Australia & Pacific gigs, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, New Zealand Jazz Gigs, Review

Jazz stories that need retelling (2014)

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

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

A look back at some pianists who impressed in 2014:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miscellaneous Gigs and projects:  

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

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

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

Best Jazz Writing

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

 Best Jazz DVD

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

Most anticipated events for the coming months.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Australian and Oceania based bands, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Groove & Funk

Hip Flask2 @ CJC

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Sometimes you just get lucky; being in the right place, at the right time, when something special is about to happen.  In 2013 that something special was the Hip Flask 2 project.   Roger Manins conceived of the second Hip Flask album while he was staying with band member Brendon Clarke.  The other band members quickly indicated their enthusiasm and the project had begun.  Once underway the need for fresh compositions and a host of other practicalities needed sorting.   Around that time I was talking to Roger Manins about the successful ‘Dog’ project, and he told me about ‘Hip Flask 2’.

Knowing that I had been planning a trip to Australia he said. “Why don’t you spend a day with us in ‘Studio 301’ and watch us record?”.  No second invitation needed, I did just that.  There is something special about watching a good band at work, taking a project from conception to completion.  Seeing them from inside the recording booth as new ideas and interesting charts coalesced into magic was fascinating.

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Now almost a year later the album is out on ‘Rattle’ and the band is on the road.  To add some additional icing to an already rich cake, ‘Ode Records’ suggested that ‘Hip Flask 1’ be included with the new album.  The original album is still widely sought after but it is sometimes hard to get.  Everyone jumped at the opportunity and ‘Rattle’ quickly changed focus to create a double-album cover.  As I had taken a number of photographs in the recording studio I decided to offer them to the band, just in case there was a use for them.  To my delight many of these were utilised in the cover art.  To be a small part of a project like this is a joy.

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As you would expect, a band on the road is a lot freer than when in the studio.  There is more room to develop ideas and there is an immediacy which occurs in a no-second-take environment.  Both manifestations are extraordinary.  The Stu Hunter tune ‘revolution’ is a good case in point.  It just begs for piano and Hammond to stretch out.  Live they do this, the musicians all extending their reach.  Manins stratospheric lift-offs into harmonics become imbued with keening cries of ecstatic soulfulness.  Hunter (who comps sparingly and soulfully during others solos) weaves his solo right around the beating heart of the music, while Adam Ponting sermonises on the meaning of the blues.   Because the band have a history together they are well accustomed to each others moves.

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It is unusual to have both C3 (or Ace Tone) and piano in the same funk unit.  Musicians of lessor calibre than Ponting or Hunter would be unable to keep out of each others way.  They not only manage it well, but make the pairing of the instruments sound natural.  Hunters soulful grooves are nicely contrasted by Pontings approach which is often unexpected.  He is an interesting pianist to listen to, often using atypical voicings.  He is equally interesting to watch.  He sits comfortably erect yet close to the piano, his hands spread flat over the keys, Monk like.  Bass player Brendan Clarke is at a sweet spot in the mix.  He never over plays, but his strong lines impress as does his perfect time sense, never more so than during ‘Bennett’s Radio Blues’.  Drummer Toby Hall rounds off this band of heavyweights.  His absorption clearly on show as he sinks trance-like into the polyrhythmic grooves.  I often wonder whether bass face trumps drum face or B3 face.  Drum face was the winner on this night.  Someone in the audience muttered excitedly at one point, “holy shit that is totally a real Jazz drummer”.

