Mireya Ramos was an unexpected musical treat because our borders, with very few exceptions, have been long closed to all but Kiwi returnees (and most recently Australian tourists). Ramos is from New York. Very few international musicians have managed to cross the border, and only if they obtained an exemption and subjected themselves to a strict quarantine.
With the Australian Bubble just opened I assumed that Ramos must have come from Australia, but in fact, she arrived here with her acclaimed Flor de Toloache all-female Mariachi styled band to perform at WOMAD 2020. Within days of arrival, the borders had closed behind her. For many pre-lockdown international visitors, the border closure proved to be a silver lining as visas were extended and they could avoid the horrors unfolding elsewhere in the world.
Mireya Ramos is a multi Grammy-nominated (and winning) artist and although the rest of her all-female mariachi band members returned home, she and her partner Andy Averbuch did what creatives do best, they got busy. During the year she has recorded and toured the country and her gigs have attracted enthusiastic audiences everywhere. Her CJC gig featured a variety of Latin and Central American styles with the addition of popular standards.
Her music draws on many genres, but all coloured by a stylistic uniqueness. She is both a vocalist and a violinist and that appealed as well. The violin is not unknown in improvised music, but sadly it is still uncommon. I am fond of the violin in Jazz and Jazz fusion styles and particularly so with Argentinean music.
Listening Jazz audiences are always eager to hear traditional and blended South American music. A good example was the version of ‘Fever’ which morphed into an Afro-Cuban groove. Of all the tunes, that appealed to me the most. It is not often that we get to hear the many and varied Latin styles and whenever we do, we are left wanting more.
Guitarist Andy Averbuch and Bass player Alex Griffith had opportunities to stretch out during solos and they made the most of that, but when Dr Mark Baynes and Lance Bentley locked into a Clave, the magic happened. Ramos has been received enthusiastically in New Zealand and after the pandemic recedes, I am sure that she will be encouraged to return. The band: Mireya Ramos (vocals @ violin), Andy Averbuch (guitar), Dr Mark Baynes (piano, keys), Alex Griffith (bass), Lance Bently (drums).
JazzLocal32.com was rated as one of the 50 best Jazz Blogs in the world by Feedspot. The author is a professional member of the Jazz Journalists Association, poet & writer.Some of these posts appear on related sites.
Drummer led albums often tell stories in different ways and the releases reviewed here exemplify that. On the surface, they are dissimilar, but both convey raw energy and immediacy. These improvisers transcend the ordinary in their search for an ancient to modern language.
CRISIS & OPPORTUNITY
The first is a newly released album by Myele Manzanza titled Crisis and Opportunity. It is the artist’s eighth release. And this time, his compositions were crafted while the artist was locked down in London during the worst months of the UK COVID crisis. As with his previous albums, there is something big-hearted about this work. As you listen, you gain the sense that he is telling a story that transcends time and place. This is realised through some very fine writing and crafted over his warm mesmerising beats.
Manzanza draws on strong roots and influences. He is a Kiwi, a citizen of the world and of African heritage. His father is a Master Congolese drummer and his formative years playing hand drums will have informed his approach to the kit. Among the other influences evident are broken-beat and Jazz electronica. Out of these influences and his own life experiences, alchemy is forged. He is forward-looking and overtly political. He is someone to watch with interest.
Joining him on the album are some London musicians plus Mark-de Clive-Lowe (a Kiwi Keyboard maestro based in LA). I am familiar with trumpet player James Copus, as his impressive Dusk album came to my attention quite recently. The other horn player is George Crowley on tenor saxophone. When the horns are playing in unison it is hard to believe that the horn line is not much bigger. On piano is Ashley Henry and on bass Benjamin Muralt. Both chasing those hypnotic dancing beats to good effect. And with de Clive-Lowe adding his deft brush strokes, a magnificent Album is realised. If you go to his Bandcamp label you can purchase a digital copy or order vinyl. www.myelemanzanza.bandcamp.com
The other drummer led album that caught my attention is a free-jazz album released by Alex Louloudis. It arrived as a digital review copy with very little attached information, so I embarked on some research. In reality, the music speaks for itself and the biographical details are of less importance. The first track of ‘Words’ is ‘Surviving’ and it pulls you into a frenetic life-dance full of raw beauty and endless recalibration. It is propulsive and joyous and I fell for it immediately. It is the sort of track that brings me back to listen over and again and because of the immediacy, you know it’s real.
This is free music that can move inside or outside with extraordinary ease. Nothing is quite what it seems and the river of sound flows over a cushion of compelling beats. There is often an ostinato bass line as in The Magic of 3. The melodic lines avoid the obvious and there is almost no repetition of phrases. In the right musical hands, following such principles opens up huge possibilities. This is a killing band and it is unmistakably a drummers band.
I learned that Alex Louloudis was born in Drama, Greece, moved to America to study at the age of 19 and that he records on the Belgian based label ‘Off’. Since completing his studies in New York, Louloudis has moved among like-minded improvisers and attracted favourable attention. Although the artist was previously unknown to me (my bad), he has certainly come to the notice of important musicians and commentators (Gary Bartz, Billy Harper, Reggie Workman, Oliver Lake, Jeff Ballard, to mention just a few). The title track ‘Words’ is the final track and it rounds off the album perfectly. Opening to soft brush beats, it morphs into a dreamy slow-moving rendition of Over the Rainbow, which in turn introduces the reflectively cutting poem, recited by Rosdeli Marte.
The musicians: Alex Louloudis (drums), Raphael Statin (tenor saxophone), Dean Torrey (bass), Rosdeli Marte (vocals #1,6), Kaelen Ghandhi (tenor saxophone (# 1,6), Aaron Rubinstein (guitar #1,6), is available from Bandcamp at https://stilll-off.bandcamp.com/album/words
In this post, I have deviated from my usual practice of reviewing only albums from Aotearoa, New Zealand (or those offshore who maintain connections to our rohe). During the Covid lockdowns, I worked with the world Jazz community on platforms like the Jazz Journalists Assn site to ensure that the musician’s stories still were being told. Many writers were unable to engage, and in my country, we had freedoms others did not. No rule is worth having if it cannot be broken for a good cause. ‘Words’ is the exception that proves the rule and I couldn’t resist.
JazzLocal32.com was rated as one of the 50 best Jazz Blogs in the world by Feedspot. The author is a professional member of the Jazz Journalists Association, poet & writer.Some of these posts appear on related sites.
In 2017, seven leading Jazz performers came together as a group and toured Europe. The group was so successful that they embarked on a bigger project. They chose the name Artemis, which is appropriate for an ensemble of musically formidable women. Artemis (or Diana to the Romans) was the Goddess of the hunt & of nature; the goddess with nothing to prove. In an ancient universe crowded with ubiquitous male gods, Artemis was universally popular.
When you bring a group of band leaders together in the Rock world, the term Supergroup is often applied; in the jazz world, it is applied sparingly. It is commonplace for Jazz greats to move between groups and when the term is applied, it is seldom as a marketing formula. Artemis is a supergroup by any definition, but it is the musicianship that makes it so. Anyone of these musicians is a drawcard on a bill and while a group of leaders in itself, offers no guarantee of success, this project proved the pudding. The lineup of Rosnes, Aldana, Jenson, Cohen, Ueda, Miller and Mclorin Salvant was a winner.
The nominal leader is Renee Rosnes, pianist and arranger. Five of the band have penned tunes and there are several well-chosen modern standards (Fool on the Hill – Lennon/McCartney) (If it’s Magic – Stevie Wonder). The first track, Alison Miller’s ‘Goddess of the Hunt’ comes closest to a title track and it is a marvellous vehicle for improvisation. It begins with an arresting ostinato pulse, and as other voices enter, the intensity increases. The tune has lush harmonies which flesh out the sound to make it sound a larger unit. Miller is a great Jazz drummer, but her compositional skills should not be overlooked either. Check out her ‘Glitter Wolf’ Album on Bandcamp, is a favourite of mine.
The second tune ‘Frida’ is by Aldana. A ballad evoking wistfulness and inviting reflection (was it Frida Kahlo)? Fool on the Hill (Lennon/McCartney) is cleverly reharmonised and has a similar mood. The contrasts are delicious; sweet and tart tastefully juxtaposed. Here, trumpeter Jenson reminds me of fellow Canadian, the much-lamented Kenny Wheeler; a nice arrangement. ‘Big Top’ (Rosnes) uses stop-time and surprise to great effect; the tasty solos by Rosnes and Aldana having more edge than a blindfolded knife-thrower.
There are two tracks featuring Mclorin Salvant and they are as breathtaking as you’d expect from this world acclaimed Jazz vocalist. ‘If it’s Magic’ (Wonder) will surely turn up in her repertoire as will Cry, Butterfly, Cry (Rocco Accetta). Nocturno (Cohen) is a moody slow burner with an ancient to modern feel. Cohen’s origins are evident here, a sound painting of a sultry sunset. Her clarinet is sublime. Step Forward (Ueda) is a fast-paced tune which opens with bass and clarinet dancing around each other in a joyous abandon, while Miller and Rosnes urge them on to greater heights.
If there was one track that had me gasping from the first phrase it was Lee Morgan’s composition Sidewinder’ – in truth, it made more impact than the famous original. This snake, unlike his forbear, has slowed its slither and is luxuriating happily as it grooves across a sunlit clearing. The voicings are reminiscent of an Oliver Nelson arrangement and the interplay between the musicians is quite extraordinary. Muted trumpet, clarinet and that unhurried, luscious, undulating groove.
Artemis may be a multi-national and multi-ethnic line up but in the end, the thing that counts most is the universality of their music; Renee Rosnes (piano), Melissa Aldana (saxophone), Ingrid Jenson (trumpet), Anat Cohen (clarinet), Norika Ueda (upright bass), Alison Miller (drums), Cecile Mclorin Salvant (vocals).
JazzLocal32.com was rated as one of the 50 best Jazz Blogs in the world by Feedspot. The author is a professional member of the Jazz Journalists Association.Many of these posts also appear on Radio13.co.nz – check it out.
Some missing music for those missing music. Hear it Here
Mark de Clive-Lowe (keys) in Auckland’s CJC a few weeks ago with Brandon Combs (drums) and Marika Hodgson (bass)
‘Don’t Dream it’s Over (N Finn), Chelsea Prastiti (vocals), Kevin Field (piano), Mostyn Cole (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums), Mike Booth (trumpet). CJC Auckland at Alchemy Live
Bird Song (Smirnova) Simona Smirnova (vocals), Alan Brown (piano), Cameron McArthur (bass), Jono Sawyer (drums) at Auckland’s CJC, March 2020.
The lockdowns won’t stop jazz! To assist musicians who’ve had performances canceled, get their music heard around the globe. The Jazz Journalists Association created a Jazz on Lockdown: Hear It Here community blog. For more click through to https://news.jazzjournalists.org/category/jazz-on-lockdown/
My normal weekly post has been sitting in my ‘drafts’ folder for over two weeks. Since writing it, my attention has been focused elsewhere. Although in isolation, I am not referring to my personal situation but to the J JA‘Jazz on Lockdown’ project which has rallied Jazz Journalists from every corner of the globe and asked them to respond collectively to the pandemic. My colleagues and I are now working together using an online workspace and our individual blogs may be delayed. Those who are able to have volunteered to join an editing working group as we grapple with the challenges of a fast-moving situation. This is a Jazz Journalists Association project aimed at keeping improvised music current and to get updates to and from countries on lockdown.
Because of that, Spain first captured our attention. When the virus hit, a popular Jazz musician succumbed and soon every resident was under lockdown. As the virus spread, so did our focus and within days the problem had reached every country. One by one the great Jazz centres like New York closed and the iconic and much-loved Jazz clubs closed with them. When the city that never sleeps locks down, you know that you have urgent work to do. Jazz Journalists are not going to sit around moping; nor will we restrict ourselves to watching another era’s YouTube clips. It is the current musicians who need us the most. We are learning new ways of working and it is our intention to direct you to live gigs or the gigs of working musicians where we can.
We need Jazz fans and Improvised alternative music fans to keep buying current albums. If there is a live-stream concert with a tip-button give them a few dollars. This is a new version of the pass-the-bucket tradition which goes back to the earliest days of Jazz. Many of the live-streamed concerts will be free, some could be pay-per-view. Buy their music and on Bandcamp or their website if possible. ‘Jazz on Lockdown’ will inform you of the links.
The week before the virus arrived was a week of plenty in Auckland, but the above-named artists did not all appear in the same band. Nor at the same gig. They probably won’t mind if you think that though. Attending Ronnies a few years ago, I caught English pianist Kit Downes at the late show. This followed a sold-out earlier show featuring Kurt Elling. I informed Downes that my write up would begin ‘Elling opens for Downes at Ronnie Scotts’. He liked that.
Arriving in a rush, as if waiting for the cooler weather came Pat Metheny, Steve Barry, Mark de Clive-Lowe, Alchemy, Callum Passells, Trudy Lyle, Simona Smirnova, and Michael Martyniuk gigs. As always, painful choices were required.
Steve Barry Trio: Barry left Auckland many years ago; settling in Sydney and returning yearly to perform. Each time he visited there were new directions on offer, highly original material and each iteration offering glimpses of lesser-known composers. His recent albums have taken him into deeper waters still, moving beyond the mainstream. For those of us who like adventurous music, they have been compelling. Two albums were released last year. The first is on Earshift Music and the second on Rattle; both available on Bandcamp.
‘Blueprints and Vignettes’ trod a path reminiscent of 60’s Bley; boldly striking out for freer territory and edging its way confidently into the classical minimalist spaces. That album was followed by ‘Hatch’ which is an astonishing album of stark pared-back beauty. It is an album pointing to new possibilities in improvised music. This concert felt more exploratory, with denser compositions and jagged Monk-like moments. He played one Monk tune halfway through and this reinforced the connection.
Mark de Clive-Lowe: It was barely six months ago since de Clive-Lowe passed through Auckland during his ‘Heritage’ album release tour. He attracted capacity audiences then (and now). After years of living away from his home city, he is now reconnected to the Auckland improvised music scene and we hope that he will maintain that link. Having a room like ‘Anthology’ certainly helped, as its capacity is significant. During this tour, he treated us to a wider range of his innovative music; especially his Church Sessions. Showcasing the genre-busting underground gigs that he began in LA and which spread like wildfire throughout the world; giving fresh impetus to the improvised music scene and the endless possibilities looking forward.
On tour with de Clive-Lowe was the respected LA drummer Brandon Combs. A drummer who can hold down a groove beat while working it every which way; able to interact intuitively with the electronic beats generated by de Clive-Lowe as he dances across the multitude of keyboards and devices. Together with locals Nathan Haines and Marika Hodgson, they created wizardry of the highest order. This artist is the wizard of hybridity and we are happy to remind people that he came from this city. Live re-mix, dance, groove beats, jazz, whatever: it has all been captured, mined for its essence and released for our pleasure.
Alchemy Live: This was the first live performance of the ‘Alchemy’ project. It followed the successful release of the eponymous album which got good airplay and deserves ongoing attention. The concept was the brainchild of producer Mark Casey and its realisation by the musical director and Jazz pianist Kevin Field. The pianist has created some truly fine Jazz charts and the assemblage of musicians he brought into the project brought it home in spades. The tunes have been selected from the New Zealand songbook. Perennially popular and chart-busting classics like ‘Royals’ and ‘Glad I’m not a Kennedy’. Artists as diverse as Herbs, Split Enz and Phil Judd. Because of mounting travel restrictions, several of the artists on the recording were replaced for the live gig. New to us, was Jazz student vocalist Rachel Clarke and she won us over that night.
Pat Metheny: This concert had been long anticipated and it was only the second time that he has appeared in New Zealand. In spite of the looming health scare, the town hall was packed. This was a retrospective of sorts as it featured his best-known tunes. Who would not want to hear a fresh version of Song for Balboa or the joyous ‘Have you Heard’? I loved the concert but two quibbles. I didn’t like the way the piano was miked and mixed except for one number. Gwilym Simcock is a great pianist. It would be nice to hear him in a trio and with an acoustically mic’d up Steinway. The star of the show (Pat aside) was bass player Linda May Han Oh. How stunningly melodic and how sensitive she was in each situation she encountered; solos to die for.
Simona Smirnova: This was Smirnova’s third trip to Auckland. By the time she had arrived in the country, people were becoming cautious about attending crowded gigs. She still attracted a good audience and those who did come were delighted with her show. The setlist was similar to her last year’s show but in the bigger Anthology venue, it sounded stronger. Smirnova interacts extremely well with audiences and they respond in kind. Her beautiful ballads (accompanied on the Lithuanian Kanklas) and her upbeat Slavonic styled scatting were the highlights. Her material is delightfully exotic, being an original blend of Jazz, Lithuanian folk music and beyond. Her voice is simply beautiful and her zither playing beguiling. She was accompanied by Auckland veterans Alan Brown on keys, Cam McArthur on bass and this time, Jono Sawyer on drums & vocals). I have some nice footage which says it best.
