Briana Cowlishaw & Gavin Ahearn

Briana C 092The Briana Cowlishaw/Gavin Ahearn gig is the second CJC gig featuring international artists in a month. For those who follow Australian improvised music, these are familiar names. Both have rock solid credentials as both have traveled extensively with their music and attracted glowing critical reviews. This is a fortuitous musical pairing, and it is particularly obvious during duets. There is a mutual awareness of space and nuance and an understanding of just where interplay works best; neither over-crowding the other. There are a lot of pianists who accompany vocalists convincingly, but the true art of accompaniment is rarely seen. Ahearn is a fine accompanist and soloist. Unusually, you could say the same for Cowlishaw – an aware musician who watches and listens to her collaborators carefully – works with what she hears. Never greedy to hog the limelight and making every line count.Briana C 088For an artist barely past her mid twenties Cowlishaw has achieved much. Performing at festivals all over the world and being nominated for prestigious awards along the way. She has studied with top rated teachers in three continents and it shows (including Gretchen Parlato, Aaron Goldberg, Kurt Elling). Her confidence, compositional abilities and musicianship shine through on the bandstand. Hers is a modern voice and more importantly a fresh young voice. What worked so well so well for Gretchen Parlato also works for her; a clean delivery, imaginative interpretations and an interesting approach.Briana C 094The first set saw Cowlishaw and Ahearn performing as a duo. This format gifts artists with a degree of freedom and it was well utilised. As they took us through a mix of standards and originals, we saw just how attuned they are. The Cowlishaw compositions are particularly interesting, with words, wordless vocalising and interesting harmonic underpinnings from Ahearn – a subtle weave, blending threads to create evocative soundscapes.Briana C 091Both have visited Norway and the sparse honest northern sound was particularly evident in their first set. A recent collaborative album recorded in Norway arose out of an earlier trip there. More recently they performed at the Hemnes Jazz Festival in that country. As Cowlishaw said of these compositions, “After spending a lot of time on the road and in big cities, I found myself in the Fjords. The wild lonely freshness was so appealing that the thought arose – was this a place that I would want to live in one day”? Arising from that proposition came the compositions on their ‘Fjord’ album. Cowlishaw is obviously keen on the outdoors. She told an audience member that she intended to explore a few of New Zealand wildness places as the chance presented itself.Briana C 090The second set swelled the bands numbers to a quintet – joining the duo were Mike Booth on trumpet, Cameron McArthur on bass and Adam Tobeck on drums. All fine musicians and well able to rise to any challenge. The expanded unit gave her much to work with and Ahearn in particular jumped at the opportunity; utilising a more aggressive hard-swinging style. There were more standards in this second half and Cole Porters wonderful 1943 composition from ‘Something to shout about’ – ‘You’d be so Nice to Come Home to’ stood out as a rollicking swinger. The other memorable standard came from the duo – Michel Legrand’s 1932 composition ‘You must believe in Spring’. To Jazz audiences this means one thing – The achingly beautiful Bill Evans Warners album of that name. The rendition was remarkably beautiful – Cowlishaw tackled the number as Norma Winstone might, while Ahearn stamped his own authority on the ballad while allowing Evans to shine through.

I strongly recommend ‘Fjord’ – it is simply exquisite and the delicate renditions of the originals and standards will stay in your head long after the last note is played – as well as the rarely heard ‘Estate’ (Bruno Martino) there is a version of Herb Ellis’s ‘Detour Ahead’ which won me over completely. For the ‘Fjord’ and ‘Detour Ahead’ tracks alone, the album is worth double the asking price.

Briana Cowlishaw & Gavin Ahearn – Cowlishaw (vocals, compositions), Ahearn (piano), Mike Booth (trumpet & flugel), Cameron McArthur (bass), Adam Tobeck (drums). performing at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) Britomart 1886, Downtown Auckland 24th February 2016.

 

Walters/Booth gig

Walters - Booth 088January was hot and wet and the CJC was on holiday. If like me, you are a regular attendee at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) December to February is a long time between drinks. The El Nino humidity with its sullen skies and petulant storm threats rolled into February and suddenly we were back in business. The first gig of the year featured Craig Walters and Mike Booth. Walters, a well-known Sydney based tenor player, last performed at the club in 2012. Booth is a local and he features often; a gifted composer, arranger and trumpet/flugel player. Booth and Walters have a long history together.

The gig featured original material by Walters and Booth and as you would expect, nicely arranged heads augmented attractive melodies. There was also material by pianist Phil Broadhurst whose tunes are familiar, memorable and compelling. With Broadhurst on piano, Cameron McArthur on bass and Stephen Thomas on drums the evening was complete. The club was icy cool and as they started playing the sticky tropical night air faded to a distant memory. Improvised music is a medicine like no other; headaches and discomfort vanish in a trice as endorphins flood the consciousness.Walters - Booth 090The first number was a Walters tune titled ‘Easy’. Booth played flugel and the relaxed fluid interplay between horns set us up nicely for the evening. Walters plays with real fluidity and his tone has a certain quality – a hint of mid to upper register sweetness not dissimilar to that of Ernie Watts – but with an earthier colour overlay. While the first tune eased us the into the gig the second tune grabbed our attention in a different way. ‘A Kings Ransom’ is a seldom played Booth tune and its complex rhythms gave the band a solid work out. Broadhurst delivered a wonderfully solo on this – Monkishly jagged and totally within the spirit of the composition.

As we progressed through the first set we heard the first Broadhurst composition ‘Stretched’. It is impossible not to like Broadhurst compositions. It is a hallmark of his writing skill that his tunes are always warmly familiar. We treat them as fond friends when we hear them again. Two more Walters tunes rounded off the set (his ballad ‘Where have you gone to?’ was quite lovely). The second set saw the band stretching out and never more so than on Broadhurst’s fabulous Horace Silver tribute ‘Precious Metal’. The tune following was written for (and not by) Mike Booth. Written by a Dutch musician during Booths long years of working in the Netherlands. The tune has the eponymous title, ‘Mikes Theme’ and for me it conjured the vibe of the Clifford Brown ballads. As usual McArthur and Thomas never put a foot wrong. Walters - Booth 089Towards the end of the second set they played Walters ‘As close as you’ll get’. If the title didn’t trigger any memories the first bar surely did. This was a tune that I’d heard way back in April 2012. Its intricate hooks and counterpoint nailed it within seconds. This was not a tune easily forgotten – in fact I happily replayed it in my head for weeks after the 2012 gig. I was not putting up video way back then but have chosen this cut to put up now. Walters - Booth 092Last years attendance at the club was good and if Wednesday was anything to go by this years will be even better. There were many first time attendees and based upon the applause most will return. The artists create the music but they need engaged audiences to complete the circle. As the famous American bass player David Friesen said to us last year – ‘this is a virtuous circle and the magic only emerges when audience and musicians interlink. The sum of what comes from this interaction is often greater than the sum of its parts. Improvised live music at its best is profound and the thought that we might miss a wonderful and unique moment causes us to return time and again. That is how it works me anyhow.

Craig Walters/Mike Booth band – Craig Walters (tenor saxophone), Mike Booth (trumpet, flugel), Phil Broadhurst (piano), Cameron McArthur (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums). The gig was at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, downtown Auckland 3rd February 2016.

 

Anita Schwabe @ the CJC

Anita (5)I was out of the country when Anita Schwabe performed at the CJC two years earlier. While I had seen her perform at the Bruce Mason Centre with the Rodger Fox Orchestra, I wanted to hear her in a more intimate setting. Her live (and recorded) performance on ‘Journey Home’ was impressive and as I recall a jet lagged Alan Broadbent watched her segments from the wings during the Auckland concert. As good as that concert and a later concert were, hearing an artist in close proximity is always a different experience. Schwabe didn’t disappoint. The first thing you observe when you meet her is her understated manner. Like many New Zealand improvising musicians she is self-effacing to the point of being dismissive of her own abilities. This contrasts strongly with the engaging confidence of her playing. From the first few bars you become aware that there is something special going on.

There is something of Broadbent in her ballad playing, perhaps even a hint of Evans, but she has a sound of her own. She initially evokes a sense of the familiar, but then you hear something deeper; a subtle richness underpinning her voicings. A lushness implied but not overtly stated and this quality lingers in memory long after the notes are played – above all she swings like crazy. Perhaps it was having Roger Manins, Ben McNicoll, Ron Samsom and Cameron McArthur in her band that created this particular rub. What ever it was they quickly gelled and played off each other like a band that had been together for years.Anita (6)Schwabe’s first number referenced the under-acknowledged and recently departed pianist Clare Fischer. “I like his unusual voicings”, she said before she played through her composition,’Fisching for Compliments’. The tune was intensely melodic, filled with clever references and a fitting tribute. Although a more reflective number (and her first of the night) we saw what she could do. The tune drew us in with a spacious intro and then imperceptibly we felt the swing. Block chords suddenly dissolving, close voicings appearing, disappearing; right hand running off the back of a phrase, subtly playing with time and rubbing against the chords in the left hand. This interaction between right and left hands created subtle and pleasing tension and we were to hear that often throughout the evening. That first number gave us a foretaste of what was consistently enjoyable music throughout the sets.

