Paul Van Ross trio & Cuban album

Van Ross

The Australian saxophonist Paul Van Ross is a regular visitor to New Zealand, but there was a four-year gap between his recent Auckland gigs.  He is a talented improviser, an interesting composer and an artist brimming with ideas, so his gigs are always worth catching when he passes through. As he did last time, he toured with drummer Mark Lockett, a friend and longtime collaborator. They were joined in Auckland by the in-demand bass player Cameron McArthur. Van Ross’s last visit featured Alan Brown on organ; this trip, however, was pianoless, providing him with clear skies and lots of space to stretch out in. All three grabbed at the opportunity enthusiastically and the audience benefited from the subsequent aerobatics. P V Ross

While the tour focussed on his trio chops there was a secondary purpose; to showcase his Cuban Album “Mi Alma Cubana’. The trio played mostly originals and a number of tunes from the album. As much as I enjoyed the trio (and I did), it was the Cuban septet which really floored me.  I have put up a video excerpt from the chordless trio gig, and I can’t resist adding two sound clips from the album. What an album this is – what unbounded joy and groove. It was almost impossible to choose which track to put up as they are all so great – ‘Break a Tune’ (an earlier composition), La Negra Tomasa (G. Rodriguez) the only non-original, the ballad ‘Melody for Mum? In the end I opted for ‘Swami in the house’ and ‘Hacienda de la Salsa’ (the latter containing hints of tango under infectious Cuban rhythms – a truly spicy salsa.  

‘Mi Alama Cubana’ was recorded in Cuba during a visit in 2013. All of the musicians were hired in Cuba and the recording took place over two days in the EGREM studios Havana. In between tunes, Van Ross regaled us with stories of the recording session. No wonder the album turned out so well. The picture he painted was compelling; tales of wonderfully colourful musicians; the epitome good humour and remembered with real fondness. The pianist who didn’t need charts. the scantily clad percussionist, the innate professionalism. Van Ross (2)

It is our good fortune that these talented people came together at this time and that they injected such joyful enthusiasm into the Van Ross Australian/Cubano project. I highly recommend the album – it will make you smile and cause your feet to move unbidden. The weave of the clave will work its magic on body and soul. making summer that little bit brighter. It is important to support such endeavours right now; each time we embrace this extraordinary music we give a one finger salute to the bigotry that keeps such projects away from our ears.

Trio: Paul Van Ross (saxophones, compositions), Mark Lockett (drums), Cameron McArthur (bass). CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, Auckland, 13 Dember 2017

Mi Alma Cubana: Paul Van Ross (saxophones, flute), Alejandro Falcon (piano), Jorje Aragon (piano 3-5), Gaston Joya Perellada (bass), Oliver Valdes (drums), Jose Luis Quintana (timbales), Yoraldy Abreu Robles (conga, shekere, shaker, guiro)

The album was crowd-funded and released by the artists. Purchase from iTunes or from the Paul Van Ross website.

 

Ben Wilcock + The Jelly Rolls

Ben Wilcocks (1)

The last time the Jelly Rolls Jelly Rolls played at the CJC was two years ago and they are just the right band for a pre-Christmas 2017 gig.  To my ears, nothing sounds more like Christmas than the Jelly Rolls. Forget your formulaic Christmas albums – this is good times music and you can feel it deep in your bones. The Jelly Rolls are important for a number of reasons, but not least because of their outreach to both provincial and urban New Zealand. The year has gone well for them and after touring the band to unlikely corners of the Island, they arrived in Auckland in peak form. Their particular brand of swing-infused music is seldom heard live and it’s a delight to hear it done (and done so well). To a new generation of listeners, this is often an eye-opener and so it should be. Their playlist comprises originals but also showcases an all but forgotten improvised treasure trove. Ben Wilcocks (3)

Much of the Jelly Rolls music comes from an important moment in the development of Jazz. It digs into the repertoire of musicians like Erroll Garner, Fats Waller, Ahmad Jamal, Jack Teagarden and Oscar Peterson. These musicians were far more important than mere historical footnotes – they were vital stepping-stones to where we are today; larger than life musicians who entertained and made us smile. In the Jelly Rolls hands, all of the above are referenced; not in a ‘let’s do some retro stuff’ way but by encapsulating style and essence. Those who know their music history will pick up these threads but will also enjoy the immediacy. This is music to be enjoyed in the now, enjoyed at a visceral level; foot-tapping body-swaying music.  Some of what we heard, the swing material, was from their earlier ‘Live in Cromwell’ album (I love that title).Ben Wilcocks

When I last saw Ben Wilcock he was about to move to Rotorua. His new location among the lakes and geothermal marvels prompted him to write some fresh material. The Phantom Canoe is an ambitious project focusing on Te Arawa legends of the central North Island. In deference to local Iwi and Hapu, he consulted elders as the project unfolded. Armed with their blessings and advice, he told the stories in his own voice. The album arising out of that project is on data-card and it includes a short video.  There is a piece about a Taniwha, the epic of Hinemoa and Tutanekai is told in several parts but the most dramatic tale is the title track ‘The Phantom Canoe’.  Beautifully paced, gently evocative of the landscape and the mysterious story behind it.

A Phantom Canoe appeared on Lake Tarawera on the 13th May 1886 and it was seen by the wiser Maori inhabitants as a portent of the coming eruption. The volcano erupted violently 10 days later, obliterating the villages around the shore and the iconic pink and white terraces. No such canoe had ever been on the lake and those in the canoe were dressed in traditional shrouds. Michael Barker’s vibraphone melody over a repeat pattern on piano and bass was just right for this, Wellington drummer John Rae completing the piece nicely as he evoked the final eruption sequence. It was obvious that the band enjoyed performing together and the audience picked up on that and responded.Ben Wilcocks (2) The line up on Squeaky Weasel, an earlier Jelly Rolls album, was as now Wilcock, Rae and bass player Yeabsley. The addition of Michael Barker on percussion and vibraphone is an evolution that makes perfect sense. Trumpeter Finn Scholes joined them for one number and delivered a well thought through high energy solo. To pick up a copy go to Ben Wilcock Thick Records Ltd – www.thickrecords.co.nz  They appeared at the CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog Tavern, K’Road, Auckland on 29 November 2017

 

 

 

 

The Neutrino Funk Experience​

Neutrinos (4)

There is no way of calculating the number of subatomic particles routinely passing through a Neutrino Funk Experience, but we can safely quantify the delight on the faces of their audience. There is something about the structure of this unit that inclines them towards extreme risk-taking; the sort of risk-taking that transforms a band into an irregular elemental force. It is rumoured that a ‘play it safe’ memo was issued at their last venue, but the band either mislaid it or opted for willful disobedience. The only reasonable explanation for this hyper-energised, off the grid performance, is to blame it on passing Neutrinos. The band kicks arse with hobnail boots.

Neutrinos (3)

The NFE were once upstairs regulars at the Albion and later they became CJC favourites. This year has been quieter for them gig wise, but the group’s energy levels have continued to rise during their hiatus. From the first note on Wednesday they nailed it to the floor. Swooping on our unprepared sensibilities and taking complete control of the room. It is hard to say who creates the most sparks as they continually feed off each other’s energy. Roger Manins is always a towering presence on the bandstand; his ad-lib asides and gestures acting as prequels to his wild solos. Eyes always follow him as he moves about the stage, but this time he had competition; the über kinetic actions of Grant Winterburn – vying with him gesture by gesture for visual and sonic supremacy.

Neutrinos (2)

Ron Samsom and Cam McArthur were located behind Manins and Winterburn. In spite of being partially obscured and located in the darker recesses, you’d have thought they were playing in the chair beside you. While the band is loud, it is not unduly so; it is something else that projects them. The sound is in front, behind, inside, outside – neutrino laden energy, everywhere and nowhere – passing through the observers and imperceptibly, transforming them in a quantum fashion.

In the Bimhuis in Amsterdam, I saw Han Bennink put his boots on the kit during a drum solo. Samsom prefers his upper body and especially his elbows. Manins has some leg action. Winterburn, however, took the Bennink route and added a few wrinkles of his own. He sat on the keys, he walked on the keys and he shook his Nord until it cried out for mercy; and all of the while Samsom locked down a groove beat so tight that it became dark matter. This group not only understand group dynamics but they know how far they can go while taking the audience with them.

Neutrinos

Towards the end of the first set, I was handed the microphone, reading one of my poems while they played softly beneath me, accenting keywords, moving where I did.  I was so delighted at performing with this band that I forgot to press the record button – such is life.  It takes real skill for a band to take risks while staying within a groove framework. I hope they keep doing what they do and perhaps they will record again soon? Their earlier album ‘Ace Tone’ is still available at Rattle Records so grab a copy for Christmas before the stock disappears. Dancing dementedly around the Christmas tree would not be the same without it.

The Neutrina Funk Experience: Ron Samsom (drums), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Grant Winterburn (organ), Cameron McArthur (upright bass). CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Thirsty Dog, Wednesday 22nd November 2017.

Nathan Brown Tour (NY)

Nate Brown
Bass player Nathan Brown is a rising New York Jazz star and he is very much in demand these days. The people he has worked with, underscore that point nicely. Notable among them are; Wes ‘Warmdaddy’ Anderson, Randy Brecker, Carl Allen, John Faddis, Wycliffe Gorden, Lewis Nash and Paquito D’Rivera. Of interest to us, he has also had a long collaboration with the New Zealand born drummer Mark Lockett. After years of performing with his regular trio at the ‘Cleopatra’s Needle Jazz Club’, he decided that it was time to record some of the material that they had been performing. The synergy between the artists was already great but what upped the ante were their influences. The trio guitarist Felix Lemerie was influenced by Grant Green; his drummer Peter Traunmuller by Philly Joe Jones and Brown by bassist Paul Chambers. These influences although not aligned stylistically, led Brown to ponder; what if all three had played together; what would such a trio sound like?.  Out of that idea came the ‘This is the moment’ album and the next step was to take the music on the road. Thanks to Brown’s association with Lockett, New Zealand was included in an Australasian leg of the tour.
Nate Brown (1)
Throughout the tour, Brown kept to the original bass, guitar and drums format (with the exception of Auckland, where pianist Kevin Field was substituted). Lockett and Brown were the constants, with local guitarists stepping in along the way.
Just before he started the tour, I sent him a few questions to answer:
Q. Do you see your trio as a groove unit, a blended approach or something quite fresh and different?
  • For this particular album, I would have to say groove unit. the entire vibe of this album is heavily steeped in the hard-bop tradition coming out of the Blue note records of the 50’s
Q. I am fascinated in reading through your bio that you initially played Euphonium and Tuba. These have been used extensively for bass lines in the pre-amplification past and that tradition has continued with modern avant-garde units, nonets and Jazz orchestras. Bill Crow (from the Jerry Mulligan bands ) started on brass instruments like the tuba and valve trombone. Then he was encouraged (pushed) into changing to string bass. Do the brass bass lines inform your approach at all?
  • So much of the evolution of bass lines is tied directly to the string bass that playing the Tuba doesn’t really affect my approach to bass lines. The idiomatic bass line motions arose out of the technicalities   What it does help me with however is a better understanding of brass and wind instruments. This is very useful when writing and arranging music for these instruments
Q. Any move from a sideman to a leader, will inevitably change things from a compositional point of view. I have seen bass player leaders happy to remain well back in the mix – leading from within, but that is less usual. What is your approach.?
  • I like to believe that jazz music is a collective effort. everyone involved should get a chance to shine. With my trio, I’m happy to play some in the forefront of the mix at points, but I also think it a necessity to play in the back of the mix at points to let me comrades come through with their musical statements.
Q. What were your thoughts, your aims, when assembling this trio?
  • There was no grand plan when I first assembled my trio. I’d been hosting a steady weekly gig at a well-known jazz club in New York City called Cleopatra’s Needle for years. At first, I would rotate my musician friends onto the band every week. I tried dozens of combinations of players over the course of a year. I finally settled upon Felix and Peter, we really communicated well musically. At that point, I started using them exclusively. I then started to take each of our influences (Grant Green for Felix, Philly Joe Jones for Peter, and Paul Chambers for me) and began composing music that channelled this together.
Q. Who among the artists that you have performed with have you enjoyed most.
  • I would say my first great mentor and teacher Wess “Warmdaddy” Anderson. Even after two strokes, he still has the ability to lift the musicianship and spirit of everyone performing on stage with him, and in turn, lift the spirit of the audience.
Nate Brown (3)
I didn’t get to hear the guitar trios live but with Kevin Field on board the swing and groove feel was maintained with ease.  It was a pleasure to experience a gig that was so warm and soulful. The music was transporting, like an old friend; reminding us of a shared experience but then telling the stories in ways that were fresh to our ears. A good example was the groove tune Curly’s revenge. On the album, with guitar, it took you to Montgomery Land and then right to Grant Green’s doorstep. With piano, it had a delicious and unmistakable Bobby Timmons vibe. I love tunes like this; they hint of the familiar, then tell you something else; fragmentary quotes which flashed past before you could grab at them, morphing beautifully into new tunes and always with that deep swing feel.
It was obviously a good time for Brown to emerge as a leader. The right time because his material is superb and his bass playing is burnished by years of gigging and absolutely compelling. His compositions also stood out. While the recorded trio would have been superb, we didn’t miss out. Field is an interesting musician, adaptable to any situation and always at the top of his game.  The same goes for Lockett who is open-eared and responsive to nuance. Listening to Lockett is listening to history, but always with quirky asides thrown in to leaven the loaf.
Nate Brown (2)
For copies of the album visit nathanbrownmusic.com or Gut String Records. The gig was organised at this end by Mark Lockett of the WJC. His work on these tours is greatly appreciated as it dovetails nicely with the CJC Creative Jazz Club’s programmes and tours. The Venue was the Thirsty Dog in K’Rd Auckland, I November 2017.

Nanny Assis & Maggie Gould

Nanny Assis Maggie Gould (4)I like South American music and the more I hear, the deeper I am drawn in. A rich and ancient fusion of African, European and Amerindian music, each coast and region nurturing distinct flavours. There are also highly localised variations; all rhythmically complex and all deeply infectious. This week the CJC featured the highly respected Brazilian musician Nanny Assis and New Zealand born vocalist Maggie Gould. Assis was born in Salvador, North Eastern Brazil; a region especially rich in musical traditions and heavily influenced by African rhythms.  The coast below Bahia nurtured Tom Jobim, Roberto Menescal and a cohort of like-minded innovators; the creators of the Bossanova (new music) form. In a world where saccharine versions of great music often assail us, it is necessary to return to the source from time to time in order to refresh our ears. Listening to Tom Jobim and Elis Regina on the album ‘Elis & Tom’ – ‘Chovendo Na Roseira’ especially, is a good place to start. The time feel is subtly different from North American versions and the unique rhythmic tensions dance with life. Jobim is long gone but authentic practitioners of the various traditions are still there if we look. Assis is just one of these; a master of rhythm and of the many distinct Bahia styles.Nanny Assis Maggie Gould (6)Gould was a successful photojournalist in an earlier life. When the pressures of that lifestyle became too much, she decided to abandon the frenetic media world and follow her passion instead. Rekindling a youthful dream she became a Jazz vocalist and has followed that path ever since. Eventually, her journey took her to New York where she met Assis and a musical collaboration began. While living in New York Gould has performed with a number of luminaries, notably the pianist John de Martino (who has also recorded with Assis). Gould and Assis have just toured New Zealand, appearing in festivals and clubs throughout the two Islands. They have toured with great musicians and they intend to record soon in Auckland. When they do, the well-known New York-based ex-pat Kiwi bass player Richard Hammond will join them.

