Auckland Jazz Festival, Beyond category, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Jazz Arts-Poetry-Literature-Photography

Auckland Jazz Festival 2015 – part one

AJO @ Festival logo This is the second Auckland Jazz Festival and what incredibly tasty offerings there are in the programme. The event runs as a fringe festival and this is absolutely the right approach; no corporates making stupid unhelpful suggestions, an intense focus on the best of Kiwi improvised music and international acts with an established connection to New Zealand. The ‘best kept secret’ ethos is a good model for this music and it’s true. In a nutshell the festival tells an all but hidden story; the story of a vibrant diverse Jazz scene, with more than enough talent to wow discriminating audiences. The biggest downside of fringe festivals is that they run on air. Good attendance can mitigate this. With no significant up-front advertising budget, the role of the sponsoring clubs, bars, galleries and local record labels is vital. Those venues and the labels (Rattle in this case) need our support and appreciation. While Auckland has an unfortunate track record of failing to support the arts, the winds of change are in the air. The gigs on offer are diverse and interesting and Auckland will increasingly want a piece of this magic. 12080125_10154517770924815_4684211624996739413_oThe festival opened on the 14th with a duo of respected Australian musicians, ‘The Prodigal Sons’. P J Koopman (guitar) and Steve Barry (piano) are expats who left New Zealand long ago to work in Australia. Both are fondly remembered by Kiwi audiences and both are now firmly established in Sydney; polished musicians speaking each others language. The years of hard work and performance in diverse situations giving them particular insights. Barry has been widely acknowledged for recent albums and although widely engaged in academic pursuits recently, it is good to see him on the road again. These guys can really swing their lines and do it while spinning out fresh ideas. No tempo deters them, but it was the medium and slow tempos that showed us their best. The two original compositions which particularly impressed me were by Koopman; ‘Working Title’ and ‘Major Minor’. On these tunes the exchanges between the two were breathtaking. They engaged two fine local musicians for the gig and with the talented Cameron McArthur on bass and Andrew Keegan on drums the gig was superb. McArthur and Keegan were there every step of the way and as pleasing as the headliners.

During solos the shared experience and friendship of guitarist and pianist spoke loudest. I always look for humanity in music and it was most evident during these personal exchanges. On ballads and in particular on standards, Steve Barry has few peers. I like his more complex compositions and enjoyed those, but like many younger musicians he plays few standards. When he does he chooses well and pays them deep respect. On Wednesday they played ‘Isfahan’ (Strayhorn/Ellington) and ‘Skylark’ (Carmichael/Mercer). The latter in particular communicated that wonderful Strayhorn magic. A burst of particularly loud applause followed that number and rightly so. An excellent beginning to the Jazz festival. JoCray electric (5)On Thursday the Jonathan Crayford Electric Trio featured. It is no secret that I rate Crayford highly and I would go to see him perform anywhere. Arguably one of our top Jazz exports to the world and undoubtedly one of the more innovative musicians on the scene today. No Crayford project is a half-hearted affair, as this musician lives music in the fullest sense. His musical outpourings are sublime but it goes deeper than his excellent musicianship. Crayford’s vantage point on the creative life is unusual and deeply focussed: few others share his perception.