There were various ensemble configurations; trio, quartet and quintet. The bigger lineups with Manins and McNicoll were absolute cookers and the pair excelled themselves. An end of year holiday spirit had obviously descended upon them; the musicians interacting in a summery sweet spot. ‘The You Tube clip is ‘Fisching For Compliments’ (trio).Anita (4)The second number was a bossa, ‘No Winter Lasts Forever‘ and for that number she induced Manins (who is famously averse to putting aside his tenor), to play alto. There were whoops of delight and a lot of teasing, but Manins is killing on any of his horns. This was Manins at his formidable best. The saxophone deities of Conn and Selmer sensing the importance of the moment reacted and as he raised his alto, a halo of light formed directly above his head. This was clearly a sign of the gods pleasure. I have put the ‘alto’ bossa number up as the second sound clip. The last number of the evening titled ‘Anger Management’ burned with intensity (the first sound clip). This hard swinging Tyner-esk cooker had everyone on their feet. For Jazz lovers, burners like this are Christmas and New Year rolled into one and they fill us with endless joy.AnitaIt was great to hear McNicoll and Manins together – both playing their asses off and McNicoll sounding great on soprano. They obviously enjoyed playing together and we were the beneficiaries. Their different horns and their different approaches to soloing entirely complimentary. With McArthur, Samsom and Schwabe you had a formidable rhythm section. McArthur kept a wonderful pulse and Samsom was right in the zone, ever urging them to go one step further. This band floods the body with endorphins – they are a trip. A musician in the audience behind me said – “man that’s some rhythm section – some horn section – yeah thats how its done alright”. 

Anita Schwabe: (leader, piano, compositions), Roger Manins (tenor, alto), Ben McNicoll (soprano, tenor), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samsom (drums). performing at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart, Auckland 16th December 2015

 

Louise Gibbs – The Seven Deadly Sins

Louise Gibbs (13) On Wednesday the UK-based vocalist, arranger composer Louise Gibbs brought her Seven Deadly Sins project to Auckland’s CJC (Creative Jazz Club). The audience, unrepentant antipodean sinners that they are, found much to enjoy. When premiered in the UK the project received much acclaim and in 2013 the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ album’ was released. As I glanced through the liner note credits one name jumped out, Tim Whitehead; an important English saxophonist with equal facility on soprano, alto and tenor. For any number of reasons this is an album worth having. Louise Gibbs (10)The song suite has seven parts plus prologue & epilogue. This aggregation of cardinal sins does not originate with Peter Cook (as someone hilariously suggested) but comes to us from the fourth century AD. These very human failings were the obsession of the middle ages and Chaucer, Dante and Brueghel utilised the themes to great artistic effect (and often with rye humour). Debates on morality are still very much part of the public discourse as the dreadful events of Paris, the Lebanon and Mali remind us. Louise Gibbs (4)Gibbs invited us to examine the sins afresh; a parade of human failings as seen through a jazz lens. Her evocative contrasting pieces leaving us in little doubt as to which sin they represented; a strident drum solo during anger, the fulsome sound of the trombone for gluttony etc. It is unsurprising that the tenor saxophone portrayed lust; an entirely appropriate pairing given the repeated historic accusations of lasciviousness levelled against that sensual instrument. Louise Gibbs (5)The suite while highly arranged gave ample room for the soloists to demonstrate their particular vice. Crystal Choi was ‘pride’ on piano, Pete France was ‘lust’ on tenor, Haydn Godfrey was gluttony on ‘trombone’, Mike Booth was ‘envy’ on trumpet, Cameron McArthur was ‘sloth’ on bass, Steve Thomas was ‘anger’ on drums, Andrew Hall was ‘greed’ on alto & baritone. Gibbs was vocalist on all numbers including a prologue and epilogue. Many of the band members like Booth, McArthur, Choi and Thomas are regulars but we see Hall, France and Godfrey less often. That is a shame because they were amazing. Louise Gibbs (12)A shorter first set preceded the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ suite – all Monk compositions. The band used stock arrangements but there was a sense of boisterous freedom in the renditions. This provided an appropriate segue to the second half. While everyone embraces Monk these days, his dissonant choppy lines certainly raised eyebrows back in his heyday. Monk was an iconoclast who channeled the rawness of the human condition through pen and piano. With the Seven Deadly Sins and its often dissonant passages we also experienced that. Louise Gibbs (14)Louise Gibbs has been teaching and performing in the UK for 30 years, but she grew up in Auckland. In recent years she moved away from a distinguished career in academia to concentrate on performance and composition. There is a confidence about her work and she is unafraid as a performer. Her voice can move from silk to raspy as appropriate to the piece. Footnote: Earlier I drew attention to Tim Whitehead (on the Gibbs album). He was once a member of Ian Cars ground breaking and popular group ‘Nucleus’ – the highly respected Kiwi born saxophonist Brian Smith was a founder member of that group.

The Seven Deadly Sins’ (New Zealand Septet) – Louise Gibbs (vocals, composition), Andrew Hall (alto & baritone saxophones), Pete France (tenor saxophone), Mike Booth (trumpet, Flugel),  Haydn Godfrey (trombone), Chrystal Choi (piano), Cameron McArthur (upright bass), Stephen Thomas (drums).

The gig took place at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland 18th November 2015.

Alex Ward Quintet

Ward 15 pic (3)Alex Ward has been on the scene for a few years now and he has appeared at the CJC a number of times. This time he appeared with a group of formidable younger musicians; all respected about town. His programme was pleasantly challenging as it offered contrasting tunes. From the quirky Carla Bley composition ‘King Korn’ to the perennially popular Disney tune ‘Never never land’. Then, for the second time in as many weeks we heard a Cold Play cover – this time ‘Daylight’ (arr. by Taylor Egsti). Rounding off the set list were a number of his own compositions including the appealing ‘Rakino’ which I have heard before. Wards compositions have a definite melodicism about them.Ward 15 pic (4)I am a real Carla Bley fan and so it surprised and pleased me to hear ‘King Korn’. I also have a real liking for her ‘Ida Lupino’. Bley’s repertoire is not played anywhere near enough for my liking. Her tunes are often closer to the avant-garde, but still accessible to main stream listeners. Ward showed no fear in tackling the angular jerky rhythms of King Korn and the result was pleasing. He had surrounded himself with exactly the right musicians for the task. On bass was Cameron McArthur, a perennial favourite who must now be considered a heavyweight about town in spite of his youth. The drummer was Cameron Sangster and again a highly experienced and gifted musician. Sangster is a multi faceted drummer who can move between soul, big band and small ensemble work with ease. We recently saw him with the Auckland Jazz Orchestra where he put on a stunning performance. Ward 15 pic (5)Additional musicians came to the bandstand at various points; Kushal Talele on tenor saxophone and flute and Michael Howell on guitar. I had previously only encountered Ward playing in a trio format and this was a chance for us to see what he would do with an expanded ensemble. The diversity of material worked for them – none of it highly arranged but allowing for free-flowing interaction.Ward 15 picI had only heard Talele once before and he naturally sounded different on this gig. Here he was appropriately the competent sideman, not the hard-driving Coltrane referencing leader. I like both aspects of his playing. He is a musician that I am definitely keen to see more of – especially when he dives deep into that denser material he favours. The ever smiling Howell is well liked and respected as an up and coming young guitarist. He is seen to greatest effect in Roger Manins ‘Grg67’ band.Ward 15 pic (2)Whether by accident or design, Ward celebrates Carla Bley in an important year. 2015 saw Bley receive the highest public honour in Jazz, as she was the recipient of the NEA (National Endowment of the Arts) Jazz Masters Award.

The Alex Ward Quintet: Alex Ward (piano), Cameron McArthur (bass), Cameron Sangster (drums), Kushal Talele (tenor saxophone, flute), Michael Howell (guitar).

Auckland Jazz Festival 2015 – part one

AJO @ Festival logo This is the second Auckland Jazz Festival and what incredibly tasty offerings there are in the programme. The event runs as a fringe festival and this is absolutely the right approach; no corporates making stupid unhelpful suggestions, an intense focus on the best of Kiwi improvised music and international acts with an established connection to New Zealand. The ‘best kept secret’ ethos is a good model for this music and it’s true. In a nutshell the festival tells an all but hidden story; the story of a vibrant diverse Jazz scene, with more than enough talent to wow discriminating audiences. The biggest downside of fringe festivals is that they run on air. Good attendance can mitigate this. With no significant up-front advertising budget, the role of the sponsoring clubs, bars, galleries and local record labels is vital. Those venues and the labels (Rattle in this case) need our support and appreciation. While Auckland has an unfortunate track record of failing to support the arts, the winds of change are in the air. The gigs on offer are diverse and interesting and Auckland will increasingly want a piece of this magic. 12080125_10154517770924815_4684211624996739413_oThe festival opened on the 14th with a duo of respected Australian musicians, ‘The Prodigal Sons’. P J Koopman (guitar) and Steve Barry (piano) are expats who left New Zealand long ago to work in Australia. Both are fondly remembered by Kiwi audiences and both are now firmly established in Sydney; polished musicians speaking each others language. The years of hard work and performance in diverse situations giving them particular insights. Barry has been widely acknowledged for recent albums and although widely engaged in academic pursuits recently, it is good to see him on the road again. These guys can really swing their lines and do it while spinning out fresh ideas. No tempo deters them, but it was the medium and slow tempos that showed us their best. The two original compositions which particularly impressed me were by Koopman; ‘Working Title’ and ‘Major Minor’. On these tunes the exchanges between the two were breathtaking. They engaged two fine local musicians for the gig and with the talented Cameron McArthur on bass and Andrew Keegan on drums the gig was superb. McArthur and Keegan were there every step of the way and as pleasing as the headliners.

