass lines?  Her bass player was the ever popular Cam McArthur, who switched from upright to electric bass for the second set. Both sets featured drummer Cam Sangster – a versatile drummer, equally at home in the popular funk, Indie rock, and Jazz worlds.

Her first set was great but she visibly relaxed into the music during her second set. Perhaps because of the familiar material and because she had her regular keyboards player and guitarist with her.  These two players, along with Sangster have been alongside her for much of the journey. On keyboards and organ was Dillon Rhodes and with more than a hint of the rock god, Jason Herbert on guitar. Together they had a great sound and one that I suspect will endure over time. The audience however never took their eyes off Lou’ana. She has an allure, and her charm on stage will serve her well as she gains wider recognition.

Lou’ana (vocals, compositions), Kevin Field (piano), Cam McArthur (electric & upright bass), Cam Sangster (drums), Dillon Rhodes (keys & organ), Jason Herbert (guitars),  The gig was at the CJC Creative Jazz Club, Backbeat, Auckland, 27 March 2019

‘Shuffle’ Manins/Samsom

RAT-J-1044+ShuffleSometimes an album blows straight into your heart like a warm breeze off the summer ocean. ‘Shuffle’ is exactly that album. There is an easy-going familiarity to it and you instantly feel good as your body connects with the rhythms. Shuffle achieves that rare feat of sounding both new and familiar. This is the sound that I grew to love many years ago, as practitioners like Jimmy Smith, Big John Patton, Gene Ammons, and Brother Jack McDuff fused Soul and Jazz into a rare amalgam. To appreciate this music you need no acclimatisation; no understanding of Jazz. To appreciate this music you only need one prerequisite, a human heart. It’s ‘groove’, it is sensual and it’s my guilty pleasure.

While the album has immediacy, a long story underpins that. Roger Manins, Ron Samsom, and Michel Benebig have played together for many years, and whenever they get together they thrill audiences. At some point, Benebig, the New Caledonian B3 organ master, decided that he wanted to play with the American guitarist Carl Lockett. In B3 circles, Lockett is a legendary figure having played with Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff. The problem was that Lockett had no Facebook presence, no current management, and no listed phone number. Eventually, he was located and agreed to a tour (he has since played with Benebig on a regular basis). During a trip to New Zealand in 2016, the album was cut.

With the exception of two tunes, ‘Blackwell’ (named after drummer Ed Blackwell) and ‘Patton 8’ (named after groove icon Big John Patton), all of the tunes are Shuffles. If you look up Shuffle in a musical dictionary you will see that it has a deceptively complex structure and that it is hard to describe in rhythmic terms (it has an 8 note feel, essentially playing 3/4 over a 4/4 beat to make the music swing). It is sometimes called the ‘flat tire’. My dictionary gives up trying to explain it and simply states, ‘when you hear it you will understand it perfectly’. It has a loping swing and it’s infectious – or as Samsom writes so beautifully in the liner notes, “The Shuffle is the shit for me. It isn’t just flat, it’s broken, and that’s where the music lies. It’s so beautifully wrong’.

The songwriting duties on the album are shared. One tune by Benebig, two by Samsom and five by Manins. The album begins with a slow, smouldering burner by Samsom titled ‘BB gun’ – what a great way to begin an album – this has that Gene Ammons ‘take me home baby’ feel and it sets up the faster-paced numbers to follow. By the time you get to the solos, you are there, in the zone and understanding why Lockett was so essential to the project. What a great composition and how in the pocket every one plays, and then as you progress through the album you realise that every track is a gem.  Manins ‘Shuffle ONE’ (big leg Shuffle), or his ‘Blackwell’ which takes a faster route and gives the soloists a chance to shine while moving at pace. Man, these guys sure can write.  Benebig’s tune is a 12 bar blues ‘Dog Funk Walking’. It made me think of John Mayall at his peak (once upon a time I listened to a lot of John Mayall).  On this track, in particular, you hear the powerful blues credentials of Lockett laid bare. It is impossible to sound more soulful than he and Benebig do on this. The compositions are all great, but so is the playing.

Samsom and Manins have realised something special here and in the process, they’ve showcased real artistry. I have posted two tracks as sound clips – ‘Gout Foot Shuffle’ (Manins) & ‘Dog Funk Walking’ (Benebig). So it’s Christmas and you know what you have to do now. Rush out and buy at least one copy of this stellar album and experience the joy of North & South Pacific musicians playing up a groove storm. Support local music and tell your friends to do the same. You will never have a moments regret owning an album like this. IMG_0462

The album is a thing of beauty thanks to Rattle and the amazing cover designer UnkleFranc. As always I acknowledge the hard work and the deft touch of Rattle’s Steve Garden and ‘Roundhead Studios’ in Auckland. The ‘Shuffle’ Lineup: Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Ron Samsom (drums), Michel Benebig (Hammond A100), Carl Lockett (guitar). You can buy a copy from your local store, Amazon or better yet from rattle.co.nz or online from rattle-records.bandcamp.com

The Neutrino Funk Experience​

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There is no way of calculating the number of subatomic particles routinely passing through a Neutrino Funk Experience, but we can safely quantify the delight on the faces of their audience. There is something about the structure of this unit that inclines them towards extreme risk-taking; the sort of risk-taking that transforms a band into an irregular elemental force. It is rumoured that a ‘play it safe’ memo was issued at their last venue, but the band either mislaid it or opted for willful disobedience. The only reasonable explanation for this hyper-energised, off the grid performance, is to blame it on passing Neutrinos. The band kicks arse with hobnail boots.

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The NFE were once upstairs regulars at the Albion and later they became CJC favourites. This year has been quieter for them gig wise, but the group’s energy levels have continued to rise during their hiatus. From the first note on Wednesday they nailed it to the floor. Swooping on our unprepared sensibilities and taking complete control of the room. It is hard to say who creates the most sparks as they continually feed off each other’s energy. Roger Manins is always a towering presence on the bandstand; his ad-lib asides and gestures acting as prequels to his wild solos. Eyes always follow him as he moves about the stage, but this time he had competition; the über kinetic actions of Grant Winterburn – vying with him gesture by gesture for visual and sonic supremacy.

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Ron Samsom and Cam McArthur were located behind Manins and Winterburn. In spite of being partially obscured and located in the darker recesses, you’d have thought they were playing in the chair beside you. While the band is loud, it is not unduly so; it is something else that projects them. The sound is in front, behind, inside, outside – neutrino laden energy, everywhere and nowhere – passing through the observers and imperceptibly, transforming them in a quantum fashion.

In the Bimhuis in Amsterdam, I saw Han Bennink put his boots on the kit during a drum solo. Samsom prefers his upper body and especially his elbows. Manins has some leg action. Winterburn, however, took the Bennink route and added a few wrinkles of his own. He sat on the keys, he walked on the keys and he shook his Nord until it cried out for mercy; and all of the while Samsom locked down a groove beat so tight that it became dark matter. This group not only understand group dynamics but they know how far they can go while taking the audience with them.

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Towards the end of the first set, I was handed the microphone, reading one of my poems while they played softly beneath me, accenting keywords, moving where I did.  I was so delighted at performing with this band that I forgot to press the record button – such is life.  It takes real skill for a band to take risks while staying within a groove framework. I hope they keep doing what they do and perhaps they will record again soon? Their earlier album ‘Ace Tone’ is still available at Rattle Records so grab a copy for Christmas before the stock disappears. Dancing dementedly around the Christmas tree would not be the same without it.

The Neutrina Funk Experience: Ron Samsom (drums), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Grant Winterburn (organ), Cameron McArthur (upright bass). CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Thirsty Dog, Wednesday 22nd November 2017.

Thabani Gapara Project

Thabani (7)During the apartheid era in South Africa, a heady brew of danceable Jazz bubbled up from the townships. The all white National Party hated it and a game of ‘whack-a-mole’ followed. As soon as one venue was shut down by the police, another would spring up. The music was resilient and hopeful. No racist or repressive regime likes Jazz because it has rebellion, hope and joyous defiance in its DNA. The Zimbabwean born Thabani Gapara imbibed South African Jazz from his earliest days, eventually taking up the saxophone, that most anti establishment of instruments. Since then, he has performed in Zimbabwean, South African and New Zealand projects. Thabani #

The powerful influence of Cape Town Jazz is especially evident – the cradle of South African improvised music. Since coming to live in New Zealand he has collaborated with many well-known musicians; The Hipstamatics, Batucada Sound Machine, Stan Walker and others. He has recently completed a B. Mus. in Jazz at the New Zealand School of Music and after graduating, he formed this group. Unbelievably, this was their first gig.Thabani (6)

There were a few ballads during the night but the music was mainly of a danceable, high-octane, delightfully groove based type. The key to the vibe was leader Thabani Gapara. What a great stage presence he has; the ready smile that he flashes when someone mines a groove. It is also his tone on all three horns, the marvellous compositions and tight arrangements. His compositions all reference his life’s journey and they strike a nice balance between groove hooks and flights into melodic ecstasy. I am always drawn to musicians who dance while they play. This is not an easy thing to pull off; it can affect concentration and in a reeds or winds player, it can affect the embouchure. Gapara skillfully utilises body movements to enhance the groove and he does so without a hint of contrivance. He wowed them and the audience gave back, and during that interaction, the spirit of live improvised music glowed like a fire. Thabani (8)

There is no doubt that the band was well rehearsed. No group can generate that sort of energy or negotiate changes or tricky rhythms without being comfortable with each other. I have heard guitarist Nathan James once before; on this gig he was wonderful. The interplay between he and Gapara was conversational, the sort of conversation that friends might have on good night out. When his solo’s intensified they never strayed far from the groove. The other chordal instruments were played by Peter Leupolu, nice effects and in the pocket; subtly pushing the others; urging them on. Lastly, we come to electric bass player Issac Etimeni and drummer Elijah White. The audience was wildly enthusiastic about both. The punchy post-Jaco electric bass; the groove-based drumming bravura.

They played a number of Gapara’s compositions; ‘The Journey’ (which I have posted), ‘Places and Faces’, ‘Tears’, ‘Family’,  and ‘On The Beach’. All of these strongly referenced Southern African Jazz. To my delight, they also played Roy Hargrove’s fabulous ‘Strasbourg St Denis’ – a great tune and executed with such verve and Joy. The remaining numbers were, ‘Spanish Joint’ (D’Angelo), ‘Time Will Tell’ (Bobby Watson), ‘I Can’t Help It’ (Stevie Wonder), and ‘I Want You Back’ (Jackson Five). I still have a 45rpm of that at home (the Jacksons first’ break-through Motown recording).

After the gig, I talked to Gapara about his music. I told him that I had experienced this style in Paris where it thrives in clubs like the New Dawn: played by the likes of Etienne Mbappe, Hugh Masekela etc. He agreed, saying that Paris is the new centre for experiencing these Jazz blended, bass heavy, African influenced styles. Now, as migration increases, the styles are evolving again; evolving as they move around the planet. Influences are never static; they bounce back and forth endlessly.Thabani (9)

If you see this group playing anywhere, grab a ticket and experience the fun. They truly deserve to do well and I hope they stay together for the long haul. Another great night, in an already wonderful CJC, Thirsty Dog season. Get down there on a Wednesday folks.

Thabani Gapara Project: Thabani Gapara (alto, tenor, soprano saxophones), Issac Etimeni (electric bass), Peter Leupolu (keyboard & piano), Nathan James (guitar), Elijah White (drums) – CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog,  K’Rd Auckland, 13 September 2017.

 

 

 

 

Alan Brown Trio + guest

Alan Brown 2017 (3)While some of us didn’t make it to the Wellington Jazz Festival, we had no need to cry into our beer. What Auckland had on offer was the Alan Brown Trio, returning to the Creative Jazz Club after a long hiatus, and in very good form. I have long thought that an organ trio is the best dish to serve up on a wet winter’s night. This trio proved the pudding with its down-home goodness, tasty grooves, and with all the trimmings. While Brown is across many genres, this is the one most music lovers associate him with. His deft touch calling down the good times and bathing us in a warm orb of sound.Alan Brown 2017 (4)We heard mostly new material with a few well-chosen standards thrown in; all of it sounding fresh, the arrangements for the standards updated and interesting. Brown is a prolific composer – he always writes interesting tunes. His Between the Spaces album came out years ago, but I can still remember the tunes note for note. He is never afraid of melody either, balancing it nicely with his rich harmonies and all the while providing a solid improvisational vehicle. His final strength, and perhaps his greatest, is his feel for a groove. Although rooted firmly in the organ groove tradition, much of the new material felt evolutionary – taking us in a similar direction to that of Lonnie Smith. There is a lot to like about this direction. Alan Brown 2017 (2)

This was essentially the original Grand Central band; Dixon Nacey on Guitar, Josh Sorenson on drums and for some of the gig, vocalist Chris Melville. Even though many of tunes were new to the rest of the band, they got down to business quickly. Nacey, as ever, the consummate professional – at times reading the chart before him, but always diving deep inside the groove as he internalised the music.  Sorenson is a groove drummer from way back and although he works with his own rock group these days, he had no trouble doing what an organ trio drummer should; laying down a steady rhythmic cushion.Alan Brown 2017 (1) It was good to see Melville perform again. I had not seen him on the bandstand since the Grand Central days. He’s an in-demand vocalist these days and deservedly so. I think that it was on his insistence that ‘I didn’t know what time it was’ was included (the Cecile McLauren-Salvant treatment). I have always loved his wonderful ”Come what may’ (Melville/Nacey) – surprisingly it is seldom heard.  Alan Brown 2017 Although my battery died half way through, I have uploaded a clip from the gig – one of Alan Brown’s newer compositions. The trio’s incredibly warm vibe is well captured on this clip – a sound enhanced by the use of a Leslie Unit and of course by Nacey’s Godin guitar. This was the place to be; as the woody tones and warmth enveloped us, Winter was dispelled from our lives.

Alan Brown Trio: Alan Brown (B3 organ with Leslie Unit), Dixon Nacey (Guitar), Josh Sorenson (drums),  – Guest Chris Melville (vocals). The gig took place at the Thirsty Dog Tavern for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, 7th June 2017.