It was not only the gentle Bossa rhythms that we heard on Wednesday but other livelier types of South American influenced music as well. These were danceable and energy fueled treats. During one such number, the room morphed into a seething mass of swaying bodies, hands raised as they danced. The last number, Magalena was a type of North-Eastern Brazilian rap – fast-paced and reminiscent of Jon Hendricks’ scatting.   There were also quieter numbers, some Brazillian and a few from the USA; the standout among the latter being Gould singing the gorgeous ‘Some other time’ (Bernstein). On that, Roger Manins added whispering fills and Kevin Field provided the perfect understated accompaniment on piano. Nanny Assis Maggie Gould (8)It is said that Latin American music is ‘the other swing music’. That makes for great synergies between Jazz and Latin musicians. It can work well, but only if the musicians have the ears and the courage to submit to the weave. Utilising the considerable skills of pianist Kevin Field, Alex Griffiths on 5 string bass and drummer Ron Samsom (plus for the CJC gig, saxophonist Roger Manins). The mix of Jazz musicians and Brazilian created a spark. Alex Griffiths is obviously well versed in Brazilian rhythms as his lines could not have been better placed. Field has for some time been immersed in this music and he is no stranger to the various clave rhythms either. His understated delicate lines in place of comping held the echoes of Jobim’s own tasteful piano accompaniment. During solo’s he gave both hands full reign in clave rich explorations. Samsom is a talented drummer and throughout the night, he and Assis worked in concert. With Assis on percussion and Samsom on the kit, a wonderfully rich sound scape emerged. At one point Assis beat a cowbell to hold the centre – allowing Samsom additional freedom to move.  This was a moment of pure magic.

ReubenI read once, that a Jazz drummer playing Bossa or Samba is doing three basic things; the right hand replaces the shaker or cowbell, the left hand has the clave pattern and the kick drum follows the bass line. Add in actual congas shakers or cowbell and the interplay has the magnitude of a sonic earthquake.The number that I have posted is ‘O Barquinho’ or ‘My Little Boat(of Love)’ – a tune by Roberto Menescal and sometimes wrongly attributed to Jobim. It is a nice example of the Brazilian Bossa rhythms; rich in subtlety and contrast. It is a long-held tradition in this music to have a female and a male voice – call and response. Gould in English, imparting the wistfulness of the lyrics – Assis in Portuguese – taking me back to the master Joao Gilberto. The Portuguese language is extremely pleasant to the ear, while often masking incredibly sad songs. We didn’t need a dictionary or interpreter on Wednesday as we were transported without them. Nanny Assis’s voice, like his percussion and guitar playing, is pure magic – together the musicians gave us a great night.

They open the Wellington Jazz Festival this year on 30 November. The bottom photograph is by Reuben – the top 3 are mine.

Nanny Assis (percussion, vocals, guitar), Maggie Gould (vocals, arrangements), Alex Griffiths (electric six-string bass), Kevin Field (piano), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Ron Samsom (drums) – at the Thirsty Dog, CJC Creative Jazz Club, 25 October 2017

 

 

Nick Hempton @ Thirsty Dog

NickMusic listeners split into two main camps; active and passive listeners. Those who listen to improvised music incline towards active, deep-listening. We know that the brains of improvising musicians light up in unusual ways when playing. Much the same applies to listening Jazz audiences. On Wednesday night a saxophone trio played at the Thirsty Dog; no chordal instruments, no lingering over familiar melody lines, a trio which worked within a broader musical architecture, following the changes where ever they led.  Nick Hempton is an interesting player and the right person to take us on this journey.Nick (2)This sort of gig works well with listening audiences because it invites active participation. On Wednesday, each piece began with a few lines from a familiar standard, often just implied; then, a few bars in, the lines evolved into new melodies based on the changes. As the trio responded the horn led the others to various way-points: places where the music changed course. Fragments of new standards were discovered, unravelled, abandoned. The human brain is hard-wired for pattern recognition, but we love the puzzles that arise from the search. Settling for the familiar is not how we evolved. We evolved by following the risk takers, marvelling at their daring. Following this musical risk-taker, was our delight.Nick (1)The point was not so much the standards themselves but the opportunities they presented. Appearing and disappearing in medley form was; ‘Night in Tunisia’, ‘Body and Soul’ A Sony Rollins waltz, ‘Exactly Like You’ and ‘Rhythm a Ning’ – these and more were examined. Standing alone was the lovely ballad ‘When I Grow too old to Dream’ (Romberg) and in Hempton’s hands, it was beautifully realised. There was also a great rendition of ‘Just Squeeze Me (don’t tease me)’ (Ellington) – I have posted that. The last trio piece was ‘Poor Butterfly (Hubbell [Puccini])’; followed by Roger Manins joining the trio for two last two numbers. As is often the case when two tenors appear on the same stage, a delightfully upbeat and riotous vibe emerges. Friendly sparring matches like this always go down well.Nick Rog2

Hempton is a fixture on the New York scene and regularly performs at the popular Smalls Jazz Club in the Village. His pick up band in Auckland was Cameron McArthur (bass) and Chris O’Connor (drums).  I was delighted to see McArthur back after his extended time overseas. O’Connor is always a good choice when imaginative drumming is required. The trio did not rehearse – Hampton sent them a list of possible tunes before the gig and nothing more.  This allowed for spontaneity and unconstrained exploration. Ever striking out for new ground, Hempton released his recent ‘Catch & Release’ album incrementally – one track at a time. It is available from nickhemptonband.com

Nick Hempton (tenor saxophone), Cameron McArthur (upright bass), Chris O’Connor (drums) – guest Roger Manins (tenor saxophone). CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K’Road, Auckland, 4 October 2017.

Martin Kay & ‘Forage’

Kay (3)At some point in human evolution, the majority of humans decided to stay put. In consequence, the hunter-gatherers and the pastoral nomads became outliers. As civilizations grew, agriculture grew and large enclosures and granaries grew along with them. Beyond the walls and the jumble of enclosures; largely unnoticed, often unseen, foraging continued unabated. The homeless on the streets forage, philosophers forage, writers forage, wild and domestic animals forage and above all improvisers forage.

Martin Kay’s gig was a tribute to foraging; highlighting the activities of foraging animals, creatures large and small and to the improbable life lessons, they impart. It was about cultivating absurdity and profundity in equal parts, it was about following the ancient herds using postmodern skills. It nibbled at reality until you saw it afresh, building on overlooked narratives, finding the things we often miss; a Zen Koan wrapped in sound.I first saw Kay in 2013 with ‘Song  FWAA’. The post from then and the accompanying sound clip is still available on this site (use site search, type in Song FWAA).Kay (2) On Wednesday, his charts were for a larger ensemble. This time offering fresh insights; taking us further down the Rabbit hole. The pieces were of variable lengths and sometimes in parts. At some point during the second set, he played a piece titled ‘Ligeti’s Goat (I first heard that back in 2013). While the piece has melodic hooks and a basic structure, it is more, a surrealistic journey. A place where imagining, spoken narrative and musical narrative meet. Ligeti’s goat is vividly embedded in my memory; it is not a piece easily forgotten, a goat wandering through pastures, locating carrots (perhaps forbidden carrots), digesting the vegetables in that mysterious way of all ruminants.

There was a piece titled puffer fish, another called ‘Thrice mice’ (that chart in a minuscule script like mice prints) and a vampire piece titled ‘Once bitten once shy’.  There was also an appealing piece about a tracker dog, selling his skills to those who might have need of them. None of this was an invitation to anthropomorphize – Kay’s animals spoke for themselves. He spends much of his time in New Zealand these days as his wife works here. For this project, he selected a group of local improvisers to form the ensemble; younger players with an open approach to improvisation. In this respect, the location favoured him, bringing the gifted Callum Passels into the group. Also featuring Crystal Choi, Michael Howell, Eamon Edmuson-Wells and Tristan Deck; each one of these having a stake in explorative improvised music. The only non-original piece was ‘Turkish Bath’ by the innovative trumpeter Don Ellis. For material similar to Kays, you need not look any further than Ellis or perhaps Henry Threadgill.  It is good to have Kay in our midst, as he’s an interesting, often challenging and worthwhile composer. I have put up two clips – Turkish Bath and narrative about the Tracker Dog.

Let’s go – much as that dog goes / intently haphazard….not direction, ‘but each step an arrival’  (poet Denise Levertov 1923- 1997)

Forage: Martin Kay (tenor saxophone, compositions), Callum Passels (alto saxophone), Crystal Choi (keys), Eamon Edmunson-Wells (bass), Tristan Deck (drums). CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K’Rd, Auckland, 20 September 2017

 

Nick Granville

NickThe last time Nick Granville played in Auckland was 2014.  A year prior to that he released his Rattle Jazz album ‘Refractions’ here  At that time the CJC was located in an old downtown basement venue and that feels like a lifetime ago. Wellington is his home base and Wellington keeps Granville busy. He teaches, he gigs about town, he backs visiting artists, he plays in shows, he records, he tours and he is the featured guitarist in the Rodger Fox Big Band. The last time I saw him play was in Wellington, but that was a few years ago. Much water has passed under the bridge since then and his reputation has meantime grown apace. I have also kept an eye on his teaching clips, and his ongoing evolution as a musician is evident in these.  Almost everything Granville plays is coloured by the blues in some way; that is his thing. On a mid-winter night, it is my thing as well.Nick (1)With the exception of ‘Alone Together’ by Schwartz/Dietz, all compositions were Grenville’s.  Some were from his Rattle Album, such as Tossed Salad & Scrambled Eggs or Blues For Les, while others were much newer. The compositions were all ear-grabbing and most appeared to reference geographical locations or old TV programs. ‘Funky New Orleans Groove Thing’ was certainly true to label; a rhythm-driven groove piece that generated white heat. With Stephen Thomas on the job, the New Orleans beat never sounded better. Thomas is an exceptional drummer.Nick (2)A tune that I have heard Granville play previously is ‘Somewhere You’ve Been’. The title is a clever play on Wayne Shorter’s ‘Footprints’. The tune, although not a contrafact of Footprints is close enough to bring it to mind, It is nicely constructed and a good vehicle for a band to play off. For this gig Granville had wisely engaged old friends; Roger Manins, Oli Holland and Steven Thomas. Together on the bandstand, they represented genuine firepower and everyone dug deep when it came to delivering solos

Footnote: If things go according to plan, Granville will soon be off to the Monterey Jazz Festival with the Rodger Fox Big Band, followed by a recording session in a famous LA recording studio.

Nick Granville (guitar, compositions), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Olivier Holland (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums). The gig took place at the Thirsty Dog K’Road for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, 28th June 2017.

 

 

Monsters of the Deep (Crayford/Haines)

Monsters (4)This was trippy stuff. A band that gnawed at the bones of form while the music swept us along; taking us ever deeper, forcing us to loosen our grip, as the waterfalls of sound consumed us. This was most definitely filmic music; throwing up subliminal specters like a Burroughs cut-up montage: an indie soundtrack, Voodoo but with four Papa Docs urging us toward trance.Monsters (1)Attempts to confine improvised music within historic boundaries is plain foolishness. Never has this been more obvious to me than at last week’s ‘Monsters of The Deep’ gig.  Superficially it sounded like, looked like classic fusion; but it was and it wasn’t.  The keyboard instruments were classic analog, the lighting otherworldly; various delays, distortions or effects echoed across the room. While the overall vibe nodded in the direction of Jazz/Rock, the musical language was that of deep improvisation. The accessibility hiding worlds of complexity and there’s the wonder of it. Few local musicians could pull this off as well as Crayford and Haines did.Monsters (2)The collaboration between Crayford and Haines is certainly not their first; that took place in New York a long time ago. Since then they have both gained international reputations, recording in the UK or in New York. Both have separately won the Best New Zealand Jazz album of the year during the last decade, both attract sizable audiences. These artists are generally offshore but we caught a break this year –  they are domiciled in Auckland at the moment.Monsters (3) While the project draws on various inspirational sources like Alice Coltrane and Igor Stravinsky it is also brimming with originality. This is ‘spiritual music’ of the highest order and it uses the devices of the Shaman: long intensifying vamps and hypnotic beats which slip deftly into the consciousness. Throughout the night, it was Haines who took the melodic path while Crayford provided magnificent architectural structures. If even one element was removed, the edifice could fail; this was a music built from layers, each balancing delicately on the one beneath; only exposed incrementally, like a nested Russian doll. Marika Hodgson was the perfect choice for running those long ostinato bass lines. Her time feel is impeccable and she creates a gut punch while blending seamlessly into the mix. Not many know it, but Crayford is also a gifted bass player – he knows exactly what is needed and he trusts Hodgson to deliver.  The one musician that I had not seen before was Mickey Ututaonga. He has a long history with Haines and again he was a good choice. Because the music was so carefully balanced, the last thing it needed was a busy splashy drummer. Ututaonga synced with the others, his every beat enhancing the overall hypnotic effect. MonstersThe other stars of the show were the instruments and pedals. For Crayford a Fender Rhodes and an equally vintage Clavinet; for Haines, his beautiful horns fed through a vintage SM7 Shure Microphone, then into a preamp and guitar FX board.

I have put up a clip titled ‘Stravinsky Thing‘ (Crayford). The piece is inspired by Igor Stravinsky; first an intro, then building slowly over a vamp, ratcheting up the tension on keyboards as an ostinato theme builds – the insistent bass line, the hypnotic drums, these freeing up the horns – soprano and tenor saxophones exploring; weaving in threads of vibrant colour. If only Stravinsky had been there – he was never afraid of modernity. These musicians are real monsters and their music is deep. I hope that they hang around in Auckland long enough to do it again.

Monsters of the Deep: Jonathan Crayford/Nathan Haines.  Crayford (Clavinet, Rhodes, effects, compositions), Haines (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, effects, compositions), Marika Hodgson (electric bass), Mickey Ututaonga (drums). CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K’Road, Auckland, June 21, 2017.