During solos the shared experience and friendship of guitarist and pianist spoke loudest. I always look for humanity in music and it was most evident during these personal exchanges. On ballads and in particular on standards, Steve Barry has few peers. I like his more complex compositions and enjoyed those, but like many younger musicians he plays few standards. When he does he chooses well and pays them deep respect. On Wednesday they played ‘Isfahan’ (Strayhorn/Ellington) and ‘Skylark’ (Carmichael/Mercer). The latter in particular communicated that wonderful Strayhorn magic. A burst of particularly loud applause followed that number and rightly so. An excellent beginning to the Jazz festival. JoCray electric (5)On Thursday the Jonathan Crayford Electric Trio featured. It is no secret that I rate Crayford highly and I would go to see him perform anywhere. Arguably one of our top Jazz exports to the world and undoubtedly one of the more innovative musicians on the scene today. No Crayford project is a half-hearted affair, as this musician lives music in the fullest sense. His musical outpourings are sublime but it goes deeper than his excellent musicianship. Crayford’s vantage point on the creative life is unusual and deeply focussed: few others share his perception.

When he returns from New York or Berlin he brings the road life with him; a teeming wealth of fresh experience populated by people, places and planets; pouring from his consciousness and into his deep improvisations. Every project has total commitment and every project draws you deeper. Gifted communicators allow us to glimpse what they see and Crayford has that power, especially if you pay proper attention. He has one foot in the everyday world and one in the realms beyond our imaginings. JoCray electric (15)Powering the gig were legendary analogue machines, the sort that live on in spite of themselves. A Rhodes and a Hohner Clavinet D6 fed through an array of pedals, a talk box and other electronic marvels. In Crayford’s hands these spoke afresh, as the listener travelled backwards and forwards in time – simultaneously. whether playing solo piano or music like this, it is always about the groove. He has an un-hurried and methodical way of diving ever deeper into grooves. Unpicking them until you realise that an infinity of corridors yield to his probing. There is nothing of the technocrat here, just deep and uncompromising sonic vista of immense beauty. JoCray electric (8)The third gig I attended was the Norman Meehan/Hannah Griffin/Bill Manhire/Colin Hemmingsen night, ‘Small holes in the Silence’. I was particularly delighted with this offering as I had not yet seen them perform together. Their collaborations are marvellous creations; ever seeping deeper into the consciousness of art-music and poetry lovers. This gig had special written all over it. Meehan is a gifted composer, academic, pianist and author. Everyone on the Australasian Jazz Scene has marvelled at his scholarship when capturing the essence of Bley or Nock in print. He was clearly the right person to shepherd this project, as his touch and pianist lines have the cadences of a poet. He understands the value of space, modulation and sparse voicing. Often allowing a feather light touch to communicate the loudest of truths. Above all he communicates without undue ornamentation. These are the poets attributes and the Jazz musicians attributes. Finding a new way to tell a story, pushing at the edges of grammar and understanding what to jettison in order to find the clear air. AJO @ Festival Meehan (6)Hannah Griffin has an astonishingly purity to her voice, bell-like, adamantine. She evokes the history of the song form. It is as easy to imagine her singing a bards lines in a medieval castle as in a modern setting. She brings the sensibilities of vocalists like Joni Mitchell and like them she serves the words and the music. She interprets but in subtle ways. This is truly an art music ensemble and the words and mood are at their very heart. With each notes passing the essence of the words remained and this is a tribute to the arranging. The other ensemble member is Colin Hemmingsen, a former NZSO principal and Jazz musician. Hemmingsen is a saxophonist who doubles on winds. His bass clarinet playing is fabulous, conjuring the warm woodiness in that especially resonant instrument. The choice of instruments, and voicings was of vital importance here. The conversations needed to convey conviviality. After each reading the ensemble gave their interpretation of a Manhire poem, voices blending, not competing, the words left as pure residue for contemplation.

The Meehan/Griffin/Manhire projects have been well recorded by Rattle Records NZ and these are all available from the Rattle site (see below). This was the launch of ‘Small Holes in the Silence’ – the tile referencing the poem by ‘Hone Tuwhare’AJO @ Festival Meehan (10)Bill Manhire is one of New Zealand’s favourite poets and experiencing him reading in a subterranean jazz club is a unique experience. A reading augmented by fine musicians lifts the experience to the sublime. Manhire is a towering figure in New Zealand literature. A much-loved poet laureate, anthologist and literary standard-bearer. Showcasing to the world the essence of who we are, speaking in that deliciously self-effacing Kiwi voice that we value so much. His poems telling our stories as much as they tell his own. He is us in ways that we wish we could express. He is the poet we aspire to. His poem ‘The Hawk’ moved me deeply. Speaking of vast landscapes and human interactions from a poets vantage point. I also loved his ode to the great Cornish poet Charles Causley, a sly humorous and deftly crafted piece that conveyed deep affection. Above all it captured the ballad form and I could not help thinking of Housman. Two poems however caught me unawares and they were by a dear friend long departed, Dave Mitchell. Mitchell has all but faded from memory and it delighted me to hear him paid his dues. In his younger years a sweet-natured friendly man, in latter years troubled and ill. The reading from ‘Pipe Dreams in Ponsonby’ is what I will take away and hold close – the gentle flames of our lost poet rekindled by a master orator. AJO @ Festival Meehan (8)  Capturing Manhire in musical form required sensitivity; without that the nuances of breath would be lost in the complexities of a sonic landscape. The sets reminded us that poetry and music are natural collaborators. A lyric is a poem accompanied by a lyre. From the Gilgamesh onwards it has been so, the appearance of separation an illusion, the connection archetypal. It is good therefore to see them coupled in this way and by these people.

This blog is syndicated on the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) website and supports the Auckland Jazz Festival and Rattle Records

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Kushal Talele Quartet

Kushal Tale (4)By my best estimation, Murphy’s Law kicks in roughly once every three months. Before the gig I plugged in my HD video recorder to charge, gathered my camera equipment into one place and foolishly congratulated myself on being so well organised. That was the mistake right there. Having tempted the Fates they responded in kind. My video recorder didn’t charge because the gods rewarded my hubris by half unplugging the charger cable. This was a gig I particularly wanted to video but the battery died mockingly within 15 minutes. Immediately the battery gave out the gig got better and better.Kushal Talele (1)I had not encountered Kushal Talele before. Until recently he has been working overseas and in London in particular. What I do know about him is that Brian Smith and Pete France tutored him at the New Zealand School of Music; both wonderful musicians. He was born on the Deccan Plateau in the city of Pune, the ninth largest city in India and the second largest after Mumbai in the state of Maharashtra. His family moved to New Zealand when he was eight, but he is now clearly a citizen of the world and of music.Kushal Tale (5)His good looks and relaxed confidence tell a story before he plays a note. Looking the part on the band stand is about posture and being at ease with the task at hand. His tone on the tenor is beautiful. He is very much a modernist but with the elements of Coltrane and the post bop era embedded. I asked him who he particularly listened to and the first name he mentioned was Chris Potter. Serious tenor players all admire Potter and rightly so. I also asked him if Indian Classical Music informed his playing and he was quick to say that it didn’t; adding that it was something he would like to explore one day.Kushal Tale (3)I asked because I have been following altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa who successfully fuses elements of South Indian music with modern Jazz conceptions. In reality most serious post Coltrane saxophonists have these elements in their playing. The way he tirelessly works over figures of melodic and harmonic invention tells me that he has that influence. In approach if not in sound, he takes a similar route to Sonny Rollins. Easing himself into a tune, in no hurry; working over long vamps which stretch into infinity. This turning a piece over and looking at it from different angles; gnawing away until the essence exposed, is a very New York thing.Kushal TaleThe group came together for this gig. All younger musicians but all experienced. It was great to see Cameron McArthur back on the band stand. One of my favourite bass players and adept at handling any challenge. He and drummer Cameron Sangster have just returned from an extended stint playing the East bound cruise ships. On Keys and piano was Connor McAneny. The band settled in as the gig progressed and during the last set they were playing tight energised grooves. Talele worked these grooves to maximum effect. I could only capture the first number (see below). It is my sense, that to experience Talele in peak form, one should see him with a settled band. The density and complexity of his playing would be enhanced by this. As good as this gig was I would very much like to see him in that context.

Kushal Kalele Quartet: Kushal Kalele (tenor saxophone), Conner McAneny (Keys), Cameron McArthur (bass), Cameron Sangster (drums). At the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland 12th August 2015

Neutrino Funk Experience ‘Ace Tone’

images 086 (1)Ron Samsom’s Neutrino Funk Experience ‘Ace Tone’ album has so much up front punch that that a warning is needed on the label. It is an album that grabs you by the lapels and demands your attention. As you listen it transports you to a world of joy. The album and the live band exudes a vitality that enters through your pores, pulsing through your body like the wild blood of extreme youth. Try as you may, it is impossible to keep still as the rhythms consume you limb by limb. While the album brings historic musical references to mind, it is very much of the present. This is Jazz Funk at its very best.Ron 'Ace Tones' 094There is cleverness aplenty in the album, but that’s not what it’s about. The pulse, punch and danceability are the draw cards. The tunes let each listener glean their own references. During the album launch someone said, “Oh wow that takes me back to Deep Purple”, while others talked of the Jazz funk gurus like Herbie Hancock, Eddie Henderson and Jimmy McGriff. What ever references people heard, one thing is for certain. This band updates 70’s Jazz Funk as few other albums do. A lifelong fan of the classic genre observed, “few classic 70’s funk albums actually sound as good as this”.