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I like so many tunes on this album but I suppose that it was ‘Lancelot Link, Missing Chimp’ that made me smile the most with its otherworldly Yusef Lateef vibe.   Anyone who was a child or who raised a child when Lancelot Link graced our screens will be chuckling at the happy remembrance; and on a key challenging penny whistle to boot.  IMG_2921 - Version 2

It is to the credit of Auckland University that they gave a grant for the Hip Flask 2 project.  Rattle records must also be praised as they have become the standard bearers of quality Jazz in this corner of the world.  The final credit goes to Roger Manins for rebooting this important piece of funk history, blowing with all his heart and above all for sharing the journey.  Rog - Version 2

For my related post on the day I spent in the 301 recording studios in Sydney, search for ‘New Year 2014 The Fabric of Creativity’ on this blog site 

also locate – http://vimeo.com/105457596  – for a video clip

Who: Hip Flask – Roger Manins (leader, Conn & Selmer tenor saxophones), Adam Ponting (piano), Stu Hunter (C3, Ace Tone), Brendan Clarke (bass),  Toby Hall (drums).

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

Album: ‘Hip Flask 2’ available from Rattle Records or leading music stores.

Australia & Pacific gigs, Australian and Oceania based bands, Groove & Funk

New Year 2014 – the fabric of creativity

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For many, music is a distant and pleasant soundtrack which augments their moments of relaxation.   Something to wallpaper the background while they chatter over a few drinks.  I am wired differently because my normal talkativeness ceases when even a faint echo of good music is heard; an off switch is flicked.  This pied piper effect has characterised my life and often made me late for appointments.  What is it that makes music so compelling to some and not to others and why is improvised music beguiling to those with that special antennae?

My earliest memory of Jazz is of a Louis Armstrong film.  I was a primary schooler and I made my long-suffering mother take me back twice.  Louis fascinated me in ways my relatives couldn’t quite fathom but they indulged me with an EP or two.  Ours was a classical music household.  Three years later I was walking down a street near my home when I heard a trumpet playing.   I could see the musician’s outline in the upstairs window as he played, weaving deftly around what I later learned was a Coleman Hawkins solo.  I stopped in the street, delighted and open-mouthed.   I have no idea how long I stood on the pavement gawking, but I vaguely recall being led inside and offered cocoa by the trumpeters mother.   The trumpeter and his mother were Polish refugees and they made me feel very welcome.  In the months that followed I called often and absorbed Miles, Lester Young, Dave Brubeck, Sweets Edison, Art Peper, Hampton Hawes, Billie Holiday, Basie, Ellington and more.  By the time I had connected with the groove-organ trios of Gene Ammons I was damned.  I would bunk off school and play Gene Ammons or Miles all day long, dancing about like a deranged fool.  The devils music had me by the throat.

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Half a century on the same music gods and their siren songs still exert power over me.  Enough to lure me to Australia at very short notice.  I had picked up some gossip from Australian musician friends, that my friend Roger Manins was doing a gig with Mike Nock, James Muller, Cameron Undy and Dave Goodman at the 505.  I have family in Sydney and so it was a no brainer.  Family, grandchildren and Jazz, perfect.   When I told Roger that I would be flying over for the gig he invited me to his ‘Hip Flask’ recording session at the famous 301 Studios in Alexandria.  I love recording studios and to hear a top rated unit like this recording in a famous studio was too good an opportunity to miss.  I applied for extra leave and altered my flight schedule to accommodate the extra day in the 301.  IMG_8963 - Version 2

The timing rested on a knife-edge as I had a gig to attend just hours before my flight to Australia.   I made the check-out with 4 minutes to spare.  The flight over on Virgin was abysmal.  I had a headache from lack of sleep and it was like being stuffed into a rubbish tin surrounded by bored, rude flight attendants who acted as if they were in a BBC spoof.  An Australian musician later commented that Virgin felt to him like it was piloted by overtired children.  IMG_9011 - Version 2

After clearing customs, I poured myself into a taxi and headed directly for the 301.  The industrial exterior gave little indication that I was standing outside an important recording studio.  The one where EST recorded their final album.  They buzzed me in and after navigating a series of corridors I pushed open a heavily padded door to find myself in an icy cool low-lit room with two technicians, a two-man film crew and the five cats from ‘Hip Flask’.   They were sitting around the mixing desk drinking coffee and listening over and over to the intro of a tune.  It sounded great.  This is what I had come for.  To capture the very act of creation.

