Jonathan Crayford’s ‘Steinway Tour’

SoloJ (1) Rarely, do we get to experience something truly sublime and for this to occur a number of planets must be perfectly aligned. Art at this level cannot be forced as the realization is dependant on both tangibles and intangibles. The musician might be in peak form, but if the room or the instrument is mediocre then the fine edge of perfection is blunted. It is harder to achieve in a capacious concert hall; easier in a well-appointed studio or an intimate vibing Jazz club. There is no manual to guide us to the point of departure. It is a divine alchemy pure and simple.

When I heard that Jonathan Crayford would be touring the country with a Steinway D Concert piano and one with considerable provenance, my first inclination was to doubt. This was no small undertaking. The piano in question was special, played by luminaries such as Lily Kraus, who signed it. It was formerly owned by a branch of the Guggenheim family and if Crayford had not asked a friend to purchase it, we would have lost it to an offshore purchaser. The friend, surprisingly, agreed and said, “Now use it”. Crayford is one of the few musicians who could pull this off.

The piano and Crayford travelled up from Wellington a few days ago and the first concert took place on the day of their arrival in Auckland. The lovely Uxbridge Arts Centre in Howick was the first venue; a pleasant, modern 100+ seat auditorium with good acoustics (especially for a piano) and an intimate cosiness.  I arrived early as I was videoing and sat quietly in the darkness; watching Crayford and his magnificent piano get acquainted.

Crayford approaches pianos with reverence and sensitivity. I watched as he played a few phrases – then he paused when a particular voicing took his attention. Putting his ear close and playing it again with a look of delight. He was learning the secrets and subtleties of the instrument. Later during the concert, he gently tapped out a note which had taken his fancy. “Listen carefully”, he said to the audience, pointing to a particular key. A soft harmonic-rich sound reverberated gently through the room – revealing a warm golden timbre. As he shared these insights we felt privileged. Crayford treats fine pianos as living entities; beings to be understood, curated, exalted. When he finished a piece he would gently lift his hands and time would stall as the slow decay of chord or phrase created new harmonics and textures. Sound bouncing off wood, frame and room until it faded into infinity. SoloJ (4)

He opened with a composition of his own, a reflective piece of deep spacious improvisation, perfectly realised and just the right length to reel us in. The awed hush from the audience said it all. This concert was special and everyone there swiftly grasped that. Next, we heard his take on an obscure but unmistakable Monk tune, the familiar jagged lines morphing into new shapes as he went. There was no set playlist, no charts to guide him; just a small black notebook with dozens of possible tunes written down and in no particular order. The piano and his musician’s instinct informing him of the journey as he went. Tunes were chosen or rejected on the fly. His programme consisting mainly of reflective material but with a few faster-paced tunes to balance these out. A tune from the Spanish civil war attributed to Garcia Lorca was an example of the latter. On the slower reflective pieces like a Satie Gymnopedie, he left space for the music to breathe – space for the spirit of the piano to sing through.  He would often play three pieces together and then rise from the piano to quote a line from Shakespeare or to offer an insight into a piece. He is a fascinating speaker and his enthusiasm utterly infectious. Nothing was out of place, everything he did conveyed the magic of the moment. SoloJ (6)

I urge music lovers to clear their calendars and attend these extraordinary concerts as Crayford travels throughout New Zealand. It is seldom that we get to experience projects like this and extremely rare to hear them in such intimate spaces. The most difficult gig in Jazz is the free-ranging improvised solo piano concert. When it works (and this certainly did) it is the most rewarding. This was deep improvisation, sensitive interaction and piano/sound curation at it’s best.  It paid respect to the solo art form and above all to a very special Steinway piano. It was Jarrett like (but without the abuse). It was Crayford at his best and that is enough to satisfy any music lover.

For tour, details check out: jonathancrayford.com – (video up later)

John Fenton  – March 2018

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Lucien Johnson + 5

a2788670674_16.jpgThe eponymously titled album ‘Lucian Johnson+5’ was first released in 2016 and has recently been re-released in Japan on vinal. I have only encountered Johnson performing once or twice as he has spent a lot of time outside of New Zealand. He was born in Wellington, but led an interesting life elsewhere, travelling the world with various innovative bands and living for long periods in Paris. I first encountered him when he toured with ‘The Troubles; a delightfully anarchic folksy ensemble he co-founded along with Scottish Jazz drummer John Rae. After hearing Lucien Johnson+5, I will be paying close attention to his futures offerings.

I became aware of the album’s existence soon after its release, but carelessly lost the Bandcamp access code when I changed computers. I finally regained access, listened and was immediately impressed. This is a mature piece of work with real depth. Given the diversity of experience, the musicians bring to the project that is hardly surprising.  Johnson’s musicianship and compositional abilities are well known – pare him with these five musicians and you get something special. Any project involving Crayford, French, O’Connor, Van Dijk and Callwood is going to grab the attention.

There is a certain mood emanating from this album, a palpable sense of the Iberian Peninsula. It is more than just the track names – it cuts far deeper than that. You will not hear overt Jazz Flamenco or Moorish tunes. You will hear reflective ballads, Latin, hard swing and all with fine arrangements (arrangements which evoke the hay-day of the classic Jazz ensemble). The album warmly invites us to engage, and the deeper we engage the greater the reward. The musicians were clearly onboard with the project and each of them gets a chance to shine. There are many wonderful solos, none that are too long and each solo harnessing to the spirit of the collective. Brilliant musicians all, but with no egos on display.

‘Light Shaft’ has a dancy Latin feel with French and Johnson reacting to Crayford’s rhythmic accenting; Crayford later tying it all together with a masterful solo. ‘El Cid’ is another great tune, again with a Latin American flavour, this time Afro Cuban. The clave aside, it evokes the Reconquista hero perfectly. El Cid’s is a tale well worth the re-telling; especially since modern scholars discovered that his antecedents were actually Moors, the very people he fought with such evangelistic fervour – a modern parable. ‘Zapata’ is another delightful tune and with plenty of meat on the bone.  It opens with O’Connor beating out a Krupa like rhythm on the toms, the ensemble comes in next, navigating a skillfully arranged head with nimble ease. Van Dijk and Crawford follow with stunning solos, but everyone is superb. This is a great piece of ensemble playing and above all it is fun. Here is Zapata:

My favourite from the album is ‘Asturias’. This track has a thoughtful quality and as many layers as a ripe onion. In spite of being a sextet, the ensemble sounds like a nonet at times – capturing the vibe of 50’s Gil Evans. This lies mainly in the skillful writing, as space and texture are maximised. The rich voicings of the horn line are also of importance, as they somehow manage to convey substance and airiness at the same time. Nick Van Dijk in particular, utilising the opportunity to shine through. Crayford and Callwood also have essential roles – Crayford creating a strumming effect, as Callwood did in the opening bars. Asturias is a region of northwestern Spain and also a Flamenco guitar style (a style often adapted to other instruments). Albeniz wrote in this style in the 19th century,  The melody over a strummed pedal chord (the thumb playing the melody line).

When we listen to evocative music, we bring our imagination to the experience. Whether intended by Johnson or not, this album took me back to Spain. I have travelled extensively in Andalucia and rekindling those memories through this music was a pleasure. The artwork is also superb and that is credited to George Johnson. The best place to source this album is on Bandcamp or via the Lucien Johnson website. lucienjohnson5.bandcamp.com

 

Melbourne Musicians

Andrea K (3)It was a foolish oversight on my part – I hadn’t visited Melbourne in fifteen years. I had seen quite a few Melbourne improvisers perform in Sydney or Auckland but failed to track them back to their native habitat. The last time I was there, Bennett’s Lane was still a thing, but closed for two weeks. That was the week between Christmas and New Year; that arid Jazzless desert in the live music calendar. With family now residing in Melbourne, I decided to atone for my sins and I headed off while the Jazz calendar was over-flowing with tasty offerings.

My first stop en route was Sydney where I met up with Mike Nock. That evening we caught a gig at the Foundry 616 where Nadje Nordhuis and James Shipp were playing. When Nock enters a venue the room rearranges itself. You immediately become aware of people in the dark interior, gathering quietly to pay their respects. It was great to see him looking so well and to hear about his new projects. We miss him in Auckland as he has not played here for over a year.  I had previously seen Noordhuis perform when the Darcy James Argue band came through Auckland. She is a member of both the Darcy Argue and the Maria Schnieder ensembles – Shipp is a vibraphonist percussionist and ‘synthesisist’ and well-known in New York. The gig opened the Sydney Women’s Jazz Festival and it was well received. I was also delighted to catch up with Thomas Botting who played bass for that particular gig.  A robustly healthy and startlingly fit Botting. After a few days with my daughter and grandchildren, I headed to the domestic airport and Melbourne. IMG_1930

To my delight, I was greeted at Melbourne Airport by large signs reading – ‘Welcome Home from Jail Granddad’. Aussie humour is unique and often intentionally embarrassing. Hiding behind false sensibilities is not an option. If you don’t like good-natured piss-take humour – go elsewhere (Kiwis get this). It is no accident that our lost, lamented and beloved Kiwi comedian John Clarke and the actor/comedian Bruno Lawrence settled there. A larrikin world-view runs through the music as well. There is a unique openness about much of Australian improvised music. It is of course informed by the Jazz roots of America, but strangely unbeholden to it. The musicians are liberal-minded and many are unashamedly strident in their political views – this can feed the music as well. New iterations of the Liberation Music Orchestra are forming in Melbourne and that makes perfect sense. Andrea K (9)

There were quite a few Melbourne musicians on my list and at the top was Barney McAll. It is no secret that I am fascinated by the depth and scope of McAll’s music and interviewing him is always an interesting experience. Some musicians go to great lengths to hide from personal scrutiny, believing that their music is all you need to know about them. That is an entirely valid viewpoint, but a curse if you’re a biographer or reviewer looking for context. When I review, I try to avoid armchair appraisals; attending live music whenever possible; eager to know something of the musician, the thought processes, philosophical leanings; hoping to look behind the mask. Possessing a stubborn belief that an artist and the music are two sides of an alchemic essence.Andrea K (11)

McAll texted me his address and I ventured out into the heat, trying to make sense of the train system. I got off somewhere in the outer suburbs; prophetically, somewhere near Mooroolbark. There was a bing and I looked at my phone. The text read, ‘Round the back your grace – ignore the dog’. McAll greeted me warmly and we went inside for a Vegemite crumpet. As he was wearing military-style camouflage, I didn’t dare tell him that Kiwis only eat Marmite (look up the great Marmageddon debate which erupted after the Christchurch earthquake).  It is always a pleasure talking to McAll, but unforeseen things occur when your guard is down. He played me some new compositions, showed me a video he was working on and we discussed the coming year’s projects. Then unexpectedly, I found myself the subject. Being interviewed about my poetry and the duty of creative artists to get their work out there. As we talked, and as if it were the most natural thing in the world, he handed me a grinning ventriloquist’s dummy and sat another in the next chair. The discussion continued, was filmed in real time; two child-sized puppets and me; and the McAll directing it Fellini fashion. For more about McAll’s recent ‘Hearing The Blood’ album or his catalogue, go to iTunes, Spotify or www.extracelestialarts.bandcamp.com  – read my recent blog post, December 4, 2017. Andrea K (14)

While I was there, McAll phoned Julien Wilson to find out his gig schedule for me. There was a gig of his on in Northcote and so I dashed back to the Jazz Corner hotel before heading out into the warm Melbourne night. It was an auspicious night to be out and about in Melbourne as the divisive and ill-considered same-sex marriage plebiscite had delivered a resounding yes vote. Whole inner suburbs were closed as revellers partied. Adding to the celebratory mood, a significant World Cup qualifying match was underway (which the Aussies subsequently won to the chagrin of Kiwis who lost their qualifying match). All of the above spells happy chaos in an art and sports-mad city. And I had music happening – lots of it. A scarfed man sitting opposite me on the tram was laughing and crying in turns.  He was so drunk that his eyes revolved in opposite directions. Someone asked him if he was anticipating a win and he nodded chuckling, then just as quickly he cried inconsolably – ‘Cats are bastards’ he mumbled – ‘I just fell over one and hurt my arm’.Andrea K (10)

Jules Wilson is a tall friendly man and he plays like he lives with his heart on his sleeve. I have followed his Facebook posts and listened to his music for years; no-one is ever left wondering what his worldview is. Like many musicians, he loathes injustice or inequality and you can hear this manifest in his sound. Not in an angry way but in an earnest cajoling way, demanding that humanity ups it’s game. Creating original improvised music taps into a deep well of experience and with mature players, their character oozes through the notes. A lot of modern saxophonists have a raspiness to their tone and often produce a vibrato-less sound. Wilson has a rich full-bodied sound and it touches on an era when the tenor giants ruled the world. Appropriately there is often some breathy vibrato at the end of a phrase. This is not to say that he is an old-fashioned player because he isn’t. It is rather that the history is in that tone – ancient to modern.  This is always

There is another factor which could influence his tenor sound – he doubles on clarinet. The clarinet is the first horn he mastered. While many saxophonists treat that horn like a difficult inlaw, Wilson perseveres, regarding it with a begrudging affection. I was stunned by the beauty of his clarinet playing and how modern the instrument sounded in his hands (he played a fast-paced bop classic, not a ballad).  I asked him in the break how he felt about the horn – “it’s a punishing unforgiving instrument, but I can’t bring myself to abandon it” he told me.

Wilson came sharply onto my radar with McAll’s extraordinary Mooroolbark album but he has long been one of Australia’s most successful Jazz Musicians. Winning the National Jazz Award in 1994, The Music Council of Australia Freedman Fellowship in 2006, The 2008 Bell Award – Artist of the Year, a Bell Award trifecta in 2014 and the APRA Art Music Award for Excellence in 2016.  I have recently been listening to his back catalogue which is available on Band Camp (some CD albums are also still available).  His output is diverse and all of it interesting – an edgy album with Jim Black, Mark Hellas and Steve Magnussen – several recordings with his popular trio (Stephen Grant on accordion and Stephen Magnusson on guitar) – an extraordinary couple of albums featuring Barney McAll on piano, Jonathan Zwartz bass and Allan Browne on drums.  There are around twenty albums in all. All are worth a listen but his ‘This is Always’ album is an absolute gem (the live ‘This Narrow Isthmus’ which followed, likewise). The former harks back to a specific era in the best possible way – not as a tribute album, but as a rekindling of a bright flame.  

The story behind the album is instructive as it takes us to the heart of an in-the-moment creative process. The musicians wanted to capture the vibe and style of the famous Prestige Meeting Sessions.  McAll and Wilson swapped a few charts but had no detailed discussions – no rehearsals were scheduled.  On the day of recording, the four turned up at the studio with a ‘first-take’ approach. No baffles and no headphones were used. This allowed for a sense of immediacy and real-time heightened interaction.  McAll reimagining the piano styles of the era in passing – some Evans like intros and even using the locked hand’s style briefly. Wilson sending forth a flurry of swoon-worthy fat warm tones.  None of this sounded contrived – it sounded like the present and past fused into a cohesive whole. The album is an important milestone in Australian music and no antipodean Jazz lover should be without a copy. It should not be regarded as a trip down memory lane, but as a testament to the eternal now. The unsuspecting will believe it to be a loved classic album of the Prestige-era and scratch their heads to place it.

When Bennetts Lane passed into history, the Melbourne club scene rose to the challenge.  The Bennetts management (or some of them but minus the name – it’s a complicated story) opened a new club in the industrial heartland of Brunswick. The JazzLab is a stunning venue. Situated in a basement, it has all that old-school Jazz Club vibe but not at the expense of good taste. It is comfortable but not over-decorated (I have seen some shockers in other countries, trying so hard to be cool that they end up as museums to kitsch). More importantly, the sight lines are good and the acoustics great. I attended the JazzLab with expat Auckland musician Matt Steele and my son Jeremy and the gig was a treat. It was the album release of ‘Finding The Balance’ by the Paul Williamson Quintet. This was a solid unit with an inexhaustible array of talented firepower and good tunes.  All were new to me except Jamie Oehlers, who I see perform regularly.  Andrea K (2)

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The unit had swags of punch and plenty of textural contrasts.  It was big enough to sound like a larger ensemble at times, but the writing allowed individuals to shine. Oehlers was on fire, hitting sweet spot after sweet spot during solos – carving his path through the air like a titan. Closer to earth, but equally attention-grabbing was the leader Williamson – his sound control impressive – his trumpet speaking a very human dialect. I had not encountered Andrea Keller before, but her tasteful minimalist approach also caught my attention – it contrasted nicely with the fulsome horns. The remaining musicians a six-string electric bass player Christopher Hale and a very tasty drummer James Mclean. It was a great launch in an interesting venue – what could be better.  Andrea K (13)

Keller, in particular, intrigued me, so I looked through the gig guide to see if she was playing elsewhere. My luck was in as she was leading an interesting trio at the Uptown Jazz Cafe in Fitzroy. The next night, was a warm one, and I walked to Fitzroy, pausing to eat street food on the way. Finally, I stumbled up the stairs to a very warm Uptown Jazz Cafe. The venue was not air-conditioned and ill-lit, but the gloom and the heat added to the ambiance. As the band set up, a shaft of dim orange light beamed on them, illuminating the trio as ghostly orange specters – enlarging and distorting their forms as it projected them onto a screen. The music bordered on avant-garde and the setting was therefore perfect. Andrea K (1)

The trio of piano, violin, and electric bass didn’t disappoint.  Keller’s serialist credentials were very much on-show as she spun out a filigree of wonderfully intricate patterns. At first, appearing to be repeating motifs, but a more careful listening revealing otherwise. Finely detailed changes to the underlying structure guided the ear into a finely wrought lace work of notes. In this, I detected the influence of Riley or other adventurous souls.  The violin and bass meeting the challenge, adding colour, texture, and melodic contrast (I didn’t catch their names). I had recently been listening to Terry Riley’s ‘Lazy Afternoon Among the Crocodiles’, so this gig was very pleasing to my ear. Andrea K

I saw other gigs during the week, but the standouts were those mentioned. Melbourne is a city of the arts and a very European styled city. It is therefore not surprising that Jazz flourishes there. I have traveled through many of the worlds great cities in the past year, but this city is as Jazz rich as the best. Andrea K (4)

Barney McAll: www.extracelestialarts.bandcamp.com + iTunes, Spotify etc

Julien Wilson: www.julienwilson.com (sample tracks and purchase) + iTunes etc

Andrea Keller:  www.andreakellerpiano.com.au/ + iTunes etc

Paul Williamson: paulwilliamson.bandcamp.com + iTunes etc

Alargo – Primacy / Roberto Magris Sextet

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Alargo has been around for several years now and Primacy is their second album. The first Alargo album, Central Plateau, was great, but Primacy has that real wow factor. It is a testament to the extraordinary imagination and musicianship of Alan Brown and Kingsley Melhuish. They have created a world just beyond our grasp, but palpable for all that. The idea that two musicians can create such a cornucopia of sound is astonishing. It is divine trickery; it is music that lives everywhere but nowhere; it is quite wonderful.

This fulfils every requirement of a good ambient album: it references many genres and many moods but never overemphasis one aspect over another. It floats and shifts like moments in a dream and above all, it invokes an etherial sensory imagery. The kaleidoscope of patterns may elude the conscious mind but the subconscious mind will form its own associations. This is the philosophy behind ambient music.  Perhaps its most valuable attribute is its evanescence, that elusive quality where images fade shortly after they are fixed upon. This is the stuff of quantum physics and of good improvising musicians. This is the essence of Primacy.  Alargo2.jpg

The first track opens with a drone which pulses gently. As the modulation shifts the rhythms shift with it – subtly at first, and then as more voices are added you find yourself lost in the journey. This is an Alice like a dreamscape, but there are no bad-tempered queens down this rabbit hole. The sensation of floating is constantly enhanced, as snippets of music come and go; disembodied voices hinting at places as far-flung as the Himalayas, an old European cathedral or the South Pacific; mesmerised we follow. This piece and those after taking you into deep space (or an interior somewhere very much like it). Anyone who enjoyed Kubrick’s ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’ will love this. The sound clip I have posted is the first track titled ‘Vocale’.  

If you are a fan of ambient improvised music you should rush to grab a copy of Primacy. If you are unsure, then listen to the sample clip, close your eyes and let your imagination guide you. This album is as good as the best of the Nordic Ambient Albums and I’m sure that Manfred Eicher could not have improved on the mixing and mastering. Two Nordic Jazz Musicians visited New Zealand recently and we spoke about artists like Eivind Aarset and Jan Bang. This form of live improvised music is very popular in Scandinavian countries and Jazz audiences are on board with it. I hope that Primacy reaches the European continent. I am certain that it would do very well there.