Mooga Fooga

Joel 120Mooga Fooga are well travelled, and as they move about they carve deep grooves into the sonic landscape. Their music is deliberately genre blending, with funk, rock, soul and Jazz shuffled together. Their music is often loud but they can play in a muted voice. While all of those influences are unambiguously in the mix, based on what I saw on Wednesday, they can tilt the emphasis any way they choose. This eclecticism is not the result of a random amalgam, but a clever fusing of the base metals underpinning the genres. In some of their online clips they are reminiscent of groups like Cream (albeit funked up), but on this gig, their Jazz Funk roots were most in evidence. I suspect that saxophonist Kushal Talele was the compass in that regard.Joel 133Years ago I picked up a guitar trio album featuring Bareli Lagrene, Jaco Pistorius, and a European drummer (I can’t recall his name). I marveled at the seamless blending of styles, as they performed Hendrix and Shorter with equal integrity, paying due respect to each. This music has a heavier funk element; Jazz funk with a little touch of metal and the occasional the choppy lines of Monk thrown in. Apart from their punchy lines and the exchanges during the head, there was room for improvisation as the tunes developed.Joel 121I am familiar with Kushal Talele, Adam Tobeck and Joel Shadbolt as I have encountered them all before. Each in different situations to what was on offer last night. Talele has a distinct post-Coltrane sound and is very much in the camp of the New York modernist tenor players. He returned last year from overseas and played a gig at the CJC. Sadly, we are to lose him again as he heads to New York for a few years. Tobeck is versatile and notable for his tightly focused groove beats. He was essential to this lineup and this band was a natural fit for him. I have seen Shadbolt less often but I enjoyed his loud bluesy funk at the 2015 Tauranga Jazz festival. He is a crowd pleaser and looks every inch the part as he pumps out his ear-pleasing lines and phrases.  While I had not previously heard electric bassist Rory Macartney, he is well-respected about town. There is a real bite to his playing, a bite that is perfect for a lineup like this.Joel 122The tunes were seldom given titles and I suspect that most were originals. Details like that don’t matter on a gig like this – it is about the groove. I gained the impression that the three regulars, Macartney, Shadbolt and Talele all contributed compositions and arrangements. There are some good YouTube clips up from this group and I have added one more from this gig.

Mooga Fooga: Kushal Talele (tenor saxophone), Joel Shadbolt (guitar), Rory Macartney (electric bass), Adam Tobeck (drums) at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel basement, 27th July 2016.Joel 118

Kevin Field Group – Winter 2016

Kevin Field 124Kevin Field has for many years been regarded as a phenomenon on the New Zealand Jazz scene. A gifted pianist and composer whose approach to composition and harmony is strikingly original. When you listen to many pianists you can hear their influences, discern the pathways that led them to where they are. With Field, those influences are less obvious. I suspect that this independence, originality, makes it easier for him to strike out in any direction of his choosing. On his ‘Field of Vision’ album, he moved into uncrowded space, one occupied by very few Jazz pianists. It was Jazz without compromise but utilising grooves, rhythms, and melodies of other genres. The music contained distinct echoes of the disco/Jazz/funk era, crafting it carefully and forging a new post-millennial sound.Kevin Field 123The tunes were all memorable and within a few listenings, you could hum the themes. This is not so common in modern Jazz and less so with music (like Fields) which retains its Jazz complexity. In Fields case, the clean melodic hooks do not come at the expense of harmonic invention. That is a tricky balancing act and one he achieves convincingly. His co-leadership of ‘DOG’ took him in a different direction again, but the same deftly crafted grooves astounded us. His recent album ‘The A-List’, was a further excursion into the disco/Jazz/funk realm. It is slightly tongue in cheek while still challenging the listener to think outside the square. Artists like this take the music forward, it is up to us to catch up.

The Kevin Field Group often meets up to work through new and old compositions – this work ethic is evident in what we hear. While personnel changes occur from time to time, the group has a core membership. Field, Dixon Nacey, Clo Chaperon, Cameron McArthur, and Stephen Thomas. While we heard tunes from recent albums there were also a number of new tunes on offer. The new material took his earlier conceptions further out, while the older material was cunningly reworked. I have heard this group a number of times and each time I hear them I sense the progressive momentum.Kevin Field 129They played at the Wellington Jazz festival recently and for many Wellingtonians, this was their first exposure to the group. I saw that show and I immediately noticed how the familiar tunes had subtly changed. ‘Perfect Disco’ with its energised danceable funk momentum was recast as a duo piece. Field and vocalist Chaperon wowed them with that number. We also heard this duo version last week. Other familiar tunes had developed into profoundly interactive exchanges. The sort that can only occur between highly attuned musicians. This is where the guitar mastery and the deep listening of Nacey came into its own. His Godin guitar soaring with stunning clarity while Field reacted in kind, urging them further out with each challenge.Kevin Field 122Again we see Thomas and McArthur doing what they do best. Working hard and rising to the challenge. Thomas laying down the tricky rhythms and while McArthur runs his bass lines. While pleasant to the ear, there is not doubt at all that these compositions required skill and concentration. It is on gigs like this that the musicians familiarity with the material and each other pays dividends. It was also nice to hear Chaperon on some new and old material. She is a real crowd pleaser – she looks great on stage and sings up a storm.

Keven Field Group: Keven Field (piano), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Cameron McArthur (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums), Clo Chaperon (vocals), CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel 20th July 2016.

Michel Benebig & Carl Lockett tour 2016

Benebig-Lockett 087Auckland spoils us with long runs of clement weather, but when winter hits we suffer. Having effectively avoided any meaningful autumn we suddenly plunged into a week of cold wet days. There was no better time for the Michel Benebig/Carl Lockett band to arrive. As we grooved to the music, a warmth flooded our bodies within minutes. Nothing invokes warmth like a well oiled B3 groove unit and the Benebig/Locket band is as good as it gets. The icing on the cake was seeing Shem with them. A singer with incredible modulation skills and perfect pitch, able to convey the nuances of emotion with a casual glance or a single note. The way she moves from the upper register to the midrange, silken.Benebig-Lockett 089Michel Benebig has been travelling to New Zealand for years, and his connection with the principals of the UoA Jazz school has been a boon for us. He generally brings his partner Shem with him, but last time work commitments in her native New Caledonia kept her at home. Michel just gets better and better and the way his pedal work and hands create contrasts and tension defies belief. It is therefore not surprising that Michel attracts top rated guitarists or saxophonists to his bands. The best of our local groove guitarists have often featured and a growing number of stand-out American artists (see earlier posts on this band). Of these, the New York guitarist Carl Locket is of particular note. I first heard Lockett in San Francisco four years ago and he mesmerised me with his deep bluesy lines and time feel. Although comfortable in a number of genres, he is the ideal choice for an organ/guitar groove unit.Benebig-Lockett 090The band played material from their recent album (mostly Benebig’s compositions) and a few standards. There were also compositions by Shem Benebig. Their approach to arranging standards is appealing – numbers like Johnny Mandel’s ‘Suicide is Painless’ are transformed into groove excellence. We heard that number performed at the band’s last visit and the audience loved to hear it repeated. This visit, we heard a terrific interpretation of ‘Angel Eyes’ (Matt Dennis). I confess that this is one of my favourite standards (Ella regarded it as her favourite ballad). Anita O’day performed it beautifully as did Frank Sinatra and Nat Cole. The only groove version I can recall is the relatively unknown Gene Ammons cut (a bonus number added in later years to his ‘Boss Tenor’ album with organist Johnny ‘Hammond’ Smith). That version took the tune at a very slow pace, so slow in fact that you initially wondered if Ammons had nodded off before he came in. It was wonderful for all that (who can resist Ammons).Benebig-Lockett 092The band began the tune at a slow pace (but not as slow as Ammons), then once through, picking up the tempo, the band settling into a deeper groove, drummer Samsom and the guitarist really locking together, giving the Benebig’s room to create magic. That locked-in beat is often at the heart of an organ-guitar unit and when done well it adds bottom to the sound. Locket’s style of comping is the key to that effect, the entry point for the drummer, the way the guitarist lays back on the beat and comps in a particular way. Samsom heard and responded as I knew he would. He is a groove merchant at heart. On tenor saxophone, Roger Manins was on home turf. Dreamily caressing the melody before his solo.

On an earlier blues number, we saw Manins at his playful best. He is always up for a challenge and this time, it came from Shem Benebig. This blues (sung in French) was about the demon drink and the dangers lying therein. As Shem ran through the tune she gestured accusatively, as if berating the audience. She had transformed herself into a firebrand preacher and her playfulness went down a treat. Tunes like this contain the DNA of their ancient beginnings and the Sanctified Church, ‘call and response’ at their very heart. Having berated the audience she turned on Manins as they exchanged phrases in a time-honoured way. The musical conversation went on for a number of bars until Shem delivered the coup-de-grace. Manins came back whisper-soft in mock submission. Shem, hands on hips flicked her hair triumphantly – a delightful moment of ad-lib musical theatre. I have put up this blues clip – more clips to follow later.

And all the while that fabulous B3 grooved us to a place we never wanted to leave.

Michel Benebig (B3 organ), Carl Lockett (guitar), Shem Benebig (vocals), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Ron Samsom (drums). CJC (Creative Jazz Club, Albion Hotel, May 25th 2016.

 

 

 

Nathan Haines Electric Band (with Joel Haines)

JoelNathan 087 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.JoelNathan 088The 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.JoelNathan 087 (1)

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.JoelNathan 090Next 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.JoelNathan 088 (1)

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.JoelNathan 096

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 2016JoelNathan 089 

 

 

Michel Benebig – ‘Noumea to New York’ tour

Michel 2015 (11)Michel Benebig visits New Zealand once a year and we anticipate his visits with Joy. His authentic B3 groove journey didn’t start in East Philly, but in tropical Noumea; a South Pacific Island north of here. After honing his craft he travelled widely and in consequence his star steadily rises. The more North American audiences hear him, the more they embrace him. He is now regarded as a B3 master. The B3 greats who inspired him are all but departed and he deservedly steps into their shoes. His travels in the USA have brought him into frequent contact with a number of well-known musicians. As good musicianship and a pleasant disposition are the highest recommendations possible, the musicians he worked with recommended him to others. That is how he teamed up with Carl Lockett.

I was in San Francisco in 2012 and as I had been tracking Benebig’s latest tour, I saw that he was gigging in the Bay Area. I said to my son, “Kid you need of piece of this, it will gladden your heart”. It did and I will always remember the smile on his face as the sound of the B3 floated up the stairs from the Academy Francaise auditorium. That was the first time I saw Benebig and Lockett together. I was over-whelmed by the warmth and groove they created. Around that time Michele recorded ‘Yellow Purple’ in California with Carl Lockett on guitar, James Levi on drums and his partner Fabienne Shem Benebig on vocals. Released in 2013 and the album brought him many new fans. Michel 2015 (3)The new album ‘Noumea to New York’ is his finest to date (and true to label, recorded in New York). Again Lockett features on guitar, Lewis Nash lays down the drum grooves and special guest Houston Person appears on tenor saxophone. What a marvellous line up this is and what an album they turned out. This album alone will secure Benebig a place in the pantheon. It has modern B3 classic written all over it.  All compositions are by Benebig, with one tune co-credited with his partner Shem. There are so many treasures on this album that it is hard to single out one particular tune, but if pressed I would say ‘Noumea To New York’. A medium paced groove track with enough warmth to melt the ice in your drink. The flawless interplay between Benebig, Nash and Lockett is in strong evidence here. With Nash creating a solid cushion of groove, it is no wonder that Benebig and Locket sound so marvellous. Michel 2015 (4)The tour down under was minus Nash and Person; Locals filled those gaps. In Auckland we had Roger Manins on tenor and Ron Samsom on drums. This was also a perfect fit, as both had accompanied Benebig previously. The set list in Auckland was partly material from the album and partly marvellously quirky tunes from classic TV shows. How often do you hear the theme from ‘The Pink Panther’ or the theme from ‘The Naked City’ played by a groove unit? More common in Jazz circles is the Johnny Mandel standard ‘Suicide is Painless’ from Mash. When people think of that last number they think Evans and seldom the B3. To show what skilled groove merchants can do with such material I have uploaded a clip. Michel 2015 (6) While Benebig is very much in command here his groove collaborators preached just as hard from their respective pulpits. Lockett in particular was astonishing. Gasps of delight erupted as he utilised his finger picking blues-guitar credentials. Moving seamlessly from lightning quick double-time to a steamy groove; often leaning slightly back on the beat. His comping was equally delightful as he does what Pat Martino does. There is either a slight vibrato or he pulls gently down on the strings with each comping-chord; creating simultaneously a warm but slightly mournful effect. Whether on fast single-note runs or octave chords, its hard not to think of Wes Montgomery. His extensive use of thumb and fingers and his fluidity evokes that comparison. Michel 2015 (7)Manins was clearly in his element here. Happy among friends and happy to find himself back in the groove space. The same went for Samsom. Both are highly regarded straight ahead Jazz musicians but both have released great groove albums in the previous year. Their joyous abandon added to the quantum of happiness; every note making us smile.

In the end it was the leader Michel Benebig who stole the show. He set the tone with his groove-worthy compositions and his utterly authoritative old-school B3 style. He is a monster of the organ and a real showman. What also impressed was his ability to manage the Hammond SK2; reputedly a little tricky if you play the real beast. If the lack of pedals and the different touch troubled him, it certainly didn’t show. A B3 master can tame any beast and do it convincingly. It sounded perfect from where we sat.