There is a hackneyed saying that states; good Rock music is simple music made to sound complex and good Jazz is complex music made to sound simple. That brings me to Samsom’s compositions. Samsom joked that the tunes were so simple, that anyone who couldn’t learn them in minutes was wrong for the band. While the heads are often simple, the weave of the music is not. These tunes are skilful constructs and the subtle shifts and turns are deeply nuanced. The writing allows for open-ended improvisation and soloing, while never letting the over-arching themes subside (e.g. the single bass note and organ chord dominating ‘Simple Facts’ or the catchy closed loop melody line played on bass in ‘Other Brother’). Driving everything like a powerful locomotive is that amazing back beat. There is no mistaking the leader. Samsom is authoritive.Ron 'Ace Tones' 090 (1)Material like this needs highly skilled and experienced musicians in order to extract the maximum advantage and that is exactly what Samsom got. This is an alignment of talent that works so well that they must surely build on their success.  The Neutrino Funk Experience formed in 2014 and started doing regular gigs at Auckland’s Albion in the central City. The word soon got around and one by one we drifted down to see them. The band stood-out from the first day and the disbelieving expletives from experienced musicians confirmed what our gut told us. These guys were total ‘muthas’.Ron 'Ace Tones' 089Roger Manins always sounds great but he has excelled himself here. This brand of earthy down-home funk is a natural place for him and his own funk albums reinforce that view. Manins just tears the place up on these sessions and it would be hard to find his equal. There are times when he apparently defies gravity, rising to his toes and abandoning self to move inside the music. These are moments of pure Zen and I watch for them now. Man and instrument becoming one and out of the bell streams a cornucopia of sound, distilled from the human experience. From the otherworldly wails to the gentlest urgings you recognise Manins uniqueness. Organist Winterburn said of him, “Working with Roger is perfect for me. He’s such a rhythmic saxophonist”. Coltrane, old school funk, ballads and modern edge; it’s all there in the sound.

Grant Winterurn is another extraordinary talent and a fully formed musician. He can talk engagingly on anything musical; complex theory, Bill Evans, Kieth Jarrett, Rick Wakeman, Brother Jack McDuff or Schoenberg. Securing him for this unit was a masterstroke. He is a busy working musician and consequently we don’t see enough of him on the scene. When he does appear an audience follows; he has admirers everywhere. He is not only the consummate organist, pianist and keys player but a great showman. When a C3 or B3 player sits at the keyboards lumpen it feels plain wrong. There is no chance of levelling this criticism at Winterburn. He is delightful to watch and to listen to. Few keyboardists are better able to co-ordinate limbs, groove and flourish like him. Like all improvisers he creates maps of sound in his head and the logic of his solos draws on his wide musical knowledge.Ron, Neutrino  086On the album we have Cameron McArthur on upright bass. Even before leaving the UoA Jazz school Cameron was punching well above his weight. I would describe him as an instinctive player. Knowing where to place his lines and always strongly supportive of other band members. He quickly became a fixture in quality rhythm sections and visiting artists praised him. After a trip to New York to check out the scenic he picked up some work in cruise ship bands. By happy coincidence they had cut the album prior to him leaving. So punchy are his bass lines on ‘Ace Tones’, that you think he is playing an electric bass. In his absence Samsom hired Karika Junior Turua for the launch gig. Again this was a good choice. This time we did hear an electric bass and as Turua has experience with Jazz funk, the transition from upright to electric bass was seamless.Ron 'Ace Tones' 088 (1)Lastly there’s the album art work and the recording credits. Who ever created the cover design and layout must feel pleased; they did an amazing job. The presentation tells the ‘Ace Tone’ story perfectly. My friend Iain Sharp and I were involved in the project as liner notes providers.  As requested we contributed poems. It is rare (but not unheard of) for an album to use poems instead of the standard liner note blurb. I really hope that this trend continues for selfish reasons. Contributing something to an album like this is pure pleasure. The recording and mixing took place at ‘Roundhead Studios’ in Auckland and the mastering at ‘Turtle Tone Studios’ in New York. The album is out on Rattle Jazz where the best of original New Zealand music lives.

Having documented the band from their first gig, I have long felt a stake in this project. The finished album is surely not where this story ends; music of this quality deserves a sequel. Ron Samsom is an intuitive multi-faceted drummer and gifted composer. He is program coordinator at the UoA Jazz school. (if you haven’t already done so check out his and Manins contributions on the award-winning DOG album).

The Neutrino Funk Experience: Ron Samsom (leader, compositions, drums), Grant Winterburn (Hammond organ, Nord Stage, Wurlitzer electric piano, acoustic piano), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Cameron McArthur (acoustic bass) – live Karika Junior Turua (electric bass).

Live gig: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland 1st July 2015

Purchase at leading record outlets or directly from Rattle Records 

For the poems look in the JazzLocal32.com page ‘Jazz as Poetry’

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

Trudy Lile @ CJC 2014

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Trudy Lile is always in demand whether it’s cruise liner gigs, winery gigs or bar and club gigs.  Last night she was at the CJC with Kevin Field on piano, Cameron McArthur on bass and Ron Samsom drums.   This particular quartet is a regular lineup for Lile and it is hardly surprising.  Musicians like this are a gift to a leader, as each of them has pulling power, but they operate as a high functioning unit when together.   Lile is also an energetic and engaging performer and the enthusiasm she radiates is always evident in her music.

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As a singer/flutist Lile often favours standards or latin material, as these suit voice and flute so well.   She still surprises though with appealing lessor known tunes or sometimes popular tunes which lend themselves to wider explorations under her coaxing.  She is keen on finding new standards from the latter and we often hear material from sources not usually tapped by improvising musicians.   This use of popular material is becoming more commonplace and another recent example of this was Benny Lackner opening with a number from the latest Bowie album.   Lile also brought some interesting new compositions to the gig.    IMG_3140 - Version 2

The clubs audience numbers could have been better during the last month, perhaps they were saving for the festival,  but Lile being a true professional worked the room and fed off the interaction.   She has an abundance of charm, humorous banter and above all musicality.   The band responded to her lead with enthusiasm, amping up their performances to match hers.   Kevin Field is the sort of pianist who understands the accompanists role, comping sparingly at times and launching into heart stopping solos at others with McArthur and Samsom responding to each nuance.   I have posted a clip from the gig which is a favourite of Lile’s.  An Eliane Alias number titled ‘An Up Dawn’ from the album ‘The Three Americas’.

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Footnote: My ability to comprehend the softly spoken human voice with any accuracy has declined in recent years; probably due to the endless procession of loud gigs in intimate spaces that I attend.   What I heard Lile announce was a tune called “An Up Storm’ and so I labeled the You Tube clip accordingly.  When I saw Lile a few days later she laughingly told me what the actual title was.  Unfortunately I misheard that as well, as ‘An Up Swarm’.  The clip now correctly refers to ‘An Up Dawn’, but I do like my rogue re-titling.   Perhaps Trudy Lile could reharm the tune, utilising my imaginative and thought-provoking title(s)?  I am sure Eliane wouldn’t mind.  There is more than a hint of Chaos Theory in what I had originally settled on;  An up swarm of bees in Brazil causing a storm in Auckland.

Who: Trudy Lile (leader, flute, vocals), Kevin Field (piano), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samsom (drums)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885 basement, Auckland New Zealand 15th October 2014

Barney McAll trio @ CJC

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Last week was my two hundredth post and I was casting about for something extra special to put up.  Something to celebrate a rite of passage for JazzLocal32.com.  Happily I found that special something right at my doorstep.  Brooklyn based pianist Barney McAll was in town.  There are a lot of exceptional pianists on the global scene and in spite of diligent explorations on my part, there are many that I haven’t yet heard.  Barney McAll was one of those but the omission is now rectified.  He is firmly on my radar and I will track his every move.  IMG_1040

Barney McAll is an expat Australian, moving to New York in the mid nineties.   There are 104 albums and films which credit him as either leader, sideman, arranger or collaborator and the people he has worked with defy belief.   If I added all of their names here it would be a very long post, but to give you an idea of the diversity of his projects I will list a handful of his collaborators.  Dewey Redman, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Kenny Garret, Marceo Parker, Jimmy Cobb, Eddie Henderson, Vernel Fournier, Billy Harper, Josh Roseman, Gary Bartz and Andy Bey.  This guy is an established heavyweight but as if to round out an already fat resumé, his most recent activity focuses on solo piano.  He has a long-standing weekly spot at a Brooklyn church and his Sunday gig is shaping his work in interesting ways.  He is a deep improviser and his output of late has a spiritual dimension; embodying a personal journey.  Spiritual in the way that eighties Jarrett or sixties Coltrane were.

When he plays solo piano or leads an intimate trio, Barney McAll appears protean.  Changing form before your very eyes as he rolls to the music and enters into a state of absorption.  Sometimes merging with the shadows, as fleeting shards of light fall across his face and fingers.  I once read an account of a Tibetan Shaman who appeared to change shape as the wailing ceremonial trumpets and resonant sub-bass chanting engulfed him; reflecting the ebb and flow of the music.  This is how I perceived McAll.

