‘Hardbopmobile’ (with Carolina Moon)

Hardbopmobile MONK 11-3-2014 059Frank Gibson Jr’s ‘Hardbopmobile’ has been around for a number of years and the band always delivers uncompromising hard-hitting performances. Gibson and Watson see to that. This no nonsense approach guarantees that Hardbopmobile’s music, even while traversing well worn standards, is fresh. This particular gig was titled ‘Hardbopmobile plays Monk’ and with the interesting addition of vocalist Caroline Moon (Manins) on vocals, it gave us much to enjoy. Familiar and lessor known Monk tunes appeared as the evening progressed. While all of Monk’s recorded material is perennially interesting and seemingly beyond caveat, in the right hands vibrant new interpretations are possible. This is the nature and Monk, the Picasso of modern Jazz; a modernist movement in perpetual progress.Hardbopmobile MONK 11-3-2014 069Ted Gioia pointed out in his book ‘The Jazz Standards’, that only two composers of pure Jazz standards remain in ascendency.  One of these is Monk whose stock has risen steadily for many decades now. The other (and that has occurred more recently) is Billy Strayhorn. Both of these composers had an astonishing modernity about them. In spite of some beguiling melodies, neither offered the listener simplicity. What you get with Monk is often jagged and quirky compositions, but for all that his hooks snag deep. Listening to Monk you hear the sounds of New York. The broken lines andHardbopmobile MONK 11-3-2014 066 startling dissonance are echoes of traffic and street life. Very human sounds and offered from his unique vantage point. In spite of the difficulties life threw at him the music is somehow tender.  Monks was essentially a humanist voice.

Frank Gibson, Neil Watson, Roger Manins, Caro Manins and Rui Inaba gave us an enjoyable evening. At times boisterous and loud, but occasionally gently reflective (e.g.Ruby my dear). I was delighted to hear ‘Ask me now’ as it is all too often ignored by modern Monk interpreters.

Gibson has a driving incessant beat that never flags and this spurs on Watson who loves nothing better than asymmetric lines and chords that drop like IED’s. He told me that he finds Monk liberating. Roger Manins and Rui Inaba were the newer band members. Inaba kept the pulse secure while Manins adopted his usual approach which is always dangerousHardbopmobile MONK 11-3-2014 067 and wild.

Monk has been interpreted by vocalists before and most notably by Carmen McCray.  The last time anyone sung Monk at the CJC was Susan Gai-Dowling and that was three years ago. Hearing Carolina Moon (Manins) doing these interpretations I wonder that it is not done more often. Moon has re-written the Monk arrangements, adding vocal lines. Her ‘Carolina Moon’ (Monk/Moon arr.) is irresistible.  When this was composed in 1924, composers Burke & Davis must have hoped for a hit.  It rose in the charts twice and never more so than when Connie Francis sang it in 1958. I bet that they never saw Monk coming though. Turning the song on its head (no pun intended)and giving it that crazed bebop makeover.  Hardbopmobile MONK 11-3-2014 061

There was also a marvellous interpretation of ‘Epistrophy’. This also featured Moon who had cleverly added some slow rap into the mix. During her preparation for the gig she listened to a famous live performance of Monk doing ‘Epistrophy’. Her attention was immediately drawn to a number of irritating audience members, talking loudly through the solo. She then transcribed the banter and it is now integrated into the tune. This is not only clever but it is fitting and cathartic. Monk would have loved to see these talkative ghosts exorcised. Gibson asking Moon to join the band was inspired. More please.

Who: Hardbopmobile – Frank Gibson (drums), Neil Watson (guitar), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Rui Inaba (bass), – guest Carolina Moon (vocals)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand 25th March 2015.

