CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, New Zealand Jazz Gigs, Small ensemble, Straight ahead

Brian Smith Quintet

SmithBrian Smith is a legendary figure in New Zealand Jazz, achieving career highs that few others attain. Normally artists of this stature settle overseas and are seldom seen after that. It was our good fortune that Smith moved back to New Zealand and in consequence, we get to hear him perform locally. It’s a moot point whether good musicians ever truly retire (luckily, the answer is seldom). Not so long ago he formed a quintet and since then he has been performing at venues around town. While Smith is a regular at the CJC, this is the first time that we have seen the current quintet in action.  The event was predominantly a standards gig and a band of veterans is the right vehicle where standards are concerned. When you bring a selection of loved tunes back into orbit, comparisons are inevitably made. Therefore it pays to choose well and to perform them well and that’s exactly what the Brian Smith quartet did. Smith (1)

Smith possesses an authoritative air on his horn, the end result of considerable experience and his well-acknowledged chops. Consequently, he always sounds great and always looks comfortable on the bandstand. Behind him in the darkness was Frank Gibson, Jr on drums. Gibson and Smith go back a long way and he is exactly the right drummer to lift these warhorse tunes to glory; most of them coming from the hay-day of Jazz. While Gibson has many strings to his bow, this is his forte. Up front was multi brass and reeds player Chris Nielson. It was good to hear Nielson again and especially on trombone, a horn that has sadly been disappearing from small ensembles since the 60’s. Nielson also brought other horns with him, favouring an American cornet, an instrument which in his hands, produced a strong rounded tone. On bass was Bruce Lynch, a highly competent electric and acoustic bass player who is well-known as a music producer and as a former member of the Cat Stevens band.  Almost hidden on the right side of the bandstand was Dean Kerr on guitar. His guitar work was strongly chordal and supportive of the others, providing well-placed contrast for Smith and Neilson as he comped. Smith (2)

Among the standards were ‘In Walked Bud’ (Monk), Stolen Moments (Nelson), There is no Greater Love’ (Jones), Freddie Freeloader and All Blues (Miles), Killer Joe (Golson), St Thomas (Rollins).  I have posted a clip of the perennial favourite ‘Softly as in a Morning Sunrise (Romberg/Hammerstein). There was also a nice tune by Smith which think is titled ‘Short Shift.

The gig took place at the Thirsty Dog for the CJC Creative Jazz Club on March 7, 2018. Brian Smith (leader, tenor saxophone), Frank Gibson Jr. (drums), Chris Nielson (trumpets, flugelhorn, trombone),  Dean Kerr (guitar), Bruce Lynch (upright bass).

Advertisements
CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Straight ahead

Brian Smith quartet 2014

IMG_1251 - Version 2

For a man who says that he’s “taking it easy these days”, Brian Smith is remarkably active.  He has been a strong supporter of the recent CJC Sunday Jam sessions,  he still teaches and regularly fronts CJC gigs.   Many regard him as the elder statesman of the tenor saxophone in New Zealand and he certainly has the credentials to fit that title.  It is only when you see him playing his Cannonball or Selmer tenor that you realise just how youthful he is.  Like many experienced tenor players he appears ageless on the bandstand.  That is the alchemy of the instrument and the alchemy of the born improviser.

Advertised as Brian Smith (tenor saxophone), Kevin Field (piano), Kevin Haines (bass) Frank Gibson (drums) but on the night Oli Holland replaced Kevin Haines on bass.

It takes a lot of space to list Brian’s musical credentials and it is all too easy to miss out important elements, but here is a brief summary that I have gleaned from elsewhere;

‘Brian relocated to London in 1964, performing at Ronnie Scott’s and working & touring with such names as: Humphrey Littleton, Alexis Korner, T-Bone walker, Georgie Fame,Alan Price, Annie Ross, Bing Crosby, Mark Murphy, Jon Hendricks, John Dankworth, & Tubby Hayes. He was a founder member of ‘Nucleus’ alongside Ian Carr, which won the European Band competition in Montreaux in 1970, resulting in gigs at Newport Jazz Fest and tours of Italy, Germany, Holland, and America. In 1969 he started working in the Maynard Ferguson band, staying with them until 1975 including touring and recording. He also backed acts like Nancy Wilson, The 4 Tops, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Donovan, Dusty Springfield, Sandy Shaw and Lulu.’

