CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Straight ahead, USA and Beyond

Doug Lawrence plays the CJC

Doug Lawrence 090Doug Lawrence is every bit the archetypal southern tenor man, from the top of his tall frame to the bell of his brightly shining tenor. His sound is fat and down-home-cooking rich, whether playing softly or at volume. He has more cut through than a diamond headed drill-bit. Lawrence has such considerable credentials that it is beyond my reach to enumerate them all here (google him).

He arrived in New Zealand several weeks ago as lead tenor player for the Basie Band. It was a sellout concert in the Civic and we marvelled at the tightness and punch of their sound. Eighty years on the road will do that. Kansas City swing is a wonder of the universe and seeing Lawrence solo in front of that famous orchestra told us that we were in for another treat. Unbelievably our CJC Jazz club had booked him to appear in a few days. At first we wondered how this came about, but we were soon to learn of a long-standing connection between him and the CJC’s Roger Manins. A wonderful Jazz back story informed this gig and we were the lucky beneficiaries.Doug Lawrence 2 089Lawrence is tall and as he performs he stoops slightly, forming a classic old school playing pose. Slowing bending his knees inwards before stretching and lifting his horn to the ceiling. His speaking voice is rich like his playing, a southern Louisiana drawl adding to his considerable charm. The first number was ‘End of a love Affair (Redding) and the audience whooped in delight as the band took the changes at a good pace. The rhythm section propelled by the tidal waves of sound emanating from the tenor. It was that sound and the power of delivery that grabbed you from the get go. The intonation and phrasing revealing influences which although readily identifiable, transformed them into a new sound. This was pure alchemy. It was like having Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon on the same band stand.Doug Lawrence 092It is during ballads that the skill of a musician is often tested. In this case we saw something close to perfection. It wasn’t just Lawrence, but his Kiwi pickup band as well. Spurred on by each other, they dug deeper and deeper. A night and a vibe that we will remember for years to come. There was an obvious rapport between pianist Kevin Field and Lawrence. I gather that he found Field’s harmonic approach interesting and perhaps this is an indication of our own development as we grow our standing. Lawrence’s intonation was the thing that grabbed you most and this made his solos particularly enjoyable. Long held notes ending in breathy flurries or else bending the note ever so slightly before delivering a short heart stopping burst of controlled vibrato.  With Holland and Samsom also finding their sweet spot this was a dream band.Doug Lawrence 093

There were a few evergreen Basie numbers like the swinging ‘Shiny Stockings’ (Foster) and ‘Jumping by the Woodside’ (Basie) but the biggest surprise came later when Lawrence invited Roger Manins and Nathan Haines up to join him. Leaning into the microphone he announced ‘Impressions’ by John Coltrane. This was a change of pace devoured by club audience and band alike as they dove deeper and deeper into the crazy off the grid modal grooves. Its true what they say. Cats like this can do anything when the spirit moves them. The spirit was sure among us that night.Doug Lawrence 2 096Here is the back story: 17 years ago a younger Roger Manins hit the New York streets, where he learned to scuffle in the time-honoured way of Jazz musicians. Because he possessed the hunger to learn he approached many established horn players. One of these was Doug Lawrence and traces of that time are still evident in Manins sound. All of those years ago Manins subbed for him and here is a Face Book extract that Lawrence posted once he returned to the USA. Doug Lawrence 097Roger has matured into a GREAT player and MAGNIFICENT teacher! All of his students have a SOUND and they are all inspired to play, because of Roger. The curriculum at the University of Auckland Jazz Department is second to none, and I am going to use it as my model when conducting masterclasses at other universities around the world. Roger and Ron Samsom and the rest of the faculty have got it right at the U of A and I’m going to suggest that each and every University I teach at check it out. Cheers ROG! You are doing it ALL right brother! I hope to see and play with you soon mate!”  That says it all really.

The last phase of the evening is best described as Tenor Madness. At times three tenors played in unison, at other times Nathan Haines keening Soprano took up the challenge.  When Manins and Haines (plus Haines father Kevin) took to the stage we found ourselves in 1940’s Kansas City.  Witnessing the good-natured, but no holds barred tenor battles of old. At the end of the second set the audience nearly rioted.  No-one wanted this night to end. Lawrence asked for another drink and picked up his saxophone again. “My plane for the States doesn’t leave for five hours, lets play on”, he said. And they did.