Harry Himself visits the CJC

Harry Himself 11-3-2014 074I often detect a unique quality in New Zealand improvised music, but when it comes to defining it, the illusive essence dissolves before I can grab hold. ‘Harry Himself’ has brought me one step closer, connecting me with a tangible manifestation. This band is the perfect example of improvised ‘Kiwiana’. At first hearing you detect a melange of the familiar; elements of World, Fusion, Straight ahead, Post bop, Post millennial Jazz and all served up with a generous dollop of classic country. Listen more closely and you will get strong South Sea references, flashes of musical memory permeating every bar. Everything from Bill Sevesi to the ancient sounds of New Zealand indigenous music. Even song titles revolve around Kiwiana themes .  Many of the tunes belong to a place, to the Islands we live on and to the immense swath of sea that surrounds it. Like the harbours and oceans that surround us, this is a mosaic of glittering fragments. A familiar yet unknown music to gladden the heart.  Harry Himself 11-3-2014 058 (2)Above all this is a good-natured band, oozing charm and character. The array of instruments and the judicious use of loops and pedals more than doubles their range.  The only constant in the sounds are the six string bass and drums. The leader Kingsley Melhuish is sometimes seen in the company of adventurous avant-gardists. He can also be found among the free ranging Ponsonby Road improvising bands. His use of pedals and loops is tasteful and it serves the music not a whim. His pedal effects and electronics are not added randomly, nor for the sake of it. He is an accomplished horn Harry Himself 11-3-2014 070player, switching seamlessly between trumpet, flugelhorn, tuba, trombone and lately, a vast array of conch shells. Melhuish often sets up loops and then he plays over them with different horns.  This layering of sound is achieved well and the real-time harmonic overlay enables him to add considerable texture and breadth. Neil Watson does likewise, as he frequently moves between Fender guitar and pedal steel guitar. The day after the gig I called into the MAINZ recording studio to grab a few shots of the group laying down an album. I overheard the recording technician asking the band after a take, “How do you feel that went; do you want to listen before moving on”?  Immediately a voice came from the studio speaker, “No, I think we’ll do that one again. The Fender and the conch will work better together than the pedal steel on this track”.  A huge smile crossed the technicians face, “I’ve never heard that said in a studio before” he said.  They were Harry Himself 11-3-2014 068right and it reinforced a long-held view of mine; that no instrument is beyond the reach of Jazz and that no sound should remain un-pillaged. I always appreciate Sam Giles electric bass playing and I am always left with the feeling that he is scandalously under-utilised. Solid and groove based was what the band needed and solid and groove based was what they got. On drums was premier drummer Ron Samsom. He worked these beats like he always does, purposefully, skilfully and making it look second nature. I’m glad the band is recording this material and I have a feeling that the album could grow legs with the right exposure. I hope so, they are fun. Harry Himself 11-3-2014 059I have added two video clips of the band, which demonstrate the diversity of their material. While diverse, it never-the-less hangs together nicely. The fist clip is ‘Cy’s Eyes’ a tune composed for one of Melhuish’s children. The second tune is the wilder freer ‘Zornithology’. A tribute to John Zorn (with an obvious play on the title of a Bird tune). There was one tune I wish I’d captured on video and that was ‘Rose Selavy’ by Enrico Rava.  Man, what a hard-edged powerhouse romp that was.

Who: ‘Harry Himself‘ is Kingsley Melhuish (trumpet, flugel, tuba, trombone, conch’s), Neil Watson (Fender guitar, Pedal Steel guitar), Sam Giles (six string e-bass), Ron Samsom (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand 18th March 2015

Phil Broadhurst Quintet + 1

JL32.com 11-3-2014 060In the coming months there will be a new Phil Broadhurst album released, ‘Panacea’. Broadhurst is an enduring musical presence, a backbone of the Auckland Jazz scene. Running the Massey School of Music Jazz programme in Auckland keeps him busy, but he somehow finds time to write interesting new material and to perform gigs about town. A prolific writer and arranger, he has released a number of albums in recent years and all have done well. His tribute to Michel Petrucciani ‘Delayed Reaction’ garnered favourable reviews here and offshore and his 2014 album ‘Flaubert’s Dance’ was short listed for a Jazz Tui.

On Wednesday, as a prequel to the Panacea album release, we heard the Phil Broadhurst Quintet (plus a friend) at the Creative Jazz Club. The identity of the mystery guest was a JL32.com 11-3-2014 061poorly kept secret, anticipated and not puzzled over. As the band set up, the shiny pedal-steel guitar and the battle-worn fender dispelled any remaining doubts. The band was Phil Broadhurst, Roger Manins, Mike Booth, Oli Holland, Cameron Sangster and of course Neil Watson (AKA the mystery guest).

There were newer tunes and a few familiar ones from past gigs. Most of the new tunes will feature on the Panacea album, which will probably be released in late May. As a writer Broadhurst avoids cliches, but at the same time he manages to avoid the obtuse. there are odd time-signatures but when he delves into complexity the tunes still remain accessible. These are tunes that sound familiar; not because you’ve heard them before or because they rely on well-worn licks. They sound familiar because they tap into a recognisable vibe.  At the heart of his writing is a real warmth. The tunes take you to a familiar place even though you’ve never been there before; carried by rich harmonies and well crafted heads.  JL32.com 11-3-2014 063

Holland Manins, Booth and Sangster have been with the band a long while and that familiarity enabled them to extract the maximum from the material. As many of the tunes were lyrical, Manins showed a gentler side to his tenor playing. While he favours fast burners (where he excels), his ballad work here had depth and feeling. Booth and Manins blend well and especially with Booth on Flugel. Adding Watson into the mix changed the dynamic and his solos on fender had urgency and edge. Watson is a good musician but one who never takes himself too seriously. He brings humour to any bandstand and minor mistakes are fodder for self-deprecatory slapstick asides.