Michal Martyniuk: The last gig I attended before isolating myself was the Michal Martyniuk Trio. I did not have video equipment with me but I captured the concert in high-quality audio. I will post on that shortly and will be adding sound clips. You can purchase Michal Martyniuk’s albums at michalmartyniuk.bandcamp.com His ‘Resonance’ album review can be viewed on this site if you enter his name in the search button.
‘Jazz On Lockdown‘ posts will now move to the principle page and the Jazz on Lockdown page will feature information and links from around the world as the information comes in.
The lockdowns won’t stop jazz! To assist musicians who’ve had performances canceled, get their music heard around the globe. The Jazz Journalists Association created a Jazz on Lockdown: Hear It Here community blog. For more click through to https://news.jazzjournalists.org/category/jazz-on-lockdown/.
The artists featured were:
Steve Barry (piano), Jacques Emery (bass), Alex Inman Hislop (drums),
Mark de Clive-Lowe (keys), Brandon Combes (drums), Marika Hodgson (bass), Nathan Haines (saxophones).
Marjan Nelson (v) Allana Goldsmith (v) Chelsea Prastiti (v) Lou’ana Whitney (v) Rachel Clarke (v) Kevin Field (piano), Roger Manins (saxophone), Mike Booth (trumpet), Mostyn Cole (bass) Ron Samsom (drums), Stephen Thomas (drums)
Pat Metheny, Gwilym Simcock, Antonio Sanchez, Linda May Han Oh
Simona Smirnova (v, Kanklas) Alan Brown (piano, keys), Cameron McArthur (bass), Jono Sawyer (drums).
Michal Martyniuk (piano), Cameron McArthur (drums), Ron Samsom (drums).
There are a number of things that should be on every music lovers bucket list. Experiencing a Basie Orchestra gig live is one of them. This band has the history of modern music in its DNA and after 83 years on the road, they are in their prime. Goodman was always referred to as the ‘king of swing’ but in my view Basie was a better contender for that title. His brand of swing had it’s nascent stirrings in 1927 when Basie joined Bennie Moten. When that band folded he took many of the musicians with him to form the Basie Band in 1935. The Basie band possessed a unique sound, fueled by a nine-piece line up featuring legendary greats like Lester Young, ‘Papa’ Jo Jones and Walter Page. Johnny Hammond heard them in 1936 and invited them to New York where at his suggestion they expanded to become a thirteen piece jazz Orchestra. At this time they were joined by Freddie Green and others. Skillfully, they incorporated the nimbleness of the Kansas City small ensemble swing-feel into a new sound.
When we listened to the Orchestra in Auckland a few nights ago, every iteration of their 83 years was touched upon. Early and contemporary charts, the gorgeous highly arranged charts from Neil Hefti, Frank Foster and Quincey Jones ‘second testament’ era, some newly arranged material, plus a fabulous tribute to the Basie/Amstrong/Fitzgerald collaborations. Giving added weight to that celebration was the inclusion of vocalist Carmen Bradford. Bradford was originally hired by Basie himself and so she has a long association with the orchestra. Hers is a big voice and an instrument perfectly suited to Ella’s songbook. She is a Jazz vocalist in the traditional sense and it is no wonder that Basie gave her a shot. At times she sang duets with various of the band members, but it was when she and Scotty Barnhart got together that the sparks really flew.
Barnhart, a two times Grammy winner is the musical director of the Basie orchestra and a featured soloist. His Louis Armstrong tribute captured not just ‘Pops’ but the great man’s contemporaries, an often overlooked cohort who deserve to be examined more often than they are. Modern trumpet styles are a long way removed from the street rich dirty growls and blues-infused storytelling of those times. A sound which always communicated a world of raw emotion and deep humanity. As the tribute tunes moved through the era, we heard everything from the lighter-hearted ‘A Tisket a Tasket’ (a traditional nursery rhyme), to Gershwin classics like ‘A Foggy Day in London Town’ or ‘Summertime’. Some of the numbers predated the Basie bands like ‘Struttin With Some Barbecue’ (Armstrong 1927) while others were more contemporary like the gorgeous arrangement of Stevie Wonders ‘Ma Cherie Amour’.
Among the most enjoyable moments were the sensitive trio rendition of ‘Hello Dolly’ (Herman) and the ever wonderful and always compelling Hefti arrangement of ‘April in Paris’ (Duke/Harburg). Doug Lawrence the tenor soloist astounded as always (I was sitting next to a young tenor player and his jaw dropped in amazement during Lawrence’s solos). These musicians are so tight that an atomic blast couldn’t separate them and they swing like crazy. I guess 84 years on the road will do that. I have seen this orchestra before and with any luck, I will see it again and again. There is only one thing you can say in summing up a Basie Orchestra performance; “ONE MORE TIME – please”.
The concert took place at the Aotea Centre, Auckland City, New Zealand, July 30, 2018
Multi reeds and winds player Jay Rodriguez recently released an album titled ‘Your Sound’ and it could not have been more appropriately titled. It is an album which conveys the warmth of the man and his interesting musical journey from Columbia to New York; it lays bare his openness and his heart on sleeve humanity. It is a life and times offered up for appraisal, it is richly diverse and contemporary. Above all, it offers us joy. Put simply, ‘Your Sound’ is the sound of the Jazz life and it delights from start to finish.
I have heard Rodriguez perform in various live settings and he is, without doubt, one of the most engaging performers around. His warmth and personality are encapsulated by his sound in interesting ways. Importantly, he is not confined to just one sound – he has many and each has his stamp on it. When I hear his bluesy alto in a random playlist I say to my self – ‘oh that’s got to be Jay Rodriguez’; whether on tenor, bass clarinet or peppery Latin flute he traverses the history of improvised music – he has a distinction. When you examine his life story you realise that all of the above is borne out of a life lived at the heart of music; a life of working tirelessly at his craft, his every note conveying that personal touch. He is so busy as a sideman that he records as leader infrequently; after hearing this album I hope that will change. He is also one of a select group of musicians who doubles on a wide range of winds and reeds – unusually, he sounds really terrific on all of them.
Joining Rodriguez for this recording were an extraordinary group of musicians and man did they deliver. Billy Harper (tenor saxophone), Larry Willis (piano), Eric Wheeler (acoustic bass), Billy Martin (percussion) and J.T. Lewis (drums) – all well-known musicians and all with very impressive discographies. On some tracks, two tenors play in unison but with Harper always cutting his own clear path – his honest take no prisoners approach giving depth and contrast. Like Rodriguez, Harper has a strong connection with Kiwi and Australian improvising musicians and ears prick up down under when his name is mentioned. He is regarded with reverence in the Jazz world.
Larry Willis is another musician who needs little introduction. He has worked alongside artists as diverse as Jackie McLean, Carmen McCrae, Carla Bley, Groove Homes, Blood Sweat & Tears and Nat Adderly. He has also released twenty-four albums as a leader. His touch is deft here and his diverse abilities a boon. Whether playing free or bluesy he is right on the money. Bass player Eric Wheeler is a professional musician from DC and again he has worked with the who’s who of the jazz and classical world (killing). Lastly, there’s drums and percussion, J T Lewis and Billy Martin, another highly experienced pair who gave their best on the bandstand. Both have impressive credits to their name and they meshed perfectly. With this group and Rodriguez leading, something special happened. Track 7 Spirits from the album is embedded below with Rodriguez on alto.
The opening number is titled ‘Ghost Dancer’. Establishing itself over a vamp and edgy Latin rhythms, drawing you deep inside an exotic sound-forest. Then the mood and tempo change, allowing the flute to dance like a bird of paradise. On this, the flute is Peppery and alluring. As we get into the album, standards appear like ‘Golden Earrings’ (Victor Young) or ‘Lover’ (Richard Rogers); all sitting comfortably alongside the spellbinding Rodriguez originals like’ Ghost Dancer’, ‘Your Sound’ or ‘Spirits’ (the latter is a tribute to the ghosts in Rodriguez life). There are Ornette referencing tracks, ballads and plenty of soulful storytelling. Underpinning this rich diversity are some very skilful arrangments.
Jay Rodriguez: (Leader, tenor, alto & soprano saxophones, flute, bass clarinet), Billy Harper (tenor saxophone), Larry Willis (piano), Eric Wheeler (acoustic bass), Billy Martin (percussion), J.T. Lewis (drums). The album was recorded live at ‘Dizzy’s Club-Coca-Cola’ in NYC and it is released on Whaling City Sound. It is available for purchase from whalingcitysound.com or from the usual outlets like Amazon or iTunes. Highly recommended.
Bass player Nathan Brown is a rising New York Jazz star and he is very much in demand these days. The people he has worked with, underscore that point nicely. Notable among them are; Wes ‘Warmdaddy’ Anderson, Randy Brecker, Carl Allen, John Faddis, Wycliffe Gorden, Lewis Nash and Paquito D’Rivera. Of interest to us, he has also had a long collaboration with the New Zealand born drummer Mark Lockett. After years of performing with his regular trio at the ‘Cleopatra’s Needle Jazz Club’, he decided that it was time to record some of the material that they had been performing. The synergy between the artists was already great but what upped the ante were their influences. The trio guitarist Felix Lemerie was influenced by Grant Green; his drummer Peter Traunmuller by Philly Joe Jones and Brown by bassist Paul Chambers. These influences although not aligned stylistically, led Brown to ponder; what if all three had played together; what would such a trio sound like?. Out of that idea came the ‘This is the moment’ album and the next step was to take the music on the road. Thanks to Brown’s association with Lockett, New Zealand was included in an Australasian leg of the tour.
Throughout the tour, Brown kept to the original bass, guitar and drums format (with the exception of Auckland, where pianist Kevin Field was substituted). Lockett and Brown were the constants, with local guitarists stepping in along the way.
Just before he started the tour, I sent him a few questions to answer:
Q. Do you see your trio as a groove unit, a blended approach or something quite fresh and different?
For this particular album, I would have to say groove unit. the entire vibe of this album is heavily steeped in the hard-bop tradition coming out of the Blue note records of the 50’s
Q. I am fascinated in reading through your bio that you initially played Euphonium and Tuba. These have been used extensively for bass lines in the pre-amplification past and that tradition has continued with modern avant-garde units, nonets and Jazz orchestras. Bill Crow (from the Jerry Mulligan bands ) started on brass instruments like the tuba and valve trombone. Then he was encouraged (pushed) into changing to string bass. Do the brass bass lines inform your approach at all?
So much of the evolution of bass lines is tied directly to the string bass that playing the Tuba doesn’t really affect my approach to bass lines. The idiomatic bass line motions arose out of the technicalities What it does help me with however is a better understanding of brass and wind instruments. This is very useful when writing and arranging music for these instruments
Q. Any move from a sideman to a leader, will inevitably change things from a compositional point of view. I have seen bass player leaders happy to remain well back in the mix – leading from within, but that is less usual. What is your approach.?
I like to believe that jazz music is a collective effort. everyone involved should get a chance to shine. With my trio, I’m happy to play some in the forefront of the mix at points, but I also think it a necessity to play in the back of the mix at points to let me comrades come through with their musical statements.
Q. What were your thoughts, your aims, when assembling this trio?
There was no grand plan when I first assembled my trio. I’d been hosting a steady weekly gig at a well-known jazz club in New York City called Cleopatra’s Needle for years. At first, I would rotate my musician friends onto the band every week. I tried dozens of combinations of players over the course of a year. I finally settled upon Felix and Peter, we really communicated well musically. At that point, I started using them exclusively. I then started to take each of our influences (Grant Green for Felix, Philly Joe Jones for Peter, and Paul Chambers for me) and began composing music that channelled this together.
Q. Who among the artists that you have performed with have you enjoyed most.
I would say my first great mentor and teacher Wess “Warmdaddy” Anderson. Even after two strokes, he still has the ability to lift the musicianship and spirit of everyone performing on stage with him, and in turn, lift the spirit of the audience.
I didn’t get to hear the guitar trios live but with Kevin Field on board the swing and groove feel was maintained with ease. It was a pleasure to experience a gig that was so warm and soulful. The music was transporting, like an old friend; reminding us of a shared experience but then telling the stories in ways that were fresh to our ears. A good example was the groove tune Curly’s revenge. On the album, with guitar, it took you to Montgomery Land and then right to Grant Green’s doorstep. With piano, it had a delicious and unmistakable Bobby Timmons vibe. I love tunes like this; they hint of the familiar, then tell you something else; fragmentary quotes which flashed past before you could grab at them, morphing beautifully into new tunes and always with that deep swing feel.
It was obviously a good time for Brown to emerge as a leader. The right time because his material is superb and his bass playing is burnished by years of gigging and absolutely compelling. His compositions also stood out. While the recorded trio would have been superb, we didn’t miss out. Field is an interesting musician, adaptable to any situation and always at the top of his game. The same goes for Lockett who is open-eared and responsive to nuance. Listening to Lockett is listening to history, but always with quirky asides thrown in to leaven the loaf.
For copies of the album visit nathanbrownmusic.com or Gut String Records. The gig was organised at this end by Mark Lockett of the WJC. His work on these tours is greatly appreciated as it dovetails nicely with the CJC Creative Jazz Club’s programmes and tours. The Venue was the Thirsty Dog in K’Rd Auckland, I November 2017.
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.
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.In 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.
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.
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. Her 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.The 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. 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. Lastly 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.
Good improvising bass players get a lot of work, but they seldom get the acknowledgement they deserve. This is one of life’s inequities and it’s partly because a bass player by custom is hidden behind the other band members. When a pianist or guitarist plays solo they will often mimic or imply bass lines. A good bass line is both an anchor and an invitation – invoking deeper exploration; the consequent rub between notes and time is where most of the tension and release is hidden. Every so often a bass player claims wide-spread attention. Blanton, Mingus, Haden, McBride, Le Faro, Pastorius etc. David Friesen while not garnering the attention of the aforementioned bassists in the popular press, is without doubt a giant of the instrument. His is a name that frequently comes up when aficionados and musicians talk. He is the bass players bass player, an acknowledged innovator.
The point is best made when looking over his discography – seventy-six albums as leader or co-leader and in excess of a hundred as sideman. The list of luminaries he has recorded with defies belief; everyone from Dexter Gorden to Dizzy Gillespie. For the New Zealand leg of his tour, two of New Zealand’s finest musicians accompanied him. Dixon Nacey on guitar and Reuben Bradley on drums. That particular combination was bound to work well and the proof positive was in the outstanding performances. When artists pay each other respect on the bandstand it is a recipe for excellence. There were no Jazz standards performed and I suspect that many of the compositions were challenging for those new to them. If they were it did not show. Friesen explained that while he loved interpreting standards, he had come to the point where exploring his own compositions was his preference. A musician as gifted as this has plenty to say musically and Friesen found endless ways of expressing his unique world view. As is often the case with great musicians, he was a compelling talker; spinning out yarns of people and places visited. Often with subtle humour woven into the narrative. Above all he imparted his views on the place of music in these complex and troubled times. To paraphrase slightly, “Music is a way of healing a broken world, it is not just about the people making the music or about the audience receiving it, but something far deeper. The interaction creates a virtuous circle, each continuously enriching the other. Out of this comes the magic”. This reference to the primal healing power of music resonated and he received loud applause. Improvisers seldom earn what they should and yet they persevere. Understanding their mission of deepening human awareness. It was good that he reminded us of how vital a deep listening audience is. Sharing the joy brings its own responsibilities. That’s why I do what I do in print. Friesen travels with a special bass; made for him by a famous Austrian instrument maker. Sick of having instruments damaged or interfered with by airline baggage handlers, he ordered an instrument small enough to go in the overhead locker. This custom bass is mainly crafted out of American Cherry wood and Canadian Maple. It also has a very sophisticated pick up. Because of the foreshortened neck I suspect that it would take some mastering by most upright bass players. In Friesen’s hands it sung. Nacey did what we expected of him; delivered stinging imaginative lines and soared on that lovely Godin semi hollow-body. As success spreads him thinner, we tend to see less of him in the Jazz club. When we do hear him we get the very best. He is a guitarist who can hold his own anywhere on the scene. The other Kiwi on the gig was Wellington drummer Reuben Bradley and what a performance he put on. Again it was hardly surprising, as Bradley is among our very best drummers. Like Nacey he is often the drummer of choice for visiting artists.