When he returns from New York or Berlin he brings the road life with him; a teeming wealth of fresh experience populated by people, places and planets; pouring from his consciousness and into his deep improvisations. Every project has total commitment and every project draws you deeper. Gifted communicators allow us to glimpse what they see and Crayford has that power, especially if you pay proper attention. He has one foot in the everyday world and one in the realms beyond our imaginings. JoCray electric (15)Powering the gig were legendary analogue machines, the sort that live on in spite of themselves. A Rhodes and a Hohner Clavinet D6 fed through an array of pedals, a talk box and other electronic marvels. In Crayford’s hands these spoke afresh, as the listener travelled backwards and forwards in time – simultaneously. whether playing solo piano or music like this, it is always about the groove. He has an un-hurried and methodical way of diving ever deeper into grooves. Unpicking them until you realise that an infinity of corridors yield to his probing. There is nothing of the technocrat here, just deep and uncompromising sonic vista of immense beauty. JoCray electric (8)The third gig I attended was the Norman Meehan/Hannah Griffin/Bill Manhire/Colin Hemmingsen night, ‘Small holes in the Silence’. I was particularly delighted with this offering as I had not yet seen them perform together. Their collaborations are marvellous creations; ever seeping deeper into the consciousness of art-music and poetry lovers. This gig had special written all over it. Meehan is a gifted composer, academic, pianist and author. Everyone on the Australasian Jazz Scene has marvelled at his scholarship when capturing the essence of Bley or Nock in print. He was clearly the right person to shepherd this project, as his touch and pianist lines have the cadences of a poet. He understands the value of space, modulation and sparse voicing. Often allowing a feather light touch to communicate the loudest of truths. Above all he communicates without undue ornamentation. These are the poets attributes and the Jazz musicians attributes. Finding a new way to tell a story, pushing at the edges of grammar and understanding what to jettison in order to find the clear air. AJO @ Festival Meehan (6)Hannah Griffin has an astonishingly purity to her voice, bell-like, adamantine. She evokes the history of the song form. It is as easy to imagine her singing a bards lines in a medieval castle as in a modern setting. She brings the sensibilities of vocalists like Joni Mitchell and like them she serves the words and the music. She interprets but in subtle ways. This is truly an art music ensemble and the words and mood are at their very heart. With each notes passing the essence of the words remained and this is a tribute to the arranging. The other ensemble member is Colin Hemmingsen, a former NZSO principal and Jazz musician. Hemmingsen is a saxophonist who doubles on winds. His bass clarinet playing is fabulous, conjuring the warm woodiness in that especially resonant instrument. The choice of instruments, and voicings was of vital importance here. The conversations needed to convey conviviality. After each reading the ensemble gave their interpretation of a Manhire poem, voices blending, not competing, the words left as pure residue for contemplation.

The Meehan/Griffin/Manhire projects have been well recorded by Rattle Records NZ and these are all available from the Rattle site (see below). This was the launch of ‘Small Holes in the Silence’ – the tile referencing the poem by ‘Hone Tuwhare’AJO @ Festival Meehan (10)Bill Manhire is one of New Zealand’s favourite poets and experiencing him reading in a subterranean jazz club is a unique experience. A reading augmented by fine musicians lifts the experience to the sublime. Manhire is a towering figure in New Zealand literature. A much-loved poet laureate, anthologist and literary standard-bearer. Showcasing to the world the essence of who we are, speaking in that deliciously self-effacing Kiwi voice that we value so much. His poems telling our stories as much as they tell his own. He is us in ways that we wish we could express. He is the poet we aspire to. His poem ‘The Hawk’ moved me deeply. Speaking of vast landscapes and human interactions from a poets vantage point. I also loved his ode to the great Cornish poet Charles Causley, a sly humorous and deftly crafted piece that conveyed deep affection. Above all it captured the ballad form and I could not help thinking of Housman. Two poems however caught me unawares and they were by a dear friend long departed, Dave Mitchell. Mitchell has all but faded from memory and it delighted me to hear him paid his dues. In his younger years a sweet-natured friendly man, in latter years troubled and ill. The reading from ‘Pipe Dreams in Ponsonby’ is what I will take away and hold close – the gentle flames of our lost poet rekindled by a master orator. AJO @ Festival Meehan (8)  Capturing Manhire in musical form required sensitivity; without that the nuances of breath would be lost in the complexities of a sonic landscape. The sets reminded us that poetry and music are natural collaborators. A lyric is a poem accompanied by a lyre. From the Gilgamesh onwards it has been so, the appearance of separation an illusion, the connection archetypal. It is good therefore to see them coupled in this way and by these people.