You can purchase Doug Lawrence’s ‘New Organ Trio album’ from iTunes, Cactus Records or from Amazon. Please show your appreciation for these amazing artists by purchasing their recordings.

Who: The Doug Lawrence Quartet – plus guests: Doug Lawrence (Tenor Saxophone, Kevin Field (piano), Olivier Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) – Guests: Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Nathan Haines (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone), Kevin Haines (bass).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand 3rd June 2015.

New Zealand Jazz Gigs, Review, Straight ahead

Headline News: Nathan Haines meets DOG on Campus

AK UNI 11-3-2014 059On Wednesday five well turned out ‘men in black’ suspended time at Auckland University. This was a rare event, pairing two of New Zealand’s best known and best-loved contemporary tenor players. The invitation only concert billed as ‘Nathan Haines meets DOG’ kicked off of the Universities 2015 Summer Concert Series. New intake students attending (or viewing the video clip) discovered just how high the standard is; they also realised how lucky they are to have these teachers and these role models.AK UNI 11-3-2014 060The Nathan Haines/DOG line up can rightly be described as a super-group; the cream of New Zealand’s improvising artists. We saw Haines at his best here as he showcased his formidable talents on tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute & vocals. He is a multiple New Zealand Music Awards winner and perennially popular in New Zealand and London where he is now based. The DOG band members are all senior teaching staff at the Auckland University Jazz School (Faculty of the Arts). Collectively Ron Samsom (drums), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Oli Holland (bass) and Kevin Field (piano) form a dangerous new breed. The agility and intelligence of the animal has led many AK UNI 11-3-2014 058 (1)to speculate on its lineage; some suggesting Greyhound crossed with Border Collie? We will never know unless the parents own up, but it is beyond dispute that each band member has multiple acclaimed recordings to his credit. DOG is one of three groups short-listed for the 2015 Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards.

Supergroups are not always successful as promoters will tell you. It may seem counter intuitive, but there are many pitfalls in the format. Artistic and stylistic sensibilities can conflict and while less of an issue in Jazz, the rider still applies. Not every configuration gels. Putting two titans of the tenor together is an old concept and it was very popular in the 1940’s and 1950’s. These jousts or ‘cutting contests’ and the so-called battles between Lester Young and Bean (Colman Hawkins) have attained legendary status. There is a lot of mythology in the subsequent AK UNI 11-3-2014 058reportage and most musicians view the exchanges as a chance to collaborate; not cut someone down to size. It is an opportunity to challenge and be challenged; a high level musical interaction between equals. At its best it can bring out something special in both artists and Wednesdays gig achieved just that.

Manins and Haines played classic Selmer Mk 6 tenors but in the hands of each the instruments sounded different (although manufactured just 3 years apart). Their beautiful full-throated tenors blended perfectly and especially during the heads; creating a fat rich sound. The instruments when coaxed by experienced players like these, magnify subtle differences in tone. There is an attractive melodic thoughtfulness to Nathan’s improvisations, while Roger’s explorations can impart a wild edgy heart stopping quality. Both find their bliss and share it with the audience. This pairing on this night, will long be talked about in Auckland.  AK UNI 11-3-2014 061

The band leapt out of the starting gate with a crackling rendition of ‘Cheesecake’ by Dexter Gordon. This classic hard bop tune from ‘Dex’s’ Blue Note era gave the musicians a chance to shine. Both Selmers bit hard and with Field, Holland and Samsom playing behind them it was hardly surprising. The accolades heaped upon this particular rhythm section are unsurprising. Field’s comping was as tasteful as his well constructed solos. Hollands clean punchy bass lines were a beating heart in the mix. It fell to Samsom to control the energy levels and when appropriate he pushed the band to ever greater heights. On the up tempo numbers his facial expressions mirrored each rhythmic flurry as he dug ever deeper.

The set also featured a new ballad by Holland who introduced it with a tongue in cheek reference to the complexity of many modern Jazz compositions, “you will like this. It has a melody and lots of chords”. The remainder of the set featured Haines compositions. These compelling, well constructed tunes are by now familiar to local Jazz audiences. This band gave them fresh legs. Of note was the gorgeous ‘Lady Lywa’ which had Manins on tenor and Haines on flute. Once again the pairing worked to perfection.

