Nathan Haines 2013

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My recent travels to the USA led to many musical adventures, but as good as those experiences were I had missed the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) and our local musicians.   There is a passion and sometimes a raw edge in New Zealand Jazz which I find compelling.

The first gig I attended upon my return was the Nathan Haines CJC gig.  This had been widely anticipated and after the success of ‘Poets Embrace’ the rumours of a new album had started to circulate.   Just before Christmas Nathan Haines returned from London for a month or so and not long after Alain Koetsier returned from China.  The rumours became fact as there is definitely a new album in the making.  The band was well received at London’s ‘Ronnie Scotts‘ last year and an overwhelmingly positive review appeared in the influential ‘London Jazz’.  That gig had reunited most of the ‘Poets Embrace’ band.  IMG_5880 - Version 2

By the time of the ‘Ronny’s’ gig Nathan had moved back to London, while Kevin Field and Alain Koetsier flew in to join him.  When a good band like this travels exposure to wider markets occurs.  This can bring rewards.  Having Warners behind Nathan proved fortuitous and ‘Poets Embrace’ has now been released in Europe as well as Australasia.  With a follow-up album coming the expectations are rising again.

Nathan is no stranger to success (here or offshore) but to break into a difficult market releasing analogue classic 50’s style Jazz demonstrates his appeal.  This is not just a lucky break but the result of hard work, Savvy, skilfully written charts and knowing who to choose as bandmates.   Although Alain Koetsier (drums) has been working in China for a year he had already gained a solid reputation in New Zealand before he left.  He can be heard on a number of top quality recordings where his chops and musicality are self-evident.   Pianist Kevin Field has released a few albums of his own as leader and of particular note is his  last release ‘Field of Vision’ (Produced by Nathan and released on the Warners label).    The original bass player Thomas Botting is no longer with the band and in his place is the talented Ben Turua.   This is the second time that I have seen Ben play with this band and he is a good choice.  Sadly he is moving to Sydney after the recording.

On the night of the CJC gig we heard a mix of tunes from ‘Poets Embrace’ and some new compositions.   Some were so new that they had never been played before in public.   I assume that at least a few of these will end up on the new album.  The first set started with a selection from Poets Embrace and it was immediately obvious that they were back on familiar ground and ready to notch it up a level.   Nathan quickly established the melody and just as quickly moved to explore what lay beyond.  Together they mined the material for new stories and the level of confidence was noticeable. The newer material was a little more tentative but this was a first outing.    With the recording session due very shortly I have no doubt that we will hear an album every bit as exciting as the last.   This music has its echoes in the era of 50’s Coltrane and others but here’s the interesting thing;  Nathan has a young and an older fan base.   This is a timeless music for the universal man (and woman).  IMG_5902 - Version 2

Nathan is hopefully going to include a few of the vocal numbers he performed on the new album.  His song ‘Impossible Beauty’ from ‘Sound Travels’ was an attractive haunting tune that stuck in the memory.  I rate his (slightly husky) voice highly and I hope he adds vocals to his repertoire more often.  The male Jazz singer is sadly an endangered species.

Last weekend the band played ‘The Sawmill’ in Leigh.   The seats sold out quickly and to all accounts the gig was amazing.  If there is anyone who hasn’t yet purchased a copy of ‘Poets Embrace’ do so immediately and grab up the new album upon release (in Vinyl or CD).  I can promise you endless replays.

Who: Nathan Haines Band with Kevin Field, Alain Koetsier & Ben Turua.

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) the basement 1885 -Britomart – downtown Auckland

When: Wednesday 30th January 2013

Alain Koetsier Band @ Finding Kiwi ‘Standards’

I have watched drummer Alain Koetsier perform over the last year and his credentials on the traps are unimpeachable.  Alain is a drummer with a modern feel and it is plain to see why so many of our top Jazz groups utilise him.  This was probably his first outing as leader and he had chosen wisely on two fronts.  His band mates were consummate professionals and their approach to the music was intuitive.  They interacted as if with one mind.  The second thing Alain did well was to select a set list of recent compositions by New Zealand Jazz Musicians.  I liked the concept.

People expect a band to play their own originals but when a set list focuses on a wider spectrum of Kiwi Jazz compositions it feels respectful.  It somehow lifts the tunes to another level of availability; a place of wider appreciation.  Doing this is a good start point in identifying our own ‘standards’ and some of the tunes played could well reach that bench mark.  As the scene continues to mature this will surely happen.

Alain & Dixon

Alain & Dixon

I was pleased to hear two tunes which had impressed me at recent gigs; ‘Dicey Moments’ by Oli Holland and the wonderful ‘Ancestral Dance’ by Nathan Haines.   Both of these new compositions are distinctive, clever and memorable.  Dixon Nacey compositions also catch the attention as he has a knack for locating the right hooks while providing a solid base for improvisation.The first set had contained ‘Bad Lamb’ (Dixon Nacey).    The tune had nice chordal voicings and the way it unfolded led us easily into the heart of the tune.

Another memorable number was ‘Tree Hugger’ by the Auckland-born bass player Matt Penman.   Matt has moved into the upper echelons of Jazz bass, occupying a respected place on the world scene.   Maybe he will return the compliment one day and acquaint North America with a few of the other compositions.

The gig was fun to experience and obviously fun to play as the musicians enjoyment of what they were doing was easy to discern.  Like many Jazz gigs there was a high degree of spontaneity and perhaps this came from being thrown in at the deep end.   Working musicians seldom have a lot of time to rehearse and when confronted by complex charts they appear to relish the prospect.

The musician that I was unfamiliar with was Pete France on tenor.   I know that he has played the CJC before and my friends tell me that they had hoped for his return one day.    His tone is rich and full and his improvised lines meaningful.   He is also relaxed on the bandstand and when you consider the calibre of his band mates this ease of manner speaks volumes.

Oli Holland

The band featured Oli Holland on bass.  His approach and focus drew you in inexorably as he demonstrated chops, impeccable timing and melodic invention.  His skills are considerable, as he can move from contrapuntal walking bass to melodic invention in an eye blink.   Oli gave his best, but then he always dies.

Pete France & Oli's hand

Lastly I come to Dixon Nacey.  His playing is widely appreciated throughout the NZ Jazz scene. As good as he is, he always strives to do better.   His compositions sing to us and his chordal work and rapidly executed lines astound.    It is good to be in a town where this man is playing and long may it continue.

Well done Alain – more please.