Craig Walters/Mike Booth Project @ the CJC in Auckland

Craig Walters

During Jazz Week it was appropriate that the Creative Jazz Club (CJC) featured a band that was in some ways a metaphor for the greater Auckland scene.   Jazz week is about Jazz in our neighborhoods but it also about how we connect to the wider Jazz community.

  The co-leader of this nights band, Craig Walters has lived in Australia since 1985.    Craig has an impressive background in Jazz, as he trained at the Berklee School of Music before going on the road as an in demand tenor player.  He has performed world-wide and with top rated acts.  Over the years he has earned a place as one of Australia’s foremost tenor players.   Australia claims him because he has lived and worked there for the last 27 years, but he was actually born in New Zealand.   

Mike Booth (trumpet player & co-leader) has a story that in some ways parallels Craig’s because he also travelled overseas and ended up working in the European Jazz scene for a decade or more.  Unlike Craig he returned to New Zealand a few years ago and since then he has been busy teaching, gigging and running a big band in Auckland.

The band was completed by a local rhythm section, Phil Broadhurst (piano), Oli Holland (bass) and Alain Koetsier (drums).   With this rhythm section in your corner the sound is going to be great and the band will back you up exactly when you want them to.  They are among our best.  As for Craig Walters and Mike Booth, they have known each other for years and this collaboration is merely an extension of their earlier projects.

Why do I consider this band to be a metaphor for the Auckland Jazz scene?  Craig Walters was born here and started playing tenor here.   I am fairly certain that there were no Jazz Schools in the city then and so he eventually ended up in the USA where he studied at the Berklee School of Music.   This is roughly the route that Mike Nock , Alan Broadbent and Matt Penman took (stellar musicians who left the Auckland scene to conquer the world).  This is what generally happens to our best and brightest but they do return.

The pianist Phil Broadhurst is a stalwart of the NZ scene but he was born in the UK and so his story is the reverse of the above.  Oli Holland is also overseas born, as he was an established bass player in Germany before migrating to NZ.  Lastly there is Alain Koetsier who is the youngest in the band.  This was his last gig in Auckland as he departs for foreign shores in two weeks.  Such is the ebb and flow of the New Zealand Jazz scene but in many ways this disruption brings benefits.  Almost all of the musicians that we lose to Australia or to the USA eventually return and they enrich us with what they bring back.  Now that we have two Jazz schools and a youthful vibrant Jazz scene in the city (and a great club), the future is promising.  I also have no doubt that the departing musicians take a special something with them which is Auckland.

Craig and Mikes band were great and as long as these ex-pat to local match ups keep occurring we will be just fine.

This gig occurred at the Creative Jazz Club (CJC)  in Auckland, New Zealand on the 11th April 2012.  Remember to keep visiting the Jazz Journalists Association (JJA) pages during the next few months as there are a number of activities that will include us. These are; the Jazz week Blogathon, International Jazz day 30th April – Jazz heroes announcement, JJA Awards in June – Auckland Satellite party.

Phil Broadhurst Quartet updated

Phil Broadhurst

I last saw this band at the launch of Phil’s ‘Delayed Reaction’ album.    That was September 25th 2011 and things have moved on apace since than.   For a start the album has had universally good reviews, reasonable airplay and attracted interest from offshore.  For a number of reasons it was bound to do well.  I suspect that the quality of the interpretations and the musicianship of the band clinched the deal.    While a number of well-chosen Petrucciani tunes are featured in the album, it is Phil’s own material that best focuses us on the diminutive masters work.

Oli, Alain & Roger

It is ironic that it has taken someone from the antipodes to put a fine lens on the inner workings of Petrucciani’s music.  Step by step as the material progresses we are granted the most intimate of glimpses.  Guided into a private world that only Phil Broadhurst has been able to reveal. This is the power of Jazz at its best.  Being able to dive deeper into the meaning of a tune as inner forms and colours unfold.   What is already wonderful is somehow made better or revealed afresh.

Petrucciani may have been small in stature but his percussive playing and unusually bold voicings have marked him out as a heavyweight.  His legacy is in fact so strong as to be virtually unassailable.  A few European tribute bands have recycled his compositions but there are few if any sound-a-likes (as happened with Evans).  Phil and the band made no attempt at slavish imitation; they did better than that.  They captured the essence of the music.

I suspect that Phil Broadhurst is one of the worlds foremost authorities on Michel Petrucciani and this is our good fortune.

We heard many of the tunes from the album, such as Phil Broadhurst’s own composition ‘Orange’ and Petrucciani’s  ‘Brazilian like’.   The material had not only been updated but we also heard some new material which Phil had written.  The band was playing up a storm and it was great to see Roger back after a successful trip gigging in Australia.  His tenor is always on fire and Phil and he sparked off each other as the night progressed.  Roger always watches the others carefully during gigs.  He watches them until he is ready to solo.  Then he leans back and takes off like a Titan rocket, leaving an open-mouthed audience in his slipstream.

Roger laying out before he unleashes hellfire

With Alain on drums delivering a flurry of beats, a fiery solo or whispering poetically on brushes the traps could not have been in better hands (he has become a favourite of mine and he will be missed when he goes overseas).  Oli’s playing is always worth hearing and he delivered strong bass lines and gave the band the support they needed.  He had been a little low in the mix for the first few numbers and that is a pity because what he has to say is worth hearing.   Once the sound had been adjusted it was if the jazz universe had suddenly fallen into place.

This was to be the bands last outing before Tauranga.  The group is finalists in the Jazz Tui awards and a play-off will occur Saturday night between The Phil Broadhurst Quartet (Delayed Reaction), The Tim Hopkins Trio (Seven) and the Roger Fox Big Band (Journey Home).  I have heard and reviewed all three bands and I know most of the musicians. This will be a tough call for the judges.

The Band is: Phil Broadhurst (leader, comp, piano), Roger Manins (tenor), Oli Holland (bass), Alain Koetsier (drums).