One of the newer compositions made reference to Watson’s pedal steel guitar. Like an elephant, the tune title had undergone a long and difficult gestation. Broadhurst composed it just before going on an overseas trip and promptly forgot about it in the rush to pack. A year or so later he decided to clean up the computer program and JL32.com 11-3-2014 058 (3)began the process of mechanically purging duplicate copies of old tunes. By this point all had been given titles and saved elsewhere. Rescued from the lonely obscurity of the ‘untitled’ nomenclature. As he deleted them one by one he spotted an anomaly. One particular tune was mysteriously labeled ‘untitled-untitled’. He opened it, liked the look of it but didn’t recognise it, so he played it. He recalls wondering who had written it until the penny dropped. ‘Untitled-Untitled’, the tune rescued in the eleventh hour, was later shown to Neil Watson who was wrangling with his new pedal steel guitar. There are so many levers to operate he complained to Broadhurst, who replied, “I think that you’ve just named my lost tune’. ‘Lever’ is a great tune and its improbable genesis gives it that added piquancy.

Who: Phil Broadhurst (piano), Roger Manins (tenor sax), Mike Booth (trumpet & Flugel), Oli Holland (bass), Cameron Sangster (drums), – guest Neil Watson (pedal steel and fender guitars).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club) Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand 4th March 2015.

Alan Brown Quartet @ CJC 2015

10407208_849558365101298_5079031482730444727_nThe more I listen to Alan Brown bands, the more I realise just how original his music is. The gig promised to be a reprise of ‘Between the Spaces’ and that was a drawcard which pulled in a good audience. We soon realised however that we were getting a lot more. As well as the familiar there were new compositions and a few that had not made the cut for the album. Brown is an extraordinarily gifted musician and in settings like this he always sounds fresh. The familiar numbers sounded as exciting as when we first heard them and the unfamiliar held the attention with siren like allure. This is music to gladden the heart. 11017509_849558561767945_4632538171974249436_n

There is a definite Alan Brown sound and it is quite unique. Yes there are small nods to familiar groove bands, to prog bands and perhaps even EST, but the sound is unmistakably his. Browns intros often favour the ostinato, with bass and drums working tirelessly across his insistent rhythmic patterns. These woven threads of sound create a layering effect. You are seldom aware of the underlying complexity, the odd time signatures and the oblique shifting grooves. Like many a well composed, well executed jazz tune, an implied centre holds the attention and this is where the ear goes. This is complex music made 10428674_849559058434562_7650093753295645704_naccessible. As the tunes unfold you fall into them, feeling that you are on a journey of logical progression; the enveloping arms of groove guiding you inexorably towards some beating voodoo heart.

The musicians Brown uses are always chosen with care. With arranged music and exacting charts, the having the right line up is important. It was great to see Andy Smith back at the CJC. Like Jono Sawyer he was on the 2011 ‘Between The Spaces’ album. Smith has something of the rock god about him and as his solo’s soar he often leans back, as if giving the notes more room to fly free. He is technically proficient and an interesting soloist; often putting me in mind of Mike Moreno as the sound is similar. His approach is modern but the history of jazz guitar still speaks behind his solo lines. Jono Sawyer is a member of various Alan Brown units and he is very much at home in this configuration. His time feel in these groove based settings is immaculate. 11024767_849558951767906_7151372333629258045_nThe relative newcomer is electric bass player David Hodkinson. He is no stranger to Brown’s bands but he was not on the album.  it would be daunting to step into Marika Hodgson’s shoes but Hodkinson held the groove and punched out a mesmerising pulse.

Alan Brown makes no apologies for referencing the fusion prog Rock/Jazz era. On Wednesday he mentioned the innovative and almost forgotten ‘Focus’ (an admired instrumental group of the 70’s who often featured Jazz guitarist Philip Catherine).  Among a selection of great tunes, my hands down favourite was a prog tribute to ‘King Crimson’ named ‘Crim Kingson’.

