Adventurous Spirits

The Following albums are all adventurous in their own way. All reach beyond the strict confines of genre and while each approaches from a unique vantage point, they offer a cross-section of trans-Tasman pandemic era music. The music may or may not have been influenced by the lockdown itself, but the association resonates. We are on a long journey. Moving from isolation towards an unfamiliar landscape. We will inevitably cling to yesterday, but we will hopefully also take the braver step of jettisoning what has become superfluous. We do not need bankers and snake oil merchants to guide us, but we do need adventurous musicians. 

Dark Energy: Paul Williamson Quartet

A few years ago a visit to Melbourne coincided with the launch of Paul Williamson’s ‘Finding The Balance’ album at JazzLab. There was a lot to like about the album and I wrote a review after I had returned to New Zealand.  Now in the midst of the pandemic, Williamson has released a new album titled ‘Dark Energy’. This time he invokes different spirits and in doing so he taps into new and exciting realities.  

This is an edgy and forward-looking album and although it offers glimpses of the familiar, it quickly strikes out for freer air. Popular music seldom strays beyond the angst of loves lost, but Australasian improvisers increasingly move beyond the confines of gravity. In fact, astrophysics is often an inspirational touchstone for our down-under improvisers. In the early seventies, these themes were convincingly referenced by the likes of Bennie Maupin and Eddie Henderson. Dark Energy picks up the batten, combining galactic revelations with the discovery of wondrous interior worlds.

http://

On certain tracks, Williamson’s trumpet playing contains hints of Tomasz Stanko or perhaps the quieter moments of Kenny Wheeler. A wistful moody quality is evident and especially on tracks like Al-egance; his tone is especially gorgeous in these settings. On the more ethereal tracks, he utilises extended technique and skilfully embeds the instrument into the spectrum of the bands sound. In all of these explorations, his band is in lock-step. Letting the compositions speak with clarity, and understanding, that close confinement is unnecessary in space. 

On guitar, Theo Carbo displays a deft touch, clean and appropriate to the task in hand. Again there is a gentle moodiness and one which owes much to improvised Americana. The bass and drums also strike the right balance, never overreaching, and yet every voice and flurry is heard perfectly. 

Paul Williamson (trumpet, compositions), Theo Carbo (guitar), Hiroki Hoshino (double bass), Miles Henry (drums)

paulwilliamson.bandcamp.com

 

Wind & Wire: Alan Brown solo piano

‘Wind and Wire’ is a third of a set of solo albums that Alan Brown has released. His first two albums teased out the subtitles of an acoustic piano, and they did so in a setting which allowed the acoustics of the room to inform the improvisations. This album compliments the earlier albums while expanding the sonic possibilities. With keyboards and digital enhancements come fresh choices, and this is a logical progression for which Brown is well-fitted. He is an acknowledged master of the digital and analogue keyboard, and he understands how to judiciously apply enhancements. 

http://

The album is a set of 10 improvised pieces and the titles set up the mood for each. ‘Mood’ is an important ingredient in any ambient composition for it is the mood and not melody or rhythm which invites us inside a piece. Brown is always careful to establish this. His improvisational development follows a logic evolved from the preceding phrases. It is more than sound shaping as it flows like a river from start to finish, and this in spite of being unconfined by written charts or cycles of scales. 

In Wind and Wire, there are varying moods and not all are quiet or reflective. Where you start is not always where you expect to finish. There are surprises embedded within. While these are essentially interior landscapes they are no less real for that. They invoke vistas and engage with our ever-changing realities. Something we have hopefully learned to value in these days of inner reflection.

alanbrown.bandcamp.com

 

Trouble Spots: Ivan Zagni/Steve Garden)

A few days ago ‘Trouble Spots’ appeared in the Rattle Records Bandcamp catalogue. I listened and was captivated. Because humans are hard-wired to categorise I looked for descriptors. Among the tags were: acoustic instrumental, experimental, atmospheric, improvised. I listened to the rest of the album and then once through again. Wow, I thought, this is engaging but it studiously evades categorisation. How can something so enjoyable and so strangely familiar remain so elusive?  

The cover art was also mesmerising. So much so, that for a while I failed to register, that the album was the result of a long collaboration between Steve Garden and Ivan Zagni. Garden, the local Manfred Eicher, the presiding spirit of Rattle Records (and what is often overlooked, a fine drummer and percussionist). Zagni is the co-leader and a significant figure in the music world, long acknowledged as a gifted multi-genre experimentalist. Born in London and moving to New Zealand many years ago where he soon became a significant presence on the local scene. The Rattle label grew out of Garden’s early work with Zagni and Don McGlashan. 

http://

Keen to get the low-down I contacted Garden and during our conversation, he suggested some additional tags for the album: absurdist, filmic, musical jokes, sonic circus, accidental improvisation, sonic collages and experimental music. Most musical disciplines have a vocabulary and the listener is therefore accustomed to locating fixed reference points; seeking out the elements that indicate genre. If a style is too rigid however, then that implies stasis and the improvising arts are the antitheses of stylistic inertia.

So this is an album that tells wonderful stories and the stories are best constructed (or deconstructed) in our heads. The music here facilitates that with its evocative but elusive cover image, it’s glimpses of Beirut or Nicaragua, of Punch & Judy, Cat & Mouse. Think of it as musical Dada or a Zen Koan. There is serious intent and good musicianship here, but that should not prevent us from laughing in pure delight. 

rattle-records.bandcamp.com

 

 

Jazz on Lockdown series

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/

Jazz on Lockdown ~ Hear it here series

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.  

Barry/Metheny/de Clive-Lowe/Alchemy/Smirnova/Martyniuk

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).

Dixon Nacey ~ The Edge Of Chaos

 

Nacey.jpgThis Dixon Nacey album has long been anticipated and although Nacey has previously recorded as co-leader, this is the first album to be released exclusively under his name. Nacey is firmly on the radar of Jazz loving Kiwis, but his fan base extends well beyond that. He is a professional musician of considerable standing, an in-demand teacher and in recent years the musical director of CocaCola Christmas in the Park. To up and comers he is a guitar legend and on this album, they have something to aspire to; twenty years of experience distilled into excellence.     

The material arose from his Master’s degree which focused on advanced compositional techniques and which was completed last year at the UoA Jazz school. In the process, he gained important realisations and applied these to his art. As listeners, a music degree is not needed as the album has visceral appeal. Just follow your ears and you will get to the heart of things, and that is the point of compelling Jazz performance. 

I have caught many of Nacey’s performances over the years and they never disappoint. I have also gained a sense of the man. He is generous, open-hearted, enthusiastic and very hard working. He takes his craft seriously, but never at the expense of his human qualities. All of the above are evident in his warm playing. The man and his music are not separate. He was aiming at a modern sound here and he has achieved this beautifully and done so without a hint of contrivance. This is how guitarists sound post-Rosenwinkel or Moreno, but he has made the sound his own. A more exact equivalency would be to place him alongside the top-rated Australian guitarists. Price (1).jpg

On the album, he is accompanied by former colleagues and friends and it reminds me how lucky we are to have such musicians in our city. Keven Field on Rhodes and piano, Roger Manins on tenor saxophone, Olivier Holland on upright bass and Andy Keegan on drums. One track features Chelsea Prastiti and Jonathan Leung on vocals. With friends like this to help him realise his vision, he has received an added boon. They are all in peak form here and Rattle Records has also done the artist proud. Steve Garden and UnkleFranc you are extraordinary.

The launch at the CJC Jazz Club, Anthology room had Alan Brown on Keys and piano instead of Keven Field. I looked into my database and learned that it was exactly six years ago to the night that Dixon Nacey led a band at the CJC, and as it was last Wednesday with Alan Brown on keys. It was a great night filled with enthusiastic applause as everyone bathed in the vibe; and the soaring runs which glissed and glowed like silken fire. As well as numbers from ‘The Edge of Chaos’ album we heard a few earlier Dixon compositions like ‘Sco’ and ‘The all Nighter’. I have posted a video of The all Nighter from the gig – how could I resist. To listen to a sample of the album go to Rattle Bandcamp where you can order a hard copy or download it in any format. Try a sample track and you will certainly buy. And while you are at it, take time to reflect on our extraordinary musicians. 

The gig took place at Anthology for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, K’Road Auckland, 16 October 2019. Purchase the album from Rattle Records Bandcamp

Stephen Thomas Electric Band

Thomas 2 (1).jpgThe history of music is the history of instrument development and from the earliest of times, musicians have expanded the reach of their instruments. The mother of instruments, Al’ Oud was first documented 3500 years ago, but documenting the development of the drum is a nebulous task. It almost certainly arose in Africa and along the way it has undergone a multitude of modifications. On Wednesday there was another waypoint along the continuum under the forward-looking beats of Stephen Thomas. Thomas is a gifted drummer and percussionist and in his hands, the instrument takes on a new life by transcending the mundane. The gig arose out of his last years Masters recital and the focus was on extended technique; combining physical drum rhythms, electronics via a drum pad, prepared drum heads and samples. 

Improvisers are the masters of extended technique, but even so, it is comparatively rare to hear these effects applied to drums, winds or reeds in Jazz. The most obvious examples occurred during the 70’s fusion era, but post 70s Shorter and Harris, who carved a credible path, only a brave few have followed. In my view, it requires experienced musicians to do this well and Stephen Thomas is well qualified to realise this project. Done badly it can look like a botched attempt to blur technique deficiencies. Done well it is an opening into a brave new world and another set of tools to build on what has gone before.

True to label, The Stephen Thomas Electric Band was wired and utilised effects, including the horn section. There were various configurations from sextet to duo and each configuration teased out a particular facet of the interesting compositions. The full line up was: drums (+ electronics), two saxophonists (+ electronics, one playing alto and the other playing tenor, soprano or Ewi). There was a keyboard player, an electric bass player and two electric guitarists (+ one guitarist playing prepared guitar). The horns often played in unison as did the bass and keyboard. With the octave or chorusing effect deployed, this made for a rich and full-throated palette of tonal colours.

I have posted two very different tunes from the gig, One is MG40 with the sextet and the other a duo between Thomas and Joel Vinsen (the latter on prepared guitar). If you listen closely to MG40, you will detect the echoes of a distant past. An echo from the 1950s in fact when the conductor Leonard Bernstein attempted to explain Jazz to a very young audience. That footage is hopelessly time-locked as the plummy voice of a high-brow white man ‘explaining black music’ overshadows the message. Notwithstanding, I have no doubt that many of the Bernstein Philharmonic attendees would go on to explore improvised music after hearing Benny Golson and the sextet perform. What Thomas does with this piece is both playful and respectful. Bernstein would get it and laugh out loud. MG40 refers to Mark Giuliani – a drummer on the same trailblazing path. 

The other piece I have posted involves the sextet. With Alan Brown on keyboards and Andy Smith on guitar, the piece soars as it morphs into a multi-layered groove piece, one reminiscent of the Fusion era. The overall sound has lots of bottom, with the bass effects and saxophone effects creating a surreal lower register cushion; over which Smith and Brown build towards the heart-stopping crescendo. This was a group of heavyweight performers with Chris Mason-Battley and Markus Fritsch the horn line. And none of it possible without the invention, vision and superior chops of Thomas. 