Callum Passells, trio, quartet, quintet

Callum, Cameron & Adam

A few days ago the CJC presented the Callum Passells group.   Callum is a third year student at the Auckland University School of Music (Jazz Studies) and so are his band mates.  If anyone harboured the briefest thought that this group should be cut some slack on account of age or experience, forget it.   What we saw was a slick act, a great programme and the sort of discipline that generally comes with seasoned performers.   This band did the business and they held us in the palm of their hand throughout.

I had only seen Callum perform a few times; once at a house party and once during a jam season.  Those brief encounters had not been enough for me to form a clear view of his abilities and so I arrived with an open mind and no fixed expectations.   I now recall Roger Manins saying that Callum was a terrific saxophonist and that he had the hunger to succeed.  That should have clued me up.

Cameron

Callum is a very nice altoist and his tone is as sweet or as hard-edged as the tune calls for.  Once in a while I could hear a hint of Cannonball Adderley.  Not a copied lick, but more of a bluesy swagger and the stuttering way that he would burst into a phrase.  During one such moment I must have uttered the word ‘Cannonball’ to myself.  The person sitting next to me suddenly said, “yeah, I heard that too”.

The band was well rehearsed and they had paid attention to the smallest of details including how they presented themselves on the bandstand.  Their programme was quite varied and each number fitted into its place and told its own story.   There were piano-less trio numbers, quartet numbers and quintet numbers.   The tunes were all originals and they were well written.

I have to comment on the quintet arrangements which were simply sublime.  Some of the better arrangers like Marty Paich or Kenny Wheeler could arrange tunes in such a way that smaller ensembles sounded as if they were much bigger.   The advantage of this is that it leaves the listener with a feeling of airiness.  A sense of the space around each instrument.   

When I first heard the quintet I was surprised at how big the sound was.  There were only two horns, Cullam Passells (as) and Liz Stokes (t, fh).   This is the illusion created by good arranging.  Liz Stokes was especially fluent in the second set and a Wheeler-esk slur added colour to the performance.

I have seen Cameron play before and he really stepped up a notch with this gig.  I think that he enjoyed it and it was a challenging workout for bass.  The drummer Adam Tobeck was comfortable throughout and he pushed himself harder in the second half.   A blistering solo earned him his stripes with the CJC audience.

The band member I am most familiar with is Matt Steele.   I have liked his playing from the first time I heard it and he was even better at this gig.   He has a mature style but it is different to many of the pianists I hear as his touch is often light and crisp.   His comping is breathtaking as he urges the soloists to greater heights.  While you are always aware of his right hand soaring in chromatic invention during his solos, his left hand weaves its own chordal magic.  If I needed a single word to describe his playing it would have to be melodic.  

The set list was a work of art in itself.  On the page it read like an Imagist poem by Langston Hughes or William Carlos Williams.

The set list was as follows:

Race-car Red Red Race-car, Molasses, What the Fuck is a Persimmon, Money Grubber, I’ve, So This is What it’s Like,  Magnetic North, Wrack, Candied Carrots, Elysium, Greens Waltz, Up Up Down Down Left Left Right Right AB

The band was in order of appearance – Trio:  Callum Passells (leader, arranger, composer, alto saxophone), Cameron MacArthur (double bass), Adam Tobeck (drums).  Quartet add; Matt Steele (piano), Quintet add: Liz Stokes (trumpet flugal horn).

Callum presided over the night with that easy confidence of a born leader. He told very funny stories (especially the WTF is a Persimmon story) and he encouraged his band in a way that ensured they gave their best.   If that is the calibre of students emerging from the city’s Jazz schools then we are in for an exciting future.   Big ups to the band and especially to Callum.


			

Frank Gibson – ‘Hardbopmobile’

Frank Gibson Jnr

Frank Gibson Jnr is New Zealand’s best known drummer as he has been playing and teaching for most of his life. He has accompanied numerous artists such as Milt Jackson, Emily Remler, Sonny Stitt, Joe Henderson, Randy Brecker, Slide Hampton, Mike Nock and the list goes on. He has also occupied the drum chair for many of Alan Broadbent’s recordings. Whether laying down sensitive brush work or powering an orchestra, Frank has long been a presence on the scene. He is a seasoned leader and it was in this role that he returned to the CJC with his ‘Hardbopmobile’ band. As leader he was able guide the proceedings without being overly dominant. He trusted his band to do the business and they responded in kind.

The ‘Hardbopmobile’ lineup is: Frank Gibson Jnr (leader, drums), Neil Watson (guitar), Ben Turua (double bass), Cameron Allen (tenor saxophone).

Neil and Frank have been playing together for some time and the ease with which they communicate on the band stand is translated into good musical outcomes. I noticed straight away that Neil was not playing his usual solid-body Fender, but he was stroking chords and runs out of a modern version of the D’Angelo 1947 arch-top. Man it looked beautiful, just lying on the piano during set-up.

The set list was mostly out of the Hardbop songbook but a few earlier placed numbers were tackled as well (‘Boplicity’ – Miles Davis). A spirited Wes Montgomery tune was played early on and Neil negotiated the changes and the octave chords in the best possible way. A straight out imitation would have sounded clichéd, but this was a respectful modern take on a classic sound. Like all gifted guitarists, he is able to negotiate complex tunes with apparent ease; dancing and leaning into the music as he delivers a storm of fresh ideas. This is wonderful to listen to, great to watch and but the very devil to photograph.

Two monk tunes were played: ‘Ask Me Now’ and ‘I Mean You’. This is where the tenor player Cameron Allen took the lead. In the former tune he took an angular approach, unravelling it as improvisers do and then diving deep inside the melody. I should probably have been aware of this tenor player before now, because he is very good. We appear to have a tradition of producing good saxophone players in New Zealand – getting wider recognition for them and finding them enough gigs is the real problem.

A couple of hard bop classics were played; Joe Henderson’s ‘Isotope’ and Horace Silvers ‘Senior Blues’. The band interpreted these tunes in their own way and to hear a ‘Hendrix’ like riff being mixed into ‘Senior Blues’ was as surprising as it was effective. I would also like to mention the bass player Ben Turua here. He took a few solos and above all he swung hard.