There was a buzz of excitement surrounding Simon Thacker’s ‘Ritmata’ tour. Not the touring rock-band sort of buzz, but a word of mouth Twitter-post kind. A buzz generated by night people and festival goers. Those who pay close attention to good music. I followed the threads and everything I read about Thacker sat well with me. I looked forward to his Auckland gig and the hype was not over-stated. Ritmata was a delight.
I have travelled extensively through the Mediterranean region and delighted in the diverse streams of music flowing together; Armenian, North African, Sufi, Sephardic, Flamenco, Jazz etc. Thacker takes this concept further. It is a human weakness to catalogue, to reach for definitions. It is the inbuilt train-spotter lurking in our subconscious mind and it doesn’t work well with bands like this. Ritmata may draw upon many sources but it is owned by none of them. While there are many familiar references, the music reaches for clear space. What appears as a multicultural journey, departs for newer unexplored realms. The familiar is fleeting because this music is more than the sum of its parts.Simon Thacker is the ideal front man; funny, confident, virtuosic. His authority emanating from a force field of energy. A musical vision that engages; thriving on intimacy. A club setting is therefore perfect, with warmth and exuberance captured, contained; audience and musicians sharing an experience. Thacker’s banter is quirky, self-deprecating and it connects. There were howls of delight at the sheep jokes and they told me something important. Scotts, Kiwis and Australians have a shared humour, a post colonial cultural connection. An inbuilt irreverence that is part of our evolving story.The first set opened with traditional Sephardic melodies ‘reimagined’. This is familiar territory as Caroline Manins has trodden this path with her Mother Tongue project. Some of these tunes are more than a thousand years old (‘Des Oge Mais’), and in spite of dealing with loss or longing, they are often fast paced and rhythmically complex. In Ritmata’s hands they are ancient to modern. Evoking the melting pot of Judaic Moorish Spain but never time-locked. Elements of Flamenco, and even the modal chromaticism of Jazz pianists like McCoy Tyner came to mind. There were a number of interesting Thacker originals and to my delight three pieces based on Egberto Gismonti compositions (a stunning Brazilian improvising guitarist who used the street music of Choro to create similar, beyond-genre visions – an artist beloved of Jazz audiences). One of Thacker’s tunes ‘Honour the Treaties’ referenced the chants of American Indians and as indicated by the wild applause, it resonated powerfully. Then there was ‘Asuramaya’, influenced by the Indian Ragas. That piece had a delicious dream-sequence feel to it. He rounded off his sets with a traditional Azerbaijani tune, ‘Bana Bana Gel’ and a Jewish tune ‘Ovshori’ from the mountains Dagestan. When the audience clamoured for an encore, vocalist and Sephardic specialist Carolina Manins joined the band singing ‘Madre de Deus’; again reimagined by Thacker.While Thacker dominated proceedings with his larger than life presence, the band members were stars in their own right. I have seldom heard a unit so in lock-step. The pianist, bass and drums were as central to the enjoyment as Thacker himself. The spotlight must lastly fall on that lovely guitar; I couldn’t keep my eyes off it. An extraordinary Rouse classical guitar; it sang like the Lyre of Orpheus. Orchestrating time and place; stretching time until we could see the future.
Ritmata: Simon Thacker (amplified acoustic guitar, compositions), Paul Harrison (piano), Mario Caribe (bass), Stu Brown (drums/percussion).
Mark Lockett is a New York based drummer who visits Australasia once a year. Each time he returns he brings with him a piece of his adopted city. He is an original drummer comfortable in diverse situations; a benign but strong presence in any lineup. His artistic approach under-pinned by an easy confidence and this enables him to interact well and to read every nuance. His wide open ears, communicating the pulse and possibilities of the life he lives as a working musician in a big metropolis. There is also a humour he radiates, which peppers his comments and drumming like aromatic seasoning. A Mark Lockett gig is always original and always enjoyable.
It is less than a month since Ornette Coleman’s passing and if ever there was an appropriate night to celebrate his life, this was it. While not an exclusively Ornette Coleman night, his compositions were well represented; every number played had Ornette’s fingerprints on it. The band came together at short notice and as is often the case in improvised music, happenstance served us well. Roger Manins, Callum Passells and Mostyn Cole are no strangers to the freer musical styles. With Locket propelling them they soared. We heard tunes by Coleman, Ellington, Monk, Foster & Lockett. The music of Ornette Coleman while not without constraints frees the artists from many of the hard-wired rules. It doesn’t sound at all out-of-place now but I can remember the storm that surrounded its arrival. A treat for me was the groups rendition of ‘Congeniality’ from the seminal ‘The Shape of Jazz to Come’ album. The controversy surrounding this material is long behind us and every improvising musician has a little of Ornette in them whether they acknowledge it or not.Lockett often forms trios or ensembles that have no chordal instruments. While the musicians played ‘inside’ and ‘out’ they also attempted something we seldom hear in New Zealand. The opening number of the first set was Shiny Stockings (Frank Foster) and they played this in the style of the Mulligan piano-less quartets. Bass, Alto and Tenor in counterpoint and working within the changes. This was nice hear. I have an appetite for more of this.
The band was great and they reacted to each other as if they had been playing as an entity for many years. There was a lot of Charlie Haden in Mostyn Cole’s bass lines and in his warm fat sound. He is an engaging bass player and perfectly fitted for this freer approach. Rogers Manins and Callum Passells are always in lockstep and above all they are open to adventurous explorations. Both are superbly intelligent free-players. Watching Lockett I was again drawn to his precision. I have discussed this with him before and his control of the sticks is especially fascinating. After the gig I teased this theme out further, his hand positions and the intense locomotive propulsion that he generates. At times musical and at times like a freight train rolling over you.“Playing like that (fast and furious) is meat and potatoes in New York”, he said. He was once told that he could get better control if he held his sticks further down than usual. Because of that and because of his melodic approach, he is very interesting to watch. Somehow the sound is cleaner and with musical drumming like this who needs a chordal instrument. I can’t wait until his next visit.
Mark Locket CJC Quartet: Mark Locket (drums, leader), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Callum Passells (alto saxophone), Mostyn Cole (upright bass).
Before 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.Where 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.The 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.
H 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. This 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.The 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.There 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
Doug Lawrence is every bit the archetypal southern tenor man, from the top of his tall frame to the bell of his brightly shining tenor. His sound is fat and down-home-cooking rich, whether playing softly or at volume. He has more cut through than a diamond headed drill-bit. Lawrence has such considerable credentials that it is beyond my reach to enumerate them all here (google him).
He arrived in New Zealand several weeks ago as lead tenor player for the Basie Band. It was a sellout concert in the Civic and we marvelled at the tightness and punch of their sound. Eighty years on the road will do that. Kansas City swing is a wonder of the universe and seeing Lawrence solo in front of that famous orchestra told us that we were in for another treat. Unbelievably our CJC Jazz club had booked him to appear in a few days. At first we wondered how this came about, but we were soon to learn of a long-standing connection between him and the CJC’s Roger Manins. A wonderful Jazz back story informed this gig and we were the lucky beneficiaries.Lawrence is tall and as he performs he stoops slightly, forming a classic old school playing pose. Slowing bending his knees inwards before stretching and lifting his horn to the ceiling. His speaking voice is rich like his playing, a southern Louisiana drawl adding to his considerable charm. The first number was ‘End of a love Affair (Redding) and the audience whooped in delight as the band took the changes at a good pace. The rhythm section propelled by the tidal waves of sound emanating from the tenor. It was that sound and the power of delivery that grabbed you from the get go. The intonation and phrasing revealing influences which although readily identifiable, transformed them into a new sound. This was pure alchemy. It was like having Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon on the same band stand.It is during ballads that the skill of a musician is often tested. In this case we saw something close to perfection. It wasn’t just Lawrence, but his Kiwi pickup band as well. Spurred on by each other, they dug deeper and deeper. A night and a vibe that we will remember for years to come. There was an obvious rapport between pianist Kevin Field and Lawrence. I gather that he found Field’s harmonic approach interesting and perhaps this is an indication of our own development as we grow our standing. Lawrence’s intonation was the thing that grabbed you most and this made his solos particularly enjoyable. Long held notes ending in breathy flurries or else bending the note ever so slightly before delivering a short heart stopping burst of controlled vibrato. With Holland and Samsom also finding their sweet spot this was a dream band.
There were a few evergreen Basie numbers like the swinging ‘Shiny Stockings’ (Foster) and ‘Jumping by the Woodside’ (Basie) but the biggest surprise came later when Lawrence invited Roger Manins and Nathan Haines up to join him. Leaning into the microphone he announced ‘Impressions’ by John Coltrane. This was a change of pace devoured by club audience and band alike as they dove deeper and deeper into the crazy off the grid modal grooves. Its true what they say. Cats like this can do anything when the spirit moves them. The spirit was sure among us that night.Here is the back story: 17 years ago a younger Roger Manins hit the New York streets, where he learned to scuffle in the time-honoured way of Jazz musicians. Because he possessed the hunger to learn he approached many established horn players. One of these was Doug Lawrence and traces of that time are still evident in Manins sound. All of those years ago Manins subbed for him and here is a Face Book extract that Lawrence posted once he returned to the USA. “Roger has matured into a GREAT player and MAGNIFICENT teacher! All of his students have a SOUND and they are all inspired to play, because of Roger. The curriculum at the University of Auckland Jazz Department is second to none, and I am going to use it as my model when conducting masterclasses at other universities around the world. Roger and Ron Samsom and the rest of the faculty have got it right at the U of A and I’m going to suggest that each and every University I teach at check it out. Cheers ROG! You are doing it ALL right brother! I hope to see and play with you soon mate!” That says it all really.
The last phase of the evening is best described as Tenor Madness. At times three tenors played in unison, at other times Nathan Haines keening Soprano took up the challenge. When Manins and Haines (plus Haines father Kevin) took to the stage we found ourselves in 1940’s Kansas City. Witnessing the good-natured, but no holds barred tenor battles of old. At the end of the second set the audience nearly rioted. No-one wanted this night to end. Lawrence asked for another drink and picked up his saxophone again. “My plane for the States doesn’t leave for five hours, lets play on”, he said. And they did.
You can purchase Doug Lawrence’s ‘New Organ Trio album’ from iTunes, Cactus Records or from Amazon. Please show your appreciation for these amazing artists by purchasing their recordings.
Who: The Doug Lawrence Quartet – plus guests: Doug Lawrence (Tenor Saxophone, Kevin Field (piano), Olivier Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) – Guests: Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Nathan Haines (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone), Kevin Haines (bass).
Any mention of Quebec catches my attention as I really like that part of Canada, so when I learned that a highly rated Montreal piano-trio was coming to town I knew that it would be a good experience. I had not encountered the Emie Roussel Trio before, but a quick glance at the accolades they have garnered and the numerous You Tube clips that have sprung up over the past year, gave me all the information that I needed. The group had attracted particular attention at the Montreal Jazz Festival and from what I saw online, deservedly so.
Montreal is a Jazz city and I rate it highly. It is easy on the eye, friendly, laid back and intensely focussed on the arts. During a recent visit I spent my nights in its Jazz clubs and bars. As many as I could cram into an Autumn week; anywhere featuring improvised music. It was not the time of year to catch The Montreal Jazz Festival, so I got to see local bands like ‘Park X’ and the ‘Carl Naud Quartet’ at ‘L’OFF Jazz Festival’. As you move about that city, the familiar and the exotic coexist at every street corner. I came to realise that this almost subliminal familiarity was the manifestation of a spiritual kinship. The sort that exists between certain special cities, a connection that is not about trade, mayoral visits or geography; a connection of musical and artistic synergies. The Emie Roussel Trio are part European and part American in aesthetic. They are wholly Montreal. Their music has a pulse and a vibe which draws on european classical music traditions and the deep earthy Jazz grooves that arose from the American continent. In the hands of improvisers like Roussel these influences communicate a universal language. As the pieces unfold there is a sense that this band works as an organic whole. What we heard was tight and full of vibrancy or as a musician I spoke to during the break put it. “We are hearing the result of rehearsal, dedication to a project, discipline and road time”. While I love the free-flowing loose feel of New Zealand improvising bands, I must acknowledge that we seldom hear trio’s which sound like this.
The set-list was a selection from the trio’s recent albums with a few tunes from her new album in the mix. All of the compositions and arrangements were by the leader Emie Rioux-Roussel. Her compositions are well thought out and adventurous; taking sudden twists and turns, but never losing sight of the momentum and the inner logic. The segments are pieces of a puzzle placed by very skilful hands. As significant as her piano chops are, it was her work on keys that reeled me in. She quickly dug in on the Korg, carving out intense and deeply pleasing grooves with her left hand. The tasteful flurries from her right opening up the possibility of a million directions, all worth taking; her voicings felt original and warm as the summer breeze. This was an altogether funkier feel and as the beats reflected the changed mood the electric bass thumped out lines that danced in your head. The bass player Nicolas Bedard and drummer Dominic Cloutier never faltered. They wove in and around the tunes with consummate skill and were the perfect interpreters of Roussel’s music. These men are versatile and skilled and whether on brushes, sticks, upright or electric bass, they knew exactly what would serve the music best. The second set brought us an added treat as the Kiwi trumpeter Lex French came to the bandstand. I have long rated French as one of our finest trumpeters. He completed his studies in Montreal and was already well acquainted with several of the band members. His addition changed the pace once again, opening the way for harder blowing. As the sets progressed the constantly evolving moods worked well for them, giving the gig real breadth. The trio’s recent album ‘Transit’, includes many of the numbers heard on the tour but with one significant difference; The inclusion of a string section, the ‘Quatuor St-Germain’ and a percussionist Julie Quimper. Roussel’s charts in the hands of this larger ensemble are very different to the trio. I particularly like her compositions like ‘L’ attente du chat’ and ‘La timbale et la fourmi’. The mood of the ballad is cat-like in its grace and time feel. The latter, a delightful shape-shifter of a piece full of contrasts and propulsion. I look forward to the new album which is just the trio but with some Rhodes tracks as well as piano.
I hope that they came back one day as this is a band well worth keeping tabs on.
Who: The Emie Roussel Trio – Emie Rioux-Roussel (piano, keys), Nicolas Bedard (contrabasse), Dominic Cloutier (batterie).
If you patrol the margins of the music world you will find inestimable treasures. Beyond the notice of mainstream media and mainstream audiences there is a joyous revolution underway. Not an austere revolution but one peopled by astonishing musicians, colourful characters and sonic explorers. Like a good street protest, it is often bubbling with noise, insistent beats and a multiplicity of messages. Last Wednesdays gig epitomised that. The alternative music scene is often denigrated for its imagined ‘high brow’ complacency or its snobbish rigidity. In this regard the Jazz police and lazy uninformed commentators have done improvised music a grave disservice. Improvised music has been with us since the beginnings of art and the whole point of it is to shift the focus away from the mundane or the obvious. The appropriation and assimilation of traditional forms is only a staring point. Sandhya Sanjana and her gifted ensemble took the shamans path here; conjuring shapes and colours from the ether, re-harmonising, daring us to look at the familiar and the exotic from an entirely different vantage point. This night cut right to the heart of improvised music. Different worlds merged and they did so without compromising the integrity of the traditions they came from.
This was World/Jazz singer Sandhya Sanjana’s night but we have Auckland’s Ben Fernandez to thank for organising the gig. I had not heard Fernandez play before this, but had long been aware of his reputation as a gifted, successful and multifaceted pianist. Some months ago he invited me to his ‘Raag time’ fusion gig, but sadly I was unable to attend as I was heading out-of-town. Later he messaged me to say that he would teaming up with Ms Sanjana in November. Gigs like this are irresistible to me as I am enthusiastic about all of the great improvised music traditions. The merging of these traditions has risks, but done well it’s marvellous. The successful assimilation of middle eastern rhythms and the idioms into Jazz has long been achieved in Europe. Fusions of traditional Indian music and Jazz are now emerging across the globe and those with an open mind and the right ears are the happy beneficiaries.
The band members were; Sandhya Sanjana (vocals, leader), Ben Fernandez (piano), Jim Langabeer (flute, reeds), Manjit Singh (tabla & vocals), Jo Shum (bass), Jason Orme (traps drums). Anyone familiar with the Auckland Jazz scene and the Indian music scenes will know what a great lineup this is.