The Stephen Thomas Electric Band:  Stephen Thomas (drum kit, drum pad + effects, triggered samples, percussion, prepared drums), Alan Brown (digital keyboard), Andy Smith (guitar + effects), Chris Mason Battley (saxophones, Ewi + effects), Markus Fritsch (alto saxophone), Mostyn Cole (electric bass + effects), Joel Vinsen (prepared guitar + effects). The gig took place at Anthology, CJC Creative Jazz Club, 18 September 2019

Purbayan Chatterjee + Takadimi

Chattergee (1)Again, the CJC Creative Jazz Club has made good on its promise to deliver diverse and interesting projects.  Last week saw a collaboration between the Bengali born sitar maestro Purbayan Chatterjee and the Auckland based World-Jazz fusion group Takadimi.  What at first glance may appear to be an improbable collaboration – a famous Indian classical master and a Jazz fusion group was, in fact, a perfect alignment.  Having Alan Brown on keys with Cam McArthur on bass and with the nimble, talented Daniel Waterson on drum kit, plus leader Manjit Singh on tabla – we expected and heard excellent music.

These two great improvising traditions, one ancient, the other emerging just over 100 years ago, are able to comprehend each other’s basic forms. Both traditions produce talented and versatile musicians who are thoroughly trained in song cycles, scales, and rhythms. A perfect illustration of this occurred last Wednesday when Maestro Chatterjee and Takadimi decided to create a spontaneous improvisation. With nothing prearranged, it began with an audience member asking about an ancient Greek scale called the Lydian Mode. All of the musicians were familiar with this mode and Maestro Chatterjee said that it was practically identical to the fundamentals of a particular Raga mode. He fingered the scale briefly on his sitar and then asked Alan Brown to form a motif using that scale. Thus began a cross-discipline, cross-cultural musical conversation like few I have heard. 

Purbayan Chatterjee is a Bengali born musician residing in Mumbai. He has an international reputation and has performed in concert halls all over the world. The recipient of prestigious awards including the President of India award and with a discography which includes best selling albums. He was trained from a young age in the Northern or Hindustani School of Indian classical music. Like the famous tabla player Ustad Zakir Hussain (who he has performed with), he has frequently ventured into the Jazz/World fusion space. Auckland’s Takadimi, under the able leadership of the highly respected tabla player Manjit Singh, has for some years been exploring that same fusion space. Putting Maestro Chatterjee together with Takadimi was inspired. Together, they brought transcendent joy to our club and in a troubled world, this is a precious commodity.

The tone of the evening was set by the first offering which was a beautiful meditative raga performed in a classical style on sitar and tabla. I have been listening to Indian classical music since age 14, but I am certainly no authority. To the best of my knowledge, the basics are as follows. There are two main branches, the northern Hindustani and the southern or Carnatic branch. These, in turn, have many sub-genres and sub-styles, especially in the North. Both schools use the raga (usually a 7 note scale) performed over a drone. The structure begins with the Alap (in 3 sections) which is performed without the tabla and is a preparation or gradual development towards a climax. In this first phase, melodic ornaments and shapes are formed.  The second major segment is the Gat (and Dhrupad) which is where the tabla joins in. The tabla introduces the complex meters that characterise Indian classical music and these are called tala (a cycle of weak and strong beats). Improvisation and interplay occur mainly in this second stage. Although the music is referred to as classical it does not refer to a fixed point in time. It is a constantly evolving music and new styles are still being developed within the classical framework.

I have posted an excerpt from the raga and also the spontaneous improvisation piece. This intensely beautiful music brought fitting closure to our tenure at Backbeat. We will miss the staff and the small club vibe, but it’s time to move to our new home, Anthology. The audiences have followed the club to new venues 5 times over the last 11 years. With such great music on offer, I am sure that this will continue. Purbayan Chatterjee summed up the vibe perfectly when he praised the audience. He plays in the worlds great concert halls but he told us that intimate clubs like this, with engaged cheerful audiences, are the best of places. His gift of the raga – perhaps an evening raga, felt like it was performed just for such an occasion. Thank you musicians – see you at Anthology for the All-Star, 3 Saxophone opening night. Click through to the CJC Creative Jazz Club web site.

Simona Minns, Auckland 2019

Simona (1)This was New York artist, Simona Minns second visit to the CJC, her appearances occurring one year apart to the day. Her 2018 show ‘The Hunger Games’ referenced a Kafka short story. This tour was billed ‘My Urban Spells’, expanding her ever-evolving themes of universality and free-spirited improvisation.  Minns musical education and life, have gifted her with many powerful themes to draw upon and out of these, she has crafted a powerful synthesis. Her initial training as a classical Lithuanian Zither player is never far from what she does, but neither are the Jazz and Rock worlds she discovered when she emigrated to America.

Minns is a compelling performer and this underpins her shows. There is always an engaging theatrical element to her stage presence; something akin to an off-Broadway show. When you factor in her vocal chops, fine compositions, and originality you get an enjoyable whole. It is more than a mere cobbled eclecticism, it is well-judged performance art. Simona

Like last time, she was accompanied by Alan Brown on Keyboards, Cameron McArthur bass and Stephen Thomas on drums. Because this was the bands second time around (and because they can), they stretched out more and Minns let them, confident in their abilities.  Brown in particular is accustomed to reaching into new musical spaces. His beyond Jazz explorations into ambient and ethnic music equipping him perfectly.  Some of the tunes were standards reinterpreted, others were Jazz/Rock mash-ups with electric guitar (Minns). It was though, when she sang her own compositions in her own mother tongue that she shone brightest.  Her ethnically fused Jazz, enormously appealing.

Simona Minns (vocals, compositions, guitar, zither), Alan Brown (keyboards), Cameron McArthur (upright bass), Stephen Thomas (drums) – Backbeat, CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 20 February 2019.

Steve​ Sherriff Sextet @ Backbeat Bar

Sherriff (1)This project was bound to happen sometime and it was long overdue. On the night of the bands first gig, the pent-up energy that had long been building found a voice. As they kicked off, the room filled with potent energy and the enthusiasm of the band was met in equal parts by the capacity audience. Steve Sherriff is fondly remembered from Alan Browns Blue Train days and he brought with him an interesting group of musicians. Most of them were compatriates from earlier bands and their familiarity with each other musically paid dividends.

On keyboards, was Alan Brown and this was an obvious and very good choice. Brown has a long history with Sherriff and this was evident as they interacted. On trumpet was the veteran Mike Booth; a musician more than capable of navigating complex ensemble situations and delivering strong solos. Ron Samsom was on drums, another well-matched band member, ever urging the band to ever greater heights as he mixed organic grooves with a hard swing feel. Then there was Neil Watson on pedal steel and fender guitars and Jo Shum on electric and acoustic bass. When you put a group of strong soloists and leaders together there is a degree risk, but these musicians worked in perfect lock-step. As in sync as they were, Sherriff was the dominant presence on stage and no one doubted who the leader was.  Sherriff

Sherriff is a fine saxophonist with a compelling tone on each of his horns. On this gig, he alternated between tenor and soprano (though he sometimes plays alto in orchestral lineups). He has an individual sound and it is especially noticeable on tenor ballads and on tunes where he plays soprano. His other strength lies in his compositions. He and Brown contributed all of the numbers for this gig, but in future, other band members will be contributing also.  This was small-ensemble writing of the highest order – tightly focused – melodically and harmonically pleasing. The faster-paced numbers were reminiscent of hard bop – the ballads memorably beautiful. Brown and Sherriff set a high compositional bar.Sherriff (2)

It was Watson though, who took the most risks and the audience just loved it. At times he appeared to be stress testing his Fender as he bent strings and made the guitar wail. At other times he was the straight-ahead guitarist in Kenny Burrell mode – then on a ballad number, he would gently coax his pedal steel guitar and play with such warmth and subtlety that you sighed with pleasure. It had been a while since I’d seen Jo Shum perform and this was a setting where she shone.

Although the band was only formed recently, they will be ready to record sometime in the near future.  The material and the synergy of the band is just too good to squander.

Steve Sherriff (compositions, leader, saxophones), Alan Brown (keyboard, compositions), Mike Booth (trumpet), Neil Watson (pedal steel and Fender guitar), Jo Shum (upright + electric bass), Ron Samsom (drums). The gig took place at the Backbeat Bar, K’Road, Auckland, for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, July 25, 2018.

 

Takadimi @ Backbeat Bar

TakadimiKarangahape Road and the precincts around it are a natural home for adventurous and alternative music. If you walk the length, you are assailed by sights and sounds at variance to each other. Taken in their entirety they are oddly compatible. The jumble of colour and the bursts of noise as you pass a Karaoke bar or an uber cool eatery is counterbalanced by the languid notes from Shanghai Lils or the soft chatter emanating from Hookah smoking Kebab shop doorways. Woven into this oddness of streetwalkers and urban cool, are the alternative music joints. Down in basements, under the street or up narrow stairways. Thirsty Dog, Anthology, Audio Foundation, Wine Cellar. And at the top end of the strip, next to the old Jewish graveyard is the Backbeat Bar.  High-quality alternative improvised music resides here on Wednesdays. Takadimi (4)

Takadimi is the brainchild of the gifted tabla player Manjit Singh and the CJC featured his band last Wednesday. This is a fusion band in the very best sense of the word as it fuses styles and complex rhythms with apparent ease. The music’s origins are clear but the tunes are not unduly anchored to them. We are living in an age when classical forms are not nailed down and in the west, the whole notion of musical purity is frequently overstated. The higher purpose of music is to connect on a human level and not to impress by showing off technical prowess. Takadimi connected deeply and spoke directly to our senses. They played improvised music but worked into the complex structures of Indian Talas. It felt as if both forms were respected.

The tunes were all introduced by the leader Manjit Singh, who would establish the rhythm by chanting a tala (or taal); then he would guide the ensemble into the open and freer air of jazz harmonies where collective (or solo) improvisation occurred. I have seen this band before and this felt like a step up. The soloists, in particular, showed a readiness to work with and enjoy the challenges presented by the complex polyrhythms. All of the musicians held the line and made it appear easy – it certainly was not. Takadimi (3)

Underpinning everything were the rhythms and colours provided on the Tabla – an instrument long embedded into the Jazz repertoire. Anyone who has heard John McLoughlin, Jean Luc Ponty and Zakir Hussain together will understand how profound the association can be. It is therefore great to have such a fine tabla player in our midst and it our good luck that he is up for cross-genre collaborations.

The last time I heard Takadimi was at the Thirsty Dog; way down the other end of K’ Road. On that gig the lineup was different, this time the band had no guitar and the pianist Alan Brown had joined them. Singh could not have chosen better. Brown is well versed in the output of East European wunderkind Tigran Hamasyan. Hamasyan often counts in with talas and his beautiful Armenian styled rhythms are at times, very close to Indian forms. Brown is a master of complex rhythmic structures and capable of executing them without ever losing the groove. There were many fine performances but a standout was from Lukas Fritsch. His alto danced expertly through the tunes and for a young musician, he handled the complexities like a veteran.  Takadimi (2)

The clip that I have posted is a beautiful composition by the guru Ustad Fazal Qureshi and arranged by Manjit Singh. The Taal is Mishra Jaati – rendered as a polyrhythmic 7 over 4/4 time. On this track, Brown plays a synth instead of piano.  

Takadimi: Manjit Singh (leader, tabla, arrangements), Alan Brown (piano, keyboards), Lukas Fritsch (alto saxophone), Denholm Orr (bass), Daniel Waterson (drums). The gig was at the Backbeat Bar, K’ Road, Auckland, CJC Creative Jazz Club, July 11, 2018.