Kingsley Melhuish features on: vocals, trumpet, Ocarina, Koauau, Tuba, Conch Shells, Percussion, Loops, iOS effects. Alan Brown is on: Keyboards, Synthesizers, Loops, iOS synths/effects. The album is available from Primacy-Alargo-Bandcamp.

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The Roberto Magris albums came to my attention some years ago as I have an interest in Italian and Mediterranean Jazz forms. While his albums fall into the straight-ahead Jazz category, a careful listening reveals his strong Mediterranean and Latin influences. His latest album ‘The Roberto Magris Sextet live in Miami’ is his most recent release and it has a distinctly international feel. This is partly down to the classy lineup but more to its edgy Latin-tinged hardbop vibe. Magris is a pianist in the classic mould – wearing his influences on his sleeve and unashamedly so. In interviews and in previous albums he has cited pianists like Horace Silver, Elmo Hope, Duke Jordan and Sonny Clark. He has an abiding fondness for the bop and hardbop swingers but stylistically he incorporates much of his own journey as an Italian pianist. He is extremely well recorded and has been a sideman for luminaries like Kai Winding, Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis and Sal Nistico. Of interest to me is his association with the west coast alto saxophonist Herb Geller. Magris is flawless in his articulation of ideas and his albums and his compositions don’t disappoint.   

Given the above, it is unsurprising that Magris chose Brian Lynch in a leading role. The American born but outward looking Lynch is a significant presence in the Jazz world and particularly so on Latin projects. He has recorded extensively, has travelled everywhere and is a Grammy-winning artist. His solo’s here are impeccable, and like Magris, he favours a hardbop approach. This gives him an air of real authority.  IMG_0376

On tenor saxophone is Jonathan Gomez, on bass (the renowned) Chuck Bergeron, on drums John Yarling and on percussion is Murph Aucamp. Magris is the musical director of a Kansas City based label ‘JMood Records‘ and this album and others can be sourced from there. I have put up a short clip ‘Blues for my sleeping Baby’, which reminds of the earlier East European pianist, Krzysztof Komeda. Magris is from Trieste, a once important free port on the Adriatic; a haven for great poets like Rilke and Joyce and now nestled quietly on the edge of faded empires. I visited there once and loved the place – I will certainly go again and when I do I will endeavour to track down a Magris gig.

This post and all on this site are by John Fenton, a photographer, videographer and professional member of the Jazz Journalists Association.

John Pal Inderberg Trio (Norway)

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It is rare to have a Viking encounter in New Zealand as our Geographical isolation makes it difficult. A foolish few, claim, that Eric the Red visited here after he sailed to America. That is as fanciful as Trump’s claim to possess genius IQ.  I have had four significant Viking encounters in my life. The first was when I visited Yorvik in York. The second occurred in a crowded hall when a booming female voice hushed everyone by proclaiming – ‘Lookout a Viking has entered the room’ and pointed directly at me. Wives were gathered close as all eyes turned nervously in my direction (the embarrassment subsided after extensive counselling). The third occasion was when my DNA revealed that I was 21% Viking (the woman was right). A few nights ago, I had another Viking encounter and this one was perfect. A descendant of Eric’s finally made it, with a baritone battle horn and batterie in tow.  John Pal

It was 10 degrees below when John Pal Inderberg left Norway and 40 degrees above when he and Hakon Johansen landed in Sydney.  By the time they visited Auckland, there was only a 38-degree temperature differential. This gig, was as unexpected as my previous Viking encounters – coming out of nowhere.  Jeff Henderson had pulled it together at short notice and those who attended will be eternally grateful that he did. Henderson and Inderberg go back some way. Baritone saxophone gigs are extremely rare; baritone chordless trio gigs like hens’ teeth. Inderberg opened with a long intro; a beautiful Norwegian folk-influenced melody – the deep resonant notes bubbling up from the depths – pleasurable from the first instance. His rich tone, northern European, his ideas as he improvised, an endless stream of Nordic sagas.  I have only heard one baritone player who sounds like that – John Surman (who also lives in Norway). John Pal (3)

The setlist was a mix of originals and standards – the standards sounding wonderfully original, as breathy stories were unpicked. Woven into the tunes, were snatches of multiphonics – between the tunes, a cornucopia of humour. This was Nordic humour and extremely funny. At one point, he told us that a particular tune was difficult and required a lot of rehearsal. “This tune has a lot of de-crescendos and Vikings are very crescendo orientated. Loud shouting is embedded in our DNA after all of that pillaging”. He later explained that the band were enjoying their new uniform (although no one was dressed the same). “Not one of us is wearing underpants on stage,” he added. “In Norway at 10 below, our underpants stretch from here to here,” indicating his chest and ankles. In this heat, they are not welcome.  

Inderberg has an impressive resume. He has toured and recorded with Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Chet Baker, Gil Evans and Bob Brookmeyer. He teaches at Trondheim, is a multi-award-winning musician and a key member of many ensembles and Jazz orchestras.  He has definite Tristano leanings and this shows in his approach to improvisation. We discussed Warne Marsh’s sad final performance – dying as he played ‘Out of Nowhere’. We call it ‘Out of Norway’ he told me.

We were extremely lucky to have both Inderberg and the trio drummer Hakon Mjaset Johansen in New Zealand. Johansen was also extraordinary – whether as a colourist or laying down a steady pulse, he showed himself to be the perfect partner (the percussively finicky Lenny would have approved – no kick drum bombs). On bass was the Auckland musician Eamon Edmundson-Wells. Was the Nordic-sounding name an X-factor? It may have been as he played as if he had been with the trio for a long time. It is always gratifying when our local musicians kill it alongside the greats. John Pal (2)

Inderberg has over 30 albums to his credit. He will likely return before too long. Watch out for that, as his gigs are not to be missed. The Trio recorded an album in 2016 titled ‘Linjedalsleiken’ and it is superb. I have embedded two gig clips, just case people need further convincing and a sound clip from the album.  

The above album is recorded for Ponca Jazz Records and is available from that site, or from iTunes. Also available, are a number of recordings of Inderberg with Lee Konitz – ‘Steps towards a Dream’ is astonishingly beautiful. Well worth the download if you have a fondness for the post-Tristano movement as I do.

The Carnivorous Plant Society @ The Wine Cellar

Finn (6)There are a finite number of notes in a scale or colours in the visual spectrum, but an infinite number of possibilities arise. Embracing the latter, multi-instrumentalist, multimedia sculptor and composer Finn Scholes constantly scans the landscape for new material. When he locates something shiny, he appropriates it as a magpie might, storing it in memory until he can bend it to a new purpose. A musician with few boundaries; a disruptor of complacency, his open ears and pioneering disposition equipping him well for his musical explorations. The genius of this music is that the listener will find any number of references, and each according to that persons taste. Any attempt to narrow the music down to a specific range of source materials, or to the prime influences, will, therefore, fall short; there is no correct answer.IMG_3922

There is an innate human urge to catalogue, look for pattern recognition and to compare and as I am a compulsive assembler of odd lists, I will offer up mine. This was: Bowie, Spaghetti Western movies, Surf guitar, Pink Floyd, a Mexican Soap opera, William Burrows, Lounge music, 70’s Jazz Space Funk, Bill Frisell and above all John Zorn (‘The Big Gundown’, ‘The Dreamers’).  It was also Hokusai, psychedelic poster art and Crum The Bum comics. In my ears, it had Jazz sensibilities and in my eyes, it was the psychedelic Kings Cross of my youth.

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The Wine Cellar is the perfect venue for such a launch. Down Karangahape Road you go, past the revellers and the sirens, past Shanghai Lils with its delightfully dissipated vibe, along to St Kevin’s Arcade, down the wide staircase and through the narrow door (surprisingly not the entrance to a broom closet). Into the bar, through the bar and under the arcade itself. A true home of the Avant-garde and of underground music. It is a vibing place where the sound of music-past leaks out of the air conditioning unit months later. It is so alternative, that the word ‘genre’ gets you chucked out by a hipster bearded bouncer. On this night it was jam-packed with sweating bodies and raised swaying arms; the temperature, so hot that you could fire porcelain. There was no room to swing a cat, but if you did, you would fell several hipsters. It was dark as a nun’s habit at the back while the front pulsed in dancing light. Multicoloured cartoons appeared and vanished just as quickly, playing on the instruments and the faces of the band.  And meanwhile, the excitement grew – it had no means of escape.IMG_9737

Up front, washed over with film and comic strip characters, the Carnivorous Plant Society; an organic entity with technicolour tendrils; the core band plus a steady procession of guest artists waiting for their cues. Finn Scholes the leader, on a bank of analogue keyboards, an ancient vibraphone, a trumpet and a tuba. At the rear, his brother Tam on guitar, Tam’s partner Siobhanne Thompson on fiddle and vocals. To complete the family involvement, Jeff Scholes, the father of Finn and Tam, read improbable parables, parables which may or may not have had a deeper meaning. The rest of the core line up were Cass Basil (bass and vocals) and Alister Deverick on drums. On vocals during the live performance were Hayden Eastmond, Ed Casterlow and Hollie Fullbrook. Additional instrumentalists were Tim Stewart (trumpet), Nick Atkinson (saxophone) and Lisa Crawley (recorder). .     

The Carnivorous Plant Society has been around for a while. I first reviewed them at a CJC gig in 2015 and liked the way they appropriated media; above all, I liked their vision. Now, two years later, after festival appearances and many gigs, they stand as a fully formed and highly compelling unit; living at the heart of Auckland’s alternative music scene, where the cross-over between bands and styles enriches everyone. Scholes plays with bands like Hopetown Brown, Audrey’s Dance, Swamp Thing, Avalanche City and the Zestnicks. He is also an occasional presence in Jazz studies student performance ensembles and in experimental or avant-garde music lineups. Scholes lives where music is evolving and where genres bleed into each other. A Jazz musician as the ghost in a bigger machine. His Jazz background will remain our secret.Finn (5)

The album will officially be released around March 2018. Additionally performing on the album are Lawrence Arabia, Don McGlashan, Hollie Fullbrook, Hayden Eastmond, Tiny Ruins. The band’s website is www.carnivorousplantsociety.com

My son and his girlfriend were home for Christmas, so I took them to the gig. Both live in central San Francisco and they are therefore familiar with the alternative music and experimental media scene in the Bay Area. The gig resonated strongly with them and they felt right at home. Buy the album, support alternative music and get along to the release gig if you can.

The Carnivorous Plant Society performed at The Wine Cellar, 183 Karangahape Road, St Kevin’s Arcade, Central Auckland on 22 December 2017.

Barney McAll – ‘Hearing the Blood’

a0201921582_16Just before the Aria winning Mooroolbark album was released I travelled to Australia and interviewed Barney McAll. He had not long returned from New York to take up his year-long Glanville Hicks Residency and at some point during the morning, he played me a few pieces he was working on. Some of that material has ended up on ‘Hearing the blood’. Listening to McAll developing a tune is not something that you forget. His preternatural fluency leaves images hanging in the air, where they linger long afterwards. As he worked through ideas, each one appeared as if fully formed and I wondered; how can these phrases possibly be improved on? The finished album answers that question. The act of creation is never fixed in time. A good composition opens up possibilities and lives on in the minds of those who receive it. The virtuous triangle of creator, music and listener.

Everything McAll does is eagerly anticipated and this album is no exception. The palette is broader than anything he has done before and unlike its predecessors, it is mostly an Australian affair. Albums like this are often referred to as a journey and while that can be an accurate descriptor, the term is hopelessly clichéd. Hearing the blood is more than that, it is a vast and interesting landscape. A place evoking fleeting memories and above all hope; the raw energy of life and landscape distilled. It is also a commentary on the human condition, honest but never judgemental, stories in chiaroscuro. At times the flow of tunes is interrupted by something surprisingly different, but the atypically juxtaposed tracks never detract from the overall impact. 0011413817_10Hearing the Blood is also littered with coded messages. The landscape it portrays while ancient to modern is somehow eternally present. Where musical genres or subgenres are referenced, they are just as casually brushed aside; the exploration of ideas being more important than barriers. The listeners are invited to step outside of their comfort zone and some will baulk at that.  Jazz listeners are all too inclined to swaddle themselves in the familiar and in doing so they can lose connection with the now. In a year when dialogue has been debased beyond recognition by a petulant child President, we need other forms of communication. Hearing The Blood is a refreshing place to start in our re-evaluation of the world. For those who have the ears to hear they will find a subtle humour and a joy pervading every corner; as with Mooroolbark, the trickster lurks at every turn.

It is hard to single out just one track for posting so I will embed two sound clips. The first clip is ‘Nock Code’ (a tribute to the admired Jazz pianist Mike Nock).  The tune begins with the opening bars Nock’s composition ‘The Sybiline Fragrance’. Many will recognise the tune as it featured on Nock’s ‘Hear & Know’ album (and other earlier albums). In McAll’s hands, the homage is perfection. He does what he did in ‘The Mother of Dreams and Secrets’ and in his trio rendering of ‘Why did I Choose You’. He slows everything down and from out of the altered space, emerges an essence that drips through the consciousness like honey. As the tune unfolds he makes other references including his earlier recorded self. When the body of the tune is given to Morgan on guitar it soars wonderfully. The second sound clip is ‘Sorrow Horse’; a tune which showcases his skilful arranging. There is an ABC film Clip of ‘Dog Face Now’ which is hard to find. That track is an altogether wilder ride; at times more of a conduction, complete with flashcards, worth hunting for.

From the earlier Mooroolbark album are bassist Jonathan Zwartz and Hamish Stuart on drums. Also on this album are Mike Rivett on tenor saxophone, Carl Morgan guitar, Adrian Sherriff trombone and Scott MCConnache alto saxophone – Daniel Merriweather vocals on ‘Love is the Blood’, ‘That Which Provides’, Jade Talbot vocals on ‘Sorrow Horse’ with McAll – on the outro of ‘Love is the Blood’ is Ben Vanderwal on drums, Jenn Gavito is on Flute in ‘Nock Code’ and on ‘Echoless Shore’ are: Gian Slater, Ben Monder, Maeve Gilchrist and the Invenio Singers: Miriam Crelin, Louisa Rankin, Allra Wilson and Edward Farlie. On Piano, Keyboards, vocals and Chucky – Barney McAll (most of the compositions and arrangements are his).

McAll is a significant creative force on the planet. When his name comes up among musicians he is spoken of in reverential tones. The album liner notes by Kurt Rosenwinkel reinforce this point nicely. Another New York musician who had worked with him put it this way. “With Barney McAll you get creativity and musicianship of the highest order, but there is something profound behind that.  He somehow rises above the workaday aspects of the industry, all of the scuffling, and he lives his life as a creative artist should. He and the people around him value the creative spirit beyond all else and that is exceedingly rare”. IMG_0069

To buy the album or to hear a few streamed clips, go to McAll’s Exracelestialarts Bandcamp site.  It is also available on iTunes and Spotify. I urge everyone to sign up for Bandcamp and order CD’s or downloads directly. On that platform, the artists have better control of the revenue stream. I saw him again a few weeks ago and he was preparing for an album release at Birds Basement on the 8th December. You really should get yourselves there Melbourne people. Magic is in short supply this year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rob Luft – ‘Riser’ reviewed

Riser Rob Luft.jpgRob Luft is one of those rare musicians who has seldom put a career foot wrong, first coming to attention at the age of fifteen in the (UK) National Youth Jazz Orchestra. From then on he has regularly come to notice and although still in his early twenties he is now a musical force to be reckoned with. Anyone who has heard him play will know that the growing number of accolades are well deserved. As each year passes he garners fresh awards, last year, second place in the Montreux Jazz guitar competition and recently receiving the coveted Kenny Wheeler Award.

A little over a month ago, Luft released ‘Riser’ and it is hard to believe that this is a debut album. While incorporating a variety of Jazz guitar styles it is definitely forward-looking. Like many post-millennial improvisers, Luft reaches across styles and genres with ease. Mike Moreno and John McLaughlin are obvious reference points, but the album moves beyond such comparisons. His innate skills and good taste have enabled him to craft beautiful charts and out of this comes a unique sound. The first number of the album,’Night Songs’, is a cornucopia of wonders, a lesson in virtuosity, a seamless but ever-shifting voice of the London streets. The organ adding warmth, the rest of the band texture and heart, and Luft soaring above like a patrolling night-hawk. ‘Slow Potion’ has a dreamy surf guitar vibe, other tracks bubble with street life (Jamaican and African influences in evidence), while ‘Riser’ and ‘Different colours of silence’ invoke the more ambient hued Nordic Jazz. While the influences are varied the album has a strong cohesive feel, nothing is out-of-place here. Luft’s project has also benefited from his choice of band mates and from deft hands in the studio and the mastering. When he played in New Zealand last year, he wowed the audiences. Rumour has it that he will return next year. For updates keep an eye on JazzLocal32.com CJC Creative Jazz Club or Wellington Jazz Cooperative.

The artists: Rob Luft (guitars, compositions), Joe Wright (tenor saxophone), Joe Web (Hammond organ, piano, harmonium), Tom McCredie (bass), Corrie Dick (drums).

To sample or purchase the album visit Bandcamp www.robluft.bandcamp.com  or Google Edition Records Ltd UK.

Jay Rodriguez & Jonathan Crayford – music with heart & soul

Jay JoCray (2)Behind the doors of the beautiful Kauri villa, down the long corridor and the wide descending staircase, past the crush of people eagerly awaiting a significant and unique musical event, we edged forward; shuffled by the crowd, finding ourselves in a surprisingly large room; large enough to hold seventy people, a gorgeous warmly lit room with mirrored walls – an old dance studio brought back to life. As we crossed the room Jay Rodriguez greeted us, behind him, Jonathan Crayford shuffled through sheet music; both framed by an elegant grand piano and an array of horns on stands. I had interviewed Rodriguez earlier and had attended his sell out gig at the CJC Creative Jazz Club. There was never any doubt that this night, like the one a few nights earlier would deliver something special.Jay JoCray (1)If ever two musicians were destined to play duo format, it is these two. It is a challenging format as the safety nets are gone; it is deep level communication and frighteningly intimate. It requires deep listening and empathy as much as storytelling; it requires conversational dexterity. This was a night never to be forgotten, a night when great music became sublime. Rodriguez and Crayford have been friends for a long time, meeting up in New York in the late 90’s and forming an instant connection; Rodriguez’ ‘Groove Collective’ and other projects the meeting ground. They refer to each other as musical brothers and their communication during the last three days underscored that.Jay JoCray The first time I saw them together was around eight years ago. The gig stuck in my mind for many reasons, but especially because of one tune; Bob Dylan’s ‘I pity the poor immigrant’. It spoke directly to me as it oozed with humanity. When I interviewed Rodriguez I teased out this a theme; pointing to the set lists, the tunes which cut to the heart of the human condition, tunes communicated with deep empathy. For example, their rendition of Keith Jarrett’s ‘The rich (and the poor)’, Coltrane’s ‘Alabama’. The former, a blues, reminding us that the blues is more than just a musical form. In their hands, it informs us about inequality, discrimination, hurt and hope. The human condition again. The latter, ‘Alabama’, moved me to tears. Jazz lovers know this story, but it has seldom been told so well. The piece is based on the cadences of a Martin Luther King speech, a speech given immediately after four little girls were killed as they worshipped, murdered by an unrepentant KKK. The musicians dived straight into the emotion of this awful tale; the incomprehension and anger, then a plea for humanity, an exhortation to do better, the hope; it was all in there.

In answer to the question about humanism, Rodriguez pointed out the realities of American life. “We are living through hard times back home and the blues is about reality. Expressing life from the heart is something that can’t be taught in Jazz school. Jazz school gives you the basics, but your voice is something else, you have to search; some never find it”. He told me that he had been lucky enough to find his own musical voice early on and he was comfortable with it. He can play in many styles with ease and the key to this is the man himself. He is intelligent, open-minded and well-informed, but it’s his friendliness and warmth that impresses most. The man and his music are one.Jay JoCray (3)He is a multi-reeds and winds player and his command of each instrument is strong. I asked him if he favoured one horn over another or had been tempted to double less? This was prompted by a similar discussion with Bennie Maupin. Maupin’s answer had cut to the point, “It’s mostly about dedication, hard work and five times the amount of practice”. Rodriguez answer was a little different. “Man, I love these instruments, every single one of them, and I couldn’t abandon any of them”. It is impressive to hear an artist sounding so strong and so individualistic on so many instruments; bass clarinet, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute (he also doubles on alto and baritone saxophone). His bass clarinet is rich and woody with a tone production like John Surman – his tenor can range from low down raspy bluesiness to the light vibrato-less sound of ‘Pres’; and all of this in a clear authentic voice.