 

 

Vivian Sessoms (New York)

Vivian SessomsWhen Vivian Sessoms sings, she takes you deep inside the music. Whether singing the American Songbook, or her own compositions, her storytelling resonates. She sings of American life with all its contradictions; joy and pain both laid bare. Her rendering of Herbie Hancock’s ‘Butterfly‘ tender: the rendering of her own composition, ‘I Can’t Breathe‘, a song referencing the ‘black lives matter’ struggle – raw.  As she sang ‘I Can’t Breathe‘, people brushed tears away; feeling the loss, the injustice; sharing in the incomprehension. She sang it for the families of the young lives so senselessly snuffed out; dying at the hands of those sent to protect them – she sang it for us, a people located an ocean away. We listened and understood the message. Art is at its best when it is fearless and truth-telling – Sessoms gets this.Vivian Sessoms (6)Sessoms is Harlem born and bred; an activist, the niece of Nancy Wilson, the daughter of musicians and a gifted performer with a long string of credits to her name. She was raised in the Jazz world but found early acclaim as a soul singer. Now she is returning to her Jazz roots with her ‘Life‘ album. The tour reviews have been overwhelmingly positive and no wonder; At age 9 she opened for Marvin Gaye, later working with Michael Jackson, Cher and Stevie Wonder. As a performer she is simply riveting; her voice a miracle  – to have her here in an intimate Jazz club setting, a rare treat.Vivian Sessoms (5)What we were hearing was counter-intuitive. A voice of incredible power, but a voice filled with subtlety: A voice that dominated a room, but never at the expense of nuance. Although powerful, her instrument never strained, a voice which flowed as naturally as breathing. These are rare qualities when considered together in one package. Her material was also well thought out; The standards timeless but each one interestingly reinterpreted: ‘Tenderly’, ‘Love for Sale’, ‘Round Midnight’, ‘Never Let Me Go’, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ and others.

Sessoms New Zealand pick-up band was assembled at short notice and credit must go to Caro Manins for organising this. She chose well, but with Jonathan Crayford on keyboards, it was always going to work out fine. Just days after winning the New Zealand Jazz Tui album of the year, he stepped in as an accompanist, giving us a truly magical performance. His solos often stunning us with their brilliance, especially so the extended solo on Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good‘.  The others in the rhythm section were Mostyn Cole (electric and upright bass) and Adam Tobeck (drums). They were every bit the professionals an artist like this deserves. Sessoms looked about her at one point and asked the audience; “Just what do you put in the water here – your musicians are amazing”?Vivian Sessoms (7)Sessoms is a generous entertainer, happy to mingle with the audience, comfortable enough to tease them a little; posing for endless selfies and promising faithfully to return.  She even shared the microphone with several first-year students. That is the common touch – a thing Kiwis love; she read our love of informality well. For details about her ‘Life‘ album go to the website link below. If we support the album, it might just hasten her return.Vivian Sessoms (1)She departed New Zealand the next morning on an early flight; arriving in the USA to be greeted by the news, that yet another jury had acquitted a police officer of killing an unarmed black youth. In these troubled times, more power to her.

Vivian Sessoms (vocals, composition), Jonathan Crayford (keyboards), Mostyn Cole (electric bass), Adam Tobeck (drums). CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, Auckland, June 14th, 2017 – viviansessoms.com

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.

DOG meets KOOPMAN

KoopmanDog (1)There is never a guarantee that two good acts blended into one will work. This one did. DOG and the various iterations of the Peter Koopman trio are each in their way self-contained; exuding a confidence born out of time spent with familiar musicians. Bands that play together over long periods anticipate and react instinctively. Stepping outside of that circle can be a risk, but that is a large part of what improvised music is about.  DOG are a tight unit with quick-fire lines and nimble moves.  By adding a guitar, DOG risked crowding their musical space; with Koopman, this did not happen. He is an aware and thoughtful musician. The pairing aided by some well-written charts, a pinch of crazy and good humour. The result was a looser sound, but the joy and respect provided all the glue it needed for the gig to work well.

The first number up was Roger Manins ‘Peter the Magnificent’, a tune featured on the award-winning DOG album. Manins penned it years ago, but this is the first time we have seen he and Koopman play it together (the Peter referred to in the tune is Koopman).  Next up was Koopman’s ‘Judas Boogie’, a terrific catchy tune and a great vehicle for improvisation. It has memorable hooks and a feel good factor about it. It’s the third time that I have heard the tune and it is always mesmerising – weaving in and around a dominant bass note, a relentless pulse drawing you ever deeper into the theme. I like tunes like that, they are a gift to good interpreters.KoopmanDogThe unison lines and exchanges between guitar, tenor saxophone and Rhodes were just lovely. Kevin Field is always on form and the Rhodes with its chiming clarity was the perfect foil for Koopman and Manins. Field is the complete musician, tasteful, original and with impeccable time feel; Koopman’s guitar benefitting from the well-voiced chords, gently and sparsely comping beneath. Manins also gave a nice solo, and as we have come to expect, he reached for a place beyond the known world. Olivier Holland had a slightly different approach to Koopman’s regular bassist Alduca. Both approaches worked well on Judas Boogie. The interplay between Holland and Samsom was also instructive. As is often the case with good Jazz; the complicated was made to sound easy.KoopmanDog (2)

The craziest tune of the night was Manins ‘Chook 40’ – a crazy humour filled romp which swerved close to the avant-garde.  A Zappa moment filled with joy, and above all abandon. The last tune was titled ‘Home Schooled’.  This is a newer Field composition, one that regular CJC attendees will recall hearing during his last quartet gig. In this expanded context it sounded truly amazing – the tune was too long to post as a clip today, but I will try to do so later. The unison lines in that are particularly striking and the changes in mood and tempo revealed hidden delights.

DOG: Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Kevin Field (Rhodes), Olivier Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) – with Peter Koopman (guitar).

The Missing Video Series (1)

Neil 2Around Christmas, I discovered that I could not upload video to ‘YouTube’.  I spent a few weeks trying to figure out what was causing the problem and then I made a fatal error – I consulted grown-up experts and that only delayed the problem. I should have asked a 12-year-old because none of the experts had the faintest idea what was occurring. After three months I finally nutted it out for myself, old as I am.  FYI – when you upgrade your operating system, the default setting on power-saver puts the machine to sleep half an hour after the last keystroke.

Yesterday was Tito Puente’s birthday and so this is an appropriate time to post the first of the missing videos. First up is the Neil Watson Quartet playing a medley. The latter part of which is Tito Puente’s magnificent samba ‘Picadillo’. What a fabulous tune and what a hard-swinging rendition. It is all the more amazing due to the first two segments of the medley; An eye-popping version of the Erroll Garner classic ‘Misty, which swings between tradition and something akin to a Marc Ribot Ceramic Dog version. This Avant Jazz -Punk rendition gives us new ears on an old tune. Part two of the medley is ‘Moonlight in Vermont’ (Blackburn/Suessdorf). This particularly references the famous Johnny Smith/Stan Getz version but again inviting us to reconsider it from an altered vantage point. A brief and deliberately clichéd quote from ‘Stairway to Heaven’ caused hoots of laughter.
The second video is from the DOG Live concert December 15th, 2016. This was a great gig and the performances were of the highest order. What a bad week for my videos to become unavailable! Posting the clip now makes amends and I have more to follow.  We can expect a new DOG album sometime this year – I can’t wait.  The tune in the video clip is titled ‘Push Biker’ by drummer Ron Samsom.  Roger Manins and the other DOG members are playing out of their skins here.  The intensity of this performance is astonishing, even by DOG standards. The group is by now well seasoned and it shows – in dog years they are well and truly veterans.DOG 254 2

‘Studies in Tubular’ available from www.neilwatson.co.nz. ‘DOG’ (a Tui winner as New Zealand Jazz album of the year) from Rattle Jazz. Both gigs were at the Thirsty Dog for the CJC Creative Jazz Club

More clips will follow incrementally.  I would also like to thank those who watch the videos – more than 70,000 of you have during the last two or three years.

John Fenton  – JazzLocal32.com

Peter Koopman Trio (Aust) 2017 Tour

IMG_4434.jpgGuitarist Peter Koopman has long been established on the Australian Jazz scene. He returns once or twice a year and when he does he brings interesting projects with him. This tour was no exception; with new compositions, some refocused standards, and a re-jigged trio lineup he hit the mark. Some musicians reach a permanent plateau, and then make only incremental advances from there on. To date, Koopman has been on a steady upwards trajectory; and with little sign of slowing. It’s noticeable in the detail, but also in the overall impression. He is matter of fact on the bandstand, there’s even a hint of diffidence about him, but this only reinforces the impression that he is all about the music. From the first few notes, band and audience are subsumed in the performance. IMG_4437.jpgOne of the subtleties that I noticed between visits is in his tone. It is cleaner but broader, conveying more information, allowing listeners to hear nuance and micro changes in modulation. And on some numbers gentle harmonics, rising off the upper end of a rapid run. His newer compositions also enhanced the project; nicely paced, making room for the whole trio and very appealing to the ear. I was not alone in observing this trajectory. One of our best New Zealand guitarists was later heard to mutter, only half-jokingly, “Damn, I’m off home to burn my guitar”. Australia has a number of excellent guitarists and some are equal to the best in the world. The challenges and opportunities of working in such an environment, have obviously suited Koopman.IMG_4445 - Version 2.jpg Judas Boogie, Meth Blue, Dog Annoyance, and Hypochondria were Koopman’s tunes. The band also played a sizzling version of ‘Airegin’ (Sonny Rollins).  ‘Airegin’ (Nigeria spelled backward) is a relentlessly upbeat tune and often tackled by guitarists – at least those brave enough. Another Rollins tune was ‘Paradox’.  The others ranged from the familiar ‘The best things in life are free’ (De Silva), and ‘The things we did last summer’ (Styne/Cahn) – to the less familiar –  ‘The big push’ (by Shorter from his little known ‘Soothsayer’ album) and ‘Montara’ by Bobby Hutcherson (from his amazing latin album of the same name).  Why we do not hear more Hutcherson is quite beyond me (thanks for this one PJK).IMG_4452.jpg

Max Alduca was on upright bass and he came with Koopman last time he visited. He has also been active on the avant-garde circuit with NZ musicians. A thoughtful melodic player, leaving space where appropriate and always where he should be during a tune; an active and equal trio member. Tim Gelden was new to the CJC audience, instantly catching our attention, adding excitement with his crisp tasteful stick work; during moments of interplay with Koopman and Alduca, heart-stopping action.

Peter Koopman Trio: Koopman (Guitar, compositions), Max Alduca (upright bass), Tim Gelden (drums), performed at the CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K’Rd, Auckland, 12th April 20117.

Andy Sugg on tour

Andy Sugg 254.jpgAustralia 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.Andy Sugg 261.jpgIt 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.Andy Sugg 256.jpgOne 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’. Andy Sugg 256.jpg

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.Andy Sugg 254 (1).jpg

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

Kevin Field @ Thirsty Dog

Kevin 3-2017 254 (1)It was appropriate that Warners ‘A List’ recording artist Kevin Field brought with him local A listers Dixon Nacey, Cam McArthur, Roger Manins and Stephen Thomas. Field has a substantial following in New Zealand and his innovative music attracts musicians and fans alike. Since his last ‘A List’ gig he’d clearly been busy – writing new material and rendering the familiar into something altogether different. Zoot Sims once quipped, “Jazz is a music where you never play the same thing once’. Field certainly exemplifies that tongue in cheek descriptor. Commentators and visiting musicians often remark on his innovative approach to harmony and rhythm. It is as if he has invented a new musical language out of the old. In truth, there are strong elements of related genres like R & B, latin and even disco funk there; under his fingers they become unique vehicles for improvisation.Kevin 3-2017 258Unlike Janet Jackson, Field never suffers from wardrobe malfunctions. He does however occasionally suffer from equipment malfunctions. I mention it only because his Rhodes had failed him during a previous weeks CJC gig. No one listening comprehended that he had lost some of the middle-register.  No one noticed because he re-voiced mid improvisation to work around the problem. I have heard of old timers doing this but seldom modern pianists. Field can effortlessly jump over obstacles and find a sweet spot.

On Wednesday he used the Thirsty Dog’s upright piano as well as his Rhodes. Miking an upright presents challenges that don’t arise when miking a grand, consequently the piano was a little quieter in the mix than the Rhodes (and Nacey’s guitar). It didn’t matter in the end because the music was wonderful and the others modulated their sound when necessary.Kevin 3-2017 256There were old favourites reworked like ‘Game Changer’, ‘Good Friday’ and ‘Left Field’, but the rest were recent compositions. Among the newer numbers were ‘Rain check’ and ‘Acme Music Corporation’ (the latter featuring Manins on soprano – a rare event). Another new number ‘Unconditional love’ was introduced by Field with the following story. ‘There are many types of love in the world and today an unusual  example came up in my twitter feed, – ‘Trumps deportation threats make my in-laws fearful. They live at 2b/34 Main St, Phoenix. My Mother in law arrives home from work at 4:30’ “.Kevin 3-2017 255The last tune ‘Home Schooled’ was the best possible number to finish the evening with. Far from being a wind-down number, the musicians reached inside themselves, each giving magnificent performances. Manins back for a second number was on tenor, and he sounded happy to be back on his favourite horn. Nacey was at his best, making his guitar soar, as if he had found an ancient alchemy, a way to condense sunlight into music; the epitome of sonic clarity, invention and virtuosity. McArthur and Thomas each in step and reacting to the challenges. With material like this good musicians can achieve wonders. 

Kevin Field: (Rhodes, piano, compositions), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Roger Manins (tenor and soprano saxes), Cam McArthur (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums). CJC (Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog Tavern, 29th March 2017.

