Brian Smith Quintet featuring Pete Barwick @ CJC

Brian Smith & Pete Barwick

Lets face it, no one will be disappointed by a Brian Smith Band and this particular lineup was an all-star affair.  Man did they deliver.

You expect Brian to deliver royally as he has had such a successful output as evidenced by his 2006 (Taupo’ album).   This also goes for Kevin Field (‘Field of Dreams’ album), Kevin Haines (‘Oxide’ album) and Frank Gibson Jnr (‘Rainbow Bridge‘ album), but a question mark may have lingered in some minds over Pete Barwick’s inclusion as he was the lessor known band member.  He is a veteran sideman and widely respected among musicians; Brian knew exactly what he was doing.  Pete was amazing on the night and he more than earned his place in this star studied lineup.

Brian Smith

In spite of their respective pedigree’s this was a band of equals and out of that amalgam came a night of exceptional Jazz.  A Hard Bop devotee in the audience said after the show, “I have been to Jazz clubs and concerts all over the world, but this may have been the best I have seen”.

The band played a number of Hard Bop standards as expected, but there were a few new originals as well.  An original number featured at the end of the first set titled ‘CJC’ delighted everyone.   Brian had penned this composition in the weeks preceding the gig and he dedicated it to Roger & Caroline Manins.  Before playing the number Brian paid tribute to them and to the CJC club.  The crowd loved this and applauded wildly.

In fact the audience was enthusiastic throughout the night and as tunes by Horace Silver, Heyman/Green, Brian Smith and others filled the club they could not have been happier.

The Creative Jazz Club (CJC) came into being for the express purpose of enabling such interactions and on nights like this both musicians and audiences are especially thankful for the clubs existence.

Pete Barwick

If any of you haven’t yet obtained a copy of Brian Smiths 2006 album ‘Taupo’ (Ode label) you need to remedy that situation immediately.   This last gig may begin a buying frenzy and as the world has recently learned to its cost regarding in demand commodities – scarcity drives prices up.  It is truly a marvelous album.  If you can’t find a copy in Marbecks or JB HiFi then try Real Groovy Records or Trade Me – just buy it.

Nathan Haines ‘Poets Embrace’ reprise

Nathan, Ben, & Steve

Last week saw the Nathan Haines Fourtet return to the CJC with an altered line-up.  Alain Koetsier the former drummer is now running a language school in China and Thomas Botting has packed up his bass and moved to Australia.   Above all we knew that this would also be the last time that we would see Nathan for while as he moves back to the UK in July.

In place of the departed musicians we heard Stephen Thomas on drums and Ben Turua on bass.    There had also been some changes made in the club configuration and it was surprising how the rearrangement of furniture subtly altered the sound.    The sight lines were also greatly improved for those standing along the bar and near to the entrance.     I have heard this material at four different gigs now, but for accessibility and quality of sound this gig worked the best for me.  It was great to be able to watch Kevin Field at work as the piano was no longer obscured by the bar.

Kevin Field

Those of us who have been listening to the ‘Poets Embrace’ album for months knew the material backwards, but with new personnel, such keen improvisers and an extremely enthusiastic audience we were always going to get something different.  We did.

I like every track on the album but if pushed I would single out ‘Ancestral Dance’ as a favourite.  The version on the night was blistering and it captured the drive and ethos of the band perfectly.   As Nathan mines deeper into this material he constantly finds new ideas and it has been a real privilege to watch this project grow from its inception to this final CJC gig three-quarters of a year later.

This album has achieved a rare feat in New Zealand.   It rose to number three on the best-selling album list and tracks from the album rocketed up the charts to unprecedented heights.  To those of us who have rated the album highly this has not been surprising, but here’s the interesting thing.  This is no-holds-barred model jazz of the sort that came out on the Impulse Label.

Younger listeners found this no barrier and embraced it whole heartedly, which was evidenced by the age of the audience at the gigs.   Nathan has always had a diverse following, but this journey took us to a new place in our Kiwi Jazz journey.  For that he deserves our deepest respect and we wish him the best as he returns to London.   This era that is so faithfully evoked was the high water-mark of analogue sound and the warmth and glow is evident in the recording (see earlier blogs on Jazz Local 32 for the methodology of ‘The Poets Embrace’ recording).

An undoubted highlight of the evening was the tenor battle between Nathan and Roger Manins.   It was our own version of the Sony Stitt and Gene Ammons tenor sessions.   The crowds whooped in delight as this full-throated exchange occurred.   It was a night never to be forgotten.