The photographs are by Ben McNicoll of the CJC management and the audio clip is ‘Do not track’ from the ‘Between the spaces album’.

Who: The Alan Brown Quartet – Alan Brown (piano), Andy Smith (guitar), David Hodkinson (bass), Jono Sawyer (drums).

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand. 25th Feb 2015

The Jelly Rolls Trio @ CJC

Jelly Rolls #1 11-3-2014 055Thomas ‘Fats’ Waller and Errol Garner can install a smile on your face in two jaunty bars.  It is the same with Wellington’s ‘The Jelly Rolls’.  Waller and Garner are widely loved but seldom imitated; probably because what they do is extremely difficult.  The original recordings also stand up so well that mere clones would be a redundancy.  The Jelly Rolls have achieved something special by locating the spirit of this cheerful Harlem Stride influenced music; achieving this through a clever synthesis of the leading stylists. For good measure they have thrown in a touch of the more modern Ahmed Jamal and a pinch of Oscar Peterson.  This is the sound of joy, wild unbounded exuberance.  Jelly Rolls 11-3-2014 058

In recent years there have been surprisingly few attempts to honour this era.  A Jazz historian once described Garner as a happy footnote; a blip aside from the mainstream. He was correct in one sense, as there is no Errol Garner school of pianism.  While that is less true of Waller the extent of their influence remains strangely allusive.  Great pianists can influence those who follow in subtle and various ways, but it often requires the fullness of time for their real influence to become evident.  A just released album ‘All Rise’ by the very modern pianist Jason Moran honours ‘Fats’ and names him as a prime influence. This is a post millennial interpretation and speaks in an engaging contemporary voice.  Some years ago a famous and well respected pianist took a different and traditionalist tack.  Although eminently qualified to tackle such a tribute, the album somehow fell short.  I have often puzzled at that.  When approaching ‘Fats’ Waller and especially Garner, the first requisite is having the chops.  The second requisite and perhaps the most important, is knowing when to subvert any sense of reverence and reach for the Joy. This is not music for a dry piano-roll type transcription.

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The Jelly rolls did something special here; they effortlessly took us back to the era of rent parties and speakeasies. To a time when a pianists left hand worked harder than the ‘hoofers’ in the room. The fact that pianist Ben Wilcock’s braces kept falling to his elbows added to the illusion.  It made us feel like we were watching a Willie the Lion or a ‘Fats’Waller; something redolent of a hat tilted at an impossibly dangerous angle or a chewed cigar barely surviving the banter.  On bass was Dan Yeabsley, finding ways round that powerful walking left hand on piano and yet still holding the centre.  On drums was John Rae the iconoclast, playing the old style two-beat rhythms on brushes and sticks as if born to it. The same Rae we know to be madly expressive. The same Rae for whom no complex subdivision of time is out-of-bounds.  Here he was, working the gig like an old school drummer (that huge grin still intact).  All three were magnificent but Wilcock’s piano work must get the grand prize.  When post-bop practitioners like these pull out such performances a truth’s revealed.  Experienced, tasteful and talented Jazz musicians can tackle almost anything and do it well.

During the second set, Auckland’s premier tenor saxophonist Roger Manins came to the band stand. You could see that he was hungry for a piece of this magic and he shone.  Manins always amazes and he had somehow adjusted his embouchure to give out a full-bodied era-appropriate sound.  We were also impressed when Yeabsley put down his bass and played a sweetly melodic baritone saxophone.  After a good sampling of Waller, Jamal, Ellington and Garner, the Jelly Rolls rounded things off with ‘The Sheik of Araby/I’ve got a New Baby’. Just perfect.

There is an inescapable sense of fun about this trio.  They swing like crazy and they radiate mischief. This is especially evident as they shuffle together a few era appropriate licks.  The Jelly Rolls album “Sneaky Weasel’ can be purchased from the site below.

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What: The Jelly Rolls – Ben Wilcock (piano), Dan Yeabsley (bass), John Rae (drums).

