Big Band, Concerts - visiting Musicians, Swing, USA and Beyond

Basie Orchestra’s Auckland gig 2018

Basie (1)There are a number of things that should be on every music lovers bucket list. Experiencing a Basie Orchestra gig live is one of them. This band has the history of modern music in its DNA and after 83 years on the road, they are in their prime.  Goodman was always referred to as the ‘king of swing’ but in my view Basie was a better contender for that title. His brand of swing had it’s nascent stirrings in 1927 when Basie joined Bennie Moten. When that band folded he took many of the musicians with him to form the Basie Band in 1935. The Basie band possessed a unique sound, fueled by a nine-piece line up featuring legendary greats like Lester Young, ‘Papa’ Jo Jones and Walter Page. Johnny Hammond heard them in 1936 and invited them to New York where at his suggestion they expanded to become a thirteen piece jazz Orchestra. At this time they were joined by Freddie Green and others. Skillfully, they incorporated the nimbleness of the Kansas City small ensemble swing-feel into a new sound.

When we listened to the Orchestra in Auckland a few nights ago, every iteration of their 83 years was touched upon. Early and contemporary charts, the gorgeous highly arranged charts from Neil Hefti, Frank Foster and Quincey Jones ‘second testament’ era, some newly arranged material, plus a fabulous tribute to the Basie/Amstrong/Fitzgerald collaborations. Giving added weight to that celebration was the inclusion of vocalist Carmen Bradford. Bradford was originally hired by Basie himself and so she has a long association with the orchestra. Hers is a big voice and an instrument perfectly suited to Ella’s songbook. She is a Jazz vocalist in the traditional sense and it is no wonder that Basie gave her a shot.  At times she sang duets with various of the band members, but it was when she and Scotty Barnhart got together that the sparks really flew. Basie (3).jpg

Barnhart, a two times Grammy winner is the musical director of the Basie orchestra and a featured soloist. His Louis Armstrong tribute captured not just ‘Pops’ but the great man’s contemporaries, an often overlooked cohort who deserve to be examined more often than they are. Modern trumpet styles are a long way removed from the street rich dirty growls and blues-infused storytelling of those times. A sound which always communicated a world of raw emotion and deep humanity. As the tribute tunes moved through the era, we heard everything from the lighter-hearted ‘A Tisket a Tasket’ (a traditional nursery rhyme), to Gershwin classics like  ‘A Foggy Day in London Town’ or ‘Summertime’.  Some of the numbers predated the Basie bands like ‘Struttin With Some Barbecue’ (Armstrong 1927) while others were more contemporary like the gorgeous arrangement of Stevie Wonders ‘Ma Cherie Amour’.

Among the most enjoyable moments were the sensitive trio rendition of ‘Hello Dolly’ (Herman) and the ever wonderful and always compelling Hefti arrangement of ‘April in Paris’ (Duke/Harburg). Doug Lawrence the tenor soloist astounded as always (I was sitting next to a young tenor player and his jaw dropped in amazement during Lawrence’s solos). These musicians are so tight that an atomic blast couldn’t separate them and they swing like crazy.  I guess 84 years on the road will do that.  I have seen this orchestra before and with any luck, I will see it again and again.  There is only one thing you can say in summing up a Basie Orchestra performance; “ONE MORE TIME – please”.

The concert took place at the Aotea Centre, Auckland City, New Zealand, July 30, 2018

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Backbeat Bar, Bebop, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Hard Bop, Straight ahead, Swing

Frank Gibson Plays Thelonius Monk

FrankEvery Jazz club needs a Monk night on their calendar and when it comes to Monk the local go-to person is definitely the well-known drummer Frank Gibson Jr. Gibson and the various iterations of his bands have long made a point of keeping the Hardbop era and Monk firmly on our radar. While the setlist was not exclusively Monk, the Monk tunes chosen were a solid mix of seldom-heard compositions and old favourites. Frank (2)

A good example of the former was Eronel which memorably featured on the Criss Cross album. I heard Jonathan Crayford play this number solo a few weeks ago and I recall thinking then – why is this wonderful tune not played more often? We also heard the tune Criss Cross, the title track from that album.  ‘Criss Cross’ with its atypical rhythmic displacement is an interesting and bold composition and one which took Monk into new territory. It occurred at the height of his fame. Another lessor known tune was Light Blue, which appears on Thelonius Monk in Action (at the Five Spot).  Others like ‘Rhythm-a-Ning’ and ‘I Mean You’ are well-known all were enthusiastically received. Frank (3)