The clip I have included here was filmed in the weeks before Alain left for China and so Stephen is not yet in the band.  The lineup on the night was Nathan Haines (tenor sax), Kevin Field (piano), Ben Turua (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums) – guest Roger Manins (tenor sax).

Matt Steele Trio

Matt Steele at the Steinway

About a year ago I was at a gig when my attention was drawn to a young pianist.   I soon learned that his name was Matt Steele and I wrote it down in a notebook; knowing that he would be one to watch.  As the months rolled by I would occasionally bump into him in the CJC Jazz Club or see him playing piano at the late night CJC Jam Sessions.

I had a strong feeling even then that he would develop into a really good pianist and my instincts were right.  At that time he was probably a first year Jazz Studies student, but now in the midpoint of his second year, we are seeing a mature and confident performer emerge.  He has the talent, taste and commitment to go where ever he wants.

Jarad Desvaux de Marigny

While having chops is an obvious advantage there are other subtler factors which impress discerning listeners.  Matt can demonstrate a strong two-handed swinging-approach when called for, but it is his lightness of touch and his awareness of space that impresses most.   He has grasped the most important lesson of all and that is what to leave out.

Matt attends the University of Auckland Jazz Studies course and the tuition that he receives from Kevin Field is obviously yielding dividends.

Eamon Edmunson-Wells

On the 23rd of May Matt appeared as part of the Lewis Eady Emerging Talent series, which has a strong classical focus and doesn’t generally include a slot for jazz pianists.  They could not have chosen better than Matt as his playing was superb and the repertoire was perfectly suited to the occasion.

The program featured several works by the Polish Jazz trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and his wonder-kind pianist Marcin Wasilewski.  I was extremely pleased to see these masterpieces of modern Jazz included.  There is a real space for performing this material and there is not nearly enough of it.   Matt played some of his own compositions and they fitted in beside the Stanko, Bjork, Wasilewski, Kuhn and Carmichael perfectly.

It was also an added bonus that a lovely Steinway piano was available for the performance.

The clip below is from the Lewis Eady performance.  The number was composed by Bjork and played by Marcin Wasilewski on his album titled ‘Trio” (ECM).   Matt’s interpretation here is impressive.  I must also praise the sensitive drumming and great bass lines.  we should be under no illusion; pieces like this are difficult to execute.   Unlike a fast burner everything is revealed.   There were brave choices in the program but it worked extremely well.

I had not seen Eamon and Jared before but I will watch for them in future.    This trio belongs together as their awareness of what is required of each other is highly developed.  I urge everyone to check them out.    Chelsea Prastiti joined them for one number and that was also great.

Alain Koetsier a top class drummer saw the clip and emailed me the following: “great stuff all round and very subtle drumming”.

Eamon, Matt, Chelsea & Jared

Jazz Track Blindfold test

This is a blindfold test with a slight twist in it. It will reveal who has been paying close attention to the Jazz press and who has a grasp of essential  Jazz history.

(1) Identity the tune, (2) The composer, (3) The original location where the recording occurred, (4) The trio members in the original album, (5) Name the original album, (6), Identify where this version was recorded, (7) Name the trio members who recorded this version, (8) Name the odd man out.

The tune was by genius bass player Scott LaFaro and titled ‘Gloria’s Step’.   It appeared on the famous ‘Bill Evans Live at the Village Vanguard‘ albums in the early sixties and tragically Scotty Lafaro died in a car crash within weeks of recording this masterpiece.    The third trio member was Paul Motian who became famous because of that recording.   What you are hearing is not from that album, nor from any of the hundreds of Bill Evans live or studio recordings available.

This version is by Chick Corea which I find quite amazing as it is a long way from Chick’s usual style.  He is accompanied here by Eddie Gomez and Paul Motian (both key Evans alumnae).   Chick is obviously the odd man out here (as he was never part of any Evans lineup), but he is brilliant on this two-CD tribute recording.   Eddie Gomez shows a different side as he consciously plays in a lower register than usual for him and can be heard intoning as he plays (like Slam Stewart).   The album is called ‘Further Explorations’ (Concord) after an Evans, Lafaro, Motian album called ‘Explorations’ (Riverside 1961).  Paul Motian died shortly after recording this, so his Jazz Journey began and ended playing tunes like Gloria’s Step.  It was recorded over several nights at the Blue Note in New York.

The Chelsea Prastiti Septet


There are a surprising number of good Jazz musicians living in New Zealand and that is why the CJC is able to provide a varied and interesting programme at the club.  With Roger Manins as programme director the quality of the music is consistently high.  I may have come to expect that, but I can still be pleasantly surprised.