Near the end (and to the delight of those familiar with this tune) Nathan sang ‘Impossible Beauty’ from his ‘Sound Travels’ album.  There is a lot to like about this haunting song; Nathan’s voice, the wonderfully evocative lyrics and the way the tune captures that dreamy Chet Baker vibe. To hear it with Roger Manins providing lovely fills on tenor was a treat.  I know that I keep saying this, but Haines needs to sing more often.  He is widely acknowledged as a gifted tenor, soprano and flute player; time to add vocals to the accolades.

As I was leaving I spotted the well-known arranger Wayne Senior. He is especially familiar with this venue as it was once the main studio of Television New Zealand. He has worked on pervious projects with Haines. The National Institute of Creative Arts & Industries (NiCAi) filmed the video and I acknowledge them. Lastly all credit to the Arts Facility, Music Department of Auckland University. This University Jazz programme adds inestimable richness to our cultural life. With the Philistines ever at the gate, you persist in supporting the creative arts.  Thank you.

Where: Auckland University Jazz School, Shortland Street Auckland New Zealand 18th February 2015

Who: Nathan Haines, Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Oli Holland, Ron Samsom

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

Dr Dog Unleashed @ CJC

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A few weeks ago someone had whispered, “Dr Dog is back”.  What started as a mere dog whistle soon became an insistent rumour; confirmed beyond doubt when I saw a red van cruising the streets with ‘who let the dogs out’ emblazoned on its side.    I checked the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) website and sure enough there was the gig listing.   Dr Dog are the business or as the vernacular will have it ‘the dogs bollocks’.   We had all been hanging out for this return gig.  This was a risky outing for them as there would almost certainly be an attempt to capture them live during the performance.  The sight of determined looking technicians carrying a tangle of cables and heavy suitcases down the 1885 staircase club confirmed this.  IMG_6222

‘Dr Dog’ are some of the best musicians that the Auckland Jazz Scene has to offer.   Roger Manins – tenor,  Kevin Field – piano, Oli Holland – bass and Ron Samsom – drums.   They all teach at the Auckland University Jazz Studies course where Ron Samsom is program director.    They are teachers, but they also gig regularly.   These guys have honed their skills over many years of playing with the best.  Suffice it to say that expectations are always high when any one of them performs, but when all four appear on the same stage it is a noteworthy event.

Dr Dog is a showcase for the talents of the four band members, all of whom have written original material for the occasion.  I suspect that these compositions are not for the faint hearted and a sneak look at the heavily annotated scores confirmed that.   It was dog eat dog on the bandstand as each musician tried to outdo the other.  Heads would occasionally bend low over the charts in mock dismay and between numbers quick animated conferences were held.  This was not a set list designed to give band members an easy ride.   It was the audience who got the best of these exchanges and while the sweat poured off the band we lapped up the music.  This was a rare treat, just as we knew it would be.

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As you would expect from a dog band there were cool licks a playful approach to the music, a meat raffle and stick chasing.   I filmed most of the sets and I was particularly impressed with the first number up.  It was obvious that these guys had their eye on the ball.  I have put up that clip titled ‘Dideldideldei’.   Being Oli Holland’s composition I knew that it would be well written and have a back story (perhaps involving fishing?).  Oli has a strong sense of irony which is in his titles.   Dideldideldei was evidently a phrase uttered by a Jazz hating apartment dweller in a German comedy, who had the misfortune to live above a Jazz club.  He would shower the band with rotten fruit while yelling, “this is not music it’s just dideldideldei”.    All of the tunes had equally illusive or improbable titles and that only added to the fun.

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Roger contributed ‘Peter the Magnificent’ which he had written in honour of Peter Koopman and tune called ‘Evolution’ (dog evolution).  He gave an explanation of the titles but as I was near the back I couldn’t hear because the people up front were laughing so hard.  Kevin contributed a few tunes and one named ‘Synaesthesia’ referenced the unusual condition which he tells me afflicted one of the great classical composers.  Synaesthesia is a rare condition where colours are heard as sounds or sounds as colours.   Pat Martino Jazz guitar master uses this affliction as a vehicle to assist his improvisation.  In the end I lost track of who had composed what because the dogs only wanted to play.    While this was occurring they were captured by a sound man named John.  An album and a properly attributed track list should result from that.   This band is long overdue in recording and I am hoping that the live take is adequate to purpose.  If the sound is not good enough then they should shake their tails and get to the studio ASAP.   I for one can’t wait.