Marc Osterer (NY/Austria)

Marc Osterer 254Improvised music is a never-ending contest between the familiar and the unexpected. Everything is valid on the journey, but sometimes we forget that tradition can be a springboard and not a straightjacket. We had a good example of that on Wednesday.  Because he lives far from here, few if any locals had previously encountered Marc Osterer, but few who heard him will forget his exuberant CJC gig. Born in New York, Osterer has led an interesting musical life. Broadway Shows, New York clubs, principal trumpet (Mexico City Philharmonic) and the Salzburg Festival Austria. While he attended prestigious musical conservatories in New York, there is something else in his sound – something that can’t be learnt purely from academic institutions. Osterer’s Jazz has a firm foothold in the tradition. Louis Armstrong and the great swing-to-bop trumpeters like Sweets Edison. It made perfect sense therefore that the standards he played were from the Songbook and that his own compositions reached deep inside that era.Marc Osterer 256 (1)

There was something of the old time back streets and jazz alleys in his sound. The way he phrased and that tasty lip-shake vibrato coming straight after a ‘hot’ clean-toned blast. Sure he is a formidable technician, but there was more than that in his sound. Trumpeters not raised on his streets, not bottle fed on Armstrong, Eldridge, Stewart, Allen or Edison hesitate before diving into that particular sound. Swing-to-bop as played in the 50’s still contained the mellow soulful echoes of its New Orleans beginnings. This period is often overlooked today – perhaps it’s even seen as hokey by some?  That’s a shame because the era is a gift that keeps on giving (watch a clip of Roy Eldridge or Henry Red Allen sometime – ‘whomp whomp’). What Osterer showed us were modern interpretations which were credible and which shone fresh light on an oft neglected golden age of trumpet.Marc Osterer 255We also witnessed good chemistry between the visiter and his pick up band. It was not the band advertised but what we got was terrific. Matt Steele was flown up from Wellington and locals (fellow UoA Jazz School alumni) Eamon Edmundson-Wells and Tristan Deck completed the rhythm section. Pianist Steele has been gone from Auckland for over a year and is seldom heard here these days. We do hear Edmundson-Wells (bass) and Deck (drums), but to the best of my knowledge, none of them have performed in this context. Absent were the complex time signatures and post bop harmonies. The tunes stayed closer to the melody and the rhythmic requirements were often two-beat or even something closer to second line. As they played through the sets the joy of discovery showed on their faces and we felt it too. Marc Osterer 255These musicians were still students three years ago but their skills are now well honed. They met the challenge and more.  Locals who had not seen Steele play for a while, were buzzing; especially after the blistering Cole Porter standard , ‘It’s alright by me’. Steele’s fleet fingered solo was terrific, and matched by Deck’s bop drumming (complete with appropriately placed bombs and fluid accents). Edmundson-Wells dropped right in behind, pumping out his lines, and it was obvious they were enjoying themselves.  Osterer’s compositions tell us how Marc Osterer 254 (1)comfortable he is with this style of music. His ‘What’s that smell’ (Jazz should be ‘stinky’ he explained) – a New Orleans referencing tune, then ‘Tune for today’ and ‘Bite her back’ based on a Bix Beiderbecke tune. Among the standards was Chet Baker’s version of the little known ‘This is always’, a steamrolling syncopated version of ‘Limehouse Blues’ (Braham) [Note: I have only seen one Kiwi attempt that, Neil Watson on fender] and a version of Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘New Orleans’.

My favourite tune of the night was the bands version of the Mencher/Moll 1930’s standard,’I want a little girl (of my own)’. This slow burner is another that has dropped from fashion, perhaps due to the slightly creepy title (and the lyrics are definitely pre feminist).  What a tune this is though. This was less Armstrong’s version than the Cootie Williams/Eddie Cleanhead Vinson take or even Brother Jack McDuff’s. A low down dark-alley speak-easy version with growls, stutters and smears; giving us the full dose of ‘stinky’ jazz and we loved every second of it. A commentator once stated; “When they find out which part of the human brain holds the love gene, this tune, ‘I want a little girl’ will be present in the DNA”.

Putin recently opined that tolerance and the Western world’s fetish for embracing diversity are signs of weakness. Hermann Goering said something similar, “when I hear the word culture I reach for my gun”. This myopic world view is the domain of strutting fools. The improvised music circuit is our connection to innovation, tolerance and expanded consciousness. On Wednesday nights we forget Trump and Le Pen. For that short window in time we live in a world of exciting ideas and discover the hidden corners of human consciousness.  Keep them coming CJC, you enrich our lives.   

I have put up two sound clips: ‘I want a little girl (of my own)’ and ‘It’s all right by me’ – enjoy.

Mark Osterer (trumpet, arrangements, compositions), Matt Steele (piano), Eamon Edmundson-Wells (bass), Tristan Deck (drums). 22nd March 2017, CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Thirsty Dog, K’Road, Auckland.

 

Jasmine Lovell Smith – ‘Yellow Red Blue’

Jasmine 258After years traveling the wider Jazz world,  Jasmine Lovell-Smith came home; launching her latest album ‘Yellow Red Blue’ at the CJC last Wednesday. The Album features a quintet ‘Towering Poppies’; a group she formed in New York over five years ago. Her New Zealand gig featured locals Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Eamon Edmundson-Wells and Chris O’Connor. After her New York release she garnered a number of favourable reviews and no wonder. This is a lovely album, her compositions and arrangements outstanding, the recording immaculate.

Lovell-Smith spent the last seven years in the United States and Mexico. Along the way she studied with the experimentalist, saxophonist and composer Anthony Braxton. When you first listen to ‘Yellow Red Blue’, the wild raspy joyous alto of Braxton is not the first thing that comes to mind. Good musicians, and Lovell-Smith is one, learn from their teachers while transforming the information into something all their own. Lovell-Smith has clearly assimilated a multiplicity of interesting influences. Her beautifully crafted  compositions teeming with ideas.Jasmine 257 Her soprano sound  is warm and enveloping, the cleaner tone of her straight horn nicely counterbalancing with the woody earthiness of the bass clarinet, the well constructed charts coming into their own when these delightful interactions occur. The rich textures are never overwhelming, even when strings enter the mix. This is chamber Jazz at it’s best, engaging the listener without resorting to cliché.

The compositions also travelled well. Wednesday’s gig had a different lineup from the album. Replacing bass clarinet was a tenor saxophone (Manins) and in place of the piano was a Rhodes (Field). Manins is incredibly intuitive in these roles and a hint of that wild (Braxton-like) unconstrained joy was evident. On the head arrangements they were captivating, on the solo’s explorative. Field and Manins are so in tune after years of interaction, that they can push each other to greater heights effortlessly. In spite of such familiarity the two avoided falling into familiar groves, stimulated by the charts and aided by Eamon Edmundson-Wells intuitive bass lines. Edmundson-Wells is a multifaceted bassist and often seen with avant-gardests.Jasmine 256

As a special treat we had the amazing Chris O’Connor on drums. I can never get enough of this guy. He can do anything on traps including hyper subtlety. On the last number of the first set he turned in a solo which was so coherent, so perfect, that the world moved into his orbit. This faster-paced tune ‘A nest to fly’, was from an earlier Lovell-Smith album.

The tunes were all by Lovell-Smith with the exception of Joni Mitchell’s ‘I had a king’. Her arrangement on that teased out fresh ideas. One particular version of that tune always sticks in my mind, the one from ‘The Joni Letters’ (with Shorter & Hancock). This version pleased me for its raw beauty and quiet intensity. The sound-clips posted here are ‘Moving mountains’ from the album and ‘A nest to fly’ from the live gig.

The title track ‘Yellow Red Blue’ is reflective and abstract. It is written in reaction to the Mark Rothko painting of the same name. I have recently been on a modernist painting viewing binge in Europe and America. The bold eerie magnetism of Rothko is still fixed in my mind’s eye, greatly refreshed after this homage. The title ‘Red Yellow Blue’ and the Rothko reference feels appropriate. Neither invite pigeon holing, both draw you deep into a borderless world.IMG_0263.jpg

Lowell-Smith is back in New Zealand to pursue a Doctorate in composition with John Psathas. Her albums are available from www.jasminelovellsmith.com

Towering Poppies: Jasmine Lovel-Smith (soprano, compositions, arrangements), Josh Sinton (bass clarinet), Cat Toren (piano), Adam Hopkins (bass), Kate Gentle (drums). A string quartet features on 3,5 & 7)

Towering Poppies live NZ: Jasmine Lovell-Smith (soprano), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Kevin Field (Rhodes, piano), Eamon Edmundson-Wells, Chris O’Connor (drums). March 15, 2017, CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Thirsty Dog, Auckland.

 

Flightless Birds – Callum Passells

Passells 254Callum Passells’ newest project was an exploration which took us to the outer edges of Bebop. The title ‘Flightless Birds’ a wordplay; a pebble tossed into the pond, suggesting many possibilities. The obvious Jazz reference is a comparison  between flightless New Zealand birds and Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker – his musical descendants especially. A cohort that tried and often failed to catch his musical coattails. For a time after his death, alto saxophones were laid aside in favour of the tenor; only a brave few risked comparison with the troubled prodigy. As his legend grew he seemed unassailable. Attempts to demystify, to separate the legend from his musical  legacy came later. In the post millennium era few such sensitivities remain. Parker is deeply admired for his genius, then deconstructed unselfconsciously. The gifted altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa immediately comes to mind.

As the Wednesday CJC gig progressed the flightless birds theme was teased out with self-deprecating humour and clever asides. If the aim was to challenge us to view Bebop in fresh ways, while stripping away some of the worshipful churchy reverence, then it succeeded. Passells is able to strike that rare balance between irreverence and devotion, and all the while delighting his audience. He makes the outlying and complex accessible and this is his gift. His music makes us think, it makes us laugh, but never at the expense of enjoyment.Passells 256The two things that draw me to Passells are his tone and his communication of ideas. For a musician who leans toward the avant-garde he has a remarkably clean tone. This works well for him when he heads into uncharted choppy waters, cutting though the turbulent air incisively. There is obvious precedent for this in Albert Ayler (who strove to sound like Desmond or Konitz while tearing at the very fabric of harmony and form).Passells 254 (1)

The quartet had no chordal instrument and adding one would have subtracted from, not enhanced the performance. Accompanying Passells were tenor player Ben Sinclair, Bassist Tom Dennison and drummer Adam Tobeck. As tempting as it is to compare this to the Marsh/Konitz quartets, or even the piano-less Mulligan quartets would be superficial. This project was firmly grounded in the Bebop tradition and interpreted in an honest Kiwi way. Sinclair was the ideal foil for Passells, also possessing a clean tone and delivering pleasing and inventive solos. The warm harmonies struck between the two horns and the bass were at times spine tingling – more bebop than cool and often bookended by edgy heart stopping unison lines.  It’s been ages since I’ve seen Dennison on the bandstand and that was a treat in itself. He gets such a fat warm sound from his instrument and his time feel is great. This is the second week in a row that drummer Tobeck has played a CJC gig. He had different duties to perform on Wednesday and he obviously warmed to the challenge.Passells 255The tunes were all ‘contrafacts’ and cleverly constructed. I am crap at working out the mother tunes – a job best suited to musicians fed a rich diet of standards’ changes. The pieces had titles like “The Punisher” (Sinclair), or ‘Buy a Car’ (Passells).  The Punisher was written over the changes of ‘In a Mellow Tone’ (Ellington) and ‘Buy a Car’ over ‘Take the A Train’ (Strayhorn). After each tune the original was announced, then people got it immediately, cursing themselves for not getting the connection quicker. The tunes were close enough to hint at familiarity, but far enough away from the original to cause some head scratching. One tune needed no guesswork. “I’ve got it bad and so I’m obliged to notify all previous sexual partners” (Passells) – no prize for attributing that one.

My favourite contrafact of the night hands down, was ‘Parkers Dead'(Passells). This title was a double word play – referencing ‘Parkers Mood’ and the graffiti that arose in and around North American cities immediately after Bird’s death; ‘Bird Lives’. This tune was the purest Bebop, with a powerful unison line and hooks so strong they could snag a Great White. Because of a passing superficial similarity, I initially thought it to be based on Parkers ‘Bloomdido’ (my bad).  As is always the case with Passells gigs, I came away musically satisfied and challenged to dive deeper into the music I thought I knew.Passells 257

Flightless Birds: Callum Passells (alto saxophone, compositions), Ben Sinclair (tenor saxophone, compositions), Tom Dennison (upright bass, compositions), Adam Tobeck (drums). CJC (Creative Jazz Club) – Thirsty Dog, 08 March 2017

 

Andy Watts Quartet

Andy Watts 129

I missed the earlier Jazz gigs at the Backbeat Bar and was pleasantly surprised by the venue. A steep staircase rises directly from the busy pavement, ascending sharply until you find yourself in a pleasant oblong room; bar on one side, soft lighting and a surprisingly generous stage at the far end. This was a temporary venue but a good one. Since losing the atmospheric but sonically challenging Britomart basement, the CJC has become peripatetic. It currently has a number of homes and pleasingly, the audience seems happy to follow. Importantly, this particular venue has good acoustics.Andy Watts 132

The first of March brought a treat in the form of the Andy Watts Quartet. Watts has worked in London for ten years and this was his first trip back to New Zealand since leaving. He is that rarity, an active New Zealand trumpeter bandleader, a cohort you could count off on the fingers of one hand. Like Mike Booth and Lex French he was schooled here, but left to hone his skills elsewhere before returning. His years of performing in and around London have gifted him an air of confidence, one born out of wide and diverse musical experience.Watts has been busy in London, appearing on numerous albums such as the ‘Afrobeat Collective’ (which he helped form), ‘6 Day Riot’ and ‘Running Club’. This year he recorded an album with his country group Blue Mountain Rockers titled ‘Turn the lights out’. It is not just Jazz guitarists who effectively mine this seam (Trumpeter Mathias Eick’s ‘Midwest’ is a masterpiece of country Jazz invention). Also cut this year was his album ‘Otherwise fine’, tonight’s gig is the local release gig for that London recording.Andy Watts 128

His New Zealand quartet is largely made up of old friends from his Auckland University days. On guitar was Ben White, with Jo Shum on bass, and Adam Tobeck on drums. Six of the compositions were by Watts and three were White’s. These were juxtaposed between some seldom heard but great compositions by Roy Hargrove and Jerome Sabbagh. Rounding off each set was a standard. Many of Watts compositions are muscular, and at times you can detect his influences. Dave Douglas, Wheeler and others like Hargrove are clearly in his pantheon. I particularly liked ‘Smoke and mirrors’ and ‘Mr Cornelius’ by Watts, also ‘The Moment’ by White. The bands opening number in the second set was Hargrove’s lovely ‘Strasbourg/St Denis’ and it was a delight. To hear such a fine composition performed so well was worth the entry price alone. In this piece especially, the contrast between trumpet and horn was perfectly balanced.

White has a warm sound with lots of bottom to it. This contrasts nicely with Watts horns, who can swoop with heart stopping daring off the upper register or reach for impossible notes al la Wheeler. We see the reliable Tobeck often but less so Shum.  It was good to see both on this bandstand. I am still having problems with uploading to You Tube but I have clips. I will post the missing clips when it is sorted. In the meantime I have loaded an earlier clip of the Andy Watts London Quartet.

For a copy of ‘Otherwise fine’ visit any digital outlet or go to andywattstrumpet.bandcamp.com  .

Andy Watts Quartet: Andy Watts (trumpet, flugel), Ben White (guitar), Jo Shum (upright bass), Adam Tobeck (drums). CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Backbeat Bar K’Rd March 01 2017.

Studies In Tubular

IMG_0215.jpgA review copy of the album ‘Studies in Tubular’ arrived in my letterbox a few days ago and it is vintage Neil Watson. It was recorded in 2011 and left to mature like a fine wine; it was worth the wait. I haven’t asked Watson why he titled the album ‘Studies In Tubular’, but the title feels appropriate. My first thought was that it might reference Mike Oldfield’s trippy minimalist classic ‘Tubular Bells’, and then I recalled that the word ‘tubular’ was once surfer slang for ‘exceptionally good’. Whatever the reason, this is exceptionally good music. The surf reference is not such a great stretch either when you listen carefully. This is deliciously eclectic music and although it touches on many sources, it is an original and highly satisfying offering. Referencing many things but never beholden to any of them.