Chelsea Prastiti is studying Jazz at the University of Auckland and I have heard her sing once or twice before.   I knew that she was good but what took me by surprise was just how good.   This was not your routine standards programme but fresh and original Jazz singing at the highest level.   It was the sort of programme that a Sheila Jordan or a Norma Winstone might have embarked upon and in spite of the risks it was perfectly executed.

Matt Steele

Matt Steele is a pianist I enjoy greatly and he certainly justified his place in the band on this night.  Matt is in his third year and each time I see him play he gets better and better. His extended solo on ‘Bells’ was extraordinary and I cursed the gods for allowing my HD video tape to run out just before that.

Callum Passells was also in great form and he showed us again why he is so well-regarded as a musician.  His alto needed little coaxing as he worked the changes and the ideas flowed in happy succession.  Any band with Callum in can count itself lucky.

The band members were; Chelsea Prastiti (leader, vocals, arranger, composer), Callum Passells (alto sax), Matt Steele (piano), Elizabeth Stokes (Trumpet, Flugal), Asher Truppman Lattie (tenor sax), Eamon Edmunson-Wells (bass), Jared Desvaux de Marigny (drums).

Chelsea had arranged the numbers in the set and five of the songs were originals composed by her.  I will mention three numbers in particular as the contrast between these illustrates how well thought-out the programme was.  Second in the set was ‘Bells’ ( C Prastiti) and it was mind-blowing.   The band blew like crazy and each band member seemed to urge the others to greater heights.  Chelsea, Matt and Callum excelled themselves .   This is one of Chelsea’s compositions and it had all of the elements of great Jazz contained within its structure.   A tight arrangement, harmonic inventiveness, room for hard blowing and a structure that lent itself to out-improvisation.  I was standing near to Caroline (who teaches her at the University) and after the number we looked at each other in disbelief.   Even in the subdued lighting I could see tears in her eyes.

Callum Passells

The fourth number was a skillful arrangement of Maurice Ravel‘s.  The airy – ‘La Vallee Des Cloches’.   This was a fully arranged piece and with vocalese in the mix it was the perfect counterweight to what had preceded it.   Drums, bass, piano, voice, alto sax, tenor sax and fugal horn in perfect concert.

It was the last tune that had us all wishing that the music would never stop.  The composition was once again by Chelsea and called ‘Santa Muerte’ (the Mexican ‘Saint Death‘).    It  immediately brought to mind the madness and the wild beauty that is Mexico.    A hint of mariachi and a lot of jazz chops were on display.    I have included that as a You Tube Clip.

That a student so perfectly executed such difficult and exciting material is breathtaking – more please Chelsea and soon.

Mark Lockett – ‘Sneaking Out After Midnight’

Some weeks ago I received Rattle Records latest release.  It was Mark Lockett’s ‘Sneaking Out After Midnight’.   

It is a while since Mark left Wellington and he has obviously achieved much since then.   He is an educator, an innovator and a drummer with great chops.   When you look at who he has played with in the last decade and who his own teachers have been, the narrative falls into place.   This is an album that could not have been made by a lessor musician.

Mark is joined by two fine New York musicians; Joel Frahm (sax) and Orlando le Fleming (bass).   Joel Frahm has been around for a while and his album with Bill Charlap is one that immediately comes to mind.   He has been very much in demand around New York.    Orlando le Fleming (who was born in the UK) is equally impressive having also played with Bill Charlap and an impossibly long list of jazz notables.    These three were never going to be anything less than great when they joined forces.

It’s a nicely presented album with great artwork and even though cover art shouldn’t matter – actually it does.  Rattle always tries to present a complete package.

Good albums strive to break free of formulaic constraints and when a musical story is told in a fresh way this is achieved.   This is an album with an open, joyful and honest sound.   It is also Mark’s fourth album, which has allowed him to push harder at the musical boundaries.   His writing skills and his vision have made this a worthwhile journey.  

The Interview:


Q. Apart from the obvious subdivisions of genre do you have a view on what if anything makes NZ drummers so diverse in sound?

A. One of the many great things about being a musician in NZ is that you have to find your own voice and because there’s less competition musicians don’t have to perform to a certain technical level as to the all the other guys working on the same street as a musician in Melbourne or NY for that matter. Musicians in NZ have an opportunity like almost nowhere else in the world to find their own voice without being inhibited and from this a beautiful raw energy often emerges.

Q. Many drummers are writing now and in fact some of the most innovative compositions around are coming from the likes of John Hollenbeck, Matt Wilson, Eric Harland and Marilyn Mazur,who took the baton from Paul Motian and Jack DeJohnette. Why do you think this is as a drummer/composer?