He mostly played his own compositions, but at times he augmented these with lessor known tunes from the margins of the Jazz repertoire.  A good example of the latter was his joyful take on “Mendez takes a Holiday’ by Donny Hathaway.  Whatever he played took you to the beating heart of the tune.  McAll is like the perfect tour guide.  Pointing out the things that you should know, while leaving you at the brink of deeper secrets.  His own compositions were particularly fine, brimming with interesting musical ideas, original viewpoints, but always engaging.  There is never the slightest suggestion of noodling about his playing.  He shares his experiences and the audiences sit enthralled at every turn.  IMG_1024 - Version 2

It is always instructive to watch musicians during such gigs as they hear things differently from the rest of us.   The last time I saw so many open mouths was during feeding time at a seal colony.  Occasionally someone would whisper “oh what a total mofo”.   A recent Jazz studies graduate Chelsea Prastiti said to me later, “The flow of ideas had enormous coherence.  They all made perfect sense while sounding quite original.  I wish I had thought of them”.   In the break he spoke enthusiastically to me about his new band mates Cam McArthur and Ron Samsom.   “These guys are great and they really prepare well ” he said.   He was right to praise them as they did not put a foot wrong.   He later told the audience, “Sometimes I hear the first contact with the crash symbol and I think, oh dear, this will be a long night.  This is definitely not the case with Ron Samsom”.   He also complimented Cameron McArthur, “You saved my ass twice man, and its my tune”.  IMG_1041 - Version 2

His tune ‘FlashBacks’ imparts a wistful sadness, of the sort so wonderfully portrayed in ancient Japanese haiku.  Darkly beautiful, redolent of the shadows and the play of light, chiaroscuro.  There is something about those voicings and their relationship to each other that evokes a haunting elegiac portrayal of how life is, but hinting also at how it should be.  It is humanism in its purest form.  The other composition that grabbed my attention was ‘Non Compliance’ an invective against the NRA (National Riffle Association).   In his inimitable way McAll conjures ‘Sandy Hook’ and the ghastly ever mounting toll of lost children.   This is a call for sanity in a gun-toting culture gone mad.  An expose of a strange irrational twilight world where frightened people think more guns will solve the problem.  All of that imparted so succinctly, and done over a simple pedal point.

Telling stories is what good Jazz musicians do and McAll is a very good jazz musician.  So good that a few (including me) followed him to Wellington for more.

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Who: Barney McAll trio – Barney McAll (piano), Cameron McArthur (bass),  Ron Samsom (drums).  www.barneymcalljazz.bandcamp.com/

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand.  www.creativejazzclub.co.nz/

 

 

Neutrinos Jazz Funk + Rob Thompson

 

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If you have seen the Neutrinos perform at the Albion you will know how intensely funky they are.   Because they are a pub band, the music is beat focussed, danceable and outrageously cheerful; making people whoop with joy at the sheer exuberance of the music.  Ron Samsom is the Neutrino’s leader and he has contributed most of the tunes. I have only recently begun to grasp the breadth and depth of his compositions.  He is as a gifted writer.  Roger Manins has also contributed some great tunes from his popular earthy funk projects.   In his inimitable way he is also shares comparing duties.  The Albion band is Ron Samsom (drums), Roger Manins (tenor), Grant Winterburn (organ) and Cameron McArthur (bass).   As a unit they are the ultimate live experience.  Grant Winterburn’s solos scuffle and sing their way into your soul, taking your breath away with their brilliance.   Roger Manins brings down the happy ghosts of the funk tenor greats, Cameron McArthur makes the music dance and Ron Samsom’s drives endless flurries of killing beats out from his kit.  Being bombarded with something faster than light and more mysterious; neutrinos.  leaving in their wake pulsing rays of warmth.  More later on that gig as I will be writing a post on the Albion Funk Jazz Neutrinos shortly.

The CJC Neutrinos while composed of the same parts approached the music from a different angle.

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The Neutrinos lineup at the CJC was promoted as Jazz Funk (not Funk Jazz) and this offered a clue to the change of focus.  Visiting Canadian keyboard player Rob Thompson also replaced resident organist Grant Winterburn for this one gig.  Instead of the tone wheel simulating Nord C2D which Winterburn uses, there was a Nord Stage 88ex.   The sounds are very different.  Because the CJC is a listening space this opened up other possibilities; beat driven funk can follow ballads or introspective pieces.  We heard many of the tunes from the Albion repertoire, but the real surprise of the evening came when Rob Thompson moved from keyboards to piano.  He made a brief announcement and then proceeded to play two numbers strongly associated with Bill Evans.   Appropriately the quartet shrunk to a trio at this point.  Leaving just Thompson, McArthur and Samsom.

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It is unusual to see anyone interpret Bill Evans these days as modern pianists tend to shy away from this material.   There are a number of reasons for this and I suspect the sheer recognisability of his style, and of his particular approach to harmony invites unwelcome comparison.   A recent exception would be the album by Eliane Elias with husband Marc Johnson (an Evans alumni).   That particular album is Evans and Elias in equal proportions.  Rob Thompson has been studying Evans for a year or so and in situations like this there is a fine point between sounding like a particular artist and strongly referencing that artist.  How to approach the tunes is the perpetual conundrum.  The first tune of two was ‘Morning Glory’ (Bobby Gentry).  It was typical of Evans to appropriate an unlikely pop tune, film theme or country & western tune and then make it his own.  In this case ‘Morning Glory’s’ country and western origins dissolved into crystalline beauty.  Quite uncoupled from the Tallahatchie Bridge and Billy Joe McAlester.

From the intro to the end it spoke of Evans without being a slavish imitation.   The voicings and the approach were close enough to Evans to evoke him, but different enough to feel that you had gained a fresh perspective.  His second Evans number was ‘Re: Person I Knew” (Evans), a tune he wrote as a tribute to his friend Orrin Keepnews of Riverside Records.  The title is a clever anagram of Keepnews name, an intellectual challenge that Evans could seldom resist.  This introspective, wistful tune is among those most associated with Evans.  It is not only Keepnews who’s referenced here, as the song contains a haunting echo of the Scott Lafaro sessions at the Village Vanguard.  I have put up a clip of this.  Later I asked Cameron McArthur if he had ever played this material before and he had not.  With Evans bass playing changed.  Chuck Israels was the bass player when Evans wrote this tune and he said, “My voice is left open because Bill doesn’t play the bass in his left hand”.  Both McArthur and Samsom responded appropriately to Thompson’s explorations and both displayed a high degree of sensitivity.  Then it was back to the quartet format and higher octane tunes: with Roger Manins playing boisterously and to his usual high standard.

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It is always worthwhile to see familiar material examined afresh and played from a new perspective.  It was not just the Evans but the Neutrino song book reinterpreted on this night.

Who: Ron Samsom’s Neutrinos – Ron Samsom (drums), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Cameron McArthur (bass) with guest artist Rob Thompson (piano, keys)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand 13th May 2014.    www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

Callum Passells Quartet @ CJC

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I like the inventiveness of Callum Passells both as an alto player and a composer.  There is something of the risk taker about him and his instincts seldom fail him when reaching for fresh ideas.  His quartet was bristling with edge last week, a band without a chordal instrument and utilising the talented Chelsea Prastiti as vocalist.  Chelsea is always up for these types of sonic explorations and perfectly able to handle the challenge.  This was a gig crafted around a particular range of sounds, but more importantly it appeared to have particular musicians in mind.  On bass was Cameron McArthur and on drums Adam Tobeck.  The bass player and drummer handled the challenges confronting them perfectly, creating texture, nuance, colour and anchor points appropriate to the diverse range of music.  I often praise Cameron McArthur and in this situation his skilful bass lines were crucial.  I was pleasantly surprised by Adam Tobeck’s versatility, as I had only seen him in straight ahead gigs.  He is a tight focussed drummer, but in this situation he showed just how broad his skills base is.

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The set list was skilfully constructed, offering endless contrasts and explorations into a number of Jazz related subdivisions.  During the first set Chelsea sang the ballad ‘My Ideal’ (Robin/Chase/Whiting).  The intro was just vocals and bass, but when the alto and drums came in they took a minimalist approach.  The interesting thing is that the arrangement had a fulsome quality to it, almost orchestral.   This is a tribute to Chelsea and definitely to the arrangement.  IMG_9746 - Version 2

At the other end of the spectrum was a free piece titled ‘N+/-1’.  This was an extraordinary piece of music with all of the excitement and theatrics that you could wish for.  Callum had warned the audience that they were about to hear a free number and suggested that those who were queasy about such offerings could move to the bar area at the side.  I am unsure if anyone took him up on that, but in reality ‘N+/-1’ had the opposite effect.  Drawing people into the bands orbit; all of them smiling and whooping in delight.  While the piece followed its own internal chaotic logic it never-the-less communicated a strangely cohesive and exciting narrative.  There were distinct parts to the piece and each more marvellous than the last.  Voice, bass and drums weaving ever deeper, as if sucked into an alternate reality by the brilliance of the alto.  People watched transfixed, marvelling at the cascade of sounds and the flow of musical ideas.  This number was a tour de force for the group but there was no mistaking Callum’s influence.  Even though he gave the others plenty of space, his presence was always felt, guiding, cajoling and demanding that bit more.  As I watched and listened completely engaged I cursed that I did not have a movie camera on hand to record the moment.

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With a few exceptions Chelsea sang wordlessly and this style is definitely a forte for her.   She can sing a unison horn line so convincingly that you do a double take, scanning the bandstand to see if there is an instrument you have missed.  Her range, timbre and musicality enriched the group.  This was particularly evident on ‘Lennies Pennies’ (Tristano).  I love all Tristano compositions but especially this one.  As they negotiated the exciting fast paced, measured lines a special synthesis was evident.  This was innovative and original; adding something of value to an already rich Tristano-ite output.  IMG_9773 - Version 2

There were other original tunes such as ‘Tashirojima’, ‘Monte Cecelia’ ‘Sons Multiples’ ‘Indifference’ and a number of standards (‘Yardbird Suite’, ‘Mood Indigo’ and ‘Straight no Chaser’).  They were all captivating in one way or another but one original deserves special comment.   Sometimes there are layers of meaning in titles and ‘Indifference’ certainly qualifies in that regard.  Written by Callum in tribute to his father who is gravely ill.  The power of this composition and the delivery by Callum spoke to me deeply.  It is clearly not about casual indifference.  It felt to me like the struggle to view life in a wider context when faced with mortality.  Perhaps the indifference of the universe to our small world suffering and how to make sense of that.  The sound of the alto cut so deep that for a time nothing else seemed real.  This is what raw emotion sounds like.  The audience were quieter and as I looked up at the light show playing against the wall, I saw a brief skeletal picture flash up on the screen.  One brief frame in the play of an endlessly looped digital sequence.  While this fleeting spectral apparition was pure happenstance, it was strangely apposite.   This piece was so much more than elegiac; it placed a marker of just what it means to be human.