This blog is syndicated on the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) website and supports the Auckland Jazz Festival and Rattle Records

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CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Hard Bop, Straight ahead

Scott Taitoko Sextet @ CJC

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It was great to catch a sextet gig lead by a trombonist.   There are a number of trombone players about Auckland, but we usually see them buried in the centre of a Jazz orchestra or hiding in the shadows of an ensemble.  When they do appear in a brass section they enrich the palette and texture.  There is something special about that fat burnished sound.  The slurs, the rich colour tones, the pitch, and above all that hint of wistfulness that can hang in the air momentarily after the sound emerges from the bell: even mournfulness on occasions.

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Emerging in the late baroque period, the trombone has a lineage stretching back to the sackbut.  In Jazz lineups it is the saxophone family which dominates the brass instruments, closely followed by the trumpet.  The slide trombone and especially the uncommon valve trombone are rarer commodities.  This is the reverse of what occurs in the classical setting where saxophones are still regarded as interlopers.  While the instrument may not dominate modern Jazz lineups, listeners, musicians and composers alike hold a deep affection for it.  On Wednesday we heard Scott Taitoko perform a number of Hardbop era standards.  This was the high watermark for Jazz trombone (the Jazz orchestra not withstanding).  Hardbop leaders like Horace Silver and Art Blakey always included a bone and players like Kai Winding,  J J Johnson, Curtis Fuller and Frank Rosolino were never out of work.   IMG_3008 - Version 2 

As I went down the stairs before the gig, I could hear the sextet rehearsing a few bars of an uptempo J J Johnson number.  It sounded marvellous, as Johnson numbers do.  Later, well into the first set Taitoko performed the achingly beautiful ballad ‘Lament’ (also by Johnson).  This was a trio piece,  just guitar, bass and bone and it worked beautifully.   As Sam Taylor comped gently, Richie Pickard wove perfect bass lines; In Taitoko’s hands the melody filled the room and hung there in its melancholic splendour.  We all love the gorgeous arrangements and rich voicings of the familiar Gil Evans/Miles version or our own Wayne Senior’s chart (who arranged it for Nathan Haines on his ‘Vermillion Skies’ album), but it was nice to hear it stripped down to the essentials.  The other Hardbop composers who featured prominently were Horace Silver (who passed away just over a month ago) and Joe Henderson.   These are among the greatest composers of Hardbop standards.

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There was at least one original during the evening and that was a stunner.   Taitoko had penned it as a tribute to his grandmother and to the Marae he identifies with in the King Country.  The tune ‘Koromiko’ references his mountain, his Marae and his forebears.  We felt that connection strongly during the piece and the musicians clearly did too as they told the story with feeling.  I have put up a clip of Horace Silver’s ‘Tokyo Blues’.  A perennial favourite done well.  There were nice solos on this tune by Taitoko, Steele, France and particularly by Sam Taylor.  Steele could not have been better, taking a slightly oblique approach at the beginning, working with the complex meters and nailing it.

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There is a strong Christchurch connection to this lineup with Taitoko, Pickard, Taylor and Keegan all having strong connections with that city.  We see a lot of Pickard and Keegan these days and are the richer for it.  We hear the talented expat Scot, Pete France less often and more’s the pity.

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Who: Scott Taitoko Sextet – Scott Taitoko (leader, Trombone), Pete France (tenor saxophone), Matt Steele (piano), Sam Taylor (guitar), Richie Pickard (bass), Andrew Keegan (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand.  1st October 2014

 

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Piano Jazz, Straight ahead

Matt Steele Trio/Alex Ward Trio 2014

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When you listen to Matt Steele, you quickly realise that he is in the middle of an interesting musical journey.   In a trio setting, there is not an ounce of hesitation about him, no sense that he is micro-analysing his performance; he plays for the joy of it.  This in-the-moment absorption has moved his playing to another level and best of all he carries the audience with him.  While Steele is still in his honours year at the Auckland University Jazz School, it is obvious that gigging about town has added something extra to his performance.  A wider awareness, an openness and a hunger for what is just out of reach.  You can’t develop those attributes merely from formal lessons.  The spade work for this ongoing development as an artist has been in the hands of competent teachers and foremost among those is Kevin Field.  Although the club was dimly lit, I could make out Field sitting quietly in the audience; after the set he moved forward to congratulate Steele.  There was an unmistakable look of satisfaction on his face.