Simona Minns ‘A Hunger Artist’

IMG_6628 - Version 2The heart of the modern improvised and experimental music scene is always an interesting place to be. Audiences tend to be open-eared and accustomed to music from a wide variety of sources. Improvising musicians have always drawn on diverse influences and it is a narrow-minded few who whine about dilution or the good old days. We should never undercut the deeper purpose of music, which is to share stories, communicate on a primal level, interpret. We tell stories to live and how we listen or react to music speaks to our musical maturity. When Simona Minns performed in Auckland last week, she brought with her a variety of influences. and all were approached with integrity.

She is billed as a Jazz Singer, composer, arranger and artistic director, and she is unafraid to mash up or blend genres. All of the above descriptors were on show when she performed at the Backbeat Bar and everything she did, communicated an innate sense of fun and adventure. She is a natural performer, but behind that lies careful preparation. Her easy-going confidence disarms, but it arises out of hard work and commitment. A good example of the care she brings to her art lies in her charts. The musicians all commented on how beautifully they were crafted and judging by the solo’s, they were not constrained by them. We heard Jazz standards, old Lithuanian folk songs, tunes from her musical ‘A Hunger Artist’ and some jazz-mashed classic rock.  The audience loved it all and got the musical jokes embedded therein. The fact that she was cleverly comedic in her introductions, enhanced the overall effect. IMG_6586

I first read Franz Kafka as a 14-year-old, and once read, his tales cannot easily be forgotten. They are dystopian and thus disturbing, but a mature reading reveals clever questions, posed for our consideration. Kafka’s ‘A Hunger Artist’ is just such a tale – disturbing, yet raising important issues for all times. Issues which cut to the heart of performance art itself.

The tunes from Minns musical were delightful, and the fact that she could frame them without overdoing the pathos reminded us of the deeper questions posed. Her choice of standards appeared commonplace until you heard them and then they took on a life of their own. All were either re-harmonised or arranged in unique ways. As if to underline this point of difference she created mash-ups from them – blending classic rock and Jazz; often dancing as she delivered her lively performances.  IMG_6612 - Version 2

She had a very fine Jazz unit backing her – a truly superb band and ideal for the task. Alan Brown on keyboards, Cameron McArthur on bass and Stephen Thomas on drums. She also played a classic Lithuanian harp (the Kanklas). While it is a small instrument, it is capable of producing extraordinary melancholic sounds. The sort you hear throughout the eastern block (and even down as far as Turkey or Greece). My favourite number was her mash-up of Gershwin’s Summertime. The band really broke loose on that number and the effects were electrifying. An Alan Brown band in full flight is a wonder to behold indeed. S Minns (11)

Simona Minns was born in Lithuania where she obtained a music degree, later moving to Berklee (Boston, USA) where she obtained a degree in composition. She also founded ‘Syntheatre’ a performance company in Boston. Her albums can be sourced from her website or from iTunes or the various streaming platforms. Her website is simonaminns.com  The Performance was at the Backbeat Bar in K’Road and presented by the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) and the Auckland Fringe Festival on Tuesday 20, February 2018.

I have posted a short clip of her performing a song from the Kafka inspired ‘A Hunger Artist’ – where she plays the Kanklas.

‘Composure’ (Alan Brown)

a1384163851_16.jpgAs Alan Brown moves in new directions, he is leaving some extraordinary musical documents in his wake. Hot on the heels of his recent Alargo collaborations he releases a second solo album, ‘Composure’. Again, this is an ambient album and like Alargo it is meticulously crafted. It is a solo piano album but much more. Here, the minutiae of the sonic world are revealed and important ambient sounds which are often overlooked.  In our busy modern lives, we drown in sonic overload. Here in Composure, the very essence of sound is explored, nurtured, curated, given wings.  There is an incredible floating quality to these tracks and the effects are otherworldly, but this is a world beginning at Brown’s fingertips. A world that exists inside a Steinway D piano, an empty concert chamber; in places overlooked. There are faint sounds of the street present and other ‘found’ environmental sounds. These are present as breakthrough sound, loops or drones, adding texture and depth.

It is tempting to think that the pieces arose from written charts or pre-existing motifs, but they didn’t. This is spontaneous composition and formed in reaction to the sounds and the atmospheres of the moment. With the exception of the Scape drone effect on ‘Form of a Dream’, all other effects have been added after the exploration. The material in this album was recorded at the same time as ‘Silent Observer’ and this is a worthy successor. This music has no preconditions attached and the listener should engage in whatever way they wish. There are incalculable benefits from slowing our lives down and when we do we become deeper listeners, more nuanced in our approach to the frenetic world about us.

I have added the first track ‘Form of a Dream’ as a Bandcamp sound clip. I urge everyone to set up a free Bandcamp account – I do much of my listening there. You can buy physical albums, get high (or low) fidelity downloads, or stream. The artists also get a greater share than with other platforms. The Composure album is available from alanbrown.co.nz  or from alanbrown.bandcamp.com

 

 

Alargo – Primacy / Roberto Magris Sextet

a1598201492_16

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0377

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

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

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

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

Alan Brown Trio + guest

Alan Brown 2017 (3)While some of us didn’t make it to the Wellington Jazz Festival, we had no need to cry into our beer. What Auckland had on offer was the Alan Brown Trio, returning to the Creative Jazz Club after a long hiatus, and in very good form. I have long thought that an organ trio is the best dish to serve up on a wet winter’s night. This trio proved the pudding with its down-home goodness, tasty grooves, and with all the trimmings. While Brown is across many genres, this is the one most music lovers associate him with. His deft touch calling down the good times and bathing us in a warm orb of sound.Alan Brown 2017 (4)We heard mostly new material with a few well-chosen standards thrown in; all of it sounding fresh, the arrangements for the standards updated and interesting. Brown is a prolific composer – he always writes interesting tunes. His Between the Spaces album came out years ago, but I can still remember the tunes note for note. He is never afraid of melody either, balancing it nicely with his rich harmonies and all the while providing a solid improvisational vehicle. His final strength, and perhaps his greatest, is his feel for a groove. Although rooted firmly in the organ groove tradition, much of the new material felt evolutionary – taking us in a similar direction to that of Lonnie Smith. There is a lot to like about this direction. Alan Brown 2017 (2)

This was essentially the original Grand Central band; Dixon Nacey on Guitar, Josh Sorenson on drums and for some of the gig, vocalist Chris Melville. Even though many of tunes were new to the rest of the band, they got down to business quickly. Nacey, as ever, the consummate professional – at times reading the chart before him, but always diving deep inside the groove as he internalised the music.  Sorenson is a groove drummer from way back and although he works with his own rock group these days, he had no trouble doing what an organ trio drummer should; laying down a steady rhythmic cushion.Alan Brown 2017 (1) It was good to see Melville perform again. I had not seen him on the bandstand since the Grand Central days. He’s an in-demand vocalist these days and deservedly so. I think that it was on his insistence that ‘I didn’t know what time it was’ was included (the Cecile McLauren-Salvant treatment). I have always loved his wonderful ”Come what may’ (Melville/Nacey) – surprisingly it is seldom heard.  Alan Brown 2017 Although my battery died half way through, I have uploaded a clip from the gig – one of Alan Brown’s newer compositions. The trio’s incredibly warm vibe is well captured on this clip – a sound enhanced by the use of a Leslie Unit and of course by Nacey’s Godin guitar. This was the place to be; as the woody tones and warmth enveloped us, Winter was dispelled from our lives.

Alan Brown Trio: Alan Brown (B3 organ with Leslie Unit), Dixon Nacey (Guitar), Josh Sorenson (drums),  – Guest Chris Melville (vocals). The gig took place at the Thirsty Dog Tavern for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, 7th June 2017.

Emerging Artists gig – Exploding Rainbow Orchestra – Equitable Grooves

Emerging A (2).jpgI always look forward to emerging artists nights at the CJC.  They don’t happen often but when they do, they’re fun, full of surprise and most importantly they are hopeful events. It is usual for emerging artists to salt the mine with seasoned players. Both of the bands did well in that regard. The first band up was Misha Kourkov’s ‘Equitable Grooves’, a six-piece unit playing multi-genre Jazz focused music. The material was well written and at times ambitious. Aiming high on the bandstand is good because that is where real learning occurs. If you wish to extend your reach, then having Alan Brown on the piano is exactly what you need. With that sort of experience and groove behind you, you have a fail-safe mechanism. The set opened a little tentatively, but they quickly found their groove; the last two numbers were especially enjoyable.Emerging A.jpg

Misha Kourkov is a strong tenor player. I like his playing in Oli Hollands ‘Jazz Attack’ and as a leader, he has real potential. Most younger players have discernible influences and with Kourkov it is Roger Manins. As he grows as a musician he is increasingly finding his own voice. The track that particularly took my fancy was ‘Friday night at the Cadillac Club’. Early rock and roll stole licks from Jazz. Now the tide has turned. On that number, the group mined the Happy Days vibe while sneaking in snaking bebop lines. The pairing of tenor and soprano worked well, suiting the material they played; the guitar completing the front line by adding a bluesy feel, nice solos, and textural richness. The soprano player, in particular, is one to watch, nice bass and drums also. A popular practice among emerging players is to create cryptic and often unpronounceable tune titles – if that was their aim, then both groups succeeded. Emerging A (5).jpgThe second set featured the ‘Exploding Rainbow Orchestra‘. This was a very different type of ensemble. Freer ranging, a bigger sound palette and an electric bass with the heavyweight punch of Bona. The bass player Joshua Worthington-Church who led the ensemble is accurately described as a maverick. His set list contained genuinely diverse material; gripping vamp-driven originals plus tunes from ‘Radiohead’ and ‘The Mint Chicks’. Under the leader’s guidance, the band took the material to a place close to my heart; a fusion of Jazz and psychedelia. I am happy to see this done, as the genre is all but forgotten. During the mid-seventies, that style of music was sacrificed on the altar of Jazz purism, a pompous battleground that tried to stifle genre exploration. Emerging A (6).jpg

I have always loved the Belgium Jazz guitarist Philip Catherine. Today he is regarded as an elder statesman; admired for his work with Chet Baker, Mingus, Carla Bley, Dexter Gordon, Lagrene etc. His work with the psychedelic Jazz Fusion group ‘Focus’, or the amazingly tripped out violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, overlooked completely. This material is worthy of re-evaluation. With the Exploding Rainbows Orchestra, we moved closer to that. The band worked well as a unit but there was no doubt where the greatest strengths lay; Callum Passells and Chelsea Prastiti. A pair combining musical maturity with an inbuilt urge to push boundaries.

Music that lays down a vamp, has a locked-in drum groove, can free up the rest of the band. When there is less rigidity in the harmonic structure, and if the musicians are brave enough, they interact organically: that’s what this ensemble took advantage of.  Passells on alto is a wonderful musician and he knows how to use space. When paired with Prastiti on vocals, otherworldly magic happens. In the background, almost hidden from sight, Crystal Choi layered moody fills and passages on a compact keyboard. The guitarist Michael Gianan took few risks, but his comping and his unison lines added another rich textural layer. I hope that this project continues – there are a few sound balance wrinkles to iron out, but hey, it really was a buzz.

Equitable Grooves: Misha Kourkov (leader, tenor saxophone) Alan Brown (piano), Nathan James (Guitar), Edwin Dolbel (bass), Daniel Reshtan (soprano ), Daniel Waterson (drums).