D'Angelo Archtop

Nathan Haines – ‘The Poets Embrace’

On the 29th November 2011, those lucky enough to be at Nathan Haines CJC gig heard him playing ‘The Poets Embrace’ material.  As far as I know, this was the first public outing for the band and everyone who attended quickly grasped the importance of the event.   Hearing Nathan exclusively playing tenor (and not just any tenor) was intriguing because he is noted for being a multi reeds and winds player.   This gig was somehow different and it had a focus that was palpable.  It was about authenticity and it was about a deeper exploration of Nathan’s music.

Nathan’s approach to his music is a comment on his professionalism.  He divides his time between the UK and New Zealand and he recently headlined at Ronny Scotts Jazz Club in London.  Nathan is one our most talented musicians and I have learned that he never does things half heartedly.

Following that gig Nathan and the band cut an album.     The producer was flown in from London, the vinyl was pressed at Abbey Road, the tenor was a Selmer Mk 6 (ex Brian Smith), The piano was a Steinway B, The recording was made at the York Street studios on analog equipment and using classic microphones….I think you get the picture….glowing valves….absolute authenticity.     Above all this is terrific music and it may become the bench mark for future New Zealand Jazz albums.  The album will be released by Haven Records a division of Warners Music and it should be widely available.

The album is to be released on the 19th March (available on CD or limited edition vinyl)  The promo video is also worth watching as it conveys a real sense of the music we are about to experience.   The attention to detail is evident and one senses that the narrative is an important part of this journey.  People should book now for the launch, which is on Friday March 23rd, 8pm at the Monte Christo Room (behind the TVNZ building Nelson Street).    The entry price for the official launch is $25 pre-sales/$30 at door.  For those who are otherwise engaged on Friday why not get down to JB Hi Fi between 12pm – 12:30pm (any day 19th – 23rd).  If you do you will hear the full band.   It is impressive that a mainstream outlet like JB’s has been so supportive.    Please turn up if you can and this will encourage the store to support more Jazz releases in the future.  If it is wet outside so what, there is no cost to attending and what could be better; Jazz on an Autumn Day.

 These are all great musicians as you will soon hear.  They are; Nathan Haines (ts), Kevin Field (p), Thomas Botting (db) Alain Koetsier (d).

For the gig review see my earlier blog post “The Nathan Haines Fourtet”.

James Ryan – Jazz without a parachute

James Ryan is a Sydney based tenor player and he has appeared at the CJC before.  On Wednesday nights gig he fronted a trio of saxophone, drums and bass.   In configurations like this where chordal instruments are absent, a band is taking a more adventurous route.   Guitars, pianos, horn-sections and jazz orchestras provide a safety net for horn soloists and in addition they tend to fill in much of the soundscape with colour and a variety of textures.  Without this underpinning, clean open spaces can be revealed and the bones of melodies can be unraveled or looked at afresh in their raw beauty.    This is jazz without a parachute.

The precedent for such trios goes back a long way.   Gerry Mulligan came close with his famous piano-less quartet of the 1950’s, but the addition of another horn (Chet Baker or Bobby Brookmeyer) allowed for chords and complex counterpoint.  The most notable historic piano-less trios were Sonny RollinsWay Out West‘, Lee Konitz, ‘Motion’ and the drummer led Elvin Jones ‘Ultimate’.    There are many others and I should also mention the Max RoachDizzy Gillespie duos with just trumpet and drums.  Our own Roger Manins has also explored saxophone trios and his well received album ‘Hip Flask’ is a notable example.

I did not hear James the last time he appeared, but I was soon to be impressed by what was on offer.  His choice of band-mates proved to be fortuitous as Tom Botting (bass) and Ron Samsom (drums) rose to the challenge with enthusiasm.   In this blue-sky environment each artist knew what needed to be done and more importantly what must be avoided.  The was no overplaying and the flow of musical ideas was engaging.

James introduced the first set by playing solo for a number of bars and we could hear immediately that he was brim full of interesting ideas.  This was a good way to open because when the bass and drums came in, their addition filled the space with possibilities.  The fourth tune of the night ‘Micky B’ (Ryan) was a good example of this interplay.   In this case the tune had been set up by the bass and it soon developed into a hard-driving bluesy exploration of the theme.   James drove deeper and deeper into the changes and freed of the need to avoid piano or guitar, he took the music where he wanted it to go.   While James took care of business Tom Botting found just the right responses and Ron Samsom showed us again why he is a master of the drum kit.

After a number of interesting originals had been performed the band switched seamlessly to the well-known standard ‘You and The Night And The Music”.    James explained afterward that this had not been on the set list, but because Tom had quoted from it during an earlier bass solo he added it on impulse.   It is when we hear a standard that  we can form the strongest views and make comparisons.    The audience will know where the tune has gone before and be interested to see just where this band is taking it.   This particular exploration was inventive without being disrespectful.   It had an element of surprise in the familiar and that is what the best Jazz is about.

As is so often the case when Ron Samsom is on the bandstand, the percussion work was extraordinary.   His use of mallets and his inventiveness riveted the audience again and again.   He can play tightly in the pocket or with an understated but completely engaging looseness.  We saw him as more than a drummer in this set up.  He was an instrumentalist capable of filling any space.

There was one free number during the night and it was a riot.    James announced that he would play a tune of his titled ‘Rocket No 7’.    This was an homage to Sun Ra and his much admired composition ‘Rocket No 9’.   A few bars in James just let rip and the band quickly followed him into what were obviously unchartered waters.  This decoupling from the changes was soon evident and the organic freedom took us on a wild and delightful ride.   While the music was as free as a skylark it was never directionless.    Both band and audience were smiling at the end and everyone in the room knew that they had experienced something special.

After the number James wiped the sweat from his brow and pulled the mike towards him.   “That was nothing like ‘Rocket No 7” he said to our delight.

As with many of the Australian visitors we look forward to his return.