Crayford is an extraordinary musician, but last week he pulled out something extra. This was about personal chemistry (or perhaps alchemy). It was largely down to him that the project was conceived and he certainly made the most of it. He is the New Zealand ‘Tui’ Jazz artist of the year, a respected international troubadour, a pioneer reaching beyond the stars. The CJC quartet gig was a satisfying and joyous occasion but there was even better to come. When I interviewed Rodriguez a few days later he and Crayford invited me to a private event; the mysterious duo gig: so here I was in this amazing space, the mirrored dance studio, an oasis hidden in deep suburbia.  As soon as they began playing the conversation deepened, each revealing new subtleties and wearing their hearts on the sleeves; … humanity. As far as I know, none of it was recorded and while that is sad, perhaps it is only right. Sometimes magic should be left well alone – left untrammelled, lest it changes like Schroedinger’s cat.Jay JoCray (4) During the dance studio gig, their song choices delighted and astonished. For example, Monk’s ‘Epistrophy’, A Puccini aria, Michel Legrand’s ‘You must believe in spring’, McCartney’s ‘Long and winding road’; all in all an improbable and extraordinary journey. The CJC set list included Yusef Lateef’s stunningly beautiful ‘Morning’, Victor Young’s ‘Golden Earrings’ Keith Jarrett’s ‘Rich (and the poor man)’ – from the Dewey Redman/Jarrett/Haden Impulse era, John Coltrane’s ‘Alabama’ and a lovely original by Rodriguez (I think it was titled ‘Your Sound’). Mostyn Cole and Ron Samsom were amazing as well. They are both fine musicians and a good choice for this line-up.

When you look at the Jay Rodriguez discography or bio, it is no wonder he is so comfortable in such a variety of musical spaces. He started on saxophone as a child and soon came under the tutelage of the greats. His mentors along the way included Paquito D’ Rivera, Phil Woods, Sir Roland Hannah, Barry Harris, Kenny Werner, George Coleman, Joe Henderson, John Gilmore, Gil Goldstein and so it goes on. It reads like the history of Jazz. I can think of few players who have worked with both Doc Cheatham and John Zorn (yes he evidently played Cobra and has performed at the Knitting Factory). He is Grammy nominated and has guested on the Jimmy Fallon show.

 Music is a universal language, but its primal source is often overlooked. Scientists tell us that it is, the original and most profound form of communication; it is the lingua franca of our polyglot planet. All too often we focus on the scaffolding or the dialect; all too often we marvel at technical skills or frown at the lack thereof. The older I grow, the more I desire something different; the sound of the human spirit; communication straight from the heart. While Jay Rodriguez and Jonathan Crayford possess a grab bag of wizardry, they also transform notes into an unforgettable life experience. Long may this collaboration continue.

Rodriguez/Crayford Quartet: Jay Rodriguez (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, Flute), Jonathan Crayford (Rhodes, electronics), Mostyn Cole (upright bass), Ron Samson (drums). 30th August 2017, CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, Auckland.

Rodriguez/Crayford Duo: Jay Rodriguez (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, flute) – Jonathan Crayford (piano). 1st September 2017, Grey Lynn.

Alan Broadbent ​& Georgia Mancio – ‘Songbook’ – Broadbent ‘Developing Story’ at Abbey Road

Songbook Qrt LIVE by Carl Hyde 2016.IMG_8193Since ‘Songbook’ was released three months ago the accolades have come pouring in and it’s no wonder. This is a superb album and destined to remain forever embedded in the Jazz songbook lexicon. The worldwide release was timed to coincide with Broadbent’s seventieth birthday; opening to an enthusiastic audience at Ronnie Scotts; then touring the major clubs and festivals throughout Europe and New York. Much about ‘Songbook’ is classic Broadbent; warm, lyrical, and intimate; not to take anything away from the co-credited Georgia Mancio, a highly acclaimed UK-based vocalist. Unknown-1This pairing of voice and harmony, lyrics and melody could hardly be improved upon: it is therefore unsurprising that comparisons are made with the classic songbook era. Here, Broadbent has found the ideal foil for his engaging brand of lyrical Jazz, and as a first, every one of his tunes has accompanying lyrics crafted by Mancio. In Songbook, Broadbent’s Quartet West classic, ‘The Long Goodbye’ has become ‘The Last Goodbye’; a moving reference to the passing of Mancio’s father. Tunes like that have long begged such lyrics and it’s nice to see them penned so beautifully. Back in New Zealand, we watch Broadbent’s ever unfolding story with wonder. UnknownWe are proud of him here in his hometown, understanding that his many projects keep him busy; so busy that so we seldom see him these days. As long as we have his albums it is enough, they all have a generous portion of New Zealand buried deep within them. Last month he recorded a new album in the Abbey Road studios, an album with former Woody Herman band mate, drummer Peter Erskine and the amazing bassist Harvie S – plus the London Metropolitan Orchestra. These arrangements could only be Broadbent’s – lush and achingly beautiful. Could there be more Grammy’s on the way?  

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After ‘Ours Odyssey

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This album had me from the first listen. The vibe is very much in the vein of Robert Glasper’s 2012 album ‘Black Radio‘; but while the comparison is inescapable, this tells a very Pacific story; one based on our own urban grooves.  Anyone who has ever walked the black-sand beaches of Auckland’s west coast or chilled out with friends on a long summer evening will feel that this album is just for them. While Jazz rich it is beyond category; a Neo-soul, Jazz Funk, Hip hop album with a pinch of Disco groove thrown in. If you browse the credits you will immediately be grabbed by the line up; many are important figures from the New Zealand or European Jazz/Soul scene, but having such an international cornucopia of talent has in no way spoilt the broth. The album works all the better for it. It is beautifully mixed, the tracks flow together like a dream and the quality of the production is immaculate.

The project was the brainchild of Jazz keyboardist Michal Martyniuk, with the assistance of percussionist, multi-instrumentalist and producer, Nick Williams. If there was ever an album that oozes urban cool from start to finish, this is it. Along with the talented Martyniuk and Williams are instrumentalists Nathan Haines, Miguel Fuentes, Mike Patto, Karika Turua, Adam Cabacinski, Andy Smith, Jacub Skowbonski and others;  on vocals Sharlene Hector, Keven Mark Trail, Matt Nanai and Angie Saunders. It took a while from conception to finish but the wait was well worth it. Martyniuk is at present in his native Poland and the album was well received there – last month it was featured as album of the week on a Polish radio station. This is an album that really deserves to do well. ‘After ‘Ours Odyssey’ is out on Studiozone and can be found in leading record stores, @afteroursnz – also at Bandcamp, Apple Music or iTunes  

When Glasper was asked why he blended Soul Funk and Jazz he replied: “It was a slap on the arse of Jazz”.  This album is more like a long kiss on a sultry summer evening

Studies In Tubular

IMG_0215.jpgA review copy of the album ‘Studies in Tubular’ arrived in my letterbox a few days ago and it is vintage Neil Watson. It was recorded in 2011 and left to mature like a fine wine; it was worth the wait. I haven’t asked Watson why he titled the album ‘Studies In Tubular’, but the title feels appropriate. My first thought was that it might reference Mike Oldfield’s trippy minimalist classic ‘Tubular Bells’, and then I recalled that the word ‘tubular’ was once surfer slang for ‘exceptionally good’. Whatever the reason, this is exceptionally good music. The surf reference is not such a great stretch either when you listen carefully. This is deliciously eclectic music and although it touches on many sources, it is an original and highly satisfying offering. Referencing many things but never beholden to any of them.

Watson’s influences are seldom mainstream, but in spite of his touchstones like Sonny Sharrock, Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot, he always brings fresh ideas to the music. His trademark humour is always present in abundance and the ability to avoid taking himself too seriously is a gift that more musicians could adopt to advantage. This is an album made for a long drive, a lazy day at the beach or a sultry summer evening. Track two ‘Wes da Money’ opens with a nod to Wes Montgomery, then deftly takes us into very different territory, this without losing the essence of the opening bars. Guitar surf music (the Atlantics), Jimi Hendrix (Band of Gypsies), early Rock, & Roll. It’s all in there – wonderfully overlaid, motif upon motif.

The beautiful track ‘Kerala’ starts as folksy Americana, evoking a vibe reminiscent of Bill Frisell or Greg Leiz. On ‘Five Bye Blues’ he adds organist Grant Winterburn and what a treat that is. While drummer Ron Samsom lays down a groove beat and bass player Olivier Holland locates the heart, Winterburn comps tastefully behind a lovely guitar line; this reminiscent of the groove merchants like Pat Martino. There is Booker T, Boogie, Zorn and more in this package. This is a music of heart and soul and it brought a smile to my face.  The weather has been a problem this month but with this album you can dispell that memory and lock in an endless summer vibe. Purchase a copy from www.neilwatson.co.nz or alternatively come to the launch at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) which has relocated to the Thirsty Dog, Karangahape Road, 8pm, 15th Feb 20017IMG_0217.jpg

Watson was accompanied on all tracks by Holland and Samsom – Winterburn added his grooves to 2,3,& 5 – additional guests Lewis McCallum and Roger Manins played on tracks 6 & 7 respectively. With a lineup like this, Watson was in good company, but so were they.

Studies in Tubular: Neil Watson (electric, acoustic & synth guitars, compositions), Olivier Holland (upright bass), Ron Samsom (drums and percussion), guests; Grant Winterburn 2,3,5, (organ & Wurlitzer), Lewis McCullum (alto saxophone), Roger Manins (baritone saxophone) – (disclaimer: the album rear photograph is mine)

Maps to past and future

If you valued social justice and critical thinking, 2016 was confronting. Politically, it was the universe turned on its head. Pre-enlightenment thinking unexpectedly overwhelmed rational thought, barely literate misogynist tweets replaced policy announcements and the media discourse collapsed into alphabet rubble.  A constant throughout this mayhem was the focus of the creative sector. Writers still turned out exquisite prose, visual artists like Banksy spoke truth to power and improvising musicians played on. The year may have been chaotic, but good stuff happened in spite of it.

Alargo: During the last few months several recordings and books stood out for me and the first of these was the long anticipated Alan Brown-Kingsley Melhuish ‘Alargo’ album titled ‘Central Plateau‘. I first heard them at the Golden Dawn in Ponsonby Road and loved their atmospheric free-ranging explorations. Their palette is seemingly limitless as the two utilise a variety of instruments, loops and effects (eleven in all). These ranged from the oldest of instruments (Conch shells and horns) to live sampling and a variety of Synthesisers and keyboards.Alargo 128.jpg

In these hands, multi layered magic is woven into the mix. This is improvised music in the purist sense and it owes as much to the experimental innovators like Jon Hassell or Terry Riley as to anyone else. For Brown, in particular, the trajectory has been constant. It was inevitable that he should create an EP like this. His last album ‘Silent Observer’ took us deep into ambient territory. Now with the able assistance of the gifted multi instrumentalist Melhuish, a wonderful new soundscape is crafted. Jazz musicians have long played over drones or embraced mood over structural convention (locally, Gianmarco Liguori, Murray McNabb and Kim Paterson were early adaptors).

This is a local variant of the exciting explorations being undertaken by the Nordic ambient improvisers. It is however, a very New Zealand sound, as the sense of space, warmth and terrain evoked could only be ours. Last week I journeyed to the central North Island of Zealand where I spent time on the Desert Road and Central Plateau. I took this album with me and it was the perfect road trip soundtrack. The title of ‘Central Plateau‘ may refer to this particular place or perhaps to an imagined landscape. As I listened to the snow-fed mountain streams, and Tui, I marvelled at how perfectly Brown and Melhuish had captured the vibe. The album is available at alargo.bandcamp.com – in CD form or digitally.Alargo 129.jpgIn the months before Christmas, we were reeling from the twin body blows of Trump and Brexit. During this period of disbelieving paralysis, Norman Meehan, Paul Dyne and Hayden Chisholm came to town. What they played was a balm for our troubled souls, a sublime ballad gig. I reviewed the gig on November 27, 2016 (this site).  A week later Norman Meehan and Tony Whincup launched a new book titled ‘New Zealand Jazz life’.  This is a great read for anyone interested in New Zealand music history and a must for anyone interested in improvised music. Meehan’s prose is much like his playing, devoid of needless ornamentation but pleasing. he is a natural with words, but he also manages to impart vast amounts of information without the reader ever feeling force-fed. His interviews with significant New Zealand improvising musicians are carefully blended with personal observation. Musicians like Jim Langabeer, Lucian Johnson, Nathan Haines, Kim Paterson, Jeff Henderson, Anthony Donaldson, Frank Gibson jr and Roger Manins are featured. I highly recommend this book as a vital reference work and as a very good read. ‘New Zealand Jazz Life‘ is published by Victoria University Press and available at all good bookstores. img_0079

Most Anticipated Albums 2017 – 

Manins, Samsom, Holland, Field are rumoured to be recording a new ‘DOG‘ album.  If it is anything like DOG one, we can expect a wonderful album. In December the band performed at the Thirsty Dog, and on all indications this will be a contender for another Jazz Tui. The band is simply extraordinary and it is impossible to fault them. ‘DOG’ is renown for showcasing great compositions, superb musicianship and for generating joyous excitement.

Meehan, Chisholm and Dyne have also finished recording and the album will be released sometime this year. Anyone who heard them on tour will certainly want the album. I will keep you posted on that.

Poetry:

I spent the northern Autumn travelling extensively throughout Europe and on the return journey I stopped off in San Francisco. Along the way I collected ‘found’ poetry. My self-imposed task was to record any poem (or fragment of a poem) scrawled on a wall or pavement, or in a street handout. These stumbled-upon poets were often unknown to me and this personalised anthology is the perfect trip reminder. As I moved from city to train, my bags become increasingly heavy with volumes of verse. In Gdansk, North Eastern Poland, I discovered the Nobel Prize winning poet Wislawa Szymborska. IMG_0083.jpgHer Maps‘ anthology has seldom been out of my hands since. Szymborska communicates the Polish experience like few others. She evokes a sense of impermanence, an un-belonging that has characterised Polish life for millennia. I am descended from Pomeranian Polish stock and perhaps this adds a particular resonance in my case. This is a window into a floating world surprisingly free of rancour. ‘Maps’ in translation is published by Mariner Books.img_0085The City Lights book shop in North Beach San Francisco has always been at the centre of my universe. Whenever I’m in that wonderful city I head there immediately. I had just spotted a verse from a Diane di Prima poem in a street pamphlet and I couldn’t wait to get a volume or two of her poetry. I have long been familiar with di Prima’s work, but the gifted female Beat poets were unfairly eclipsed by their male counterparts. A book published by Conari Press titled ‘Women of the Beat Generation’ is now back in print and it’s a good starting point for examining their body of work.IMG_0082.jpg di Prima is still with us and some of her best work is contained in a recent volume titled ‘The Poetry Prize’ published by the City Lights Foundation. IMG_0087.jpgLastly I will post one of my own recent poems, which rounds off the theme of maps. I wrote this in the week before my journey began. As I was about to depart, a well-known New Zealand Jazz musician shared some travel tips with me, offering insights, drawing me an abstract map as guide. I was so pleased with it that I wrote this poem. I took his wonderful  map with me and although I was unable to strictly follow it’s path, the spirit of it was an inner compass to guide me. It made me happy to have it near – now a prized possession, a travel memory, a manifest.Screen Shot 2017-01-14 at 2.59.51 PM.png

John Fenton JazzLocal32.com January 2017

Isabel Cuenca – Flamenco Dancer

Isabel (1)Isabel Rivera Cuenca was born into a family who lived Flamenco. When her parents moved from Seville to Barcelona they took the music with them; opening an Andalusian cultural centre. Wonderful musicians soon filled their Barcelona home, dancing, playing guitar and singing day and night. Among Isabel’s earliest memories is feeling the rhythms of Flamenco seeping through the walls of her bedroom. Flamenco was the breath of her young life.  As a little girl she began to dance and she never stopped.

The dancing filled me with joy and it put a big smile on my face. When I took my first proper dance lesson my Gitano Flamenco teacher saw me smiling and said, ‘You mustn’t smile during this particular piece because it is about loss and suffering’. As I grew, I learned to express the emotions appropriate to the piece, but the joy never left me. My teachers were all dancers and musicians but there was no academy as today. When I was old enough I boldly declared to my father that I had only one goal in life. To embrace La Baile Flamenco and live the life of a dancer. He looked at me for a while and said, ‘this is a hard life with little financial reward’. I told him that I understood that better than most, because I had lived this music since birth”. He knew that she would not be deterred and he did not stop her.Isabel 2 (2)“To this day, every time I dance the happiness and passion returns; that is what I want to share. When I was older I decided that I must travel the world to share this happiness with people who cannot go to Spain. Since making that decision I have travelled almost continuously. Out of this I learn from other musical cultures (especially Jazz) and many collaborations and experiments are possible. With good musicians the traditions are always respected while experimenting. I have met many fine musicians in New Zealand like Jonathan Crayford and Chris O’connor. At the beginning of my travels I simply drew a map and from that I decided the countries to visit, especially those very far away from the home of Flamenco. New Zealand felt like a good place to go. It was 20,000 kilometres from my home and so I thought, if I can succeed there it will work in other places. Now I have returned with some guitarists and a singer and we will share our passion.

I like New Zealand very much as the people are warm and friendly. The climate is also nice and the natural areas are vast and beautiful. There are similarities in the way the Kiwi’s speak and act as well. When I travel in Mexico or South America people say to me, ‘You speak Spanish in a very direct way – without formality – unlike us’. If someone says, would you like this or that, I look them in the eye and say yes or no. The older polite forms of answering such a question are still evident in the Latin Spanish-speaking countries. They might say, ‘we are grateful for the offer and it would please us to accept’.Isabel 2 I found this comment interesting because Isobel is an extraordinarily gifted communicator. Her expressiveness exceeds that of anyone I have met. She is a wonderful talker, but the breadth of her expressiveness is particularly found in her hands and eyes. Her hands gesture endlessly and her eyes sparkle like fire when she is enthusiastic about a topic. It is as if the Flamenco dancer in her occupies the facility of speech. She is certainly a direct speaker, but there is an unusual fluidity, warmth and depth to everything she communicates. I have seen this before in improvising musicians and recognise it. It is a proof that they live in a world where their art matters beyond everything else. They have swum so far from shore that the coast is mundane and irrelevant.

We talked for hours about the forms, history and evolution of Flamenco. We shared a view that the Moors were a profound and benign influence on the world (and Flamenco) – the Vandals of the reconquista Espanola not so much. Flamenco history was not recorded in print until the late 18th and 19th centuries and there is conjecture about its origins. What appears certain is that cante (singing) came first. This was soon accompanied by rhythms beaten on the floor by a cane. The toque (guitar) and Baile (dance) came later. The music is ancient and mysterious and most strongly associated with the Spanish Gitano (Gypsy or Romani – originally from India). Into that mix add the displaced Morisco (Moors) as a prime influence. Also the music of the Jewish Sephardic diaspora. It is possible that the Gitano may have picked up Greek and Turkish influences on their way out of India. After the reconquista the persecuted minorities dropped out of sight and developed a culture in their isolation. Flamenco was not shown as a public performance until the late 19th century.Isabel 2 (4)There are many Tonas (families of song), most derive in some way from Cante Jondo (deep song). The last element is Jaleo (hell raising by means of hand clapping, foot stomping and like Jazz, yells of encouragement). When we talked of the Tonas Isabel always put her hand over her heart and said. “Whatever the mood It is always about expressing and communicating deep emotions, passion”.  She demonstrated some rhythms for me using hand-clapping.

There is a common 12 beat rhythm in Flamenco which accents the 2nd and 4th beats for three bars and then finishes with a surprising ending on the 3rd beat of the fourth bar. Like Jazz, the music is all about tension and release and the way she described the Buleria (to mock) illustrated that particularly well. The Buleria is fast and has 12 beats. There are a number of ways of counting the beats and one form goes 123, 456, 7 8, 9 10, 11 12.  She describes this as a friendly conflict between equals. The participants constantly challenge the others to do better or sometimes they just cause the other participant to back off. Out of this ritual comes a lot of tension and release. There is a high degree of improvisation allowed and the foot tapping here is intricate and complex. Of the 50 Palos or Styles around 20 are in common use. There is a distinct Flamenco scale which is the Phrygian Mode (Modo Frigio).Spain (44)Isabel expressed a particular liking for the Saeta, possibly of ancient Jewish or Aramaic origin and widely used during Holy Week processions. The date of its entry into the Flamenco repertoire is uncertain. It is a mournful form with great power and emotional intensity. On Miles Davis ‘Sketches of Spain’ he performs much of this over a drone. As the drone has a particular association with Indian music I discussed this with Isabel. It was not a concept (in English) she was familiar with, but upon further examination she decided that there are certainly implied drones or ostinato passages in Flamenco.