Exploding Rainbow Orchestra: Joshua Worthington-Church (Leader, electric bass), Callum Passells (alto saxophone), Sean Martin-Buss (tenor saxophone), Chelsea Prastiti (vocals), Crystal Choi (keyboards), Michael Gianan (guitar), David Harris (drums),

The event was at the CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, 03 May 2017

Maps to past and future

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

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

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

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

Most Anticipated Albums 2017 – 

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

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

Poetry:

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

John Fenton JazzLocal32.com January 2017

merging streams – deep rivers

MI0002138631

This week my copy of John McLoughlin’s ‘Black Light’ arrived (ARI X 050). A vibrant stream of groove fused with ancient oriental sources. All transformed utterly. Talas sounding like rap, deep groove and the reflective fusing with virtuosic Jazz bravura. In McLoughlin’s hands stylistic purity is a will of the wisp. Every note is fresh; past, present and future rolled into one. I feel the same way about ‘Dream Logic’ by Eivind Aaset and ‘Cartography’ by Arve Henriksen (both on ECM). Superficially the Mcloughlin album is a lot busier than the Aaset or the Henriksen but there are strong threads of commonality. Both draw on deep wells of music, shaping sounds derived from primal and untapped sources in equal parts.

All musical styles originate from another place. If music stands still it risks becoming a museum piece and whether it’s Mozart, Lennon, Bartok, Ayler or Miles Davis the influences are there. Forward looking musicians comprehend this instinctively and explore the vastness of sonic possibilities; knowing that musical innovation comes from open-minded exploration. Innovation never emerges from stasis. When people confine an improvised music like Jazz to a particular style or era they miss the point. Jazz like Latin music or Flamenco is a spicy fusion of rich influences. As older familiar tributaries recede to a trickle, new ones flow; filling the space. It is an immutable law of nature and of improvised music.

In the improvisers hands, nothing should survive unscathed because improvisers are shape shifters. They pirate, parody, transmute, transcend and remake. From older forms come newer forms; sometimes as illusive as silence. This artistic alchemy does not imply a lack of reverence for the past, it is the reverse. Finding new ways of interpreting the world is the highest calling of any artist and no matter what the change the DNA is never lost.

Four years ago happenstance led me to the Nordic improvising minimalists and the fascinating influences that inspired them. There are threads connecting these artists and these run in interesting and often unexpected ways. The ‘Eastern influence’ is an obvious source but there are so many more. Following the 1950’s recordings of Miles and Coltrane either playing over a drone or utilising other scales (like the Phrygian mode), new grooves entered the mainstream Jazz lexicon.

The musicians influenced by Kind of Blue are legion, but the connections are not always obvious. The Byrds, Beatles, Animals, Stones and the Who all made use of modal scales post Kind of Blue. I was surprised to read that U2 claimed that album as a prime influence. Terry Riley is an important figure in the minimalist school and he makes no bones about the effect of Coltrane and Kind of Blue on his thinking. Riley’s ‘In C’ was composed before the term minimalism and his stunning ‘A Rainbow in Curved Air’ took improvised minimalism to a new place. In the late 60’s the serialist trumpeter Jon Hassell met Riley and soon after they studied under the Indian master singer Pundit Pran Nath. Their increased awareness of what is now referred to as World Music became an added factor in their musical development. Along with Riley, Hassell experimented with electronics. 

Later both Riley and Hassell worked with Brian Eno and David Sylvian (ECM’s Manfred Eicher was paying attention). Eno credits Hassell with shifting his perspective considerably. Both coming out of experimental traditions and both unafraid of fusing lesser known ‘world’ musics with electronic music. Out of these discussions arose the concept of ‘Fourth World Music’ and ‘Coffee Coloured Music’ (World Music was not a common term at that time). Eno is a major figure in experimental Rock and World Music having collaborated extensively with David Bowie, Roxy Music and others.

The Nordic Improvisers are the most interesting development for Jazz audiences. Perhaps due to the influence of Jon Hassell, an incredibly strong Ambient trumpet tradition has developed in countries like Norway. Arve Henriksen, Nils Petter Molvaer and Matthias Eik. Eik is less associated with the Ambient improvisers, but his soft rich and at times flute-like sound places him in their ambit. The leading Experimental/Jazz/Electronica ambient improvisers are Eivind Aaset (guitars, programming), Jan Bang (live sampling, Beats, programming, bass), Erik Honore (synthesiser, Live field recording, samples), Arve Henriksen (Trumpets, field recording, voice) Lars Danielson (bass), Sidsel Endresen, (voice), Nils Petter Molvaer (trumpet) and Bugge Wesseltoft (piano, keyboards, electronics). Into this mix add a number of leading European, American and especially British Jazz and avant-garde experimenters like David Sylvian (voice, Programming,samples).

New Zealand Jazz has a foot in this camp with the fine work by Alan Brown on ‘Silent Observer’. Also Browns work with Kingsley Melhuish (‘Alargo’). To that I would add the experimental work of the Korean based kiwi improvising musician John Bell. The local offerings are as good as anything on offer elsewhere. We should trust ourselves to listen rather than struggle with genres. Too much time is spent worrying about definitions. This is ambient but it is not elevator music. It is a music of profound subtlety and if you relax into it, the grooves and pulses will take you deep inside. This is profound music that understands space and utilises silence. In Eno’s words, “an emphasis on atmosphere and tone replaces that of rhythm and melody”. This is a music that rewards careful listening and it goes where it wants without being time bound. Above all it engages the senses in new ways – it is utterly filmic in quality. I highly recommend Eivind Aaset’s Dream Logic on ECM as a starting point. I will keep you posted on New Zealand developments.

The Clips: Terry Riley, ‘A Rainbow in Curved Air 1969’ – Arve Henriksen, ‘Recording Angel’ from ‘Dream Logic’ (ECM) – Jan Bang, ‘Passport Control’ from ‘And Poppies from Kandahar’ (Samadhi Music) – ‘Alargo’ live are Alan Brown/Kingsley Melhuish – Gaya Day is by John Bell.

Sources: (Eno interview) The debt I owe to Jon Hassell – The Guardian. The Blue Moment – Richard Williams (Faber & Faber). 

 

 

 

Auckland Jazz Festival 2015 – part two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spammerz, Silent Observer and Ambient Adventures

Spammerz 076Spammerz is a fascinating group and there is an interesting conceptual approach underlying their ethos. The quartets approach to improvisation is organic; more than might than might be supposed at first encounter. What they play is familiar but at the same time intangible. Constant organic shifts occur underneath the momentum and these apparent contradictions are not accidental. The music while eminently danceable is remarkably free of constraints; there is form, but it is not always fixed. The music has groove but it is cleverly purged of the familiar licks and hooks that usually inform groove music. There are interesting dynamics but these are not based upon loudness or showy pyrotechnic displays. It is ambient, but not in the accepted sense. It is enjoyable.

The leader of the quartet Dan Sperber once described his compositions as ‘unterhaltungsmusik’ (easy listening). This tongue-in-cheek description belies the reality and it hints at his quirky approach to writing charts. Background music was certainly not what the CJC or Golden Dawn audiences heard. They either danced happily or sat mesmerised as the friendly grooves filled the room. Perhaps ‘trance music’ comes closer?  Spammerz 074This opens up an interesting conversation about the many forms of ‘ambient’ music being explored at present. These forays are mainly by musicians on the improvised and experimental music scenes. Along the way the term ‘ambient’ is garnering new meanings and it can no longer be confined to the vernacular definition. It implies subtly, depth and a strong sense of being coupled to wider sensory experiences. The difference being that the senses catch on silken threads and not on steel shackles. There is also an illusive quality to this music and to understand the genre better, a good starting place would be Miles Davis ‘In a Silent Way’ or Brian Eno and Jon Hassell (‘Fourth world volume one, possible musics’). For an up to the minute vantage point go to YouTube and locate Elvind Aaset and Jan Bang’s ‘And Poppies from Kandahar’. Spammerz 071Unlike ‘easy listening’ there are deep emotions engaged by this type of music. Like all trance music cunning voodoo tricks draw you in and as you relax into the mesmerising grooves, you fall deeper into the web. This is music evoking mental pictures and imaginary worlds. This is music that is often served up with dissolving visual images accompanying a clip. The filmic qualities are inescapable.

The Spammerz band is Dan Sperber (guitar), Alan Brown (Crumar keyboard), Ben McNicoll (saxophones) and Jason Orme (drums). Because the musicians have been experimenting and playing with the grooves, the music is constantly evolving. The CJC gig was great, but the Golden Dawn gig just a few nights later was even better.  Spammerz 073Alan Brown is an asset to any unit and especially so when you consider that this is a crossroads between ambient and groove (both specialties of Browns). Ben McNicoll is a strong presence and his reading of these shifting grooves is always apposite. It is nice to hear such bluesyness purged of cliche. Jason Orme is a veteran of the groove scene but he sounds great in any situation. Spammers music calls for a tight groove but there is also a need for subtlety. Orme is more than up to the task. The leader Dan

The leader, Dan Sperber is best known for his role in ‘New Loungehead’ and the ‘Relaxomatic Project’. In spite of having such strong band mates on this project he is centre stage. His disarmingly quiet persona belies a strength of purpose.  A nice guitarist with interesting things to say.  Spammerz 077In the same week that Spammerz appeared at the CJC Alan Brown released his ambient album ‘Silent Observer‘. This album has long been anticipated. Anyone who knows Brown will be aware of his longtime interest in the works of the new Scandinavian ambient improvisers. Trumpeters like Arve Hendriksen, Nils Petter Molvaer, Guitarists like Arvin Aaset, vocal innovators like David Sylvian or Sidsel Endresen and electronics wizards like Jan Bang. This is a new frontier open for wider exploration. These artists draw huge audiences in Europe and increasingly audiences from beyond that continent.

While Brown has laid down more soul-filled grooves than most, he is also capable of thinking outside of the square. The concept of this project was clear when he sat down at the lovely Steinway D piano in the Town Hall Concert Chamber. Creating gentle music that is unconfined. This is spontaneous composition informed by place, by the moment, the artists vision and the instrument. With ambient music the spaces between the notes are where much of the music lies. These are like shared dreamscapes and a stream of mental images flows through the mind as we participate.

There is an oversupply of unsubtle loud incessant music cluttering up cyberspace and it is all too easy to forget the importance of silence and subtlety. This music is best enjoyed through headphones or at night in a quiet room. Ambient music is not background music, but the sounds we have forgotten to hear.  A child’s heartbeat or the rustle of a tree are the most ancient of ambient sonic archetypes. This album reminds us that hearing is selective and when we enable it as deep as the ocean.

While the piano paints gorgeous motifs there are often subtle synth textures underpinning the pieces. The judicious use of synth adds to the sense of wistfulness while not detracting from the piano. There are also samples folded into certain tracks and these are perfectly chosen. The Robert Graves poem (read by Dylan Thomas) and the whisper-quiet polyglot prayers in 40 languages serve the the project well.

Headland Glow: Alan Brown/Silent Observer – 

Spammerz – Dan Sperber (guitar), Alan Brown (Crumar Mojo keyboards), Ben McNicoll (tenor saxophone), Jason Orme (drums). Gigs at CJC (Creative Jazz Club) & Golden Dawn 6th & 10th May 2015

Silent Observer – Alan Brown (Steinway D Piano, Synth) – purchase the album from Alan Brown.co.nz

Member-button

Alan Brown Quartet @ CJC 2015

10407208_849558365101298_5079031482730444727_nThe more I listen to Alan Brown bands, the more I realise just how original his music is. The gig promised to be a reprise of ‘Between the Spaces’ and that was a drawcard which pulled in a good audience. We soon realised however that we were getting a lot more. As well as the familiar there were new compositions and a few that had not made the cut for the album. Brown is an extraordinarily gifted musician and in settings like this he always sounds fresh. The familiar numbers sounded as exciting as when we first heard them and the unfamiliar held the attention with siren like allure. This is music to gladden the heart. 11017509_849558561767945_4632538171974249436_n

There is a definite Alan Brown sound and it is quite unique. Yes there are small nods to familiar groove bands, to prog bands and perhaps even EST, but the sound is unmistakably his. Browns intros often favour the ostinato, with bass and drums working tirelessly across his insistent rhythmic patterns. These woven threads of sound create a layering effect. You are seldom aware of the underlying complexity, the odd time signatures and the oblique shifting grooves. Like many a well composed, well executed jazz tune, an implied centre holds the attention and this is where the ear goes. This is complex music made 10428674_849559058434562_7650093753295645704_naccessible. As the tunes unfold you fall into them, feeling that you are on a journey of logical progression; the enveloping arms of groove guiding you inexorably towards some beating voodoo heart.

