Review, USA and Beyond

Mathias Eick – ‘Midwest’

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

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

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Millenium, Review, USA and Beyond

Reuben Bradley’s ‘Cthulhu Rising’ @ CJC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Straight ahead, USA and Beyond

Doug Lawrence plays the CJC

Doug Lawrence 090Doug 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.Doug Lawrence 2 089Lawrence 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.Doug Lawrence 092It 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.Doug Lawrence 093

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.Doug Lawrence 2 096Here 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. Doug Lawrence 097Roger 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).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand 3rd June 2015.

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians, Piano Jazz, Post Millenium, USA and Beyond

Emie Roussel Trio @ CJC

 

Emie Roussel trio 048Any 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’.  Emie Roussel trio 065As 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.  Emie Roussel trio 053The 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.  Emie Roussel trio 045The 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.  Emie Roussel trio 046The 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.  Emie Roussel trio 050The 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).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Brittomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand, 17th December 2014.

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, experimental improvised music, Fusion & World, USA and Beyond, vocal

Sandhya Sanjana @ the CJC

 

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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.  IMG_3487 - Version 2

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand.  5th November 2014

Auckland Jazz Festival, New Zealand Jazz Gigs, USA and Beyond

Auckland Jazz Festival 2014 in retrospect

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.   IMG_3208 - Version 2When 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.

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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.

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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.  IMG_3332 - Version 2

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.

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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.

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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.

What: The Auckland Jazz Festival  17th to 26th October 2014

Who: The Troubles (septet), The Mike Nock Trio, The Benny Lackner Trio, Francisco Torres/Roger Fox (quintet), Alex Ward Trio, Harry Himself (quartet).

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), The Portland Public House, The Golden Dawn.

Note: I will add a Torres/Fox video shortly

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Straight ahead, USA and Beyond

Mark Lockett Trio @ CJC Winter 2014

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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.

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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’.IMG_1865 - Version 2

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.  IMG_1867 - Version 2

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).

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