Before going to the interview I watched a You Tube clip of her performing and I asked if her performance was closer to Classical Flamenco than the Flamenco Puro of the Gitano. She declared her self not a rigid purist. “A dancer can interpret and mix forms to a point. In my view some experimenting is OK as long as you treat the traditions with respect”.

There are a number of interesting fusions of Flamenco and Jazz; some being closer to  one genre than the other. The ever lovely ‘Maids of Cadiz’ (by Delibes), later performed by Benny Goodman and Miles Davis may hint at Flamenco but it is not an example. It is actually an old French tune. ‘Flamenco Sketches’ from a kind of blue is closer to the spirit of the music and the ground breaking ‘Sketches of Spain’ even closer. More recent explorations such as those by the Jazz Flamenco pianists Chano Dominguez and Alex Conde have a more authentic feel. Dominguez replaces the leading guitar with piano and creates space for piano improvisation. The Cante (song), Baile (dance) Palmas (hand clapping) and Toque (guitar) otherwise remain. I also like the Jazz/Flamenco fusion group ‘Jerez Texas’ who come from Jerez in Western Andalusia (where the famous Arab horses and the Bulerias come from). Both Cadiz and Jerez are stunningly beautiful, as is all of Southern Spain.Spain (28)Once I was lucky enough to spend time in the Flamenco regions. The Moors called Southern Spain Al Andalus. Nowhere has more light and colour and nowhere feels the weight of history more keenly. Over thousands of years many ethnicities have passed through and the residual beauty remaining is mirrored in their arts. Architecture, songs and dances; speaking of beauty and suffering – in equal parts

The first thing I noticed when I watched the video clip was just how musically aware the troupe was. They exploited musical space as a collective and in the way a Jazz combo does. Conversing, pausing, reacting; then unleashing the power again. Behind the singer you could hear the guitar – those voicings – filled with a beautiful dissonance like the history of the music.

On this tour she has Albert Cases ‘El Gatto’ Flamenco singer, Paul Bosauder on Guitar plus NZ Artists Ian Sinclair (yes the well-known investigative reporter) and Claire Cowan on guitars.

Like Jazz, Flamenco was recently classified by UNESCO as a cultural heritage treasure for the world. In UNESCO’s words ‘a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’. No argument there.

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Book for the shows at the Q Theatre or at Tickefinder – 23rd & 24th February at the Q Theatre Queen Street Auckland (above the Town Hall). The pictures are mine except for the poster.

Overdue Album Reviews

 

Grey Wing Trio – Amoroso

AmorosoIt is not very often that an album like this comes along and more’s the pity. This is an album for those who are properly engaged, who listen deeply; offering ample rewards to those who pay due attention. While there is a hint of the freedom of the 1961-62 Giuffre/Bley/Swallow albums, this is an album of the now. It tells a modern Australian story while claiming a portion of the space occupied by the sparse Nordic improvisers. People might find this darker approach unexpected as the Australian landscape resonates bright light and pastel colours. While not the norm there are recent precedents such as the astonishingly atmospheric ‘Kindred Spirits’ by Mike Nock. Pianist Luke Sweeting shows us from the first few notes that he truly understands form and dynamics. As he moves about the piano his fingers tease out endless shades of colour; the sort found in the shadows. The name Grey Wing Trio is apt too, because the subtlety of the shadings are endless here. Like the wing of a sparrow, what appears as mono-toned becomes multi-hued upon closer examination.

The lightness of Sweeting’s touch gifts him the opportunity to cycle through one crystalline moment after another and the echoes of each chord hang in the air with delicate subtlety. The music has dynamic richness – this in spite of the dominance of quieter moments. Trumpeter Ken Allars excels in this space. Few trumpeters play as he does and few have his tonal or dynamic diversity. He can say as much with a breathy whisper as he can with his gentle flute-like notes or sudden squalls. This references the territory of the Nordic improvisers like Arve Henriksen and Allars does it convincingly. The less is more approach has always served Jazz well and this is another proof. I am familiar with Sweeting and Allars as I have seen them perform on several  occasions. The drummer Finn Ryan is new to me. Again he is perfect for the job in hand. A true colourist and able to match the others in subtlety. His use of mallets and fluttering brushwork contrasting nicely with the stick work.

Running through the tracks is an over-arching thread of minimalism. Themes emerge, then evaporate into floating motifs. Realities form and dissolve as if mirages. What remains is deep evanescent beauty. (The sound clip from the album is Chords).

Grey Wing Trio – Luke Sweeting (piano, compositions), Ken Allars (trumpet), Finn Ryan (drums). Order from http://www.jazzhead.com or www.lukesweeting.com

The Voyage of William and Mary – Matt McMahon

Amorosa:mcmohanI knew of Matt McMahon long before I met him in the Foundry 616. Australian and New Zealand Jazz lovers respect him as an artist and his name often comes up when improvising musicians talk. In 2008 I picked up a copy of his Ellipsis album during a visit to Sydney. My album collection then as now, was out of control and so after listening to it, I filed the album with the intention of obtaining more by the artist later. Because my cataloging skills are poorly developed it soon slipped out of sight and did not resurface until 2015. That was the year I met McMahon at The Foundry. His gig was as the regular pianist and arranger/co-composer for the Vince Jones band. I liked his playing and noted my impressions of man and pianist on the back of my program; ‘friendly, of quiet demeanour – a pianist with a deft touch – uses beautiful crisp voicings. The perfect accompanist, serving the singer and the song and never his ego‘. We talked for some time after the gig and before I left he handed me a copy of his ‘The Voyage of William and Mary’ album.

As soon as I got back to New Zealand I played the album and loved its depth and scope. Solo piano albums seldom achieve this themed narrative quality. While all of the tracks appear to describe a journey experienced by his Irish ancestors William and Mary, the narrative is deeper and wider than that. It acknowledges McMahon’s Irish roots in subtle ways, but more particularly it outlines a musical journey experienced by the artist. This is the wonder of deep improvisation, a place where all is not what it seems. Each note here is a revelation; not just to the listener but perhaps to the artist as well. Solo albums are the hardest to pull off, as the musician must search deep within. In doing so there is often the risk of unapproachable introspection or worse still self-indulgent noodling. McMahon has convincingly avoided those traps.

Each time I listen to ‘Island of Destiny’ thoughts of my own seafaring ancestors overwhelm me; their imaginings, hopes fears. So much is encapsulated in a piece that somehow transcends itself. What ever the images this beautiful music evokes it is a tribute to McMahon. He shares his vision in a way that allows us to become absorbed and to feel like participants. That is no mean feat.

Matt McMahon (solo piano, compositions) PathsandStreams Records Foundry 616 (8)

 

Journalism, Digital Futures and Music

Garden Jan 2nd (14)While it is easy to feel discouraged by the state of the music industry and to agonise over the plight of long-form investigative journalism, there are pathways through the morass. Better alternatives, however tentative are forming and the emergence of more equitable models a possibility. These debates are worth having and the creative sector needs to become more vocal and activist. Everything of value is at stake here and the market rationalists will happily plunder the creative sector if artists and consumers leave them to it. As we ponder the challenges it is tempting to think of the music world as being too broken to fix. Acquiescence and inertia are the antithesis of creativity. The artists and journalists who care about this must do what we do best – confront, shock, overwhelm stupidity, dispense joy, start revolutions; throwing in the towel is for those devoid of imagination and banality produces nothing worthwhile.Maria Schneider  I recently watched two thought-provoking documentaries on the fate of the book and of in-depth journalism. ‘Out of Print’ and ‘Stop the Presses’. The first threw up a lot of intriguing questions, while the second provided some answers. Every new media platform brings with it a multitude of doom sayers and the invention of the printing press was no exception. Books have been with us for over four thousand years and while there are few local book-shops left in 2016, there are more books being printed than ever. The ability to record data and preserve it is the greatest of human achievements and the modern world rests upon it. In spite of determined efforts throughout history to burn books or to shut down the information flow, knowledge and information proliferates.

The tablets and engravings of antiquity are the most durable as the oldest texts known to us are readable today (the Hittite Linear B clay tablets). While a surprisingly large number of ancient books and texts survive, some modern attempts to ‘save the book’ have fallen flat on their face. Recently libraries rushed to put their catalogues into the CD Rom format. This marvel of modern technology was the answer to saving the printed word and so encyclopaedias and written texts were laboriously digitised. As suddenly as it appeared the platform vanished and a technical museum is now the only place where you can find a CD Rom reader (or a floppy disc). The ways of storing music, although covering an infinitely smaller time span have a comparable history. Platforms that seemed forever solutions came and went while the music migrated to newer formats. This process will continue and the new formats are not the problem.

The player-piano was a real threat to live music as was the Edison cylinder. Live music survived and recorded music morphed into the 78/EP/LP/tape/CD/Digital download and cloud streamed content. The changes will continue, probably accelerate, but we have learned that the best of the older formats can co-exist with emerging forms. The printed newspaper will survive with the digital for many years to come. It will likely become prestigious; a symbol of quality like the re-created LP.  Platforms will come and go as music good and bad is created – this will continue until the end of time. The eternal conundrum remains.

Who will reap the benefits, who will pay the piper and how will distribution occur.

The second documentary ‘Stop the Presses’ featured interviews with forward-looking media identities. There was a deliberately left/liberal bias and the programme did not feature the likes of Murdoch. Those of Murdoch’s ilk are part of the problem and not the solution. The Editor of the New York Times, Guardian reporters, leading investigative journalists (such as those from the now defunct Rocky Mountain News) and a number of important European print media spokespeople gave their views.  In spite of the carnage and catastrophic job losses there were glimmers of hope.

Immediately after World War Two ‘Le Monde’, the premiere French evening paper created a new model. Their charter ensured that no media barons like Lord Beaverbrook, Randolph Hearst or Rupert Murdock could ever exert editorial control. The paper ran along the lines of a worker collective and only the journalists (who had tenure) could choose the editor – elections were held for the post. Investors could invest but they could not exert influence. Sadly Le Monde ran into financial difficulties as the digital revolution bit harder and during a recent bailout new financial investors strove to exert editorial control – the staff refused and that situation has yet to play out.

One digital news-media outlet ‘Mediapart’ is particularly interesting. The editor (a former editor of Le Monde) Jerome Calhuzac puts up convincing arguments for a model better suited to the digital age. This digital only outlet has a rapidly growing circulation and it is successful by any measure. The business model is similar to the early Guardian and Le Monde – managed and owned by the reporters and the editor – the creators of content. It has a strict pay-wall, contains no advertising and employs the highest quality investigative journalists. Mediapart offers in-depth opinion pieces and makes no apology for having a point of view. It rejects advertising outright as that can influence editorial integrity. It does not see its role as outlining the broad sweep of daily events. It focuses instead on the important news stories, examines them in-depth and is beholden to no-one. Investors are welcome to a point, but they have no influence. Fifty percent of the cost of getting out print newspapers was in the distribution. Under a digital model that cost is infinitesimal and efficient high quality newspapers are now possible (more on distribution later). The only remaining obstacle is a generation of readers who expect quality information without having to pay for it. 

Calhuzac sees the enemy as being the ‘entertainment’ model; driven by the relentless neo-rationalist imperatives of the marketplace. Mediapart’s mission is simple. ‘We are a cornerstone of democracy and as such independence and fearlessness is everything. We do this because it is our duty to humanity and to the fabric of democracy. It is not just about the journalists, the editors or the readers but a commitment to the principles of democracy’. Crucially the paper determined that quality has never come free of charge and that everyone must contribute a fair share – this is a public good – it has a price just as democracy has a price’. The subscribers agreed and have responded extremely well. ‘Trying to provide quality content for free has never worked and we avoid that trap’. Free content funded by advertisements is a flawed approach leading to a once-over-lightly product – an overload of fragmented information of undesirable quality. In short news as sound-bite entertainment.

Giving content away free was a bold but flawed experiment. It was a recipe for dumbing down and the new aggregated sites like the Huffington Post pillaged the content from other newspapers. When doing this they not only steal but they close down the very newspapers they steal from. As the aggregator websites don’t pay investigative reporters (to replace those being laid off by their actions), that content will eventually vanish. Musicians, independent labels and informed music consumers will see the parallels here.

This is exactly what is occurring in the music world and the equivalent of the Huff Post and to a lesser extent Buzz Feed are the digital streaming platforms. Most are parasitic and return nothing of value to the creators of the music. You Tube is a little different as it can act as a feeder to artist run websites, independent labels and offer teasers. Some users go too far and put up whole albums without the artists permission. It is popular but as a business model it struggles.

To bring this full circle, I received my copy of Maria Schneider’s latest album, ‘The Thompson Fields’ yesterday. The album won the best of category in the prestigious NPR poll and is receiving accolades from the various music industry papers. It was not produced by a major label and yet it is one of the most beautiful albums you will ever hear(or see). The label is ‘Artists Share’ – a cooperative run by musicians and their associates – interacting directly with the consumer. ‘The Thompson Fields’ is a rich convergence of the arts as it features fine art prints, poetry, extraordinary photographs, old maps on art paper and well written prose. It is also stakes out a strong environmental position without being preachy. This is an album of rare beauty and it even smells like a rare book (the album booklet has aged patterned end papers). Schneider’s album gives us extraordinary music (performed by nineteen of the improvising worlds best) but it also has detailed liner notes, credits for the musicians, various collaborations with artists, poets, photographers and a connection to like minded community organisations.Garden Jan 2nd (15)If such an extraordinary album can rise to the top utilising a fan-funded artist controlled model there is hope. Progress is painfully slow but these projects can work. The Artist-Share label is not a recent innovation and the model doesn’t yield quick results. If better focused and more equitable distribution models developed then the high-end independents could gain a significant foothold in the market. There is a feel good factor in associating ourselves with models like this.

The New Zealand equivalent is Rattle Records. Like ECM it knows what it stands for and provides a consistently beautiful product. This is surprising given its reach. Like Schneider’s album (and ECM albums), Rattle has retained either liner notes (or quality photography) – even poetry appears on occasion. I declare a vested interest in this as my photographs, liner notes and poems have featured on a number of Jazz albums.

This convergence of music journalism, compelling art and high quality musicianship provides for a richer experience. It is possible for the digital download format to deliver liner notes, musicians credits and artwork but it seldom does. I would happily pay a few extra dollars to get such an enhanced version. Above all it is grossly disrespectful to the musicians when their names are excluded from download information. As the old models fail and the greedy few extract the lions share of revenue (without permission), the consumers of music need to become better informed. This is the point that Jerome Calhuzac of Mediapart makes. The listening public needs to grasp the fact that quality offerings have a cost. Lets get behind Rattle Records and other labels like Artists Share – where ever possible we should become ‘commissioners’ (a term used by Schneider for fan-based contributors).

The missing piece of the puzzle is distribution and as with Mediapart subscribers have a role. Buzz Feed gives us some clues here. Powerful algorithms can detect trends and this has a multiplier effect when an album is noticed. Those observing a trend then recommend the album to those with similar tastes. At present those algorithms serve the big players like Amazon but there is no reason why the technology could not work across the non Amazon Indie Label spectrum. New (albeit clumsy) distribution models utilise platforms like Facebook, Twitter and other vehicles.

It is often commented upon that I am a ‘busy’ Facebook user and blogger. There is a method in my madness. I have a respectable readership on my JL32 blog site. I also host a small Facebook group page and have a Twitter account. The people who follow my sites often take up my recommendations and hopefully this assists distribution. The consumers are increasingly a key factor in distribution and everyone should tout their musical recommendations to like-minded friends. Leaving it up to disinterested money men is not an option.

Lets ramp up the dialogue around streaming and the problems arising from free content. Paying a fair price for quality music is our duty to the creative arts. Support the independent musician run labels, recommended albums online and sponsor (crowd fund) a musician that you respect. We are all in this together.

 

Chris Cody – ‘Not My Lover’

Cody CdcoversmallDue to the timing of the Chris Cody album ‘Not My Lover’, some jumped to the conclusion that his Jazz love letter to Paris was in response to the recent atrocities. In fact Cody recorded it well before those tragic events and much to the relief of family and friends he was safely in Australia at the time. The City of Light has the strongest of Jazz associations and Cody captures that intimate relationship perfectly. You can feel the ebb and flow of the city’s life running through his fingertips as he plays. The beauty of the architecture, the elegant Seine, the mad driving through the twisted maze of streets. Through his perceptive lens we gain a sense of the city which for hundreds of years has welcomed visiting creative artists to its heart; regardless of creed or colour. We also catch a fleeting glimpse of the harsher realities hidden behind the gorgeous facade.

Cody is a man of great charm and warmth and the compositions echo his urbane humanity. The album he has crafted is more than a collection of tunes loosely referencing Paris. When you listen carefully you realise that it is a soundtrack for the city; sonic impressionism. His deft pointillism revealing a Paris with its exotic and often troubled connections to North Africa, the complex realities of its political life, its restless intellectualism and the almost mythical sophistication of its women.

On tenor is Karl Laskowski, an important Australian saxophonist who was heard to such great effect on Mike Nocks ‘Hear and Know’ album. Cody albums typically feature the trombone prominently, but this is an exception. The textures are therefore different and in writing for tenor saxophone the piano and horn form an interwoven intimacy. Whereas the trombone is a voice calling up from the streets, the tenor speaks of cafe’s and basement night clubs. On bass is Brendon Clarke who I know best from his association with the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra and tenor player Roger Manins. Lastly there is James Waples on drums. Another highly respected musician and one who regularly features in Nock lineups. This band is the business.

There are ten tracks on the album. Eight by Cody plus ‘I Love Paris’ (Porter) and La Javanaise (Gainsburg). I have heard Cody play ‘I love Paris’ a number of times and the way he voices it and swings puts me in mind of the mature Hampton Hawes (Clarke, Waples and Cody interact so well here).  The title track ‘Not My Lover’ is fabulous, with its sensuous moody introduction overtaken by a lively fast-paced segment which dances and moves delightfully. It is not a big leap to imagine it as the soundtrack for one of those timeless gritty neorealist French movies. Laskowski and Cody stand out here. Lastly I must comment on Cody’s composition ‘For Satie’.  Satie is variously described as the father of modernism, the first minimalist etc. Which ever way people choose to remember him, his avant-garde approach caused a seismic shift in music. In this piece Cody has respectfully captured his essence. Capturing Satie, a man of few notes and delicate sensibilities required good taste and deft touch. That is Cody in a nutshell. Below is the title track ‘Not My Lover’.

Chris Cody (piano, compositions), Karl Laskowski (tenor saxophone), Brendon Clarke (bass), James Waples (drums). – purchase from www.chriscody.com

Auckland Jazz Festival 2015 – part two

AJO picBy the time the second week of the Auckland Jazz Festival arrived, I began to feel my age. I had already experienced a number of late night gigs and a further week of music stretched ahead of me. This was no time to flag, as some interesting and innovative music lay ahead. The festival programme structure provided audiences with variety. The depth and breadth of the improvising scene was on show and I wanted to see everything possible. The week started well with the Meehan/Griffin/Manhire poetry project (see earlier review for this). That gig brought a new audience and I was still AJO pic (1)buzzing come Tuesday.