Michel Benebig Quartet Album: Michel Benebig (B3), Carl Lockett (guitar), Lewis Nash (drums), guest – Houston Person (tenor saxophone). (New Zealand tour – Roger Manins replaces Houston Person – Ron Samsom replaces Lewis Nash)

The ‘A’ List – Kevin Field

A List (10)‘The A List’ release has been a long time coming, or so it seems. Every recording of Kevin Field’s is noteworthy and when rumours of a New York album circulated I attempted to pin him down. Whenever I saw him playing as sideman about town or met him in the street I would pull him aside and say, “Kev, how is the album progressing, when will you release it?”. I invariably received iterations of the same cryptic answer; a knowing smile and a brief “it’s getting there, not too far away now”. the lack of specifics only fed my appetite. I have learned to read the signs and I can sense when an album pleases an artist. It is all in the body language, readable over the self-effacing vagaries of banter. Field had a look about him; a look that told me that he was nurturing a project that pleased him.  A List (7)  As the months progressed I gleaned additional fragments of information in bite sized chunks. Firstly that Matt Penman was on the recording, and incrementally that Nir Felder, Obed Calvaire, Miguel Fuentes, Clo Chaperon and Marjan Gorgani also. The substantive recording took place at Brooklyn Recording in New York with additional recording in Roundhead Studios Auckland. That was pretty much the extent of my knowledge. I have encountered this phenomena before. Treating an album as a child, holding it close before sending it out into the world. It generally presages good things to come. In this case it certainly did.  A List  The title is probably tongue in check, but it speaks truth. There are a number of A List personnel on the album. Field is arguably Auckland’s first call pianist. No one harmonises quite like him and his consistency as pianist and composer is solid. New Zealand Jazz lovers also regard Matt Penman highly. His appearances with leading lineups and his cutting edge projects as leader always impress. In the same vein is Nir Felder; frequently mentioned in the same breath as the elite New York guitarists. Obed Calvaire the same in drum circles. This was an obvious next step for Field; having risen to the top of the local scene, it was time to record with New Yorker’s.

The album is a thing of beauty and satisfying on many levels. Under Field’s watchful eye a flawless production has emerged. Having an album released by Warners is a coup. The big labels rarely release New Zealand Jazz (Nathan Haines being an exception). All compositions are by Field (on the vocal numbers he is co-credited with Clo Chaperon & Marjan Gorgani). From the title track onwards the album engages. We generally hear Field in a straight ahead context but he wisely followed his instincts here. This album extends the explorations of his well received ‘Field of Vision’ release; turning his conceptual spotlight on genres like disco funk and the brightly hued guitar fuelled explorations of the New York improvising modernists. The album also features Miguel Fuentes tasteful percussion which is subtle but effective. Field has done what brave and innovative artists should do. Take risks in the search for new territory.   A List (6)  The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) Auckland launch substituted ‘A’ List locals for the famous New Yorker’s. On guitar was Dixon Nacey, on bass Richie Pickard and on drums Stephen Thomas. The vocal section was; Clo Chaperon & Marjan Gorgani (as on the album). These musicians are superb and so the comparison with the album was favourable (Field is a little higher in the mix on the album and guitarist Felder is a little lower).  A List (5)The CJC was in different venue this time, owing to the refurbishment of the 1885.  The Albion is no stranger to Jazz and in spite of the ‘livelier’ acoustics, it was a good space in which to enjoy the music. Dixon Nacey always sounds like a guitarist at the peak of his powers, but somehow he manages to sound better every time I hear him. This time he used less peddling and spun out wonderfully clean and virtuosic lines. Apart from a tiny amount of subdued wah-wah peddle on the disco number his beautiful Godin rang out with bell-like clarity (the clipped wah-wah comping was totally appropriate in recreating the tight disco funk vibe).  The other standout performance was from Stephen Thomas, who is able to find a groove and yet mess with it at the same time. His complex beats added colour and he mesmerised us all. At the heart of the sound was Richie Pickard. Some of the material was definitely challenging for a bass player as timing was everything. Pickard navigated the complexities with ease. There are were three vocal numbers at the gig (two on the album). Chaperon and Gorgani are impressive together and well matched vocally. Hearing them on the album showcases them to best advantage, as sound mixing is harder in a club. Their presence certainly added excitement to the gig.A List (9)Buy the album and if possible see Field perform this material live. This music is exciting and innovative; past and present rolled into a forward looking Jazz form.

Kevin Field: The A List – Keven Field (Piano, Keys), Nir Felder (guitar), Matt Penman (bass), Obed Calvaire (drums), Miguel Fuentes (percussion), Clo Chaperon & Marjan Gorgani (vocals).  – Live performance: Kevin Field (piano, keys), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Richie Pickard (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums), Clo Chaperon & Marjan Gorgani (vocals). Performed at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, Auckland, 19th August 2015. Available from all leading retailers.

 

Neutrino Funk Experience ‘Ace Tone’

images 086 (1)Ron Samsom’s Neutrino Funk Experience ‘Ace Tone’ album has so much up front punch that that a warning is needed on the label. It is an album that grabs you by the lapels and demands your attention. As you listen it transports you to a world of joy. The album and the live band exudes a vitality that enters through your pores, pulsing through your body like the wild blood of extreme youth. Try as you may, it is impossible to keep still as the rhythms consume you limb by limb. While the album brings historic musical references to mind, it is very much of the present. This is Jazz Funk at its very best.Ron 'Ace Tones' 094There is cleverness aplenty in the album, but that’s not what it’s about. The pulse, punch and danceability are the draw cards. The tunes let each listener glean their own references. During the album launch someone said, “Oh wow that takes me back to Deep Purple”, while others talked of the Jazz funk gurus like Herbie Hancock, Eddie Henderson and Jimmy McGriff. What ever references people heard, one thing is for certain. This band updates 70’s Jazz Funk as few other albums do. A lifelong fan of the classic genre observed, “few classic 70’s funk albums actually sound as good as this”.

There is a hackneyed saying that states; good Rock music is simple music made to sound complex and good Jazz is complex music made to sound simple. That brings me to Samsom’s compositions. Samsom joked that the tunes were so simple, that anyone who couldn’t learn them in minutes was wrong for the band. While the heads are often simple, the weave of the music is not. These tunes are skilful constructs and the subtle shifts and turns are deeply nuanced. The writing allows for open-ended improvisation and soloing, while never letting the over-arching themes subside (e.g. the single bass note and organ chord dominating ‘Simple Facts’ or the catchy closed loop melody line played on bass in ‘Other Brother’). Driving everything like a powerful locomotive is that amazing back beat. There is no mistaking the leader. Samsom is authoritive.Ron 'Ace Tones' 090 (1)Material like this needs highly skilled and experienced musicians in order to extract the maximum advantage and that is exactly what Samsom got. This is an alignment of talent that works so well that they must surely build on their success.  The Neutrino Funk Experience formed in 2014 and started doing regular gigs at Auckland’s Albion in the central City. The word soon got around and one by one we drifted down to see them. The band stood-out from the first day and the disbelieving expletives from experienced musicians confirmed what our gut told us. These guys were total ‘muthas’.Ron 'Ace Tones' 089Roger Manins always sounds great but he has excelled himself here. This brand of earthy down-home funk is a natural place for him and his own funk albums reinforce that view. Manins just tears the place up on these sessions and it would be hard to find his equal. There are times when he apparently defies gravity, rising to his toes and abandoning self to move inside the music. These are moments of pure Zen and I watch for them now. Man and instrument becoming one and out of the bell streams a cornucopia of sound, distilled from the human experience. From the otherworldly wails to the gentlest urgings you recognise Manins uniqueness. Organist Winterburn said of him, “Working with Roger is perfect for me. He’s such a rhythmic saxophonist”. Coltrane, old school funk, ballads and modern edge; it’s all there in the sound.

Grant Winterurn is another extraordinary talent and a fully formed musician. He can talk engagingly on anything musical; complex theory, Bill Evans, Kieth Jarrett, Rick Wakeman, Brother Jack McDuff or Schoenberg. Securing him for this unit was a masterstroke. He is a busy working musician and consequently we don’t see enough of him on the scene. When he does appear an audience follows; he has admirers everywhere. He is not only the consummate organist, pianist and keys player but a great showman. When a C3 or B3 player sits at the keyboards lumpen it feels plain wrong. There is no chance of levelling this criticism at Winterburn. He is delightful to watch and to listen to. Few keyboardists are better able to co-ordinate limbs, groove and flourish like him. Like all improvisers he creates maps of sound in his head and the logic of his solos draws on his wide musical knowledge.Ron, Neutrino  086On the album we have Cameron McArthur on upright bass. Even before leaving the UoA Jazz school Cameron was punching well above his weight. I would describe him as an instinctive player. Knowing where to place his lines and always strongly supportive of other band members. He quickly became a fixture in quality rhythm sections and visiting artists praised him. After a trip to New York to check out the scenic he picked up some work in cruise ship bands. By happy coincidence they had cut the album prior to him leaving. So punchy are his bass lines on ‘Ace Tones’, that you think he is playing an electric bass. In his absence Samsom hired Karika Junior Turua for the launch gig. Again this was a good choice. This time we did hear an electric bass and as Turua has experience with Jazz funk, the transition from upright to electric bass was seamless.Ron 'Ace Tones' 088 (1)Lastly there’s the album art work and the recording credits. Who ever created the cover design and layout must feel pleased; they did an amazing job. The presentation tells the ‘Ace Tone’ story perfectly. My friend Iain Sharp and I were involved in the project as liner notes providers.  As requested we contributed poems. It is rare (but not unheard of) for an album to use poems instead of the standard liner note blurb. I really hope that this trend continues for selfish reasons. Contributing something to an album like this is pure pleasure. The recording and mixing took place at ‘Roundhead Studios’ in Auckland and the mastering at ‘Turtle Tone Studios’ in New York. The album is out on Rattle Jazz where the best of original New Zealand music lives.

Having documented the band from their first gig, I have long felt a stake in this project. The finished album is surely not where this story ends; music of this quality deserves a sequel. Ron Samsom is an intuitive multi-faceted drummer and gifted composer. He is program coordinator at the UoA Jazz school. (if you haven’t already done so check out his and Manins contributions on the award-winning DOG album).

The Neutrino Funk Experience: Ron Samsom (leader, compositions, drums), Grant Winterburn (Hammond organ, Nord Stage, Wurlitzer electric piano, acoustic piano), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Cameron McArthur (acoustic bass) – live Karika Junior Turua (electric bass).

Live gig: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland 1st July 2015

Purchase at leading record outlets or directly from Rattle Records 

For the poems look in the JazzLocal32.com page ‘Jazz as Poetry’

Alan Brown Quartet @ CJC 2015

10407208_849558365101298_5079031482730444727_nThe more I listen to Alan Brown bands, the more I realise just how original his music is. The gig promised to be a reprise of ‘Between the Spaces’ and that was a drawcard which pulled in a good audience. We soon realised however that we were getting a lot more. As well as the familiar there were new compositions and a few that had not made the cut for the album. Brown is an extraordinarily gifted musician and in settings like this he always sounds fresh. The familiar numbers sounded as exciting as when we first heard them and the unfamiliar held the attention with siren like allure. This is music to gladden the heart. 11017509_849558561767945_4632538171974249436_n

There is a definite Alan Brown sound and it is quite unique. Yes there are small nods to familiar groove bands, to prog bands and perhaps even EST, but the sound is unmistakably his. Browns intros often favour the ostinato, with bass and drums working tirelessly across his insistent rhythmic patterns. These woven threads of sound create a layering effect. You are seldom aware of the underlying complexity, the odd time signatures and the oblique shifting grooves. Like many a well composed, well executed jazz tune, an implied centre holds the attention and this is where the ear goes. This is complex music made 10428674_849559058434562_7650093753295645704_naccessible. As the tunes unfold you fall into them, feeling that you are on a journey of logical progression; the enveloping arms of groove guiding you inexorably towards some beating voodoo heart.

The musicians Brown uses are always chosen with care. With arranged music and exacting charts, the having the right line up is important. It was great to see Andy Smith back at the CJC. Like Jono Sawyer he was on the 2011 ‘Between The Spaces’ album. Smith has something of the rock god about him and as his solo’s soar he often leans back, as if giving the notes more room to fly free. He is technically proficient and an interesting soloist; often putting me in mind of Mike Moreno as the sound is similar. His approach is modern but the history of jazz guitar still speaks behind his solo lines. Jono Sawyer is a member of various Alan Brown units and he is very much at home in this configuration. His time feel in these groove based settings is immaculate. 11024767_849558951767906_7151372333629258045_nThe relative newcomer is electric bass player David Hodkinson. He is no stranger to Brown’s bands but he was not on the album.  it would be daunting to step into Marika Hodgson’s shoes but Hodkinson held the groove and punched out a mesmerising pulse.

Alan Brown makes no apologies for referencing the fusion prog Rock/Jazz era. On Wednesday he mentioned the innovative and almost forgotten ‘Focus’ (an admired instrumental group of the 70’s who often featured Jazz guitarist Philip Catherine).  Among a selection of great tunes, my hands down favourite was a prog tribute to ‘King Crimson’ named ‘Crim Kingson’.

The photographs are by Ben McNicoll of the CJC management and the audio clip is ‘Do not track’ from the ‘Between the spaces album’.

Who: The Alan Brown Quartet – Alan Brown (piano), Andy Smith (guitar), David Hodkinson (bass), Jono Sawyer (drums).

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand. 25th Feb 2015

Kepler, Hubble, Henderson, Bloom, Ra & Maupin

6b96232502cdec6acaaae7034ce4e9e2This week as NASA’s Kepler orbiting telescope probed deep-field space, wonders beyond the imaginings of most of us came into view.  As it focussed on an inky gap between solar systems, gazed deep into an area invisible to earlier sky-gazers and previously lost in the vastness of space; a new mission. This week fresh data surprised the analysts as new images formed on their screens.  Astronomers could barely believe their luck.  Revealed were four planets circling M-Dwarfs, all of which bore apparent similarities to our own planet. They were near enough to their suns and with the right circumference to place them in the ‘habitable zone’; perhaps even capable of  IDL TIFF filesustaining life. The fact that ‘Kepler 186f’ is in the Cygnus Constellation nearly 500 light years away has not dented enthusiasm.  Kepler 186f is now firmly embedded in the human consciousness. Like the astronomers at SETI we watch, ponder and hope. In my world, this is the intersection where dreams, the cosmos and improvised music collide.

If you know where to look you will find an asteroid named ‘janeirabloom’.  This is significant because Jane Ira Bloom is an American Jazz musician.  This fine saxophonist was the first musician commissioned by NASA and her composition ‘Most Distant Galaxy’ is forever associated with of the space programme. I like improvising musicians who gaze in wonder at the stars.  I don’t mean musicians who occasionally play ‘Fly me to the Moon’ or ‘Star Dust’, but those who incorporate the wonders of the of the cosmos into their improvising. Jane Ira Bloom evidently visualises deep space when improvising.