Weaver of Dreams – Andrew Dickeson Quintet

For those Aucklanders addicted to live Jazz, the month over which the CJC Jazz club was closed for Christmas seemed like an eternity.   The first of the New Years bookings made up for it though as premier Australian drummer Andrew Dickeson came to town and he brought with him a solid lineup (including a couple of ex-pat New Zealanders now living in Australia).  It was Andrews first time at the CJC but it will hopefully not be his last.

Andrew Dickeson is one of the most respected drummers in Australasia and in stepping out as a leader he has enhanced his already solid credentials.   Andrew has for some time been regarded as the drumming lynch pin of the Australian Jazz scene and when a visiting artist requires a percussionist he would be the first choice.

The band began with the fabulous number ‘Ill Wind‘ (Arlen/Koehler) and it was obvious from the get-go that the tasteful drumming was a cushion of energy powering the group.   As good as the musicians were it was the drummer that caught the attention first; not by showing off his chops but by his sheer musicality.   You were also aware of his powerhouse propulsive swing.   The drums managed to preside without ever overwhelming the rest of the band and to achieve this takes real skill.    This is the sort of maturity that experienced drummers like Jeff Hamilton bring to their gigs and it was nice to witness.

A point which illustrates this perfectly occurred when I spoke to Andrew the next day.    After listening to the CD I had wondered how he had managed to obtain such a crisp but soft sound from his ride cymbal on the ‘Weaver of Dreams’ track (Young/Elliot).    I asked him if he had muffled the cymbal in some way or ‘miked’ it down during mixing.   “No’ he said, “It is all about awareness of the situation.  I just play very gently when that is required”.    I had not known that you could play so gently on a ride cymbal without losing clarity of sound.   At this point Roger Manins leaned over and said, “this is what separates a good drummer from a great drummer.  The ability to fit perfectly into any given situation and to adjust your volume accordingly”.

Those appearing on the album are: Andrew Dickeson (drums, leader, arranger), Roger Manins (tenor sax), Steve Barry (piano), Alex Boneham (bass), Eamon McNelis (trumpet).    For this gig the latter two were replaced by Tom Botting (bass), Pete Barwick (trumpet, flugal horn).  The two acquitted themselves well.

Andrew had used Roger Manins on the album and witnessing his performance at this gig it was easy to see why.    Roger is undoubtably the best tenor man in New Zealand but we sometimes forget how well-regarded he is beyond these shores.    I have written about his playing many times and each time I see him I wonder if he will better his last performance.  He usually does.   As a born story-teller he can captivate from the first few phrases, but the magic he weaves is also due in part to his stage presence.   On ‘Ill Wind’ the pianist had laid-out for a number of bars and in this space Roger mined the bones of the tune to the marrow.  That is his way and as the solo developed there was an increasingly ecstatic quality to his performance.   I have witnessed this before and it draws me to his playing again and again.   In Jazz authenticity is everything.

Pianist Steve Barry grew up in Auckland but he later migrated to Australia in search of greater opportunity.   He is no stranger to the CJC and his occasional gigs at the club are happily anticipated by his ever-increasing fan base.   For some years now he has been working on the Australian scene and he is exceptionally well-regarded there.   Some pianists have an X-factor and Steve is one of those.   The history of Jazz piano is somehow referenced in his playing but he is more than that.  While unafraid of the past he is not owned by it.   This is a journey of stylistic development that we are privileged to witness and it is an ongoing story.    In this setting he was not only a good soloist but the perfect sideman, as his comping and sense of timing were superb.   We get one more chance to hear Steve before he returns to Australia; next week he is co-leader of a quartet performing at the club.

Tom Botting and Pete Barwick had been engaged for this one gig and they fitted in seamlessly.   I had not seen Pete Barwick play before tonight but he handled the charts with ease and performed each solo convincingly.   His strongest performance was on the Strayhorn balad ‘Isfahan.    His burnished ringing tone and clear articulation were just great.   Tom was a fixture at the club before moving to Australia and his bass playing is familiar to CJC attendees.     He is a reliable time-keeper but he can also be adventurous when challenged.  On this night he injected a sense of urgency into the uptempo numbers.  Sitting in for Alex Boneham would be quite intimidating to many bass players but Tom took it in his stride.   He had returned to New Zealand in disguise (no beard and shorter hair) but his signature bandstand persona was fully in tact.   Tom always looks and sounds extremely convincing and it is nice to have him back for a few weeks.

The other stand out number was ‘Soy Califa’ (Dexter Gordon).   To have Roger play a Dexter Gordon number is a no brainer.  He aced it and then some.  This was a great night out and once again it reinforced the strength of the Trans-Tasman Jazz alliance.

This album is well worth buying : ‘Weaver of Dreams’ – The Andrew Dickeson Quintet – Rufus Records (a division of Universal Music group).     rufusrecords.com.au – or  – andrewdickeson.com

Nathan Haines Fourtet – live@CJC

Some weeks ago it was posted on the CJC website that Nathan Haines would be bringing his new band to the club and that this particular band was to be an acoustic Jazz lineup.   The talk among local musicians was that Nathan had been wrestling with some bold musical ideas and that after a trip to France and three months of wood-shedding he was now ready to unleash those ideas on a Jazz audience.

Anyone interested in the Auckland music scene will have followed Nathan Haines career and know that he has wide crossover appeal (here and overseas).   As a multi-reedist and flutist he is proficient on a number of horns and for a while people wondered which instrument he would play for this gig.  That was soon made clear when the details were posted.  He would be playing a classic 1963 Selmer Mk VI – purchased from Brian Smith earlier in the year.   This is an instrument with real provenance and in a way that set the bar even higher.        

The acoustic feel that the band are striving for goes way beyond the choice of instruments, because they intend to record in a few weeks and will wherever possible avoid using modern equipment.    It is Nathan’s view that recording technology has deteriorated over the years and so they are intending to use old style Neuman mics, the fabled EMI Neve desk and to record directly to tape with no mixing or overdubs.  There is also talk of them hiring a Steinway B for the recording.

As the threads of information gradually came together it was clear that this would not be any run of the mill gig and in line with expectations the band attracted the biggest crowd the club has yet seen.