The musicians Brown uses are always chosen with care. With arranged music and exacting charts, the having the right line up is important. It was great to see Andy Smith back at the CJC. Like Jono Sawyer he was on the 2011 ‘Between The Spaces’ album. Smith has something of the rock god about him and as his solo’s soar he often leans back, as if giving the notes more room to fly free. He is technically proficient and an interesting soloist; often putting me in mind of Mike Moreno as the sound is similar. His approach is modern but the history of jazz guitar still speaks behind his solo lines. Jono Sawyer is a member of various Alan Brown units and he is very much at home in this configuration. His time feel in these groove based settings is immaculate. 11024767_849558951767906_7151372333629258045_nThe relative newcomer is electric bass player David Hodkinson. He is no stranger to Brown’s bands but he was not on the album.  it would be daunting to step into Marika Hodgson’s shoes but Hodkinson held the groove and punched out a mesmerising pulse.

Alan Brown makes no apologies for referencing the fusion prog Rock/Jazz era. On Wednesday he mentioned the innovative and almost forgotten ‘Focus’ (an admired instrumental group of the 70’s who often featured Jazz guitarist Philip Catherine).  Among a selection of great tunes, my hands down favourite was a prog tribute to ‘King Crimson’ named ‘Crim Kingson’.

The photographs are by Ben McNicoll of the CJC management and the audio clip is ‘Do not track’ from the ‘Between the spaces album’.

Who: The Alan Brown Quartet – Alan Brown (piano), Andy Smith (guitar), David Hodkinson (bass), Jono Sawyer (drums).

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand. 25th Feb 2015

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 

 

Alan Brown trio + 1@ CJC Oct 2013

IMG_8570 - Version 2

Alan Brown is such a gifted musician that we always expect something special from his club gigs.   The October gig not only lived up to expectations but found something extra to offer us.  Alan is always on safe ground with Dixon Nacey on guitar and Josh Sorenson on drums, as these musicians don’t need any warm up.  They have played together so often that their understanding of what is required is intuitive.  Deep energised mesmerising grooves are quickly established and maintained.  As we progressed through the first number, the warm grooves took us somewhere else.  Transported on mass to a place where winter became a distant memory.

 A state of grace, suspended somewhere between reality and a multi hued dream state.  This is a place where the familiar is transformed into the extraordinary and we felt incredibly happy about that.

IMG_8538 - Version 2

As I watched the interplay between these three I could not help wondering how that felt.  How it felt making that music, in that way and with that much soul.  The looks on their faces gave me the answer.  They also knew that this was one out of the bag and that some special chemistry was happening.   The Alan Brown trio were on fire and we were not just witnesses but integral to the performance.  There was a shared collective energy and we were each and every one of us connected in a web of pure creation.

I have written a lot about Alan over the last two years and he deserves every accolade thrown his way.   If this sounds like hyperbole I will quickly argue otherwise.  He consistently delivers performances and compositions that grab the attention and on nights like this he finds something extra.  The audiences from the High Street days have never forgotten ‘Blue Train’ and the fact that Alan keeps the crowds coming; still creating new audiences, speaks volumes.   This is not about reliving the glory days, but about bringing fresh and exciting perspectives to an ever unfolding musical output.

IMG_8544

Dixon Nacey is another musician who always pleases.   When ever I see that beautiful Godin guitar I know that something extraordinary could happen and this was just such a night.  Dixon is a musician who can communicate as much by his body language as by his soaring inventive solos.  You know how deeply he observes and engages because the evidence is in his face and at his fingertips.  When exchanges are being traded with drummer or keyboards, his expressions mirror the intensity.   When the solo or the interplay really works well, a huge smile lights up the bandstand.   That smile and those magical voicings tell us so much about the man and his music.

IMG_8545 - Version 2

The remaining trio member is Josh Sorenson and I have heard him on two or three previous occasions.  Josh has specialised in groove drumming and he is exceptionally good at it.  This is a specialist skill as there are a million deceptive subtleties built into it when done well.   I spoke to Josh at some length about this and what he told me was illuminating.  It is very hard work and although it sometimes appears straightforward it is not.  I gathered the impression that a night of holding such tight grooves together is more exhausting than bebop or rock drumming.  The concentration required to move around the kit while holding a tight multi faceted beat together is tremendous.  It is not just the concentration required, but the ability to sink into a beat in an almost trance like fashion.

Towards the end of the final number Josh launched into a drum solo and what unfolded was almost supernatural.  As he moved all over the kit, the deep-groove pulse never wavered by a fraction.  I have never seen this done before and I found it incredibly impressive.   That solo and in fact the whole number ‘Inciteful’ (had the audience on their feet, whooping and shouting with enthusiasm).  Sadly I had run out of video tape by then, but I did capture some of the magic.  IMG_8550 - Version 2

Part way through the gig we had another treat in store when the soulful Jazz Singer Chris Melville came to the band stand.  I like male Jazz singers and I worry that their numbers are so few.  Chris has a terrific voice and he tackled the old Juan Tizol standard  ‘Caravan’ in a mature and engaging way.   I enjoy listening to his interpretations and to the timbre of his voice, but noticed that it had a tendency to become a little lost in the acoustics of the room.  Some small adjustments to the sound levels would remedy that.   As the extraordinary Mark Murphy steps back and the fabulous velvety baritone Andy Bey performs less, there are other male singers coming forward like Jose James, Kurt Elling and Gregory Porter.  It is a tradition worth keeping and I  hope that we see continue to see singers like Chris keeping the faith.

We heard old favourites like ‘Shades of Blue’, some new material and even a rock classic from Led Zeppelin ‘No Quarter’.   ‘Charlie’s Here’ cast a warm bluesy aura over the room and I have put that up as a video link.   The kicker however was definitely ‘Inciteful’.  It was an amazing rendition packed with high-octane solos, clever ideas and groove so deep that even speleologists could never hope to explore it.

The organ was a Hammond SK2 which is not Alan’s usual keyboard.   Coupled to a Leslie Unit and the resulting sound was perfect.   This lighter modern offshoot of the C3/B3 certainly earned its stripes on this night.  It was just right for the room.

Who: Alan Brown (SK2 Hammond organ), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Josh Sorenson (drums).

Where: The (CJC) Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885 building, Auckland 16th October 2013

Reuben Derrick’s Hound Dogs @ CJC

IMG_8243 - Version 2

Dog bands are a recurring theme in New Zealand jazz.  There was Neil Watson’s ‘Zen Dogs’, ‘Dr Dog’ (Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Oli Holland & Ron Samsom) and now Reuben Derrick’s ‘Hound Dogs’.   To redress any perceived species imbalance, I was glad to see that visiter Mike Stern recently put out an album titled ‘Who Let the Cats Out’.

Reuben has played in Auckland before but I missed that gig.  I was glad that I did not miss this one.   With the exception of Alan Brown, all of the band have either lived in or have some strong connection with Christchurch.   Reuben Derrick is an important part of the Christchurch Jazz scene and with the Christchurch Festival underway very shortly we were lucky to lure him up for the gig.  In hound dog fashion he had tracked down an impressive set list, including several tunes each by Monk, Steve Lacy and Charles Mingus.  The two Monk tunes were ‘Ask me Now’ and ‘Bolivar Blues’.

IMG_8225 - Version 3

Both are familiar to me but it took me a moment to realise what they were.  They breathed new life into these much-loved but less-often-heard tunes and amazingly they made them sound as fresh as paint.  They did so without reharmonising, nor tackling them in an especially angular way (That would be pointless as you can’t out-Monk, Monk).  There were not so many jagged edges but these were great renditions.  Authentic and so accessible that their ‘Bolivar Blues’ has been singing in my head ever since.

Reuben plays an older instrument and the character of that tenor really suits his bluesy-earthy approach.   Some tenor players depart the melody before it is stated but Reuben stands on confident ground.  He is a an intensely melodic player but there is nothing clichéd about his approach.  This is most often seen in the older bop era players, who were able to stay close to the melody but still tell a great story.   Another thing that I liked was the way that his improvisations unfolded with an inner logic.  A logic that allowed you to trace the steps back in your mind.   A journey shared.

IMG_8239 - Version 2

I am not sure whether Alan Brown has played with Reuben before, but he couldn’t have fitted in better.   I have learned over the years that Alan is not only gifted on keys and piano but he is able to adapt to a multitude of styles.   I have not heard him play Monk before but he gave the band exactly what they required.   Solid decisive chord work and inventive solo’s.  He navigated Monk’s choppy lines with the same ease that he tackled the very different compositions of Steve Lacy.  IMG_8231 - Version 2

There were two familiar faces in the lineup, Andy Keegan and Richie Pickard.   Andy has played a number of gigs about town since moving up from Christchurch and he is often at the CJC.  He is a versatile drummer and we saw that demonstrated as he moved effortlessly from colourist to bop drummer during the gig.   I like his time feel and the fact that he lays down a solid beat without drowning out the others.  He plays to the room.   I often tease him by saying that he is a very photographer friendly drummer, as he often leans forward as he gets into a number.

IMG_8260 - Version 2 (1)

Ritchie has also played the CJC before and the last time I saw him was with Dixon Nacey.   This is very different material to the high-octane tunes that Dixon was playing and so I saw another side of him in the Hound Dogs.  I found him especially strong on the ballad material like the quirky ‘Ask Me Now’.   The other member of the Hound Dogs is guitarist Sam Taylor and he is not seen in the CJC very often.   That is a pity because his sound is different from many of the Auckland guitarists.  He draws more deeply on traditional Jazz guitar and he does so convincingly.  At times his comping was very reminiscent of Freddy Green’s; a quiet rhythmic strum that pulled back slightly on the beat and gave the number a deep swing feel.  His comping may reference swing but his lines are pure Be bop or Post bop.

These guys may not get together very often but when they do they are a solid unit.  With a great sound like that, I hope that they come and play the club again

Who: Reuben Derrick’s Hound Dogs:  Reuben Derrick (tenor), Alan Brown (piano), Sam Taylor (guitar), Richie Pickard (bass), Andy Keegan (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Brittomart 1885 Building Basement, Auckland 4th September 2013

Trudy Lile Quartet @ CJC

IMG_7997 - Version 2

Trudy Lile has unerring radar when it comes to locating tunes from the lessor known jazz lexicon.  Tunes that she skilfully transforms into glowing vibrant flute friendly arrangements. Her choice of ‘Steppin Out’ is a good example.  Kurt Elling recently sung this wonderful (but difficult) Joe Jackson tune on his ‘At The Gate’ album.  Not only was it a great choice and well executed but her new lineup rose to the occasion; giving her all the support she needed and more.