On Tuesday night the AJO (Auckland Jazz Orchestra) shoehorned into the CJC for the release of their Darkly Dreaming album. The AJO have a growing fan base and this was an eagerly anticipated event. Having earlier witnessed the actual recording session and a pre-taste performance of the suite, I was happily expectant. With charts as demanding as this, a thoroughly rehearsed band is essential and I knew that they would be. It was clear that this would be the definitive live performance so I couldn’t wait to hear that first swell of sound and to get my hands on the album.  AJO @ Festival (5)I had volunteered for door duty that night, turning up early to help. I enjoy the Jazz orchestra set-up process – in this case nineteen musicians and a conductor configuring a behemoth in an impossibly small space. It was like witnessing Nasa scientists beginning the launch sequence. Instruments and gauges checked, tapped and rechecked, cabling run out; each adding a layer to the criss-cross tangle of shoes, stands and chairs.  Soon there were rows of brassy instruments standing in an (almost) orderly line, with the odd human interloper spoiling their symmetry. Random buzzing sounds came from warming up lips; and all punctuated with honks and plucked notes from far-flung corners of the room. this is the counterfactual of the sounds that follow.  AJO @ Festival (7)Band leader Tim Atkinson composed and arranged the suite. He has carefully shaped this ground breaking project as befitting a work of this importance. This is a modern piece of music in the mould of Darcy James Argue. Richly textured, evocative of the title and especially in the warm multi layered dissonance that swells out of the quieter passages. The work has captured a mood and an orchestra going places. This is a moment which benchmarks the growing maturity of the Auckland Jazz scene and I am truly glad to have witnessed it. The overall performance on the night was flawless, but if anyone stood out it was altoist Callum Passels. His solo on ‘The Dark Passenger’ was wonderful. it was a feat of story telling, of mood and it oozed freedom – as if he had somehow escaped the confines of room and orchestra. Importantly, he managed this without once deviating from the logic of the composition. I urge people to purchase this album and I guarantee that you will play it over and again. AJO @ Festival (1)On Wednesday I spent time with the Benny Lackner Trio. A popular USA/German (French) trio who seldom passed up an opportunity to playfully ambush each other and often along the lines of nationality. Their mock combative banter acting as a counterweight to the cohesion they showed on the bandstand. I have seen this trio three times as they have a long association with New Zealand. In my view they are the true successor to Sweden’s lost lamented EST, but there is more to them besides. Their approach is similar but additional elements inform their music. The influence of Lacker’s former teacher Brad Mehldau is discernible but the band is forging a new sound. This is the confident face of post millennium European Jazz. Never compromising, unafraid to appropriate elements from their native culture, and done without a hint of self-consciousness. These guys are heavyweights and we are bound to hear a lot more of them in years to come.  Benny AJF picThe trio’s set list was a mix or originals and some very interesting covers. What was not composed by Lackner or by the drummer Chazarenc, were often unexpected tunes; Brahms, Cold Play, David Bowie, Rodriguez and Jimmy Hendrix. ‘If Six were Nine’ was simply stunning. Warmly familiar to those of us who remembered the rock original. Taking the bones of a 1960’s tune and infusing it with edgy lines and modern harmonic conceptions. I have long-held the view that the new standards will come from material exactly like this. None of the band were alive when this acid blues classic was cut in 1969, but their joy at performing it was evident. Jimi would have loved it. Benny AJF pic (2)The bass player on this trip was Bruno Schorpe. When offered an upright bass he declined – choosing to remain on electric bass throughout. I’m glad that he did because the instrument had the bite to act as counterweight.  Balancing out well the electronics and various effects of Lackner’s keyboards. Then there was drummer Matthieu Chazarenc. He has accompanied Lackner on previous trips and to my ears he is directly out of a great tradition. French Jazz drummers have a sound that is distinct. Like many of his compatriots Chazarenc’s sound is crisp, even dry; utilising dynamics in ways that younger drummers are often incapable of.  A label like ACT must surely pick the trio up sometime soon.  They would be a perfect fit – much as they would for ECM.

Thursday brought us ‘The JAC‘ from Wellington. A delightful octet shortlisted in the 2015 New Zealand Jazz awards for their ‘Nerve’ album. This project is clearly one that will remain with us for some time and if any band deserves to become an institution it is this one. A brassy octet with an orchestral yet airy sound and one which I am particularly enthusiastic about. This was the release gig for their newest album.

AJO pic (2)‘The Green Room(out on Rattle.) Rattle has an uncanny Knack of locating the best of new Zealand music and presenting it in ways that even the big labels seldom manage. The album is beautifully recorded and live the JAC simply sparkle as they weave texture and into their shape shifting grooves. In many ways it is a band of equals as almost everyone stands out at some point. While there is an incredible tightness to their performance, they manage to loosen up enough to create rub and textural complexity. Jac pic (3)It is almost overkill to single out soloists with a cohesive group like this as every one is notable in some way or another. Altoist Jake Baxendale is their nominal leader and three of the compositions on the album are attributed to him (including the title track). If any number captures the essence of the group it is this. The solo on his tune Andalucia also captures a strong sense of place. I know Andalucia well and this is a convincing testimony.

Jac pic (2)It is hard to know where to start with Callum Allardice; he grows as a musician every time I hear him. His compositions are stunning and his guitar work so fluid and exciting that it defies belief. These are performances that stop you in your tracks and few New Zealand guitarists capture that particular sound. Lex French is another spectacular performer and we would hardly expect otherwise. He is now the leading local voice on that horn. Perhaps the most experienced player is Nick tipping who never puts a foot wrong. On the new album we hear him at his best.  Jac pic (4)Convincing contributions by the likes of Chris Buckland, Matthew Alison and Shaun Anderson reinforce the view that this is an all-star band. Lastly there is pianist Daniel Milward. He has recently moved to Melbourne and his voice is particularly strong on the recording; more so than on the first album. Not a showy pianist but an extremely tasteful one who gets it just right. I have put up a sound clip of the Allardice Composition ‘The Heist’, as I have loved it since first hearing it (probably at the Tauranga Jazz Festival).AJO pic (3)

On the 24th I attended another Rattle Jazz album release. This time at the Auckland University Jazz School in the Kenneth Meyers Centre. The Chris Mason Battley Group were performing the album DIALOGOS; this arising from the music of celebrated New Zealand composer John Psathas. The project is exciting and while very much in the moment, a careful crafting is evident. If that sounds like a contradiction it is not. Improvised music is forever reaching beyond imposed structural limitations; the boundaries of convention. Without that restless outreach the music would wither on the vine. This is an example of the new music that you might find on ECM (or Rattle), it is minimalist and references the ethos of John Cage or perhaps even Zorn; it reaches the outer limits of the known.  AJF CMB pic (2) In Psathas words, “it is not arranging or adapting…(rather) a continuing of the composing process”. There are works or arrangements which re-imagine and examine a work from an outside perspective. That is not the case here. This is part of a developing story and the Psathas vision remains at its heart. I recently read a trilogy by a famous and highly respected author. He had intended to write a fourth volume but died before he could proceed. A year later another author picked up where the original author left off and achieved something extremely rare. He added to the body of work seamlessly; continuing the narrative in ways that were his own and entirely consistent with the original. Although a more serious work, DIAGOLOS was an unmitigated triumph. AJF CMB pic (1)Mason-Battley is a thoughtful gifted musician, but we don’t see him perform about town very often. Any new project gets his undivided attention and that was the case here. Counter intuitively, it is his careful preparation which affords him the extraordinary freedom he demonstrates on the bandstand. During this performance he took us right to the edge; you gained the sense listening that he was pushing himself a little further with each phrase. It is at times like this that great music emerges. While adventurous with electronics, he evokes a classic Coltrane sound on his Soprano. There are a number of local musicians who double on soprano but few (if any) sound like Battley. AJF CMB picThe Chris Mason-Battley Group has been around for some time and the original group set New Zealand records for the number of downloads and albums purchased. For this project core members David Lines, Sam Giles and Mason-Battley remain with the addition of drummer Stephen Thomas. Unlike earlier configurations, there is no guitar. Bringing Thomas into the mix has worked extremely well. The drummer of choice for many gigs and a gifted percussionist in the fullest sense. Psathas music calls for sensitive drum work and Thomas has exactly the right approach. His understanding of subtle dynamics, time awareness and overall sensitivity to the project were very much on display. I also appreciated David Lines piano. Lines early classical training was evident in places and again this made him a very good choice for the project. The work required a pianist with a particular chordal approach. At times he was minimalist and with a particular approach to voice leading. Lines like the other four were indispensable to the project. Lastly there was Sam Giles – an electric bass player I wish I heard more often. Giles often leans towards the avant-garde and innovative projects. That is where he shines. AJF CMB pic (5)The Last Auckland Jazz Festival gig I attended was the Alan Brown/Kingsley Melhuish Alargo project at the Golden Dawn. The Golden Dawn is the perfect place to wind down and a very good place to hear laid back grooves and experience deliciously exotic ambient adventures. This music creates a world we wished we lived in. A world of exotic grooves and shifting realities. Seeing and hearing is believing with Alargo, their sound as wide as the ocean and as deep (a little songbook reference there). What Brown and Melhuish are crafting is terrific. Sound shaped, altered, looped and all guiding you inexorably toward that fantasy world of improvised/groove Jazz/electronica. As wonderful as it is to watch, it is essentially a place in which to abandon yourself. As you dive in you feel the buffeting of warm grooves all about you, as the tiredness of a busy fortnight evaporates. I thought that I was an early discoverer of improvised ambient music but Brown was way ahead of me. We have often discussed this genre and we see it as a local space worth claiming. Melhuish was always going to end up beside Brown on this project; trumpet, pedals, programming, percussion and shells swimming around the keyboards. An otherworldly magic evoked by Browns deft fingers. I like to think that I gave this music a slight nudge along the way.  AJF CMB pic (4)This has been an interesting Jazz Festival and although it is cliched, there was something for everyone. From manouche through to the avant-garde. I loved that it retained the feeling of local and of intimacy – even when showcasing offshore bands. The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Rattle Records, 1885 Britomart, Auckland University, Golden Dawn, Portland Public House, Hallertau, Ostro, Lot 23, One2One, Hotel DeBrett, Lewis Eady, The Refreshment Room, the Vic, The Wine Cellar and other venues deserve our heartfelt thanks. Above all its Ben McNicoll who we must acknowledge as he lost sleep and carried the heaviest load. We are also in the debt of Caro and Roger Manins for the part they played. The vision belongs to these innovators and what ever happens along the way, I hope that the Auckland Jazz Festival continues as the fine fringe festival they envisioned.

Auckland Jazz FestivalCJC (Auckland Jazz Club)Rattle Records (go to Rattle to purchase the albums listed – the exception is Darkly Dreaming at the AJO website)

The Foundry 616 Sydney – 2nd Anniversary

Vince 072Sydney means two things to me; family and music. I get there as often as I can. One sultry night about two years ago I was listening to Mike Nock playing the blues (as only Mike can). It was a catchy new tune titled ‘Start up Blues’. I collared him during the break and asked him about it. “I composed it for the Foundry opening” he said. “Do you know about the Foundry 616”?  I didn’t and so he filled in the details. He spoke warmly of it so I determined to visit the next time I was in Sydney.

The Foundry 616 is located in Ultimo on a stretch of Harris road, almost lost between a maze of under and over-passes. It is (or was) the newest addition to Sydney’s Jazz scene. The difficulty in locating it is amply rewarded the minute you step inside. It is spacious, it serves tasty food and the acoustics are surprising good for such a large uneven space. It is also a friendly place, tolerant of visiting Kiwi photographers and reviewers like me. I always feel welcomed.Foundry 616 (2)During my first visit I caught the amazing New York based guitarist Mike Moreno. Attending a gig featuring Moreno had long been on my bucket list and I was not disappointed. He was happy to allow non-flash photography and I had a seat at the front table; perfect. For his Australian tour he employed two gifted local musicians: Ben Vanderwal drums and Alex Boneham bass (both familiar to New Zealand audiences). I have many recordings featuring Moreno, but what really struck me was that his best on recordings, is exactly how he sounds in person. Given the sound control in modern recording studios and given the expanse and quirky shape of the room, this is surprising.Foundry 616 I was later to experience the same clarity at other Foundry 616 gigs. The venue sound technician and the sound system get a big tick. Sound quality matters and especially with artists of this quality. To my thinking Moreno is the most lyrical of modern guitarists. Clean flowing lines, fresh ideas and an astonishing clarity of tone. As moves through the pieces, often at breakneck speed, and even when glissing, his fluidity is unbroken. There is a hint of mournfulness to his tone which is most attractive. I hear many gifted Jazz guitarists, but to date this gig remains the highlight. His set list traversed recent albums as he played a mix of lesser known standards and originals; ‘I have a dream’ (Hancock) being the standout. While his demeanour is quiet, perhaps even a little serious, his playing denotes unalloyed joy and exuberance.Vince 081My second visit was to see premier Australian Jazz vocalist Vince Jones. I have a deep liking for male Jazz singers but sadly there are not that many to choose from these days. Our younger selves do not sound like our older selves and in Vince Jones this sits extremely well. His is a lived in voice, full of rich life experience. An honest voice and above all a true Jazz voice. He can make you smile and cry in turns and his lyrics are like no one else’s. If you listen carefully the realisation comes; Jones is jazz protest singer. He is closer in sentiment to Gil Scott Heron or perhaps Billy Bragg and Bob Dylan than to any torch-song crooner. His recordings while marvellous don’t prepare you for the experience of hearing him in person. He has a compelling stage presence, exuding the vulnerability that Chet radiated. Unlike Chet he also exudes real human warmth and empathy.Foundry 616 (4)As he tells personal stories about his grandparents, his budgerigars, women deserving of respect, his environmental concerns, you feel deeply connected. When he shakes his fist at the ‘big end of town’, calls for kindness towards refugees and gives voice to your innermost feelings, you shake your fist along with him. Since that visit I have transcribed some of his lyrics. I would now add gifted poet to the list of his accomplishments. Jones writes most of his own material (often in collaboration with his accompanists like Matt McMahon or Sam Keevers). Both were present that night as was an old friend, bass player Brett Hirst; James Hauptmann was on drums. Fine musicians and great company. Earlier in the day I caught up with Barney McAll and interviewed him regarding his stunning Mooroolbark album. He was to premier that at the Foundry in a few weeks. I was sorely tempted to delay my departure, but work called me back to New Zealand. McAll was once an accompanist to Jones as well.Foundry 616 (10)My third and most recent visit naturally brought me back to the Foundry. A pianist/singer Rodric White was on the bill. White was unknown to me, but again I enjoyed the gig. He opened with a few tributes and it surprised me to hear him announce a Keith Jarrett number. Even more so when he played an extract from the Koln Concert. That took guts and he did it well. Later he played some of his own compositions, plus Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, the Beatles and several Sting numbers. He was disarmingly dismissive of his vocal abilities but he sang well. Stylistically he is close to the classic Jazz singers. Accompanying him was Hugh Fraser (bass), Steve Ley (drums) with guests Paul Cutlan (tenor & soprano saxophones) and Jenny Marie Lang (guitar & vocals). Paul Cutlan was the only name I knew, a well-respected session saxophonist. During the second half White called for pianist Chris Cody to come to the bandstand.Foundry 616 (3)  I first met Cody in New Zealand and we are now friends. I have a deep respect for him as an artist and as a human being. This rounded out the evening nicely. Cody an internationally recognised artist, is back in Sydney for a while. There is something about his approach and his innate sense of pulse that sets him apart. He understands the importance of leaving space between notes; easily moving inside and out during a solo. He oozes Paris cool. With Cody on piano and White on keys the enjoyment was complete.Foundry 616 (8)There are any number of excellent improvising musicians in Australia and New Zealand and we are lucky that they are so accessible. There are also thousands of people who love improvised music, but here’s the rub. The enthusiasts don’t always make the effort to attend gigs. The consequences of taking the local Jazz scene for granted are too dreadful to contemplate. If we support local Jazz we need to commit. In spite of the many world-class musicians in Australasia the music is more precarious than we think. Running clubs like the ‘Foundry 616’, the ‘505’ or the ‘CJC (Creative Jazz Club)’ is high risk and if the clubs struggle, so does the music. It is quite possible that I’m a fanatic, but I’ve attended more than 250 Jazz gigs in the last four years. If you read this, it’s because you love this music with all its variability. Value what you have people and make a point of supporting your local Jazz clubs and gigs. Some amazing musicians depend on you.

Where: The Foundry 616, Harris Street, Ultimo, Sydney

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)

‘Firefly’ – Glen Wagstaff & the Symposium Jazz orchestra

FireflyThe postie brings more music to our house than he does bills and so I always welcome the sound of the small motorbike pausing outside. This time she delivered a wafer thin parcel with the sender identified as Glen Wagstaff; Firefly had arrived. Looking back over my blog posts revealed that I first encountered the Glen Wagstaff Project in October 2013. At that time we heard several compositions now on the album and in particular to the title track ‘Firefly’. The first Auckland lineup was an eight piece ensemble, all Christchurch musicians. I was only familiar with two of them, Tamara Smith and Andy Keegan. The ensemble impressed and especially notable were the compositions; well constructed charts which magically exceeded the limits of eight piece instrumentation.

The other memory of that visit was the evocation of Kenny Wheeler. Few other New Zealand ensembles worked in that space. A year later in November 2014 Wagstaff appeared again. This time engaging the seventeen piece Auckland Jazz Orchestra. Bigger charts, more complexity and additional compositions, this was a precursor to the album. ‘Firefly’ was a Kickstarter project and many of us around the country were keen to pitch in. When a project has strong enough bones Kickstarter is a reasonable way to proceed. Wagstaff had sewn the seeds well The ease in which he reached his target was ample proof that he had found a solid support base. As we reach for new workable distribution models, this tool is worth considering; if like Wagstaff you can deliver the goods. Road testing and winning over a solid core of contributors is essential.

Sound Clip: Escape Artist (featuring guest saxophonist Manins)

The tracks have a number of moods but the album flows beautifully. The cohesion comes from the writing and the sense of vision imparted. As good as the various artists are, it is the writing that grabs you. The rich orchestral voicings in ‘Maylie’ reach deep and send shivers down the spine. There is a sense of nostalgia evoked, a longing for what is just of out of reach; even of pleasurable melancholia (The melancholic voice is often invoked by poets and it is nice to see it explored in this context. In earlier centuries this mood included pleasurable feelings ‘Pleasing myself with phantasms sweet, methinks that time runs very fleet, all my joys to this are folly, naught so sweet as melancholy’). In the title track ‘Firefly’ the mood is light and airy. Once again Wagstaff has found the right voice; a dusky sense of joy prevails. The tune Sakura based on a traditional Japanese melody follows a well trodden path among improvising musicians; again well done and showcasing Wagstaff on guitar. He is soft toned and his sound lovely. In this piece subdued orchestration allows the melodic aspects of the piece to unfold without clutter.

Sound clip: Maylie (featuring guest vocalist Elen Barry)

The Symposium Orchestra is a nineteen piece Jazz orchestra and with guest artists and doubling it swells to twenty-three instruments. Wagstaff utilises this rich palette well; avoiding the pitfall of over-orchestration. No mean feat with that firepower behind you. Roger Manins guested on tenor saxophone and Elen Barry added wordless vocal lines.

Writing orchestral charts is a monumental task and when you consider that this is a young musician’s first album, the respect for what he achieved deepens. In the USA there is much angst over the dearth of support for Jazz. In New Zealand we have never had that support and so artists create for the joy of it. When albums like this emerge, the New Zealand Jazz scene grows in stature. Wagstaff has put an important  marker in the ground, his future now assured.

Buy the album from www.glenwagstaff.comFirefly (1)

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.

 

Marc Ribot & I

RibotI am a Marc Ribot enthusiast so when local musician Neil Watson sent me a message to say that Ribot was coming to New Zealand I whooped for joy. My first thought was, wow, this will be the good shit. My next thought was, oh yeah I want to interview that cat about his musical and social activism. Watson was to open for him which pleased me. Watson was a good fit for this gig. An iconoclast multi genre improviser himself.

I put out a few feelers to people connected to the tour, letting them know that a local Jazz Journalist was keen to interview Ribot. I heard nothing back and assumed that the tour would be whistle-stop; this is often the case when a single New Zealand concert follows an Australian tour. I let it drop with some regret.

Because I keep an eye on the wider improvising scene, I was aware that Ribot toured Ceramic Dog the previous month. I love that band. Ribot with band mates Shahzad Ismaily and drummer Ches Smith are a force ten hurricane. Wild and free-ranging but subtle at the eye of the storm; Jazz infused while taking few prisoners from the past. They are the music of everyman and all time. I learned at the venue that this was not a Ceramic Dog concert but Marc Ribot on solo acoustic guitar. He is known for the diversity of his projects and I would turn up to a Ribot gig if he was just whistling.

My partner and I arrived early as we wanted good seats. Amazingly we found seating in the front row and this proved a blessing and a problem. A blessing because we could see and hear Ribot with crystal clearly. A problem because of what happened next. A rotund bearded man clumsily took the seat next to us. As he seated himself heavily I could smell the booze on his breath. Fucking drunks. This guy had been pre-loading for at least a decade. He struggled to focus and said, ‘I can’t believe that Marc Robot is here; this guy plays with Zorn’. He was right to disbelieve because his drunken buffoonery denied him the entire experience.Ribot (2)My first act on arriving at the venue was to approach the Tuning Fork floor manager and ask about photographs. He told me of a request from Ribot for absolute quiet. It was solo acoustic guitar, not Ceramic Dog and at Ribot’s request the venue turned off the air-conditioning and fridges. Camera clicks were obviously out of the question unless between numbers. I respected that and took photographs unobtrusively during moments of applause. This was a special gig that required a womb of engaged silence. Audience and musician locked into an embrace of sound.

Because of the above, what happened next was all the more appalling. The drunk, who was so excited about hearing Ribot fell into a deep stupor at the first note. It was a stupor with sound effects and alarming floor-wards lurches. At first his awful wheezes were low volume, but as the concert progressed they became multi-phonic.

