Australia produces some distinctive, muscular tenor players and Andy Sugg is an example of that phenomena. The first thing that grabs a listener is an awareness of the raw power that fills a room when he blows. I am not just referring to volume or his fat rounded sound, but to the way he communicates an innate sense of musical purpose. This comes across as something beyond mere confidence. Deftly progressing through each tune; no over thinking, just a flow of connected ideas – and all carried on that delicious sound.It is always tempting to look for comparisons or patterns, it is what listeners do (and probably what many players wish they didn’t do). It is part of how music works, our subconscious looking for a framework, for some reference point – a launching pad, a place of departure where the known departs for the unknown. In Sugg’s playing you could could hear them all. Name a great tenor player and that player was in there, listen harder and suddenly they were gone. Perhaps this is the hall mark of truly innovative players; they channel the essence of others and then dismiss them just as easily.One of the joys of improvised music is the eternal conflict between the tangible and the intangible. You hear a phrase or a voicing that is maddeningly familiar, you feel a tingle of anticipation, you are on the verge of naming it – but before it takes form it is gone; dissolved into the intangible. Listening to Sugg is to catch a piece of Brecker, but listening to Sugg is also to hear an original. Tradition and innovation co-existing but ultimately spoken in his own dialect.
The tour was put together by Wellington based drummer Mark Lockett. Not long back from years of working in the USA, Locket has wasted no time since in stamping his hallmark on the Wellington scene. The WJC is a Wellington equivalent of Auckland’s CJC and between the two clubs (and affiliated venues) we are ensured a more viable touring circuit. Lockett simply oozes character (on kit and in conversation). As drummers go he is authentically original and a delight to hear. His atypical posture on the kit produces astonishingly good results. Like Sugg he is never hesitant, each gentle tap, pressed roll or flurry a moment of pure musicality. Like Sugg, he is an unusually decisive player – these two were made to be musically aligned.Kevin Field was on piano, this time well miked and able to do what he is renowned for. Mostyn Cole was on upright bass (also perfectly miked for the room). The band sounded terrific and although some of the charts were complex, they played like they had been together for years. It never ceases to amaze me, how well-rounded musicians can achieve such results after one quick rehearsal. Most of the tunes were Sugg originals and all were distinctive. Among them were ‘Rollins’, (a tribute to Sonny), ‘Tran’, ‘Columbia’, ‘Manhattan Beach’, ‘Juna’ and segment from his ‘Hemispheric Suite’.
The one standard he played was Johnny Green’s ‘Body & Soul’. I don’t know why, but this warhorse is another in the ‘often avoided’ category. At one point it was the tune with the most recorded versions (perhaps that is why?). Following in the vapour trails laid by Bean, Dex or Trane could be another reason. Sugg however had the confidence to take it head on and he just killed it. After a stunning introduction the band swung through the changes, each revealing new wonders without being obtuse, reverently evoking joy and making us hear the tune – truly hear it – as if we were hearing it for the first time (version posted). The “Hemispheric Suite’ in three parts is simply magnificent. We only heard a segment or two on Wednesday but the full suite and many of the compositions mentioned above are on his recent album ‘Wednesday’s at M’s’. In these hands the Hemispheric Suite took us close to Coltrane Territory. That open skies brand of Jazz that moves ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ seamlessly, and which can only be described as spiritual.
Sugg’s albums are available from his website www.andysugg.com. The Auckland band was Andy Sugg (tenor sax, compositions), Kevin Field (piano), Mostyn Cole (bass), Mark Lockett (drums) – CJC (Creative Jazz Cub), Thirsty Dog Tavern, Auckland, 5th April 2017