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Who: The Callum Passells Quartet: featuring Callum Passells (alto sax, compositions), Chelsea Prastiti (vocals), Cameron McArthur (upright bass), Adam Tobeck (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland – 5th March 2014

Steve Russell & Leigh Carriage

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Thanks to Roger Manins extensive connections and the ever widening reputation of the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) Auckland now attracts many gifted offshore Jazz artists.  On the 3rd of February Steve Russell (piano) and Leigh Carriage (vocals) each led a set at the CJC.  Leigh is from Lismore in Northern New South Wales and Steve (from Byron Bay) teaches at the Southern Cross University in Brisbane.  Both have worked extensively in the bigger Australian cities.   Steve Russell has appeared with James Morrison and done support gigs for the likes of Wynton Marsalis and John Scofield while Leigh Carriage has performed in many Australian Jazz festivals and at the Monterey Jazz Festival in America.

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Steve Russell opened with a quartet set which comprised himself on piano, Roger Manins (tenor), Cameron McArthur (bass) and Stephen Thomas (drums).   His choice of bandmates was fortuitous as Roger is a phenomenon and the other two are fast establishing themselves as the premier local musicians in their field.  The band was extremely tight considering that the musicians had been holidaying in far flung disparate locations.   I later learned that they had been sent the charts a few weeks earlier and had put in some time familiarising themselves with the music.  Sometimes flying by the seat of the pants works just fine and sometimes a little work prior to a gig yields dividends.  This was the latter.

Steve Russell is highly regarded as an accompanist (which is a specialist skill that all too few master).  He is also a gifted leader, and composer.   It was well that he chose three experienced musicians for his set because the complex time signatures and edgy rhythms of some tunes certainly demanded that.  He began with a tune called ‘Belongil Blues’ which laments the loss of access to a much loved wilderness area around Lismore.   The warmth and soulfulness of this number made it the perfect choice as a starter, because what followed was often edgy and crackling with fire.  Fine musicians like these can always extract gold from well used forms (this tune is a good illustration of that as it is simply lovely.  You can hear it as track 7 on Steve’s fine ‘Dark Matters’ album and in the streamed sample below).

As the set progressed we heard a Caprice, a latin infused tune (Sambol) and several tunes not from the album.   Stylistically there are hints of Evans in Steve’s playing but he is entirely modern for all that.  He is an artist that I will gladly seek out when the chance presents itself.   His compositions, his feel for time and the sheer exuberance of his playing won me over completely.

Roger Manins has been busy moving house over the holidays but he certainly didn’t need easing into giging again.  He hit the bandstand in exceptional form and his solo work on numbers like ‘Sambol’ can only be described as incendiary.  In certain light there appeared to be sparks and coloured orbs emanating from the bell of his classic 60’s Selmer.  Roger Manins is a musician at the peak of his powers and given the right bandmates he burns brighter than the sun.   I had not seen Cameron McArthur for over a month but he is also in peak form.  He’s always worth hearing and never more so than when he is challenged and well supported.   Stephen Thomas is a widely respected drummer and his work across various genres is gaining him a significant following.   He’s a musician well worth hearing because of his originality, chops and the deep intuitive feel for what ever music he’s playing.

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When Leigh Carriage began her set she was accompanied by Steve Russell (her usual accompanist) plus Roger Manins, Cameron McArthur and Stephen Thomas.  A set like this required an entirely different set of skills and the band moved into this supportive role seamlessly.  Leigh Carriage has a voice that reaches deep into your soul.  There is a certain purity to it; a quality that is not always evident in Jazz singers.  What she does with her voice is special, using subtlety and nuance to reveal a thousand colours and shapes.  Leigh Carriage is also a composer of note.  She performed a number of self penned songs from her most recent album ‘Mandarin Skyline’ and one standard ‘Get Out of Town’, which she made her own.   She has also released an album titled ‘Get out of Town’.   There is often a wistful melancholic edge to her songs and the album is largely in that vein.  In the club she added a few upbeat numbers and it was a delight to hear her voice and Roger Manins tenor saxophone merging in unison.   Although she is far from a blues belter, hers is an exceptionally strong voice.  Of her own material ‘I’m not leaving’ stands out particularly’.  IMG_9328 - Version 2

As expected Steve Russell took an altogether different role during the vocal set.   Though his note placement was sparser and his attack more subdued, his strong presence was still felt.

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Who: Leigh Carriage and Steve Russell – with Roger Manins, Cameron McArthur, Stephan Thomas.

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart, 1885 building, Auckland  – 5th February 2014

AlbumLeigh Carriage; ‘Mandarin Skyline’ with Jonathan Zwartz (bass), Steve Russell (piano), Matt McMahon (piano), Sam Keevers (piano), Phil Slator (trumpet), Matt Smith (guitar), Hamish Stuart (drums).

AlbumSteve Russell; ‘Dark Matters’, Matt Smith (guitar), Greg Lyon (bass), Scott Hills (drums).

Benny Lackner (Germany) @ CJC

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I missed the Benny Lackner trio when they came last year and I had subsequently been besieged with the inevitable, “man you missed a great gig”.   This time I made sure that was able to attend.  Benny Lackner is from Berlin, Germany and his touring schedule has taken him round the world a number of times.  His brand of jazz is forward-looking and has a distinctly modern-European feel about it.   I am a fan of European styled Jazz although surprisingly it is often overlooked by American Jazz fans.  This is ironic because American Jazz musicians have always relied heavily on European tours and are hugely supported there.

This trip Benny came without his trio and teamed up with Cameron McArthur and Ron Samsom for the Auckland gig.   As the gig approached a problem arose, when the building owners required the downstairs room for a function.   The room with the lovely grand piano in it and the better acoustics.  An urgent call went out for a Fender Rhodes and before long Mark Bains had lent one, along with a nice keyboard.   The upstairs venue has a nice feel to it but the acoustics are more difficult to manage.  Such obstacles are quickly dealt with by experienced musicians who are quite used to playing in a wide variety of settings.

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The sets were mainly centred on Benny’s own compositions, but interestingly he had thrown in some modern pop tunes, mined for their improvisational worth.   There was a Bowie number and a Radiohead number, both of which went down extremely well with the audience.  Gone is that awkwardness that the 50’s Jazz musicians often exhibited when they tackled the popular tunes of the day.   From Miles onwards and through to Brad Muhldau ( a mentor of Benny’s) the game has changed.   American musicians like Bob Frisell and others will routinely interpret modern tunes or rock classics.   In many cases the vocabulary of rock is appropriated.  The Europeans however are the masters of this and artists like Mathius Eik, Esbjorn Svensson and Marcin Wasilewski have blazed a clear trail ahead.  He also tackled Monk’s ‘Bemsha Swing’ which I have posted.  EST played this often and this version takes the tune even further out.

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Benny Lackner approaches his material obliquely and to my ear there is no hint of the Evans legacy in his voicings.  He often plays big percussive chords, but he can also show real sensitivity as he negotiates the well constructed tunes.  The Radiohead number worked particularly well on the dominant sounding Rhodes, with the slightly softer voicings emanating from the smaller keyboard.  You get the feeling watching Benny at the keyboard that he views each performance as an open-ended adventure.  I am only sorry that we never got to hear him on the clubs grand piano.

He told us that he was very pleased with his new band mates and why wouldn’t he be.   Ron Samsom is such a fine drummer that you expect a top-level performance from him.   Ron has a world of experience behind him and so many local and visiting overseas acts benefit from his multi faceted traps work.  I have never seen him falter in any setting and the diverse styles required of him only appear to urge him on to greater heights.

As has been the case so often in recent months, Cameron McArthur filled the bass slot and all of the experience he is gaining is now paying dividends.  This guy is a crowd pleaser, with the chops and ears to provide the goods.   We also heard some very nice solos from him.

This has been a big tour for Benny.  From Berlin his hectic schedule took him through South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand.  Although he was born in Berlin he also lived in the USA for many years.  The many influences absorbed along the way have moulded him into an original and interesting pianist.

Who: Benny Lackner (leader, keys, compositions), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samsom (drums)

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 building, basement, Britomart, Auckland 9th October 2013

Mark Isaacs @ CJC

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Pianist and composer Mark Isaacs has a rapidly growing international reputation and we were lucky to get him here.  Once again it was down to Roger Manins, who has wide connections in the Jazz world and we are eternally grateful for it.  Mark Isaacs has toured the world extensively and not only fronted a number of prestigious Jazz festivals, but also recorded with many world-renowned Jazz musicians.  Artists like Kenny Wheeler, Roy Haines, Adam Nussbaum and Dave Holland have appeared on his albums but as if that were not enough, he has two parallel musical careers.   Mark is also a classical pianist/composer of some stature and the conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy said this of his extraordinarily beautiful ‘Children’s Songs’.  “This wonderful cycle is highly inventive and inspiring, accessible to children and adults alike.  Very enjoyable and touching“.