The members of this band are all well-known to club attendees, but Nathan Haines and Kevin Field (piano) are obviously the veterans here.    The name Kevin Field alone is enough to pull a good crowd, but couple his name with Nathan Haines and a capacity standing room only audience is the result.  On bass was Thomas Botting (who has recently taken Movember to its extreme limits).    He may be young but he is a terrific bass player.   I often stay back for the Jam Sessions just to hear Thomas and his friends, (usually playing alongside Peter Koopman and Dan Kennedy).    Thomas can edge up the tension by executing a well placed pedal point or walk his bass lines in a way that is reminiscent of Jimmy Garrison.   This makes him a good choice for this uber-acoustic hard-driving lineup.    The remaining band member is drummer Alain Koetsier.  This is the third time that I have seen Alain play and I have always been impressed.   His ability to lay down complex polyrhythms and push a band hard is well-known.   On this night he was at his fiery best.

The first number ‘Universal Man’ (by Nathan Haines) was intense and up tempo and this signaled the get-down-to business mood of the band.    They were ready for this gig and clearly ready to push at the boundaries.  While they conveyed a strong sense of purpose this did not constrict them in any way as they ate up the changes; hungry for the next layer of the tune to be unraveled.   Nathan soared on this and on other numbers, reaching into the past for reference points but more importantly bringing all of his recent experience and learning to the moment.    This was a 2011 version of a classic jazz lineup.

Next came a ballad ‘Poet’s embrace’ which was both lyrical and deeply probing.   Nathan continuously mined the tune for newer and deeper meanings.   His tone was luminous and his playing (even on the ballads) conveyed the intensity of the moment.

That chiaroscuro effect established the vibe; which became a hallmark of the programme.    These contrasts in tempo and mood were well placed as they kept the audience focused.    Two pieces perfectly illustrate this skillful placement.

While Nathan had written and arranged most of the pieces, the fourth number, Ravel’s Pavan (Pavane pour une infante défunte) deserves comment.     This famous piece was a miniature of perfection.     To have added another bar or even another note would have ruined the mood.     Very few bands can resist the inclination to over-egg-the-pudding in situations like this and I congratulate the band for keeping to the spirit of the piece.    What was added was subtle and it revealed a deep understanding of the music.    Colourist drumming, well placed bass lines and skilful minimalist chord placement; giving Nathan the platform he needed.  This illustrated perfectly the maxim that less is sometimes more.

The last piece ‘Consequence’ was a powerhouse performance.   So intense was the mood and so up-tempo was the pace that the audience seemed to lean back; as if a freight train was passing.   Each instrument soloing often and with each solo the tension increasing.    The drumming was so powerful that one of the audience swore that the kit remained airborne throughout.   This was an in-the-pocket performance and over that crescendo of sound Nathan blew up a storm.

At one point Brian Smith had joined the band and to see him and Nathan performing Wayne Shorter’s  ‘Speak no Evil’ was great (I have always loved Shorter’s material).   Two of our best tenor players belting out the unison lines and constantly challenging each other during solos.    Kevin Field had also contributed one piece ‘Raincheck’.  Kevin’s compositions are well constructed and appealing.

The band finished after two long sets looking exhausted but satisfied. So were we.

I will await the new recording with great interest.  This was a performance that it would be hard to improve on, but with a band this focused that may just occur.

Brian Smith Band & Hard Bop heaven

Brian Smith - CJC gig

To list all of the famous artists that Brian Smith has accompanied in the Jazz/Soul/Pop world would make this a very long post. To name a few (Soul) Gladys Knight & the Pips, Dusty Springfield, (Jazz) Jon Hendricks, Annie Ross, Nat Adderly, Mark Murphy. Brian was also a founder member of ‘Nucleus’ with Ian Carr. He was for many years one of our most successful Jazz/Soul exports but in 1980 he returned to New Zealand. His ‘Moonlight Sax’ (1990) went platinum, was the album of the year and sold over 40,000 copies which is astounding for a Kiwi Album.

Last night this Jazz icon played at the CJC and with him were a number of well-known New Zealand Jazz musicians. The band was; Brian Smith (tenor sax, soprano sax), Kevin Field (piano), Kevin Haines (double bass), Frank Gibson Jnr (drums). They started with one of Brian’s own compositions titled ‘Blues for Teo‘ and the band got down to serious business immediately. They are a hard swinging unit and as they unpicked the tunes they wove a collective magic.

Brian was a commanding presence in the mix (which was hardly surprising) but his band-mates could not be faulted either for their ability to shine beside him. It struck me (and not for the first time) just how strong a presence Kevin Haines is. He and Frank were obviously on comfortable ground and they pushed boundaries because they could, and because they found new and interesting things to say. I have seldom heard Frank play better. Kevin Field is a very popular and talented local pianist and to have him in any band is simply to have the best. His crisp chord work and soaring solos are never less than perfect.

Jazz Musicians are often natural comedians and Brian is no exception. When introducing the second tune he said, “the band will practice for four bars and by then we should have a hang of it”. The tune was a George Chisholm original and in spite of the intro we heard no missteps. The tune ‘Seriously flawed (floored?)‘ was the first of a number of new charts by George Chisholm. These were great vehicles for the band and when they played the lovely Chisholm ballad ‘One for Martin‘ they struck the mother-lode. This piece was penned in remembrance of the much-loved Kiwi Jazz guitarist Martin Winch who died in May of this year. It was suggested to me recently that we only have the sudden influx of very promising Jazz guitarists around Auckland because of Martin’s influence and example.

This and other Chisholm tunes deserve to be played often (plea to local musicians). * George is a well-known trumpeter from the local scene having recorded in his own right and as a sideman with locals like Phil Broadhurst.

We heard fresh versions of standards like ‘My Funny Valentine‘ and best of all a few Wayne Shorter tunes. The darkly brooding and deep Shorter compositions are favourites of mine and any group who attempts them and executes them well has my appreciation. The groups rendition of ‘Black Nile‘. ‘Lester Leaves Town‘ and ‘Speak no Evil‘ were well done and as these are difficult tunes to get inside of, they must be commended.