Watson’s influences are seldom mainstream, but in spite of his touchstones like Sonny Sharrock, Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot, he always brings fresh ideas to the music. His trademark humour is always present in abundance and the ability to avoid taking himself too seriously is a gift that more musicians could adopt to advantage. This is an album made for a long drive, a lazy day at the beach or a sultry summer evening. Track two ‘Wes da Money’ opens with a nod to Wes Montgomery, then deftly takes us into very different territory, this without losing the essence of the opening bars. Guitar surf music (the Atlantics), Jimi Hendrix (Band of Gypsies), early Rock, & Roll. It’s all in there – wonderfully overlaid, motif upon motif.

The beautiful track ‘Kerala’ starts as folksy Americana, evoking a vibe reminiscent of Bill Frisell or Greg Leiz. On ‘Five Bye Blues’ he adds organist Grant Winterburn and what a treat that is. While drummer Ron Samsom lays down a groove beat and bass player Olivier Holland locates the heart, Winterburn comps tastefully behind a lovely guitar line; this reminiscent of the groove merchants like Pat Martino. There is Booker T, Boogie, Zorn and more in this package. This is a music of heart and soul and it brought a smile to my face.  The weather has been a problem this month but with this album you can dispell that memory and lock in an endless summer vibe. Purchase a copy from www.neilwatson.co.nz or alternatively come to the launch at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) which has relocated to the Thirsty Dog, Karangahape Road, 8pm, 15th Feb 20017IMG_0217.jpg

Watson was accompanied on all tracks by Holland and Samsom – Winterburn added his grooves to 2,3,& 5 – additional guests Lewis McCallum and Roger Manins played on tracks 6 & 7 respectively. With a lineup like this, Watson was in good company, but so were they.

Studies in Tubular: Neil Watson (electric, acoustic & synth guitars, compositions), Olivier Holland (upright bass), Ron Samsom (drums and percussion), guests; Grant Winterburn 2,3,5, (organ & Wurlitzer), Lewis McCullum (alto saxophone), Roger Manins (baritone saxophone) – (disclaimer: the album rear photograph is mine)

Live Dog @ Thirsty Dog

DOG16 128.jpgAs another DOG night approached I could feel the excitement in my bones. I had followed their tracks from the groups inception, enjoying every moment along the trail. I was at their first gig in February 2013 and it amazed me then just how rounded and complete they were. If you search for the ‘(Dr) Dog’ post in this blog site you will find a video from that gig. Man that blew me away. I just couldn’t get the tunes and the excitement of that night out of my head. Later I used a cut ‘Dideldideldei’ (Holland) as the signature for my YouTube site. I also sent the cut to a Jazz DJ friend Eddie B in LA and he played it on his show. Unsurprisingly people phoned in immediately wanting to know, “who were those amazing cats”?  Before long the group decided to record – everyone who heard them wanted more. DOG seemed to encapsulate everything that was good and exciting about the local scene – DOG was, and still is, something special.DOG16 131.jpgThere are so many aspects to this group that it is hard enumerate them all; of course there are the outrageous dog jokes, the brilliant compositions from each band member, the powerful stage presence, but it is something else that excites me the most. This is a band that could gig anywhere in the world and we could hold our heads up, knowing that they would do us proud, tell our story. I felt excited when they were nominated for ‘album of the year’ and as pleased as a dog with two tails when they won the ‘Jazz Tui’. Now it is rumoured that a new DOG album is on the way. I can’t wait.

Most bands take a number or two to warm up, but not this one. At the Thirsty Dog the band leapt out of the starting gate like fixated greyhounds after a lure. The first number of the first set was a new composition by bass player Oli Holland (‘Scheibenwischer’ – this translates as windscreen-wiper) and it sounded great, setting the tone for the evening. Next was Ron Samsom’s tune ‘Push Biker’ (the first track on the DOG album). The intro begins with a long morse like pulse, everyone joining in but from a different perspective, then a melodic head – coming right at you like a freight train. A great vehicle for Roger Manins to use as a launch pad as he jets into orbit on his solo.DOG16 133.jpgThroughout the sets were a scattering of familiar DOG compositions – plus a few new ones (like ‘Merde’ by Samsom and Hollands ‘Shceibenwischer’). All of the tunes sounded fresh and somehow different, perhaps because Kevin Field was playing a Rhodes and not a piano. I love the Rhodes in all its antique glory and in Field’s hands it is especially wonderful. It cut through the room like crystal. Hearing the familiar tunes like ‘Peter the Magnificent’ (Manins), ‘Icebreaker’ (Field) and ‘Sounds like Orange’ was like meeting old friends. The last track of the evening was the familiar ‘Dideldideldei'(Holland). DOG ripped into it with the usual abandon, leaving us shaking our heads in disbelief and grinning like Cheshire cats.DOG16 129.jpgThe Thirsty Dog works well as a venue, having good acoustics, good sight-lines and a sizeable bandstand.  They also serve snack food and they are most welcoming. The first DOG album is available at Rattle Records and if you don’t own a copy don’t delay. Everyone wants a DOG for Christmas.

FYI: YouTube refuses to upload video, even though I have some great cuts from this gig – will post if I ever get it sorted.

DOG: Kevin Field (Rhodes, compositions), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone, compositions), Oli Holland (bass, compositions), Ron Samsom (drums, compositions) held for the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) at the Thirsty Dog, K’Rd, Auckland city, December 7th 2016.

Hayden Chisholm Trio

Chisholm 129.jpgWhile not located on the Jazz touring circuit in the way Europe is, New Zealand gets some surprising and unexpected treats throughout the year. This was certainly one of them. Because I’ve been travelling recently, I had not noticed this gig coming up and it caught me quite off guard. From time to time I’ve heard mention of the New Zealand born composer and saxophonist Hayden Chisholm, but I had never heard him play. The little that I did know, was that he’d lived in Europe for many years and that he’d been a microtonal innovator. His CV reveals an amazing diversity of achievements and among them; teaching, composing for large ensembles, recording around the world, film soundtrack scoring, festival directing, touring extensively and collaborating with installation artists. He is obviously not a musician to be pigeonholed easily and my expectations inclined me toward multi-phonic explorations or something akin to the wonderful Bley /Giuffre/Swallow ’61 trio’. What I heard was closer to the equally wonderful Bley (Karla)/Swallow/Shepherd trio.Chisholm 127.jpgThe gig subsumed us in pure unalloyed ballad beauty – beauty of a kind that is exceedingly rare. The programme (with one exception) was of original ballads; pieces composed by either Chisholm or Norman Meehan.  Meehan was exactly the right pianist for this gig – a tasteful musician who knows when to lay out, and who never over-ornaments. His sensitivity and minimalist approach creating a bigger implied sound; each note or voicing inviting the audience deeper into an unfolding story. Later when I commented on this he repeated Paul Bley’s advice, “If somebody else sounds good, you’re not needed. So you are like a doctor with a little black bag coming to a record date” (from ‘Time will Tell’ Meehan). Paul Dyne on bass was the ideal foil for Chisholm and Meehan. Again he made each note count without busyness. Because this was an acoustic trio with the piano and saxophone unmiked, the resonance of the bass carried more weight, every harmonic adding a subtle layer. With Meehan playing so sparsely and Chisholm sailing in the clean air above, the subtlties of the soundscape were liberated until the room sang.Chisholm 131.jpgThe compositions were varied but all were marvellous. Some so gorgeous as to take the breath away – others possessing edge – all beautifully constructed. The trio worked as an effective unit, but the Chisholm effect was inescapable. The man is simply exceptional, his lines, phrasing and tone jaw dropping. I have no doubt that his technical skills are second to none, but listening to him you never give that a thought. Every musical utterance plunged deep into your soul in the way a Konitz line does. Chisholm is quite original and modern but I fancied that I heard some faint echoes of the great altoists on Wednesday night. Perhaps that was just my imagination, but Lee Konitz (and surprisingly to me), even Art Pepper came mind; especially during Meehan’s wonderfully soulful tune ‘Nick Van Diyk’.  I have posted that clip (which is bookended with a lovely Chisholm tune ‘In Day Light Mourning’, where he plays a lament against a drone). The lament references the music of India and Japan, utilising extended technique (Chisholm has studied in both countries). Chisholm 128.jpgIt was one of those concerts that made you feel lucky. The sort of concert that you will recall in later years and regale those who missed it with vivid descriptions – enough to make them green with envy. For those who missed the gig or for those who want to relive it, the trio are recording this week. I will keep you posted on that and on where to obtain the album. In addition Norman Meehan has a new book out – a history of New Zealand Jazz. That can be ordered through any main street book outlet (my order is in).

Hayden Chisholm Trio; Hayden Chisholm (alto saxophone, compositions), Norman Meehan (piano, compositions), Paul Dyne (upright bass) – CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Kenneth Myers Centre, Shortland Street, Auckland 23rd November 2016.

 

Frank Gibson – New Quartet

FrankNov16 129.jpgFrank Gibson is a drummer of international repute, a sideman, educator and bandleader.  While he is a versatile drummer, his predilection is for bebop and hard-bop (especially Monk).  On Wednesday the 16th November, our last night at the Albion for a while, we heard six Monk tunes (plus tunes by Wes Montgomery, Lee Morgan, Joe Henderson and Sam Rivers).

The first set opened with the Sam Rivers tune,  a biting trio number (Beatrice). This was followed by four Monk numbers -‘Monk’s Dream’, ‘I Mean You’, Light Blue’ and ‘Straight No Chaser’. With this Gibson quartet (as with any Gibson quartet), Monk becomes real; you experience the music in a visceral way. FrankNov16 127.jpgThis is not a clone of the original Monk bands, but a modern quartet connected to the Monk vibe by musical lineage.
While Gibson is obviously the driving force, the presence of guitarist Neil Watson is also an essential element in the mix. With Watson you get authenticity and unexpected twists. Watson is a chameleon who can play a swinging version of ‘Limehouse blues’, wailing Jimi Hendrix, or in this case Monk through a Sonny Sharrok lens.  The other (newer) band members were Craig Walters on tenor saxophone and Cameron McArthur on bass. McArthur we are very familiar with and he never puts a foot wrong. Walters is from New Zealand, but spent many years in Australia after studying at Berklee in the USA. Walters is now living in New Zealand which is our gain.FrankNov16 128.jpgThere were familiar, much-loved Monk tunes and a few that are seldom heard such as ‘Light Blue’ and ‘Eronel’. Monk wrote around 70 compositions and they are instantly recognisable as being his. The angularity, quirky twists, the choppy rhythms, the lovely melodies and particular harmonic approach – a heady brew to gladden the heart of a devoted listener. We never tire of him or his interpreters. After Ellington, Monk compositions are the most recorded in Jazz. We remain faithful to his calling whether our tastes run to the avant-garde, swing or are firmly rooted in the mainstream. These tunes are among the essential buttresses holding up modern Jazz. They are open vehicles inviting endless and interesting explorations.  They are a soundtrack to the Jazz life.FrankNov16 130.jpg

The second set began with a duo (Gibson and Watson). The tune was Wes Montgomery’s ‘Jingles'(this appears on ‘The Wes Montgomery Trio’ album, where he was accompanied by organist Melvin Rhyne and drummer Paul Parker). A nice groove number and well realised. Next we heard ‘Ceora’ a pretty tune penned by Lee Morgan. This appeared on the ‘Cornbread’ album (an iconic recording with the mouth-watering lineup of Herbie Hancock, Hank Mobley, Jackie McLean, Billy Higgins, Larry Ridley). Again the quartet did the number justice. The track I have posted is the Monk number ‘Eronel’. While not as familiar it is unmistakably Monk (the original appeared on Monks ‘Criss Cross’ and was later reprised as a solo number).

Frank Gibson New Quartet: Frank Gibson (drums), Craig Walters (tenor saxophone), Neil Watson (guitar), Cameron McArthur (bass).

 

Phil Broadhurst – ‘au revoir’ gig

Broadhurst Nov16 128.jpgAu revoir is more than a simple good-bye. The fuller meaning is ‘until we meet again’. Jazz pianist, broadcaster and educator Phil Broadhurst is about to move to Paris, where he will reside for a few years (along with his partner vocalist/pianist Julie Mason).  He assures us that he will return and it is not unreasonable to expect him to arrive back with new compositions and new projects to showcase. A Francophile (and francophone), Broadhurst has long been influenced by the writers and musicians of France. His last three albums ‘The dedication trilogy’ all contain strong references to that country. Wednesdays gig was centred on his recent output, but with new tunes and a surprise or two thrown in.Broadhurst Nov16 132.jpgBroadhurst is an institution on the New Zealand Jazz scene and it will feel strange with him absent. The strangeness on this particular Wednesday night was compounded by the impending American election result. An election dominated by bizarre outbursts of racism, belligerence, stupidity and misogyny. As the first number of the evening progressed, everyone relaxed; Broadhurst’s melodicism a balm for what ailed us.  The tune was ‘Orange’ (a French commune in the Alps/Cote d’Azur region). Half way through the piece everyone’s mobiles lit up. I tried to ignore mine but the vibrating and flashing increased. I reached to shut it off and spotted the words – Trump wins US election. The ‘four horsemen of the apocalypse’ had just entered the room via electronic media. The tune ‘Orange’ is particularly beautiful (and I hope Broadhurst will forgive me for this association), but on this night, the title was also oddly appropriate.  An orange gargoyle was about to release the furies upon a surprised world.Broadhurst Nov16 130.jpgAccompanying Broadhurst were his regular quintet, Roger Manins (tenor), Mike Booth (trumpet), Oli Holland (bass) and Cam Sangster (drums – and with special guest Julie Mason (vocals). Broadhurst, and his various lineups have received numerous accolades. In recent years there have been nominations and awards; most recently the prestigious ‘Tui’ at the 2016 New Zealand Jazz Awards. Broadhurst Nov16 129.jpgAnyone who follows NZ Jazz will be familiar with many of the tunes played on Wednesday; ‘Orange’, ‘Precious Metal’, ‘Loping’ etc. The nicest surprise of the evening was hearing a Frank Foster tune ‘Simone’ (absolutely nailed by Julie Mason). A fine tribute to Nina Simone, and appropriate to the night, given Simone’s views on the lamentable state of race relations in America. This unit is supremely polished and I highly recommend that you purchase the recent albums if you haven’t already done so. They are all still available from Rattle Records.Broadhurst Nov16 134.jpg

I wish the couple well for the journey ahead and look forward to their return. In addition I fervently hope that they are spared a Marine Le Pen ascendancy during their stay in Paris.

Phil Broadhurst Quintet; Phil Broadhurst (piano, compositions), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Mike Booth (trumpet, flugel), Oli Holland (upright bass), Cam Sangster (drums), Julie Mason (vocals, lyrics), performing for the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel basement, Auckland, 9th November 2016.

Steven Small – Mexico City Blues & Soviet Modernism

Small ! 127.jpgEvery time an article appeared in the late twentieth century proclaiming the death of Modernism, another appeared shortly after; pointing out, rightly, that profound echoes of the movement will linger and intrigue a while yet. Perhaps because of when I was born, (immediately after the second war), this movement fascinates me and will until my last breath. It was a profound moment in the human journey when the hegemony of historical artistic values were challenged, discarded. Schoenberg, Coltrane, Brubeck, Riley, Colman, Matisse, Picasso, Miro. Pollock, Rothko, Eliot, Pound, Kerouac, and even Freud are defined by this impulse to move free from the received wisdom of history.