Among the other tunes played were ‘Bessie’s Blues’ by John Coltrane, ‘Beatrice’ by Sam Rivers and an interesting Harold Danko tune titled ‘Tidal Breeze’. The band featured veteran guitarist Neil Watson and Bass player Cameron McArthur, but a newcomer to this particular lineup was Cameron Allen on tenor saxophone. Allen added that nice earthy-brass touch that Monk gigs benefit from. The gig occurred during an intense and devastating storm. Surprisingly, the audience braved horrendous weather to get there, navigating their way through fallen trees, power outages, flooding and through the debris which littered the city streets. It is always right to head for the music in troubled times and Monk is a force of nature in his own right. Frank (1)

The gig took place at the Backbeat Bar for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, Auckland, New Zealand, April 11, 2018.

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians, Straight ahead, Swing

Ben Wilcock + The Jelly Rolls

Ben Wilcocks (1)

The last time the Jelly Rolls Jelly Rolls played at the CJC was two years ago and they are just the right band for a pre-Christmas 2017 gig.  To my ears, nothing sounds more like Christmas than the Jelly Rolls. Forget your formulaic Christmas albums – this is good times music and you can feel it deep in your bones. The Jelly Rolls are important for a number of reasons, but not least because of their outreach to both provincial and urban New Zealand. The year has gone well for them and after touring the band to unlikely corners of the Island, they arrived in Auckland in peak form. Their particular brand of swing-infused music is seldom heard live and it’s a delight to hear it done (and done so well). To a new generation of listeners, this is often an eye-opener and so it should be. Their playlist comprises originals but also showcases an all but forgotten improvised treasure trove. Ben Wilcocks (3)

Much of the Jelly Rolls music comes from an important moment in the development of Jazz. It digs into the repertoire of musicians like Erroll Garner, Fats Waller, Ahmad Jamal, Jack Teagarden and Oscar Peterson. These musicians were far more important than mere historical footnotes – they were vital stepping-stones to where we are today; larger than life musicians who entertained and made us smile. In the Jelly Rolls hands, all of the above are referenced; not in a ‘let’s do some retro stuff’ way but by encapsulating style and essence. Those who know their music history will pick up these threads but will also enjoy the immediacy. This is music to be enjoyed in the now, enjoyed at a visceral level; foot-tapping body-swaying music.  Some of what we heard, the swing material, was from their earlier ‘Live in Cromwell’ album (I love that title).Ben Wilcocks

When I last saw Ben Wilcock he was about to move to Rotorua. His new location among the lakes and geothermal marvels prompted him to write some fresh material. The Phantom Canoe is an ambitious project focusing on Te Arawa legends of the central North Island. In deference to local Iwi and Hapu, he consulted elders as the project unfolded. Armed with their blessings and advice, he told the stories in his own voice. The album arising out of that project is on data-card and it includes a short video.  There is a piece about a Taniwha, the epic of Hinemoa and Tutanekai is told in several parts but the most dramatic tale is the title track ‘The Phantom Canoe’.  Beautifully paced, gently evocative of the landscape and the mysterious story behind it.

A Phantom Canoe appeared on Lake Tarawera on the 13th May 1886 and it was seen by the wiser Maori inhabitants as a portent of the coming eruption. The volcano erupted violently 10 days later, obliterating the villages around the shore and the iconic pink and white terraces. No such canoe had ever been on the lake and those in the canoe were dressed in traditional shrouds. Michael Barker’s vibraphone melody over a repeat pattern on piano and bass was just right for this, Wellington drummer John Rae completing the piece nicely as he evoked the final eruption sequence. It was obvious that the band enjoyed performing together and the audience picked up on that and responded.Ben Wilcocks (2) The line up on Squeaky Weasel, an earlier Jelly Rolls album, was as now Wilcock, Rae and bass player Yeabsley. The addition of Michael Barker on percussion and vibraphone is an evolution that makes perfect sense. Trumpeter Finn Scholes joined them for one number and delivered a well thought through high energy solo. To pick up a copy go to Ben Wilcock Thick Records Ltd – www.thickrecords.co.nz  They appeared at the CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog Tavern, K’Road, Auckland on 29 November 2017

 

 

 

 

Bebop, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Straight ahead, Swing

Marc Osterer (NY/Austria)