A. I don’t often like compositions written by drummers and I think this is because they lack harmonic direction having said that I believe that more drummers are having lead their own bands these days to remain busy and employed and I don’t think this is a bad thing. Playing standards is great and I love doing it but when you play and tour a lot you can’t help but start looking for other musical vehicles from which to improvise.

Q. I have known about Joel Frahm for some time as he brought out an album with Bill Charlap (they are old friends). Orlando Le Fleming is an exciting bass player who has often worked with the amazing Lage Lund and Will Vincent among others. How did the collaboration come about?

A. A good friend of mine Aaron Choulai (piano player) got a chance to record with Tim Ries (sax player at the time with the rolling stones) in NYC some years back I first met Joel through that connection down at smalls jazz club. We bumped into each other several times over the years and I’ve always dug his playing. Another friend of mine happened to have Joel’s number so I called him up and he was really into it. Orlando was recommended to me by another great friend of mine and my current drum teacher Ari Hoenig.

Q. How was it working with these New Yorker’s.

A. Working with Joel and Orlando was the most amazing experience and one I’ll never forget.  These cats are true professionals in every sense of the word and two of the nicest, normal and most down to earth people one could wish for.

Q. How are things going in Australia for you?

A. I live in Melbourne and things are going great I’m very busy at present playing in several Peoples projects and planning my tour to NZ to promote the new cd dates are 3 July Wgtn Havana, 4th July Auck CJC and 5th July ChCh NMC at the conservatorium.

Q. Working without a chordal instrument brings different challenges and rewards. What are your feelings about working and recording with a sax, drum & bass trio.

A. I love this combination because it allows for a lot of musical freedom. It’s hard to find guitarists and piano players who are really skilled in comping.

Q. Is there anything that you would like to add about the album?

A. This album is my fourth release and I’m so excited about it, I think because it was a lot of fun to make and I grew up listening to these master musicians recorded with my hero’s eg Bill Stewart, Brian Blade etc I mean I use to sit in my flat in Wgtn in the 90’s and dream of playing with these cats and now a dream come true.

Thanks man we look forward to seeing you on your tour of NZ.    

Aucklander’s note; Mark will appear at the CJC 5th July



Spiral @ CJC

Andrew Hall, David Hodkinson, Steve Harvie

Spiral is a band coming from a multi genre perspective with a sound blending funk, soul, samba, jazz and blues (and a hint of reggae).  They have a nice brassy sound and it is their horn dominated front line which pulls them closer to the Jazz end of the spectrum.

Spiral appeared at the CJC on Wednesday 9th April and in deference to a Jazz focussed audience they stretched out on a few numbers.   Their big exuberant sound easily dominated the room, with trumpet/flugal player Finn Scholes capturing a lot of attention with his occasional displays of bravura.   This is a band of many parts but for the CJC club audience it was the tightly executed high-spirited ensemble playing that they most warmed to.  When the band where playing the head arrangements they took the world by the scruff (sorry dog metaphors are hard to shake off this month).   They were so familiar with their material after performing around the country that the charts were only given a cursory glance.  It was that familiarity that brought the sound together and when a solid groove was called for the band delivered instinctively.

The leader of the band saxophonist, composer Andrew Hall was also the vocalist and most numbers began and ended with a few vocal choruses.   He took a number of tenor solos during the night and showed that he was in charge without hogging the limelight.   Andrew plays horns and winds but stuck to tenor on this night which gave more heft to the music.

Anthony Hunt was on keyboards and I liked his Jazz voicings.  He mostly used a Fender Rhodes sound.   He played a very nice Nord Stage and that instrument is capable of delivering anything that a band like this could demand from keys.

Finn Scholes is the player I am most familiar with.  His confidence on stage, his ability to introduce various stylistic concepts and his obvious chops make him the stand out.  We will be hearing and enjoying his playing for a long time to come I suspect.

Joel Vinsen played a nice Ibanez guitar and he utilised the variety of pedal effects at his disposal tastefully.  When the moods of the numbers changed it was his comping or licks that guided the others.  

Steve Harvie is a well-known drummer about town and he has played at the CJC before.  His drumming is tasteful and not over embellished.

Dave Hodkinson was on electric bass and he knew what his role was and performed convincingly.    In a small room an electric bass that is too high in the mix will drown out acoustic instruments.   He did not do this and his timing and lines were good.

Alex Berwick joined the band part way through the evening and his trombone added exactly what was needed to the overall sound.   He soloed nicely and reinforced the view that I had formed that the horn line were the stars.