The most obvious of these star gazers is Sun Ra.  Born Herman Blount, he soon abandoned his earthly name to become Sun Ra.  Anyone who has followed his brave sonic journey realises that his persona and that of the Arkestra is not a mere gimmick.  There is a philosophy and a real social conscience behind the image. imgres  Devotees and band members stay the course.  Ra has long departed this world, but the Arkestra is still voyaging with the astonishing John Gilmore at the helm. The older vinyl albums are now widely sought after, as the cover art was sometimes hand painted by the band members.  Many of the covers are similar to the Hubble images.

Trumpeter Eddie Henderson was a late discovery for me, perhaps because his earlier cosmic funk material was unavailable for a while.  With the re-release of his brilliant Fusion Jazz/Funk album ‘Sunburst’ and the ‘Heritage vol 1,2 Capricorn Years’ we have a treasure trove.  I am deeply imgresimpressed with Henderson’s work and his recent albums like ‘So What’, are tasty-good as well.  ‘Sunburst’ was released on the Blue Note label in 1975 (re-released by Japanese Blue Note recently).   Two albums by Bennie Maupin ‘Moonbeams & Slow Traffic to the Right’ were released around the same time.  The 70’s was the golden age of Cosmic Jazz/Funk and the utilization of increasingly sophisticated analogue synthesizers is a feature of these albums.  These out of production analogue instruments have become highly sought after (Mini-Moog, Prophet, Oberheim, ARP Odyssey etc).

Benny Maupin is one of my favourite musicians.  His multi-reeds & winds playing, innovative arrangements and memorable compositions reveal a clarity of purpose.  Whether it’s his early work with Lee Morgan ‘Live at the lighthouse’, with Miles on ‘Bitches Brew’ or on any of his own albums like ‘The Jewel in the Lotus’, ‘Headhunters (Survival of the fittest)’; there is no-one quite like him.  He also appeared on many Eddie Henderson albums during the 70’s.  The personnel on these seminal Cosmic Funk albums are all important musicians.

A breakdown of the personnel and the serious kit involved: ‘Sunburst‘ (Blue Note) Eddie Henderson (trumpet, flugal, cornet), Julian Priester (trombone), Bennie Maupin (tenor sax, saxophones, bass clarinet), George Duke (Rhodes, clavinet,synths), Alphonso Johnson (electric bass), Harvey Mason (drums) Bobby Hutchinson (marimba), Buster Williams (bass-6), Billy Hart (drums-6).  On ‘Slow traffic to the right‘ (Vocalion) are: Bennie Maupin (soprano & tenor sax, saxello, piccolo, flute/alto flute, bass clarinet, Oberheim polyphonic synthesizer, Eu synthesizer, vocals), Patrice Rushen (acoustic piano, Rhodes, e-piano, clavinet) Patrick Gleeson (Oberheim & E-Mu polyphonic syhthesizers), Onje Allan Gumbs (Electric piano, Fender Rhodes), Ralphe Armstrong (Gibson G3 bass guitar), James Levi (drums), Eddie Henderson (trumpet, flugal), Blackbird McNight (guitar), Craig Kilby (trombone, Nathan Rubin (concertmaster, strings). On Moonscapes’ Maupin added new synths a glockenspiel and more personnel.  This was the space age manifesting in improvised music.

History tells us that the invention of new instruments is extremely rare. The saxophone faced enormous difficulties in gaining recognition and its inventor even suffered assassination attempts from conventional instrument makers. Against that images background the swift acceptance of the synthesiser appears surprising, but when considered in the context of the times there are compelling explanations.

The late 60’s and 70’s was the era of the space age and everyone with a radio, tuned into the beeps of Sputnik when it passed overhead. On mass we became enamoured with electronically generated sound.  It was the code for modernity.  Boys of the 50’s and 60’s all listened to short-wave radio; often in the hope of hearing cold war spies sending morse code. What we actually heard were the eerie sounds of atmospheric static and beeps from space.  The new sounds of an exciting and limitless world.

As a multiplicity of signals bounced around the earth and reports from radio-telescopes became commonplace, we gradually associated those electronic sounds with the signals from deep space. The arrival of the psychedelic era picked up on this and from then on synthesized sound was a fait-accompli.  Pink Floyd not withstanding, Eddie Henderson and Benny Maupin captured this era like few others. The earthy sounds of black urban funk were deftly fused with out-Jazz experimental music and the new instruments were the booster rockets.   IMG_8963 - Version 2

When the mood takes me, late at night, I check out the NASA or European Space Agency web pages or watch compilations on You Tube of the newest images beamed in from deep or near space.  I travel with voyagers 1 & 11, marvelling that their analogue signals still reach us despite the odds.  Settling in, I cut the sound of the You Tube clips and as the pictures flash by, each more fantastical than the last, I put Eddie Henderson and Bennie Maupin on my stereo. For an hour I am there, a space voyager.

This post is dedicated to the out-musicians and the astronomers who explore new worlds.  To Bob Moog who created new sounds, to Carl Sagan who reminded us that ‘we are star-stuff, billion year old carbon’ and to my son Aish, a computer scientist who manages a machine learning team in Silicon Valley.

Hip Flask2 @ CJC

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Sometimes you just get lucky; being in the right place, at the right time, when something special is about to happen.  In 2013 that something special was the Hip Flask 2 project.   Roger Manins conceived of the second Hip Flask album while he was staying with band member Brendon Clarke.  The other band members quickly indicated their enthusiasm and the project had begun.  Once underway the need for fresh compositions and a host of other practicalities needed sorting.   Around that time I was talking to Roger Manins about the successful ‘Dog’ project, and he told me about ‘Hip Flask 2’.

Knowing that I had been planning a trip to Australia he said. “Why don’t you spend a day with us in ‘Studio 301’ and watch us record?”.  No second invitation needed, I did just that.  There is something special about watching a good band at work, taking a project from conception to completion.  Seeing them from inside the recording booth as new ideas and interesting charts coalesced into magic was fascinating.

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Now almost a year later the album is out on ‘Rattle’ and the band is on the road.  To add some additional icing to an already rich cake, ‘Ode Records’ suggested that ‘Hip Flask 1’ be included with the new album.  The original album is still widely sought after but it is sometimes hard to get.  Everyone jumped at the opportunity and ‘Rattle’ quickly changed focus to create a double-album cover.  As I had taken a number of photographs in the recording studio I decided to offer them to the band, just in case there was a use for them.  To my delight many of these were utilised in the cover art.  To be a small part of a project like this is a joy.

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As you would expect, a band on the road is a lot freer than when in the studio.  There is more room to develop ideas and there is an immediacy which occurs in a no-second-take environment.  Both manifestations are extraordinary.  The Stu Hunter tune ‘revolution’ is a good case in point.  It just begs for piano and Hammond to stretch out.  Live they do this, the musicians all extending their reach.  Manins stratospheric lift-offs into harmonics become imbued with keening cries of ecstatic soulfulness.  Hunter (who comps sparingly and soulfully during others solos) weaves his solo right around the beating heart of the music, while Adam Ponting sermonises on the meaning of the blues.   Because the band have a history together they are well accustomed to each others moves.

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It is unusual to have both C3 (or Ace Tone) and piano in the same funk unit.  Musicians of lessor calibre than Ponting or Hunter would be unable to keep out of each others way.  They not only manage it well, but make the pairing of the instruments sound natural.  Hunters soulful grooves are nicely contrasted by Pontings approach which is often unexpected.  He is an interesting pianist to listen to, often using atypical voicings.  He is equally interesting to watch.  He sits comfortably erect yet close to the piano, his hands spread flat over the keys, Monk like.  Bass player Brendan Clarke is at a sweet spot in the mix.  He never over plays, but his strong lines impress as does his perfect time sense, never more so than during ‘Bennett’s Radio Blues’.  Drummer Toby Hall rounds off this band of heavyweights.  His absorption clearly on show as he sinks trance-like into the polyrhythmic grooves.  I often wonder whether bass face trumps drum face or B3 face.  Drum face was the winner on this night.  Someone in the audience muttered excitedly at one point, “holy shit that is totally a real Jazz drummer”.

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I like so many tunes on this album but I suppose that it was ‘Lancelot Link, Missing Chimp’ that made me smile the most with its otherworldly Yusef Lateef vibe.   Anyone who was a child or who raised a child when Lancelot Link graced our screens will be chuckling at the happy remembrance; and on a key challenging penny whistle to boot.  IMG_2921 - Version 2

It is to the credit of Auckland University that they gave a grant for the Hip Flask 2 project.  Rattle records must also be praised as they have become the standard bearers of quality Jazz in this corner of the world.  The final credit goes to Roger Manins for rebooting this important piece of funk history, blowing with all his heart and above all for sharing the journey.  Rog - Version 2

For my related post on the day I spent in the 301 recording studios in Sydney, search for ‘New Year 2014 The Fabric of Creativity’ on this blog site 

also locate – http://vimeo.com/105457596  – for a video clip

Who: Hip Flask – Roger Manins (leader, Conn & Selmer tenor saxophones), Adam Ponting (piano), Stu Hunter (C3, Ace Tone), Brendan Clarke (bass),  Toby Hall (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland,     www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

Album: ‘Hip Flask 2’ available from Rattle Records or leading music stores.

Neutrinos Jazz Funk + Rob Thompson

 

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If you have seen the Neutrinos perform at the Albion you will know how intensely funky they are.   Because they are a pub band, the music is beat focussed, danceable and outrageously cheerful; making people whoop with joy at the sheer exuberance of the music.  Ron Samsom is the Neutrino’s leader and he has contributed most of the tunes. I have only recently begun to grasp the breadth and depth of his compositions.  He is as a gifted writer.  Roger Manins has also contributed some great tunes from his popular earthy funk projects.   In his inimitable way he is also shares comparing duties.  The Albion band is Ron Samsom (drums), Roger Manins (tenor), Grant Winterburn (organ) and Cameron McArthur (bass).   As a unit they are the ultimate live experience.  Grant Winterburn’s solos scuffle and sing their way into your soul, taking your breath away with their brilliance.   Roger Manins brings down the happy ghosts of the funk tenor greats, Cameron McArthur makes the music dance and Ron Samsom’s drives endless flurries of killing beats out from his kit.  Being bombarded with something faster than light and more mysterious; neutrinos.  leaving in their wake pulsing rays of warmth.  More later on that gig as I will be writing a post on the Albion Funk Jazz Neutrinos shortly.

The CJC Neutrinos while composed of the same parts approached the music from a different angle.

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The Neutrinos lineup at the CJC was promoted as Jazz Funk (not Funk Jazz) and this offered a clue to the change of focus.  Visiting Canadian keyboard player Rob Thompson also replaced resident organist Grant Winterburn for this one gig.  Instead of the tone wheel simulating Nord C2D which Winterburn uses, there was a Nord Stage 88ex.   The sounds are very different.  Because the CJC is a listening space this opened up other possibilities; beat driven funk can follow ballads or introspective pieces.  We heard many of the tunes from the Albion repertoire, but the real surprise of the evening came when Rob Thompson moved from keyboards to piano.  He made a brief announcement and then proceeded to play two numbers strongly associated with Bill Evans.   Appropriately the quartet shrunk to a trio at this point.  Leaving just Thompson, McArthur and Samsom.

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It is unusual to see anyone interpret Bill Evans these days as modern pianists tend to shy away from this material.   There are a number of reasons for this and I suspect the sheer recognisability of his style, and of his particular approach to harmony invites unwelcome comparison.   A recent exception would be the album by Eliane Elias with husband Marc Johnson (an Evans alumni).   That particular album is Evans and Elias in equal proportions.  Rob Thompson has been studying Evans for a year or so and in situations like this there is a fine point between sounding like a particular artist and strongly referencing that artist.  How to approach the tunes is the perpetual conundrum.  The first tune of two was ‘Morning Glory’ (Bobby Gentry).  It was typical of Evans to appropriate an unlikely pop tune, film theme or country & western tune and then make it his own.  In this case ‘Morning Glory’s’ country and western origins dissolved into crystalline beauty.  Quite uncoupled from the Tallahatchie Bridge and Billy Joe McAlester.

From the intro to the end it spoke of Evans without being a slavish imitation.   The voicings and the approach were close enough to Evans to evoke him, but different enough to feel that you had gained a fresh perspective.  His second Evans number was ‘Re: Person I Knew” (Evans), a tune he wrote as a tribute to his friend Orrin Keepnews of Riverside Records.  The title is a clever anagram of Keepnews name, an intellectual challenge that Evans could seldom resist.  This introspective, wistful tune is among those most associated with Evans.  It is not only Keepnews who’s referenced here, as the song contains a haunting echo of the Scott Lafaro sessions at the Village Vanguard.  I have put up a clip of this.  Later I asked Cameron McArthur if he had ever played this material before and he had not.  With Evans bass playing changed.  Chuck Israels was the bass player when Evans wrote this tune and he said, “My voice is left open because Bill doesn’t play the bass in his left hand”.  Both McArthur and Samsom responded appropriately to Thompson’s explorations and both displayed a high degree of sensitivity.  Then it was back to the quartet format and higher octane tunes: with Roger Manins playing boisterously and to his usual high standard.

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It is always worthwhile to see familiar material examined afresh and played from a new perspective.  It was not just the Evans but the Neutrino song book reinterpreted on this night.

Who: Ron Samsom’s Neutrinos – Ron Samsom (drums), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Cameron McArthur (bass) with guest artist Rob Thompson (piano, keys)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand 13th May 2014.    www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

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

Dixon Nacey ‘Lets Sco’ Project @ CJC

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John Scofield is a magnet for guitarists world-wide, drawing them into the Jazz fold in ever-increasing numbers.  Locally, a similar thing’s said of guitarist Dixon Nacey.  The logic therefore that Nacey should do a Scofield project is inescapable.  That he should do it exceptionally well, unsurprising.