Marc Osterer 254Improvised music is a never-ending contest between the familiar and the unexpected. Everything is valid on the journey, but sometimes we forget that tradition can be a springboard and not a straightjacket. We had a good example of that on Wednesday.  Because he lives far from here, few if any locals had previously encountered Marc Osterer, but few who heard him will forget his exuberant CJC gig. Born in New York, Osterer has led an interesting musical life. Broadway Shows, New York clubs, principal trumpet (Mexico City Philharmonic) and the Salzburg Festival Austria. While he attended prestigious musical conservatories in New York, there is something else in his sound – something that can’t be learnt purely from academic institutions. Osterer’s Jazz has a firm foothold in the tradition. Louis Armstrong and the great swing-to-bop trumpeters like Sweets Edison. It made perfect sense therefore that the standards he played were from the Songbook and that his own compositions reached deep inside that era.Marc Osterer 256 (1)

There was something of the old time back streets and jazz alleys in his sound. The way he phrased and that tasty lip-shake vibrato coming straight after a ‘hot’ clean-toned blast. Sure he is a formidable technician, but there was more than that in his sound. Trumpeters not raised on his streets, not bottle fed on Armstrong, Eldridge, Stewart, Allen or Edison hesitate before diving into that particular sound. Swing-to-bop as played in the 50’s still contained the mellow soulful echoes of its New Orleans beginnings. This period is often overlooked today – perhaps it’s even seen as hokey by some?  That’s a shame because the era is a gift that keeps on giving (watch a clip of Roy Eldridge or Henry Red Allen sometime – ‘whomp whomp’). What Osterer showed us were modern interpretations which were credible and which shone fresh light on an oft neglected golden age of trumpet.Marc Osterer 255We also witnessed good chemistry between the visiter and his pick up band. It was not the band advertised but what we got was terrific. Matt Steele was flown up from Wellington and locals (fellow UoA Jazz School alumni) Eamon Edmundson-Wells and Tristan Deck completed the rhythm section. Pianist Steele has been gone from Auckland for over a year and is seldom heard here these days. We do hear Edmundson-Wells (bass) and Deck (drums), but to the best of my knowledge, none of them have performed in this context. Absent were the complex time signatures and post bop harmonies. The tunes stayed closer to the melody and the rhythmic requirements were often two-beat or even something closer to second line. As they played through the sets the joy of discovery showed on their faces and we felt it too. Marc Osterer 255These musicians were still students three years ago but their skills are now well honed. They met the challenge and more.  Locals who had not seen Steele play for a while, were buzzing; especially after the blistering Cole Porter standard , ‘It’s alright by me’. Steele’s fleet fingered solo was terrific, and matched by Deck’s bop drumming (complete with appropriately placed bombs and fluid accents). Edmundson-Wells dropped right in behind, pumping out his lines, and it was obvious they were enjoying themselves.  Osterer’s compositions tell us how Marc Osterer 254 (1)comfortable he is with this style of music. His ‘What’s that smell’ (Jazz should be ‘stinky’ he explained) – a New Orleans referencing tune, then ‘Tune for today’ and ‘Bite her back’ based on a Bix Beiderbecke tune. Among the standards was Chet Baker’s version of the little known ‘This is always’, a steamrolling syncopated version of ‘Limehouse Blues’ (Braham) [Note: I have only seen one Kiwi attempt that, Neil Watson on fender] and a version of Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘New Orleans’.

My favourite tune of the night was the bands version of the Mencher/Moll 1930’s standard,’I want a little girl (of my own)’. This slow burner is another that has dropped from fashion, perhaps due to the slightly creepy title (and the lyrics are definitely pre feminist).  What a tune this is though. This was less Armstrong’s version than the Cootie Williams/Eddie Cleanhead Vinson take or even Brother Jack McDuff’s. A low down dark-alley speak-easy version with growls, stutters and smears; giving us the full dose of ‘stinky’ jazz and we loved every second of it. A commentator once stated; “When they find out which part of the human brain holds the love gene, this tune, ‘I want a little girl’ will be present in the DNA”.

Putin recently opined that tolerance and the Western world’s fetish for embracing diversity are signs of weakness. Hermann Goering said something similar, “when I hear the word culture I reach for my gun”. This myopic world view is the domain of strutting fools. The improvised music circuit is our connection to innovation, tolerance and expanded consciousness. On Wednesday nights we forget Trump and Le Pen. For that short window in time we live in a world of exciting ideas and discover the hidden corners of human consciousness.  Keep them coming CJC, you enrich our lives.   