After carefully arranging himself, foot on his guitar case, hunched over his ancient acoustic guitar, Ribot dropped into the performance zone. Balanced gently on his knee was an incredible 1937 Gibson L-00; a simply wonderful instrument. When he plays solo he prepares by withdrawing from outside influences. Before a concert he examines a plethora of possible tunes, weighing up musical ideas and searching for new and often oblique ways to tell stories. He seldom has a set list in mind and lets the music and the moment take him where it may. This is a frightening high wire act and only a master improviser would attempt it. Putting yourself in such danger is fraught with risk and an unexpected audience distraction could be fatal. Ribot is more than up to such a challenge. He is one of the worlds greatest improvisers and an acknowledged master of his instrument.

The guitarist was deeply absorbed throughout his astonishing performance. creating an orchestral sound and telling stories free from ego and constraints. In Zen like fashion he examined the various tunes, turning them upside down or examining them from an oblique angle. Although lightly miked, the sound was fatter than an 18 piece orchestra. The subtleties all astonishing micro journeys, complete in themselves. Naked improvising at its best. The journey took us into the classical Spanish or Cuban guitar world, it traversed standards, Delta blues, Coltrane; I could even detect the all but forgotten vibe of Eddie Lang and Carl Kress. At times avant-garde and at other times pastoral. This was a night that I will never forget. Everyone there was spellbound…….except for one fool.

I will now relate my communication moment with the great man. I value it even though I wish it had been other than it was. There were two moments when Marc Ribot looked up and engaged directly with me. I know that I didn’t imagine it. My partner Darien had left her seat long before to sit elsewhere. The fumes and lurching were doing her head in. (Reprise) Fucking drunks. During one particularly drunken wheeze Ribot looked directly at me. Although only a few feet away, I tried to make myself invisible. My superpowers deserted me. Shit, shit, shit I thought, he must think it’s me. I quickly inclined my head sideways towards the drunk, hoping that he could see my gesture in the gloom. Then I lunged out and jabbed the man hard in the ribs.

Ribot caught the gesture and gave me the hint of a smile and a brief nod. That last gesture confirming that my desperate telepathic signal was received; an acknowledgment that it was the fool disturbing the force and not me. This was better than an interview; my superpowers were back and we were communicating by telepathy. Emboldened I reached across again and again to jab the fools ribs. I am not an aggressive man, but the great Marc Ribot had given me permission.

And all the while the music flowed unabated, wonderful music. The art music of everyman.Ribot (1)Footnote: Neil Watson acquitted himself well and added to the enjoyment of the evening. He played three types of electric guitar plus his pedal steel guitar; his set list ranging freely across genres. A Nirvana tune, a Hendrix referencing ‘Hear my train a comin’, a nice tune composed by his partner and the Kiwiana classic Blue Smoke as high points from his set.

Marc Ribot: Solo acoustic guitar at the Tuning Fork, Auckland, New Zealand, August 2015 – supporting act Neil Watson (guitars) with Rui Inaba (upright bass).

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Nock/Manins – ‘Two-Out’

Nock ManinsA few weeks ago I received a review copy of the Nock/Manins ‘Two-Out’ duo album. As it was late I put it straight into my work bag ready to play in the car. When the morning came, the distractions of the work day overtook me and I forgot it was there. It was not until a week later that I found it and listened.

Placing the album into my Hi Fi changer I started to open the mail; what I heard stopped me in my tracks. This was chill down the spine stuff and I hardly noticed the mail slipping from my fingers to the carpet. Man this was so beautiful. Elegant, unadorned thoughtful standards, played by musicians who understood every nuance of the music. Memories of earlier albums immediately came to mind. I found it impossible not to recall the duo albums of Art Pepper & George Cables or the Maybeck Hall duos. Many of the above mentioned albums were piano and alto saxophone, but the vibe here was the same. Heart warming, thoughtful, mature explorations of Jazz standards in duo format. The tune in the clip below is ‘Black and Blue’ (Waller/Brooks/Razaf)

The choice of tunes is impossible to fault and I particularly loved ‘Black and Blue’, ‘It’s the Talk of the Town’ and ‘Golden Earings’. Mike Nock’s deft hand is detectable in the selection. He has a happy knack of finding tunes that we had almost forgotten. Tunes that we once loved but carelessly forgot about. This album is special and perhaps it’s because I am an old dog with a lot of good music in my head that it triggers such happy memories. This is an album that could only be realised by established musicians with nothing to prove. Mature artists comfortable in their musical skins. Each track communicates the joy of exploration and speaks to us of companionship.

The less is more approach serves the album well. It is interesting how different Manins sounds here. His gentle and slightly thinner sound while unusual for him, is just right for the project. This is a side of him that we seldom hear; light airy minimalism. Nock is also light of touch, allowing the music to breathe and speak for itself. Maybe younger listeners will not make the connections I have, but I am confident that it will resonate with anyone who listens with care. It will resonate because some wonderful tunes were paid the respect they deserve. This is an album to treasure and play over and again.

Review: “Two Out’ Mike Nock (piano), Roger Manins (tenor Saxophone) – the album can be purchased from FWM Records or from any of the artists gigs.

Nock Manins #2

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’

Mathias Eick – ‘Midwest’

Midwest2Before hearing the first note, I knew that I would like ‘Midwest’. Mathias Eick is a unique communicator and his compositions gift us with particular ways of experiencing places we have not yet visited. Sound is transmuted and we see what he is seeing. As I listened to the album I was drawn deep into a world of vast open spaces, history and complex human emotion. The connection was visceral as the music brought the plains of the Midwest into the range of intimacy. I sensed the wild grass running between my fingers as I listened. The last album to evoke such a strong sense of place for me was Tomasz Stanko’s ‘The Soul of Things’. ECM is the home of such evocative albums.

This is an outsiders look at the Midwest of America and a fresh take on Americana. The emotions and melodic intensity are what they are; expressions borne of the heart, devoid of apparent preconception, arrow straight in their delivery. Few bands are as suited to realise this as Eick’s and for the task he has assembled the ideal collaborators. All of the elements are there. The hint of sadness in the gentle slurs of Gjermund Larsen’s violin, the sparse beauty of Jon Balke’s piano, the folksy bass lines of Mats Eilertsen and the colourist pulsing percussion of Helge Norbakken. Above all the soft-edged well modulated soulful trumpet; a trumpet that sounds like no other.MidwestWhere I live in the South Pacific, Jazz musicians sometimes pose the question; Do we have our own sound, a unique quality that we tap into? As our scene grows the answer is increasingly yes. This uniqueness of ‘sound’ is evident among Scandinavian improvising musicians and especially so among Norwegian trumpeters. In this case the identity is multi faceted. It is Norwegian and Americana.Midwest 3The Midwest is both mythical and real, we feel that we know it intimately. Endless tales arise from the indigenous peoples (who respected it best) and the hopeful European settlers who spread across it looking for a new home. It struck a particular chord with Eick as the peoples of Norway were prominent among those settlers. The writer Lawrence Durrell explains this best when he says that certain places transcend reality and become ‘less a geographical entity than an idea’. ‘Midwest’ is an embodiment of this principle. Midwest by Mathias Eick is out on the ECM label.

Reuben Bradley’s ‘Cthulhu Rising’ @ CJC

Cthulhu Rising 085H P Lovecraft died under appreciated, but it didn’t curb his output. His imaginings took him to darkly strange and exciting places. Places that few of us dared contemplate. While he reached deeper than writers like Edger Alan Poe and further into the human psyche, his wildest dreams could not have prepared him for Wednesday night. Reuben Bradley, time traveller and keeper of lost grooves has wrestled with the spirits and brought Lovecraft to life again.

If anyone was up to this interesting challenge it was Bradley. An original drummer who moves across the kit with balletic fluidity and whose focus and musicality enhances any undertaking. He possesses superb compositional skills and these are fed by a fertile imagination. There is another quality to Bradley and perhaps this is the key. He has a highly developed sense of the absurd. A good humoured irreverence that is never far from the surface. This time his attributes were given full rein and he has excelled himself. Cthulhu Rising 091This is a truly exceptional album and it is no wonder when you consider the source material and the musicians associated with it. Bradley, Penman and Eigsti are a deadly combination and their interplay is crisply on the mark. Matt Penman is dear to our hearts in New Zealand. One of our finest Jazz exports. An expat from Auckland who conquered the American improvised bass scene in ways that few others manage. His work with James Farm, the San Francisco Jazz Collective, Aaron Parks, Kurt Rosenwinkel and a long list of luminaries is instructive. That he still appears with the best of our local artists and on local recordings is our immense good luck. An imaginative and wonderfully musical bass player who holds the groove and manages to tell interesting stories without distracting us from the overall focus of the piece. Few bass players could do this better than Penman.

Last but least is Taylor Eigsti on piano and keys. The New York based Eigsti is also an original stylist. While his name is often associated with the likes of Eric Harland, Joshua Redman, Ambrose Akinmusire, Julian Lage and Gretchen Parlato he deserves evaluating in his own right as leader. For a number of years now the Jazz community has singled him out as an exceptional talent. His back story and youthful entry onto the world Jazz scene is fascinating, but it is his mature output that continually amazes. He is well recorded, well reviewed and getting better with each passing year. At times you can hear influences but they are not the predominant voice. This is a wholly formed original artist and what he brought to Cthulhu Rising was priceless.Cthulhu Rising 094The judicious use of sampled ‘Lovecraft’ readings in several places adds to the atmospheric feel and doesn’t detract from the overall musical experience. Every note played and every voice-over is well placed. Yet again Rattle Records have excelled themselves here. The secret of ‘Rattle Records’ tasteful Jazz catalogue must surely be seeping into the wider world by now. ‘Rattle’ is the ‘ECM’ of the South Pacific. This album was recorded at the ‘Bunker Studios’ in New York, Engineered by Aaron Nevezie and mixed and mastered by Steve Garden at ‘The Garden Shed’ Auckland.Cthulhu Rising 088There was a change of personnel for the CJC ‘Cthulhu Rising’ release gig and for the Australasian tour to follow. Respected bass player Brett Hirst took Penman’s place and this was a sound choice. Hirst, another expat Kiwi, is well established on the Australian scene and frequently employed by visiting artists. He is a gifted musician and perfect for high end gigs like this.

Throughout the New Zealand leg of their tour they were enthusiastically acclaimed and no wonder. The project is well conceived and well realised. In spite of the incredible strengths of his band mates, this is still very much Bradley’s album. We are seeing more drummer led albums lately and the sheer exuberance and depth of this one is proof that the New Zealand improvised music scene just gets better and better.

Cthulhu Rising: Reuben Bradley, Taylor Eigsti, Matt Penman – on tour Brett Hirst – purchase the album from Rattle records or in stores

Live Gig: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand

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Headline News: Nathan Haines meets DOG on Campus

AK UNI 11-3-2014 059On Wednesday five well turned out ‘men in black’ suspended time at Auckland University. This was a rare event, pairing two of New Zealand’s best known and best-loved contemporary tenor players. The invitation only concert billed as ‘Nathan Haines meets DOG’ kicked off of the Universities 2015 Summer Concert Series. New intake students attending (or viewing the video clip) discovered just how high the standard is; they also realised how lucky they are to have these teachers and these role models.AK UNI 11-3-2014 060The Nathan Haines/DOG line up can rightly be described as a super-group; the cream of New Zealand’s improvising artists. We saw Haines at his best here as he showcased his formidable talents on tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute & vocals. He is a multiple New Zealand Music Awards winner and perennially popular in New Zealand and London where he is now based. The DOG band members are all senior teaching staff at the Auckland University Jazz School (Faculty of the Arts). Collectively Ron Samsom (drums), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Oli Holland (bass) and Kevin Field (piano) form a dangerous new breed. The agility and intelligence of the animal has led many AK UNI 11-3-2014 058 (1)to speculate on its lineage; some suggesting Greyhound crossed with Border Collie? We will never know unless the parents own up, but it is beyond dispute that each band member has multiple acclaimed recordings to his credit. DOG is one of three groups short-listed for the 2015 Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards.

Supergroups are not always successful as promoters will tell you. It may seem counter intuitive, but there are many pitfalls in the format. Artistic and stylistic sensibilities can conflict and while less of an issue in Jazz, the rider still applies. Not every configuration gels. Putting two titans of the tenor together is an old concept and it was very popular in the 1940’s and 1950’s. These jousts or ‘cutting contests’ and the so-called battles between Lester Young and Bean (Colman Hawkins) have attained legendary status. There is a lot of mythology in the subsequent AK UNI 11-3-2014 058reportage and most musicians view the exchanges as a chance to collaborate; not cut someone down to size. It is an opportunity to challenge and be challenged; a high level musical interaction between equals. At its best it can bring out something special in both artists and Wednesdays gig achieved just that.

Manins and Haines played classic Selmer Mk 6 tenors but in the hands of each the instruments sounded different (although manufactured just 3 years apart). Their beautiful full-throated tenors blended perfectly and especially during the heads; creating a fat rich sound. The instruments when coaxed by experienced players like these, magnify subtle differences in tone. There is an attractive melodic thoughtfulness to Nathan’s improvisations, while Roger’s explorations can impart a wild edgy heart stopping quality. Both find their bliss and share it with the audience. This pairing on this night, will long be talked about in Auckland.  AK UNI 11-3-2014 061

The band leapt out of the starting gate with a crackling rendition of ‘Cheesecake’ by Dexter Gordon. This classic hard bop tune from ‘Dex’s’ Blue Note era gave the musicians a chance to shine. Both Selmers bit hard and with Field, Holland and Samsom playing behind them it was hardly surprising. The accolades heaped upon this particular rhythm section are unsurprising. Field’s comping was as tasteful as his well constructed solos. Hollands clean punchy bass lines were a beating heart in the mix. It fell to Samsom to control the energy levels and when appropriate he pushed the band to ever greater heights. On the up tempo numbers his facial expressions mirrored each rhythmic flurry as he dug ever deeper.

The set also featured a new ballad by Holland who introduced it with a tongue in cheek reference to the complexity of many modern Jazz compositions, “you will like this. It has a melody and lots of chords”. The remainder of the set featured Haines compositions. These compelling, well constructed tunes are by now familiar to local Jazz audiences. This band gave them fresh legs. Of note was the gorgeous ‘Lady Lywa’ which had Manins on tenor and Haines on flute. Once again the pairing worked to perfection.

Near the end (and to the delight of those familiar with this tune) Nathan sang ‘Impossible Beauty’ from his ‘Sound Travels’ album.  There is a lot to like about this haunting song; Nathan’s voice, the wonderfully evocative lyrics and the way the tune captures that dreamy Chet Baker vibe. To hear it with Roger Manins providing lovely fills on tenor was a treat.  I know that I keep saying this, but Haines needs to sing more often.  He is widely acknowledged as a gifted tenor, soprano and flute player; time to add vocals to the accolades.

As I was leaving I spotted the well-known arranger Wayne Senior. He is especially familiar with this venue as it was once the main studio of Television New Zealand. He has worked on pervious projects with Haines. The National Institute of Creative Arts & Industries (NiCAi) filmed the video and I acknowledge them. Lastly all credit to the Arts Facility, Music Department of Auckland University. This University Jazz programme adds inestimable richness to our cultural life. With the Philistines ever at the gate, you persist in supporting the creative arts.  Thank you.

Where: Auckland University Jazz School, Shortland Street Auckland New Zealand 18th February 2015

Who: Nathan Haines, Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Oli Holland, Ron Samsom

Jazz stories that need retelling (2014)

“What often distinguishes a poetic list from a practical one is only the intention with which we contemplate it’ – Umberto Ecco (The Infinity of Lists).

At this time of year Jazz Journalists post their ‘best of’ lists.  By tradition, this provides a platform for the writers to focus on something that took their fancy (or not). It is seldom an exhaustive analyses of the years musical offerings, but a time to indulge in a few well-honed prejudices with impunity. I make no apology for the antipodean bias.

A look back at some pianists who impressed in 2014:

There has been a lot of ink spilt in analysing Jazz piano over the years and the task is always daunting. In recent years all too many masters of the keyboard have passed on such as the inimitable Hank Jones.  He encompassed a vast era of jazz, ever fresh and endlessly tasteful; bringing with him something of stride, bebop and hardbop and above all the blues.  At the passing of Jones and other acknowledged masters, there is an increased awareness of other great pianists still with us (a good example is the belated and welcome attention being given to George Cables).  Many of these artists have been hiding in plain view and paying them due attention is increasingly important.  As musical tastes mature, and new directions emerge, the field ever broadens.

Jazz fans who live outside of the USA generally have a reasonable awareness of pan-American, European, Scandinavian and (perhaps) Antipodean Jazz musicians.  If you live at the hub of the wheel, the USA, it will probably be less likely.  Pianism is not about how many notes you play, where you come from or the 0000210166_36cleverness your ideas. It is about integrity.  Musical integrity is rare but universally available.

There is a ‘sound’ that belongs to certain locations, perhaps to great cities; where an assimilation of environment occurs unwittingly, coalescing within an artist. This is not planned, as self-conscious cleverness is the road to perdition. The mindless recycling of others cleverness a greater anathema.  Mary Lou Williams once said (to slightly paraphrase): “Once a pianist comes to grips  with the instrument and can master its capabilities, stop taking formal lessons.  Risk taking explorations should occur next”.

Pianists like Mike Nock, Barney McAll and Jonathan Crayford all have a unique quality, one that reflects where they come from.  They are musicians of the world having honed their craft on the road, but distinctly Australasian for all that. No English, Italian, Scandinavian or Australian pianist is going to sound like Randy Weston and nor should they.  Musicians of integrity will bring something of themselves to the mix and a select few will bring a sense of place. The three pianists I have mentioned have lived and worked in the USA (often extensively) but not at the expense of their roots voice.   Each found a groove that only they could unlock. There are 88 notes on the standard piano keyboard, but in the spaces between the notes and in the choices made, there are subliminal messages. That is where the real magic lies.

The Mike Nock Trio. (Aust) Gig at the ‘2014 Auckland Jazz Festival’, CJC (Creative Jazz Club). Mike Nock is one of New Zealand’s favourite musical sons and perhaps the improvising musician we most admire.  Although he has not lived here for many years, he often visits from Australia.  Many will know him from his ‘Fourth Way’ band, his recordings as sideman with people like Yusef Lateef or his long years as a celebrated member of the New York scene.  That said, his post USA work needs better examination and it is in Australia that people can gain a fuller sense of his body of work.  Nock is a truly gifted artist and he goes from strength to strength. “Nock’s ringing iconoclasm pervades all his music, taps a deep well of melody that transcends jazz and informs and ignites his every encounter.” – Fred Bouchard, Downbeat (USA). His live trio gigs are humour-filled and quirky, focussing on an eclectic mix of originals, standards turned upside down and almost forgotten tunes (i.e. Sweet Pumpkin).  The joy that Nock breathes into his gigs is infectious and it Mike Nock SIMA07_01makes you glad that you’re alive. Touring New Zealand with Nock were James ‘Pug’ Waples (drums) and Brett Hirst (bass)’.  These musicians while deeply attuned to each other were always full of surprises.  5 stars. *****

Barney McAll (USA) gigs in Auckland & Wellington NZ – Trio and Solo piano at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) and ‘The Wellington Jazz Festival 2014’.  McAll (an Australian) has lived in Brooklyn New York for many years, but he has never been forgotten in his home country Australia.  His visit to New Zealand won him many new fans.  There is an expansiveness and yet a completeness about McAll compositions. He sounds like no one else and as he digs into those earthy blues filled tunes, you hear the unmistakable echoes of real antipodean soul.  5 stars. *****

Jonathan Crayford, ‘Dark Light’ Trio (USA). It was Auckland’s good luck that the album release gig for Crayford’s ‘Dark Light’ Trio took place at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club).  A few weeks prior to that a local version of his ‘Biggish Band’ featured at the same venue (and at the Golden Dawn). I attended all three gigs. Jonathan Crayford is a peripatetic wonderer and a troubadour of immense talent.  His endless travels in music often bring him home to New Zealand and the lucky get to hear his imaginative projects.  4 stars ****

Other pianists of note: Kevin Field (NZ).  Field on piano or keys is a musical force to reckoned with. His taste is impeccable.  This year saw him record an album in New York with expat New Zealand bassist Matt Penman, drummer Obed Calvaire  and guitarist Nir Felder.  The album will probably be released sometime during 2015 and is eagerly anticipated.  Dark LightJan07_02Whether as accompanist or soloist, Field shines.  His work in 2014 on ‘Dog’, with Caitlin Smith and with the Australian saxophonist  Jamie Oehlers stand out as high points.  Adam Ponting (Aust) (Hip Flask ‘1’ & ’11’).  Ponting is an unusual but compelling pianist.  An original stylist who appears to approach tunes from an oblique angle, at first impressionistic, but leading you into a world of funky satisfying grooves.  This guy is definitely someone I would like to hear again.   It was also great to hear more of Alan Brown (NZ) on piano during 2014. He has some interesting piano and keys projects underway and we will hear more of those soon.   Steve Barry (Aust). Barry is an ex pat Auckland pianist now based in Australia.  He visited New Zealand twice during 2014.  His visits and albums are always received enthusiastically.  Barry is a musician who works hard and produces the goods.  His new album ‘Puzzles’ with Dave Jackson (alto), Alex Boneham (bass) and Tim Firth, lifts the bar for up and coming local musicians.  We had a number of visitors in 2014 and to bring us a European perspective was the Benny Lackner Trio (Germany/USA).  The pianist Benny Lackner has visited New Zealand on several previous occasions and the aesthetic he brings is finely honed. The band has a similar feel to EST.  There is the occasional use of electronics and they quickly find tasty grooves that could only emanate from a European Band.