Phil Broadhurst Quartet – CJC ‘Delayed Reaction’ launch

This was a special night because the band was simply superb and it was a special night because the music paid tribute to Michel Petrucciani.   Phil Broadhurst the leader of the quartet needs no introduction to New Zealand musicians as he has been the familiar face of Auckland Jazz forever. Whether playing as resident pianist in the London Bar ,accompanying visiting musicians or performing his role as senior tutor at the Massey University School of Jazz, Phil has been at the epicentre of the New Zealand Jazz scene.   He is a gifted artist and a prime enabler.

Wednesday was the official launch of the ‘Delayed Reaction’ CD which marked a milestone in what has been a long and interesting journey.   Not only for Phil, but also for those of us devoted to the music of Michel Petrucciani and who now get to share in the journey.   Phil has probably studied Petrucciani’s body of work more extensively than any other and this music is the evidence.

The quartet is: Phil Broadhurst (piano, leader, arr), Roger Manins (tenor sax), Olivier Holland (bass),  Alain Koetsier (drums).  – *guest Mike Booth (flugal horn)

The first set opened with ‘Brazilian like‘, a well-known Petrucciani composition.   This medium tempo number paid tribute to the original but Phil and Roger gave it a slightly more bluesy feel which added interesting dimensions to the tune.   When I listened to that particular track on the album, I realised that Phil had achieved a rare thing.   The voicing and percussive attack were unmistakably Petrucciani, but in managing to add some of the feel and spaciousness of the New Zealand musical landscape he made ‘Brazilian Like‘ ours as well.

Next was the title tune ‘Delayed Reaction'(Broadhurst).  The number built-in intensity without losing any of its beauty and the quartet were obviously focused on treating this original with the same respect as the Petrucciani compositions.   Throughout the two sets there was a perfect juxtaposition between Petrucciani compositions and Broadhurst originals.  Phil had reworked many of the Petrucciani tunes and the result was to create a very satisfying melange.    Other Petrucciani tunes played were; ‘Guadeloupe‘, and the wonderful ‘Looking up‘ – a tune brim full of exuberance and always conjuring up Michel Petrucciani’s infectious good humour which he maintained against all odds.  He would have liked what this band offered up.

Of the Broadhurst originals I particularly liked ‘Oranje‘ (so titled because it was the birthplace of M.P.) and the lovely trio piece titled ‘Matai Bay‘.   During this last evocative number the considerable skills of Olivier Holland (b) and  Alain Koetsier (d) were particularly in evidence.   On the rest of the numbers Roger Manins (ts) shone with his story-telling bluesy intensity.   His performances are consistent in this regard and it is my observation that any group he plays in, is lifted up a notch.

We also heard a few standards and the rendition of ‘You Walked Out of a Dream‘ was fabulous.  Phil increasingly threw challenges at the others and they responded in ways that had us on the edge of our seats.  Roger soon exploded into his solo and the exultant soulful wailing as he seemed to depart from the upper register, had everyone spellbound.   Mike Booths (fh) contribution was on ‘If I Should Lose you‘ and this was also well executed.

A few years ago my partner Darien and I were traveling through the ‘Loire Valley’ France and I spotted a road sign indicating that we were close to ‘Blois’ a town famous for its castles, château and its Houdini association.   It was not those things that drew me to stay there but its association with Michel Petrucciani.     He wrote a wonderful suite about the place; one section was titled ‘Night Sun in Blois‘.   Sitting on the ramparts of that ancient and stunningly beautiful city at dusk I could hear that piano piece echoing in my head as the sun filtered through the now dark mass of the surrounding  forest.    The Loire river was a shinning golden reflection way below us and I wondered if Petrucciani had sat on this very spot when he was inspired to write that tune.

That powerful memory had faded with time but it was sharply brought back to me as I listened to this tribute and I thank the quartet for that.

The album ‘Delayed Reaction’ is on ‘Independent Artists’, a New Zealand label associated with ‘Rattle’ records.

Chateau by night near Blois

Tricolour's above Blois

Trio White – CJC

Trio White @ CJC gig

I am a big fan of Jazz guitar and so I need no arm twisting to get me along to a Jazz Guitar gig.   Last Wednesday the CJC featured a local guitar trio (+ piano in second half).    I was not previously aware of ‘Trio White’ and so I was intrigued.    I soon learnt that this band knew exactly what they were about as they launched into the first set with fiery determination.

Trio White is composed of; Ben White (guitar), Joanne Shum (bass), Steve Harvie (drums)

From an overheard conversation I learned that they had been keen to play at the CJC for a while and were hungry to play in front of more Jazz audiences.   They have been together for a while and according to their promotional material formed in order to explore the most contemporary sounds of Jazz.

On Wednesday the group performed their own material,  but they do mention Kurt Rosenwinkel as an influence and I am not surprised.

While they treated us to some slower and more melodic numbers, the main thrust of their music was intense hard-driving; blowing jazz.  Their was no mistaking that Ben White was the leader and he worked the band hard as he executed his rapid fire runs up and down the neck of the guitar.   He also demonstrated some skillful chord work and comped when the bass took a solo, but the thrust of this hard-driving music came from the intense lines he tossed out.

It was hard to catch the song titles as the band did not pay terribly much attention to introducing tunes.   They began by launching straight into the music and only brief announcements followed; almost as an aside.    They were primed to play and that was all that mattered.

For the second set they were joined by Dr Stephen Small on piano and as you would expect a slightly more reflective vibe took over.   Having a piano added to a guitar trio changes the dynamic and the musicians have to be more aware of creating room for each other.   It can also free up a guitarist, as chords are less of an issue to be factored into the mix.

One number I did catch the title of was the ironically named ‘Untitled Tune‘.   For me it was the best number of the evening.    I loved it from start to finish – thoroughly enjoyable music.   The band communicated as a unit and were more aware of each other; responding in the best possible way to the challenges being laid down.