Those names and others were significant among the game-changing modernists. The paradox is, that once defined, accepted, the movement they arose from became part of conventional history. The energies arising from the Modernist impulse were profound and so powerful that counter-revolutions are endlessly trying to reset the clock – to recapture late 19th century values, a time when empires and financially powerful men determined our world view (the Trump, Brexit phenomena).small-2016-125Stephen Small is a wonderful pianist but he is much more than that. He conjures up musical projects that catch people unawares; original projects, affording us a viewpoint on life and art that we would not experience otherwise. The concept behind the first outing of the Mexico City Blues band was to look at, examine the Jazz of 1957, fusing it with the Beat poems of Jack Kerouac  (Kerouac wrote Mexico City Blues in that year – see earlier post).  This was in part a re-imagining, but also a fresh look through post millennial eyes. When Stephen Small takes on a project he brings to it an immense musical knowledge, but more importantly an eye for the unusual, for quirky detail (no artist, musician, writer or poet worth their salt can succeed without this). When artists do their job well they show us the world afresh.

Mexico City Blues 2016, unexpectedly took us into the heart of Eastern Bloc Europe during the immediate post-war era. What a marvellous idea and what extraordinary music we heard. By coincidence, just before this gig, I was travelling through the former Eastern Bloc and I gained a strong sense of the wonderful music existing there – a music largely obscured from the anglo-centric view, created in an era of strong disapproval and inside hermetically sealed borders. A small cadre of Poles, East Germans, Czechs, Romanians and Russians listened to Jazz when they could. Forbidden LP’s circulated, Radio America broadcasts were devoured and later on there were a handful of US State Department Goodwill Tours (aka propaganda).  Small pointed out something important.small-2016-121

The Jazz that these musicians created, recorded, while referencing the American or Scandinavian music was also very much their own. They hated being told that Jazz was forbidden by the philistine authorities, but they were also suspicious of swallowing the US State Department line.  Jazz is and should be by its very nature suspicious of any party line. There is a little Evans, Ellington and Brubeck in their music but what defines these artists is an uncompromising originality. I am a longtime time fan of Polish Jazz, as it is interestingly melodic and distinctive. The most important thing I learned while in Poland was that the ethnic Poles did not rebel against Russia out of any yearning for American capitalism, nor did they despise socialism. They just wanted the jackboots of Russia and Germany off their neck. Nations and art forms are happiest when finding their own way in their own time. Hearing this music is to glimpse the soul of an artistically suppressed people, finding hidden pathways towards the light.

The gig traversed the compositions of four 1950’s to 60’s era Eastern Bloc musicians and paid tribute to the experimental free improvised music of Russia. There was a distinct flavour to all of the pieces. They were lush without over ornamentation, marvellously inventive, moody and original (perhaps tinged with the dark romanticism of Slavonic literature). After hearing these composers, my interest is piqued enough to want to lift this corner of the Iron Curtin further.small-2016-126

The artist featured most was the amazing Krzysztof Komeda, a wonderful composer and interesting pianist whose dark and moody compositions are forever associated with Roman Polanski movies; a match made in heaven. Anyone who follows the Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko will have heard Komeda often (Stanko was in many of the Komeda bands). If you saw Polanski’s ‘Knife in the water’, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ or ‘The Fearless Vampire Killers’ you have absorbed his music without realising it. ‘Astigmatic’ Komeda’s greatest album, is highly regarded to this day. It signals the first significant shift away from American Jazz sensibilities, establishing a new and predominantly European Jazz aesthetic. I once saw Polanski interviewed about his early movies and he spoke passionately about Komeda and his music. The Komeda compositions we heard were the achingly beautiful ‘Ballad for Bernt’ and ‘Crazy Girl’ (both from ‘Knife in the Water’).

First up was a solo piece, ‘Suite for Jazz Orchestra’ by the East German composer Pavel Blatny. Then Bassist Jo Shum joined Small for two Komeda numbers – following that the duo played ‘Gral’ by Ludwig Petrovsky (another East German). The last piece in the first set was a ballad by Murad Kazhlaev (an Azerbaijani).  I have not seen Shum perform for some time but she was magical – her touch and instinctive feel for this interesting music adding deep resonance. small-2016-120The second set was free improvised music in the tradition of, and honouring the all but forgotten experimental improvisers of 1960’s Russia. For this set Small was joined by Dave Chechelashvili on modular synthesiser. As Small carved out motifs and themes, developing them and exploring the possibilities, Chechelashvili shaped the sound. Small’s Korg keyboard was split and connected with the modular synth; as patch cords were adjusted and knobs tweaked, we heard a music that you don’t expect from Communist Russia. Evidently and surprisingly, this was tolerated because it was perceived as artistic exploration. It was hard not to think of Glass, Reich or Riley and wonder at this parallel development.

Mexico City Blues: Stephen Small (piano, keyboards, concept), Jo Shum (double bass), Dave Chechelashvili (modular synth). November 2nd 2016, CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, Auckland.

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).

Oli Holland’s Jazz Attack

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2016 has seen more internationals passing through our Auckland Jazz club than ever before. Most of these offshore artists were extremely polished, playing at a level you’d expect from musicians tested in the hot-house of big city venues. Against that back drop it is exciting to encounter a first time up local band that can turn on a gig like this. ‘Oli Holland’s Jazz Attack’ is a fun band and an engaging one. The band’s leader (Dr) Olivier Holland, is an extraordinary bass player, renowned throughout New Zealand; the other experienced band member was trumpeter Finn Scholes, the remainder of the sextet were students.Oli 2016 121From early in the first set, I felt the passion behind the performances, the sheer exuberance that is generated when a group know that they are performing effectively. Seasoned touring musicians sometimes sacrifice this – perhaps the effort of being on the road, the effects of jet lag, robbing them of warmth. It reinforces my view as a listener, that an artist needs more than chops to fully engage with an audience. When a band is comfortable on stage, properly rehearsed and above all up for a riotous night, magic can happen.

I enjoyed this gig and what I will take away is that joyous enthusiasm they generated. This is largely down to Holland, a seasoned bass player who generally downplays his role as spokesman. “Bass players are not supposed to speak,” he said, “but I will anyhow”. A leader who can move from grin to deadpan in an instant; a natural talker, who milks the hell out of his spoken lines. He is extremely funny, the master of throw away lines and in between numbers storytelling. This clearly rubs off on the band members and establishes the mood.Oli 2016 126Trumpeter Finn Scholes can always surprise and over recent years he has impressed me increasingly. His vibrantly brassy ‘south of the border’ sound in the Carnivorous Plant Society is well-known, but anyone who thought that was all there was to him, hasn’t been paying due attention. He is raw and raspy on avant-garde gigs, mellow and moody on vibes and in this lineup reminiscent of the young Freddie Hubbard. His solo’s had bite and narrative, his ensemble playing was tight; above all, he generated palpable excitement, the sort that brings people back to live music again and again.Oli 2016 125

There were four students in the line up and the thing about students at this level, they have the ability to step up. Often though, they lack the confidence to do so. Many will over think a performance or only tentatively express what is in their heads – a careful observer can see that hesitation. The four students here stepped free of that hesitation, especially the tenor player Misha Kourkov. Being in the moment and bringing your skills to bear instinctively is what good Jazz performance is about.Oli 2016 129

Kourkov delivered some blistering solos and the best came surprisingly early in the gig. It has been a while since I saw him play (as a first or second year student I recall); he has come on in leaps and bounds since then. He looked and sounded good on the tenor, as if the instrument was a natural extension of his body. There was no mistaking the influence of Roger Manins either – that preparedness to reach for impossible notes, that full-bodied rich golden sound, storytelling.Oli 2016 123

On piano was Nick Dow from Christchurch, completing a Masters in Auckland. A nice touch and avoiding the trap of playing too many notes. On guitar was Michael Howell, no stranger to Auckland audiences, another AUJS student: playing an attractive solid body instrument; rounding out the sextet sound nicely and not over peddling. The remaining band member was Daniel Waterson (drums). Like the others he was obviously enjoying himself – he took a few solos and acquitted himself well. At the end of the first set, special guest ‘Heidi’ performed the jazz standard ‘Nature Boy’, rounding off the set nicely.

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I have posted ‘The Baseline Tune’ (Holland) which was second up in the first set, a tune which allowed everyone to stretch out. In Hollands introduction he warned the audience, “If you think you know where this piece is going you’ll be wrong. I don’t compose any tunes like that”. A typical Holland comment and accurate. All of the tunes were composed by him and all were quirky in some way. I liked the quirkiness, the way the tunes moved through many phases – often like a suite. In spite of their complexity they lingered in memory – you couldn’t hum them, but tasty fragments remained in your head. Challenging, satisfying, edgy improvised music for grownups.

Oli Holland’s Jazz Attack: Oli Holland (bass, compositions), Finn Scholes (trumpet), Nick Dow (piano), Michael Howell (guitar), Misha Kourkov (tenor saxophone), Daniel Waterson (drums) – guest Heidi (vocals). CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel basement, Auckland, Wednesday 17th August, 2016

Twisting the Swing / La Luna & the Gadjos

Gypsy 089This is the second gypsy swing project at the CJC in four months. The last gypsy gig brought us Wellington band Black Spider Stomp. This time, we experienced the local variant. Wellington is arguably the home of New Zealand Manouche, but it definitely exists around Auckland. Thanks to Caro Manins (La Luna) and Misha Kovalov we feasted on catchy melodic tunes, marvelled at their hard-swinging lines. ‘Twistin the Swing’ and ‘La Luna & the Gadjos’ worked their magic and swing, they certainly did. It doesn’t matter what your Jazz preferences, I defy anyone to keep their feet still during a spirited Manouche gig.Gypsy 097This is a music that stirs heart and limbs, a holiday from the cerebral manifestations of improvised music. It makes you feel good and the desire to move with it is overwhelming; that is its charm. I recall a recent discussion with Roger Manins about the diversity of Australian improvised music and he said this. “learning to play in really diverse situations is important. It is a feature of the Sydney scene. One minute the musicians are playing in an avant-garde ensemble, then straight ahead and the next minute playing Trad or Manouche”.  For developing musicians, learning to swing in bands like this is invaluable, whatever their eventual calling. It was, therefore, good to see up and coming younger musicians in these lineups.Gypsy 090The first set was ‘Twistin the Swing’. A very tasty quartet led by the ensemble leader, composer/guitarist Misha Kovalov. The group featured two Manouche guitars, an upright bass, and a reeds player. Kovalov was a leader in every sense of the word, virtuosic in an almost offhand way and oozing good-natured charm. He made us smile and he made our feet tap; what more could you want in a Manouche leader.  This was a hybrid kind of Manouche, as many of the latter-day manifestations are (a perfect example is Lagrene playing Stevie Wonders ‘Isn’t She Lovely’). We heard some Django Reinhart compositions, a familiar sounding Russian tune (whose name I can’t recall but it was a total riot) and a lot of Kovalov’s own compositions. These compositions varied in style between 40’s swing and acoustic blues; sometimes with crazy quotes embedded.Gypsy 091On rhythm guitar was Phillip Beatson, on clarinet and tenor saxophone Asher Truppman-Lattie and on upright bass Djordje Nikolic. Beatson was largely hidden from sight, working his solid rhythm guitar in the shadows; the others all took short solos. It was nice to hear Nikolic playing arco at times, good for a swing rhythm section. It was also good to hear the licorice stick played – a hard task master but especially rewarding in the swing context.

The second set brought leader, vocalist Caro Manins (La Luna) and tenor player Roger Manins to the bandstand (Manins replacing Truppman-Lattie). The band was ‘La Luna & the Gadjos’. This set was also unmistakably gypsy but with some Piaf and a few mainstream swing standards in the mix. Caro Manins has a terrific voice and we don’t hear her often enough. The audience reacted with real enthusiasm. Prior to the gig she had expressed some anxiety because a sudden cold had affected her vocal chords. She needn’t have worried. On the bandstand, her voice came through strongly. It was good to hear Piaf interpreted so well, a singer seldom heard by modern non-French audiences. The crowd pleasers from the second set were definitely the standards ‘Swing Brother Swing'(lyrics Billie Holiday) and the ever popular ‘Lullaby of the Leaves'(Bernice Petkere).Gypsy 087

To add to the delights of Caro Manins vocals, Roger Manins was crooning on tenor saxophone. Not his fire-breathing post-Coltrane style, but gentle fills or perhaps laying down a muscular Ben Webster swing style solo, complete with vibrato notes which hung in the air, suspended only by breath. On a cold winter night, nothing warms you more.Gypsy 096 ‘Twistin the Swing: Misha Kovalov (leader, compositions, Manouche guitar), Phillip Beatson (rhythm guitar), Asher Truppman-Lattie (reeds), Djordge Nikolic (upright bass). ‘La Luna & the Gadjos‘: Caro Manins (leader, vocals), Misha Kovalov (guitar), Phillip Beatson (guitar), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Djordge Nikolic (upright bass) The gigs took place at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, 18th May 2016.