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As Steele sat at the piano and counted in the first number you were immediately aware of movement.  Pianist, bass and drums, swaying and bending into the sound; moving as if governed by an unseen force.  When musicians are able to sync to the rhythms, move to the ebb and flow of the music, it can enhance a performance.  When a pianist moves well it is like watching a prize boxer; the keys stung by blows or else stroked teasingly.  Not all pianists move like this as approaches to the instrument are many and varied.  In this situation Steele was definitely more like Kenny Kirkland than Bill Evans.

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Most of the set were original compositions by Steele, some new, some reworked.   All sounded fresh, as an equal vigour infused the older numbers (like ‘Holy Moly’) and the newer ones (‘So Retitled’).   Steele has brought several trios to the CJC and this time his band featured Richie Pickard on bass and Andrew Keegan on drums.   His instincts were spot-on as Pickard and Keegan dug in and delivered for him.  They worked well together and Steele’s insistence on approaching each gig as a democratic exercise worked.  His second number (and probably the only non original) was a piece by Sun Ra.  This was bound to please me, as I love Sun Ra in all his out-crazy glory.  It was brave and it worked well as a trio piece.

 

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The second set was the Alex Ward Trio.   Ward (an Honours graduate from the NZSM) has been on a scene for a few years now and his Aero Jazz Quartet, formed over a year ago, often performs about town.  He recently completed a stint on a cruise ship with Trudy Lile and reports from that gig were overwhelmingly positive.  He is the Jazz Programme Coordinator for the NZ School of Music (Albany Campus) and involved in music Education in the private sector.

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Wards set showcased interesting material.  Some of the tunes he drew from lessor known Jazz sources, while his own compositions also featured.   It was good to hear him playing Tigran Hamasyan’s ‘Leaving Paris’, an engaging waltz.  It is from Hamasyans’s ‘New Era’ album and it is surprising that it is not heard more often.  Ward executed this gently swinging piece perfectly.  Another standout number was a tune by the Welsh pianist Gwilym Simcock.

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On bass was the always pleasing Eamon Edmundson Wells.  He is a capable player able to shine in diverse settings.  On drums was Ivan Lukitina-Johnston.   I have only seen Johnston on two previous occasions and find his approach on traps thoroughly workman like.  The one blight on the evening was the sound from a loud upstairs band which bled through into the quieter moments.  It made counting-in and the quieter intros a challenge for the musicians.

Who: Matt Steele (piano), Richie Pickard (bass), Andrew Keegan (drums)

Who: Alex Ward (piano), Eamon Edmundson-Wells (drums), Ivan Lukitina-Johnson (drums)

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

 

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Millenium

Sam Blakelock @ CJC

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Sam Blakelock is a guitarist open to the various streams and influences around him and he is clearly going places.  Formerly from Christchurch where he completed the Christchurch University Jazz Studies course, he found himself attracting wider attention.  A best guitarist award and the Jack Urlwin scholarship were to follow.  After a stint on luxury cruse ships he settled in New York where he is about to embark upon a Masters at NYU.

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Like a number of Jazz guitarists these days Sam Blakelock plays a Fender.   With Fender playing Bill Frisell cleaning up the ‘best of’ Jazz guitar polls year after year, the instruments emergence in mainstream Jazz is unsurprising.  It is hard to imagine Marc Ribot ripping up the rulebook on a classic hollow-body.   These warhorse guitars can be coaxed gently or smote with force and in the hands of a Jazz trained guitarist the sound palate is open-ended.  Blakelock’s approach is more to coax the instrument and the clip I am posting illustrates that approach.  While the quality of an instrument matters, it is the inventiveness and the ability to communicate interesting musical ideas that matters more.  The compositions were all original, many composed for this New Zealand farewell tour.   They felt like markers laid down at a waypoint in the journey.   A point to delineate his hometown success from the success that is surely to follow.