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It is a special privilege to follow a creative process through from inception and I felt like a kid in a candy store.  This is exactly where I wanted to be and I soaked it up greedily.   My headache had vanished at the first note.  As the morning progressed the band would troop in and out of the studio.  Trying material, listening to it and repeating it if any one member expressed dissatisfaction.  Roger outlined his vision and set the tone, but after that he allowed a form of guided democracy to exist.  If they strayed from his vision he would talk them back round.

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The sessions in the control room were all smiles and banter but a sense of purpose always ran through the proceedings like an unbreakable thread.  When they reached agreement they would return to the studio and assume their positions, baffled up and miked to such an extent that the bass drums and piano were barely visible above the wires, cover sheets and portable booths.  The band has an unusual configuration for a funk unit, being tenor Saxophone, Hammond B3, grand piano, drums and bass.  The saxophone, bass, piano and B3 were in the studio while the drums and the Leslie unit were both in isolation booths.   The studio space was big enough to accommodate an orchestra, but this quintet was squeezed into a corner and each baffled from the other in some way.

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The quintet had recorded together before and even though their last recording was in 2007, their essence had survived intact.  As the session progressed I learnt a new word, ‘shoint’.  Roger and the organist Stu Hunter used it often and they would proclaim a satisfactory cut as being ‘Shointy’ or they would listen to the playbacks to see if they had ‘shoint’.   As far as I can ascertain the term describes a deep dirty groove that hits the musical ‘g’ spot.   While it is accurate to describe the recording as Jazz Funk, it is more than that.   The unusual pairing of two keyboards, the intuitive interaction and the quality of the musicianship gifted them with limitless options to draw upon.   Over all of this Roger Manins presided like an old time preacher, communicating with gestures, earthy licks on his Conn, diagrams and pithy Rogeresk phrases.  IMG_8969

The most interesting moments came towards the end of the session when Roger produced a chart for ‘circles and clouds’.  The chart contained a few bars of musical phrases and then a series of symbols.  The ideas conveyed were beyond normal logic.  On most of the staves clouds were drawn and although these pieces were essentially free, there was a clear purpose underpinning them.  Roger had the concept firmly in his sights as he talked them through the vision or let the ideas develop in the studio until the concept was realised.  Stu Hunter would play a compellingly dissonant chord and then Adam Ponting and the others would grab a hold of what was unfolding and produce kaleidoscopic shapes, moving and shifting together like interchangeable chameleons.  When the idea was realised Roger would take them back into the control room and expand on what had gone before.  Roger, “OK you are clouds, circling a vast ocean.  Now if you look down you will see dolphins swimming and playing”.  One or other of the band then asked if there was a shoal of bait fish swimming near by.   The concepts developed and then they would repeat the process until a number of amazing miniatures were cut.  This filigree of beguiling patterns had been conjured up in that very hour.  Realised without an over reliance on written notation or oral language.  This was improvisation in its most profound form and I was lucky enough to hear and experience it.

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My earlier question as to why some people fall deep within the web of music, while others let it wash over them unaffected, is not answered here.  This listener will never lose the magic and following bands like this guarantees that.  I am impatient to see what cuts survive and what is locked way in a vault.  When the album comes out and I can hardly wait, I will have heard more than most.  Every squeak, false start and profound moment is locked in my memory.  John Zorn said, “all sound is valid”.  I heard and witnessed an intensely creative process and I feel very lucky.

Who: ‘Hip Flask’ Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Stu Hunter (Hammond B3), Adam Ponting (piano), Brendon Clarke (bass), Toby Hall (drums)

Where: Recording Session at 505 Studios, Sydney Australia.

This post is dedicated to Roger Manins my choice of best NZ artist for 2013.  Roger is not only deeply authentic and amazingly creative, but equally important he shares his vision and enables others to follow.