Australian Musicians, Backbeat Bar, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs

Eamon Dilworth Quintet @ Backbeat Bar

DilworthTomasz Stanko died two days before the Eamon Dilworth gig and I was feeling the loss. I don’t know why this particular musician’s passing affected me so much but it did. Perhaps it was the untimeliness, a great artist gone too soon. It was as if a vital soundtrack to my life had been placed on pause. As I moped about the house, playing Wislawa and The New York Quartets, I remembered that Dilworth was playing soon and I cheered up immediately. I had reviewed the Viata album a month previously and loved it. I knew that it would be a balm and I knew that it would connect me to that place which Stanko took me. It did.

The Viata album had an astonishing array of gifted musicians on it, Dilworth, Alister Spence, Carl Morgan, Jonathan Zwartz and Paul Derricott. When Dilworth flew into Auckland he was only accompanied by the pianist Spence. The rest of the Auckland lineup would be local pick up musicians. Dilworth has a very distinctive sound and hearing his tunes played on different instruments or by other musicians was going to be interesting. Replacing Morgan on guitar was tenor player Roger Manins, on drums Andy Keegan and on upright bass Wil Goodinson. Manins needs no introduction to Australasian audiences and I was looking forward to hearing him in this context. People associate him with burners and that is his shtick, but Manins is also a master at blowing in these spacious atmospheric situations. I hadn’t seen Andy Keegan for a while but I rate his playing – he thinks through what he’s doing, listens carefully and responds appropriately.  The last of the New Zealand players, Wil Goodinson, is a gifted newcomer with big ears, a terrific sound and with great things ahead. Dilworth (2)

This was the first time that I have heard Alister Spence. He is truly an extraordinary pianist and I could hardly believe what I was hearing. A minimalist whose voicings gave power to the spaces – leaving behind in the wake of each note, a gentle otherworldly dissonance. There were long ostinato passages, often a single chord, which shifted the focus imperceptibly. He crafted minute changes without once losing the ostinato vibe. Floating arpeggiated chords, at times Debussy like – as if Terry Riley had appropriated a Debussy moment and made it airy as it floated heavenward. And all of this creating the perfect platform for Dilworth.

It is a brave musician who explores space with such lightness of touch. Dilworth is exactly the right person to do this. His playing and compositions create dreamscapes, warm interludes from the harshness of the post-truth world. This allows us to rise far above the mundane. It is as much about his worldview as it is about sound. He is a musician who thinks about life and then forges a sonic philosophy out of those musings. It is unmistakably, the sort of sound that ECM thrives on. It is time they profiled an Australian. Here, all is subordinate to mood, with the harmonies often implied; the tempos are measured, nothing is hurried and the melodies are miniatures; elided and markers on an interesting journey. Dilworth utilises the extended techniques in his trumpet playing but there is nothing ostentatious on display. Every whisper of air or long-held note is a story in itself.

We heard most of the album during the night and a tune from his earlier Tiny Hearts album. It was hard to decide which tune to post as a video, but I chose Toran which is the last track on the Viata album. To get the most out of it, sit down, slow your breathing and close your eyes. This is a masterclass in subtlety and well worth the effort. The gig took place at the Backbeat Bar, K’Road, Auckland for the CJC Creative Jazz Club.

 

 

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Avant-garde, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Piano Jazz

Steve Barry Quartet (with Martin Kay)

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It felt good to back at the CJC after nine weeks away and all the more so when I discovered that the Steve Barry Quartet was playing. Since attending my last CJC gig I had travelled 40,173 kilometres (as the crow flies), journeyed through ten very different countries, confused innumerable people along the way with my slender grasp of their deliciously exotic languages (including American English); I visited six Jazz clubs and numerous jazz bars, experienced hundreds of poetry encounters – travelled on more ships, trains and planes than I can remember and wore out a brand new pair of shoes. In spite of feeling befuddled and seeing at least two of everything, I decided that a dose of improvised music might impose a semblance of order on my disordered senses. Still jet lagged I drove expectantly into the city, surprised to find that dozens of large buildings had been sneakily removed in my absence. The Albion stood precariously on a precipice – all nearby buildings gone without a trace; giving the block the appearance of a toothless grin; apart from one well-worn molar.