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) – Britomart 1885 Basement. 11th Feb 2015

 

 

Tim Sellars ‘Mukhlisa’ @ CJC

CJC Feb 5 2014 055I have long been drawn to middle eastern music, having commented on it in earlier blog posts. There are many reasons to like this rich musical stream, but what draws me are the interactions that occur when eastern and western improvised traditions meet in mutual respect. This is often labeled as World/Jazz, but implying that it is new hybrid is somewhat problematic.  Both improvised traditions have deep roots and a successful meeting acknowledges this. The blend of Jazz and middle eastern music is mainstream in the Mediterranean regions but not as well-known elsewhere.  Adventurous artists like Dhafer Youssef, Rabih Abou-Khalil and Anouar Brahem have gained prominence in the west through collaborations with the likes of Kenny Wheeler, Charlie Mariano, Steve Swallow, Tigran Hamasyan, Marcin Wasilewski and others. Jazz lovers in New Zealand and Australia have already experienced the ancient Sephardic music of Spain through Caroline Manins ‘Mother Tongue’ projects.  Also through Kiwi Jazz harpist Natalia Mann’s Turkish projects.  CJC Feb 5 2014 056 (1)Much of this music derives from the Sufi tradition but Sicilian and Flamenco Jazz fusions should not be overlooked either; both having rich Islamic and Jewish sources feeding them.  The Moors ruled Sicily for 400 years and southern Spain for 500 years.  Under the various Caliphates there was great religious tolerance and a spirit of scientific curiosity.  The arts and musical traditions merged and flourished in that benign space.

Tim Sellars is a drummer/percussionist who graduated from Canterbury University Jazz School with honours.  His studies led him to examine the rhythms and tunes of middle eastern music and he put together ‘Mukhlisa’ to further these explorations.  The Auckland line up features two artists who we are very familiar with, Glen Wagstaff on acoustic guitar and Tamara Smith on flutes.  For leader Tim Sellars, and for bassist Michael Story this was a first visit to the CJC.  Of the tunes chosen many were traditional but the largest number were by a modern writer of Middle Eastern music Joseph Tawadros.  His compositions fuse the traditional with Jazz and allow ample room for improvisation. CJC Feb 5 2014 061Watching Tim Sellars on percussion is eye-opening as he coaxes so many complex rhythms and sounds from his array of percussion instruments, that it beggars belief.  At times he used the Cajon (of African/Peruvian origin) but mostly he played frame drums (middle eastern). I love to hear the frame drum as it is the oldest instrument known to man. The genre includes the Riq (tambourine) which Tim played to perfection.  Being an amplified acoustic ensemble the sound worked well in the club space.  The guitar perhaps needed turning up a touch, to give it more bite. CJC Feb 5 2014 056Tamara was her usual impressive self and her control and mastery of the instrument was evident throughout.  She alternated between bass flute and alto flute; the tonal richness of both horns blending perfectly with the upright bass.  Bass player Michael Story understood the cues and worked with Tamara; resisting any impulse to overplay. Acoustic ensembles like this require discipline and subtlety; overly showy solos can dominate and obscure the filigree of woven sound.  Mukhlisa got that right and the solo work although appealing, was rightly subordinate to the overall integrity of the music. Glen Wagstaff is popular in Auckland and his charts for large ensembles have impressed club goers.  It was good to see him in a different context and many of us  eagerly await his album, which is due out in a month or so.

CJC Feb 5 2014 065 There is ample scope for a larger ensemble to grow out of this; perhaps one including arco Cello and Oud.

I am happy to see this music finding a home in New Zealand as it is a metaphor for a wider truth.  We are living through a troubled era when many western peoples are recoiling from Islamic images.  If they are only aware of conflict images or brutality then perhaps they are looking in the wrong places.  In this music resides harmony peace and humanity.

the composition is Phoenix by Joseph Tawadros.

Who: ‘Mukhlisa’ – Tim Sellars, Glen Wagstaff, Tamara Smith, Michael Story

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland 3rd February 2015

Glen Wagstaff + AJO (Auckland Jazz Orchestra)

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Christchurch resonates strongly with Kiwi’s from elsewhere, but the images we bring to mind are fused realities. The best of colonial Victorian architecture, a fading Englishness; blurring into an empty post-quake wasteland or an alpine framed Hiroshima.  Behind the rubble the city’s creative life has continued unabated. This is not about ‘defiant resilience’ or any of those other overused phrases. Creative artists create no matter what the circumstances and no errant fault line can dislodge that force.  It is about being human and it is about the inner life of a city.  Improvising artists are among the best placed to tap into this wellspring.  IMG_3620 - Version 2

With that rich southern burr in his speech, Glen Wagstaff is clearly from the mid to lower South Island.  Like other Jazz musicians from Christchurch he has impressive skills. The Christchurch Jazz School has done well by us, especially evidenced in the fine musicians emerging.  I first heard Wagstaff in 2013 when he came to Auckland with his Christchurch octet.  I was impressed then; even more so now.