Sandhya Sanjana is from Bombay, but based in Holland these days (Ben Fernandez is a Kiwi but he also hails from Bombay). She has performed with the greats in the World/Jazz field like Alice Coltrane and Trilok Gurtu. She has an easy confidence about her that informs her performance and under her guidance a seamless fusion of styles occurs. With Fernandez you get another strong influence as he imparts a distinctly Latin feel. This classical and Jazz trained musician has chops to burn. Out of this melange of rich influences a vibrant new music emerges. It is compelling and exciting to hear. There is a constant visual and sonic interplay between singer, tabla, traps drums, piano, bass and reeds (winds). The shifting rhythms creating intricate cycles that pulse and swing.
Manjit Singh, originally from the Punjab is another Auckland resident and he is an acknowledged master of the Tabla and of Indian music. I am often reminded of what a rich and diverse drum landscape we have in Auckland. A world that I am still coming to grips with. This man is a major talent and it is our good fortune that he is making forays into the Jazz/fusion music scene. On traps was the veteran drummer Jason Orme and he was well-chosen. The gig required a drummer who could play quietly but strongly and one who had the subtlety to interact with Singh. On bass was Jo Shum who has not played at the CJC for some time. She is an aware bass player and acquitted herself well. Lastly was the reeds and winds player Jim Langabeer. Langabeer is well-respected on the New Zealand scene and is one of a select group of doubling reeds musicians who are equally strong on flute (and he swings like a well oiled gate). This gig had an embarrassment of riches and once again Roger Manins gets a big tick for his innovative programming.
In the You Tube clip that I have put up, the breadth of Sanjana’s influences are immediately evident. After a few bars of latin feel on piano we hear a Tala. I know very little about the technical aspects of traditional Indian music but the rhythmic patterns (or Tala) are generally established early on. This can also include a vocalised manifestation of the Tala rhythms. Manjit Singh the Tabla player counted in the Tala and Sanjana responded with Mudras, claps and vocals . The traps drummer and others responded to the patterns and so the piece built upon itself. If done well, cross fertilised music is like water; it will soon find its own level. This did.
Who: Sandhya Sanjana (vocals, compositions, leader), Ben Fernandez (piano, arrangements), Jim Langabeer (winds & reeds), Jo Shum (bass), Manjit Singh (Tabla & vocals), Jason Orme (traps drums).
The 2014 Auckland Jazz festival is over and it is time to reflect on ten days of warm vibes, edgy grooves, good company and above all truly exceptional music. Auckland is a difficult beast when it comes to festivals. It is like a smaller version of Los Angeles; a spread out town centre and an urban area sprawling over 600 Square Kilometres. This contrasts with the smaller Wellington, where the suitable music venues are in close proximity. While getting festivals off the ground has always been a challenge in Auckland, there are willing audiences out there. The trick is getting them to pay attention. It was an ‘underground’ festival and apart from a handful of flyers, some posters in the participating venues and student radio, the publicity machine was Facebook, a hastily created website and word of mouth. In spite of that people turned up and everyone enjoyed the gigs. Town halls and large commercial venues are utterly without soul and the decision to stick to smaller venues made good sense. Because of that festival goers got to experience live music up close and personal. A woman at the Mike Nock gig expressed delight that she could sit less than a metre away from the band. Close enough to catch every nuance and smile; to connect with the joy. To be so close to one of the worlds great pianists is an experience never forgotten. This sort of intimacy is gold. This is a solid foundation to build upon and potential sponsors will hopefully see that and come onboard next year.
Over the ten days I managed to attend five gigs, including the three headline acts. Like any music lover I wanted to attend more. Actually there were over thirty gigs on offer for those with time on their hands and that is impressive. The opening gig was at the Portland Public House in Kingsland which is an intimate entertainment space with a delightfully shabby-sheik decor and great bar food. ‘The Troubles’ were the perfect act to launch the festival, as their rollicking, anarchic, good time vibe engaged the large and enthusiastic crowd from the first note. I am a huge fan of this group which is a collective led by Wellington drummer John Rae. This time, and it was an inspired move, they had included Auckland’s Roger Manins in the lineup. This transformed a wonderful boisterous freedom loving band into a full-scale riot. The five piece string section were the perfect foil and they shone. Neither Manins nor Rae gave any quarter as they hungrily fed off all challenges like musical Pacmen. The Troubles music bubbles out of a deep well of musicality and exuberance. It references the sounds of protest, eastern European music, the vibrancy of street life and above all joy. As the chants, cries, shouts, dissonance and snatches of sweet melody catch your ear, you realise that this is ancient and future music. It is honest and often deeply swinging. It is everything from Mingus to now.
On Monday I got an email. ‘If I was free, would I be able to pick up Mike Nock and his trio from the airport’. I truly like him as a human being as there is an irreverence and a sense of fun about him. Hanging with him is a positive experience and it was also a good opportunity to gain a few insights into the gig. He has a Zen approach to life and to music; living in the moment and cutting through the bullshit. He is funny and a great storyteller, but surprisingly humble about his own impressive accomplishments. Anyone who has studied the history of New Zealand music (and arguably Australian) will inevitably say at some point, “Oh yeah, Mike Nock; this is THE guy”. At the airport I ran into another returning Jazz Pianist Steve Barry, so we all crammed into my hatchback. Musicians, personal luggage and cymbals. “What will you play tonight” I asked on the way into town? Mike gave a typical Mike reply, “Man I don’t always know until my fingers are on the piano keys”. When I repeated this to bass player Brett Hirst he laughed, “Yes and I age a year every-time he does it” he said. “These days whether a standard or an original, all I want to do is reach deep inside until I find the poetry”, added Nock.
It is this last statement that epitomises his approach. You watch him seated quietly at the keyboard, calmly flexing his arms and then suddenly he is playing; the melody stated as if in passing, feeling his way to the essence of a tune. It is always a masterclass for the careful listener. All of the dross and excess baggage of a tune is dispensed with as the smiling Nock shares his joy with those present. As he plays he sings quietly or exclaims joyously. Sometimes pausing momentarily, dropping his hands from the keys, acknowledging a special moment. In a club like the CJC you get an immediacy like no other venue and being part of a Mike Nock experience is very special. Nock played a variety of tunes, some well-loved standards, some almost forgotten older tunes and an original or two. When he played Irving Berlin’s lovely ‘How Deep is the Ocean’ he prefixed it with a long intro, pulling you deep into the mood of the piece and then suddenly swinging madly, the melody dancing with him. It was as if we were hearing it for the first time. Next was ‘Solar’ (Miles Davis), which in lessor hands could be viewed as a surprising choice. The tune was given no quarter. Nock, Brett Hirst and James Waples (drums) immediately peeled the layers away to reveal an energised core which burned like a super nova. Life is good when the Mike Nock trio is in town.
The next night featured the Benny Lackner Trio from Germany. Lackner has played at the CJC twice previously, but this was the first time that he had brought his European trio with him. He is an interesting artist and his music is very different from that of the Mike Nock Trio. This music is firmly rooted in the European aesthetic and less rooted in the bluesy traditions of America. What he offers is something wholly modern and closer to the oeuvre of artists like Esbjorn Swennson and Tigran Hamasyan . It was a rare chance to hear a type improvised music that I have long followed with enthusiasm but get few chances to hear being so far away from Europe. Rather than drawing on the blues it seems to appropriate folk music and near eastern song forms. The tunes though are all originals and they are often lovely to the ear. The trio uses electronics in the way that EST did, but there is more edge these compositions. There are complex cross rhythms and pulsing bass lines on the upbeat numbers; probing filigree explorations around the beautiful melodic lines on the ballads. On upright and electric bass was Paul Kleber and on drums the interesting Matthieu Chazarenc. This was music to savoured and thought about long afterwards. Offering complimentary but contrasting artists is at the heart of good festival programming.
The third headline act was a double trombone lineup. From the USA was Francisco Torres who is best known for his stellar work with Poncho Sanchez or the award-winning Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band. His credits are considerable and everyone from Terrance Blanchard to Natalie Cole has benefitted from his strong playing. The other trombonist was Wellington’s Rodger Fox who like Torres has an impressive list of credits to his name. Fox wears many hats, promoter, educator, composer and trombonist. Neither Torres nor Fox had played at the CJC before and it was appropriate that they were given a quality rhythm section. On piano was Kevin Field, Bass Oli Holland and drums Ron Samsom. The gig was therefore titled ‘two bones and a dog’. The dog reference was about the ‘Dog’ band which features Field, Holland and Samsom. Perhaps because it was the third headline gig in a row the numbers were down and that was a shame because they played like there was no tomorrow; mostly standards and particularly those with strong trombone associations. It was nice to hear a tune by the ill-fated master of the west-coast trombone, Frank Rosolino. I am always overwhelmed by the warmth of the instrument. In the semi darkness a glow of burnished gold radiated from the horns, reflecting the warmth of the music perfectly. There were a number of trombonists in the audience, grinning from ear to ear. Another great festival night.
The final gig that I attended was at the Golden Dawn. Recently voted the best bar in town, it is a welcoming place; a venue begging to become your local, no matter how far away you live. The management have the happy knack of engaging the quirkier bands, showcasing an edge that can only emerge from underground music. The lighting is particularly appealing, something between a vaudeville dressing room and a prohibition era speak-easy. The multi hued lighting seeps through dark-toned wood grain and bounces off the bottles behind the bar, losing its intensity on the journey. Sunday night is jazz night and what better place to finish up a festival. When I arrived the Alex Ward trio had just set up and they played a short opening set. We heard Tigran Hamasyan’s ‘leaving Paris’, a Brad Mehldau tune (from his Easy Rider album) and a standard or two. The number that I most enjoyed was Wards own composition ‘Litmus Test’, which strongly references and builds upon the vibe of 60’s McCoy Tyner.
The closing set was ‘Harry Himself’ and this under-the-radar band is truly amazing. It is a hybrid music with enormous appeal, similar to the Jazz from the Nordic countries. Unusual combinations of instruments, some electronics, loops and an endless supply of deep grooves. All of the musicians were of the highest calibre and perhaps this is the bands ace in the hole. When doing something brave and unusual, do it really well. Leading the band was Kingsley Melhuish on tuba, trumpet, trombone, flugal and vocals (and pedals). On pedal steel guitar and Fender was Neil Watson, a much admired musician who can subvert and then create afresh like few others. Sam Giles was pumping out-deep groove electric bass lines and it was good to see him on the band stand again. At the rear and barely visible, but clearly audible, was Ron Samson, a drummer as respected as he is versatile. Carried on the pulses of blue light were shimmering outlines, accompanied by mesmerising waves of sound; intensely textural grooves, layer building upon layer.
At times Melhuish would set up a loop on tuba, tweak the sound and then play wonderful figures over it on trumpet or flugal. In behind, bending notes on fender or adding fills on the pedal steel guitar was Watson. This unusual combination of instruments works so well that it should definitely be repeated. It begs further explorations. With Samsom and Giles in the mix a pulsing original sound scape unfolded; perhaps best described as a Second Line gumbo meeting psychedelic Americana. The festival finished up with a Jam session at the same venue.
Those who attended the various festival gigs were very pleased with what was on offer and those who found out too late cursed their ill luck. I understand that the notification period will be longer for next years festival, so watch out for it next Spring.
Mark Lockett lives in New York these days but he manages to visit Auckland every so often. This year, as he did in 2012 when he released ‘Sneaking out after midnight’, he appeared with a trio. Lockett is an engaging personality and his often quirky good humour spills into his playing. He is probably the most unusual drummer I have seen. One manifestation of this is the way he holds his sticks which is sometimes more than a third of the way down. It’s as if he puts his entire body into the task in hand, partly lowering himself over the kit and listening intently to each sound and sensing each player; feeling for the spaces in between.
There is an apparent deliberation that accompanies each beat or flurry, holding back for a micro second , then dropping the stick. What is more interesting is his ability to convey the maximum of effect when playing quietly. He isn’t a loud drummer but he conveys a world of sound. Reminding us as he uses elbows, hand palms, rims and stands, that the drum kit is a subtle and incredibly musical instrument in the right hands. His are the right hands. Lockett’s compositions are also quirky and there is always the hint of a delightful joke in the offing. These jokes stretch beyond the humorous titles, unfolding as musical stories with clever narrative lines. His communication skills are such that the audiences follow with delight. The humour is gentle but deeply imbedded and perhaps this is the best hook of all. This tour was appropriately titled, ‘Flying by the seat of my pants’.
There are definite risks with trios like this, as they tempt saxophonists to self indulgently noodle once freed from chordal constraints. Manins was perfect with this trio and used the opportunity to build upon the existing narratives. At times playing outside but never once disconnected from the bass in drums. He clearly took his lead from Lockett. He is known for his intuitive reading of varying bandstand situations, a particular strength of his.
The bass player Umar Zakaria had never played at the CJC before and in fact when I saw his name on the web site I thought that he had come from New York with Lockett. When I spoke to him it surprised me to hear a Kiwi accent. Zakaria has been attending the School of Music in Wellington and I believe that he is doing his honours at present. My belief that he was an experienced offshore musician was not dispelled until I spoke with him after the gig. His solos were interesting and he ably supported the others. This was a good night of music from a solid band, that entertained without taking itself too seriously.
Who: Mark Lockett Trio – ‘By the seat of my pants tour’. Mark Lockett (drums and compositions), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Umar Zakaria (upright bass).
There are some musicians who arrive on earth fully formed, having journeyed from distant planets. Sun Ra was one of those. There is yet another category of musicians who are not aliens, but who clearly hitch a ride with aliens from time to time. The Grid is one of the latter, as there is no other explanation for their mix of in your face humour, outrageous musicality and otherworldliness. They have been to Auckland before when I reviewed them for this blog (read ‘The Grid off the Grid’). This is their second coming and it has long been anticipated by local musicians, metal jazz fans, mental Jazz fans and those who enjoy amazingly improbable improvised music. People of all ages attended, as the censorship restrictions had obviously been overlooked.
Reinforcing the view that ‘The Grid’ had been beamed in from a spaceship, was a light show that eerily played across them as they performed. The gig was not in the usual basement spot, as we had been booted upstairs for the night by the building owners. Being upstairs means psychedelic light show and being upstairs means playing to people at barely visible tables rather than to people sprawling on leather couches or sitting cross legged on the floor. Some musicians are less comfortable in this space, but The Grid appeared to thrive on it. As ever changing patterns played on the walls above them, or descended to spotlight their instruments, they worked with it. This gave the gig an oddly surreal atmosphere, as isolated instruments or disembodied heads floated strangely in the air.
The set list was replete with new tunes, all introduced by Ben Vanderwal as he joked his way from number to number. This was proper Antipodean humour; highly irreverent, at times dry and always delivered with a pinch of intellect. At one point a dissertation on Kylie Minogue’s lyrics occurred (she should be so lucky), at another a series of imponderable questions were left hanging in the air. “What if god were one of us? What if U2 were from Brazil? Before we could grasp the enormity of these questions, the band had launched into an astonishingly good version of ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ (U2) based upon that premise. The ideas may have appeared random, but they actually supported an interesting narrative that runs through all of their gigs. These guys are very good musicians and it is not hard to fathom why alien beings would want to abet them on their journey.
I have included a video clip of a composition by Dane Alderson titled ‘Hitch’. The tune was written to honour iconoclast Christopher Hitchens at the time of his passing. Sometime during the second set the guitar amp blew up and after a bit of head scratching it was mysteriously re-routed. A casual observer might think that it was appropriate that a band delivered to us by mysterious forces should disappear in shower of coloured lights and sparks. I am confident that someone will find a way to beam them back soon. We like them here in Aotearoa.
The Grid is: Ben Vanderwal (drums), Dane Alderson (electric 5 string bass, pedals), Tim Jago (guitars and pedals). Perth/USA
Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand. www.creativejazzclub.co.nz
Jonathan Crayford has long intrigued me as a musician so I make a point of catching him when the situation presents itself. He’s an artist embedded so deeply within his music that his persona reflects in those terms. It’s as if he were the embodiment of sonic shapes and forms.
I have seen him perform on a number occasions but there’s no second guessing what will materialise on any given night. His experiences in music lead him in many directions and all of them interesting. While some describe him as genre busting, I think the descriptor is overly simplistic. I have heard him perform a killing version of, “I Pity the Poor Immigrant” (Bob Dylan). Yes, he appropriates the sounds about him and often performs with artists from outside of the Jazz spectrum, but at heart he’s an improvising musician. No matter what notes he plays you can feel the integrity; the perpetual questioning of a deep level interpreter.
For the CJC gig he showcased a folder of new tunes; the charts interpreted by a six piece band that he had assembled for the gig. As he explained, “this band is work shopping some new ideas which I will record later in Europe”. The numbers were all in extended form, giving the musicians space to develop the themes and ideas. Many of the tunes began and ended with a percussive vamp and as a groove established the horns congas, bass and drums swelled the sound. The textures and complex layers of sound created an implied centre over which the soloists improvised. Watching over this was the leader, a benevolent presence who knew just when exhort, when to extend or curtail a solo and when to pull the explorations back to the head. The tune titles where intriguing also; ‘Groove 21’, ‘Strange Tune’ and others which told a more cerebral story.