The programming at the CJC is mostly centred around musicians projects.  The gigs are therefore heavily focused on original material or perhaps an oblique take on a particular oeuvre.   We do hear standards but seldom more than one or two a gig.  The exception occurs when international artists arrive in town or when iconic musicians like Brian Smith front a gig.  On occasion it is nice just to sit back and enjoy familiar tunes.  Letting them wash over you, being able to anticipate the lines and comparing them in your head to the versions that you have grown up with.  The very fact that some tunes become standards implies that they have a special enduring quality.  These are vehicles well suited for improvisation and having musical hooks that invite endless exploration for listener and musician alike.  Standards composers are the greatest writers of the song form, but the inside joke is that these wonderful tunes often came from musicals which failed miserably.

IMG_1258 - Version 2

It was great to hear the quartet play ‘You and the night and the music’ which is a firm favourite of mine.  Composed by Arthur Schwartz  (lyrics Howard Dietz), it came from the musical ‘Revenge with music’ which closed on Broadway after a few months.   Frank Sinatra and Mario Lanza revived it and it became popular with Jazz musicians for a while during the 50’s and 60’s.  While the earlier popular renderings tended toward the saccharine, Jazz musicians like Mal Waldren purged the tune of its syrupy connotations.  It was the obscure tartly voiced Lennie Niehaus Octet version (with Lennie on alto, Jimmy Giuffre on baritone and Shelley Manne drums) which won me over.  Over a decade ago I heard HNOP and Ulf Wakenius perform a killing version of it at the Bruce Mason centre and I had not heard it since.  That is until last Wednesday.

IMG_1236 - Version 2

Another great standard was Horace Silvers ‘Song for my father’.  Standards have the power to move us deeply and this tune in particular brought a lump to my throat as my father was slipping away that very week.  One of pianist Kevin Field’s tunes ‘Offering’ was also played and while not a standard it is a favourite about town.   Everyone played well that night with  Oli Holland and Kevin Field up to their usual high standard; Frank Gibson on drums was in exceptional form.  His brush work and often delicate stick work was perfect and it reminded everyone why he is so highly regarded about town.

IMG_1288

I have chosen a video clip from the gig which is arguably the most famous standard of all.  Cole Porters ‘What is this thing called love’.  Cole Porter would always say that the song and lyrics wrote themselves and this version is certainly a worthwhile addition to the selection.  Unlike many of the vocal versions it is fast paced and authoritative.  IMG_1278 - Version 2

Who: Brian Smith Quartet – Brian Smith (tenor saxophone), Kevin Field (piano), Oli Holland (bass), Frank Gibson Jr (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand –  June 25th 2014   http://www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

 

 

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians, Post Bop

Mike Nock + Roger Manins, Frank Gibson@ CJC

IMG_7906 - Version 2

It was sometime in early June when I first heard the news.  I was sitting with Roger, talking music and shooting the breeze about who we rated.  Suddenly he half turned and said, “Mikes coming back to do a CJC gig”.  The words hung in the air like a siren song and for me the impatient waiting began from that moment.  If Mike Nock was coming to town there would be magic aplenty.  That’s what it meant.  That is what it has always meant.

The word seeped out, first to the music students and then to the wider world, like ripples in an ever-widening arc.  The club would be full that night.

Closer to the gig Roger asked Mike who he wanted in the band.  They quickly settled on a trio format, not your usual piano trio but one with piano, tenor saxophone and drums.   Roger Manins on tenor, Frank Gibson on drums.  Mike had jettisoned the anchor for this gig and he was quite definite about that, no bass.   This is a challenging lineup for a pianist (and for the other band members) because no-one is there to hold the centre.   If you slip there is greater distance to fall.  In this different space wonderful things can also happen and they did.  This was a night among nights.

IMG_7932 - Version 2

Barely able to contain my impatience I rolled into the club foyer three-quarters of an hour early.   The queue was already snaking back past the basement stairway and well into the upstairs bar.  A seething mass of eager faces.  When the doors finally opened there was Mike sitting sideways on the piano stool and Roger was blowing a few scales nearby.  The music stand sitting to one side abandoned, an unnecessary distraction, in a free ranging gig going where the music took it.