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For bandmates he chose two ex-pat Christchurch musicians, Richie Pickard (bass) and Andy Keegan (drums).  Completing the quartet was popular local alto player Callum Passells.   Having an alto in the mix gave him a very specific palate; giving the arranged heads a distinctive sound.  A certain freedom in voicing made possible.  Blakelock’s upper register lines blended perfectly with the clean toned melodic alto; playing in unison or subtly accenting solos with minimalist comping.  Keegan and Pickard anchored the quartet.  IMG_0600 - Version 2

At one point Blakelock played a riveting solo piece and on another he stole the limelight with a slow blues that burned like a torch song and sang like an exotic bird.  It is when he is in complete charge or playing alone that we see him at his best.  It will be interesting to see him in a few years time, when New York has further polished his already considerable skills.   When he has a moment I hope he passes this way again.

What: The Sam Blakelock Quartet Farewell Tour.  Sam Blakelock (guitar, compositions), Callum Passells (alto sax), Richie Pickard (upright and electric basses), Andy Keegan (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, 7th May 2014.  www.creativejazzclub.co.nz   samblakelock.com

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, New Zealand Jazz Gigs, Post Bop, Post Millenium

Dixon Nacey – Zauberberg IV

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Dixon Nacey always exudes enthusiasm.   He is one of those musicians who you cannot think of separately from his music.   He is articulate, a family man and a thoroughly well-rounded human being, but music never the less defines him.  He is one of New Zealand’s great guitar talents and so people trip over themselves to attend his gigs.  Dixon appears in a variety of contexts: teacher, composer, sideman (to the likes of Alan Brown and sometimes up & coming musicians like Rebecca Melrose) but most often as leader or co-leader.   This is the guitar go to guy.

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We tend to associate Dixon with the more up tempo pieces where the changes are gleefully eaten up, but like Marc Ribot he can surprise with thoughtful acoustic offerings.  When this occurs there is a hush because the nuanced story telling and the rich voicings take us to warmer place than we ever imagined possible.   We heard both facets during the Zauberberg IV sets and the contrast spoke volumes about Dixon.  A number of originals (composed by  he and Oli Holland) were reharmonised versions of standards.   ‘Gutted and Gilled’ could only have come from the pen of Ollie Holland the obsessive fisher.   It is a metaphor for what this band can do with a tune; paring it to the bone.  Dixon’s red Gibson was no where to be seen and he playing another brand of guitar during the 13th February CJC gig.  He was trying out a handsome looking custom-made guitar (the name alludes me).   This was a wonderful instrument with the warmth of a Les Paul and the bite of Strat.

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‘Day and Night’ made references to ‘Night & Day’ but they emerged as glimpses arising from a darker tapestry.   ‘Conversations with Dr Small’, (another great title) had quirky adventurous twists and pointed squarely at Dr Stephen Small (pianist), who I presume this number was referencing.  ‘If I Should Lose You’, ‘Recordame’, ‘Everything Happens to Me‘, ‘Softy as a Morning Sunrise” and ‘Have You Met Miss Jones were a sampling of the standards played.  ‘Softly as a Morning Sunrise’ was played with such high-octane and at such a velocity that we were pulling ‘G’ forces.  On the other hand the beautiful ballad ‘Everything Happens to Me’ was approached in a loving and respectful manner.  Jason Jones has a gorgeous tone and when Dixon comped behind him with warm soft chords the mood was perfect.   It is right to place such numbers in juxtaposition, as contrast is a vital ingredient of any rich palette.  IMG_6079

Oli Holland on Bass has long occupied an unassailable position on the Auckland scene.  It was a good day for New Zealand when a long sea voyage washed him up on our shores.  He is increasingly providing compositions for the more experienced musicians about town.   Compositions which both challenge and please.   I have often witnessed band members commenting, “Oh this is challenging”, but the results speak for them selves.