 

Jim Langabeer – ‘Sketches of Aotearoa’

Jim Langaber 087 (2)A seasoned New York veteran when asked to comment on the quality of playing by young artists emerging from the Jazz Schools said, “Man they’re such great players. Many of them have chops to burn, but what is lacking is ‘character’. That is not taught in Jazz schools, you gain it inch by inch out of life experience”. To paraphrase Lester Young who put it best, ‘I hear the notes, but what is your story’. The character of a musician (or the lack of it), shows up in the music. Jim Langabeer has ‘character’ to burn. He tells wonderfully human musical stories and they are utterly beguiling.Jim Langaber 090Langabeer is hugely respected on the scene and deservedly so. He has worked with greats like Gary Peacock and Jaco Pastorius and in spite of absorbing the essence of North American Jazz, his ideas and sound possess a Kiwi authenticity. When he plays his tenor there is often a street-raw raspy intonation. The sound is at times reminiscent of Archie Shepp, but the story and flow of ideas are entirely his own. His flute playing is soulful and as soft as silk in the breeze. Because he is so comfortable in his own space he can incorporate everything from the avant-garde to indigenous music without it sounding contrived. These seamless references work beautifully in his hands. We talked of this after the gig and agreed that many of the earliest attempts at blending middle eastern, far eastern or ethnic music were less successful than now. Jim Langaber 089As the boundaries between cultures blur in a globalised world, the mutual respect between improvising traditions grows. I have posted an example of this effortless genre-blending in a clip from the CJC gig titled ‘Ananda’s Midnight Blues’. Those who are familiar with Buddhism will grasp the meaning immediately. Ananda was Gautama Buddha’s childhood friend and later his disciple. Beloved, worldly and yet never afraid to challenge his enlightened teacher. There is a feeling of deep questing spirituality in the piece – reaching beyond mere form.Jim Langaber 088 (1)Whether Langabeer plays flutes or reeds, everything serves the composition. His spare lines (which are devoid of undue ornamentation) establish a theme and then vanish like a will-o-the-wisp, giving a nudge to the imagination and enriching the piece as a whole. There are no wild flurries of notes on the saxophone or flute because the story resides elsewhere. His writing creates an over-arching logic and the ensemble has the freedom to move in and around tonality. In some pieces ostinato patterns create a drone effect, becoming a single note over which to restate the melody. This freedom allows for an organic interaction, free or inside and with a deep gut-felt pulse.Jim Langaber 088When putting a band like this together the choice of musicians is supremely important. Not every musician could handle such freedom. Needless to say, Langabeer chose well. The ensemble was rich in contrasting colour, rich in character. It was our good fortune that Jim Langabeer’s daughter Rosie Langabeer was back in town. I can’t imagine a better-qualified pianist for this role. A leading avant-gardist and experimental musician who crafts compelling filigree and rich beauty into her music. Rosie Langabeer can play outside one minute and the next you hear a deep subtle swing, a rare kind of pulse that you can feel in your bones. A gifted composer and leader in her own right, an extraordinary sides-women when required. Moving from percussive, richly dissonant voicings to heart-stopping arpeggiated runs – somewhat reminiscent of Alice Coltrane’s later piano offerings. Her iconoclastic playing delighted the audience.Jim Langaber 093On alto was Roger Manins. Although the alto is not his main horn he is extraordinarily fluent on the instrument. Langabeer has been focussing on multiphonics and microtonality of late and he and Manins showcased some atmospheric numbers utilising various blowing techniques. Manins has long impressed by playing in a variety of styles with equal facility. On guitar and pedal steel guitar was Neil Watson, bringing his mix of blues, Jazz punk, and avant-garde to the fore. Another iconoclast and one we love hearing. The pedal steel guitar has been in his possession for a year now and his rapid mastery of the instrument is impressive. A difficult beast tamed beautifully. On Bass was Eamon Edmundson-Wells. A versatile young bass player most often found in the company of experimental musicians. His performance on this gig was right on the money.Jim Langaber 091On drums and percussion was Chris O’Connor. Perhaps more than anyone else O’Connor personifies this free-ranging music. Of all the New Zealand drummers, his are the widest-ranging skills. Colourist, minimalist, indie rocker, straight-ahead jazz, avant-garde, experimental percussion and film work. There is nothing he won’t tackle and everything he touches benefits from his musicianship. When a piece titled ‘Tapu’ was played O’Connor stole the show. While Langabeer played the difficult and wonderfully atmospheric Putorino (a traditional Maori flute of the Taonga Puoro family), O’Connor simulated the Tawhirimatea (A traditional whirring instrument dedicated to the god of winds). The effect was eerie and electrical. Later in the piece he blew through the stem of his snare stand – recreating the effects of the Pututara (a conch trumpet). Only O,Conner could have pulled this off so well. Like Langabeer, he has a deep awareness of multicultural issues.Jim Langaber 092The one standard was Strobe Road (Sonny Rollins). A lesser known standard and played with enthusiasm. The remainder was a selection of Langabeer tunes, many referencing Maori of Kiwi themes. His tune Rata Flower was a stunner – it deserves to become a local standard. He has obtained funding from Creative New Zealand for this project and we might see a ‘Sketches of Aotearoa’ album soon. I truly hope this occurs and I will be the first to purchase one.

Sketches of Aotearoa: Jim Langabeer (flutes, Taonga Puoro, tenor saxophone, compositions), Rosie Langabeer (piano, keys), Roger Manins (alto saxophone), Neil Watson (Fender guitar, steel guitar), Eamon Edmundson-Wells (bass), Chris O’Connor (drums, percussion). Performed at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, Auckland, New Zealand – 20th April 2016.Jim Langaber 094

Nathan Haines Electric Band (with Joel Haines)

JoelNathan 087 Musicians of a certain calibre are peripatetic, going where the music or the work takes them. This partly arising out of necessity, but also out of an impulse to explore new sonic and cultural environments. When a child or a grandchild arrives the musicians journeys circumscribe smaller arcs and are less frequent; the local scene being the beneficiary. This is the case with Nathan Haines; happily young Zoot tethers him in our midst for the moment. Haines has a solid reputation here and in the UK, with a loyal fan base in both locations. He has never been afraid to push in new directions, but at the heart of whatever explorations he embarks upon, a default soulfulness underpins the enterprise. This leads him to productive collaborations with like-minded artists, and not necessarily all Jazz purists. From the Hardbop-infused to Soul Jazz to DJ funk – it all works for him. While all of these collaborations are pleasing, none is more so than when he plays alongside brother Joel Haines.JoelNathan 088The Haines brothers have different musical careers, Nathan Haines outgoing, a public performer and award-winning recording artist – understanding well, the vexed world of marketing and the presentation of non-mainstream music. He balances these competing forces better than most. Brother Joel is a successful composer and a gifted performer as well, but his career these days centres on TV and film work. An engaging musician and a crowd pleaser; less in the public gaze by choice. Improvised music thrives on contrasts and the rub between different sounds always works well in the right hands. Nathan creating soulful innovative grooves and catchy melodies over traditional Jazz offerings, Joel bringing a warm-as-toast Jazzgroove edge, wrapped in a blues/rock package.JoelNathan 087 (1)

The first set kicked off with ‘Eboness’ by Yusef Lateef. A number that Nathan Haines recorded on his award-winning and popular ‘The Poets Embrace’ album. That album recreated the vibe of a particular era – the edge of Blue Note and the warmth of Impulse updated. This version is an exercise in skilfully blended contrasts. The enveloping warmth of Joel Haines and Keys/Synth player Michal Martyniuk created a platform for Nathan Haines to work over. This skilfully juxtaposed blend of ‘cool’ and ‘soul’ is not done often and hearing this I wonder why. Haines playing Lateef is a natural fit, as Lateef was never afraid to stretch beyond mainstream Jazz sensibilities.JoelNathan 090Next up was ‘Desert Town’ a Haines tune from ‘Heaven & Earth’. That was followed by an earthy version of ‘Set us Free’ (Eddie Harris) and then ‘Mastermind’ (Haines) from his recent ‘5 a Day’ album. Last up on the first set was ‘Land Life’ a tune based on a  Harold Land composition. It pleased me to get a mention from the bandstand at this point. It is no secret that I’m a real Harold Land enthusiast. The band tore up the propulsive changes and moving free, made the tune their own.JoelNathan 088 (1)

The second set began with the stunning tune ‘Right Now’ (Haines/Crayford). This collaboration was extremely fruitful and we will see a new project from these musicians in the near future. Next up was a tune by keys player Michal Martyniuk. This had never been aired in public before and its trippy synth-rich vibe took me back to the space Jazz/funk of the 80’s. Appropriately, and immediately following, was a Benny Maupin number ‘It Remains to be Seen’. This is a space-funk classic from his fabulous ‘Slow Traffic to the Right’ album. The album cut in 1978 – at a time when a plethora of wonderful analogue machines entered the market. It was great to hear a number from this scandalously overlooked experimental era – and reprised so effectively. More of this please guys, much more.JoelNathan 096

The set ended with two more numbers, including a reflective and soul drenched composition by Joel Haines. The tune is temporarily titled ‘Untitled’. Whatever the name, it worked for us. The ‘Nathan Haines Electric Band’ is by now an established entity and the ease with which they hit their groove confirms that. Having the ever inventive and highly talented Cameron McArthur on bass gave them a groove anchor and punch. Rounding that off with Stephen Thomas on drums gave lift off. I highly recommend this group as there is something there for anyone with Jazz sensibilities. History and modernity in balance.

Nathan Haines Electric Band

Nathan Haines Electric Band: Nathan Haines (winds and reeds), Joel Haines (guitar), Michal Martyniuk (keys and synthesiser), Cameron McArthur (upright bass), Stephen Thomas (drums). The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, 13th April 2016JoelNathan 089 

 

 

Lex French Quartet @ CJC 2016

French 2016 089In spite of living at the other end of the Island, Lex French is a regular fixture at the CJC. It is hardly surprising since his popularity with Jazz audiences is ever-growing. There are not many trumpeters of French’s stature in New Zealand and it is our good fortune that he remains. He obtained his Masters from McGill University in Montreal, a university with a strong focus on brass. A university which had an ongoing association with the UK-based Canadian trumpeter Kenny Wheeler while he was among us. I mention Wheeler, because as I walked down the stairs to the club to set up my gear, I heard the unmistakable opening phrase from ‘Smatter’ coming out of the darkness. Just the opening phrase and then silence.French 2016 088It was so Wheeler-like, that I assumed someone was setting up a Wheeler album on the club sound system. As my eyes accustomed to the low light I saw French standing alone – repeating the phrase. French is not a one-trick pony; he is as modern as tomorrow, but at other times, old school respectful. He can punch out high notes or swing hard bop like a Blue Note artist back in the day.  This is not a musician to pass up on.

His current working band travelled from Wellington with him, all of them known to Auckland audiences; Matt Steele on piano, Johnny Lawrence on bass and Cory Champion on drums. The set list was mainly French compositions, but in the middle of each set, a standard or two. The standards were well-chosen and contrasted the originals nicely. The best known was Benny Golson’s ‘Stablemates’, a perennial favourite, Kenny Wheeler’s complex tune ‘Smatter’ and ‘Nostalgia’ by Mingus.French 2016 090I particularly liked French’s compositions ‘Kasid’ from the first set. There were many reasons to like this; the musicians innovative explorations of the theme, the evocative middle-eastern mode underpinning it, and the fact that it referenced the wonderful Iraqi poet Abdulkareen Kasid. An achingly beautiful melody tinged through with bittersweet sadness, establishing itself delicately over a quietly incessant bass motif. When Steele came in, his opening chords were Oud like – giving the impression of soft strings jangling sweetly in the night air. I listen to a lot of middle-eastern improvised music and this performance stands beside the best of those. In the background, the drums tap tapped (like stones tumbling in a stream, and every so often swooshes).French 2016 093The poet Abdulkareem Kasid is new to me (and I have a huge collection of poetry). To discover a poet like this is exciting and I thank Lex French for this. What could be better than to experience a night of interesting music, and at the end, find a poet?  I finish this with some words from that poet – listen to the piece as you read the lines – I did.

In my hands / From past and future / I’ll grab two stones / And run with them / Even in the lightest / breeze I’ll fly / Summon a wind, to come / And wipe out every trace / And I’ll sit like an orphan / By the roadside mourning / My two stones”

                                         Abdulkareem Kasid

Lex French Quartet: Lex French (trumpet, compositions), Matt Steele (Piano), Johnny Lawrence (bass), Cory Champion (drums). CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland 23rd March 2016.

Jimmy Rainey & Byn van Vliet – Emerging Artists Series

Bryn & Jimmy 091These events focus on emerging Improvising artists and allow them to gain wider exposure in front of a discriminating audience. They generally occur around three or four times a year. Some of those featured in the Emerging Artists Series are recent graduates, others are still pursuing their studies. In this case, we had two horn players from out of town; Christchurch and Wellington respectively. Their horns were different, and their approaches to the sets different, but both approached the gig with the confidence of seasoned performers. Such confidence translates well on the bandstand and it informs an audience that the musician means business. Artists often remark that playing in a small Jazz club like the CJC is a unique experience. It’s not like a noisy bar, where people often ignore you, and it’s more intimate than a concert hall where an audience gives limited feedback. Club audiences listen intensely, they react boisterously at the end of a good solo and they call in encouragement when a phrase resonates. Mostly they listen in silence and but they listen actively.Bryn & Jimmy 098Jimmy Rainey, a tenor player from Christchurch played the first set. He is a graduate of the Jazz School in Christchurch, now furthering his Jazz studies at the Auckland University Jazz School. In Christchurch, he’s involved with a number of groups such as the Symposium Jazz Orchestra (many will recall that orchestra on Glen Wagstaff’s album), and the earthy ‘Treme’ styled Justice Brass Band. On Wednesday, he had a premier Auckland Rhythm Section at his disposal, Kevin Field, Cameron McArthur and Ron Samsom. Most of the compositions were Rainey’s and they showed a developing maturity. His sound was interesting, especially on the down-tempo numbers, having that downtown late-night feel. He is in Auckland for a while and I am certain that we see more of him. His father is well-known on the scene but he is earning his own place in the light. With a Jazz-famous name like Rainey, he has a head start.Bryn & Jimmy 087Bryn van Vliet has visited the club before as part of the boisterous Wellington Mingus Ensemble. In that context, I have seen him play in Auckland and Wellington, but never as a leader. He is also a member of the Roger Fox Big Band and a graduate from the Wellington Jazz School. While van Vliet often doubles on tenor, he played alto for this gig. What immediately caught my attention was his clean tone. A compelling tonal quality that quickly drew you in. His playing has cut-through in ways that Paul Desmond’s did, but for all that it was a modern sound. Vliet is originally from the far North but his Wellington credentials will no doubt anchor him there. Like Rainey, he brought many of his own compositions to the bandstand and the same rhythm section backed both players. For the last number, a standard,  they were on the bandstand together.

Emerging Artists Series: Jimmy Rainey (tenor) and Bryn van Vliet (alto). Rhythm section: Kevin Field (piano), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samson (drums) @ CJC Creative Jazz Club 16th March 2016

Crayford/Cuenca – The Jazz Flamenco Project

Isabel & J 096When I recently interviewed visiting Flamenco dancer Isabel Rivera Cuenca she told me that she had met some wonderful New Zealand improvising musicians and, in particular, she mentioned Jonathan Crayford. They met at a party and briefly discussed doing a project together. As they had not been able to make contact since I supplied email addresses and the project quickly took shape. A talented sensuous Flamenco dancer from Barcelona and a gifted Kiwi improviser; irresistible.Isabel & J 099Jonathan Crayford has long been one of my favourite musicians and any project of his I will follow with enthusiasm. The thought of him doing a Jazz/Flamenco project filled me with joy. It takes a particular type of musician to reach across genres, and to do so with authenticity is a challenge. If anyone could pull this together at short notice it was Crayford; with his open ears and extraordinary musicality, he ticked all of the boxes. In recent years, he has performed in Spain, but only on Jazz projects. When I spoke to him two weeks before the gig he told me how pleased he was to work on this project, but that he knew little of Spanish music; I had no doubts that he would locate a pure essence and work with it and Isabel Cuenca was the perfect foil. As soon as they appeared on the bandstand the chemistry was obvious.Isabel & J 093 There is a real synergy between Jazz and Flamenco; they are musical cousins. Both musical forms fuse North African Rhythms with unique harmonic approaches, both created out of harsh repression. Underlining the driving rhythms of Flamenco is pure passion, contrasting a sad but beautiful dissonance. The musicians and dancers frequently call to each other in encouragement and this is not so different from the call and response in jazz. That they are similar in essence is hardly surprising – when the chants, dance and polyrhythms of Congo Square met with Creole melody, fed by a multitude of European influences (including Spanish music), Jazz was born.Isabel & J 100

Early in the first set, Crayford played a variant of his composition ‘Galois Candle’. This appears on his ‘Dark Light’ album nominated for a Jazz Tui award last year. This memorable tune although rhythmic is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of danceability. The synergy between dancer and pianist soon located a sweet-spot in the heart of the tune. I recall Cuenca telling me that everything else in Flamenco was subordinate to honest deeply felt emotion. That is where the Duende resides. A little later we heard an innovative and compelling version of ‘Will o’ the Wisp’ (from El Amor Brujo) by Manuel De Falla. Not the brooding version that Gil Evans used on Sketches in Spain but a paired down version. Stripped to the barest essentials of melody and rhythm. Crayford dampened the strings with one hand and created a simple clipped strumming effect, while Cuenca sang gently over this, softly clapping all the while. It could not have been more effective. After that came a tune by Fredrica Garcia Lorca, the poet who died at the hands of Franco’s Nationalists. This tune ‘Los Cuatro Muleres’ sounds pretty, even jaunty, but it hides a deep sadness as with all Lorca poems and tunes. Again done movingly, and both Crayford and Cuenca sang verses.Isabel & J 103During the second set we heard tunes which moved closer to the Flamenco idiom. In these free-ranging highly improvised tunes Crayford has few peers. Towards the end of the evening, the two were in absolute lock-step; Cuenca reacting to every nuance of the music and bringing her fluid kinetic brilliance to bear, dancing her way into the hearts of everyone there. The communication was simply electric.