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Who: Dr Dog – Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Oli Holland, Ron Samson

Where: CJC Creative Jazz Club February 20th 2013

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Bop, Post Millenium

Callum Passells, trio, quartet, quintet

Callum, Cameron & Adam

A few days ago the CJC presented the Callum Passells group.   Callum is a third year student at the Auckland University School of Music (Jazz Studies) and so are his band mates.  If anyone harboured the briefest thought that this group should be cut some slack on account of age or experience, forget it.   What we saw was a slick act, a great programme and the sort of discipline that generally comes with seasoned performers.   This band did the business and they held us in the palm of their hand throughout.

I had only seen Callum perform a few times; once at a house party and once during a jam season.  Those brief encounters had not been enough for me to form a clear view of his abilities and so I arrived with an open mind and no fixed expectations.   I now recall Roger Manins saying that Callum was a terrific saxophonist and that he had the hunger to succeed.  That should have clued me up.

Cameron

Callum is a very nice altoist and his tone is as sweet or as hard-edged as the tune calls for.  Once in a while I could hear a hint of Cannonball Adderley.  Not a copied lick, but more of a bluesy swagger and the stuttering way that he would burst into a phrase.  During one such moment I must have uttered the word ‘Cannonball’ to myself.  The person sitting next to me suddenly said, “yeah, I heard that too”.

The band was well rehearsed and they had paid attention to the smallest of details including how they presented themselves on the bandstand.  Their programme was quite varied and each number fitted into its place and told its own story.   There were piano-less trio numbers, quartet numbers and quintet numbers.   The tunes were all originals and they were well written.

I have to comment on the quintet arrangements which were simply sublime.  Some of the better arrangers like Marty Paich or Kenny Wheeler could arrange tunes in such a way that smaller ensembles sounded as if they were much bigger.   The advantage of this is that it leaves the listener with a feeling of airiness.  A sense of the space around each instrument.   

When I first heard the quintet I was surprised at how big the sound was.  There were only two horns, Cullam Passells (as) and Liz Stokes (t, fh).   This is the illusion created by good arranging.  Liz Stokes was especially fluent in the second set and a Wheeler-esk slur added colour to the performance.

I have seen Cameron play before and he really stepped up a notch with this gig.  I think that he enjoyed it and it was a challenging workout for bass.  The drummer Adam Tobeck was comfortable throughout and he pushed himself harder in the second half.   A blistering solo earned him his stripes with the CJC audience.

The band member I am most familiar with is Matt Steele.   I have liked his playing from the first time I heard it and he was even better at this gig.   He has a mature style but it is different to many of the pianists I hear as his touch is often light and crisp.   His comping is breathtaking as he urges the soloists to greater heights.  While you are always aware of his right hand soaring in chromatic invention during his solos, his left hand weaves its own chordal magic.  If I needed a single word to describe his playing it would have to be melodic.  

The set list was a work of art in itself.  On the page it read like an Imagist poem by Langston Hughes or William Carlos Williams.

The set list was as follows:

Race-car Red Red Race-car, Molasses, What the Fuck is a Persimmon, Money Grubber, I’ve, So This is What it’s Like,  Magnetic North, Wrack, Candied Carrots, Elysium, Greens Waltz, Up Up Down Down Left Left Right Right AB

The band was in order of appearance – Trio:  Callum Passells (leader, arranger, composer, alto saxophone), Cameron MacArthur (double bass), Adam Tobeck (drums).  Quartet add; Matt Steele (piano), Quintet add: Liz Stokes (trumpet flugal horn).

Callum presided over the night with that easy confidence of a born leader. He told very funny stories (especially the WTF is a Persimmon story) and he encouraged his band in a way that ensured they gave their best.   If that is the calibre of students emerging from the city’s Jazz schools then we are in for an exciting future.   Big ups to the band and especially to Callum.