Alan Broadbent (USA) has had a truly amazing year with the release of a solo album ‘Heart to Heart’ and his NDR Big band album ‘America The Beautiful’. Multiple Grammy 7kofphkhadu-htw5jpjp_zmxkdevwd478h5dat8o4ms winner Broadbent is our best known improvising export and he has spent the last year touring Europe and America to great acclaim.  The solo album was given a rare 5 star rating by downbeat and ‘America The Beautiful’ was recently voted one of the 10th best albums of 2014.

Miscellaneous Gigs and projects:  

Mike Moreno trio (USA) – for sheer guitar artistry and taste, Moreno is hard to beat.  His beautiful (often mournful) sound, compelling lines and clarity of vision left the Sydney audience in awe.  His Australian trio were Alex Boneham (bass) and Ben Vanderwal (drums).  the choice of sidemen was solid, as they complimented and responded to every nuance of Moreno’s playing.  This was a class act all round.  The Troubles (Wellington, NZ), Portland Public House, ‘Auckland Jazz Festival’.  This Wellington ensemble is a machine of wondrous invention.  Its anarchic dissing of powerful institutions, cheerful irreverence and inappropriate humour, carves it out a special place in the hearts of rebellious souls.  Iconoclast drummer and composer John Rae (ex-Edinburgh) had added the heavy weight presence of saxophonist Roger Manins (Auckland) to the mix for recent gigs. That was an inspired choice.  Jeff Henderson’s ‘Dreamville’ project (Auckland, NZ) CJC (Creative Jazz Cub). This avant-garde gig, billed as superconscious Jazzmares, was a triumph by any measure.  Like a dream, the gig moved forward under its own internal momentum.  Surreal themes constantly dissolving until exhausted, forms shifting without seeming to.  What made this journey so evanescent, but so compelling, was that certain motifs remained deep in our consciousness throughout; totems of sound embedding themselves. This gig won many to Henderson’s cause.

Notable local Albums of 2014: (in no particular order)

‘Dog’ (Rattle Jazz) Recorded in the now defunct and much-loved York Street studios Auckland.  This album is the realisation of a project by Manins, Field, Holland &  photo - Version 2 Samsom.  It sizzles, swings and while hinting at the vibe of a bygone era, it still sounds fresh & modern (and very Kiwi).  ‘Dark Light’ (Rattle Jazz) This excellent album is one of two that Jonathan Crayford released in 2014 – Recorded at ‘Systems Two Studio’ NY with Crayford (piano), Ben Street (bass), Dan Weiss (drums).  Don’t expect repetition from Crayford. This master musician takes us on many journey’s, each unlike the last and all brilliant.  Hip Flask 2 (Rattle Jazz)  A funk unit led by Australasian saxophone giant Roger Manins.  Accompanied by Adam Ponting (piano), Stu Hunter (organ), Brendan Clarke (bass) and Toby Hall (drums).  A thoroughly appealing album and a welcome follow-up to Hip Flask 1 (Hip Flask 1 included with the album).

Best Jazz Writing

The Parker Biography (part one): Stanley Crouch’s ‘Kansas City Lightning’ is a great read and a possible game changer.  It has sometimes been observed that Jazz  Parker Imagebiography is the weakest link in Jazz Writing. If that is true then the mould has truly been broken with this work.  Crouch has placed the story of Parker’s early life into a fuller historical context.  In learning things about the times, we learn a lot about the man.  This is a book that could be appreciated by anyone interested in the history of African-American life in the Mid-West.  I suspect that its significance will grow as time passes.  Above all the book is beautifully written and for me that counts.

 Best Jazz DVD

Charles Lloyd’s ‘Arrows to Infinity’ is a beautiful and informative document. It is packed with important music and astute observations.  The filming is tasteful and painterly and Dorothy Darr (artist and long time partner of Lloyd) has been the obvious guiding force (assisted Jeffery Morse).  Lloyd the musician is beyond caveat, but Lloyd the narrator also holds us in rapt attention.  The reborn, Big Sur Lloyd, communicates his deep calm with ease and his spiritual approach to music and life is compelling.  As he reflects honestly on the momentous times he lived through, we feel enriched by sharing the experience.  He sums up his approach to improvising and the duty of sharing his music as follows; “The winds of grace are always blowing, so set the sails high”.

Most anticipated events for the coming months.

Glen Wagstaff & the Symposium Orchestra Project. (NZ) 2015 album release (subject to sufficient funding levels being reached on kick starter).  This young guitarist references the writing of Kenny Wheeler and Brian Blade.  There is a deep melancholic beauty in his charts and the material soars.  The album features many gifted New Zealand musicians.  Christchurch, like Auckland & Wellington, has a deep reservoir of Jazz talent.

The Auckland Jazz Orchestra (NZ) – ‘Darkly Dreaming Suite’ by AJO conductor Tim Atkinson.  I witnessed the recording of this suite and what I heard sounds amazing. While there is a dark brooding quality of the music it is also strangely warm; like a glass of claret held up to stained glass window at dusk.  The album is due out in 2015 and the work marks step-up for the orchestra.

Maria Schneider conducts the Jazz Mothership Orchestra (USA/Aust) Our highly respected saxophonist Roger Manins is to feature with the JMO under Schneider’s batten. I don’t have all of the information yet, but the JMO will certainly be touring Australia.

CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 2015 events. The club had a great 2014 year in spite of the odds and difficulties. This is in large part due to JJA Jazz-Hero Roger Manins role as musical director (aided and abetted by Caro Manins and Ben McNicoll).  The task of keeping a not-for-profit Jazz Club float in a relatively small city is challenging, but Manins has managed to secure a solid programme and he did so while juggling his demanding teaching gig at the Auckland University Jazz School and his numerous live gigs and recording gigs around the pacific rim.   Having a brand new Auckland Jazz Festival (organised by Ben McNicoll) rounded the years events out perfectly.

Biggest Regrets of 2014 – missing the John Zorn gig in Adelaide – The passing of Kenny Wheeler whose music has given me so much pleasure over the years.

Video clips of Mike Nock & Barney McAll – filmed for this blog at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 2014.

http://youtu.be/zBd2yZZdvL4?list=UUvm6sdXjGJULG9k2nYZ9udA

http://youtu.be/m_oA8iLshNg?list=UUvm6sdXjGJULG9k2nYZ9udA 

 

Steve Barry ‘Puzzles’ Tour NZ

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Steve Barry recorded his new ‘Puzzles’ album back in February and after his very successful first album ‘Steve Barry’, there were high expectations for its successor.  In ‘Puzzles’ Barry has returned to the winning combination of Alex Boneham on bass and Tim Firth on drums and he could hardly have done otherwise.  When musicians work this well together and have more to say, the journey should continue.  While essentially a trio album, the gifted alto saxophonist Dave Jackson joins them for three numbers.  There is a sense of shared vision here as the four have worked together extensively.  While familiarity can sometimes breed complacency there is none of that in ‘Puzzles’.  The communication between band members is intuitive, but there is an element of surprise and freshness about the interactions.  All of these musicians are at their peak and while they impress deeply, there is no escaping the fact that it is the strength of compositions that gives this album its edge.

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Barry’s life is an extremely busy one.  He is in the final stages of his doctrinal studies (focussing on composition) and he gigs regularly around Australia and New Zealand.  Last year he won the prestigious Bell Award and was the runner-up at Wangaratta.  Guiding his impressive work ethic is more than just academic or professional considerations; he possesses a deep quest for knowledge.  If you follow Barry’s physical travels you understand something of what motivates him.  He is never a casual tourist.  His engagement with and questioning of the world about him informs his work.   The compositions in ‘Puzzles’ reflect this as they are carefully crafted improvisational vehicles, complimentary in relation to each other but clearly reflecting the learnings gained by Barry along the way.   The sound quality on the album is also superb and the album nicely presented.   ‘Puzzles’ was recorded at the ‘Pughouse Studios’ in Melbourne by Niko Schauble and the cover design is Barry’s.

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I saw Barry on his way through Auckland to perform in Queenstown.  Reports from that gig were positive and over the week he worked his way back to Auckland’s CJC, where he performed with Roger Manins on tenor, Cameron McArthur on bass and Ron Samsom on drums.  The CJC band are highly rated musicians, but you inevitably get a different feel from any band less familiar with the material.  While the numbers on the album sound effortless, the charts are obviously complex.  We heard many cuts from the album and a few new numbers that have not yet been recorded.   In the past Barry’s compositions tended to favour a degree of density, but many of his new tunes have a lighter feel.  They are probably just as complex but like all evolving musicians Barry is mastering the art of making the complex sound simpler.  It would be hard to pick between the tracks on ‘Puzzles’ but for beauty and emotional depth I like ‘Forge’ and for groove the fabulous ‘Heraclitus Riverbed’ (anything involving the ancient philosopher Heraclitus draws me in).  It was interesting to compare Manins (live) with Jackson (on the album).  Manins on tenor was the passionate story-teller while Jackson on alto has a drier sound and evokes the feeling of an intrepid pugnacious explorer.

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After listening to him live and replaying the album for days on end the conclusion is inescapable; Barry is a major talent on an upward trajectory.  I would urge people to hear him live when the opportunity presents itself and above all to support his art by buying the albums.

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The Album: ‘Puzzles’ – Steve Barry (piano, rhodes), Alex Boneham (bass), Tim Firth (drums), Dave Jackson (alto saxophone).  www.stevebarrymusic.com

The CJC Gig: Steve Barry (Piano), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) on the 29th October 2014   www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

Dave Jackson ‘ Cosmontology Live’ Review

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I am a keen follower of ‘Tiny Hearts’ and if you explore the tributaries flowing from that creative enterprise you will arrive at this album. ‘Cosmontology’ is an incarnation (minus Eamon Dilworth).  Dave Jackson is the leader of this project and joining him are three of Australia’s finest improvising musicians.  This is Jackson’s second album under the title of ‘Cosmontology’, the last being in 2012.  I have not asked the meaning of the album title, but the related term Cosmology is the science of unravelling the beginnings of the universe.  At the centre of that work is the Big Bang Theory.  If we transcribe that theory into musical terms we begin to divine the ethos of this album.  This music feels incredibly bold to me, at times raw but always full of life, promise and excitement.  The sub atomic particles and vibrations that exist at the centre of the musical universe have coalesced here.

Jackson is an established alto saxophonist who like the other band members works in the Sydney area.  His approach while guided by an innate sense of musicality is somehow bolder than many of his alto playing contemporaries. There is a confidence that radiates from his every phrase, a sense that he is forging ahead without the need to look over his shoulder. He carries the history of Jazz in the DNA of his sound, but is always forward-looking.

This sense momentum is evident from the first listening.  The title track ‘Cosmontology’ begins with an almost meditative intro by Barry who plays Rhodes throughout the album.  In the first few bars the chords shift subtly, teasing us with possibilities.  This nicely sets the mood up for what comes next, an unerring journey into the heart of a compelling composition.  Bass and drums follow and as they weave in and around the chords a visceral power is evident as the groove develops.  When Jackson comes in there is no equivocation.  An overwhelming clarity of purpose has everyone moving in unison.

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Steve Barry is a gifted acoustic pianist and he is well recorded as such.  To hear him on a Rhodes is a treat.  On this album Barry often takes the measured approach, providing the necessary counter weight to the wilder explorations.  This frees Jackson, Botting and Derricott to work in a freer space, it is the springboard they need.  A steadying hand guiding the explorers as they surge forwards.  In Barry’s playing there is the feeling that you are on ‘Voyager’; experiencing unimaginable colours as you cut through the silence of space.

Tom Botting’s bass work quickly took my attention here.  I rate him as a bass player but I have seldom heard him recorded so well.  He has found an album where he can really shine and he makes the best of the opportunity.  His strong lines and immaculate sense of time serve to unleash Derricott who rains down shimmering flurries of beats as he moves and shapes the sound.  His contributions add depth, colour and heart stopping excitement.  As a unit they are immaculate.

Some people might not like the use of pedals with a horn, but they need to catch up.  Improvised music has never stood still, often appropriating new sounds, striking out in new directions.  The Scandinavian trumpeters fatten up their sound by electronic means as do American trumpeters like Cuong Vu.  The history of Jazz is full of examples of changed and amplified sound.  Without those experiments no Charlie Christian or Jimmy Smith.  What is the difference between utilising extended technique acoustically and adding the use of pedals to delay or chorus?  The only questions that should arise are; has this been done well, does the music have integrity?  In this case I say a resounding yes.

 

Who: Dave Jackson (alto saxophone, electronics), Steve Barry (Rhodes), Tom Botting (acoustic bass), Paul Derricott (drums)

What:  ‘Cosmontology Live’ – www.davejacksonmusic.com/

 

Tiny Hearts ‘Alluvium’ Review

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Some acts appear to arrive out of no-where.  All of the rehearsing and scuffling hidden from the common gaze.  Others invite you in at ground level, letting you see the raw material as it evolves, letting you see the promise, beckoning from the future.  Letting you see the influences, the base metal.  For a pop act the former makes sense, for improvised music it makes no sense at all.  Improvised music should move at will, explore awkward corners and morph into new shapes as it feeds off the life around it.  Standing still is death.

Last time this band was in town the name ‘Tiny Hearts’ had not yet surfaced.  They were the ‘Dilworths’ then, but the music was just as beguiling.  One of the things that I quickly learned was the strength of the bands influences, powerful tributaries feeding a common cause.  I was momentarily tempted to view the group as a discrete entity, a single project, but now I’m not so sure.  The more that I learn about them, the more I see the individual strengths of the musicians, where they’ve come from and where they’re headed.  Each of them have excelled in former projects but there is more.  Together they exude an organic quality, growing, evolving in unison.  Expressing the moment.  IMG_2404 - Version 2

I was familiar with a few of the tunes, the ones played during the ‘Dilworths’ tour.   I had also kept in touch with the musicians and seen clips as they developed their program along the way.  These are great compositions, but the performances lift them to another level.  All of the pieces have the individual musicians stamp imprinted on them.  This is in keeping with the ‘Tiny Hearts’ ethos.  A Steve Barry tune is unmistakably his, A Dilworth or Jackson tune likewise.  While most of the tunes were written with ‘Tiny Hearts’ in mind, they often referenced earlier projects or perhaps give a nod to future offshoots.   The ink was hardly dry on Tom Botting’s atmospheric Balclutha chart when he visited with the ‘Dilworths’ last time.  ‘Big Sea Reprise’ takes up the baton from Paul Derricott’s amazing Big Sea (Arrow) album.   I loved that album and asked Derricott about it when I caught their act last week.  He told me that he had liked the album as first, but then developed some doubts.  It lay fallow for a few years, then Paul revived it.  He is now pleased with it.   IMG_2370 - Version 2

Dilworth is the fronts person for the group, his friendliness and confidence making him and obvious choice.  Musically, all speak equally.  The composition of the band is part Australian and part Kiwi if you count their countries of origin.  In reality they’re best described as Australians.  Musicians like Barry and Botting could never be confined to our small Islands.  Dilworth, Derricott and Jackson are Sydney musicians with solid reputations.  If you are growing curious then here is my challenge.  Purchase a copy of ‘Alluvium’.  If you already possess it then order copies of: ‘Big Sea’ by Derricott, ‘Steve Barry’ the eponymous titled award-winning album by Barry, ‘Caravana Sun’ by Dilworth,  ‘Cosmontology’ by Jackson.   I have just ordered the latter to complete my set.   I also spoke to the band about future projects and there are plenty in store.  A Paul Derricott, a Steve Barry and a Dave Jackson album are in the wind.    IMG_2373 - Version 2

I missed their CJC gig as I was in Australia, but I caught them at the Auckland Jazz and Blues Club.   Reading the venue perfectly, they devoted much of the night to the Ellington/Strayhorn songbook.  This was not done begrudgingly as they revelled in the chance to play sets dominated by these timeless standards.  As the night progressed we whooped and clapped as numbers like ‘It don’t mean a thing’ brought the joy among us.  Embarking upon a night of unprepared swing era tunes would catch a lessor band on the hop.  For these guys it came naturally.

If you get the feeling that these musicians are in the middle of a massive and self-perpetuating project then you would be right.  For those who haven’t worked it out, the title says it all.  Alluvium comes from the Latin ‘to wash against’.  Loose base metals tumbling together in a stream.  That sounds about right.  I can’t wait to see them again in any of their incarnations.  They really are extraordinary.

 

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Who: Tiny Hearts – ‘Alluvium’  Eamon Dilworth (trumpet), Steve Barry (piano), Dave Jackson (saxophone), Tom Botting (bass), Paul Derricott (drums).

 

http://www.davejacksonmusic.com/     –      stevebarrymusic.bandcamp.com/

www.eamondilworth.com/     –    paulderricott.com/

 

Lex French Quintet @ CJC 2014

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The trumpet is arguably the first instrument of Jazz but we hear it infrequently in Auckland.  When we do it is seldom the lead instrument.  To redress the balance, the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) featured Lex French last week, an impressive musician who is garnering increasing attention on the Jazz scene.  This gig was one to look forward to.  The occasion was the launch of his new Rattle album ‘The Cut’, which is an international affair; recorded at McGill University’s MMR & Studio ‘A’ utilising top rated young Montreal musicians.  The mixing and mastering done in Auckland by Rattles Steve Garden.  For the album release tour French had assembled a quintet of Wellington based musicians, people he has played with before and all well-respected.

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While French has been around for some time and amassed an impressive CV he is not as well-known in Auckland.  After this album (and gig) that should change.  In spite of his relative youth he has already worked extensively overseas and has long been an essential component of the Wellington scene. He came to my attention earlier this year when ‘The JAC’ toured New Zealand and he really stood out, as trumpet players of his calibre are few and far between in New Zealand.  His ability to engage an audience goes way beyond mere chops as the way he connects is personal.  His tone is impressive as is his control of dynamics.  While a strong decisive player, he can also whisper a beguiling phrase.  ‘The Cut’ features his own compositions and these are as strong as the playing on the album.  photo

If I had to pinpoint a particular mood, a particular composition I would draw your attention to ‘Metro’.  Montreal has an impressive metro, teaming with cosmopolitan life.  This track (2) and the others on the album connected me back to a city I love; a great Jazz city.  This is what Jazz does best, paints sound pictures, reconnects us to fading memories while at the same time pointing to the unknown.  ‘The Cut’ has an up to the moment feel with strong edgy interplay between instruments.  Strangely it conveyed to me the vibe of Miles ‘Sorcerer’ album.  Perhaps it was the compositions, perhaps it was the phrasing and intonation of the trumpet, but whatever the reason it evoked memories.   Over the week I have played the album over and over and with each acquaintance a new pleasure discovered.

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French is from Wellington New Zealand and there he obtained a B Mus with honours before moving to Montreal’s McGill University to complete a Masters.  McGill has a highly respected Jazz Studies course (the Schulich School of Music).  As an aside, New Zealand has another respected McGill alumni in drummer Ron Samsom (now head of Auckland University’s Jazz Studies Program).  The musicians on ‘The Cut’ are all from McGill, Montreal.  They are Lex French (trumpet), David Bellemare (tenor saxophone), Nicolas Ferron (guitar), Nicolas Bedard (bass) and Mark Nelson (drums).   French is clearly the leader, giving a consistently strong performance, but with impressive sounding musicians like this behind him he is extremely well supported.   For the New Zealand tour he had Jake Baxendale (alto saxophone), Dan Hayles (Rhodes, Piano), Scott Maynard (bass) and Lauren Ellis (drums).   Having keys replace guitar changed the feel somewhat, but both configurations were effective in their way.  With the authoritative French upfront it could hardly be otherwise.   10462624_10202402878617968_7985350930627100965_n

French is impressive in an ensemble but he is a standout when leading his own unit.  Buy this CD to show your support for an up and coming artist, but above all buy it for the pure enjoyment of sampling the best of contemporary Jazz.  We can also chalk this up as another win for Rattle, in what is already an impressive 2014 Jazz catalogue.