‘Bruno’s Dream’ in particular piqued my interest. Jonathan Crayford has worked extensively on film scores and his association with the actor/musician Bruno Lawrence gives us the context for this piece. After Bruno’s passing Jonathan dreamed this tune, a kaleidoscope of images as imagined through Bruno’s eyes. This is wonderful expansive music and the band entered into the spirit of it. As with all dreams the evolving and often surreal story has several parts. In this piece we saw the best of Crayford’s keyboard artistry and writing skills. There were solid solo performances by Kim Patterson on valve trombone and Finn Scholes on trumpet. Kim Patterson is the elder statesman here, having recorded over his long career with most of the luminaries of New Zealand Jazz. The last section of the tune, an intense modal sequence was a gift to Scholes, who grabbed the opportunity with glee mining it convincingly for all it’s worth (echoes of ‘Teo’).
Early in the second set a brief change in pace occurred, when we heard a duet between Crayford and Patterson. They performed the only standard of the evening, the gorgeous ‘Old Folks’ (Robison). It lived up to its heart-string tugging potential. At the end satisfied sighs were heard from the audience. Piano and valve trombone work extremely well together and I was briefly minded of the duet recordings between Bob Brookmeyer and others.
Having both traps drums and congas was integral to the sound as they added heft and edge. On traps was Julien Dyne, an energetic and multi faceted drummer who has worked previously with Jonathan Crayford ( ‘Pins & Digits’ – Dyne’s album). On congas (and facing the band) was Miguel Fuentes, a highly experienced percussionist who never flagged during the long and energised grooves. The remaining band member was Chip Matthews on electric bass. His presence was integral to the mix and he managed to provide both an anchor and groove lines without crowding out the others. The sound scape was dense at times and intentionally so, but the overall momentum was never lost. With Jonathan Crayford at the helm this is hardly surprising.
The other departure from the format occurred when Jonathan invited Miles Crayford to sit in for a number. Miles a pianist and keyboardist also, came to wider attention when he participated in Reuben Bradley’s award-winning ‘Resonator’ album.
If you ask Jonathan Crayford where he lives now you will get vague answers. He lives where the current project is happening and where the music is. For the next two month’s he’ll be gigging around New Zealand and then returning to New York to mix and master his next album (with the well-known New York bassist Ben Street and drummer Dan Weiss). The album is intriguingly named ‘Dark Light’. Crayford tells me that he wrote the music during a long winter sojourn in London, where the seemingly endless days of low light are commonplace. Having lived in London I understand this focus with radiating light. The interplay and intensity of light occupies your thoughts there as it never does in sunnier climes.
If you Google this artist you’ll notice that he’s recorded as ‘currently living’ in Spain or Paris; throw in London and New York and the picture becomes a little clearer. This is a musician chasing the music and living in the moment. In Spain he records two solo albums, in New York trios and a sextet and then on to new projects in other cities. We gladly claim him as an expat Kiwi but in reality he’s a citizen of the world.
Who: Jonathan Crayford (piano, keyboards, compositions, leader), Kim Patterson (valve trombone, percussion), Finn Scholes (trumpet), Miguel Fuentes (percussion), Chip Matthews (electric bass), Julien Dyne (drums).
Mark Isaacs’ ground breaking ‘Encounters’ album has just been re-released for the third time and no wonder. This is an important musical statement by any measure and it sits comfortably beside similar works by Jarrett and Corea. I don’t say that lightly, as the aforementioned artists explorations into free improvisation set lofty benchmarks.
Mark Isaacs is somewhat of a prodigy as he works across all genres of Jazz, is a gifted composer and has a well established classical career. His Jazz charts are particularly impressive as he often voices his pieces in modern and compelling ways. As if that were not enough he has composed a symphony (recently performed by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra – I have heard this impressive work). Because Mark is such a multi faceted artist it is harder to buttonhole him and perhaps that is the point. Great musicians shouldn’t be pinned down. It is the nature of improvised music that it constantly shifts like the coloured grains of sand in a great Mandala; elusive and yet leaving an indelible image behind. When it’s done well the impressions that remain will outdo the notation. This album achieves that.
Because the album has not been available since 1995 I hadn’t heard it before. When I did it truly surprised me. I was expecting a good album as the triumvirate of Isaacs, Holland and Haynes creates high expectations. What I was unprepared for was just how deeply it affected me. To explain this better a back-story is required . An indication of how this album came to be.
The recording dates from 1988. This was a time when the mainstream music world had become mired in techno-commercialism and to the credit of the Jazz community it chose to delve deeper into experimental music; pushing harder against musical boundaries. This was the time of Jarrett’s ‘Changeless’ and ‘Dark Intervals’ albums and discriminating listeners were up for it. Dave Holland was no stranger to this type of project as he had participated in and initiated many avant-garde projects since the sixties. Mark Isaacs (an Australian) was in New York at the time having just heard some of his chamber works performed by the Australian Ensemble in Carnegie Hall. He felt ready to record something challenging so he contacted Dave Holland who immediately agreed to participate. I am not sure how Roy Haynes came to the project but the choice was fortuitous. A bop-pioneer drummer who had played with Lester Young and Charlie Parker plus a cutting edge experimentalist bass player were on board. Both had played in Miles Davis bands (but not at the same time). Both had an interest in the avant-garde.
No rehearsals were held, no charts used and none of these artists had ever played together before. What you have here is a tight rope act undertaken by an Australian, an ex-pat Englishman and a New Yorker. The result could have fallen flat but what happened was truly amazing. Deep intuitive communication and an interplay which sounded more like a trio that had been together for years, not minutes. In this recording there is a profound sense of space and limitless vistas seem to unfold before you. The album is just over thirty minutes long and packed within that thirty minutes is a world of diversity. At certain points one or other of the musicians is leading the conversation, while at other points they appear to seize upon an idea at the same time. This is artistry of the highest order and I urge anyone reading this to purchase a copy while stocks last.
It is available on iTunes but as an audiophile I recommend that you purchase the CD. The recording quality is superb and the sound so immediate that you gain a real sense of the studio it was recorded in. A lot of recordings could have been recorded anywhere, but this one conveys a sense of location. Many of the ECM recordings have that feel and the Rainbow Studios in Oslo immediately come to mind. The album was recorded at the Power Station studios in New York, which incidentally is where Jarrett’s ‘Changless’ was recorded at about the same time.
Twenty five years on, the album still sounds fresh and engaging.
Auckland’s CJC (Creative Jazz Club) hosted two European Jazz Acts in as many months. The most recent band ‘No Square’, is from Switzerland. This is a top rated European unit who have been together since 1994 and their tightness, focus and intuitive interactions reflected that. Having played many European festivals to acclaim, they ventured further afield, assisted by the Francophile cultural organisation the Alliance Francaise. Michel Benebig is another artist often supported by this worthy organisation.
The journey down from Europe is particularly gruelling and even with New Zealand gigs tagged onto an Australian tour it requires a big commitment from the musicians. I am not sure whether New Zealand audiences always grasp that. After hearing about how poorly attended the Wellington ‘No Square’ gig was I cringed in embarrassment. This is a truly amazing band and they deserved the respect of an attentive and decent sized audience. Thankfully the audience at the CJC was reasonable, (but it could have been better). If we don’t support visitors then why should they support our musicians who travel? It is too easy to blame the lack of promotion, as our web-based and word of mouth networks are generally sufficient to pack out gigs. All that’s required is a commitment to get off the damn couch. Roger Manins goes to great effort to organise offshore acts and the audiences must respond in kind. If we love this music we should pay it the respect of attendance.
Europe has been deeply involved in the Jazz world since the early 1900’s and it was so popular that Hitler banned it as depraved. There could be no higher recommendation. Euro Jazz is not a slavish imitation of American Jazz, as each region has developed distinct flavours of their own. This is particularly pronounced in the Mediterranean region and with the ebb and flow of migration the process has accelerated. France was arguably the original centre of Euro Jazz but her near neighbours Switzerland, Spain, Germany, Belgium, UK and Italy have all contributed significantly to the development of the music. This band originates from French-speaking Switzerland, with their most recent album recorded in beautiful Lausanne on Lac Lemon. While they referenced Coltrane it was also evident that middle eastern rhythms and themes informed their work as well. This well-travelled band is extremely tight as a unit. Whatever twists and turns the music took they intuitively coalesced around each new theme. No charts needed here.
The first few numbers were denser and more complex than what followed, but as the evening progressed an airy feel and a deeper groove established. I could discern many European and American influences from Debussy to Coltrane. This distinctive original music was Euro Jazz at its best. Andre Hahne (bass) took care of the introductions (presumably because he has more English than the others), but the band is billed as a collective of equals. It would be impossible to single out any particular musician as they all shone in one way or another. On saxophones was Matthieu Durmarque, piano Matthieu Roffe and drums Alexandre Ambroziak.
I interviewed Natalia Mann after the release of her very successful Rattle album ‘Pacif’ist’ and since then we have kept in touch . Improvising harp players are a rare commodity, but things are slowly changing. This year the Columbian harpist Edmar Castaneda won a major Jazz poll. Natalia is simply killing at whatever she undertakes but her new trio brings her squarely into the jazz orbit. Having gained a considerable reputation playing with various symphony orchestras and after undertaking a number experimental music projects, she is more than ready to enhance her improvisational credentials. She has recently been playing to critical acclaim at Mediterranean Jazz festivals and this video clip was made for the AKBANK Jazz festival in Istanbul. Her compositions are beguiling and exotic, while retaining an elusive mysterious quality. This is music that leaves you wanting more.
Natalia is of Samoan Kiwi extraction but for some years she has lived in Istanbul. She’s married to the Turkish percussionist Izzet Kizil who appears in the clip below. She was most recently the recipient of the ‘ARts Pacifica’ award in her hometown of Wellington. Having recently studied Jazz at Skopje University she is now engaging frequently with the improvising world. This stunningly beautiful piece swings to its own pulses and rhythms; aided by solid bass work from Dine Donneff (Greece) and the perfectly executed percussion of husband Izzet Kitil (Turkey).
I have promised to take her to the CJC next time she is in Auckland and just maybe if we are lucky, we could talk her into performing?
Natalia is in Marseilles at present and she sent me this clip of her new Jazz trio a few days ago. Kiwi musicians certainly do well in the world.
We get a lot of interesting overseas acts passing through these days but seldom do we see Cuban musicians. This is not about what they have to offer or even about the tyranny of distance, but more about politics. When this band was booked it was a bigger lineup, but getting short-term visas to enter Australia and New Zealand proved an insurmountable barrier for some of their number. In my view this is an arcane and ludicrous legacy of the cold war. In spite of an easing of sanctions by the EU and others, those old suspicions remain. These talented musicians are the very best of ambassadors for their country and their indigenous music. Its time to get real Australasian immigration. The few that were allowed into the country gave us a great nights entertainment and not one sought asylum from John Key.
The tour was organised by Australian band leader Gai Bryant and she arrived here with barely enough time to hold a few brief rehearsals with the AJO (Auckland Jazz Orchestra). I am a fan of the AJO as they always tackle interesting projects. They are a Jazz Orchestra with great dynamics and under the direction of Tim Atkinson, Mike booth and others they continue to produce the goods. The personnel had changed a bit since I last saw them and especially the front horn line. Even though it was dark and crowded I could make out a number of the long-term AJO regulars such Jo Spiers, Callum Passells, Cameron Sangster, Mike Booth, Jono Tan, Cameron McArthur and Matt Steele. This band is scandalously under utilised and the city fathers and corporates should be engaging them for important occasions.
I am picking that this music would have been testing for them, as very few Auckland musicians have had a chance to work in authentic Cuban styles before. It is one thing to play a Rumba or Bolero in a looser jazz idiom but quite another to follow charts like these. At the heart of Cuban music is a set of complex mesmerising counter rhythms and the clave. This is a delicious fusion music and the most influential of all of the ‘world musics’. It reaches deep into the shameful slave past of Cuba. West African musicians had retained knowledge of the ancient percussion instruments, chants and melodies which had travelled with them. Along the way a plethora of other influences enriched and extended their music. There is a strong Spanish influence and a French influence among others. These influences were absorbed into the polyrhythmic music of West Africa. At the very heart is often the clave rhythms and central to that is the five beat pattern so much emulated in popular music and Jazz. These days the forms are codified and so jumping into this as a novice is a big ask. I don’t know enough about Cuban music to judge this performance against others, but suffice to say I enjoyed it immensely.
I was deeply impressed by the percussionists but also by Cameron Sangster (drums), who took his cues so well from the Cubans. Other notable moments were delivered by Callum Passells (alto), Cameron McArthur (bass) and Matt Steele (piano).
With the percussion instruments playing and the orchestra and soloists weaving around the beat it was easy to see how those old stories of voodoo and trance music took hold. These beats defied all attempts to rationalise the sound. The rhythms entered every pore, almost like body blows, driving me out of self and into the arms of some universal force. An ancient joyful celestial dance from which there was mercifully no escape.
Who: Gai Bryant’s Cubanos (the photos on this gig were all taken by Ben McNicoll)
I missed the Benny Lackner trio when they came last year and I had subsequently been besieged with the inevitable, “man you missed a great gig”. This time I made sure that was able to attend. Benny Lackner is from Berlin, Germany and his touring schedule has taken him round the world a number of times. His brand of jazz is forward-looking and has a distinctly modern-European feel about it. I am a fan of European styled Jazz although surprisingly it is often overlooked by American Jazz fans. This is ironic because American Jazz musicians have always relied heavily on European tours and are hugely supported there.
This trip Benny came without his trio and teamed up with Cameron McArthur and Ron Samsom for the Auckland gig. As the gig approached a problem arose, when the building owners required the downstairs room for a function. The room with the lovely grand piano in it and the better acoustics. An urgent call went out for a Fender Rhodes and before long Mark Bains had lent one, along with a nice keyboard. The upstairs venue has a nice feel to it but the acoustics are more difficult to manage. Such obstacles are quickly dealt with by experienced musicians who are quite used to playing in a wide variety of settings.
The sets were mainly centred on Benny’s own compositions, but interestingly he had thrown in some modern pop tunes, mined for their improvisational worth. There was a Bowie number and a Radiohead number, both of which went down extremely well with the audience. Gone is that awkwardness that the 50’s Jazz musicians often exhibited when they tackled the popular tunes of the day. From Miles onwards and through to Brad Muhldau ( a mentor of Benny’s) the game has changed. American musicians like Bob Frisell and others will routinely interpret modern tunes or rock classics. In many cases the vocabulary of rock is appropriated. The Europeans however are the masters of this and artists like Mathius Eik, Esbjorn Svensson and Marcin Wasilewski have blazed a clear trail ahead. He also tackled Monk’s ‘Bemsha Swing’ which I have posted. EST played this often and this version takes the tune even further out.
Benny Lackner approaches his material obliquely and to my ear there is no hint of the Evans legacy in his voicings. He often plays big percussive chords, but he can also show real sensitivity as he negotiates the well constructed tunes. The Radiohead number worked particularly well on the dominant sounding Rhodes, with the slightly softer voicings emanating from the smaller keyboard. You get the feeling watching Benny at the keyboard that he views each performance as an open-ended adventure. I am only sorry that we never got to hear him on the clubs grand piano.
He told us that he was very pleased with his new band mates and why wouldn’t he be. Ron Samsom is such a fine drummer that you expect a top-level performance from him. Ron has a world of experience behind him and so many local and visiting overseas acts benefit from his multi faceted traps work. I have never seen him falter in any setting and the diverse styles required of him only appear to urge him on to greater heights.
As has been the case so often in recent months, Cameron McArthur filled the bass slot and all of the experience he is gaining is now paying dividends. This guy is a crowd pleaser, with the chops and ears to provide the goods. We also heard some very nice solos from him.
This has been a big tour for Benny. From Berlin his hectic schedule took him through South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Although he was born in Berlin he also lived in the USA for many years. The many influences absorbed along the way have moulded him into an original and interesting pianist.
When Michel Benebig played at the CJC late last year I learned about his coming tour of the West Coast of America. Because I was going to San Francisco over January I arranged to meet him there, as I knew that he and Shem would have a new band on the road. We kept in touch over the weeks that followed and he was getting a very good reception as he toured around. It confirmed what I was reading; that B3 (with drums and guitar) bands are genuinely popular again. This regained popularity is great news for Jazz audiences as the B3 line up is one of most audience pleasing and accessible in Jazz. This comeback has not occurred by accident but it is due to the gifted players who are now emerging on the scene. Michel Benebig is surely one of these and his name often crops up in the same breath as titans like Dr Lonnie Smith.
