Drummer Frank Gibson Jr has been a feature of the New Zealand Jazz scene for over 40 years. He has accompanied and recorded with many of the greats and was one of a small cadre of Jazz musicians who remained visible at a time when Jazz was going through some very lean years. These days we are most likely to hear him performing with his own unit the ‘HardBopMobile’ or with long time friends like keyboardist Murray McNabb or Neil Watson.
I have seen this line up quite a few times and they offer up a solid programme of Hard Bop as the name suggests. While they sometimes play perennial favourites, they generally prefer to dig into the overlooked tunes by the likes of Joe Henderson, Horace Silver or Monk. With this material the band is on very firm ground. Because of their familiarity with the genre and the material, they are able to bring fresh interpretations to the tunes. Their approach is often surprisingly oblique.
Neil Watson is always adventurous on guitar and he has a joyfully quirky approach to tunes, while Cameron Allen (who is a well-respected saxophonist about town) approaches them from a more angular perspective. The remaining band member is the popular Ben Turua (bass) and this turned out to be his last CJC (Creative Jazz Club) gig as he left for Australia soon after.
The gig was heavy on Monk compositions which were explored and probed from every angle. It is not often that Monk’s ‘Hackensack’ is played; by a guitarist even less so. To take it further out they loosened up the vibe and gave it a New Orleans feel. This worked particularly well. Other Monk tunes such as ‘Brilliant Corners’ (why this is not done more is beyond me) and ‘Ask Me Now’ occupied much of the set material. They played Wes Montgomery’s ‘Jingles’, Ge Gee Gryce’s ‘Minority’ and a Sonny Sharrock tune ‘Little Rock’. The free guitarist Sonny Sharrock is seldom heard these days and more is the pity. Perhaps his hard edge and free fusion infused lines have faded with his passing? I detect Neil’s deft hand in this last choice as he has a great liking for Sharrock. Neil Watson also contributed a composition of his own and this probably confirms the rumour that he has been writing some new material of late.
My recent travels to the USA led to many musical adventures, but as good as those experiences were I had missed the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) and our local musicians. There is a passion and sometimes a raw edge in New Zealand Jazz which I find compelling.
The first gig I attended upon my return was the Nathan Haines CJC gig. This had been widely anticipated and after the success of ‘Poets Embrace’ the rumours of a new album had started to circulate. Just before Christmas Nathan Haines returned from London for a month or so and not long after Alain Koetsier returned from China. The rumours became fact as there is definitely a new album in the making. The band was well received at London’s ‘Ronnie Scotts‘ last year and an overwhelmingly positive review appeared in the influential ‘London Jazz’. That gig had reunited most of the ‘Poets Embrace’ band.
By the time of the ‘Ronny’s’ gig Nathan had moved back to London, while Kevin Field and Alain Koetsier flew in to join him. When a good band like this travels exposure to wider markets occurs. This can bring rewards. Having Warners behind Nathan proved fortuitous and ‘Poets Embrace’ has now been released in Europe as well as Australasia. With a follow-up album coming the expectations are rising again.
Nathan is no stranger to success (here or offshore) but to break into a difficult market releasing analogue classic 50’s style Jazz demonstrates his appeal. This is not just a lucky break but the result of hard work, Savvy, skilfully written charts and knowing who to choose as bandmates. Although Alain Koetsier (drums) has been working in China for a year he had already gained a solid reputation in New Zealand before he left. He can be heard on a number of top quality recordings where his chops and musicality are self-evident. Pianist Kevin Field has released a few albums of his own as leader and of particular note is his last release ‘Field of Vision’ (Produced by Nathan and released on the Warners label). The original bass player Thomas Botting is no longer with the band and in his place is the talented Ben Turua. This is the second time that I have seen Ben play with this band and he is a good choice. Sadly he is moving to Sydney after the recording.
On the night of the CJC gig we heard a mix of tunes from ‘Poets Embrace’ and some new compositions. Some were so new that they had never been played before in public. I assume that at least a few of these will end up on the new album. The first set started with a selection from Poets Embrace and it was immediately obvious that they were back on familiar ground and ready to notch it up a level. Nathan quickly established the melody and just as quickly moved to explore what lay beyond. Together they mined the material for new stories and the level of confidence was noticeable. The newer material was a little more tentative but this was a first outing. With the recording session due very shortly I have no doubt that we will hear an album every bit as exciting as the last. This music has its echoes in the era of 50’s Coltrane and others but here’s the interesting thing; Nathan has a young and an older fan base. This is a timeless music for the universal man (and woman).
Nathan is hopefully going to include a few of the vocal numbers he performed on the new album. His song ‘Impossible Beauty’ from ‘Sound Travels’ was an attractive haunting tune that stuck in the memory. I rate his (slightly husky) voice highly and I hope he adds vocals to his repertoire more often. The male Jazz singer is sadly an endangered species.
Last weekend the band played ‘The Sawmill’ in Leigh. The seats sold out quickly and to all accounts the gig was amazing. If there is anyone who hasn’t yet purchased a copy of ‘Poets Embrace’ do so immediately and grab up the new album upon release (in Vinyl or CD). I can promise you endless replays.
Who: Nathan Haines Band with Kevin Field, Alain Koetsier & Ben Turua.
Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) the basement 1885 -Britomart – downtown Auckland