What: Lex French ‘The Cut’ Album release for Rattle Records      www.rattlerecords.net

Who: Lex French Quintet: (‘Album) Lex French (trumpet, leader), David Bellemare (tenor saxophone), Nicolas Ferron (guitar), Nicolas Bedard (bass), Mark Nelson (drums).  (NZ tour) Lex French (trumpet, leader), Jake Baxendale (alto saxophone), Dan Hayles (Rhodes, piano), Scott Maynard (bass), Lauren Ellis (drums).   www.alexisfrenchmusic.com

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand, 18th June 2014  www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

The Wellington Jazz Festival (WJF) 2014

 

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New Zealand music fans should enthusiastically support the Wellington Jazz Festival, as it has hit a sweet spot.   It will now be run as an annual event thanks to an enlightened funding decision by the Wellington City Council and the sponsors.  I am enthusiastic about this years festival on a number of levels, not least because it has struck a sensible balance between quality local acts and high-profile international acts.  In doing this the festival producers provide valuable gigs for talented New Zealand artists (or lessor known offshore artists), but they also create a real street vibe.  The Opera House fits the boutique-festival feel extremely well, as it has a warm cosy atmosphere, good sight lines and intimate acoustics.   I certainly don’t decry the use of the Michael Fowler Centre, but shows in these larger and more sterile venues need balancing with lots of club gigs which speak to the street.  This year the balance was perfect.  Jazz Festivals need street vibe as much as headline acts and a carnival atmosphere is a must have.  A reminder that Jazz emerged from the rowdy back streets of America over a hundred years ago.  IMG_1068 - Version 2

I was only able to attend for two days, but Friday night in Wellington city gave me a real Kansas city moment.  As I moved from gig to gig, concert to concert, I could faintly hear the sound of the next gig before I was out of sight of the previous one.  The warm feeling I got as I drifted aimlessly between gigs was worth the cost of the flight.  People were happy just to walk the circuit of bars and gigs, being sucked into each venue by the siren calls of saxophone, drums, trumpet, guitar or keys.  The happy jumble of accessible gigs and the high quality of musicianship couldn’t fail to please.

My first festival gig was the Barney McAll free concert in St Peters church.  He has long-lived in Brooklyn but hails from Australia.  I had caught McAll doing a trio gig at Auckland’s Creative Jazz Club the night before, where he impressed the audience so much, that a few of us made sure that we caught him again in Wellington.  McAll is a deep-level improviser bringing the history of this music to each performance.  When he is playing solo piano there is an orchestral completeness to his work.  His left hand often utilising powerful stride bass lines while he moves and stomps in Monk like fashion.  On reflection McAll was very much the festival highlight for me.

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The first headline International gig I attended was the Joshua Redman quartet at the Opera House.  The band opened with a few tunes clearly pitched to a diverse festival crowd, but that changed as they progressed through the set list.  A highlight was ‘Walking Shadows’ (J S Bach ‘Adagio’) which is the title of his new album with Brad Melhdau.  This piece honoured Bach beautifully while giving ample space for fluid Jazz informed conversations.  It was then that we begun to hear more of what the quartet was capable of.  For me however it was the encore that was the standout of the night.  Pulling out a marvellous interpretation of Wayne Shorter’s ‘Infant Eyes’, they showed us the real meat on the bone.  The Redman quartet are a highly polished unit; noticeably propelled by powerhouse drummer Greg Hutchinson (with his heart stopping beats) and anchored solidly by Reuben Rogers.  In contrast Aaron Goldberg takes a minimalist and often oblique approach on piano while Redman’s sound although authoritative is thinner than many of his peers.  The band can certainly pack a punch and Redman’s arrangements did him credit.

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After the Redman concert I headed for the Rogue & Vagabond.   This was the first local band I saw and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.  There was a themed approach to most of the gigs, with many local bands interpreting famous albums; in this case ‘Thelonious Monk at the Town Hall’.   That was a great choice of album and completely authentic in its interpretation.  The quirky crazy warmth of Monk came through strongly and the excitement drew a melee of happy revellers to the bar.  Congratulations to Jake Baxendale (alto), Mike Isaacs (Tenor), Chris Buckland (baritone), Matt Allison (trombone), Lex French (trumpet), Kelvin Payne (tuba), Rowan Clark (bass), Shaun Anderson (drums) and Ben Wilcock (piano).  I love nonets and this one was perfect.  The gorgeous brass heavy voicings and heavy Monkish accents from the piano, hung in the air like decoded messages from the man himself.   Thursday was only the first night of the festival and in spite of limping around on a sore foot all night, I couldn’t stop smiling as I headed back to the hotel.

After the official opening on Friday night we filed into the Opera House to hear Pablo Ziegler.  A pianist composer who hails from Buenos Aires, he is the leading exponent of Nuevo Tango and an interpreter of the works of the Tango maestro Astor Piazzolla .  This highly rhythmic and often melancholic music was an infusion of European classical, African informed rhythms, hints of Jazz and the beautiful folk ballads of Argentina.  It is a danceable music created by creole musicians and early on embraced by working class Argentinians.  The Ziegler orchestra was essentially the Wellington Orchestra and they acquitted themselves extremely well.  The string section was twenty strong  (including two double basses),  there were two French horns, an oboe, a bassoon, a flute and a drummer who doubled on vibraphone and percussion.   Lastly there was composer, arranger Pablo Ziegler on piano.   I loved this concert in its entirety and especially when an expat Argentinian Fisarmonica Tango-player came on stage to play a ballad.  People often turn up their noses at the accordion and its close relative the bandoneon, but I defy anyone not to feel the emotional power of this instrument in a classic Tango setting.

My next stop was the Corea/Burton concert which started late due to repeated encore’s at Ziegler’s Opera House event.  When he came on, Chick Corea appeared discomforted by the air-conditioning, which would have felt positively arctic after his recent trip to Portugal.  Gary Burton was wearing a sweater and so it worried him less.  The Michael Fowler centre is a huge cavernous venue and controlling the air flow is undoubtedly a monumental task.  Once underway the famous duo delivered a well thought-out program, which included new and older familiar tunes.  The interplay between these two is uncanny and it goes way beyond just finishing each others musical sentences. They are able to challenge and anticipate what the other will do and this allows for high level interaction.  The duo have been playing together for so long now that their musical minds are as one.

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The last gig I was able to attend was back at the Rogue & Vagabond and this time it was a Herbie Hancock ‘Headhunters/Heavy Weather’ tribute.   I am always up for this music as it is surprisingly seldom played in New Zealand.   The band was outrageously good and as I approached, a flurry of urgent beats and a surge of raw energy seemed to fill the streets around the venue.   I am always enthusiastic about Dan Hayles keyboard skills and on this night he played a bank of keyboards to great effect.  On drums was the talented Myele Manzanza (who I suspect was the leader), on percussion Lauren Ellis, on tenor saxophone Blair Latham and on electric bass Rom Smith.   Blair Latham had been unknown to me prior to this, but I will pay more attention in future.  He was simply killing.  IMG_1099 - Version 2

Every large festival leaves you with regrets and mine were primarily about the gigs I’d missed.

There were at least eighty solid reasons for attending this Wellington Jazz Festival.  That was the number of listed events and there were many more unlisted events besides.    The Festival has had its ups and downs, but thanks to the persistence of the festival committee and the Wellington City Council it can now focus on what it does best.  Bringing quality Jazz to a wider audience.  If you are a Wellington local attending is a no brainer.  If you are from out-of-town then plan early and grab a cheap airfare.  You won’t be disappointed.  I wasn’t.

http://www.jazzfestival.co.nz/

‘DOG’ unleashed on International Jazz Day

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The DOG project was conceived two years ago and during its public outings the band garnered enthusiastic support.  Those who heard DOG urged them to record and eventually they did.  The long-awaited album was ready for release on International Jazz Day 2014; a gestation time roughly equivalent to that of an elephant.  The time however has been very well spent, as the band members have composed a wealth of new material.  DOG (formally Dr Dog) is Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Oli Holland and Ron Samsom.  Manins, Field & Holland are lecturers at the Auckland University School of Music (Jazz program), Samsom is the senior lecturer.   They are all in demand for the best gigs about town.  They are the big dogs on the block.

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International Jazz day was the perfect time to release this album, underscoring as it does a local Jazz scene crackling with life and teeming with invention.  Anyone familiar with the Auckland Jazz Scene will know that these musicians are a driving force; inspiring, challenging and empowering emerging artists.  It is a band of titans but it is also a true band of equals.  In the Jazz world bands made up of many leaders often fall short.  A juggling act’s required to unify a multiplicity of visions.  That problem does not apply here.  These men appear to breathe in unison and react to each other intuitively.  At the ripe old age of two DOG is in peak condition.

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The album is beautifully recorded and the mix could hardly be improved upon.  Credit to the York Street Studios in Auckland and to the tasteful mixing by Rattle’s Steve Garden (and DOG themselves).  ‘Rattle Records’ are going from strength to strength and if the last three months output is anything to go by, this will be their best year yet.  From the first few notes the album reels you in and holds your attention throughout.  There is a virtuosity and a tightness to the performances but it is more than that.   Beneath the unquestionable musicianship there is a radiating warmth and a bounty of good humour which shines through.  This was especially evident during the International Jazz Day performance at the CJC.  It was a humour filled affair and delightfully laid back.

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Roger Manins was the front man for the release gig and the dog jokes and banter had people in fits of laughter.  He teased the band mercilessly and they responded with sad looks or dismissive gestures.  The Zeppo Marx to Manins Groucho.  This is a role that he is well suited to and his jokes are quintessential Kiwiana.  Some of the titles contained obscure dog references.  ‘Race to Space’ honours the Russian dog which led off the space race, others inspired by loveable but hapless dogs of good breeding as in ‘Evolution’.  At one stage Manins directed people to a comparative dog intelligence chart.  “This is my spaniel rated at number fifty three, which is around the middle of a descending scale”.  Next he asked, “Does anyone here own an Afghan Hound?”.  No one owned up, perhaps guessing what was to transpire.  “Ladies and gentlemen they are number ninety two on the list, almost at the bottom of the intelligence scale”.  Some brave soul responded, “Surely not”.  “Have you ever tried to play cards with an Afghan Hound” was Manins quick response.  Roger Manins drawings for the cover art say it all.

Because there are four composers, the tunes have a variety of moods and tempos.   I like them all, but if forced to choose one I would go for Hollands ‘Didel Didel Dei’.   There are burning solos on this uptempo track and the interplay is quite exceptional.  On this track you will hear Manins at his best.  As usual there is no sugar-coating as he pushes the tenor to its outer limits.  Field, Holland and Samsom responded in kind.  This music they play has the utmost integrity and the audience laps it up.

International Jazz Day has become the premier event on the International Jazz Calendar with the brightest stars in the Jazz firmament showcased.  Auckland, New Zealand can hold its head high in the midst of these international celebrations.   This album and this live performance did us proud.

Who: ‘DOG’ is Roger Manins (tenor Sax), Kevin Field (piano), Oli Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) – compositions by all band members

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

Alan Broadbent – review of two new releases

 

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Alan Broadbent is rightly revered by New Zealand Jazz musicians, but I am not sure that the rest of New Zealand is aware of just how well respected he is overseas.  During the enthusiastic publicity about New Zealand’s high achieving young musician ‘Lorde’, the media generally overlooked the fact that we already have a two times Grammy winner in Alan Broadbent.  Not only has he won two Grammy’s, but he has also been nominated seven times.   Add to that his repeated poll winning status and his arranging work for many of the worlds most successful artists and you begin to grasp his importance in the music world.  His arrangements, compositions and piano playing with Woody Hermans Herd and Charlie Haden’s Quartet West are what he is best known for in the the Jazz world.  You can also add a long list of important collaborations (Charlie Haden, Diana Krall, Natalie Cole, Bud Shank, Chet Baker, Warne Marsh, Johnny Mandel, Quincey Jones, Henry Mancini, Sir Paul McCartney, Barbara Streisand and so on).  The LA Times named him as ‘one of the major keyboard figures of the day’ and a recent Downbeat critics poll awarded his latest album an extremely rare ‘five star masterpiece status’.

While his arrangements for singers may bring him the most attention, it is when you delve into his lessor known albums that a cornucopia of hidden treasures emerge.   An early example of just how strong his compositional and arranging skills are can be found on the all but forgotten Woody Herman recording ‘Children of Lima’ (especially ‘Far in’ – Broadbent).   To get right to the heart of Alan’s music though, you must strip away the orchestra and discover him alone with his piano in a sympathetic setting.  I refer here to the 1991 Concord album ‘Live at Maybeck Hall, Volume 14’.  This is one of the finest albums out of a series noted for its exceptional solo piano performances.  His interpretation of ‘Lennie’s Pennies’ (by Tristano who he studied with as a young musician) and ‘Woody ‘n’ I’ (a tune written by Broadbent during his time with Woody Herman ) have to be heard to be believed.  It has puzzled many a critic that such an exceptional solo album did not have a sequel.  5231736-4x3-340x255

“It is as if he has found a way to condense the essence of all of those orchestral arrangements into his hands”

Puzzle no more because the drought’s finally over.  Last year Alan Broadbent recorded his second solo album ‘Heart to heart’ and amazingly it is even better than his Maybeck album.  While there are hints of his signature style he pays less attention to the romanticism of Quartet West; a sound that many who have not heard his trio albums like ‘Pacific time’ might have come to regard as the norm.  There is a naked truthfulness about this music, and although it is solo piano, it somehow evokes a bigger vista.   It is as if he has found a way to condense the essence of all of those orchestral arrangements into his hands.  On Charlie Haden’s ‘Hullo my lovely’  his left hand walks a bass line against probing introspective right hand lines.  As someone rightly observed this is truly ‘a conversation between two hands’.   As well as recording four of his own finest compositions; ‘Heart to heart’, ‘Now and then’, ‘Journey home’ and ‘Love is the thing’ he also puts his spotlight on tunes as varied as ‘Lonely woman’ (Ornette Coleman) and ‘Alone together’ (Arthur Schwartz).   Alan selects his standards carefully and those lucky enough to have seen him performing live will know that he also tells wonderful pithy stories about them.  It is the raconteur that informs his playing on these albums.   

His most recent album has just been released and this time he’s back with a Jazz orchestra.   There is an interview with him in the publicity material and it is interesting to learn that as a pianist he did not find working with Woody Hermans Herd or any big band enjoyable.  He explains that the piano generally gets lost in big arrangements and that was not where he wanted to be.  Now years later he is guesting with the NDR Big band and obviously enjoying the process.  This album really works for him and it does so because he is in charge and can vary the dynamics to suit his tastes,  There is ample space for piano solos and his love of improvising is given free reign.

April is Jazz Appreciation Month (or in Jazz Journalists Association speak #jazzapril ) and we are fast approaching International Jazz day.  Besides attending local gigs you could purchase these albums.  Celebrating Jazz is what it’s all about and there are few better places to start than here.

 

What: Alan Broadbent (solo on ‘Heart to Heart’ and with the NDR Big Band)

Where: ‘Chillie Bin Records‘ and ‘Jan Matthies Records

The Jac launch ‘NERVE’ @ CJC & Meow

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I don’t know as much about the Wellington Jazz scene as I’d like to, but I’m working on that.   Recently an opportunity presented itself; two days in Wellington and a chance to catch up with some musician friends.  I did my homework and learned that ‘The Jac’ would be playing at ‘Meow’.  They had just recorded for Rattle and that made me keen to hear them; knowing that they were initially inspired by the ‘San Francesco Jazz Collective’ all the more so.

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While not a dedicated Jazz venue Meow is a great supporter of the music and a good place to experience live music in general.  The club has regularly hosted class Jazz acts like ‘The Troubles’ (and its various offshoots).  Located on a sharp right angle bend, down a narrow winding alley; intriguing car head-light effects sweep across the band when cars negotiate the turn.  This reminds me of the new Bimhuis Jazz club in Amsterdam, which has brightly lit trains passing right behind the band as they play.  From the first few bars I loved what I heard and was pleased to learn that they would be playing in the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) in Auckland a few weeks later.

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This band ticks a lot of boxes for me with their ancient to modern feel.   I love the Octet or Nonet sound and especially when a brass heavy front line is in evidence.  With ‘The Jac’ the four horns up front assault the senses in the best possible way; solidly augmented by two keyboards, drums and bass.  The original lineup (and the one recorded), features piano and guitar.  With the guitarist (Callum Allardice) overseas a Rhodes was added to replace the guitar.  While I like both configurations I’m particularly impressed by the added colour that the Rhodes brings to the mix.  In the hands of Dan Hayles it often sounds like Vibes and this takes the group closer to the sound-palette of the SFJC.

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There was a good audience at the CJC and ‘The Jac’ were received with enthusiasm.  It is all too rare to see such configurations in New Zealand and I wish more would surface.  There were solid performances from the soloists but the real stars were the stunning arrangements.  The charts sound modern, but implicit within is the Nonet/Octet tradition.  The Birth of the Cool is momentarily evoked but this is not the anchor point.  A modern aesthetic is at work here (listen to ‘Thieves in the Night’ composed by alto player Jake Baxendale and streamed below).

They opened with a tune titled ‘Major,major, major, major’ (to which Jake added – “in a minor key”).  Next we heard ‘New York Axel Man’, an airy free-flowing tune which highlighted the skills of Jake Baxendale (alto) and Alexis French (trumpet).   I was particularly taken with the skills of Lex French, as trumpet players of his calibre are not thick on the ground in New Zealand.  I asked him who his recent teachers were and learned that he had been studying at McGill University in Canada.  His articulation, clean lines and the ability to communicate an idea in a short space took my attention.   In a line up of competent musicians he managed to stand out.

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Jake Baxendale is the predominant soloist and his alto work is interesting.   As one of the writers and the collective’s front man, he rightly garners the lions share of attention.  The other Baxendale composition on the album is ‘Armada’.  A delightful piece with rhythmic complexity and a strong bass line underpinning it.  It is my sense that he is central to the octets success.

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Completing the horn section is Chris Buckland on tenor and Matthew Allison on trombone (Allison is a member of the NZSO).  This is highly arranged music and so tenor, alto, trombone and trumpet need to work as one entity.  As they negotiated the often complex charts they showed just how tight they could be.  This is a big sound, but one with a world of implied space.     

On bass is the talented Nick Tipping who is another well-respected Wellington musician.  Like Jake Baxendale he regularly plays with the Roger Fox Wellington Jazz Orchestra.  Often backing international artists when the come to town.  Buckland replaced Richard Thai (who played on the album) and as alluded to earlier, Dan Hayles on Rhodes replaced the guitarist.  This gave the ensemble two keyboards and the alignment worked extremely well in my view.  On the CJC Club piano was Dan Milward (he played keys at Meow).  The juxtaposition between Piano and Rhodes worked so well because the musicians were able to compliment each other while keeping out of each others way.   Milward took the subtler approach but his presence was never-the-less strongly felt.  IMG_9428 - Version 2 (1)  

Dan Hayles took several solos’ (which the audience loved) but his main role was to augment the mix with well placed fills and to add a sense of depth to the ensemble.   I have heard him on several previous occasions and rate him highly.  The remaining member is drummer Shaun Anderson and his stick work is superb.  A supportive and in-the-pocket drummer who can also breathe fire into proceedings.   It was Anderson and Hayles who took the more organic approach; both regularly stepping free of the charts and to great effect.  Both made the pulse quicken and this balanced out the carefully crafted shapes and forms of the ensemble.

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The compositions on the album are all by Baxendale and Allardice and it is these that give momentum to the project.   In future it would be interesting to hear some of the soloists given additional space, but not at the expense of those gorgeous rich harmonic voicings.  With a label like Rattle behind them this bodes well for future projects.

What: ‘The Jac’ at the release of their album ‘NERVE’ – Rattle Jazz (the album can be purchased direct from Rattle or at retail outlets).

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 12th February 2014 and Meow 29th January 2014

Who: Jake Baxendale (alto, arrangements, compositions), Alexis French (trumpet), Chris Buckland (tenor sax), Matt Allison (trombone), Dan Hayles (Rhodes), Dan Milward (piano), Nick Tipping (upright bass), Shaun Anderson (drums) – Album only – Callum Allardice (guitar, arrangements, compositions), Richard Thai (tenor).