Following that was a slow burning groove number with a walking bass line that drove the tune relentlessly.   Joanne Shum held the centre and for this one track she and drummer Steve Harvie ruled the roost.    Dr Stephen Smalls piano was excellent as well and he did exactly what was expected of a pianist joining a piano trio.

In last weeks blog I speculated that this might well be the golden era of Auckland Jazz.   If that is the case then it is down to this CJC Jazz club and the dedication of Caroline, Roger, Ben and the others who work at this so tirelessly.     Keep them coming please, the magic is apparently endless.

When the constellations align – Mike Nock @ CJC

Experiencing a Mike Nock band playing in an intimate club setting is quite different from catching his act in a large concert hall.    In one sense it doesn’t matter, as this cat can whip up a whirlwind of energy in any space, but seeing Mike in a small intimate club is as cool as it gets.  The immediacy of being up-close to a band like this is electrifying.

I had arrived early with a friend, but the club was already at near capacity and there were no available seats.  We were happy to stand as no one wanted to miss this night.    I leaned against the side of a leather couch crammed full of people while up front Roger adjusted his mouthpiece and Ron positioned his kit.  Then we saw Mike and Brett and the lighting was lowered.     As the band began to play it was obvious that they would not need any warming up because they were clearly as up for the gig as we were.    The opening number ‘Hop Skip & Jump’ was up-tempo and Roger just tore it up from the start.   To those who of us who love Mike Nock compositions this music was somehow familiar, but this was also the ‘sound of surprise’.

I am convinced that we could not have seen better in any New York club and in down town Auckland we soaked up the groove feeling lucky to be alive.  In the soft lighting  you could almost see the sparks of energy flying between the band members and the washes of blissful sound permeated every corner of the room.    This was seriously good shit.

Next up was ‘Komodo Dragon‘, a moody number that developed from a beguiling tune into an altogether more profound entity.  The placement of chords under Mikes hands is always a revelation as he knows how to mine an idea for deeper and infinitely subtler meanings.   His chords were sometimes bluesy, but then he would toss in an oblique voicing as if to bring about a subtle shift in the cosmos he was conjuring.   It was like watching an onion being peeled by a master chief.

I was also pleased to see Ron Samson (d) using a mix of mallets, sticks and brushes, as the sound palate that night demanded a more textural approach.   Like all good drummers he knew when to blend into the mix, as a loud overly showy drummer would have been out-of-place.  Roger Manins (ts) is simply a phenomenon and we are extremely lucky to have him resident in Auckland.   He lifted the intensity on ‘Komodo Dragon‘ to such a fever pitch that I actually stopped breathing at some points as the tension was building so much.    Roger is the master of tension and release and he can nimbly shift into double time and then some.        Brett Hirst (b) has been playing with Mike for years and it shows.   He is a terrific bass player and his solos and note placement that night were magical.     The band members were all great soloists but what is better they were able to act as a perfect ensemble.

The second number of the second set was a tune called ‘Homage’ and it began with a familiar chord progression (probably based on the changes of ‘All blues’).   Where it went next is hard to adequately describe, but this was one of the highlights of the evening for me.    Mike developed the theme quickly and as he did so he showed every ounce of his mastery on the key board.  He was tossing in fourths while his right hand darted over the keyboard.   I was immediately put in mind of the middle movement of ‘A Love Supreme‘.   The band was so deep in the groove on this number that the music reached heights beyond the sum of its parts.    To hear Roger playing with such strength and in such an ecstatic state was to be reminded of how Coltrane-like he can be.  As Roger played, Mike continued to ramp up the groove with his Tyner like chords and an overlay of chromaticism.  The band was apiece on this and it was a perfect moment – fresh ecstatic music that paid homage without actually being captured by the past it referenced.

Afterwards I had the chance to speak to Mike about his music and about the scene.   Mike is an easy-going cat off the band stand and he comes across as somewhat of a Jazz philosopher.   He has also retained a very Kiwi sense of humour which delighted me.    As soon as he has made a successful album Mike seems to reach beyond that for the next idea; never one to settle back and rest on his laurels.   Already knowing the answer, I asked him if he was still restlessly reaching beyond the now for newer musical ideas, or would he relax a bit?   He told me that it was his nature to search for a deeper meaning in the music and that he could not do otherwise.  “Some younger musicians than me sound a lot older than I do as they have settled into a safe fixed in time style.  That is not where I ever want to be”.   I told him how much I enjoyed the ECM ‘Ondas‘ label and he observed wryly , ” yeah man, everyone loves it…. now.  Is it even still in print?”.   He said that Manfred Eicher often told him how much he loved that album but as was often the case, it was way ahead of its time.    We also discussed his writing on the recent ‘Meeting of the waters‘ album which is a favourite of mine.   He told me that he felt good about that album but that distribution had been a problem (when was that not the case with Jazz).   Mike has hopes of bringing his ‘Accumulation of Subtleties‘ trio here soon and I would urge fans to grab a copy of that double album.

We talked briefly about the Auckland Jazz scene of our youth and he told me how pleased he was that Caroline, Roger ,Ben and Mike were now running the CJC.    He also said that he was grooved by the young cats wearing ‘pork pie’ hats, but that when he had gone to buy one had found that his head was too small.    “Age will do that” he said.   I quickly jumped in with information from a new longitudinal study which showed that humans actually reach their greatest analytical potential between the ages of 62 and 70 years of age.    He looked at me dismayed and said, “man you could have extended the time frame by a few years.  I am past 70”.

The set list was ‘Hop Skip Jump’, Komodo Dragon’, Gospel Dog’, ‘Joy Remembered’, ‘Transitions’- 2nd set – ‘Afternoon in Paris’, ‘Homage’, ‘Speak to the Golden Child’, ‘Triflin’ Jon’.

Hidden in plain sight; Joe Chambers

Sometimes we don’t see what is right under our noses and that was definitely the case with me and ace-drummer Joe Chambers.   We sometimes miss drummers or bass players because it is all too easy to be dazzled by the musicians on the horns or guitars.  In Joe Chambers’s case the leaders were cats who blazed with an almost unbearable intensity and this semi-eclipse had blinded me to the intricacies of a hard grooving and in-the-pocket drummer.