Playing a gig well requires a high degree of focus and anyone who has spent time around musicians will tell you that a type of disengagement from peripheral matters occurs just prior to any performance.  As the musicians busy themselves with a multiplicity of leads, pedals and last-minute adjustments you often detect withdrawal.  It is as if their sensory perceptions are being momentarily realigned.  Once the performance begins the focus changes again and what has been in deficit is given back ten fold.  Dixon Nacey is somewhat of an enigma in this regard, as his extravert good nature is evident on or off the band-stand, before, during and after a gig.  IMG_9683

He is cheerful and easy to engage with off the bandstand and when he plays a look of pure delight flashes across his face.  As the strings bend under his fingers and his beautiful Godin guitar moves with him, the effect’s magnified.  This is about the joy of creating high quality accessible music.  What he communicates in body language to an audience is as much a part of the music as the notes he plays.   To experience Dixon Nacey live is to receive a gift, because some of that joyous exuberance infects you as listener.  As the recipients of this you find yourself smiling throughout and feel very lucky.

I have seen John Scofield twice and his concerts are much like this.  Exuberant crowd pleasing and heavily groove based.  In spite of the fact that the material was nearly all Scofield compositions this was no slavish covers gig.   This was Dixon telling the Scofield story in his own way.  IMG_9665

When working on projects like this leaders know who they’d like to engage, but availability often defeats them.  Dixon was in luck here as he got exactly who he wanted.   On Nord C1 Hammond B3 was the often illusive Grant Winterburn.  Winterburn’s often talked about by Jazz musicians but seldom seen at club gigs.  As he set up his gear a musician whispered in my ear, “This is one of New Zealand’s best groove organ players and we’re lucky to catch him”.   The reason he is seldom seen is because he gets so much work with large production shows.  This cat has it all down.  The hard-driving grooves, the staccato chord work and a way of playing with time, tension and release that has you shouting encouragement and punching the air.  Moments before a killing run he appears to fall sideways while a hand snakes to the keyboard.  Sometimes he leaps up and jams his knee into the upper register.  These crowd pleasing antics mirrored Dixon’s moves perfectly and they were never at the expense of the stellar musicianship.

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There’s another band member seen far too infrequently and that’s Pete France on tenor saxophone.  The Scottish born France has the ability to coax lovely melodic ballads or raunchy groove numbers out of his elegant silver tenor.   I have caught him playing standards gigs but also tackling more challenging material.   I like the way he approaches tunes, never overly busy and often saying more with less.   It was nice to see him back at the CJC.   IMG_9676 - Version 2 IMG_9650 - Version 2

Once again drummer Stephen Thomas showed how valuable he is in a line up.  He gets plenty of top-level work these days and rightly so.  In recent years I’ve seen him excel in diverse situations ranging from gigs requiring sensitive brush work to firing up hardtop units.  For all that, I’ve not previously seen him in this context.  Scofield tunes have more twists and turns than a dangerous mountain road and he executed them to perfection.  Here he was locking down the beat as a groove drummer and adding that special something.  there was one non Scofield tune in the mix and that was the Booker T & the MG’s R & B classic ‘Green Onions’.  Thomas pounded this out like a born again rock god while freeing up the others to let loose (and they surely did).   Take my word for it the tune never sounded so good.  IMG_9637 - Version 2

The remaining band member was Junior Turua on electric bass.  Turua is always at the heart of the music and totally in the pocket; able to punch out mesmerising grooves, tasteful licks and solos.  It may be a cliche but this band is greater than the sum of its parts.  I stated earlier that I’d seen Scofield live, but in honesty I enjoyed this band just as much.

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The tunes traversed Scofields recording career with perennial favourites like ‘A go go’ and ‘Chank’ alternating with lessor know compositions like ‘Let the Cat Out’.  All of the musicians took delight in what the others were doing and their acute interaction amplified the intensity of the music.  As marvellous as the band was you can take nothing away from Dixon Nacey, whose virtuosity shines like a beacon.

The band do an Auckland University gig on the 10th March and I will certainly be there for that.  Hopefully it will be recorded by someone.

What: Dixon Nacey ‘Lets Sco’ Project – Dixon Nacey (guitar, leader), Grant Winterburn (Nord C1 Hammond B3), Pete France (tenor sax), Junior Turua (electric bass), Stephen Thomas (drums).

Where: The CJC (Progressive Jazz Club) 1885 Britomart Auckland.  26th Feb 2014.

Jonathan Crayford @ CJC

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Jonathan Crayford has long intrigued me as a musician so I make a point of catching him when the situation presents itself.  He’s an artist embedded so deeply within his music that his persona reflects in those terms.  It’s as if he were the embodiment of sonic shapes and forms.

I have seen him perform on a number occasions but there’s no second guessing what will materialise on any given night.  His experiences in music lead him in many directions and all of them interesting.  While some describe him as genre busting, I think the descriptor is overly simplistic.  I have heard him perform a killing version of, “I Pity the Poor Immigrant” (Bob Dylan).  Yes, he appropriates the sounds about him and often performs with artists from outside of the Jazz spectrum, but at heart he’s an improvising musician.  No matter what notes he plays you can feel the integrity; the perpetual questioning of a deep level interpreter.  IMG_9576 - Version 2

For the CJC gig he showcased a folder of new tunes; the charts interpreted by a six piece band that he had assembled for the gig.  As he explained, “this band is work shopping some new ideas which I will record later in Europe”.  The numbers were all in extended form, giving the musicians space to develop the themes and ideas.   Many of the tunes began and ended with a percussive vamp and as a groove established the horns congas, bass and drums swelled the sound.   The textures and complex layers of sound created an implied centre over which the soloists improvised.  Watching over this was the leader, a benevolent presence who knew just when exhort, when to extend or curtail a solo and when to pull the explorations back to the head.  The tune titles where intriguing also; ‘Groove 21’, ‘Strange Tune’ and others which told a more cerebral story.

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‘Bruno’s Dream’ in particular piqued my interest.  Jonathan Crayford has worked extensively on film scores and his association with the actor/musician Bruno Lawrence gives us the context for this piece.  After Bruno’s passing Jonathan dreamed this tune, a kaleidoscope of images as imagined through Bruno’s eyes.  This is wonderful expansive music and the band entered into the spirit of it.  As with all dreams the evolving and often surreal story has several parts.  In this piece we saw the best of Crayford’s keyboard artistry and writing skills.  There were solid solo performances by Kim Patterson on valve trombone and Finn Scholes on trumpet.  Kim Patterson is the elder statesman here, having recorded over his long career with most of the luminaries of New Zealand Jazz.    The last section of the tune, an intense modal sequence was a gift to Scholes, who grabbed the opportunity with glee mining it convincingly for all it’s worth (echoes of ‘Teo’).  IMG_9494 - Version 2

Early in the second set a brief change in pace occurred, when we heard a duet between Crayford and Patterson.  They performed the only standard of the evening, the gorgeous ‘Old Folks’ (Robison).  It lived up to its heart-string tugging potential.  At the end satisfied sighs were heard from the audience.  Piano and valve trombone work extremely well together and I was briefly minded of the duet recordings between Bob Brookmeyer and others.  IMG_9584 - Version 2

Having both traps drums and congas was integral to the sound as they added heft and edge.   On traps was Julien Dyne, an energetic and multi faceted drummer who has worked previously with Jonathan Crayford ( ‘Pins & Digits’ – Dyne’s album).   On congas (and facing the band) was Miguel Fuentes, a highly experienced percussionist who never flagged during the long and energised grooves.  The remaining band member was Chip Matthews on electric bass.  His presence was integral to the mix and he managed to provide  both an anchor and groove lines without crowding out the others.  The sound scape was dense at times and intentionally so, but the overall momentum was never lost.   With Jonathan Crayford at the helm this is hardly surprising.

The other departure from the format occurred when Jonathan invited Miles Crayford to sit in for a number.   Miles a pianist and keyboardist also, came to wider attention when he participated in Reuben Bradley’s award-winning ‘Resonator’ album.

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If you ask Jonathan Crayford where he lives now you will get vague answers.  He lives where the current project is happening and where the music is.   For the next two month’s he’ll be gigging around New Zealand and then returning to New York to mix and master his next album (with the well-known New York bassist Ben Street and drummer Dan Weiss).  The album is intriguingly named ‘Dark Light’.  Crayford tells me that he wrote the music during a long winter sojourn in London, where the seemingly endless days of low light are commonplace.  Having lived in London I understand this focus with radiating light.  The interplay and intensity of light occupies your thoughts there as it never does in sunnier climes.

If you Google this artist you’ll notice that he’s recorded as ‘currently living’ in Spain or Paris; throw in London and New York and the picture becomes a little clearer.   This is a musician chasing the music and living in the moment.  In Spain he records two solo albums, in New York trios and a sextet and then on to new projects in other cities.   We gladly claim him as an expat Kiwi but in reality he’s a citizen of the world.

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Who: Jonathan Crayford (piano, keyboards, compositions, leader), Kim Patterson (valve trombone, percussion), Finn Scholes (trumpet), Miguel Fuentes (percussion), Chip Matthews (electric bass), Julien Dyne (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland.  19th February 2014

Jonathan Crayford albums (and streamed samples) are available from his website, Rattle or iTunes –  jocray.com

New Year 2014 – the fabric of creativity

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For many, music is a distant and pleasant soundtrack which augments their moments of relaxation.   Something to wallpaper the background while they chatter over a few drinks.  I am wired differently because my normal talkativeness ceases when even a faint echo of good music is heard; an off switch is flicked.  This pied piper effect has characterised my life and often made me late for appointments.  What is it that makes music so compelling to some and not to others and why is improvised music beguiling to those with that special antennae?

My earliest memory of Jazz is of a Louis Armstrong film.  I was a primary schooler and I made my long-suffering mother take me back twice.  Louis fascinated me in ways my relatives couldn’t quite fathom but they indulged me with an EP or two.  Ours was a classical music household.  Three years later I was walking down a street near my home when I heard a trumpet playing.   I could see the musician’s outline in the upstairs window as he played, weaving deftly around what I later learned was a Coleman Hawkins solo.  I stopped in the street, delighted and open-mouthed.   I have no idea how long I stood on the pavement gawking, but I vaguely recall being led inside and offered cocoa by the trumpeters mother.   The trumpeter and his mother were Polish refugees and they made me feel very welcome.  In the months that followed I called often and absorbed Miles, Lester Young, Dave Brubeck, Sweets Edison, Art Peper, Hampton Hawes, Billie Holiday, Basie, Ellington and more.  By the time I had connected with the groove-organ trios of Gene Ammons I was damned.  I would bunk off school and play Gene Ammons or Miles all day long, dancing about like a deranged fool.  The devils music had me by the throat.

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Half a century on the same music gods and their siren songs still exert power over me.  Enough to lure me to Australia at very short notice.  I had picked up some gossip from Australian musician friends, that my friend Roger Manins was doing a gig with Mike Nock, James Muller, Cameron Undy and Dave Goodman at the 505.  I have family in Sydney and so it was a no brainer.  Family, grandchildren and Jazz, perfect.   When I told Roger that I would be flying over for the gig he invited me to his ‘Hip Flask’ recording session at the famous 301 Studios in Alexandria.  I love recording studios and to hear a top rated unit like this recording in a famous studio was too good an opportunity to miss.  I applied for extra leave and altered my flight schedule to accommodate the extra day in the 301.  IMG_8963 - Version 2

The timing rested on a knife-edge as I had a gig to attend just hours before my flight to Australia.   I made the check-out with 4 minutes to spare.  The flight over on Virgin was abysmal.  I had a headache from lack of sleep and it was like being stuffed into a rubbish tin surrounded by bored, rude flight attendants who acted as if they were in a BBC spoof.  An Australian musician later commented that Virgin felt to him like it was piloted by overtired children.  IMG_9011 - Version 2

After clearing customs, I poured myself into a taxi and headed directly for the 301.  The industrial exterior gave little indication that I was standing outside an important recording studio.  The one where EST recorded their final album.  They buzzed me in and after navigating a series of corridors I pushed open a heavily padded door to find myself in an icy cool low-lit room with two technicians, a two-man film crew and the five cats from ‘Hip Flask’.   They were sitting around the mixing desk drinking coffee and listening over and over to the intro of a tune.  It sounded great.  This is what I had come for.  To capture the very act of creation.

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It is a special privilege to follow a creative process through from inception and I felt like a kid in a candy store.  This is exactly where I wanted to be and I soaked it up greedily.   My headache had vanished at the first note.  As the morning progressed the band would troop in and out of the studio.  Trying material, listening to it and repeating it if any one member expressed dissatisfaction.  Roger outlined his vision and set the tone, but after that he allowed a form of guided democracy to exist.  If they strayed from his vision he would talk them back round.

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The sessions in the control room were all smiles and banter but a sense of purpose always ran through the proceedings like an unbreakable thread.  When they reached agreement they would return to the studio and assume their positions, baffled up and miked to such an extent that the bass drums and piano were barely visible above the wires, cover sheets and portable booths.  The band has an unusual configuration for a funk unit, being tenor Saxophone, Hammond B3, grand piano, drums and bass.  The saxophone, bass, piano and B3 were in the studio while the drums and the Leslie unit were both in isolation booths.   The studio space was big enough to accommodate an orchestra, but this quintet was squeezed into a corner and each baffled from the other in some way.

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The quintet had recorded together before and even though their last recording was in 2007, their essence had survived intact.  As the session progressed I learnt a new word, ‘shoint’.  Roger and the organist Stu Hunter used it often and they would proclaim a satisfactory cut as being ‘Shointy’ or they would listen to the playbacks to see if they had ‘shoint’.   As far as I can ascertain the term describes a deep dirty groove that hits the musical ‘g’ spot.   While it is accurate to describe the recording as Jazz Funk, it is more than that.   The unusual pairing of two keyboards, the intuitive interaction and the quality of the musicianship gifted them with limitless options to draw upon.   Over all of this Roger Manins presided like an old time preacher, communicating with gestures, earthy licks on his Conn, diagrams and pithy Rogeresk phrases.  IMG_8969

The most interesting moments came towards the end of the session when Roger produced a chart for ‘circles and clouds’.  The chart contained a few bars of musical phrases and then a series of symbols.  The ideas conveyed were beyond normal logic.  On most of the staves clouds were drawn and although these pieces were essentially free, there was a clear purpose underpinning them.  Roger had the concept firmly in his sights as he talked them through the vision or let the ideas develop in the studio until the concept was realised.  Stu Hunter would play a compellingly dissonant chord and then Adam Ponting and the others would grab a hold of what was unfolding and produce kaleidoscopic shapes, moving and shifting together like interchangeable chameleons.  When the idea was realised Roger would take them back into the control room and expand on what had gone before.  Roger, “OK you are clouds, circling a vast ocean.  Now if you look down you will see dolphins swimming and playing”.  One or other of the band then asked if there was a shoal of bait fish swimming near by.   The concepts developed and then they would repeat the process until a number of amazing miniatures were cut.  This filigree of beguiling patterns had been conjured up in that very hour.  Realised without an over reliance on written notation or oral language.  This was improvisation in its most profound form and I was lucky enough to hear and experience it.