I was staying in Bush Street which is in the ‘Lower Nobs Hill’ area of Frisco; just above Union Square. When I got an update of Michel and Shem’s itinerary, it surprised me to see that one of his gigs was in that very street and so my son and I duly headed off there on the appointed night. By ingrained habit we skirted the ‘Tenderloin’ and descended toward Hayes Valley. A wisp of escaping sound told us that we had arrived and we entered a nicely appointed modern building, wedged in between two deco ones. Leaving the temperate San Francisco winters night we wound down into the basement. The warm sound of the B3, groove guitar and drums washing away any vestige of the night air. My sons eyes lit up. “Wow” he said. “This sounds great” and it surely did. This was the new band I had been keen to hear.
That particular band is almost the same as on the recent ‘Yellow Purple’ album (with the exception of the drummer Akira Tana). Akira Tana is well-known around San Francisco where he had just recorded his big band album, followed by a gig at Yoshi’s. With Michel on B3 (and such a beautiful machine it was to) and Shem on vocals they couldn’t go wrong.
On guitar they had Carl Lockett who is an ideal groove merchant. It was immediately obvious that his blues filled licks blended well with Michel’s and that indicated a great night was before us. Carl Lockett has been a favourite with groove musicians for years having toured with Joey defrancesco, Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff and Randy Crawford to name but a few. With more than 15 recordings under his belt he was the right choice for this gig and for the ‘Yellow Purple’ album. The album does not feature Akira Tana but instead the respected West Coast drummer James Levi appears. He lays down a tight insistent groove and swings in ways that only truly experienced groove drummers can. When you listen to the album you will notice how these guys listen to each other: in fact it’s hard to believe that the band hasn’t been together for years.
Shem gave her usual polished performance whether delivering the Bessie Smith’s slow burner ‘It Won’t be You’ or the more uptempo ‘Keep it to Yourself’ by Sonny Boy Williamson. She only features in two numbers on the album, but at the gig she sang many of her own compositions. Shem is an engaging performer and especially when singing in her native French tongue.
All of the other compositions on ‘Yellow Purple’ are Michel’s and these are as much a strength as his killing organ work. He is absolutely astonishing on B3 and to hear him is to be instantly transported back to the days of Jimmy McGriff or Brother Jack Macduff. His ability to work those pedals, milk the grooves and swing so hard that it makes your head swim, marks him out as a true master. The tracks ‘Yellow Purple’ and ‘Sunlight Special’ are especially strong.
New Caledonia can rightly feel proud of Michel. He is reaching wider audiences every day and one day the South Pacific could lose him to the USA. Grab a piece of this master musician now and be sure to buy this and any other of his albums as they become available (see below). Anyone in Wellington early next month can see him in person so watch for the gigs announcements or contact Nick Granville.
What: ‘Yellow Purple’ – Michele Benebig (B3), Shem Benebig (vocals), Carl Lockett (guitar), James Levi (drums, percussion).
This band shakes all conceptions in the known musical universe and they do it by pillaging pieces of reality and cunningly re-assembling them into new and abstract forms. They are as brilliant as they are disarming. Getting under your skin with outrageous banter and constantly evolving story lines. Perhaps this is the future, laughing back at us, as we live in our bubbles of musical complacency?
It’s a little hard to define ‘The Grid’ by using existing musical terminology, so I will do so by drawing upon disparate references. If you were to add a pinch of Marc Ribot, Dvorak, R2D2, Kraftwork, Radiohead, Andre 3000, Willie Nelson and John Zorn into a crucible, you might create something approximating this band. In spite of the bands modernity, they have embarked upon a musical odyssey of classical proportions. Like Odysseus they’re building strange narratives as they navigate Siren’s and Cyclopes. Ever drifting into uncharted waters.
The first number up was ‘Commodore 64’ from their first album. Since its inception this story has evolved into a saga (see video clip). The setting is somewhere in the future at a time when humans are replaced by robotic machines. The cyber children of these evolving machines have become bored with life and in order to alleviate that boredom they start copying human pop culture. A hipster culture develops and the young male machines start attending nightclubs in order to pick up cool hipster machine chicks. The goal is locating their ideal, a female robot dressed as a ‘Commodore 64’. I don’t think that Phillip K Dick could have bettered that storyline and the music is machine referencing, freaked out cyber nostalgia.
Some other outrageous story-lines were as follows: Ben Vanderwal; “Don’t you just hate it when people make pretentious statements like – If Bach were alive today he would be an improviser” or “If Charlie Parker were alive today he would be in a ‘metal’ band“. He proceeded to say how distasteful and silly this sort statement was and then with a straight face announced his next tune as Dvorak’s third Symphony, the scherzo movement. Pausing before launching into their digitally enhanced heavy-metal tinged phantasy he added, “Of course if Dvorak were alive today he would be playing in this band”. Another tune intro was; “I am proud to relate that UNESCO has just voted this the tune most likely to bring about world peace”. They also told us that they would be playing a number from Ellington’s occult period ‘Satan’s doll’. It took a minute to sink in but when we heard the opening chords of Satin Doll we fell about laughing.
There is much more to this band than outrageous humour, there is also outrageous music. They can slip between Willie Nelson and thrash-punk hardcore in ways that defy logic and in spite of the yawning stylistic chasms it all makes perfect sense at the time. It is later when the enormity of what you have just witnessed sinks in and you find yourself sitting in a confused state on the edge of your bed that you mutter WTF.
There is electronic wizardry aplenty at their disposal but that is not what stays with you. It is their musicality, their ability to connect and their cleverness. This band really can play and they impart strangely apposite history lessons as they go. The music can also turn on a dime, moving from the outer reaches of sanity to a gentle jazz ballad played over clever loops. I am absolutely certain that this sub genre of guitar trio will soon become more mainstream. Marc Ribot (Ceramic Dog) and Australia’s Song FWAA tread similar paths.
This is intelligent music and it requires mastery of the instruments plus mastery of a bewildering array of pedals, rattly things and clips. Making drums imitate machines or making guitars imitate an angel or a banshee is not a job for amateurs. All three band members are highly regarded on the world scene where they have gathered a multitude of accolades, awards and scholarships. Individually they have accompanied the cream of American artists such as Terrance Blanchard, Chris Potter, Chic Corea, Victor Wooten, Joe Lovano and others.
The Grid is primarily known as a Perth Band, but the USA could also claim them. In reality the band members now live in three cities and two countries. Ben Vanderwal (drums) is originally from Perth and so is Dane Alderson (electric bass) but Tim Jago (guitar) is from the USA where he lives and works at present. He has recently been working on a doctorate and teaching in Miami. Ben Vanderwal (who told the stories at the CJC) regularly plays with top US musicians and our own Frank Gibson Jr is credited as being his original teacher. Dane Alderson is the son of a jazz drummer and the winner of various prestigious awards. He plays an Aryel 5 string bass and like Tim Jago conjures up a world of wonderful sounds. My final comment on The Grid is; I hope that they comeback….soon.
Both of these clips are from earlier gigs – the stories and the instruments have evolved since then. The music is great as always.
We don’t get many offshore Jazz pianists visiting New Zealand, but we have seen quite a few over recent weeks. This particular gig comes hot on the heals of hearing Sean Wayland appearing as featured guest artist with the marvellous Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra. Sean had impressed me at the JMO gig and so I really looked forward to hearing him play at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club).
Before he had played a note Sean Wayland won us over with his easy-going banter. Especially when he thanked us for Mike Nock and mentioned band mate Matt Penman. These are two of Auckland’s best-loved sons and I suspect that Kiwi’s, like Canadians, enjoy our worth acknowledged by the big country next door. This generous acknowledgement by a respected New York based (Aussie born) pianist reveals an interesting truth about Australasian Jazz.
There may be a struggle to meet the financial realities, deal with lack of good pianos and the paucity of gigs, but the two scenes continually produce world-class Jazz musicians. The Scenes are in fact so intermingled that it is often hard to know who is an Aussie and who is a New Zealander. Steve Barry and Mike Nock illustrate this perfectly as they live and work in Australia. Roger Manins lives in New Zealand but gigs across the Tasman every other week.
In spite of the difficulties there is no lack of great music coming out of Australasia and the main problem is that of distribution. An upside of this changing business model is that bands travel more. For the keen Jazz fan live music is once again king. We don’t have to wait for a multi-national recording label to tell us what we should or shouldn’t like, we can explore ‘You Tube’ or ‘Bandcamp’ and hear from the artists directly.
Sean Wayland is a hugely respected figure on the Australian scene and in New Zealand as well. He is a very modern pianist, as he moves in circles where new approaches are constantly being explored and new sounds developed. After listening to his compositions I was not in the least surprised to find him supported by the likes of Matt Penman, Jochen Rueckert, Will Vinsen, and James Muller. This is essentially the Rosenwinkel generation. While he speaks that language fluently he is unmistakably an individual stylist. No one sounds quite like Sean.
Sean’s tunes are very melodic. Often unfolding over a simple bass line as with ‘eenan’ off his ‘Lurline’ album. What sounds catchy and accessible can actually be quite complex as his approach to rhythm gives the tunes that unique feel. This is tension and release at its sophisticated best. I have put up a version of ‘eenan’ as a ‘You Tube’ clip which unfolds in subtle and beguiling ways. So beguiling in fact that I dreamed the tune two nights in row. Such powerful hooks are not accidental but the result of careful craftsmanship. There is a strong sense of pulse or swing to his tunes, but approached from a different perspective to that of the more traditional pianist.
This intergenerational shift is one that I hear more often as the changing of the guard occurs. Other tunes played to great effect were his, ‘Trane plus Molly equals countdown” and the solo piece ‘Little Bay’. Both of those tunes are found on the ‘Expensive Habit’ album. ‘Trane plus Molly equals countdown’ hints at McCoy Tyner, but you quickly realise that the voicings have very modern in feel. I can however certainly imagine Kurt Rosenwinkel doing the tune. It is an extraordinary composition where the left hand continuously punctuates the flow with oblique accents. I was left wanting more than the single set and I certainly hope that we get to see Sean again on his next trip back to Australia.
Accompanying Sean were Cameron MacArthur (bass) and Jason Orme (drums). Both accomplished musicians who quickly slotted into the challenges of supporting a world-class and highly inventive pianist.
The next artist up was David Berkman. He has been to New Zealand before and anyone who saw him last time would have jumped at the opportunity of seeing this top flight New York Pianist in action. There is a fluidity to his playing and above all an impeccable sense of timing. This hard-driving post bop fluidity and the big bluesy chords is what most characterises his work.
The Kiwi members of the quartet were Roger Manins (tenor), Olivier Holland (bass) and Ron Samsom (drums). Together they formed a powerhouse of inventiveness and Roger in particular seemed to benefit from this grouping. His solo’s were so incendiary as to cause gasps of surprise and from an audience who are used to such pyrotechnics. While we expect Rogers high wire acts he is always able to surprise us and this night saw him really on fire. David Berkman certainly knows how to amp up the tension and his ability to extol a horn player to reach deeper and deeper is impressive. He worked the room with as much enthusiasm as he would have done in a prime New York club and everyone there appreciated that commitment. This was the kind of gig where you sat back and let the sound wash over you, tapping your feet uncontrollably and yelling enthusiastically between numbers.
David Berkman’s repertoire was a well-balanced mix of his own compositions and some lessor known standards. During the gig he talked about his mentor, the much respected pianist Mulgrew Miller (who sadly passed away that very evening). He has worked with a wide variety of artists such as trumpeters Tom Harrell and Dave Douglas and his contribution to Jazz education is well-known. Having moved to New York some years ago he quickly settled into the routines of gigging, recording and teaching and since then he has been a fixture on the local scene. He travels extensively and is a Palmetto recording artist.
The two pianists were very different, but both were amazing in their way. In David Berkman we heard the history of the post bop era and in Sean Wayland we glimpsed the future.
What: Sean Wayland and David Berkman Winter International Series.
Who: Sean Wayland (p) (leader) Cameron McArthur (b) Jason Orme (d). – David Berkman (p) (leader), Roger Manins (s), Oli Holland (b), Ron Samsom (d)
The 13th of March was a night of surprises. I had been urging Roger Manins to lure Dr Stephen Small down to the CJC (Creative Jazz Club ) for months and here he was. I told a friend that we would be in for an interesting and varied program. How prescient I was. Considering that he is such a well-rounded and accomplished pianist (and keyboardist) it often surprises me that knowledge of him in Jazz circles is not as great as it should be. Stephen Small has a number of irons in the fire and his work across many musical genres can sometimes eclipse his accomplishments in specific areas. No one however should disregard his straight ahead or experimental Jazz playing abilities.
His quartet set up their equipment, completed a brief sound check and then faded back into the darkness of the club while Stephen made last-minute adjustments to his keyboards. Having set up his two keyboards he moved to the grand piano and picked up the microphone. Some artists impart scant information about their set lists (even omitting to tell you what they have played). Stephen is generous with information and his expansive discourse set up the evening nicely.
He played solo piano for three or four numbers and the tunes came mainly from the Great American Songbook. The focus for these pieces was the earlier half of the twentieth century. During his introduction he talked about the interface between jazz, classical and popular music and to illustrate this melting pot he began with two standards. First up was the perennial favourite, ‘Spring Can Really Hang You up the Most’. The beautiful version he settled on was Oscar Peterson’s. The second tune ‘Angel Eyes’ (Matt Dennis) has a bluesy feel and the lush right hand voicings accented the subtle hints of stride in the lower register. I love this standard and it was a delight to hear, as it is seldom played by instrumentalists these days. More’s the pity. The last piece in his solo set was an extract from George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ (see video clip). All three were beautifully executed and they illustrated his point perfectly that Jazz is in a continuous process of renewal and will happily absorb the sounds of the day. What is sometimes under-appreciated is that Jazz also influences and enriches other genres. Modern pop or rock without its Jazz roots would arguably be a chirpy wasteland devoid of back beats. Classical music is certainly not exempt either (e.g. Stravinsky and Ravel).
His next set shifted our focus to experimental music. Stephen Small on two keyboards & piano, Johnny Fleury on Chapman Stick 12 string guitar, MC Chinga Style voice and Stephan Thomas drums. I am particularly interested in such electronic explorations when they’re done well and these were. The chordal instruments fed into an array of pedals and the whole set up was something that Bob Moog would have gone into orgasmic ecstasies over. The Chapman Stick looks daunting to play as the fret board is double the width of most guitars. It is largely tapped and not picked; giving rich voicings and strong resonant bass lines. MC Chinga Style added an unusual dimension to the mix and his inclusion was spot on. He was a benign presence, never dominating. His contributions were occasional but extremely interesting. A combination of scatting, boom box, subtle pops and clicks and always reinforcing what was occurring around him. I have long thought that the human voice as an instrument, playing lines in an ensemble, is terribly under-utilised in Jazz. ECM gets this right and we need more Norma Winstone’s in our line ups.
Somewhere in the middle of this set Caroline Manins went up to Stephen and whispered in his ear. Stephen looked startled for a few seconds and then proceeded with his electronic wizardry. Caroline then whispered in my ear, “there is someone I think you should meet”. Leaning against the bar was Hugh Masekela, anti apartheid hero, Jazz icon, Afro Beat star. In the subdued lighting with its soft red overtones it all seemed surreal. The short 74 year old man stuck his hand out and smiled widely. Then before I knew it he had enveloped me in a hug. The great man hugged quite a few strangers that night and I suspect that all were enriched by the experience. This was Hugh Masekela’s way of telling us that in a diverse and complex world, music can remove any barriers between us. To paraphrase Herbie Hancock, “Music is what I do but finding a common cause with humanity is my real work”. He has just been honoured by President Obama for his life’s work.
After the last of Stephen’s numbers Hugh Masekela asked Stephen to sit in while he, his guitarist and drummer played three numbers. The crowd stood open-mouthed and a little star struck as the band began playing. A guitar player from South Africa , a groove drummer from America and a Kiwi pianist – working with a Jazz hero. Hugh placed the flugal horn to his lips and showed us that simple melody can say as much as complex harmony. He never strayed too far from the melody but somehow his solo’s were all the more profound for that.
He ended the set with Herbie Hancock’s ‘Cantaloupe Island’ and thanked us. We slipped out into the warm night, feeling very pleased with ourselves for being in that place at the right time.
Q.”There was one occasion when the apartheid government tried to invite you back as an ‘honorary white’. How did that feel?