Before the first set I caught up with Mike, talking about his various projects (he was playing with a New Zealand string quartet the next night).  He told me that he was coming back to the CJC with his newest Australian trio in a few months.  Next time bass and drums.  We talked a bit about Jazz musicians from the past, Kiwi’s that he had played with and then the discussion shifted to the older pianists who straddled the swing to bop era.  Like all great pianists Mike lets the entire history of Jazz fall under his fingers and so I asked him about players like Hank Jones and Mary Lou Williams.  When I listen to them I hear such strong left hands, walking chords, syncopation, hinting at a time when ‘harlem stride’ was still an influence.  “The newer and stronger bass players changed that” said Mike.  “As the bass lines become stronger and pickups better the need for such dominant left hand work fell away.  There was too much conflict”.   As a non musician I had never considered that and it all made perfect sense.  I marvelled all the more that Be Bop/Post Bop greats like Hank Jones kept a touch of this earlier style and even when accompanied by strong bass players like Ray Brown, George Mraz and Ron Carter.   I wondered if we would ever see those strong left hand stylists again.   I soon got my answer.

IMG_7897 - Version 2

The set list was not really planned and it changed and evolved as the evening wore on.   The numbers selected were all standards, but they were somehow fresh, as if revealed for the very first time.   The first number was ‘When Your Smiling’ (Shay/Fisher/Goodwin 1889) and the second number was ‘Gone With The Wind’ (Allie Wrubel 1937).  Those two numbers coming together had me wracking my brain as to where I had heard them, heard them played together.  Then it came to me, they were both on one of the earliest of the Brubeck Quartet albums.   ‘Dave Brubeck at Storyville 1954’ was a wild live recording that lacked polish but oozed soul and immediacy.  Afterwards Mike announced  that a Brubeck album had inspired him to play that number – bingo.  These are the connections we love.   If you ingest a large dollop of Jazz history the memories will reward you.  IMG_7901 - Version 2

As they played through the first set I realised that the lack of a bass had not impeded them at all.  There it was, that strong left hand of Hank Jones, working the mid lower register while wonderful modern chords and runs flew from his darting right hand.   This was a master class for the senses to grapple with, giving us an unparalleled taste of Jazz piano mastery from an oblique angle.  No matter what Mike threw his way Roger matched it as they danced in and out of reach like well matched prize fighters .  These two have an uncanny level of communication.  It was even more evident later when they played ‘Softly as a Morning Sunrise” (Romberg/Hammerstein).  They had been considering what to play next when Frank Gibson suggested it.  Heads nodded in agreement and Frank set the number up nicely with a melodic intro on his traps.   “We will just see where this goes” said Mike, “could be anywhere”and he proceeded to pick at the bones of the melody.   Where it went was somewhere wonderful.  This is where the magic truly occurred, a moment to be savoured by all present.

They had begun the number, sparingly at first, soon more purposefully.  The level of interplay increased as they unpicked the tune.  Soon all three were working and pulling at the tune like it was a joyful game.  As Roger soloed I watched the trio inching up the intensity by degrees.  At first Roger had tapped out time with his right foot as he played, now he was pawing at the ground like a bull about to charge.   Mike was rocking madly and then standing and dancing some crazy dance.  Frank too was rolling with the beat.  By now they were way outside – blowing free of all constraints.   It was a moment to savour.  The moment.

IMG_7891 - Version 2

As I watched these three, so attuned, a thought struck me,  Mike Nock is originally from Ngaruawahia, Roger from Waiuku.   These two small country towns are close to each other.  What are the odds that rural New Zealand would produce two musicians of this quality.  Maybe it was something in the upper Waikato water supply?

When Jazz musicians are enjoying themselves there are always moments of hilarity, but on this night the best moment came from an unexpected quarter.   The CJC was full, so full  that dozens of people were turned away at the door due to the fire regulations. Outside it was winter, but inside it was hot as hell.  Mike by now stripped to his T-shirt asked if there was any talcum powder for his hands, which were slippery from the exertion.   Caro Manins duly produced a talcum powder container.  Mike wrestled with the lid for a few minutes and then handed it to someone else to unscrew.   Bigger and younger blokes stepped forward in turn, each saying that they were up to the task, but none could dislodge that damn lid.  “Take it back to the shop” said one, “it’s a faulty product”.  At this point a diminutive young woman took the container from the frustrated men, gently flicked off the child proof lock and opened it.  Men often forget the golden rule in these situations, ask a woman.  IMG_7936 - Version 2

During the second set Kim Paterson and Brian Smith sat in for a number or two.   Kim and Brian go back a long way with Mike and both have recorded with him.

As the enjoyment washed over me I could hear the words of Sean Wayland from a month earlier as he announced his gig.  “New Zealand I would like to thank you for Mike Nock”.   With you on that brother.

Who: Mike Nock with: Roger Manins & Frank Gibson Jr.