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My earlier question as to why some people fall deep within the web of music, while others let it wash over them unaffected, is not answered here.  This listener will never lose the magic and following bands like this guarantees that.  I am impatient to see what cuts survive and what is locked way in a vault.  When the album comes out and I can hardly wait, I will have heard more than most.  Every squeak, false start and profound moment is locked in my memory.  John Zorn said, “all sound is valid”.  I heard and witnessed an intensely creative process and I feel very lucky.

Who: ‘Hip Flask’ Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Stu Hunter (Hammond B3), Adam Ponting (piano), Brendon Clarke (bass), Toby Hall (drums)

Where: Recording Session at 505 Studios, Sydney Australia.

This post is dedicated to Roger Manins my choice of best NZ artist for 2013.  Roger is not only deeply authentic and amazingly creative, but equally important he shares his vision and enables others to follow.

Alan Brown trio + 1@ CJC Oct 2013

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Alan Brown is such a gifted musician that we always expect something special from his club gigs.   The October gig not only lived up to expectations but found something extra to offer us.  Alan is always on safe ground with Dixon Nacey on guitar and Josh Sorenson on drums, as these musicians don’t need any warm up.  They have played together so often that their understanding of what is required is intuitive.  Deep energised mesmerising grooves are quickly established and maintained.  As we progressed through the first number, the warm grooves took us somewhere else.  Transported on mass to a place where winter became a distant memory.

 A state of grace, suspended somewhere between reality and a multi hued dream state.  This is a place where the familiar is transformed into the extraordinary and we felt incredibly happy about that.

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As I watched the interplay between these three I could not help wondering how that felt.  How it felt making that music, in that way and with that much soul.  The looks on their faces gave me the answer.  They also knew that this was one out of the bag and that some special chemistry was happening.   The Alan Brown trio were on fire and we were not just witnesses but integral to the performance.  There was a shared collective energy and we were each and every one of us connected in a web of pure creation.

I have written a lot about Alan over the last two years and he deserves every accolade thrown his way.   If this sounds like hyperbole I will quickly argue otherwise.  He consistently delivers performances and compositions that grab the attention and on nights like this he finds something extra.  The audiences from the High Street days have never forgotten ‘Blue Train’ and the fact that Alan keeps the crowds coming; still creating new audiences, speaks volumes.   This is not about reliving the glory days, but about bringing fresh and exciting perspectives to an ever unfolding musical output.

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Dixon Nacey is another musician who always pleases.   When ever I see that beautiful Godin guitar I know that something extraordinary could happen and this was just such a night.  Dixon is a musician who can communicate as much by his body language as by his soaring inventive solos.  You know how deeply he observes and engages because the evidence is in his face and at his fingertips.  When exchanges are being traded with drummer or keyboards, his expressions mirror the intensity.   When the solo or the interplay really works well, a huge smile lights up the bandstand.   That smile and those magical voicings tell us so much about the man and his music.

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The remaining trio member is Josh Sorenson and I have heard him on two or three previous occasions.  Josh has specialised in groove drumming and he is exceptionally good at it.  This is a specialist skill as there are a million deceptive subtleties built into it when done well.   I spoke to Josh at some length about this and what he told me was illuminating.  It is very hard work and although it sometimes appears straightforward it is not.  I gathered the impression that a night of holding such tight grooves together is more exhausting than bebop or rock drumming.  The concentration required to move around the kit while holding a tight multi faceted beat together is tremendous.  It is not just the concentration required, but the ability to sink into a beat in an almost trance like fashion.

Towards the end of the final number Josh launched into a drum solo and what unfolded was almost supernatural.  As he moved all over the kit, the deep-groove pulse never wavered by a fraction.  I have never seen this done before and I found it incredibly impressive.   That solo and in fact the whole number ‘Inciteful’ (had the audience on their feet, whooping and shouting with enthusiasm).  Sadly I had run out of video tape by then, but I did capture some of the magic.  IMG_8550 - Version 2

Part way through the gig we had another treat in store when the soulful Jazz Singer Chris Melville came to the band stand.  I like male Jazz singers and I worry that their numbers are so few.  Chris has a terrific voice and he tackled the old Juan Tizol standard  ‘Caravan’ in a mature and engaging way.   I enjoy listening to his interpretations and to the timbre of his voice, but noticed that it had a tendency to become a little lost in the acoustics of the room.  Some small adjustments to the sound levels would remedy that.   As the extraordinary Mark Murphy steps back and the fabulous velvety baritone Andy Bey performs less, there are other male singers coming forward like Jose James, Kurt Elling and Gregory Porter.  It is a tradition worth keeping and I  hope that we see continue to see singers like Chris keeping the faith.

We heard old favourites like ‘Shades of Blue’, some new material and even a rock classic from Led Zeppelin ‘No Quarter’.   ‘Charlie’s Here’ cast a warm bluesy aura over the room and I have put that up as a video link.   The kicker however was definitely ‘Inciteful’.  It was an amazing rendition packed with high-octane solos, clever ideas and groove so deep that even speleologists could never hope to explore it.

The organ was a Hammond SK2 which is not Alan’s usual keyboard.   Coupled to a Leslie Unit and the resulting sound was perfect.   This lighter modern offshoot of the C3/B3 certainly earned its stripes on this night.  It was just right for the room.

Who: Alan Brown (SK2 Hammond organ), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Josh Sorenson (drums).

Where: The (CJC) Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885 building, Auckland 16th October 2013

Michel Benebig ‘Yellow Purple’ review

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When Michel Benebig played at the CJC late last year I learned about his coming tour of the West Coast of America.  Because I was going to San Francisco over January I arranged to meet him there, as I knew that he and Shem would have a new band on the road.   We kept in touch over the weeks that followed and he was getting a very good reception as he toured around.  It confirmed what I was reading; that B3 (with drums and guitar) bands are genuinely popular again.  This regained popularity is great news for Jazz audiences as the B3 line up is one of most audience pleasing and accessible in Jazz.  This comeback has not occurred by accident but it is due to the gifted players who are now emerging on the scene.  Michel Benebig is surely one of these and his name often crops up in the same breath as titans like Dr Lonnie Smith.  IMG_4556 - Version 2

I was staying in Bush Street which is in the ‘Lower Nobs Hill’ area of Frisco; just above Union Square.  When I got an update of Michel and Shem’s itinerary, it surprised me to see that one of his gigs was in that very street and so my son and I duly headed off there on the appointed night.  By ingrained habit we skirted the ‘Tenderloin’ and descended toward Hayes Valley.  A wisp of escaping sound told us that we had arrived and we entered a nicely appointed modern building, wedged in between two deco ones.  Leaving the temperate San Francisco winters night we wound down into the basement.  The warm sound of the B3, groove guitar and drums washing away any vestige of the night air.  My sons eyes lit up.  “Wow” he said.  “This sounds great” and it surely did.  This was the new band I had been keen to hear.

That particular band is almost the same as on the recent ‘Yellow Purple’ album (with the exception of the drummer Akira Tana).  Akira Tana is well-known around San Francisco where he had just recorded his big band album, followed by a gig at Yoshi’s.   With Michel on B3 (and such a beautiful machine it was to) and Shem on vocals they couldn’t go wrong.

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On guitar they had Carl Lockett who is an ideal groove merchant.   It was immediately obvious that his blues filled licks blended well with Michel’s and that indicated a great night was before us.  Carl Lockett has been a favourite with groove musicians for years having toured with Joey defrancesco, Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff and Randy Crawford to name but a few.   With more than 15 recordings under his belt he was the right choice for this gig and for the ‘Yellow Purple’ album.  The album does not feature Akira Tana but instead the respected West Coast drummer James Levi appears.   He lays down a tight insistent groove and swings in ways that only truly experienced groove drummers can.   When you listen to the album you will notice how these guys listen to each other: in fact it’s hard to believe that the band hasn’t been together for years.  IMG_3289 - Version 2

Shem gave her usual polished performance whether delivering the Bessie Smith’s slow burner ‘It Won’t be You’ or the more uptempo ‘Keep it to Yourself’ by Sonny Boy Williamson.  She only features in two numbers on the album, but at the gig she sang many of her own compositions.   Shem is an engaging performer and especially when singing in her native French tongue.

All of the other compositions on ‘Yellow Purple’ are Michel’s and these are as much a strength as his killing organ work.   He is absolutely astonishing on B3 and to hear him is to be instantly transported back to the days of Jimmy McGriff or Brother Jack Macduff.   His ability to work those pedals, milk the grooves and swing so hard that it makes your head swim, marks him out as a true master.   The tracks ‘Yellow Purple’ and ‘Sunlight Special’ are especially strong.

New Caledonia can rightly feel proud of Michel.  He is reaching wider audiences every day and one day the South Pacific could lose him to the USA.  Grab a piece of this master musician now and be sure to buy this and any other of his albums as they become available (see below).   Anyone in Wellington early next month can see him in person so watch for the gigs announcements or contact Nick Granville.

What: ‘Yellow Purple’ – Michele Benebig (B3), Shem Benebig (vocals), Carl Lockett (guitar), James Levi (drums, percussion).

Where to buy: www.michelbenebig.com

Dream Weaver – Murray McNabb 1947 – 2013

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Murray McNabb left us on the 9th June 2013, just missing his scheduled gig at the Auckland Jazz & Blues Club.  His keyboards may have fallen silent but not so the band who played on out of respect. Mike Walker an old friend, was approached by Murray just days before he died, to stand in if he didn’t make the gig.  The gig may have invoked a plethora of memories and been tinged with sadness, but it was clear that Murray would live on through his musical legacy.  This was a musician who fearlessly patrolled the outer reaches of the sonic universe and I like to think that his ‘Astral Surfers’ album will be poured over by intergalactic cosmonaut’s as they look for clues or perhaps navigation hints from ‘Ancient Flight Texts’.

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I was at Mt Albert Grammar at the same time as Murray and Frank Gibson, but they were more than a year ahead of me and both were prefects.  I was deeply into Jazz as a school boy and I knew that they were as well, but the gap between a fifth and a seventh former is sadly too far to bridge.  Fifth formers just didn’t hang with prefects and I regret that now.   I have followed Murray’s (and Franks’s) career ever since.

Murray McNabb was at the heart of the Auckland Jazz Scene and everyone respected his prodigious musical output.  The key to his music lies with the man, as music made him happy and improvised music even more so.  He was a man perpetually on the edge of a great adventure, navigating only by his innate sense of groove and an inner vision of the boundless vista’s that lay ahead.  Like Mike Nock he never settled for the ordinary, always pushing hard against the boundaries.   As much as I like his straight ahead records such as the lovely ‘Song for the Dream Weaver’, it is to his ‘out’ offerings that I return to again and again.

A largely self-taught keyboardist, he continued to explore the possibilities of Synths (and his beloved Fender Rhodes) during a period when others weren’t so keen.  In many ways improvised music has now come full cycle, as a younger generation continue the explorations, aided by clever machines and astonishing pedals.  Murray can take much credit for enabling a younger generation of local musicians to pick up on that.  His collaborations with Gianmarco Liguori in particular come to mind.  I regard ‘Ancient Flight Text’, a Liguori directed collaboration between him, Murray and Kim Paterson as a masterpiece.   If released by ECM, wide acclaim would follow.

Murray is known to all New Zealanders whether they realise it or not, as his collaborations with Murray Grindly produced film scores (e.g. Once were Warriors, Greenstone) and countless well-known TV adverts.  He never spoke ill of this work as it allowed him to simultaneously pursue his Jazz career.

The gig at the Auckland Jazz & Blues club was part wake (as old friends came up one by one to perform or to read eulogies) and part concert.   In my view it was Murray’s closest collaborators who stole the show and spoke for him best.  Frank Gibson Jr (drums), Kim Paterson (valve trombone), Neil Watson (guitar),  Denny Boreham (bass) and Stephen Morton-Jones (sax).   In Murray’s place was Mike Walker on piano.  During the second set the band played a Jazz fusion number composed by Murray years earlier.   Frank Gibson started the pulse with an insistent clipped beat similar to that used in Pharaohs Dance (Bitches Brew).  One-two, one-two, one-two, one-two.  The others moved in and out of the mix, weaving short phrases around the beat and creating layers of haunting sound.  No complex melody, harmonies that shimmered, as illusive as a mirage.  Out of this tribute I formed the strongest view of Murray’s output.  He seldom relied upon complex changes to achieve his ends.  Many of his compositions had no bridge or recognisable head.  He could say more by improvising against a drone or by working a simple vamp than almost anyone else on the scene.

Kim Paterson - Stephen Morton-Jones

Kim Paterson – Stephen Morton-Jones

Murray was a joyful explorer and he worked best when there was little chance of rescue.   His music was wonderful and he took that last step as bravely as he embarked upon all of his journeys.

For his recordings contact: www.sarangbang.co.nz

Blue Train – 2013

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I suspect that Blue Train has a following way beyond the traditional Jazz audiences and I can understand why.  Their hard-driving funk laden grooves are impossible to resist and so people tend to flock to any Blue Train gig.   Their audience occupies a broad age spectrum.  Blue Train mostly plays music that you can dance to and just occasionally the set list includes some Jazz space funk.   I’m a huge fan of this type of tripped out Jazz fusion, so if you like this sub-genre then find yourself some Blue Train recordings.  There is of course much more to Blue Train than Funk Fusion and their Jazz chops show in everything that they do.   Only highly competent Jazz musicians can play like this and only talented experienced musicians can write the material Alan does.   This band is an Auckland cultural institution, they are jaw droppingly good and that’s why people love them.  The Blue Train gigs are rare these days, as the band members all have other projects on the go.  Any whisper of gigs should put an urgent blip across your radar.   Tip: they will be at the Waiheke Jazz Festival this year – be there.