It was not only insulting, but it was like the height of comedy, right out of the fucking Marx Brothers. The apartheid people were actors and they had to act out their part in their beliefs every day. That’s why we always saw them as being comedic.”
John Fenton is a Jazz Blogger covering the Auckland, New Zealand and South Pacific beat. He has listened to more jazz than is healthy for any human being and he started writing, supporting local artists and Jazz in general to give something back. He loves poetry, the creative arts and is a member of the Jazz Journalists Association. His Blog is JazzLocal32.com
January 21st 2013 signalled a seismic event in the Jazz world. The opening of the 35,000 sq. ft. purpose-built San Francisco Jazz Centre. The New York Times proclaimed, ” We get the feeling that this will approximate how Jazz will look in 2013“. This is the only free-standing Jazz facility of its kind in America and it is a tribute to all who have worked towards its completion. The idea for this centre was conceived 30 years ago by a few prescient dreamers who visualised a future home for the Jazz community. At the heart of this group was Randall Kline who founded ‘SF Jazz’ out of an earlier incarnation ‘Jazz in the City'(the acclaimed SF Jazz Festivals followed). Randall Kline is now the Executive Artistic Director of SF Jazz but he will quickly acknowledge that the project would have been impossible without widespread community involvement.
At first glance the SF Jazz Centre appears modest in design as it is not an ornate building. It is however a fine example of SF modernism, which sits happily in its surroundings, inviting deeper inspection. As the detail’s revealed you begin to see it with different eyes. The well-known Californian architect Mark Cavagnero designed the building and part of his remit was to integrate the activities with the community. He succeeded in this. Artists in residence (and others) will rehearse in the Joe Henderson Lab, which is at street level, has glass on two sides and is open to public gaze. The public will also be able to glimpse the performances in the main auditorium as they pass by.
This exchange between onlookers and musicians is at the heart of the design concept. The main performance auditorium is build in the shape of an amphitheatre which allows eye contact between audience and performers (and obviously making for unimpeded sight lines from every seat). The acoustics are state of the art and the sound can also be dampened.
Situated in Hayes Valley, the SF Jazz Centre is only a few blocks from the from the famous Fillmore Music District. More importantly it shares the precinct with the SF Ballet, Davis Auditorium (SF Symphony) and SF Opera. Immediately opposite is an imposing brick building being renovated to house the School of the Arts. Huge Herman Leonard pictures emblazon the side of that building, causing Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday and other greats to smile across at the Jazz centre. This tells passers-by in unequivocal terms that the Corner of Franklin & Fell is where Jazz lives.
I collected my press pass and was given a tour of the building, suddenly aware of the welcoming friendliness of the interior. Bearing witness were thousands of musicians names – etched into the glass. I would assume that all are associated with ‘Jazz in the City’ and ‘SF Jazz’ in some way.
Upstairs a large tiled mural gave the history of the Bay area Jazz scene. Names like Hampton Hawes and clubs like the Black Hawk will resonate strongly with Jazz lovers. This town has a commendable history of producing fine musicians and with SF Jazz’s focus on education we can expect this to continue.
The day unfolded like most San Francisco winter days with sunshine streaming out of an azure blue sky. Everyone was smiling and back slapping and then out of nowhere came a joyous blast of music. It was hardly as if the collective mood needed further elevation, but just in case, the ‘Bourbon Kings’ came marching up the street New Orleans style. At their forefront were mesmerising dancers twirling colourful ribbon-trimmed umbrellas, who swayed and whirled like dervishes in a trance. Just how many musicians were playing it was impossible to discern, as the scene quickly became a melee of musicians, crowd and excited dogs. It was the first time that I had witnessed a Second Line style marching band and I will not forget it in a hurry. It was like watching the history of Jazz marching into the present.
Just before the ceremony a work by Jacob Garchik (The Heavens: Atheist Gospel Choir) was performed – titled ‘Creations Creation’. This was call and response and when the street musicians called, those on the various balconies responded. At one point a small terrier dog joined in (two calls on trombone elicited two happy barks, three calls three barks). This was not planned for, but entirely appropriate in a city that has so many cheerful dogs.
The speeches that followed acknowledged all of those who had worked toward this end and congratulatory messages from the likes of Nancy Pelosi the Democratic Leader gave the proceedings a sense of moment. The audience overflowed with local dignitaries, among them Jazz legend Bobby Hutcherson and the much respected former Mayor Hon Willie Brown Jr. (also a former member of the State Legislature). His commitment to SF Jazz goes back a long way. I spoke to Bobby Huthcherson briefly after the ceremony. He is not in good health but will be performing with McCoy Tyner and others this week at his SF Jazz Centre birthday celebration. Before we parted company he looked at me with a smile and said. “When you return to New Zealand, don’t let them put you on a plane to Oakland”. San Franciscans love the story about the man who purchased an air ticket for Oakland and ended up in Auckland much to his surprise.
John Santos (Resident Musical Director) said with emotion, “San Francisco you got your soul back”. Randall Kline also spoke powerfully. “They told us that this couldn’t be done, that the market was not geared toward assisting the arts at this time. We involved the community and they said go ahead and we succeeded. This is a powerful message to the markets – markets need to follow the community not the other way round”. Inside there was a short film and live music performed by the SF Jazz High School All Stars. If this performance sets the standard then Jazz is in very good shape. Education, performance, and community involvement are at the heart of this establishment. With rotating Resident Artistic Directors like Regina Carter, Jason Moran, John Santos, Bill Frisell and others the centre can only do well.
A poet laureate and a photography laureate have also been appointed and this impresses me no end. Jazz, poetry and photography belong together and especially in San Francisco.
In the coming months the following musicians will have residencies: Bill Frisell, Dave Holland, Hiromi, Zakir Hussain,Brad Melhdau, Bela Fleck and John Santos. This is interspersed with a program of visiting and local artists.
The opening was on Martin Luther King Jr day and that was no accident. Martin Luther King understood very well the importance of Jazz and he spoke movingly of its importance.
“Much of our power in the Freedom Movement has come from this music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down. And now, Jazz is exported to the world, for in the struggle of the Negro in America there is something akin to the universal struggle of modern man”.
I urge Jazz lovers everywhere to visit San Francisco (and the SF Jazz Centre). It is certainly an ideal destination for New Zealanders. The eleven hour flight is not that onerous and the fact that you can bypass the hell of LAX is the icing on the cake. Do it people and don’t forget to support the artists in the Jazz clubs and other venues.
The opening night is streamed below by NPR (KQED) and you can listen by following the link. Grab a beer and nibbles and enjoy – I sure did.
Thanks to everyone who reads and visits JazzLocal32.com and particularly the musicians and Jazz lovers who let me into their lives, many of whom are close friends.
Improvised music is a profound manifestation of the human condition and a loadstone to guide us on. It tells us that we can reach beyond the known and touch an illusive world of new possibilities; but only if we adjust our perspective.
It is the job of musicians, writers, visual artists and poets to challenge, interpret and shock. Jazz musicians understand this better than many Jazz fans. Life can be stunningly beautiful and ordered but profound realisations can also arise from discord. These conditions are not separate but co-dependent refractions from life’s experience.
I dedicate this post to the musical risk takers who ride currents that we cannot see but which we experience through them.
Early Jazz confounded listeners as it was unknown to them. Swing took ten years to replace two beat Jazz and beBop ten years to displace the later. Jazz does not stand still anymore than life does. It is not a museum.
Whether we listen to avant-garde, fusion, funk, swing or post bop it comes from the same restless explorations if played with integrity. My wish for everyone who enjoys this music is that they will become more adventurous.
The Creative Jazz Club in Auckland has a genius for expanding our horizons and by feeding club goers a varied diet it stretches our ears. We don’t have to like everything we hear but we should be respectful of the act of creation.
I am writing this from one of the great Jazz cities of the world (San Francisco) and Jazz is deep in the DNA of this place. On New Year’s Eve there were a lot of unimaginative ear splitting DJ events but Jazz coexisted and held its ground.
To paraphrase John Zorn there are blocks of sound everywhere – it just needs someone to interpret and arrange them. No manifestation of sound is invalid. The musicians do the rest and we are an integral part of the result.
We are all poets and musicians in our way if we stretch out observe and above all listen with fresh ears.
I was in a nice eatery two nights ago and a fine musician Terrance Brewer was playing smoking Jazz guitar. In the first break I went up and told him how much I had enjoyed the group and his playing. Next break he came and spoke with us – giving me two of his CDs as gifts.
The Jazz community is truly a universal family and because I listened and acknowledged the music we connected as kindred spirits.
Happy new year to my jazz family – I love you all.
Written on the road from the wonderful liberal San Francisco ( as a guide book said – Republicans and the unhip risk being run out of town).
James Wylie is a respected saxophonist, clarinetist and composer who has played, studied and taught all over the world. He initially studied in Wellington where he attended the New Zealand School of Music. One and a half years ago he moved to Berlin and soon after that to Thessaloniki in Greece.
Those reading the CJC webpageseagerly look out for returning expats, as they very often bring new ideas back with them while still retaining a core of that ‘New Zealand sound’. James played alto saxophone on this gig and he demonstrated why the alto is rapidly becoming a popular instrument again. For years the popularity of the alto waned but happily that is no longer the case. Improvised music often gives the impression of being a ‘blue skies’ horizon where no boundaries exist. All freedom comes from discipline and it is the knowledge of what works best in a given situation that marks players apart. Chops count but musical taste counts too. James showed an intuitive understanding of this.
Tonal and textural contrasts add considerable depth to a performance and in this we were well served. We not only heard the multiple facets of James Wylie’s tasteful alto playing, but we benefited from the addition of Roger Manins tenor. This was a double dose of saxophone magic. The quartet was completed by two Christchurch expats, Richie Pickard on upright bass and Andrew Keegan on drums.
While their first number ‘The Mooche’ (Ellington) got our attention, the second number ‘Just in Time Contrafact’ (Wylie) simply demanded it. It was an outright cooker. Roger Manins particularly shines in these situations and as he and James worked the changes and stretched out, there were enthusiastic cheers from the audience. The sets contained a couple of originals, some well-known standards and seldom played tunes by Jazz greats like Monk. Best of all were the tunes we have never heard in a Jazz setting. ‘Wichita Lineman’ (Campbell-Webb) – [It is a little known fact but Glenn Campbell was one of the original Beach Boys], ‘I can’t help falling in Love With You’ (Elvis) , and a memorable version of the standard ‘For All We Know’.
Nat Cole and Billie Holliday sung this so memorably (and hauntingly) that post 50’s bands often shied away from it. That is a pity because it can still evoke all of the emotions that made it a popular classic. The band approached it in the way that the late 50’s piano-less quartets did. Playing contrapuntally while extracting the maximum beauty from the melody. In this style of playing the bass is pivotal and Richie Pickard was perfect.
While the horns naturally took centre stage I never-the-less had my attention drawn to drummer Andrew Keegan again and again. The quality of New Zealand drummers often amaze and Andrew is a traps player I will keep an eye on. He is not overly busy but he has an in-the-pocket propulsive style. He listens carefully to what the others are doing and reacts in kind.
The last portion of the second set featured James interpretations of traditional Greek songs. My love of Mediterranean infused Jazz is constant and hearing Greek music was a treat. James interpreted the lovely melodic tunes (in crazy time signatures) with an ease that can only signify his deep interest in this music. In this portion he accompanied Greek singer Egli Katsiki. Her voice while a little soft at times resonated perfectly with the keening alto and between them they reached deep into the hearts of the spellbound listeners.
It was nice to have James here and I am keen to see where his musical journey takes him next (back here soon I hope).
Lovers of this music with a sense of its history will be aware that there have been markers of excellence laid down along the way. This is not about commercial success but a deeper and infinitely more subtle thing. A powerful vibe that seeps into the DNA of the music, acknowledged by all who have the ears to hear it. Bennie Maupin has laid down a number of such markers in his long career.
I have been listening to Bennie Maupin for most of my life but I suppose that it was Lee Morgan‘s ‘Live at the lighthouse’ album (Blue Note) that made me pay particular attention. The album had been cut at Hermosa Beach (Howard Rumsey’s ‘Lighthouse’) in July 1970. If I were to single out two tracks from that album they would be ‘Peyote’ which Bennie wrote and ‘Beehive’ by Harold Maybern. The former is a wonderful piece of lyrical writing with highly melodic hooks and subtle shifts in intensity which pull you ever deeper into the tune. The latter is a fiery burner that immediately tells you that Bennie is gazing at limitless improvisational horizons and flying free of known constraints.
Later that year he played so memorably on Miles ‘Bitches Brew’ (Columbia) and his bass clarinet on that album continued the groundbreaking work of Eric Dolphy. During the next decade he alternated between Herbie Hancock (‘Mwandishi’, ‘Headhunters’) and Miles (‘A Tribute to Jack Johnson’, ‘On The Corner’, ‘Big Fun’); while cutting his own first album as leader in 1974. ‘The Jewel in the Lotus’ (ECM) has been one of the most sought after albums in Jazz until its re-issue a few years ago. After that came ‘Slow Traffic to the Right’, ‘Moonscapes’, ‘Driving While Black on Intuition’, ‘Penumbra’ and ‘Early Reflections’. As a sideman he has played with the who’s who of the classic Jazz world including Horace Sliver and McCoy Tyner.
Immediately I heard about the Massey University concert featuring Dick Oatts and Bennie Maupin I asked the organisers if I could have a few words with the visitors. No Jazz writer would want to overlook an opportunity like this. I had been quite ill that week but no illness was going to stand in the way of this day.
Late Sunday morning on the day of the concert we met at a coffee bar near the Massey campus and while we ate I began a series of short conversations that ended up lasting until midnight. Dick is a friendly man with a big smile and a hint of the raconteur about him. Bennie is a little quieter, but you soon sense that he is taking everything in and he reveals an inner warmth as he gets to know you.
I had been burning to ask Bennie about his uncanny abilities as a multi reeds and winds player. “Why are there so few that master a range of horns” I asked? Like Dolphy before him Bennie has been extraordinarily proficient on all of his horns. When he was 18 years of age Eric Dolphy had handed him his flute saying, “show me how you play”. He then gave him an impromptu 40 minute flute lesson. What Bennie learned about technique in that short lesson was never forgotten.
He looked at me and said with deep reverence, “Dolphy was the greatest. Being a multi reeds and winds player is the path I was encouraged to take by those around me and in particular by my teacher Buddy Collette. There is no magic bullet, just very hard work. If you don’t maintain the maximum effort on each horn you quickly lose your edge”.
Because I loved ‘ Live at the Lighthouse ‘ so much I asked him about Harold Maybern’s ‘Beehive’. It is an incendiary tune bursting at the seams with raw energy. “Oh that tune was very hard the first time we played it”, said Bennie. “It was the velocity, but by the time we got to the ‘Lighthouse’, we were on top of it. That gig was recorded live and so we understood, no second takes. We could not even check the recording afterwards”. What Bennie, Jymie Merritt, Mickey Roker, Harold Maybern and Lee Morgan fused together was an energy infused miracle.
As we didn’t have much time before rehearsals we discussed his recordings as leader. ‘The Jewel in the Lotus’ (ECM 1974) is a gentle but profound masterpiece. The layering of instruments creates a soundscape that has space and incredible depth. In my mind this is not a fusion album but a manifesto of the spiritual mores of the 1970’s Jazz world. As with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, Bennie follows Nichiren Buddhism. An unpretentious spirituality quietly informs his work.
I learned that a Big Band version of the title track ‘The Jewel in the Lotus’ (Maupin), was to be played that night. They would also be playing ‘Water Torture’ (Maupin). This was transcribed and orchestrated by Mike Booth for the performance and Mike would be one of the few Kiwi musicians who could take on such a task in the limited timeframe. The result was praiseworthy and with Bennie on board it soared.
Dick Oatts (alto sax and other reeds) will be well-known to anyone who has followed the incarnations of the famous Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band (Village Vanguard Orchestra). He is a mainstay of that orchestra and as I was soon to learn, his writing skills were honed to perfection. He has been to Auckland before and his return engagement was received with great enthusiasm. His extensive recordings as leader culminated with ‘Two Hearts’ (2009). This man is really across his music and his phenomenal chops, his focus and his writing skills all revealed themselves as the day proceeded.
Phil Broadhurst and the musicians then asked if I would like to attend the rehearsal. No second invitation needed.
What I witnessed was a highly informative music lesson. It is commonplace in Jazz for musicians who have never collaborated before to be thrown together. This is what Jazz musicians do. In these situations a musicians reading skills, memory and concentration are tested. When backing an iconic figure like Bennie Maupin or a gifted altoist like Dick Oatts, the risks intensify. This is when less experienced band members have to step up and the stretch is often a big one. The local musicians met that challenge on Sunday. In Jazz all higher learning stems from such experiences.