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 24th July 2013

And a clip by Jen Sol from the same gig:

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Hard Bop, Jazz April, Jazz Journalists Association, Straight ahead

Brian Smith @ CJC Jazz April gig

IMG_6571 - Version 3

It is always great to see the renowned tenor player Brian Smith performing in the intimate space of the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) and whenever he plays older and newer fans turn up to see him.   While it is tempting to refer to him as being ‘seasoned’ or ‘an elder statesman’, any notion of that has a built-in redundancy factor.   He is a ball of energy and ageless on the bandstand.

Brian has played with so many great artists over his long career that it would chew up serious bandwidth to enumerate even half of them.  Being a member of the Maynard Ferguson band and numerous other well-known line-ups saw him playing across the world.    His co-led genre stretching ‘Nucleus’ (with Ian Carr) won the top European band award at the Montreux Jazz Festival (1970).  Since returning to New Zealand to settle (if a musician ever really does that) he has worked on numerous film scores and put out some well received (and commercially successful) albums.  IMG_6561 - Version 2

Accompanying him on the 10th April gig were Kevin Field (piano), Kevin Haines (bass) and Frank Gibson Jr (drums).    With this particular lineup he could dive deeper into his favoured repertoire of Hard Bop Jazz standards (with a few originals thrown in).  When ‘Footprints’ was played Brian Smith approached the warhorse in an interestingly oblique manner; giving us a tune that contained the merest hint of familiarity and a large dollop of brooding mystery.  This was a highpoint of the sets and a good example of how good musicians can extract new wine from old bottles.  The introduction began with a very personalised statement on tenor which caught the attention while offering no insight into where it was going.  Then out of nowhere the melody was stated, only to disappear as quickly as it had appeared; merged in probing re-haromonisations and oblique explorations.

The tunes of Wayne Shorter have remained perennially popular with Jazz audiences and they are constantly being reworked and updated.  I have heard two versions of ‘Footprints’ performed in recent weeks and both mixed the familiar with the the new.  These re-workings of familiar tunes have always been the bread & butter of Jazz and in the case of reworked ‘Footprints,’ Wayne Shorter sets the bar high.  I saw him perform this in Verona, Italy a few years ago and after laying out a pathway to the melody he suddenly plunged us into a world of elision; forcing us to fill in the gaps as we listened.  A familiar tune floating between chasms of crystalline emptiness; a tune more implied than played.   I have posted a You Tube clip of the Brian Smith band playing  ‘Footprints’  at the 10th April CJC gig.

IMG_6564 - Version 3Accompanying Brian on piano was Kevin Field who is so well-respected about town that he is a real drawcard in his own right.   I have often mentioned his ability to add value to any band he plays with and this night was no exception (A post on his April 17th gig will be up shortly).  On bass was Kevin Haines who is not only the most experienced bass player about town but one of the best.  lastly there was Frank Gibson Jr on drums who is another respected and talented veteran Jazz identity about Auckland.     Frank Gibson Jr, Kevin Field and Kevin Haines have all appeared recently leading groups.  These guys will always impress and they proved that on this gig.

This particular CJC gig fitted in perfectly with the wider Jazz April ethos which is about profiling Jazz & Improvised music in all its diversity.    The month had kicked off with a co-led trio featuring guitar, bass and drums (all original music by Samsom/Nacey/Haines), A few days later we saw Nathan Haines at the ‘Q’ Theatre (a tentet complete with French horns and vibes) – a few days after that the Auckland ‘Jazz & Blues club’ featured a gig with a Caribbean-Jazz ensemble. The Kevin Field trio on the 17th.  Auckland benefits from a rich sonic diversity and clubs like the CJC, The Auckland Jazz & Blues Club and Vitamin ‘S’ deserve our ongoing support.  The month of Jazz April will conclude with two avant-garde bands (one local, the ‘Kparty Spoilers of Utopia’) at Vitamin ‘S’ on the 23rd at 8pm and one visiting from Australia (Song FWAA) which is a CJC gig on the 24th at 8pm.   This is a cornucopia of riches and not one of these gigs should be missed.  Note: The Vitamin ‘S’ gig is the last chance to see John Bell vibist, who departs for Korea on Thursday.

IMG_2428 - Version 3

Who: the Brian Smith Quartet – Brian Smith (tenor), Kevin Field (piano), Kevin Haines (bass), Frank Gibson Jr (drums)

Where and When: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Building, Brittomart 10th April 2013

This is a Jazz April 2013 gig : links Jazz April or Jazz Journalists Assn FB page.

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

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.