Trudy Lile last performed at the CJC about 8 months ago and she had a different line-up then.  Last Wednesday she had assembled a particularly solid rhythm section in Alan Brown (piano), Cameron McArthur (bass) and Ron Samsom (drums).  Trudy is often adventurous in her choice of material, mixing reworked standards, originals and virtually unknown tunes scavenged from interesting nooks and crannies.  On Wednesday she held to this course and it paid off.  IMG_8013 - Version 2

Among the other numbers performed was a beautiful rendition of ‘Niama’ (Coltrane), ‘Flute Salad’ (Lile) – I love this tune with its swinging happy vibe and another Lile original ‘Domestic Bliss’.   Trudy explained that this number was somewhat tongue in cheek, as her own experiences of domestic bliss at times resembled the TV character Miranda’s.

Trudy Lile is well-known about New Zealand as a gifted flutist.   While the flute is her prime instrument she also demonstrates impressive vocal skills.  We saw both on Wednesday.  I have always sensed a pied-piper quality to her work and as she dances and sways during the flute solos it is impossible not to be captivated.  Dedicated Jazz-flute players have been rare over the years and some critics have been disparaging about the lack of expression in that horn.   If they listened to Trudy they would shut up, sit down and recant.   In her hands the flute has all of the expression you could ever want

.IMG_8017 - Version 2

I must zero in on Alan Brown here as he was just superb.  OK, Alan always puts on a great performance but this facet of his playing is not seen as often.  Alan is rightly famous for his soul infused Jazz funk.  He was a power house of inventiveness on Wednesday,but more importantly he established beyond a shred of doubt that he is a stellar straight-ahead Jazz pianist.   His playing is always strongly rhythmic and that is what we expect from Alan, but to see him as an accompanist in this context was revealing.  Anyone hearing a Kurt Elling number such as ‘Steppin out’, notices his arranger and pianist Laurence Hobgood.   Hobgood is a dedicated accompanist of the highest order.   Alan communicated a special quality also.  He supported vocals (and flute) in the way Hobgood does and it was pure gold.  After seeing him in this context I would really like to hear him do a piano trio gig sometime, complete with a few straight-ahead standards.

Cameron McArthur has become the first choice bass player for Auckland gigs and every time he appears (which is often) he impresses afresh.   He is gaining a substantial group of supporters about town and his solos always elicit enthusiastic calls and strong applause.

IMG_8012 - Version 2

Ron Samsom is quite simply the best there is on traps and his tasteful underpinning of any band is inspiring.  On this gig he alternated between quieter brush or mallets work and power house grooves which lifted the others to greater heights.   Sometimes when I hear Ron’s drumming I can discern a pulse that goes way beyond the room.  Perhaps it is the pulse of the Jazz tradition itself, the history and the future rolled together in a beat.

This band was the perfect foil for Trudy and she took full advantage of it.

Who: The Trudy Lile Quartet – Trudy Lile (leader, vocals, flute).  Alan Brown (piano), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samsom (drums).

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) Brittomart 1885, Wednesday 7th August 2013.

Paul Van Ross – Album Release

IMG_6497

On Wednesday 27th March several visitors arrived in town from Melbourne Australia.  Visitors but not strangers, because saxophone player Paul Van Ross has played in New Zealand four or five times previously and drummer Mark Lockett is an expat New Zealander, originally from Wellington.

These are very friendly guys.  Actually I find most Jazz musicians unfailingly cheerful and friendly.  It is unlikely that this good humour arises from job security or because they have just managed to upgrade the Porsche .  I stick cameras in their faces, ask searching questions during set breaks and pin them down for set lists when they are suffering from jet lag.   Instead being told to clear off they indulge me.  This goodwill must be pumped through the air conditioning unit of the CJC (Creative Jazz Club).  It is a place like ‘Cheers’ where everyone has a smile and ‘everybody knows your name’.

IMG_6492

One of those who indulges me is Steve Garden of Rattle records.  A few weeks ago I received a tidy package of CD’s from him and among them was ‘The Buck Stops Here‘ led by Paul Van Ross.  I had a lot of material to write-up at the time and I was working on the ‘Jazz Month’ program with the Jazz Journalists Association.  I played my way slowly through the pile of releases as time allowed.  It was not until I had received the CJC newsletter that I realised that Paul Van Ross would be doing an album release there in three days.   I sorted through the CD’s and put it out to listen to but it was not until the day before the gig that it finally reached my Hi Fi.   It was a really great album and I played it through three times.

How had a missed this I thought.  This should have been one of the first things that I put on.  Apart from a John Zorn obsession, I also suffer from an excessive liking for B3 combos.  This album featured B3, guitar, drums and saxophone.  I listened over and again while the textures and compositions reeled me further in.  This is a very good example of the ‘new sound’ in organ/guitar/saxophone/drums.

IMG_6463

Make no mistake, I love ‘chitlin circuit’ groove Jazz of the sort that Brother Jack, Joey ‘D’, Pat Martino, Wes and Grant Green created.  My friend Michel Benebig is a B3 master in this field and he can groove you to the depths of your soul.   That music will roll you out of bed and have you dancing like a fool before you gain your sea legs.

There is however another type of B3 sound and that reaches for new horizons.  Jamie Saft (Zorn’s Dreamers), Tom Watson (Manu Katche’s new album) and Dr Lonnie Smith (Jungle Soul album),  come to mind.    The music still has a deep groove but there are no locked in drums and this subtle loosening up of the vibe makes space for a particular type of guitar work and gives a horn some room for exploration.  This is a sound that absorbs influences from a diverse Jazz palette while still retaining a solid groove context.  The Paul Van Ross Trio (and quartet) are of this latter kind.  Their music draws on a wide spectrum of post and pre millennial Jazz; not just tugging at the heart and feet, but engaging the intellect as well.

Paul Van Ross is an exciting tenor player and I can’t help wondering if he studied under George Garzone.   There is something different about tenor players who have studied under Garzone and Paul fits that bill.  His rapid fire lines and fluidity never obscure the musical ideas that flow from his horn.  On ballads he could wring a tear from a walnut and when playing uptempo he navigates the terrain with ease.  His compositions are engaging.

The CJC launch gig employed a smaller lineup than on the album.   Organist Alan Brown subbed for Kim Kelaart on the New Zealand leg of the tour and he needs no introduction to New Zealand audiences.  Alan is another musician who takes the groove genre to new and exciting places.  His keyboard skills are legendary.   Choosing him was a sensible choice and while his style is a little different to Kelaart’s, it afforded Ross and Lockett opportunities to stretch out in different ways.  Mark Lockett is a delight as he imparts humour into everything he does.   His drumming is quirky in the best possible way and he is the drummer of choice for many bands.  Like Paul Van Ross and Alan Brown he has also recorded as leader.

IMG_6455

The first track on the album is the title track ‘The Buck Stops Here”.  It was the first number up on the night (all of the material has been written by Ross).  On this track in particular Lockett’s contribution was noteworthy.  A solid New Orleans beat is laid down while edgy post-bop lines blow over that; the organ under Alan’s hands comps insistently in the background and this gave the tune a great feel.  I saw a ‘second line’ parade in San Francisco a few months ago and this particular drum beat tells that kind of story.  A story about a beat that bounced between the Americas and Africa until it became pure voodoo.  I like everything on this album and so choosing video clips was hard.   In the end I have opted for ‘The Buck Stops Here’ (filmed by Jenny Sol).   Other standout tunes from the album are ‘Swami in the House’ and the beautiful ballad “Uncle DJ’.  A number performed on the night but which is not on the album is ‘Break a Tune’ (filmed by John Fenton)

I must also mention the guitarist Hugh Stuckey who knows when to shine and when to merge into the mix.  His lines are clean and impressive, with an approach to melody that is modern.  This is the direction that Rosenwinkel and Moreno mapped out and it sits well with this lineup.   A guest guitarist Craig Fermanis appears on track one only.

You can buy the album now from ‘Rattle‘ at http://www.rattle.co.nz        I recommend it highly.

Who: Paul Van Ross trio; Paul Van Ross – tenor sax, Alan Brown – C3 hammond organ, Mark Lockett – drums ( add Hugh Stuckey and Craig Fermanis – album)

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) Auckland.

What: Album Release by ‘Rattle‘.

John Fenton

Member-button

jazzapril-rectangle

Blue Train – 2013

IMG_6313

I suspect that Blue Train has a following way beyond the traditional Jazz audiences and I can understand why.  Their hard-driving funk laden grooves are impossible to resist and so people tend to flock to any Blue Train gig.   Their audience occupies a broad age spectrum.  Blue Train mostly plays music that you can dance to and just occasionally the set list includes some Jazz space funk.   I’m a huge fan of this type of tripped out Jazz fusion, so if you like this sub-genre then find yourself some Blue Train recordings.  There is of course much more to Blue Train than Funk Fusion and their Jazz chops show in everything that they do.   Only highly competent Jazz musicians can play like this and only talented experienced musicians can write the material Alan does.   This band is an Auckland cultural institution, they are jaw droppingly good and that’s why people love them.  The Blue Train gigs are rare these days, as the band members all have other projects on the go.  Any whisper of gigs should put an urgent blip across your radar.   Tip: they will be at the Waiheke Jazz Festival this year – be there.

IMG_6336 - Version 2

The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) filled to capacity on the night and they soon stood three deep at the bar.   Blue Train was here again – the word had travelled.

Post millennium Jazz is a broad church and the younger audiences (and a few older ones like me) find this exciting.  Blue Train has been around for more than 20 years and in spite of a few attempts to pension the band off, the fans just wont let it die.  As a part of New Zealand’s improvised music heritage it deserves our ongoing support and respect.   Don’t for a minute expect a mere cover band recycling the glory days.  Blue Train are wisely resistant of resting on their laurels and after the ‘head’ of a tune they unravel the material in new and interesting ways.   They play older material and new.  Alan Brown’s compositions just keep on coming and they get better and better.   He is a seasoned performer and his keyboard skills will always astound.  As you listen you will  hear new ideas being tried and old ideas being turned on their head.  He is widely acknowledged as a great keyboardist but his piano skills are also considerable.  This was very evident on the 6th of March 2013.

IMG_6348

It was obvious that the band were thoroughly enjoying themselves and they stretched out as the tunes unfolded.  The CJC gig edged closer to its Jazz roots than would have been the case at Deschlers in the 90’s.  Those in the line up were mostly veteran band members, but there were some newer additions.   Dixon Nacey on guitar has played with Alan for years and he has previously appeared in Blue Train line ups.  He does not however go back as far as Jason Orme (drums) or Steve Sherriff (tenor and soprano saxophones).   The newer band member is Karika Turua (electric bass).

IMG_6335

Having Dixon Nacey in any band is always a treat and I always watch as his eyes fix on the other musicians – exhorting them to challenge him.  He listens carefully to what is unfolding and is always ready to back someone up or to step out with new ideas.   This is invariably done with a mile-wide grin and the looks of delight when he and Alan lock into an exchange is priceless.  As on his three previous gigs, he had his gorgeous Godin Guitar with him and once again I will confirm that this is a match made in heaven.

Many of the Blue Train musicians have contributed compositions over time and Steve Sherriff deserves special mention there.  He is well rounded horn player who can fit seamlessly into many situations (big band, straight ahead Jazz or funk).   His tenor and soprano work were especially captivating on this gig and when he and Dixon played unison lines it was hard to believe that there was not an additional horn in the line up.  Before the gig I ran into my niece and told her that it was nice to see her in the club.  She then told me that a former teacher of hers was in the band.   Who’s that I asked. “Mr Sherriff” she said.   When I saw her later she summed up her impression  “Wow who knew he played like that”.    He does.

IMG_6331

Jason Orme worked the grooves with finesse and enthusiasm and he knew how to play to the room.   The same applies to Karika Turua who dug into serious grooves that echoed in your mind for days afterwards.