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The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) filled to capacity on the night and they soon stood three deep at the bar.   Blue Train was here again – the word had travelled.

Post millennium Jazz is a broad church and the younger audiences (and a few older ones like me) find this exciting.  Blue Train has been around for more than 20 years and in spite of a few attempts to pension the band off, the fans just wont let it die.  As a part of New Zealand’s improvised music heritage it deserves our ongoing support and respect.   Don’t for a minute expect a mere cover band recycling the glory days.  Blue Train are wisely resistant of resting on their laurels and after the ‘head’ of a tune they unravel the material in new and interesting ways.   They play older material and new.  Alan Brown’s compositions just keep on coming and they get better and better.   He is a seasoned performer and his keyboard skills will always astound.  As you listen you will  hear new ideas being tried and old ideas being turned on their head.  He is widely acknowledged as a great keyboardist but his piano skills are also considerable.  This was very evident on the 6th of March 2013.

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It was obvious that the band were thoroughly enjoying themselves and they stretched out as the tunes unfolded.  The CJC gig edged closer to its Jazz roots than would have been the case at Deschlers in the 90’s.  Those in the line up were mostly veteran band members, but there were some newer additions.   Dixon Nacey on guitar has played with Alan for years and he has previously appeared in Blue Train line ups.  He does not however go back as far as Jason Orme (drums) or Steve Sherriff (tenor and soprano saxophones).   The newer band member is Karika Turua (electric bass).

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Having Dixon Nacey in any band is always a treat and I always watch as his eyes fix on the other musicians – exhorting them to challenge him.  He listens carefully to what is unfolding and is always ready to back someone up or to step out with new ideas.   This is invariably done with a mile-wide grin and the looks of delight when he and Alan lock into an exchange is priceless.  As on his three previous gigs, he had his gorgeous Godin Guitar with him and once again I will confirm that this is a match made in heaven.

Many of the Blue Train musicians have contributed compositions over time and Steve Sherriff deserves special mention there.  He is well rounded horn player who can fit seamlessly into many situations (big band, straight ahead Jazz or funk).   His tenor and soprano work were especially captivating on this gig and when he and Dixon played unison lines it was hard to believe that there was not an additional horn in the line up.  Before the gig I ran into my niece and told her that it was nice to see her in the club.  She then told me that a former teacher of hers was in the band.   Who’s that I asked. “Mr Sherriff” she said.   When I saw her later she summed up her impression  “Wow who knew he played like that”.    He does.

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Jason Orme worked the grooves with finesse and enthusiasm and he knew how to play to the room.   The same applies to Karika Turua who dug into serious grooves that echoed in your mind for days afterwards.

The sound levels were just right for the club and this is where the bands experience played a part . Some younger (and a few older musicians) forget to adjust their volume to the room and the CJC is lively; especially if the drums and bass are overly loud.  Being professionals – Alan and Ben McNicoll (CJC sound and IT) got the job done properly.  IMG_6332

What and Who: ‘Blue Train’ – Alan Brown (keys), Steve Sherriff (saxes), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Karika Turua (electric bass), Jason Orme (drums).

When: Wednesday 6th March 2013

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club) – basement of the 1885 building Brittomart

Alan Brown@CJC (KMC Live launch)- C3 organ/guitar/drums

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When ever Alan Brown brings a band to the CJC, the club fills to capacity.  Alan is well-known, deeply respected and he swings like crazy.  The ‘KMC Live’ release was always going to be a significant musical occasion, but on this night the sparks of inspiration flew between the band members and we witnessed something transcendent .  This was an incendiary gig that lifted our spirits; causing us to tap our feet uncontrollably and for some, to dance with abandon in the flickering shadows.   Alan had arrived earlier in the day, because dragging a heavy C3 organ down into a basement presented challenges.   The patience of Job and the strength of Hercules are required.  These wonderful organs with their bass pedals, wood-paneled console and double keyboard have probably caused preachers to swear when moving then.   It would not surprise me if some elected to rebuild the church round the organ rather than drag it up front.  It is our gain entirely that Alan achieved the translocation.   Hearing the wonderful bluesy phrases flow effortlessly from his fingers as they flew over the keyboards and seeing his feet pedaling out compelling bass lines was a rare treat.

Josh Sorenson

Dixon Nacey is without a shadow of doubt one of the best guitarists in New Zealand and it is a joy to watch him solo and interact with the other musicians.  During solos he will often close his eyes while weighing up the next step and his facial expressions reveal his commitment to the process as he dives ever deeper into the tune.  It is also a revelation to watch him in call and response situations.    When he and Alan are batting each other ideas, this often turns into good-natured un-armed combat.    Dixon watches intently while waiting for a challenge.  Occasionally calling to the others as if to say, “do your worst”.  When a musical phrase is tossed into the air he will smile gleefully and pounce on it, turning it about until it is fashioned into a thing of his own.  Josh Sorenson proved to be the perfect groove drummer as he locked down the beat and pulled the unit together.    This type of drumming requires specialist skills and Josh most certainly possesses these.

Tonight was the launch of Alan’s album ‘Live at the KMC’.   This was recorded at the Kenneth Meyers Centre back in September 2010 and choice of venue was fortuitous.    The venue is of historic importance as it has nurtured radio and TV in its infancy.    It is now part of the Auckland University School of Music (Creative Arts Section).  An acoustic gem.  Alan had recorded this gig thinking only that it could prove useful as a private resource.   One listen convinced him that he needed to release the material at some future date.

The set list at the CJC gig (and on the album) was a mix of Alan’s original tunes with three standards thrown in.   The standards  were ‘Maiden Voyage‘(Herbie Hancock) and ‘All Blues‘ (Miles Davis) and ‘Chank’ (John Scofield) – all arranged by Alan.   The rest of Alan’s compositions were; ‘Mr Raven’ (from the Blue Train days), ‘Charlie’s Here’, ‘Shades of Blue’, ‘In Fluence’, ‘Slight Return’, ‘Inciteful’.    ‘Shades of Blue’ was the best known of the originals while Alan’s interpretation of ‘Maiden Voyage’ was delightfully brooding and moody.  It was a nice take on this well-loved tune.  If I had to choose which of the tunes I liked best however I would probably say ‘Inciteful’.   This was played in extended form and it teased every ounce of inventiveness and musicianship out of the band.

On this night the stream of ideas kept coming, as fresh musical vistas were revealed.   Each one holding us in suspense until the next gem appeared.  This was organ/guitar/drum music at its best; intelligent, highly charged and full of joyous abandon.  A groove jazz trio of the sort you might find in East Philly or Montreal had been formed on our own doorstep.  This gig took place at the Creative Jazz Club (CJC) in Auckland New Zealand on the 18th April 2012

Dixon Nacey

Michel Benebig: soul on Pacific soul

Noumea resident Michel Benebig is a mavin of the B3 and its compact love-child the Nord C2. He is the sort of musician that sets the world to rights and sets your feet tapping.

He is a story-teller on the B3 organ (C2) and through his fingers flows the history of this wonderful instrument. The chords that he uses are rich and warm and capture the instruments journey from the African-American southern church’s to the Jazz heartland. While his voicings contain hints of the greats that he references like Brother Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff and Jimmy Smith; Michel is comfortably settled in his own style. He speaks with the unmistakable authority of a South Pacific Soul-Jazz master and it reinforces the view that Pacific Islands like New Caledonia and New Zealand have unique contributions to make to this music.

Michel was accompanied on tour by Shem Benebig (his wife) and the French drummer Johan Cazalas. Shem is a fabulous singer and she knows how to enhance the mood by a lowered tone, a hand gesture and a quick smile. When others were soloing she would stand a little to one side and dance; her movements contained more than a hint of the sensuous Kanak rhythms. Shem guided the proceedings with the consummate skill of a professional; holding the attention or directing it to the other musicians as required. No audience is ever going to be disappointed when this husband and wife team are performing. Johan was an observant and tasteful drummer. He would watch during a solo and lift the performance exactly when it was required. Never over-crowding the others and always supportive.

The band had a Kiwi horn section to assist them and if I heard correctly these guys had not seen the charts until a few hours before the performance. If that is true they did doubly well. The horns provided added heft to an already powerhouse sound and in doing so followed the best traditions of the Soul-Jazz genre. Ben McNicoll (Baritone sax), Chris Neilson (trumpet, flugal horn, alto sax), Jimmy Garden (tenor sax). The tight ensemble playing and a particularly lovely baritone solo by Ben earned them good applause.

The first set had begun with a tune called ‘Mr Jim‘. One full-throated blast from the organ and we were immediately locked into a warm soul-Jazz groove that never abated. As the night progressed we heard slow burners and heart stopping up tempo tunes. My favourite was a tribute to Jack McDuff titled ‘Captain Jack‘. This was not only a fitting tribute to the long departed B3 master, but an up-to-date comment on the Pacifica Jazz renaissance. Another tune Papillon about a tiny butterfly was a perfect vehicle for Shem and it tapped right into the ‘rythmes Kaneka‘. Michel could move from a quiet soulful chord to a stuttering tidal wave of sound in an eye blink and that is partly because of his chops and because of the unique qualities of this instrument.  An organist has to control many things at the same time but he is particularly required to control the following; Swell pedal, bass pedals and the two keyboards. When you consider what improvisers must do mentally and add in the above, this becomes a truly impressive feat.

I spoke to Michel at length during the break, and at the house-party a few days later. He is in the mould of great Jazz Musicians everywhere. Self effacing and engaging as a conversationalist. Full of wonderful stories about Joey DeFrancesco, Jimmy McGriff, Tony Monaco, Lewis Nash and others. As we talked I mentioned my liking for the great French B3 player great Eddy Louiss. “Oh yes Eddy Louiss is a monster” he said dropping his voice to a reverential whisper. “I met him in France a few years ago and it made my knees weak just to be in his presence”. I suspect that many up-and-coming B3 players will find meeting Michel has the same effect on them.

When music like this is playing it is good to be alive.

The New Fuse Box – The Wakem/Nielson Project

The Wakem/Nielson Project

When I received this CD in the post I knew very little about ‘The new Fuse Box‘ as I had only seen a few mentions of them online.     Happily I will never be in that state of ignorance again.     While this may not be your typical Jazz offering it is never-the-less highly enjoyable and as the Jazz scene in Auckland matures we are learning to appreciate a diversity of soundscapes.     This is not quite the raw and highly energised music of a live band but it is enjoyable, well arranged and beautifully articulated.   The music has a depth that may elude the listener at first play, but listen again and it will get under your skin and stay there.

This is essentially Kiwi music (Auckland music), and a sense of space and sunlight pervades the album.   Over the years I have come to recognise that there is a certain discernible quality when Jazz has developed in remote-from-the-centre locations; this sense of place exists in juxtaposition to the usual traditional aspects.    Scandinavian,  French, Italian, Sardinian, Spanish and German Jazz all have a unique something that would not have arisen had the music been made in America.   New Zealand Jazz is now claiming its own space.

There are fifteen tracks on the album and they skillfully mine a number of vibes.   There are funk infused tracks and soulfully slow tracks but they all seem to work as part of a cohesive whole.   Above all this music does not take itself too seriously as there is musical humour as well.   While I have many favourite tracks I simply cannot resist the intentionally over-the-top and utterly delightful ‘Bossa Tossa‘.     This track will put a big smile on your face.   There is also a filmic quality to this material and the best of Jazz movie-score writing is conjured up here.

All of the material has been composed and arranged by Lindsay Wakem (horns arranged by Chris Nielson).   Lindsay is terrific on piano and keyboards and I hope that he will give us longer solos on future releases as the piano is often back in the mix.   His piano playing has a crispness and clarity to it and I am keen to hear more.   ‘The New Fuse Box‘ is a multi- talented band and Chris Nielson the co-leader needs a mention at this point.   When I looked at the credits and I saw, ‘horns- Chris Nielson’ I was puzzled.   I phoned Lindsay and asked him if there were uncredited horn players.   I quickly learned that Chris is not only the trumpet section but that he plays all of the saxophone parts as well.   The charts are gorgeous and the multi-tracking so seamless that it is a struggle to imagine him playing all of these parts.   The drummer, on all tracks except one, is the well known and much respected Jason Orme (Blue Train etc).  Jason can take on any task in Jazz drumming and he is a an asset here.  The bass player is Phil Scorgie.  He and Lindsay go back a long way.  Other artists appear on single tracks and they are guitarists, Dean Kerr & Frans Huysmans – Kody Nielson drums.

Jazz is a music which teaches us something of history and struggle, but more importantly it is a music founded in the desire for change.   It is not a museum piece and so it should always explore and challenge the world around it.   This album does that and I look forward to more from them.   The ACT and ECM labels (both German) have profiled this sort of jazz to great advantage.     There is a real market for this material and I hope to see more of it.

ACT’s Lars Dannielson, Blue Note’s Bob Beldon and ECM’s Mathias Eick have paved the way and our own bands should now be welcomed into this interesting space.   The album is self produced and so for a copy contact:  lgwakem@xtra.co.nz

Alan Brown-‘Between the Spaces’ – CJC

Alan Brown at Keyboards - CJC

If this was a law court I would have to recuse myself immediately because I have a heavy bias in favour of anything Alan Brown does musically. Having said that it was hard to imagine how this very different lineup would sound, because the ‘Blue Train‘ magic has long been etched into my brain as the archetypal groove unit.

Alan is a superb keyboardist and band leader but above all he is a brilliant arranger and composer. It is the latter skills that have especially come to the fore with this band and the title track ‘Between the Spaces‘ gives more than a hint of the musical direction. ‘Blue Train‘- has always been a tightly focused hard-driving Jazz funk band and one which makes your feet tap uncontrollably. This band builds on that vibe but with new soundscapes opening up, endless possibilities are there to be tapped. Alan’s already impeccable writing skills have been surpassed here, because these charts are everything that an improvising band could hope for. It is ECM meets Funk and surprisingly it works perfectly. In my view Ode Records should talk to ECM’s Manfred Eicher about this group, as everyone would gain by the exchange.