Andrew Keegan on drums may be a relative newcomer to Auckland but he has made his mark already.   He brings with him a wealth of experience (including from offshore).  CJC audiences are always pleased to welcome him back.  His posture when drumming is compact and that makes him great to photograph.   It is as if he is drawing all of his energy into a circumscribed arc before unleashing its power.

Jason Jones is the last member of the group and he is somewhat of an enigma.   People who have been around the scene for a while remember him well, but his public appearances have been scant in recent years.   He teaches at the Auckland University Jazz School and was Berklee Trained.

There is often an interesting back story to a band and so I asked Dixon hoping to get gain a few insights.  His reply was typically self effacing but actually yielded rich pickings.  Many years ago Oli had been in a band in Germany named the ‘Zauberberg III’ and they had recorded several times.   This gig was actually booked over a year ago as the ‘Alain Koetsier Quartet’s’ second appearance.    That particular line up was Alain, Dixon, Pete France and Oli (see earlier review).  As the time got closer Alain unexpectedly found himself booked for a week of recording for the second Nathan Haines Warners album.  Pete France had to drop out suddenly and that left Oli Holland and Dixon Nacey with a week to go and short by two band members.   When in doubt re-invent yourself and above all improvise.   The new name came from Oli, Jason Jones was coaxed back into performing and the often complex set list (typical of Dixon and Oli) emerged in the nick of time.

Jazz line ups are often conjured out of thin air and I have witnessed quite a few such manifestations.   It is my observation that flying by the seat of your pants can  often yield the best results.   This is how humankind has always moved the paradigm: our advances over the millennia have always come from risk taking.  In life and Jazz improvisation is everything.

I have posted the Matt Denis tune because it is so beautiful that I even managed to shed a tear through a very bad cold.

Where: Creative Jazz Club Auckland

When: 13th February 2013

What: Zauberberg IV

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians

P J Koopman quartet (with James Wylie)@ CJC

P J Koopman and Thomas Botting joined the ‘music drain’ exodus to Australia two years ago but Auckland still draws them back from time to time.  When they do return they are always booked at the CJC Jazz Club and this invariably draws old friends and new.   PJ Koopman is one of those guitarists who makes it look easy, but like all dedicated musicians he works extremely hard at his craft.  The CJC gig on the 3rd of October featured many of the fast flowing post bop tunes that PJ excels at, but there was something else in the mix.  His repertoire soon expanded to include some country tinged material of the sort Bill Frisell and Bruce Forman exemplify and while there were only two such numbers, it gave the evening a flavour that it would otherwise not have had.  This had the feel of an interesting project in the making.  

Thomas may not have put on any physical weight but he has certainly beefed up his compositional credentials .   After a week of listening to Americana just prior to returning to New Zealand, he has composed a tune, which I will now include as a You Tube clip.   This is a great composition and one which they executed well.   The tune called ‘Wylie Coyote’  had been written to honour alto saxophonist James Wylie, who joined the band for this one gig.   James is an ex-pat Kiwi who lives in Thessaloniki Greece and was due to return there within hours of the gig finishing.   James is well-known for his oblique takes on country tunes and so this title was appropriate on so many levels.   His out of left field rendition of Wichita Lineman is a perennial favourite.  