No one is ever going to be disappointed by a Steve Barry  gig, an adventurous and constantly evolving pianist and composer. I was also delighted that he was featuring Martin Kay, a gifted and adventurous saxophonist. As the lights went down and the music washed over me, order returned. My neurones settled into familiar grooves as I felt myself exploring the sound and it’s endless possibilities. I closed my eyes for a moment, but on opening them saw the strangest apparition. The jet lag was far worse than I thought because a young woman appeared to be gyrating dangerously across my vision – her long hair flying in all directions. She lurched one way and then another, at times bent double, her movements so erratic that I decided that it was probably a mirage brought on by crossing too many time zones.barry-2016-121

She rushed here and there, dancing (well sort of), a look of strained intensity on her face, eventually deciding to up the ante by falling heavily onto the tables and sending my equipment and drinks flying. A guiding hand came out of the darkness and led her away to a corner where she sat forlorn and motionless – at least for a few minutes. As a finale and before anyone could restrain her, she sprinted toward the band, launching herself free of gravity. This weightless state lasted mere seconds, then an untidy crash followed as she fell heavily into the centre of the bandstand – a slow motion train wreck in an odd time signature.

What impressed me enormously was the composure of the band. Grinning from ear to ear they played on, never missing a beat – true improvisers, reacting to and utilising the moment. Barry has accumulated many accolades and awards over recent years but he is never one to rest on his laurels; spending the last year composing – finding new ways to express his evolving musical ideas. The music was superb, ranging from open and free to adventurous standards, beguiling, labyrinthine. The gig guide had accurately described Barry’s compositions as modernism, melodicism and minimalism combined. As themes were probed and developed, new soundscapes opened up. The addition of the gifted Martin Kay an asset, enabling a fuller realisation of Barry’s vision.barry-2016-122

Kay was on alto for this gig, bringing every ounce of his considerable talent to bear as we experienced his full-throated sound. His solos took us deep inside the music and at times he utilised extended technique. His use of multi-phonics was impressive but never gratuitous, adding colour and fresh dimensions to the innovative compositions. A piano does not have the freedom of a saxophone in this regard, but Barry played off the others with increasing intensity during his solos. The contrast was extremely pleasing. On bass was Cameron McArthur and on drums Andy Keegan, both performing like the veterans they are. McArthur is a regular and popular at the CJC (deservedly so). Keegan we see less, but on the basis of Wednesday nights performance I would hope to see him more often. This was complex though accessible music and well rendered. Barry’s year of hibernation has been a fruitful one.

A seldom played standard Juju (Wayne Shorter) was marvelous. The angularity and endlessly unexpected turns paying Shorter deep respect. This gig showcased musicality at the highest level (and with the added benefit of some impromptu free fall performance art thrown in).  I was glad to be back home for this.

I heard quite a bit of music while travelling and I also heard the varying cadences of the spoken word along the way (especially in poetry). In Vienna I heard a the cross-pollination of Americana and European folk rhythms (Chico Freeman), in the Bimhuis Amsterdam I heard Euro Free Jazz (Frank von Bimmel and Han Bennink) – in Gdansk I heard improvised music that was Polka infused. Improvised music is a universal phenomena but it has regional dialects. I like our Australasian dialect very much.

Steve Barry Quartet: Steve Barry (piano, compositions), Martin Kay (alto saxophone, compositions), Cameron McArthur (upright bass), Andy Keegan (drums). The gig took place on 26th October 2016 at the Albion Hotel basement – CJC (Creative Jazz Club).

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians, vocal

Glen Wagstaff Project @ CJC

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Just when I think that I am getting a handle on the extent of the New Zealand Jazz scene something new comes along that tells me I don’t.  I humbly admit that I am only just beginning to comprehend it.  As the CJC attracts more offshore Jazz visitors it is also attracting more Wellington and Christchurch bands and those have been great.   If this trend continues I half expect to see the Gore chapter of the ‘Balclutha John Zorn Tribute Band’ on the billing sometime soon.

A particular case in point is the Christchurch Jazz scene which is producing some astonishing Jazz musicians.   A slow but steady stream of these musicians has been drifting northward (Andy Keegan, Dan Kennedy & Richie Pickard to name but a few).  In the last few years we have had the Tamara Smith trio and Reuben Derrick’s quartet (both of which gave an excellent account of themselves) and now the Glen Wagstaff Project.  Roger is never wrong about this stuff and he told us that we were in for a treat.  IMG_8416 - Version 2

Jazz is a broad deep river and the tributaries running into it are now so numerous that it is easy to overlook one.  I have long been urging the better writers among our Auckland musicians to do more ensemble writing (or even better write a some charts for a nonet).  They have patiently explained that this is a big task and one which requires a commitment of time.  I have continued to engage these musicians on the likes of Kenny Wheeler and almost everyone loves what he does.   As much as he’s admired, his compositions or similar work is seldom performed.  Following the progress of such outlier writing is confined to selective offshore artists.