The sound levels were just right for the club and this is where the bands experience played a part . Some younger (and a few older musicians) forget to adjust their volume to the room and the CJC is lively; especially if the drums and bass are overly loud.  Being professionals – Alan and Ben McNicoll (CJC sound and IT) got the job done properly.  IMG_6332

What and Who: ‘Blue Train’ – Alan Brown (keys), Steve Sherriff (saxes), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Karika Turua (electric bass), Jason Orme (drums).

When: Wednesday 6th March 2013

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club) – basement of the 1885 building Brittomart

Alan Brown Band – The interview part two

The interview with Alan Brown & his band continued………

David Hodkinson 004

Q.  Alan the world and its dog loves ‘Blue Train’.   Is there any truth to the buzz about town that there will be a Blue Train reunion in 2013?

A.  At least somewhat of a reunion concert is planned for the Waiheke Jazz Festival in Easter. Steve Sherriff, Jason Orme and myself recently played a lot of the Blue Train tunes at the Taste Of Auckland festival, and it all felt really good, so I thought “why not?” Once I also found out that Aaron Nevezie will be in town at the time, and was keen to do the gig, I made it happen. Aaron played guitar on the Never You Mind album back in 1998 and is a fantastic musician, and engineer/producer based in New York with his own studio, Bunker Studios. Bassist Matt Gruebner will also be visiting but won’t be here at Easter, and will only have a window of a couple of days when he and Aaron will both be here, but if I can wrangle another gig in that time frame, I will!

Q.  I would love to do an updated photo essay on Blue Train.  Do you have much archival material of this seminal Auckland Jazz Groove band?

A.  Yes I do – I have a box of clippings, magazine articles etc, going right back to the early days when a young Matt Penman was playing with us! I also have a lot of print-outs documenting our success on the former mp3.com website back around 2000. So you’re welcome to have a sift through all that.

Q.  You own the Jazz Groove space in Auckland and you are enormously well-respected about town.   Do you feel a little cheated that music as well received and as popular as yours has not been picked up for wider distribution?

A.  Thanks John. As Blue Train we did reasonably well and had a certain amount of recognition, but I guess it was hard for venues, labels etc to categorise us – not traditional ‘jazz’ enough for some, or too jazz for the groove crowd. Not having a singer also limited our ‘acceptance’ in the gig scene. You need to remember that NZ is still quite small, and even though there are fantastic jazz musicians and bands around, the general public don’t really get exposed to the diversity that exists. So the average New Zealanders perception of jazz is fairly limited and safe, thus it’s hard for many great artists to get a voice or get picked up. Yes it can be frustrating, but I really appreciate what people like Roger & Caroline are doing with CJC to raise the profile of what’s happening in NZ. I’ve seen many jazz bars come and go, but these guys have got it right. If anything,THEY need the wider exposure! However, I know the market is much bigger overseas, and when you check out sites like nextbop.com, you realise just how much incredible cutting-edge jazz is out there. The international market is definitely somewhere I will be focussing more on in 2013. In any case, the ability to create, produce and play ones own music is such an incredible privilege, and at the end of the day, as long as it touches or inspires even one other person, I’m happy.

Q.  Tell me about a few of your favourite local musicians both in and out of your band.

A.  In the band? Well, everyone! Truly, each of these players are inspiring to me, which is why I chose to work with them. Jono is an incredible drummer with an intuitive grasp of time, so with the odd-time stuff, he was the perfect choice. Plus, he shares a similar passion for Radiohead, and has a lot of good musical input, hence his assistant production role on the album. Marika has just an amazing feel and sense of groove – she knows precisely where to put the notes but also has a strong melodic sensibility. And Andy has all the rock, jazz influences but is unique. He’s a stunning guitarist and has a playfulness which works so well in this context. I have been working with David Hodkinson in bass duties of late, and he’s also a very good, keen, passionate player. He has slotted in perfectly with the band.

Outside of the band? There honestly are SO many local musicians that have inspired, or continue to inspire me. Of course Matt Penman was an early inspiration, and still is. It’s been inspiring just to see his incredible growth as a musician over the years, and he’s such a nice guy. Brian Smith was also a big inspiration – we did a number of gigs together in my early jazz years, and I learned so much from just playing with him. The list goes on: Dixon Nacey, Kevin Field, Roger Manins, Nathan & Joel Haines…in fact I really draw inspiration from all of the local players!  Some of the young players coming through now, like Matt Steel, just blow me away too.

Q.  You have a deep interest in many of the cutting edge Israeli Jazz musicians and in Middle Eastern folk melody.   You were recently doing a masters and focusing on these works.  Tell us a little about Yaron Herman and others?

A.  Actually I haven’t completed my Masters yet! Still a work in progress. I did my Honours study on Avishai Cohen, as I was fascinated how he managed to blend the Middle Eastern elements of rhythm & melody, with classical and jazz, and create something that was very fresh and exciting. I’ve had a long-term love of Middle eastern music, especially the rhythm, but also the structure of it in terms of the various modes or maqams; the use of quarter-tones etc. So discovering artists like Cohen, Tigran Hamasyan, Shai Maestro & Yaron Herman has been an epiphany in jazz for me! My Masters study is partly on Yaron’s music, but also on the way he was taught.

He only starting learning piano at age 16, under the tutelage of Opher Brayer, who used mathematics, philosophy & psychology! At age 18, with a scholarship, he went to Berklee music school in the US, decided he didn’t like it, returned home via Paris, and at a jam session was offered a gig then and there. How Yaron so quickly reached such an incredible level interests me, but also the use of aspects such as psychology in the process – obviously it enabled Yaron to connect on a deep level which I’m sure is part of his rapid development. Shai Maestro, who played piano with Avishai Cohen for a while, also was taught under Opher Brayer. I’m also really digging Tigran Hamasyan at the moment – he incorporates Armenian folk tunes into his tunes, but is an incredible and passionate player. Very exciting stuff.

Q.  Your music is very contemporary and reflects new streams of Jazz influence.  Finally tell us about your interest in and the use of material by Bjork, Radio Head, Parks etc?

A.  I’ve touched on some of these artists in terms of how aspects of their styles has been a direct influence on writing for the quartet, but I guess what attracts me is their total uniqueness, and in many cases, such as Bjork, flying in the face of trends and expectations. Radiohead did the same with Kid A. Their writing also resonates with me – and aside from adapting specific aspects of that, the emotional & spiritual affinity I have with the music is what moves and inspires me. My goal is to similarly express my heart & passion in the most complete way I can – whatever musical form that takes.

Thank you for your time Alan.  Best wishes for 2013.

Andy Smith

I also asked drummer Jono Sawyer the following questions:

Q.  Jono you have played with Alan Brown for a long time and certainly from the beginning of the ‘Between the Spaces’ lineup.  How did you two team up?

 A.  Alan was actually a key part of my love of jazz as I grew up – I used to listen to the cassette of the debut ‘Blue Train’ album in the car with my Dad when I was about 6 or so! (This album also featured my great drum teacher Jason Orme). Alan and I got to play together after I approached him to see if he’d be interested in playing on my first Honours recital when I was studying at NZSM, and I think he liked the tunes I was hoping to do for the performance so he agreed. I was actually really nervous when I approached him and never thought he’d actually do it, here was a guy I listened to from when I was a boy and helped to shape my love of music, yet he was super into it! We’ve been playing together a lot ever since cause I think we both are on the same wavelength when it comes to contemporary jazz and the exciting stuff coming out of the modern scenes, particularly New York.

Q.  One day I asked you about your role in playing a groove beat across differing time signatures.  You told me then that it was instinctive.   Are you able to articulate the process of locating those grooves?

A. Half of the grooves are actually already written in their basic form when Alan brings a new tune to the group. He’ll demo a tune up on Logic so we get a good idea of the vibe he’s going for, and then as we practice the tune the groove becomes more refined and I add my own variances and subtleties to make it into the product… Of course, what Alan, Andy and Marika were doing would shape this; I remember the groove from ‘Sustainable Resources’ being slightly less related to the bass line at first, but as we jammed it just felt right to really articulate most of the bass line between the kick and snare, which in turn helped the flow of the tune, despite it being in 15/8 – I guess that’s where the instinct part comes in!

Q.  Tell me a little about who impresses you the most from among modern drummers.

A. I have a real passion for odd time playing through my love of 70s prog rock particularly, but what really impresses me from guys like Eric Harland, Ari Hoenig and this drummer called Gavin Harrison, is how they can navigate these odd times with such flow and ease. As well as this, they never let what they’re doing get in the way of the groove and the overall musicality of the tune. Ari is certainly one of my favourite players he has such control over the drum set that he can essentially play anything he wants! But also understands that sometimes, laying back on the groove, whether it be swing or more contemporary stuff, can be all that’s necessary for a tune to become perfection. All of these great players also have a wide knowledge of the greats that have come before them, and I’m finally starting to understand the importance of this too.

Q.  Where to from here?

A. Hopefully another Alan Brown album! I know Alan’s really passionate about trying to get some international gigs under our belt so that will be exciting if we get some dates lined up. I’m also keeping busy with Batucada Sound Machine, and we’re looking ahead to our European summer tour… I’m also involved in a project with the APO for a concert they’re doing in May, which should be good fun!  Lots of work to do for all those things though so I’d better get practicing.

Jono Sawyer 006

Lastly I interviewed David Hodkinson about his role on bass

I thought that I would ask a few of the other band members questions as well. The newest member of the lineup is David Hodkinson who plays electric bass. The original BTS album had Marika Hodgson on it and she had quite a following as her intense goove lines were compelling. David has seemlessly stepped into the role which was big ask and so I asked him what that was like.

Q.  David, I am impressed by how you handle your bass duties in this band.  How are you enjoying playing with an Alan Brown band?

A. I am really loving being a part of this group, the combination of a strong groove, interesting harmony, and odd meters make it fun on many levels! Also I consider these guys a ‘dream team‘ to play with, I have a huge amount of respect for them.

Q.  How did that happen.  Were you recommended by a friend, apply or were you approached directly?

A. I have known Alan for some time now, through University and playing with Trudy Lile/Mojave when he had filled in. I met Andy and Jono whilst studying too, and played in Andy’s Masters Combo. I was very excited when Alan approached me to be a part of it.

Q.  Tell a me a little about who impresses you most and your influences.

A. I am a big fan of Juan Nelson from Ben Harpers ‘Innocent Criminals’ band, also players like Bakithi Kumalo from the Graceland album, and Incognito. A big thing for me in regards to musicians is what kind of person they are, I would rather work with an absolute beginner with a good attitude than the opposite.

As far as influences go, I grew up playing Jamiroquai, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, and then it was really Paul Norman who introduced me to jazz/funk. I credit Paul as the biggest influence in my musical life. I was lucky enough to go through Avondale College and witness players like Ben Turua, and have Max Stowers as my tutor, so I was very fortunate.

Q.  I watched you play those bass groove lines once when you had no drummer in the Alan Brown band.  That is a lot of weight to fall on a bass players shoulders.   Was that a challenge?

A. It wasn’t really a challenge, just a shift in method. I try to get the pulse in my body through movement, which can then give me the seperation mentally to process it in the same way as if there was a drummer, good fun!

Q.  Where to from here?

A. Well I’ve bought some pedals so have been enjoying experimenting with different sounds. I play in the bands dDub, and Spiral as well so I am quite content at the moment. I have also been enjoying playing double bass again so I would like to do more of that in the future.