The number of New Zealand musicians who write or arrange big band charts is relatively small and there are good reasons for this.  It is time-consuming and very hard work.  To have a younger musician writing so well and to be so adventurous is unusual.  There are two clear influences on Wagstaff’s writing and these are the late Kenny Wheeler and the Brian Blade Fellowship band.  I am a big fan of both and these musicians are evoked in the charts. Similar in style maybe, but with a strong Kiwi focus. While the above influences are detectable, Wagstaff is developing a unique voice.  A voice that imparts a strong sense of place.  Mountains, clear skies, wide-vistas and textured landscapes.  IMG_3602 - Version 2

His small ensemble work puts you in mind of a larger ensemble, while his orchestral work has sufficient space to imply the opposite.  The style (like Wheeler’s) is airy and textured with strong melodic hooks.  In spite of the dark tinged corners, the pieces impart warmth.  IMG_3617 - Version 2

The other part to Wagstaff is his solid guitar work.  This was especially evident during this gig. The ringing clean tone and the strong well paced lines could blend with the orchestra when appropriate.  At other times the guitar led strongly.  Whether as composer or guitarist, Wagstaff was in command.  I have rendered a clip of his composition ‘Firefly’ and the music speaks for itself.  Nothing further I could write could add or detract from this extraordinary piece of music.  IMG_3603 - Version 2

The AJO was a good choice as they are a capable Jazz orchestra.  What they need most are more challenges like this. These charts were not the easiest and the rehearsal time was brief.  What they managed in this narrow window was entirely creditable.  It would be nice to see them record something like this and I believe that they have just such a project coming up with Tim Atkinson’s suite (to be recorded shortly).  Conducting the AJO was Tim Atkinson while Mike Booth (trumpet) and Andrew Hall (alto, soprano) took the main solos.  Matt Steele’s piano worked beautifully with Wagstaff during the guitar dominant passages.

In the octet were: Glen Wagstaff (guitar), Matt Steele (piano), Richie Pickard (bass), Ron Samsom (drums), Andrew Hall (reeds), Mike Booth (trumpet), Ben McNicholl (tenor saxophone), Glen Bartlett (trombone),  The rest of the AJO were; Jo Spiers (trumpet), Oliver Furneaux (trumpet), Mathew Verrill (trumpet), Mike Young (trombone), Darrell Farnley (trombone),Michael Tidbury (trombone) David Edmundson (tenor) Andrew Baker (baritone) Trudy Lile (Flute), Callum Passells (alto, soprano).

More of this please Glen Wagstaff.  IMG_3600 - Version 2  

What: Glen Wagstaff + AJO (Auckland Jazz Orchestra)

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand 19th November 2014

 

Nick Granville (with Dixon Nacey)

 

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Nick Granville’s return to the CJC was long overdue and the fact that he’d invited local favourite Dixon Nacey to join him made this an extra welcome return.  Granville is one of the busiest and most versatile guitarists in New Zealand.  Although a Jazz guitarist, he is just as likely to appear with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (the recent Dr Who tour), on TV, with visiting pop idols or touring beside visiting jazz royalty like Joey Defrancesco.   He’s a prolific recording artist, widely travelled and always in demand.  Dixon Nacey is also extremely well-known.  He has been absent from the club recently; touring the Pacific rim and gaining new fans wherever he goes.  Dixon is a real crowd pleaser.

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It is not often that we get two guitars in a quartet gig at the CJC and when the guitarists are Granville and Nacey it is a twelve stringed celebration.  When two guitarists play together, each needs hyper awareness of what the other is about.  Jazz guitar collaborations tend to fall into two camps; either they work extremely well or the musicians crowd into the same space.  These men are masters of their instruments and it was evident from the start that they knew instinctively when to play, comp or lay out.  The cross talk and the support was there without compromising the others space.

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Although there was an upbeat Scofield number and a very engaging Pat Metheny number, the gig gave a distinct nod to the traditional.  It was certainly not the material, as there were no standards; it was the approach.  Most of the compositions were contemporary originals but both guitarists bop roots were on show.  There is appropriateness to that when you consider the bench marks.  To my ears the twin guitar gold standard occurred in 1974 with Joe Pass and Herb Ellis on their ‘Seven to Eleven’ (Jake Hanna and Ray Brown rounded out that quartet).