When the Glen Wagstaff project flew in last week all I knew about them was that Glen is great writer and that Roger Manins was enthusiastic.  Three of the band were familiar to me as they have played at the CJC before.  I sat back expecting a quick few bars as they ran through an arranged head and then numerous solos to follow.  What I got was a rich gorgeous feast of ensemble playing.  I couldn’t have been more delighted.  These charts are crafted with consummate skill and like any well-arranged medium to large ensemble charts they imparted a sense of space and breadth.   To get the feel of a bigger unit while retaining the airiness and space of a small one is what such writing is all about.   The effect of well written charts like these is profound.   The choice of instrumentation is also important as it allows for very particular textures and voicings.   These charts were well written and well played.   I was there from the first number and remained captivated throughout.  IMG_8377 - Version 2

Most of the numbers were original but several were re-arranged from the likes ‘The Brian Blade Foundation’ and ‘Kenny Wheeler’.   A version of “Kind Folk’ from the amazing Kenny Wheeler ECM disk ‘Angel Song’ was breath-taking.   The Wheeler disk had a pared back lineup (Kenny Wheeler, Lee Konitz, Dave Holland & Bill Frisell) but in Glens hands this expanded for an octet.  The gig was divided between septet and octet and this allowed the various band members to take short solos’.   On guitar was Glen and he resisted the urge to perform long soaring virtuosic lines as they would have been out of place.   That said his guitar work was just great and the little hints of Abercrombie or even Rosenwinkel stylings gave us a glimpse of his prowess as a player.  Tamara Smith has been to the CJC before and along with Auckland’s Trudy Lile she owns the flute space.  Tamara is a gifted musician who can utilise extended technique or just floor you with her breathy soulful notes.   Having both flute and voice in the mix worked well for me and the fact that they were able to blend while never appearing to crowd the others space, tells me a lot about their abilities and the charts.  IMG_8390 - Version 2

On tenor sax was Gwyn Renolds (who also doubled on soprano) and on alto was George Cook.  Both played superbly and both had solo spots which were enthusiastically received by the audience.  Once again these guys showed how well they could modulate their sound and fit tightly into the mix.  Ensemble playing of this sort requires an unusually disciplined approach and the naturally louder horns resisted the impulse to dominate where that would have been inappropriate.    On piano was Catherine Wells and while she had few solos, she added just the right touch to the ensemble.   A minimalist approach was called for and that was delivered.   This sort of band is about texture and her occasional mid to upper register filigree added value.

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Andy Keegan and Richie Pickard are increasingly seen about town and they are well appreciated by CJC audiences.   They are both skilled readers and able to deliver deeply nuanced performances or knock out punches as the job in hand requires.  They have often featured in louder, frenetic bands but have also shown how tastefully they can play when presented with charts like this.   I have high regard for both as musicians.

Lastly there was Toni Randle who sang wordless lines and approached the charts much as a non chordal instrument would.  Adding the human voice into charts like these is to impart a degree of magic when done well.   It takes writing skills and well honed performance skills to pull this off.  One again this worked incredibly well.   I have long been a fan of Norma Winstone and Toni followed very much in her footsteps.  The human voice is a powerful instrument and to hear it freed from the job of interpreting lyrics is a joy.  The tune ‘Maylie’ that I have put up, is one of Glens and it illustrates that point perfectly.

During the dying years of the big band swing era the Claude Thornhill Orchestra and a few others were doing things differently.  Musicians like Lee Konitz and Gerry Mulligan came up through these bands and then came the seminal ‘Birth of the Cool’ and Gil Evans.   This sort of writing has never gone away but it is certainly on the periphery.   I’m thrilled that Glen Wagstaff is writing in this way and I hope that he continues to do so.   His band and his charts have real integrity and the club crowd reacted to that.  I left the gig deeply satisfied and that’s what this music is all about.

Who: The Glen Wagstaff Project – Glen Wagstaff (leader, guitar, compositions), Tamara Smith (flute), George Cook (alto), Gwyn Renolds (tenor, soprano), Toni Randle (vocals), Catherine Wells (piano), Richie Pickard (bass), Andy Keegan (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), basement 1885 building, Brittomart Auckland

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Bop, Straight ahead

Reuben Derrick’s Hound Dogs @ CJC

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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