The program had been split into two segments. The first half was a sextet featuring Phil Broadhurst (piano), Frank Gibson Jnr (drums), Alberto Santorelli (bass), Neil Watson (guitar) – Bennie Maupin and Dick Oatts (saxophones). The second half was the Auckland Jazz Orchestra; first on their own and then with the visitors. Trudy Lile was featuring on Jazz Flute in a beautiful piece titled ‘Sogur Fjord’; a flute and orchestra chart which Mike Booth had brought back from Scandinavia some years ago.
When Bennie heard Trudy play he informed her. You will play up front with us in the first half as well. He then sat down and proceeded to write some parts for her. This writing on the fly was a feature of the afternoon and Dick Oatts was forever adjusting and rewriting charts to suit the instrumentation. This is a valuable skill that experienced professionals possess. In rehearsing the band Bennie would quietly raise his hand and ask for a subtle change. This was music under constant revision and aiming for the best outcome – an ideal improvisational vehicle.
Trudy had looked stunned for the briefest second and then she had focussed. She gave it everything and performed brilliantly.
The concert began at 8pm and it all came together as planned. The sextet plus Trudy played ‘Water Torture’ (Maupin), a reharmonisation of ‘Just Friends’ (‘Just Us’ Oatts) and several more numbers culminating with an impromptu performance of ‘Straight No Chaser’ (Monk). The second segment began with the AJO and Trudy, who were soon joined by Bennie and Dick.
If someone asked me today to choose my ten Desert Island tracks I would reel off nine and then add….oh and give me that Massey Concert AJO/Maupin version of ‘The Jewel and the Lotus’. To say that I enjoyed the tune would be a gross understatement.
The last number was ‘Naima’ and Dick Oatts was superb. He wove in all of the elements of the tune and then took it to new places. This was a display of passion and chops second to none. The performances on the night were all great and the AJO had raised the bar yet again.
Later as I ran Bennie and Dick back to their hotel I could not help but think. This has been the best of days.
I dedicate this post to Dr Cranshaw and to Kay, who kicked my ass and convinced me that I would find the strength to go.
I understand that you were lucky enough to attend one of the recent Brad Mehldau/ Joshua Redman duo Concerts in Australia. Even better you were able to meet them afterwards and so I would love to know something about both concert and meeting. Your impressions will go some way towards assuaging the feelings of jealousy we are all experiencing.
JF. Which of the three Australian concerts did you attend?
MB. I saw both Sydney concerts, one was at the brand new concert hall in Chatswood (North Shore) on the 19th January and the other was at the City Recital Hall, Angel Place on the 20th January.
JF. I am unfamiliar with the venues, so how was the sound quality and how were the sight lines for you?
MB. The Chatswood venue was much better. I noticed immediately that the piano sound was more acoustic sounding at that venue. I spoke to Brad about that, it turns at the sound engineer was forced to use more amplification at the City Recital Hall as the natural acoustics were unsuitable for this kind of performance, so consequently the piano sounded more amplified and forced.
JF. Are you also able to give me an idea of their set list?
MB. Yes, Brad and Joshua played 2 completely different sets. However each night began with a composition of Brad’s, then a composition of Joshua’s, then a Monk tune. They told me later that this was coincidental.
Concert 1 – Chatswood The Falcon Will Fly Again (Mehldau), Note to Self (Redman), In Walked Bud (Monk), Final Hour, Sanctus, My Old Flame, Anthropology, Hey Joe, Encore??
Concert 2 – City Recital Hall Always August (Mehldau), Highcourt Jig (Redman), Monks Dream (Monk), Unknown, Mels Mode(?) The Nearness of You, Unknown, Encore??
JF.What numbers were the standouts for you?
MB. At the Chatswood concert I loved their version of Hey Joe, Mehldau played a superb contrapuntal solo, it was a great crowd pleaser . Also the opening tune, ‘The Falcon Will Fly Again’ was incredible, Redman’s fluency with this tune was outstanding, they really seemed to be on the same harmonic page together. It was interesting hearing Mehldau improvise over rhythm changes during Anthropology, I have heard him talk about the importance of not sounding clichéd when soloing over rhythm changes and to me I really felt like he was constantly searching for originality during this performance, it was extremely effective and refreshing. At the City Recital Hall my favourite track was the ballad ‘The Nearness of You’. I am particularly fond of the way that Mehldau performs ballads, this piece contained all of the things I love about his ballad playing e.g. his independent phrasing, use of the piano’s range and touch were all simply wonderful.
JF. These musicians have played together before and we have heard them recently on Mehldau’s ‘Highway Rider’ and on a good number of Joshua Redman albums (plus a Kurt Rosenwinkel album).Did you get the sense that they were especially musically attuned to each other or were they just two top-rated professionals doing what they do?
MB. Yes they were definitely in tune with each other rhythmically harmonically and conceptually; this was obvious from the first track. This duo has been performing together for quite some time. Brad told me that they have so much repertoire that they can enjoy a great deal of time without repeating any tunes because they have been playing together as a duo for so long now. Interestingly enough however, the style of the duo was vastly different from one night to the next. Mehldau definitely led the Chatswood concert in many ways, slightly overshadowing Redman balance wise, he played many intense solos that were often linear in texture rather than chordal. This is a generalisation of course but it conveys the idea. The City concert was more balanced, Redman played more soprano as opposed to tenor and there was more subtle interplay between the two masters. Mehldau played with colour and texture much like some of his solo work (Live in Marciac) rather than employing a linear concept. Words that come to mind are ‘soundscape’; ‘explorative’, ‘joyful’ and it seemed to be a more relaxed duo performance. Both concerts were spellbinding however, just very different. I spoke to Brad about his concept, he talked about the ‘cerebral’ process found in improvisation and described how he likes to visualise that part of his playing as being kept behind a virtual ‘curtain’ at the back of his head, always present but just hidden from view. He then went on to talk about how sometimes that this cerebral process is more prominent on some nights than others. Brad told me that this was ok, suggesting his acceptance to the fluid process of improvisation and the humanity contained within.
JF. Regarding the hang; how did you manage to get invited to meet them after the gig? I can only imagine your anticipation in the days prior to that.
MB. I have been in contact with Brad for several years now via email. He brought his trio to the Wellington Jazz festival and I bumped into him (literally) very briefly afterwards. He kindly agreed to answer some questions to help me with my studies. He was later kind enough to put my name on the guest list for both nights at these recent concerts but this won’t be the last time I hear him play this year. I am playing with King Kapisi at the Babel festival (March 31st) in Marseille, France. I will be flying to Europe a few days before the gig so that I can hear his trio play 3 times and one solo concert. Brad has agreed for a hang during that time too; I am very much looking forward to it as I find him to be an honest and very human person. That tour will be on –March 22nd, 2012 Bimhuis Amsterdam (Netherlands), March 23rd, 2012 Bimhuis Amsterdam (Netherlands), March 24th, 2012 Bimhuis Amsterdam (Netherlands) [*solo], March 25th, 2012 International Bergamo Jazz Festival Bergamo, ITALY.
JF.Tell me about what you or others asked them and how they answered or what they spoke about.
MB. After the show Brad invited my friend and I to join them both for dinner. I found both Joshua and Brad to be down to earth people who just wanted to hang out after their gig like any other working musician.
JF.Did you gain any musical or other insights from the exchanges?
MB. The intensity in which I was able to listen to both of the concerts has stayed with me since last month and I try to emulate the integrity and thoughtfulness that both players possess in my regular gigs. Since those concerts I have made a list of questions that I will ask Brad when I see him next, so as to better my understanding of his musical concept. Brad mentioned the necessity of finding an original voice in jazz. After studying the greats this may be the most important thing. I see originality and full emotional connectivity as being important future goals.
Mark Baynes is a British born pianist. He has performed for 15 years as an international artist playing for a long list of clients ranging from the BBC and Auckland Philharmonia plus many of New Zealand’s best-known Artists.
Mark leads a piano trio called ‘The Ironic Trio, their latest release is an all original album entitled ‘In Song’ with Jason Orme (drums) and Aaron Coddel (bass). This has cross over appeal. In 2009 the Ironic Trio recorded an EP entitled ‘In Colour’ which has a more traditional jazz flavour.
Mark is a university tutor / lecturer at Auckland University and Massey University (New Zealand School of Music). In 2008 Mark was awarded the Ariadne Danilow Music prize (Victoria University of Wellington) and the Sir Alan Stewart Postgraduate Scholarship (Massey University) enabling him to pursue further study. Mark now holds an MMus in jazz performance (1st Class Honours) and is currently studying towards his DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) in jazz performance. Marks DMA topic is entitled ‘Brad Mehldau’s stylistic innovations and their implications for jazz piano performance’.
Listening to old friends like these is time well spent. The material comes from the swing era but these albums have a more modern feel as they were recorded at a time when bop and post bop music had gained ascendancy. The artists on the albums are a mix of the famous and not so famous, swing and boppers, East and West Coasters. When I run my eyes over the names on the track lists I marvel at the lineup and realise that many of these names are fading from our collective memory. Pepper, Mandel and Torme will never be forgotten but what of Cy Touf? He is a mere footnote in the Jazz lexicon and he only recorded a few times. Not withstanding that his Octet/Quintet album has remained a favourite with Jazz musicians and arrangers and this is probably because of the loose easy-going West Coast style arrangements by Johnny Mandel.
Even ‘Sweets’ Edison is fading from memory and few modern listeners would hunt for his name in a Basie band lineup (I do). Another great band leader and arranger was Marty Paich. His piano playing is probably what is termed arrangers piano but it still sounds fine to me. He has that minimalist touch and his arranging style owes a lot to Basie; sweet verses tart & hard swinging. I collect Marty Paich albums and never tire of his orchestration. He was called the Picasso of Big Band Jazz and his use of tonal colour was achieved to great effect. He allowed wonderful trumpeters like Jack Sheldon to shine and he is closely associated with Art Pepper. Lastly there is the Mel-Tones. Their origins go back to the Chico Marx Orchestra which Mel Torme joined up with in 1943. To modern ears their harmonising can sound old-fashioned, but this group (with Mel at the forefront) were big names in their day.
The albums date from 1955 and 1959 respectively and they star an almost unbelievable group of musicians. Only a few of these guys are still alive and that is sad because they once grooved their world (the famous Johnny Mandel is still an arranger par excellence and as a young man he also played the rare bass-trumpet like Cy Touf). To hear an incomparable ‘Sweets’ Edison solo with his signature lazy-feel, bluesy slurs or Art Pepper with his biting cut through on alto is still exciting to me.
These albums are a peephole into an era that is long gone but it is one that still deserves our respectful remembrance.
Cy Touf his Octet and Quintet (Pacific Jazz 93162) featuring – #1 -4 Cy Touf (bass trumpet), Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison (trumpet) Conrad Gozzo (trumpet), Richie Kamuca (tenor sax), Matt Utal (alto and baritone sax), Russ Freeman (piano) (Pete Jolly (piano #3), Leroy Vinnegar (bass), Chuck Flores (drums). Johnny Mandel & Ernie Wilkins (arr).
Track one – Keester Parade (Johnny Mandel)
Track seven – A Smooth One (Benny Goodman)
Mel Torme- Art Pepper – Marty Paich Sessions: (Lonehill Jazz) Mel Torme (vocals) The Mel-Tones (vocal) Marty Paiche (piano) (celeste) (organ) (arranger) (Conductor) Orchestra featuring; Art Pepper (alto sax), Jack Sheldon (trumpet), Frank Rosolino (trombone), Bill Perkins (tenor sax), Victor Feldman (vibes), Barrney Kessel (guitar), Joe Mondragon (bass), Mel lewis (drums).
Track eighteen – Bunch of The Blues/ Keester Parade/ TNT/ Tiny’s Blues – (Mandel/Kahn).
Footnotes: The album track list that come up in iTunes gave ‘Keester Parade’ as ‘Easter Parade’. That would certainly have amused the musicians and especially Johnny Mandel. For those who don’t speak the lingua franca of the hipster 1950’s, a Keester is what you sit on. West Coast pianist Pete Jolly is credited in the Cy Touf album and he has a lot of loyal devotees in New Zealand. In the early 1960’s when tours by lessor known Jazz musicians were unheard of and when such journey’s were long and arduous, Pete Jolly and Ralph Pena visited here. The tour had been organised by Auckland Jazz fan Frank Collins and the subsequent fun has never been forgotten. Recordings from the gigs were carefully squirreled away by John Good (recently deceased) and these treasures were later released in the USA as a posthumous Pete Jolly album.
Late last year as I was reading Jazz Times I spotted an article about Bob Belden’s new ‘Miles Espanol’ project. I like Bob Belden’s work but my first thoughts were, why mess with perfection? I need not have worried because he has created something quite fresh and original; using ‘Sketches of Spain’ as a springboard into the now.
Like many Jazz listeners I had been deeply immersed in Miles Prestige recordings and his seminal ‘Kind of Blue’. Soon after that ‘Sketches of Spain’ came into my life and along with ‘The Maids of Cadiz’, ‘Flamenco Sketches’ and ‘Teo/Neo’; Miles (and Gil’s) Spanish tinged music was seldom off my turntable. As a guitar fan I was already quite familiar with Rodrigo’s ‘Concierto de Aranjuez’ and Flamenco.
Miles Davis and Gil Evans took this wonderful material and reworked it in ways that only master musicians could. This was visionary and a new type of jazz – perhaps a fore-runner of the ECM Jazz which a decade later would unselfconsciously absorb the music of cultures far removed from the American heartland. Miles later described this Flamenco music as a type of blues – the voice of a people’s struggle against oppression. I had not realised it before writing this, but my fascination in recent years with Mediterranean Jazz (and particularly Sufi/Moorish/Italian/Spanish Jazz) probably began right there.
This was a mammoth project to take on, but Bob Belden has a track record of realising such crazy visions. He also has serious pull with musicians and industry players.
First on board appears to have been Chick Corea and Jack DeJohnette soon followed. After that things came together in an organic fashion – each artist seeming to recommend the next. He had not initially planned to ask 33 musicians to participate, but that is how it ended up.
Bob Belden is a well-known horn player producer/arranger/composer. On this double album he does not play his warm-toned tenor sax (only Timpani and Marimba on one track). As arranger producer his presence is never-the-less over-arching; like a Gil Evans for our times. While he has guided the 33 musicians firmly towards the realisation of his vision, he also appears to have known exactly when to loosen the reins.
The artists were flown into New York from a number of countries but mainly from Spain, North Africa and South America. The American musicians are mostly Miles alumni – a who’s who of Jazz royalty. Chick Corea (p), Jack DeJohnette (d), John Scofield (g), Sonny Fortune (f), Ron Carter (b), Vince Wilburn jnr (d). Add into that heady mix; Tim Hagans (t), Gonzalo Rubalcaba (p) Eddie Gomez (b), Antonio Sanchez (d), Alex Acuna (d) (perc), Jerry Gonzalez (fh) (c) and more -(the full list of musicians is at the bottom of the post).
Of note is the well know Jazz-Flamenco pianist Chano Dominguez (p). I first obtained an album of his in the nineties and he is very impressive. Other notable Mediterranean musicians are Rabih Abou Khalil (oud), Edmar Castineda (harp), Nino Joseles (g), Lou Marini (fl)(bass flute), Jorge Pardo (f), Christina Pato (Spanish bagpipe).
My favourite small group tracks are; (1) ‘Trampolin’ (by Chic Corea) – Chic Corea (p),Jorge Pardo (f), Ron Carter (b) Antonio Sanchez (d). This builds in intensity until the grove is rock solid and it swings hard without losing the complex polyrhythms. Chick understands this music very well. (2) Spantango (by John Scofield).
The concept is so big that the overall album lacks a little in cohesion, however the tracks range from very good to marvelous.
Full listing of musicians: Bob Belden, Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette, Sonny Fortune, Eddie Gomez, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, John Scofield, Rabih Abou-Khalil, John Clark, Tim Hagans, Jerry Gonzalez, Adam Rudolph, Jorge Pardo, Alex Acuña, Carlos Benavent, John Benítez, Chick Corea, Sammy Figuerova, Scott Kinsey, Lou Marini, Michael Rabinowitz, John Riley, Antonio Sanchéz, Vince Wilburn J, Mike Williams, Chano Domínguez, Luisito Quintero, Charles Pillow, Edsel Gomez, Jaco Abel, Dominick Farinacci, Victor Prieto, Cristina Pato, Edmar Castaneda, Brahim Fribgame, Niño Joseles.