The first thing to strike you about Mark is his intense passion for music, but his focus and drive have not in any way deterred him from exhibiting a cheerful, often extroverted demeanour.  He engaged easily with the CJC audience and his level of report with the band and especially Roger, made the gig all the more enjoyable.  Even though he had not played with drummer Frank Gibson Jr or Bass player Cameron McArthur before it felt like an established band.  He and Saxophonist Roger Manins go back a long way and perhaps because of this long-standing connection, what was billed as a standards gig, soon became so much more.  IMG_8456 - Version 2 (1)

The set kicked off with ‘Gone With the Wind’ (Allie Wrubel – 1937).  By coincidence this once popular but seldom heard tune was performed here by Mike Nock only months earlier.   Both artists appeared to briefly reference the brilliant but somewhat obscure Brubeck version, but each approached the tune in very different ways.  Mark Isaacs is another musician who has the history Jazz piano under his finger tips and as he worked his way into the tune I could hear brief echoes of the past greats.  I love this tune and especially when interpreted this well.

As the set list unfolded I realised that most of the standards were from the 1930’s.   It is not hard to fathom why, as the Great American Songbook tunes written in this period were second to none.  The gig,  subtitled as ‘Pennies From Heaven’, was later explained as being an inside joke.  Roger and Mark had embarked upon just such a project a decade ago and in their view the title scared off the potential audience.  More fool those who failed to turn up because this number in their hands was fresh, funny and satisfying.  ‘Pennies from Heaven’ (Johnny Burke/Arthur Johnston) is also from the 1930’s.

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The tune that I have posted is the perennial favourite ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’ (Frank Churchill – 1937).  Although non Jazz audiences would only associate this tune with Disney, it has a long and distinguished Jazz history.  Among the 100’s of well-loved versions are those by Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly and Grant Green.  Playing a classic standard like this to a savvy Jazz audience can have its pitfalls as comparisons are inevitable.  The audience however lapped it up and from the stating of the melody through to the open-ended interpretation near the end, it was fabulous.  With Roger egging the band on and Mark responding in kind it could hardly be otherwise.

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There was a very nice solo by Cameron McArthur who astonishingly just keeps improving between gigs.  Frank Gibson Jr met Mark years ago but in spite of them trying to organise a gig it never happened until now.  In the event it was a happy confluence of inventiveness, exuberance and great musicianship.  Roger Manins was on form as usual, delivering fiery energised solos in a post Coltrane manner.

Mark Isaacs has the technique and the hunger to continually reach beyond.   Whether gently comping under a melodic bass solo or unwinding the melody to explore what lies beneath he engages us.  His probing left hand often pulls slightly back on what his right hand is playing and the tension created gives added impetus.  While his Classical compositions are informed by Jazz, the opposite is also true.  He will surely continue to do well in both worlds.

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As I left the club I picked up a copy of his Resurgence band’s ‘Duende’ album and put it on during the drive home.  It is an album of his own compositions.  What was immediately apparent was how well crafted the compositions were.  It was the sort of album that ECM might have released and the quality of the recording added to that impression.  As I listened on I heard some beautiful guitar work, not over stated but clean, inventive and crystalline.  Then I heard a human voice, wordlessly singing arranged lines as part the ensemble.  Easing over to the curb I picked up the album cover and flipped it over.

The personnel list would stop anyone in their tracks.  Mark Isaacs (piano), James Muller (guitars), Matt Keegan (reeds and percussion), Brett Hirst (bass), Tim Firth (drums), Briana Cowlishaw (vocal).  Matching this dream line up with those compositions was a masterstroke.   Muller and Isaacs communicate so very well.  It all made sense, the Kenny Wheeler connection, the skilled arranging and the promise of what may follow.   Mark Isaacs has the ears to absorb and the smarts to compose what works best for him.  This album certainly does.

Who: Mark Isaacs (piano, compositions, leader), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Cameron McArthur (upright bass), Frank Gibson Jr (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart, 1885 Basement, Auckland, New Zealand on 2nd October 2013.

Album and contact details: ‘Duende’ (Gracemusic GROO4)

Emerging Artists Series: Alex Ward / Allana Goldsmith

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Two or three times a year the CJC reserves a gig night for emerging artists. On Wednesday there was a double billing and while they could legitimately be termed emerging artists, they showed a confidence and polish that bespoke experience. In fact both have been performing about town and in Allana’s case for some time. This was a moment to show a discriminating Jazz audience what they are about and they delivered.

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First up was pianist Alex Ward. He has recently graduated with honours from the NZSM Massy campus. I last saw Alex play just over a year ago and he showed real promise then. Now the hard work and years of study are bearing fruit. He appears to play with even greater confidence and this obvious self belief has influenced his performance. His set was mainly a showcase for his own compositions and they were interesting and varied. There were ballads, uptempo burners and a (new) standard on offer. Standards always give us points of comparison and his rendering of Robert Glasper’s ‘Yes I’m Country (and that’s Ok)’ from the Blue Note, Double Booked album did just that. It was flawlessly executed and delivered with real heartfelt exuberance. Among his own compositions I really liked ‘Litmus Test’ for its edgy hard bop feel and the more reflective ‘Lighthouse Keeper’ (a recently written tune). There was also a reharmonisation of ‘Beautiful Love’ but with dark voicings and with an oblique approach to the melodic structure. These tunes while all quite different, hung together well as a set.

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On Bass he had the gifted Cameron McArthur and on drums Ivan Lukitina (who I had heard about but not seen before now). They both provided solid support for Alex and delivered good performances during solos. Cameron was particularly energised during ‘Litmus Test’ and Ivan was right there with him. Ivan excelled on ‘Yes I’m Country (and thats OK)”.

This should be a right of passage for Alex and he will surely become a fixture about town if he continues performing at this level.

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Allana Goldsmith has appeared in a number of bands and her musicality and stage presence are pleasing to ear and eye. I have heard Allana a number of times now and on those occasions her role as ‘part of a lineup’ gave me a brief taste of what could be. She has performed with various sized bands but most often as part of a duo with guitarist.

She is a current member of the ‘Sisters of Swing’, which is an Andrews Sisters tribute band and co-member Trudy Lile speaks highly of her abilities. I recently saw her with Peter Scotts ‘Bad Like Jazz’ project and I was very impressed; especially as she sang a stunning rendition of ‘Freedom Jazz Dance’ (Eddie Harris). It is this preparedness to take on challenging projects and to do them well that sticks with you. Her voice is strong without being loud and in many ways she is reminiscent of the great singers of the past. What is not redolent of past singers however, is her preparedness to tackle adventurous modern projects. IMG_8310

For this gig Allana had selected a few well-known and some lessor performed standards and to stamp her own mark on them, sung often in Te Reo Maori. While Whirimako Black has already moved into this territory, Allana has her own unique approach to the music. Hers is an original voice. It is tempting to think of songs sung in Te Reo Maori as being different or apart from European traditions. In Allana’s case that is not so as she has maintained the integrity of both traditions. The best illustration of this was her brilliant rendition of the Miles Davis tune, ‘In a Silent Way’. This was the first tune of her set and she used it as a Karakia or blessing. The notion of using this open, spiritual number to unify us all and to call down blessings was a perfect beginning.

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Her band was Ben McNicholl (tenor sax), Dave Fisher (guitar), Cameron McArthur (bass), Jason Orme (drums).

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I have always rated Ben highly on ballad material. His concise soloing and the atmospheric vibe that he created behind Allana worked well. When backing a singer on a ballad, tasteful minimalism trumps busy, every time. This sort of restraint is counter intuitive to a musician, but the balance between Ben and Allana was pitched just right. I know that he took care to select just the right reed for the job in hand.

I thought that I knew all of the Jazz guitarists about town, but clearly I don’t. Dave Fisher has played with Allana for some time and he picks up on her every nuance. The voicings that he uses are those of the skilled accompanist and the warmth of his tone caresses and underpins her vocals perfectly. This was mostly chordal work, which shifted, swung and shimmered like the guitarists of an earlier era. It was an effect deliberately aimed for and it was easy on the ear. His guitar is an Epiphone Hollowbody of the sort used by Joe Pass and that made sense as well.

Cameron McArthur was also the bass player on this second set. Because he works so often about town he has developed a keen ear and had no trouble fitting into this different groove. Unlike the earlier piano trio gig, with challenges thrown down and returned in kind, he needed to keep more out-of-the-way here. Seeing him perform so well in such a variety of situations certainly increases my respect for him.

The remaining band member was drummer Jason Orme and I am very familiar with his playing. Oddly though, I had never seen him playing in this sort of situation, which at times required a very nuanced approach. His skills in such a setting were immediately apparent and his brush work was especially fine. Like the guitarist and the tenor he focused on the singer, enhancing every inflection of voice or following every whispered line. Each accent delivered with a quiet flurry on the snare or a tap on a muted cymbal.

Allana is currently studying performance at the NZSM Massey and this was her first CJC gig. She will certainly be back.

* Thanks to Dennis Thorpe for the high quality video material

Wh0 (first set): Alex Ward (piano), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ivan Lukitina (drums).

Who (second set): Allana Goldsmith (vocals), Ben McNicholl (tenor sax), Dave Fisher (guitar), Cameron McArthur (bass), Jason Orme (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Brittomart Building, basement, Auckland

When: 11th September 2013

Trudy Lile Quartet @ CJC

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Trudy Lile has unerring radar when it comes to locating tunes from the lessor known jazz lexicon.  Tunes that she skilfully transforms into glowing vibrant flute friendly arrangements. Her choice of ‘Steppin Out’ is a good example.  Kurt Elling recently sung this wonderful (but difficult) Joe Jackson tune on his ‘At The Gate’ album.  Not only was it a great choice and well executed but her new lineup rose to the occasion; giving her all the support she needed and more.