I was kicking back with a friend one night when he put on Chick Corea’s ‘Tones for Joan’s Bones’.   I had wanted to hear this album for years and now from the first bar the album got right under my skin; edgy, restless, forward-looking American 60’s Jazz  – featuring Chick Corea (p), Joe Farrell(ts)(fl), Woody Shaw (t), Steve Swallow (b) & Joe Chambers (d).   This was an era when Jazz, (no longer a popular music and competing with rock), let loose a tidal wave of open-ended creativity.  Caught between Ornette Coleman and a burgeoning rock scene, the confining ‘stays’ of Hardbop were suddenly loosened.    ‘Tones for Joan’s Bones’ is a truly great album of its type and the psychedelic art work on the cover is reason enough to buy a copy.   Chick Corea’s song ‘Litha’ with its chromatic mesmerizing energies was the big hook for me and as I listened I became hyper aware of the drummer.

The name Joe Chambers had been vaguely familiar and when I looked him up I was surprised to find that he was the drummer on dozens of my favourite albums.    Classic albums by Herbie Hancock, Bobby Hutcherson, Chic Corea and Freddy Hubbard etc.

As well as listening to the group as a whole we should also develop the ability to isolate the instruments as we listen.  When we do this it is possible to comprehend the levels of interaction and the individual flights of inventiveness.   Jazz is after all a collective enterprise that supports the individual in extraordinary ways.

There are circus acts where a reverse human pyramid is formed on the shoulders of a strongman.   While watching the climbers go higher and higher, we can forget that the whole formation would fail catastrophically if the person at the bottom were to miss-step.  Joe Chambers is the strongman who waits until everyone is standing on his shoulders and then raises them even higher.  This type of drummer carries a lot of weight and in moments of high tension, causes you to hold your breath in case he falls and the band tumbles to earth with him.   Such drummers can stretch time to breaking point as the tension increases and as quickly pull it in again when the outlier musicians need recalling.    Joe is a master of this tension and release.    I may have momentarily overlooked him but many modern rappers have not; zeroing-in frequently on his edgy rhythms.

Francis Wolf - Blue Note Records

Picture Francis Wolf - Blue Note

Larry Koonse; Jazz Guitarist

Larry Koonse may be one of the nicest guys in Jazz but he is a killer guitarist.   He has recorded under his own name and toured or recorded extensively with such famous artists such as Bob Brookmeyer, Karrin Allyson, Mel Torme,  Joe La Barbera, Billy Childs, Terry Gibbs, Warne Marsh, Johnny Dankworth, Jimmy Rowles, Alan Broadbent, Charlie Haden, Toots Thielmans and many others.   At the invitation of Nelson Mandela and UNICEF he was once asked to perform in South Africa.   He has been the featured soloist with the LA Philharmonic plus other orchestras and has performed in Carnegie Hall.   He sometimes performs with his father Dave Koonse (who is also a jazz guitarist, having played at the ‘Lighthouse’ with John Grass).  Larry is a well seasoned and gifted musician and he is always a joy to listen to.

I first saw Larry perform when he came to New Zealand with Joe La Barbera and Tom Warrington.  It was Kiwi big band leader Roger Fox who had organised for the trio to come out here and many were grateful that he did.   Larry’s guitar playing captivated me throughout the concert and I marveled at how the Tom Warrington trio’s “You must believe in Spring’ could somehow reverence Bill Evens and Lennie Tristano at the same time.   Larry’s cool-style is perfectly balanced by the warm tones that he elicits from his guitar and in his playing you can hear hints of Johnny Smith, and even Bill Bauer.  I loved every note of it.

After the concert some of the band came out to mingle with the crowd and I got to speak to Larry about his music.  Joe La Barbera was there as well, chatting and signing CD covers .  Larry is a very friendly guy and we have met once since then and exchanged emails.   Making contact with world class musicians in clubs or after concerts is one of the great joys of being a jazz fan and I often wonder if that chance exists in any other musical genre.

I have many recordings featuring Larry and in each of them I hear new subtleties.  Sometimes his long lines are unmistakably of the Tristano school (especially in his co-led LA Jazz Quartet),but with the Tom Worrington trio he can sound closer to the style of Herb Ellis or Johnny Smith.   The best place to purchase Larry’s music is from the ‘Jazz Compass’ label online.   Alternately go to his next gig and purchase the music there.    He tells me that he will probably be in in New Zealand in Late May 2011 and I will certainly keep you posted on that.

The clip has Bruce Forman on the left and Larry Koonse on the right as you face the screen.

The sublime odyssey of Hank Jones

I have never met a Jazz aficionado who did not like the pianist Hank Jones.  Because he was still recording so frequently at age ninety one it was tempting to think that he would live for ever.   To see footage of Hank playing was to love him because he radiated a rare warmth and a humanity.  His early influences in Jazz piano were Fats Waller and Art Tatum.  He was also there from the inception of Bebop but somehow he seemed to span the whole history of Jazz in his chordal voicing; which stretched from stride to post bop .   Joyous music ran out of his fingers like water from a faucet and we loved him because he was a Jazz god living among us. He believed that good Jazz should be infused with the blues and he practiced what he preached.  As he got older you could hear him happily sigh and chuckle as he played.  His deep throated vocalisations though quiet, somehow gave additional joy to his already joyous swinging music.

Hank was born in 1918 into a musical Mississippi family and his younger brothers Thad and Elvin became Jazz greats in their own right.  In his later years wide-spread recognition came his way but his innate modesty meant that the praise washed over him.  Hank was a great teacher and he never failed to support up-and-coming musicians.  A number of careers benefited from his support and this was a gift that he bestowed right up until his passing.   Hank left us in 2010 and the loss is still keenly felt.  A visit to the official Hank Jones web site will lessen the blow, because as you hear him welcome you, the realisation comes that his legacy and above all his music will remain with us always.