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Granville is an Ibanez artist and Nacey a Godin artist.  In juxtaposition, under the lights, the gleaming instruments glowed as if in a beauty contest.  A preening mass of highly polished wood tones.   These instruments are things of great beauty and to see them and hear them together is a treat.   In the hands of these two guitarists even more so.  There were a number of Granville’s compositions played during the night but the second up; ‘Somewhere I’ve been’  (which is Granville’s reharmonisation of Shorter’s ‘Footsteps’) burned and crackled with unimaginable energy.   This set us up well for the evening, as we progressed through further compositions by Granville, Nacey, Samsom, plus a Scofield and a Metheny number.   I managed to capture Metheny’s  ‘Question & Answer’ and I have posted it.   This clip speaks well of the musicianship and the genuine interaction between the two guitarists.  IMG_3533 - Version 2

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On bass was Oli Holland and he is in perpetual good form.  With his Doctorate now completed we can expect to see more of him on the band stand.  Ron Samsom on drums played with fiery enthusiasm.  It is always a pleasure to hear Samsom and especially to hear his compositions.  That said, the icing on the cake was catching a photograph of that fleeting signature snarl.  This illusive manifestation of ‘drum face’ occurs all too rarely and only when Samsom digs deep.   I am a great believer in drum face as it often presages rhythmic riches.

Who: Nick Granville (guitar), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Oli Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand, 12th November 2014

Sandhya Sanjana @ the CJC

 

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If you patrol the margins of the music world you will find inestimable treasures.  Beyond the notice of mainstream media and mainstream audiences there is a joyous revolution underway.   Not an austere revolution but one peopled by astonishing musicians, colourful characters and sonic explorers.  Like a good street protest, it is often bubbling with noise, insistent beats and a multiplicity of messages.  Last Wednesdays gig epitomised that.  The alternative music scene is often denigrated for its imagined ‘high brow’ complacency or its snobbish rigidity.  In this regard the Jazz police and lazy uninformed commentators have done improvised music a grave disservice.  Improvised music has been with us since the beginnings of art and the whole point of it is to shift the focus away from the mundane or the obvious.  The appropriation and assimilation of traditional forms is only a staring point.  Sandhya Sanjana and her gifted ensemble took the shamans path here; conjuring shapes and colours from the ether, re-harmonising, daring us to look at the familiar and the exotic from an entirely different vantage point.  This night cut right to the heart of improvised music.  Different worlds merged and they did so without compromising the integrity of the traditions they came from.  IMG_3487 - Version 2

This was World/Jazz singer Sandhya Sanjana’s night but we have Auckland’s Ben Fernandez to thank for organising the gig.  I had not heard Fernandez play before this, but had long been aware of his reputation as a gifted, successful and multifaceted pianist.  Some months ago he invited me to his ‘Raag time’ fusion gig, but sadly I was unable to attend as I was heading out-of-town.  Later he messaged me to say that he would teaming up with Ms Sanjana in November.  Gigs like this are irresistible to me as I am enthusiastic about all of the great improvised music traditions.  The merging of these traditions has risks, but done well it’s marvellous.  The successful assimilation of middle eastern rhythms and the idioms into Jazz has long been achieved in Europe.  Fusions of traditional Indian music and Jazz are now emerging across the globe and those with an open mind and the right ears are the happy beneficiaries.

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The band members were; Sandhya Sanjana (vocals, leader), Ben Fernandez (piano), Jim Langabeer (flute, reeds), Manjit Singh (tabla & vocals), Jo Shum (bass), Jason Orme (traps drums).  Anyone familiar with the Auckland Jazz scene and the Indian music scenes will know what a great lineup this is.

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Sandhya Sanjana is from Bombay, but based in Holland these days (Ben Fernandez is a Kiwi but he also hails from Bombay).  She has performed with the greats in the World/Jazz field like Alice Coltrane and Trilok Gurtu.   She has an easy confidence about her that informs her performance and under her guidance a seamless fusion of styles occurs.  With Fernandez you get another strong influence as he imparts a distinctly Latin feel.  This classical and Jazz trained musician has chops to burn.  Out of this melange of rich influences a vibrant new music emerges.  It is compelling and exciting to hear.  There is a constant visual and sonic interplay between singer, tabla, traps drums, piano, bass and reeds (winds).  The shifting rhythms creating intricate cycles that pulse and swing.

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Manjit Singh, originally from the Punjab is another Auckland resident and he is an acknowledged master of the Tabla and of Indian music.  I am often reminded of what a rich and diverse drum landscape we have in Auckland.  A world that I am still coming to grips with.  This man is a major talent and it is our good fortune that he is making forays into the Jazz/fusion music scene.  On traps was the veteran drummer Jason Orme and he was well-chosen.  The gig required a drummer who could play quietly but strongly and one who had the subtlety to interact with Singh.  On bass was Jo Shum who has not played at the CJC for some time.  She is an aware bass player and acquitted herself well.   Lastly was the reeds and winds player Jim Langabeer.  Langabeer is well-respected on the New Zealand scene and is one of a select group of doubling reeds musicians who are equally strong on flute (and he swings like a well oiled gate).   This gig had an embarrassment of riches and once again Roger Manins gets a big tick for his innovative programming.