As this was the launch of the ‘Between the Spaces‘ album I had been determined to get to the club early because I knew that seats would be hard to find. I was right because the club filled to capacity before the band had played a note. As with previous Alan Brown gigs the ages of those attending ranged from 18 to 60 plus.

The opening number ‘Sounding Out‘ was a foretaste of the great music that we were to hear throughout the two hours. Over the course of the evening we heard all of the tracks on the album in extended form plus two additional numbers that had not made the final cut. I was fascinated by the textures, rhythms and the colour tones that the new lineup was evoking. As each number unfolded, tight insistent bass lines were being laid down by Marika Hodgson while Alan would often set up a vamp; his left hand authoritatively setting the tone and rhythmic feel. He has an uncanny knack for capturing the essence of a tune while leaving adequate space for the others to build upon it. His deep in the pocket funky chords worked perfectly against his darting upper register flurries.

A treat for me was guitarist Andy Smith. He used quite a few pedals and his tone was midpoint between the Jazz and Rock spectrum. This is a territory well mapped out in modern Jazz guitar and Andy executed the twists and turns without overdoing it. He reminded me of Terje Rypdal at times but his obvious virtuosic abilities were kept tastefully in check and he is to be commended for that. I was especially pleased by his occasional use of the ‘chika-woka’ wah-wah effect when comping against multi layered grooves. Jono Sawyer (d) is already well-known about town and his musicality and his ability to support the band on a cushion of insistent beats rounded off a perfect unit. This group understood very well that great music demands some space between the notes.

As good as this band was, it was the inclusion of the guest musicians that lifted them to perfection. Their addition to the sound pallet showcased the shear brilliance of Alan’s concept and the pieces on which the three-piece string section and well-known saxophonist and flutist Nathan Haines played, lifted the performance into the realm of the sublime.

I have two favourite tracks on the album: The first is the angular, and wonderfully funky “The Dancer & Chess”. This number has complex time signatures but it is so well constructed that an implied centre imparts a level of simplicity that belies the more complex polyrhythms whirling around the changes. This is performed by the core quartet and the counterpoint between band members works well.

The second highly recommended piece is ‘Epilogue’ which features Nathan Haines extraordinary flute work. He weaves in and out of the tunes with such skill, beauty and dexterity that I was left open-mouthed. As if this were not riches enough, the swell of the violins and cello added a perfect layer into the mix. The slightly tart voicings of the strings showed Alan to be a master of composition. He had understood perfectly what was needed and ensured that any hint of sirup was eradicated by using just enough discord. Thomas Botting also featured in two numbers and he fitted seamlessly into the mix. Having an upright bass did not detract in any way from the well established vibe.

Immediately after descending the stairs I had purchased the first copy of ‘Between the Spaces’ put out for sale and it has not been off my Hi Fi since getting it home. If you have any love of Jazz Funk buy this CD and if you don’t buy it anyway because someone you know will be happy to appropriate it.

The core band is: Alan Brown (piano, Keyboards, arr, comp). Andy Smith (electric guitar), Marika Hodgson (electric 5 string bass), Jono Sawyer (drums) – string section; Stella Kim (violin) Annika Balzat (violin) Sally Kim (cello). Guest appearances; Thomas Botting (bass), Nathan Haines (soprano saxophone , flute).

‘Blue Train’ – New Zealand’s funk warriors

‘Blue Train’ have been around for about twenty years and most Auckland Jazz lovers will be very familiar with them.   On Wednesday night they returned to the CJC by popular demand and as anticipated the club filled up quickly with an expectant crowd.    This band is everything you could hope for if you are looking for a get-down & dirty – groove Jazz funk outfit.    Not only did they play well, but they hardly needed a glance at their charts.    They had a world of tunes already in their heads and they locked into each others wave-length so quickly that a collective brain appeared to possess them when they played.   Not all of the band members had been with them from the beginning but the band still meshed into a tight working unit and from the first number the crowd knew that their expectations would be more than met.

They opened with an Alan Brown number ‘Lets Dress Up‘ and it hit a real sweet-spot – deep groove heaven fed by a Fender Rhodes sound, funk guitar, electric bass, tenor sax and drums.  This sound put a ten-mile wide smile on our faces and if anyone had wanted dark and tortuous they’d have had to look elsewhere.    This jazz is about kinetic energy and a mesmerizing groove, which makes listeners feel that they could dive right into the music and swim in the ocean of sound.   The club was alive with happy people giving cries of encouragement.      After a while some in the crowd started dancing and before long the majority were either dancing, swaying or tapping the beat out on their chair arms.  In the second set the flailing hands of a man flickered across my sight line creating a strobe effect in the soft club lighting.   I just love it that Jazz like this absolutely compels people to dance.

Alan Brown was clearly in charge of the unit and he would give an occasional glance to the soloists who needed no extra cues than that.     Andy played a few tracks on the club piano but would often switch to a small red electric keyboard mounted beside him: the latter holding a good bank of funk orientated sounds.   He would sometimes play both instruments at the same time.     With special guest Dixon Nacey on guitar this band was always going to hit the Jazz funk stratosphere, because this man is a monster on his red guitar and he can do the seemingly impossible without needing to think about the curve balls being thrown at him by Alan.

Steve Sherriff (soprano sax/ tenor sax) and Jason Orme (drums) are veterans of the group, but newer member Chip Mathews on bass did more than hold up his end. Chip is a skilled bassist and able to jump into any band I suspect.

Steve Sherriff is well-known about town and he can be seen working in a number of  Jazz styles.    While his tenor playing is always great, his soprano saxophone playing is free ranging and often ecstatic.    The band regularly hit fever pitch and the energy they floated on was ably abetted by Jason Orme’s high energy drumming.     Jason appeared to be using the locked in style made famous by Byron Landham and others; where he would enter into a powerful intense groove and then push the band as hard as he possibly could.    We just loved watching him.   This is as far from colourist drumming as it gets, but it is exactly the right style for a Jazz-funk unit like this.

I eagerly await their new album which is due out next month.   See this band whenever you get the opportunity and purchase their CD’s.   The ‘Parachute label’s ‘Blue Train’ album ‘No Free Lunch‘ can still be found and a more recent organ trio album ‘All about time‘ is quite readily available (Alan Brown ‘Hammond’, Dixon Nacey ‘guitar’, Josh Serenson ‘drums’) – ‘Ode Records‘.

‘Blue Train’ clips are hard to find on You Tube but I did locate their version of ‘Nasty McFly” – this track was simply riotous on Wednesday  – enjoy.

Pat Martino – deep in the music

Pat Martino

Image via Wikipedia

Not too many months ago my Partner & I saw Pat Martino in ‘Birdland‘ and were captivated by his deep-in-the-groove East Philly style.    There could hardly have been a better place to hear him, as this is one of New York’s best Jazz clubs and a friendly intimate space.

Like most out-of-towners we loitered awhile in Times Square before walking the short block to ‘Birdland’.   I could hardly believe my luck at being able to see Pat in such a setting as I had become a fan some years earlier; having developed a taste for that whole Grant Green thing.

The first of the band members to step on stage was Tony Monaco the B3 player, quickly followed by the drummer Harvey Mason.   Soon Pat appeared with his shining custom-made black Benedetto guitar at the ready – a slightly built man who quickly lost himself deep within the music.  The band leapt into their first few numbers with an apparent relish.   Obviously enjoying what they do and perhaps that is the hallmark of this Chicago – East Philly guitar -organ-drum style.   Seeming to drop deeper and deeper into the groove and then characteristically locking into a phrase until the intensity becomes almost unbearable – then as suddenly dropping back into the melody again.

When Pat plays alongside Joey Defrancesco and Byron (Wookie) Landham the band is a force nine hurricane.    No drummer works as hard as ‘Wookie” with his powerhouse locked-in beat and no B3 player owns as much of the room as Joey D.   It was however just as interesting to hear Pat with this band and they proved to be solid performers.  Tony is great on the B3 and his tendency to grimace and mug as he reaches ever deeper into the groove did not unduly trouble me.   The drummer Harvey did what good groove-drummers do and locked into Pats sound.   After the faster offerings it was a pleasure to hear Pats well-loved version of ‘Blue in Green‘(Davis/Evans) and the warmth and perhaps the hint of sadness in his sound brought a tear to the eye.    The sound Pat gets from his specially wound strings is fat and warm and it hits you right where it should; in the heart.

I have just learned that Pat is about to play at ‘Yoshi’s‘ (Oakland) and I have urged my son and daughter-in-law to go if they can.  Pat may have an amazing and unique life story, but it is the warm looping bluesy sound that gets you in the end.

Herbie Hancock: Chameleon, Headhunter, visionary?

Even before septuagenarian Herbie Hancock rolled into town he had been sought out by most of the mainstream media.    This man fascinates people beyond the Jazz world and I suspect that everyone would give a different reason why.   Herbie is simply larger than life and terminal cool is his brand.   When asked by Lynne Freeman of Radio New Zealand whether he was going to spend the rest of his days fine tuning his impressive musical legacy he surprised her by replying, “Music is what I do but it is not who I am.  I am a human being and I want to work on real issues that effect ordinary people”.   A long time devout Buddhist (as is his close friend and long time collaborator Wayne Shorter) he exudes calm and speaks with commonsense.   Herbie does not buy into his star status; but to others he is never-the-less a living legend.
We could feel the excitement mounting as we waited for the show to begin and then right on 8 pm the lights dimmed and drummer Trevor Lawrence strode onto the stage   He laid down a solid mesmerizing beat until James Genus appeared, who then added to the groove on his electric bass.   Suddenly Herbie was on stage; grinning and bowing to the audience and the fun began.    He looked fit and ready to get-down to it.   The group swiftly ripped into an upbeat, spirited avante guard tinged piece (Actual Proof) that was more Ornette than Empyrean Isles.  I suspect that would have taken many out of their comfort zone and this was clearly the intention.   The mood was well set and throughout the concert Herbie skillfully used tension and release in enumerable ways.   As this amazingly high energy group moved through the varied repertoire you could see the joy on their faces.   James genus seldom took his eyes of Herbie and they played as a single entity.   We got spirited renditions of Hancock classics followed by highly atmospheric tunes (such as Joni Mitchell’s ‘court and spark’ from the Grammy winning ‘River’ album with Wayne Shorter).    ‘Court and spark’ and other songs were sung by the fourth band member, vocalist and violinist Kristina Train.  Her voice was smokey and appealing and the crowd loved her.   We heard a jazz version of Bob Dylan’s ‘the times they are a changing’ and Bob Marley’s ‘Exodus’ accompanied by pre-recorded Sudanese musicians.   ‘It’s 2011’ said Herbie as he pointed to the hard drive at the heart of his system. Herbie Hancock is the undisputed master of electronic keyboards and effects, but on Tuesday he reminded us that he still owned the acoustic piano chair as well.
This was the history of post 50’s Jazz and it was the perfect ethnomusicology lesson.    We heard Irish, African, folk music and classic delta blues but the master’s stamp was on all of it.   This edgy musical journey was still unmistakably Jazz.   In the middle portion of the concert however Herbie played solo piano, taking us on an impressionistic reflective journey through his Maiden Voyage albums.   The band came back to accompany him on ‘Cantaloupe Island’ in what was to end a half hour piano medley, which held every one in awe.  Even ‘Round about Midnight’ got an airing.  Not a sniffle , not a cough, even Keith would have been impressed.   The stuff that I loved best was his Headhunter funk and he swung and grooved that like crazy – deep down grooves played with boundless joyous energy.    At the end of the concert he brought on a visiting group of blues rockers; slide guitarist Derrick Trucks and his wife Susan Tedeschi (a loud singer who sounds a lot like Janis Joplin).      This was pure enjoyment from start to finish and if anyone thought that Jazz was in decline they should have seen the age-range of those present.   The faces of the audience as they came out told the whole story.

Groove Jazz

El Hombre Pat Martino

'El Hombre' Pat Martino, Birdland NYC

I was eagerly looking through the information about the up and coming visit from Sonny Rollins when I saw in the fine-print a list of the musicians who would be touring with him.    The inclusion of groove guitarist Peter Bernstein pleased me greatly    I am a fan of Peter Bernstein with his rapid fire, deep groove, Grant Green style.    He plays a lot in New York clubs and  when I was there recently I had hoped to see him.     As it turned out I missed him by a week but my desire to hear a Chicago – Philly style guitar, drums and organ trio was certainly fulfilled.   I turned up at ‘Birdland’ on a hot Autumn evening to find Pat Martino was playing and I thought that I had won the lottery.     My wife was a little horrified when she saw the ‘B3’ on the stage and I am the first to admit that it is an acquired taste.  Pat ‘El Hombre’ Martino played deep in the pocket and with an intensity that I have seldom witnessed.    His ‘Blue on Green’ was pure bliss and I still get a lump in my throat when I think of it.   Pat is a guitar hero on many levels and he didn’t disappoint that night.    He played his bop infused groove lines as if he were flying free of the world,with his trio in lock step.

Organ-Guitar Jazz is full throated, raunchy and intensely bluesy.   This style is redolent of an era when Jazz was losing part of its black audience to R & B and starting to fight back.   This funky backstreets music reclaimed some of that turf and found a home on what was termed the ‘Chitlins Circuit’.     Richard Groove Homes, Grant Green, Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino, Jimmy Smith, Brother Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, Big John Patton. Shirley Scott and many others were associated with this style.     One of my favourites in this style was Gene Ammons (tenor sax) who liked to play the Chicago clubs when ever he could.    This was not often sadly because he was frequently in jail for narcotics violations.    His label Prestige indulged him and recored him frequently; knowing that he would be behind bars again before too long.     He is always associated with his ballad albums such as Gentle Jug (which his manager had insisted upon as a good career move), but I still like the badly recorded club dates such as the one where he is accompanied by Eddie Buster (B3) and Gerald Donavan (drums).  Those two are now long forgotten but didn’t they groove with ‘Jug’.    This is a happy music that sets the body swaying and I will often return to it after a period of listening to more cerebral offerings.   This is the intersection in my adolescent life where I discovered jazz and I have joyful memories of bunking off school and wearing out copies of an album called ‘The Chicago Sound’.

For this style of music look on You Tube for Pat Martino’s rendition of ‘Sunny’ with Joey DeFrancesco and prepare to be seriously ‘grooved’.