P J Koopman was exactly the right guitarist to tackle this tune and I’m certain Thomas had that firmly in mind when he composed it.  I had not heard PJ do this type of material before, but the fact that he did it so well is scarcely surprising.   He has open ears, good mentors, great chops and above all taste.   His Frisell like slurred chords portrayed the roots of the genre (and perhaps his other influences); but without sacrificing his originality.  The other country tune was the gorgeous ‘Tennessee Waltz’ and the first few chords took me back to a film I saw in the 70’s.  Antonioni’s movie Zubritzki Point was a portrayal of the youth counterculture and its soundtrack has outlived the popularity of the movie.  The soundtrack featured Pink Floyd (‘Heart Beat Pig Meat’ – who could forget the exploding food in slow motion), The Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia solo (playing etherial improvised licks while the actors writhed in a strange love-making frenzy which stirred up lots of desert dust).  best of all was the version of Tennessee Waltz which twanged out sweetly while tumbleweeds blew past a silent desert bar.    This track conjured up all that happy madness again and this is the power of good music.  

The drummer on the gig was Andrew Keegan, who has recently moved up from Christchurch to Auckland .   Andrew is an invaluable asset to the Auckland scene.   ‘Wylie Coyote’ was in 4/4 time but the feel was different because of the way the beats were accented.   Andrew handled his traps like he had been playing with these cats for months.   Nice work all round.

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Fusion & World, USA and Beyond

James Wylie & Friends@CJC

James Wylie is a respected saxophonist, clarinetist and composer who has played, studied and taught all over the world. He initially studied in Wellington where he attended the New Zealand School of Music. One and a half years ago he moved to Berlin and soon after that to Thessaloniki in Greece.

Those reading the CJC webpages eagerly look out for returning expats, as they very often bring new ideas back with them while still retaining a core of that ‘New Zealand sound’. James played alto saxophone on this gig and he demonstrated why the alto is rapidly becoming a popular instrument again. For years the popularity of the alto waned but happily that is no longer the case. Improvised music often gives the impression of being a ‘blue skies’ horizon where no boundaries exist. All freedom comes from discipline and it is the knowledge of what works best in a given situation that marks players apart. Chops count but musical taste counts too. James showed an intuitive understanding of this.

Tonal and textural contrasts add considerable depth to a performance and in this we were well served. We not only heard the multiple facets of James Wylie’s tasteful alto playing, but we benefited from the addition of Roger Manins tenor. This was a double dose of saxophone magic. The quartet was completed by two Christchurch expats, Richie Pickard on upright bass and Andrew Keegan on drums.

While their first number ‘The Mooche’ (Ellington) got our attention, the second number ‘Just in Time Contrafact’ (Wylie) simply demanded it. It was an outright cooker. Roger Manins particularly shines in these situations and as he and James worked the changes and stretched out, there were enthusiastic cheers from the audience. The sets contained a couple of originals, some well-known standards and seldom played tunes by Jazz greats like Monk. Best of all were the tunes we have never heard in a Jazz setting. ‘Wichita Lineman’ (Campbell-Webb) – [It is a little known fact but Glenn Campbell was one of the original Beach Boys], ‘I can’t help falling in Love With You’ (Elvis) , and a memorable version of the standard ‘For All We Know’.

Nat Cole and Billie Holliday sung this so memorably (and hauntingly) that post 50’s bands often shied away from it. That is a pity because it can still evoke all of the emotions that made it a popular classic. The band approached it in the way that the late 50’s piano-less quartets did. Playing contrapuntally while extracting the maximum beauty from the melody. In this style of playing the bass is pivotal and Richie Pickard was perfect.

While the horns naturally took centre stage I never-the-less had my attention drawn to drummer Andrew Keegan again and again. The quality of New Zealand drummers often amaze and Andrew is a traps player I will keep an eye on. He is not overly busy but he has an in-the-pocket propulsive style. He listens carefully to what the others are doing and reacts in kind.

The last portion of the second set featured James interpretations of traditional Greek songs. My love of Mediterranean infused Jazz is constant and hearing Greek music was a treat. James interpreted the lovely melodic tunes (in crazy time signatures) with an ease that can only signify his deep interest in this music. In this portion he accompanied Greek singer Egli Katsiki. Her voice while a little soft at times resonated perfectly with the keening alto and between them they reached deep into the hearts of the spellbound listeners.

It was nice to have James here and I am keen to see where his musical journey takes him next (back here soon I hope).