I would like to thank Alan Brown and his band for their indulgence with this.  I believe it to have been an incredibly worthwhile exercise as it gives insights into an important aspect of music within the Auckland Jazz spectrum.  Sadly Andy Smith was out of town but his contribution is considerable and acknowledged here.

John Fenton

Jazz Local 32.com

Alan Brown interview & part one

IMG_3131 - Version 2

Interview with Alan Brown:  Leader, Composer Jazz/Groove Musician

Alan, thank you for agreeing to this interview – On behalf of Jazz Local 32 I would like to gain a few insights into your music and your primary influences.

Q. I have seen various configurations of your bands over the years but I would first like to concentrate on the ‘Between the Spaces’ album.   As the composer and leader are you able to reflect on just what this particular body of work means to you?

A. It’s the culmination and articulation of ideas that had been floating around in my head for a while. They didn’t really solidify until I decided on a format (i.e. the quartet and choice of musicians thereof). Once I had that sorted, a lot of the ideas took shape, as I could hear how they would work with this line-up and the particular strengths of each musician. It also represents a new freedom in my writing, that of allowing all my various influences equal voice. Previously I had felt a bit stifled in my writing as I was constantly aware of ‘trying’ to write in a more ‘jazz’ style (whatever that is).

I was often aware of feeling the (self-imposed) pressure to make harmonies more complex where, in many cases, it wasn’t needed and took away from the purely creative and spontaneous aspect of writing. I mean I know there’s always an editing and fine-tuning that happens but sometimes I found I was just trying too hard to be ‘jazz’. Upon hearing some of the younger generation of jazz composers who were not afraid to push the boundaries but also use rock, RnB compositional ideas and harmony, I discovered a new freedom in my own work, and allowed the classical and pop/rock influences which were an early part of my growth, to be heard – without fear!

Q. This has the feel a well-conceived album, which is largely built around finite concepts.   Is that just my impression or was there a compositional focus?

A. There was definitely a compositional focus, even though a few of the tunes were older pieces I had written. The new writing freedom, along with a strong picture of the quartet sound I had in mind, and especially what each player was bringing to it, gave me a focus that I hadn’t had for a long time. There is a strong odd-time and polyrhythmic element to many of the tunes, which was partly inspired by what I was listening to at the time, such as Avishai Cohen et al. However, I distinctly remember one of the first tunes I wrote for the quartet, Captivated (which sadly never made it to the album, but is available on-line), was built from an idea I had for a while but just couldn’t get anywhere with.

One day I thought to try the idea in 7/4 rather than 4/4, and basically the rest of the tune wrote itself! I guess the excitement and challenge of the odd-time signatures propelled the writing burst that followed, although I never tried to force odd-times etc to fit – it still had to feel right no matter what was happening in the tunes. I was also inspired by the writing of bands like Radiohead in terms of song structure and dynamics, so the inclusion of forms such as coda sections to my tunes are a direct result of that. However there are also techniques I have used in my writing since the Blue Train days (and earlier!) present in these tunes, hence the groove element especially.

Q. What are the primary influences behind the BTS compositions?

A. Artists such as Avishai Cohen, as I already mentioned, in relation to the fresh combination of Middle Eastern rhythms and classical influences in his writing; Aaron Parks in terms of sound, structure and the strong sense of melody; Radiohead with regards to structure as I mentioned, but also harmony and again, strong melodic ideas.

The emotion that is present in Radiohead songs is something I was searching for in presenting these tunes in the quartet form I chose; Classical music plays a big part in my upbringing so much of the harmonic sense comes from that, especially in tunes like Eastern and Tableau. The latter tune also includes an obvious nod to minimalist classical composer, Philip Glass.

Q. Those touches of orchestration where you added strings and flute sounded so good.   It put me in mind of the CTI label of Creed Taylor where expanded works and orchestrations by Don Sebesky were the norm.  How did it feel working with an expanded sound palette?

A. I loved it! It presented its own challenges in terms of writing and understanding how the textures work together but it’s something I definitely want to explore further and include in subsequent compositions. Again it’s a sound that has strong ties to my classical influences, and therefore presents an emotional canvas that really resonates with me.

I particularly love the modern orchestration on Brad Mehldau’s Highway Rider album in terms of the close harmonies and inner movement within the strings, creating a vibrant, sometimes dissonant, but compelling texture. I recently found out that Brad was influenced by the the work of Francois Rauber in his work with Jacques Brel, and Bob Alcivar in his work with Tom Waits. I am starting to check these orchestrators out myself now.

Q.The complex rhythms, counterpoint and multi textural nature of the tunes must add a degree of difficulty.   Every band member has to work a different groove while keeping in mind what is happening elsewhere.  Is that a hallmark of the Alan Brown sound?

A. Yes and no. I mean, it was definitely something I had in mind for this album but I’m always wanting to stretch myself and be open to other influences, so I don’t want to be confined to a particular sound or approach. However, every writer does have their own signature style which is something that should come through unconsciously, but the vehicle for expression should be open to whatever provides the creative ‘spark’ at the time. In saying that though, I do love the multi dimensional nature of what happens in these tunes, that there are elements that one can focus on and think “that’s cool”, but that they’re still part of the whole. In other words, it’s got to groove no matter how difficult or ‘clever’ it may appear.

Q. Is there a ‘Between The Spaces two’ planned?

A. I’d like to think so! I have been slowly writing some more tunes, at this stage with the quartet in mind, but as I mentioned, I’d also like to explore various palettes more, especially with strings. Some of the writing is with my Masters study focus, but is still very much what resonates emotionally with me.

Part two and a short review to follow in the next post:

Alan Brown@CJC (KMC Live launch)- C3 organ/guitar/drums

Alan Brown & C3

When ever Alan Brown brings a band to the CJC, the club fills to capacity.  Alan is well-known, deeply respected and he swings like crazy.  The ‘KMC Live’ release was always going to be a significant musical occasion, but on this night the sparks of inspiration flew between the band members and we witnessed something transcendent .  This was an incendiary gig that lifted our spirits; causing us to tap our feet uncontrollably and for some, to dance with abandon in the flickering shadows.   Alan had arrived earlier in the day, because dragging a heavy C3 organ down into a basement presented challenges.   The patience of Job and the strength of Hercules are required.  These wonderful organs with their bass pedals, wood-paneled console and double keyboard have probably caused preachers to swear when moving then.   It would not surprise me if some elected to rebuild the church round the organ rather than drag it up front.  It is our gain entirely that Alan achieved the translocation.   Hearing the wonderful bluesy phrases flow effortlessly from his fingers as they flew over the keyboards and seeing his feet pedaling out compelling bass lines was a rare treat.

Josh Sorenson

Dixon Nacey is without a shadow of doubt one of the best guitarists in New Zealand and it is a joy to watch him solo and interact with the other musicians.  During solos he will often close his eyes while weighing up the next step and his facial expressions reveal his commitment to the process as he dives ever deeper into the tune.  It is also a revelation to watch him in call and response situations.    When he and Alan are batting each other ideas, this often turns into good-natured un-armed combat.    Dixon watches intently while waiting for a challenge.  Occasionally calling to the others as if to say, “do your worst”.  When a musical phrase is tossed into the air he will smile gleefully and pounce on it, turning it about until it is fashioned into a thing of his own.  Josh Sorenson proved to be the perfect groove drummer as he locked down the beat and pulled the unit together.    This type of drumming requires specialist skills and Josh most certainly possesses these.

Tonight was the launch of Alan’s album ‘Live at the KMC’.   This was recorded at the Kenneth Meyers Centre back in September 2010 and choice of venue was fortuitous.    The venue is of historic importance as it has nurtured radio and TV in its infancy.    It is now part of the Auckland University School of Music (Creative Arts Section).  An acoustic gem.  Alan had recorded this gig thinking only that it could prove useful as a private resource.   One listen convinced him that he needed to release the material at some future date.

The set list at the CJC gig (and on the album) was a mix of Alan’s original tunes with three standards thrown in.   The standards  were ‘Maiden Voyage‘(Herbie Hancock) and ‘All Blues‘ (Miles Davis) and ‘Chank’ (John Scofield) – all arranged by Alan.   The rest of Alan’s compositions were; ‘Mr Raven’ (from the Blue Train days), ‘Charlie’s Here’, ‘Shades of Blue’, ‘In Fluence’, ‘Slight Return’, ‘Inciteful’.    ‘Shades of Blue’ was the best known of the originals while Alan’s interpretation of ‘Maiden Voyage’ was delightfully brooding and moody.  It was a nice take on this well-loved tune.  If I had to choose which of the tunes I liked best however I would probably say ‘Inciteful’.   This was played in extended form and it teased every ounce of inventiveness and musicianship out of the band.

On this night the stream of ideas kept coming, as fresh musical vistas were revealed.   Each one holding us in suspense until the next gem appeared.  This was organ/guitar/drum music at its best; intelligent, highly charged and full of joyous abandon.  A groove jazz trio of the sort you might find in East Philly or Montreal had been formed on our own doorstep.  This gig took place at the Creative Jazz Club (CJC) in Auckland New Zealand on the 18th April 2012

Dixon Nacey

Joel Haines trio

Joel Haines is a well-known and established New Zealand guitarist.  He also comes from an exceptionally talented musical family and this carries additional expectations.  While this was very much a funk-Jazz gig Joel had brought a little of the rock-god to the bandstand.   Many post Jim Hall Jazz guitarists bring elements of the Rock dialect into Jazz and in this case we certainly heard strong hints of that.   Accompanying him was veteran funk Jazz organist Alan Brown on a Hammond B3 portable (XK-3C) and Stephen Thomas on a classic 1960’s Rogers drum kit.   Joel played his stunningly beautiful Ibenez hollowbody guitar on all numbers except one.

The gig was always going to be loud (and it was) but interestingly not as much as some bands when playing in this confined club space.   I was surprised by this as I was in the front row.   The answer may lie in the fact that Joel uses an older style valve amp which he did not feed into a PA.    Alan Brown used a Lesley Unit with valve amplification and at one point I could hear someone in the audience say appreciatively – “look at the glow and pulse of those valves”.   It was brother Nathan.  It is possible that hearing analogue uncompressed sound is more pleasant to the ear.

The set began with one of Alan’s compositions ‘Minor Avalanche’.    The tune has a solid vamp which builds and builds.   Over that Joel played his funky bluesy lines with Stephen locking into the groove.     The second number (‘Ferret droppings’ – by Noel Haines) was slower and in consequence we saw more of what the trio was capable of.    There was time to construct well thought-out solo’s and the drumming was a little looser, with more cymbal work and less kick drum.   Needless to say Alan always acquits him self well with a Jazz audience as he smilingly punches out his signature staccato chords while dazzling with his right hand.

On the third track, Alan Brown’s ‘Shades of Blue’ we struck the mother lode.    I have loved this tune from the minute I first heard it on the Alan Brown trio album ‘About That Time’ – Ode Records.    ‘Shades of Blue’ is a great tune and above all it is a perfect vehicle for improvisation.    Several bars into the number there are a couple of compelling hooks and nice as they are they are not overdone; leaving you wanting more.  Alan certainly knows how to write good charts.   It was on this number that we saw Joel at his best.    His solo was fabulous and every note counted.   As he bent the strings and worked his pedals you could hear echos of ‘Electric Ladyland’.  Not sounding like a clone of Hendrix but taking the sounds deep into a Jazz context.

Joel’s ‘Live at Wembley’ was a nice ballad with long melodic lines and his other contributions were tunes interestingly titled ‘Who Flung Dung’ and ‘Hangover’.

Yes there were plenty of licks and tricks of technique but the band took us way beyond cliché.