I have put up two sound clips: ‘I want a little girl (of my own)’ and ‘It’s all right by me’ – enjoy.

Mark Osterer (trumpet, arrangements, compositions), Matt Steele (piano), Eamon Edmundson-Wells (bass), Tristan Deck (drums). 22nd March 2017, CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Thirsty Dog, K’Road, Auckland.

 

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Straight ahead, Swing

Twisting the Swing / La Luna & the Gadjos

Gypsy 089This is the second gypsy swing project at the CJC in four months. The last gypsy gig brought us Wellington band Black Spider Stomp. This time, we experienced the local variant. Wellington is arguably the home of New Zealand Manouche, but it definitely exists around Auckland. Thanks to Caro Manins (La Luna) and Misha Kovalov we feasted on catchy melodic tunes, marvelled at their hard-swinging lines. ‘Twistin the Swing’ and ‘La Luna & the Gadjos’ worked their magic and swing, they certainly did. It doesn’t matter what your Jazz preferences, I defy anyone to keep their feet still during a spirited Manouche gig.Gypsy 097This is a music that stirs heart and limbs, a holiday from the cerebral manifestations of improvised music. It makes you feel good and the desire to move with it is overwhelming; that is its charm. I recall a recent discussion with Roger Manins about the diversity of Australian improvised music and he said this. “learning to play in really diverse situations is important. It is a feature of the Sydney scene. One minute the musicians are playing in an avant-garde ensemble, then straight ahead and the next minute playing Trad or Manouche”.  For developing musicians, learning to swing in bands like this is invaluable, whatever their eventual calling. It was, therefore, good to see up and coming younger musicians in these lineups.Gypsy 090The first set was ‘Twistin the Swing’. A very tasty quartet led by the ensemble leader, composer/guitarist Misha Kovalov. The group featured two Manouche guitars, an upright bass, and a reeds player. Kovalov was a leader in every sense of the word, virtuosic in an almost offhand way and oozing good-natured charm. He made us smile and he made our feet tap; what more could you want in a Manouche leader.  This was a hybrid kind of Manouche, as many of the latter-day manifestations are (a perfect example is Lagrene playing Stevie Wonders ‘Isn’t She Lovely’). We heard some Django Reinhart compositions, a familiar sounding Russian tune (whose name I can’t recall but it was a total riot) and a lot of Kovalov’s own compositions. These compositions varied in style between 40’s swing and acoustic blues; sometimes with crazy quotes embedded.Gypsy 091On rhythm guitar was Phillip Beatson, on clarinet and tenor saxophone Asher Truppman-Lattie and on upright bass Djordje Nikolic. Beatson was largely hidden from sight, working his solid rhythm guitar in the shadows; the others all took short solos. It was nice to hear Nikolic playing arco at times, good for a swing rhythm section. It was also good to hear the licorice stick played – a hard task master but especially rewarding in the swing context.

The second set brought leader, vocalist Caro Manins (La Luna) and tenor player Roger Manins to the bandstand (Manins replacing Truppman-Lattie). The band was ‘La Luna & the Gadjos’. This set was also unmistakably gypsy but with some Piaf and a few mainstream swing standards in the mix. Caro Manins has a terrific voice and we don’t hear her often enough. The audience reacted with real enthusiasm. Prior to the gig she had expressed some anxiety because a sudden cold had affected her vocal chords. She needn’t have worried. On the bandstand, her voice came through strongly. It was good to hear Piaf interpreted so well, a singer seldom heard by modern non-French audiences. The crowd pleasers from the second set were definitely the standards ‘Swing Brother Swing'(lyrics Billie Holiday) and the ever popular ‘Lullaby of the Leaves'(Bernice Petkere).Gypsy 087

To add to the delights of Caro Manins vocals, Roger Manins was crooning on tenor saxophone. Not his fire-breathing post-Coltrane style, but gentle fills or perhaps laying down a muscular Ben Webster swing style solo, complete with vibrato notes which hung in the air, suspended only by breath. On a cold winter night, nothing warms you more.Gypsy 096 ‘Twistin the Swing: Misha Kovalov (leader, compositions, Manouche guitar), Phillip Beatson (rhythm guitar), Asher Truppman-Lattie (reeds), Djordge Nikolic (upright bass). ‘La Luna & the Gadjos‘: Caro Manins (leader, vocals), Misha Kovalov (guitar), Phillip Beatson (guitar), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Djordge Nikolic (upright bass) The gigs took place at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, 18th May 2016.