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In the You Tube clip that I have put up, the breadth of Sanjana’s influences are immediately evident.  After a few bars of latin feel on piano we hear a Tala.  I know very little about the technical aspects of traditional Indian music but the rhythmic patterns (or Tala) are generally established early on.  This can also include a vocalised manifestation of the Tala rhythms.   Manjit Singh the Tabla player counted in the Tala and Sanjana responded with Mudras, claps and vocals .  The traps drummer and others responded to the patterns and so the piece built upon itself.  If done well, cross fertilised music is like water; it will soon find its own level.  This did.

Who:  Sandhya Sanjana (vocals, compositions, leader), Ben Fernandez (piano, arrangements), Jim Langabeer (winds & reeds), Jo Shum (bass), Manjit Singh (Tabla & vocals), Jason Orme (traps drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand.  5th November 2014

Steve Barry ‘Puzzles’ Tour NZ

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Steve Barry recorded his new ‘Puzzles’ album back in February and after his very successful first album ‘Steve Barry’, there were high expectations for its successor.  In ‘Puzzles’ Barry has returned to the winning combination of Alex Boneham on bass and Tim Firth on drums and he could hardly have done otherwise.  When musicians work this well together and have more to say, the journey should continue.  While essentially a trio album, the gifted alto saxophonist Dave Jackson joins them for three numbers.  There is a sense of shared vision here as the four have worked together extensively.  While familiarity can sometimes breed complacency there is none of that in ‘Puzzles’.  The communication between band members is intuitive, but there is an element of surprise and freshness about the interactions.  All of these musicians are at their peak and while they impress deeply, there is no escaping the fact that it is the strength of compositions that gives this album its edge.

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Barry’s life is an extremely busy one.  He is in the final stages of his doctrinal studies (focussing on composition) and he gigs regularly around Australia and New Zealand.  Last year he won the prestigious Bell Award and was the runner-up at Wangaratta.  Guiding his impressive work ethic is more than just academic or professional considerations; he possesses a deep quest for knowledge.  If you follow Barry’s physical travels you understand something of what motivates him.  He is never a casual tourist.  His engagement with and questioning of the world about him informs his work.   The compositions in ‘Puzzles’ reflect this as they are carefully crafted improvisational vehicles, complimentary in relation to each other but clearly reflecting the learnings gained by Barry along the way.   The sound quality on the album is also superb and the album nicely presented.   ‘Puzzles’ was recorded at the ‘Pughouse Studios’ in Melbourne by Niko Schauble and the cover design is Barry’s.

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I saw Barry on his way through Auckland to perform in Queenstown.  Reports from that gig were positive and over the week he worked his way back to Auckland’s CJC, where he performed with Roger Manins on tenor, Cameron McArthur on bass and Ron Samsom on drums.  The CJC band are highly rated musicians, but you inevitably get a different feel from any band less familiar with the material.  While the numbers on the album sound effortless, the charts are obviously complex.  We heard many cuts from the album and a few new numbers that have not yet been recorded.   In the past Barry’s compositions tended to favour a degree of density, but many of his new tunes have a lighter feel.  They are probably just as complex but like all evolving musicians Barry is mastering the art of making the complex sound simpler.  It would be hard to pick between the tracks on ‘Puzzles’ but for beauty and emotional depth I like ‘Forge’ and for groove the fabulous ‘Heraclitus Riverbed’ (anything involving the ancient philosopher Heraclitus draws me in).  It was interesting to compare Manins (live) with Jackson (on the album).  Manins on tenor was the passionate story-teller while Jackson on alto has a drier sound and evokes the feeling of an intrepid pugnacious explorer.

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After listening to him live and replaying the album for days on end the conclusion is inescapable; Barry is a major talent on an upward trajectory.  I would urge people to hear him live when the opportunity presents itself and above all to support his art by buying the albums.

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The Album: ‘Puzzles’ – Steve Barry (piano, rhodes), Alex Boneham (bass), Tim Firth (drums), Dave Jackson (alto saxophone).  www.stevebarrymusic.com

The CJC Gig: Steve Barry (Piano), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) on the 29th October 2014   www.creativejazzclub.co.nz