I have posted a video clip from the first set (Galois Candle [Crayford]) and an audio clip from near the end of the second set. I hope that Crayford records some of these tunes as they were magical. Cuenca has many fans in new Zealand and she says that she will return here soon. I hope so because more of this project would please us.

Jonathan Crayford (piano, vocals, compositions), Isabel Cuenca (dance, vocals & compositions) – at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 09 March 2016.

Jamie Oehlers @ ‘The Burden of Memory’ tour

Jamie 2016 091When the word gets about that a Jamie Oehlers gig is imminent, excitement mounts. Having turned people away last year, due to a capacity audience, the CJC offered two sessions this time. As expected, both were well attended. Oehlers is highly regarded in the Jazz world and it is not surprising. His astonishing mastery of the tenor saxophone is central to his appeal, but it is more than that. Every note he plays sounds authentic as if no other note could ever replace it, and all conveying a sense of musical humanism.

He introduced the numbers by painting word pictures; creating an expectation that the best is soon to come. The audience anticipating an interesting journey happily followed. He always gives us something of himself and it serves him well. Audiences like to glimpse the human being behind the music and not all musicians are capable of that. If done well (not forced), it must convey warmth. Oehlers is a natural in this regard. This affability applies to the man and to the musician. His egalitarian world-view inevitably seeping into his playing. This is how it is with all the greats. Their sound and their life eventually merge. The horn becoming breath.Jamie 2016 094Oehlers has a new album out titled ‘The burden of memory‘ and we heard many of the pieces as the sets unfolded. Accompanying him on the album is a dream rhythm section: Paul Grabowsky on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums. Each a heavyweight and living up to their formidable reputations. For the Auckland gig, there was Kevin Field on piano, Olivier Holland on bass and Frank Gibson Jr on drums. Jumping in where Grabowsky, Rogers, and Harland had gone was no doubt daunting but they pulled it off in style. All played exceptionally well, but Gibson was a standout. The exchanges between him and Oehlers memorable. These men have history and the old conversations were clearly rekindled on the bandstand. Roger Manins joined Oehlers for the last number of each set and the two dueled as only they can. Weaving skillfully around each other and sounding like two halves of a whole; grinning like Cheshire cats.Jamie 2016 092The album title and the song titles speak clearly of the musicians thought processes. He talks of his motivations and his horn takes us there. The burden of memory is a phrase he heard while listening to talkback radio and it resonated with him. He thinks deeply, examines the world about him and this communicates throughout the album. The second track ‘Armistice’ is a good example, possessing a melancholic beauty, and while it throws up the obvious images of a war ending, it also speaks of families and the tentative steps towards new possibilities.

The dreaming‘ references the indigenous peoples of Australia. An ancient meditative practice, the dreaming is an altered state of consciousness, where the past and future appear to those open enough to receive that gift. Of the two standards, the reharmonized version of ‘Polka Dots and Moonbeams‘ particularly appealed. The gig featured several tunes, not on the album; we were especially delighted by the ‘fast burner’ take on ‘After You’ve gone’. That particular standard by Turner Layton harks back to 1918. it was soon picked up by Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, and Fats Waller. This bebop referencing version breathed fire into the room. Those who attended the gigs were abuzz afterward and rushed to purchase the album. If you missed the tour and wanted a copy of the album I have included a link below. Recorded in Brooklyn New York at the System 2 studios, the album had the support of the WA Department of Culture and the Arts. Oehlers wrote six of the tunes and co-wrote a further three with Rogers, Harland, and Grabowsky. The remaining three tunes were by Grabowsky, Jobim and Van Heusen.

The event took place at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 02 March 2016. Britomart 1885 building, downtown Auckland, New Zealand.  You can purchase the album and learn more about the artists at www.jamieoehlers.com or http://www.jamieoehlers.bandcamp.com

 

Black Spider Stomp – Jazz Manouche

Black SS 094Wellington has long possessed a gypsy soul and Jazz Manouche thrives there. In Auckland there are fewer such groups and the common form here is hybridised Gypsy. I am more familiar with these hybrid forms, but as a devotee of improvised music I possess many Django Reinhardt and Bireli Legrene recordings. The Black Spider Stomp are a traditional Gypsy Jazz group and everything about them shouts ‘du Quintet de Hot Club of France’. For a start they look the part in their slick black outfits and they mirror the traditional ensembles – three Manouche guitars, upright bass and clarinet (the clarinet player doubling on soprano and trumpet).Black SS 089The hallmark of gypsy authenticity is the ability to swing in a particular way, and Black Spider Stomp achieves this. In western European gypsy the absence of a percussion instrument places heavier emphasis on guitar led rhythm. The rhythm guitars are essential to the momentum with their striking ‘la pompe’ strum. This hard swinging pumping style is very distinctive, with its dark chromaticism, bent notes, adherence to certain voicings, rapid arpeggios, powerful rhythms and regular use of vibrato. The tunes are mostly in 4/4 with a heavy accent on two and four (although waltzes are also in the repertoire).Black SS 093The style is so distinctive that it owns the tunes whatever their origin. Once while traveling in the Carmargue I stopped at a typical Provencal village. As dusk fell a group of Gitano guitarists started playing in the square. The tune was maddeningly familiar and I wrongly thought – this is a Reinhardt composition. It stuck in my head for days and then the penny dropped. It was ‘My Way’ – the tune popularised by Paul Anka and Frank Sinatra. Recently I learned that it is actually a French pop tune. Talk about music travelling where it will. Another perennial favourite in Jazz Manouche is Stevie Wonder’s ‘Isn’t she lovely’. Manouche Jazz itself is a hybrid of American Jazz and Gypsy – and each of those musical influences are sources as vast as an ocean.

Music has origins …. but no fixed abode.

Black SS 095The groups use of soprano saxophone (but in this case the straight-horn variant) is also authentic. While violinists like Stephane Grapelli regularly led Manouche ensembles (pre war), the arrival in Paris of horn playing musicians like Sydney Bechet influenced the post war style. Jazz Manouche reached maturity in Paris around the time of WW2 and it was so loved there, that a handful of Jazz loving occupying Nazi’s covertly protected it.  The use of a trumpet intrigued me for two reasons. For a reeds musician to double on trumpet is rare – the embouchure is so different. Post millennium we seldom hear such a distinct nod to Louis Armstrong – or to the early swing trumpeters. Perhaps with Armstrong or Bubber Miley in mind, reeds and brass man Baron Oscar Laven treated us to the occasional muted growl and smear. His cheerful enthusiasm for all of his horns was obvious.Black SS 087Guitars always fascinate me. These were obviously based on the famous Selmer ‘Maccaferri’ guitars favoured by Django. There are two main styles of Jazz Manouche guitar – the ‘D’ hole ‘large mouth’ with its broader rich tone and woody resonance (most often the lead guitar) and the ‘O’ hole ‘small mouth’, which is brighter in sound and has serious cut through. Solos from both were heard. These guitars are things of real beauty, earthy multi-hued wood-grained and framed in a blur of hands appearing from the darkness.

Nothing says acoustic quite like an array of wooden instruments carrying a gypsy tune.

Black Spider Stomp: Sam Thurston (guitar), James Quick (guitar), Adrian Jenson (guitar), Scott Maynard (upright bass), Baron Oscar Laven (woodwinds and brass) – find their work on Bandcamp   – The gig took place at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 17th Feb 2016.

The Circling Sun – midsummer heat

Circling Sun 096As a group of the worlds leading astrophysicists excitedly ran one last check. At the precise moment that the astonishing mathematical proofs confirmed Einstein’s theory of ‘gravitational waves’, the Circling Sun hit the CJC. This rare cosmic event released fresh gravitational waves which pulsed throughout central Auckland; altering the molecular structure of any ear within radius. It was an appropriate evening for the Sun to manifest this ‘climatic singularity’, preceded as it was by a dog-day as hot as any on record.

There are five musicians in the Sun – four human and one android. On tenor saxophone, doogan & keyboards was Cameron Allen, on drums & electronics was Julien Dyne, on pedal steel guitar & electric guitar was Neil Watson and on electric & acoustic bass was Rui Inaba. When fine musicians like this play out-crazy music, influenced by sources as diverse as Yusef Lateef, Alice Coltrane, Mulato Astatke and Tom Waits, you know you are in for a wild and danceable ride. The doogan is a cunningly contrived android, assembled from antique parts and loosely controlled by Allen. It is an independent minded machine often exceeding the prime directive; a mechanical and musical ‘singularity’.Circling Sun 086The Circling Sun is more a phenomena than a group. They defy musical form and yet exist convincingly in their own orbit; circling an altered reality. As with all wonders there is much to appreciate. The intricacy of their many machines, the indelible sonic footprint and the sheer joy they bring. I took some guests down to the club that night. Flamenco artists Isabel Cuenca and Ian Sinclair (and Ian’s wife Zarina). I wondered how they would react to this wild unconstrained mix of free improvisation and world beat psychedelic Jazz. Isabel the Flamenco dancer was quick to respond. ‘This is amazing, it has deep passion’. Passion is the heart of many musics and like authenticity it is a vital component. Long live the avant-garde – long live passionate music – whatever the genre.Circling Sun 093In his seminal work “This is Your Brain on Music’ neuroscientist Daniel Levitin reveals the following. ‘A liking for dissonance is a development arising from deeper listening and on attaining musical maturity. A very young child prefers consonance over dissonance, the mature listener increasingly values contrast and enjoys having expectations confounded. After spending time listening to deeper or more complex music, lightweight consonant passionless music becomes boring. There is a neural basis for this’.

Instinctively, the Circling Sun understands this and they feed audiences a healthy diet of dissonance. At one point Watson called down thundering chordal dissonance (as the drum beats rained like Thor’s hammer and the keyboards created strangely intricate figures while the bass overlaid danceable grooves) . As Watson repeated the two chords over and over he varied them ever so slightly. It was recidivist mayhem, but there was a logic, a cosmic logic and a deep raw beauty in the onslaught. I loved every moment of it as I reeled from the sonic blows. Adding to the excitement was a strong kinetic effect, Watson dropping lower each time he struck the strings. Dyne dancing all over the kit. This was Ceramic Dog territory and done to great effect. Levitin talks of this also. ‘Experienced listeners often get more out of live music than recorded, because they read the musicians body language in micro detail. The body language of the musicians sharpens the listeners expectations’.Circling Sun 090The Montreal born Dyne was just the drummer for a band like this. His musical credentials are impeccable. His expertise extends well beyond the kit to that of producer and forward-looking experimentalist; electronic future beats, hip hop, house, afro beats, boogie funk and instrumental jazz. His work with Ladi6 has brought him to wider attention, but his own Lord Julien recordings and his deeply funky ‘Down in the Basement’ (Vol 2) cuts are well worth checking out. This band has few constraints and it gives him ample room to stretch.

Allen plays saxophone and a variety of other instruments. He has long been known for his hybrid mechanical/electronic creations. His tenor is a Buescher (a brassy beast of ancient lineage) and its earthy tone is always pleasing in Allen’s hands. In recent years he has given equal time to his android doogan and an assortment of strange keyboards. He flies in the face of the prevailing fad for tracking down quality analogue instruments. Instead he plunders the throw away machines from the early digital age. This is an interesting development, as the reason these instruments were often abandoned, was because they didn’t sound like the acoustic instruments they sought to emulate. They sounded like new instruments and fed through a variety of pedals they are reborn. This is a recurring theme of the new millennium, reoccupying old spaces in new ways. Recycling, conservation and ultra modernism in one package.Circling Sun 088I have long been a Watson fan. The man is fearless and his musical ideas cross territory few others dare to traverse. His increasing mastery of the pedal steel already sets him apart, but his ventures into the experimental avant-garde with the instrument are unique in the New Zealand context. While an accomplished studio musician his preferred gigs are those without boundaries. With Watson you get Americana, blues, Jazz psychedelia or wild forays referencing Marc Ribot & Sonny Sharrock. The Sun suits his wild eclecticism.Circling Sun 092

The remaining band member is Rui Inaba on bass. I have seen him play a number of times and most often with Watson. This is the first time I have seen him on electric bass and the instrument counterbalanced the free ranging explorations of the other three nicely. There was also a guest artist performing on Wednesday – the ever popular J Y Lee on Baritone saxophone. During one number Lee, Watson, Inaba, Dyne and Allen took the tune ‘outside’. It was mayhem and madness of the best kind. This is a very loud band and the enjoyment rang in my ears like summer locusts for days after the event.

Footnote: The doogan improves with age, but its strangest feature is an ability to time travel. As each improvement appears a proportionate regression in time occurs. When it first appeared it had wheels, an alarm clock and many more modern parts. The recent assemblage is altogether older – a regression to the beginning of the digital era. A small yellowed-plastic Cassio keyboard routed through various pedals and midi boxes, sitting opposite a mysterious plywood box. The box bristling with nobs, toggles and sporting an impressive amount of gaffer tape. Beside the pedals a Moog like instrument with an early AM transistor radio plugged into it. Below that an ancient weather-beaten Korg. The small wooden box is most intriguing and although it resembles the two-valve home made radios of my youth, I suspect that it is something like Orac (Google ‘Blake’s Seven’ for more information on Orac).

The Cycling Sun played at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 10th February 2016, They are Julien Dyne (drums, electronics), Cameron Allen (saxophone, doogan), Neil Watson (pedal and electric guitar), Rui Inaba (electric and acoustic bass)