Trudy Lile last performed at the CJC about 8 months ago and she had a different line-up then.  Last Wednesday she had assembled a particularly solid rhythm section in Alan Brown (piano), Cameron McArthur (bass) and Ron Samsom (drums).  Trudy is often adventurous in her choice of material, mixing reworked standards, originals and virtually unknown tunes scavenged from interesting nooks and crannies.  On Wednesday she held to this course and it paid off.  IMG_8013 - Version 2

Among the other numbers performed was a beautiful rendition of ‘Niama’ (Coltrane), ‘Flute Salad’ (Lile) – I love this tune with its swinging happy vibe and another Lile original ‘Domestic Bliss’.   Trudy explained that this number was somewhat tongue in cheek, as her own experiences of domestic bliss at times resembled the TV character Miranda’s.

Trudy Lile is well-known about New Zealand as a gifted flutist.   While the flute is her prime instrument she also demonstrates impressive vocal skills.  We saw both on Wednesday.  I have always sensed a pied-piper quality to her work and as she dances and sways during the flute solos it is impossible not to be captivated.  Dedicated Jazz-flute players have been rare over the years and some critics have been disparaging about the lack of expression in that horn.   If they listened to Trudy they would shut up, sit down and recant.   In her hands the flute has all of the expression you could ever want

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I must zero in on Alan Brown here as he was just superb.  OK, Alan always puts on a great performance but this facet of his playing is not seen as often.  Alan is rightly famous for his soul infused Jazz funk.  He was a power house of inventiveness on Wednesday,but more importantly he established beyond a shred of doubt that he is a stellar straight-ahead Jazz pianist.   His playing is always strongly rhythmic and that is what we expect from Alan, but to see him as an accompanist in this context was revealing.  Anyone hearing a Kurt Elling number such as ‘Steppin out’, notices his arranger and pianist Laurence Hobgood.   Hobgood is a dedicated accompanist of the highest order.   Alan communicated a special quality also.  He supported vocals (and flute) in the way Hobgood does and it was pure gold.  After seeing him in this context I would really like to hear him do a piano trio gig sometime, complete with a few straight-ahead standards.

Cameron McArthur has become the first choice bass player for Auckland gigs and every time he appears (which is often) he impresses afresh.   He is gaining a substantial group of supporters about town and his solos always elicit enthusiastic calls and strong applause.

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Ron Samsom is quite simply the best there is on traps and his tasteful underpinning of any band is inspiring.  On this gig he alternated between quieter brush or mallets work and power house grooves which lifted the others to greater heights.   Sometimes when I hear Ron’s drumming I can discern a pulse that goes way beyond the room.  Perhaps it is the pulse of the Jazz tradition itself, the history and the future rolled together in a beat.

This band was the perfect foil for Trudy and she took full advantage of it.

Who: The Trudy Lile Quartet – Trudy Lile (leader, vocals, flute).  Alan Brown (piano), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samsom (drums).

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) Brittomart 1885, Wednesday 7th August 2013.

Conner McAneny @ CJC (+Nacey/McArthur/Samsom)

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Conner McAneny has played at the CJC on previous occasions, but this is the first time that he has done two sets as leader.  He was ably abetted by the Dixon Nacey trio (with Ron Samsom and Cameron Mc Arthur).   The sets were a mix of standards and originals.   It was particularly nice to hear the fabulous Dixon Nacey composition ‘The Lion’ played again and even better to hear Connor tackle the Lennon/McCartney composition ‘And I love Her’.

For me these two tunes stood out, but for very different reasons.   ‘The Lion’ is from Oxide the second Samsom/Nacey/Haines album and it is a great composition.   The tune moves through several distinct phases, drawing the listener ever deeper as the melody unfolds.  The structure lends itself well to improvisation.  Conner took a different approach to that of Kevin Field (who appeared with Dixon, Ron and Kevin Haines on Oxide) and it worked well.  I like to see local compositions being taken up by other local bands , especially if they are compelling.  We must create our own standards, because we have musicians with good writing skills in our midst.  Having two of the Oxide band in his support group made this an obvious choice.

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The Lennon/McCartney composition ‘And I Love Her’ worked very well as a Jazz ballad and if the arrangement was Connors particularly big ups to him.   I can clearly recall the Diana Krall version (2009), arranged beautifully by John Clayton.  There was also a John Abercrombie version from around that time.  Both were terrific in different ways, but the Sarah Vaughn cover of 1969 sits very awkwardly in her repertoire.  As much as I love Sarah Vaughn, this particular rendering sank like a stone.

I think time is the vital ingredient here.   It was as if there was a musical ‘Wallace Line’ that separated older players from younger in this regard.   For my generation (those alive when the Beatles arrived on the scene) the idea of their material ever becoming jazz standards was strange.  When musicians of the 50’s and 60’s attempted Beatles or Rolling Stones tunes there was an awkwardness and a self-consciousness about what they were attempting.   This is not at all evident in a younger generation of musicians like Uri Caine whose ‘Blackbird’ (McCartney) from the 2001 album ‘Solitaire’, stands up perfectly against any Tin Pan Ally tune.  In my view only a Brad Mehldau could pull off a version of ‘Hey Joe’ so convincingly.  He is young enough to see the tune for what it is and what it could be.  My generation saw such massive hits as the enemy of Jazz; brilliant, compelling but still the enemy.  Perhaps Gil Evans was the exception.  IMG_7799 - Version 2

Connor works hard at his craft and each time he appears we see a more rounded artist.   I have often written about the skills of the other band members and suffice to say, where they go good improvised music follows.

What: Conner McAneny (piano) with Dixon Nacey (guitar), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samsom (drums).

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Basement, Auckland July 10th 2013

Aaron Blakey (Sydney) @ CJC

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Aaron Blakey is someone you warm to instantly.  He communicates with ease and has a relaxed manner about him.  The same applies to his approach to music.  I have heard pianists who feel that they must astound with every note and while that is all well and good, it can be exhausting for everyone.  The more experienced musicians understand that performance is not only about original ideas, but also about communication.  The latter involves working with an audience while you tell an interesting musical story.  I would place Aaron in that category.

Aaron left Auckland for Japan in 2008 and he gigged regularly around Tokyo.  After a few years he returned to study in Auckland before moving to Sydney in 2011.   On this gig his accompanists were Roger Manins on tenor saxophone, Cameron McArthur on bass and Adam Tobeck on drums.  Roger Manins is at the peak of his powers and after his very successful stint with the JMO in New Zealand and Australia, he is more on fire than ever.   He is one of the best saxophonists in Australasia and so having him in any group lifts their game.  Putting him with a fine musician like Aaron Blakey produces especially rewarding results.  IMG_7746 - Version 2

Anyone who has read these reviews or spent some time at Auckland Jazz gigs in the last six months will know just how swiftly Cameron McArthur is rising through the ranks.    He is one of a small handful of must-have bass players when visitors come to town.   Adam Tobeck is fast becoming a regular at the CJC and his abilities were evident at this gig

With two notable exceptions Aaron played his own material and the compositions were all named after people he knows.  With each song, we were ushered into Aaron’s private world.  A world peopled by close friends, eccentric waiters, babies and delightful dancing children.  At the end of the two sets I felt that I would recognise these people if I saw them; so convincing was the imagery.  Live improvised music creates shapes and forms which you can almost grasp, but which evaporate and dissolve in unpredictable ways.  What remains is a series of impressions, a filigree journey imprinted on the ether.  IMG_7759 - Version 2

A good example of this was a tune called ‘Sinclair’s Routine’.  Aaron named this after a waiter who worked at a  busy Surrey Hills restaurant.  He was using the establishments piano to practice one morning and trying out a few ideas, when the waiter said, “I like that, it helps me to go about my routine” .    Not your usual musical commentary but it ended up as great tune and gave us a window into that particular moment in time.   It worked for me on several levels but primarily because I could picture and hear the event in my mind’s eye.   There was a song ‘Jonathan B’ dedicated to an old friend from New Zealand.  As Aaron was explaining the origins of the tune he looked up and said, ” Oh there he is, he just walked in – hi man”,  Once again we connected the song to time and place and this gave added weight to the number.

The track that I have recorded on video is “One for Steve”, which is a dedication to the much admired Steve Barry.   This was certainly a connection that hung in the air as the band played through the number.  Steve (another ex-pat Aucklander) had been playing that very piano only a few weeks earlier and the echo of his gigs was relived through the tribute.

The first of two standards was ‘My Song’ (Keith Jarrett).  It amazes me that ‘My Song’ is hardly ever performed.  There is a view that Jarrett’s three recorded versions are so contained, that musicians shy away from it.  More is the pity because most jazz lovers rate it highly.  During the introduction Roger Manins helpfully suggested that Aaron would actually be doing the Elton John “My Song’.   This was a solo performance and you could have heard a pin drop.  It was great to hear it done and great to hear it done so well.  IMG_7719

The second standard was the Cole Porter tune ‘I Love You’ from the musical Mexican Hayride, placed squarely in the Jazz Lexicon by John Coltrane (Lush Life album).  While Coltrane’s version was with Saxophone, Bass and drums, The version on this night was a duo featuring piano and tenor saxophone (Manins and Blakey).   That these two have been friends for years and that they have worked together many times before, became evident on this number.   The sensitive interplay between them was truly extraordinary and although they took quite different approaches to the task in hand the synergy was uncanny.  It was one of the wow moments which Jazz audiences live for and to my annoyance I had run out of HD video-tape just a moment before it started.   I am sure that they will play it again sometime, as Aaron has promised to return. We hope that he will not leave it two and a half years this time.

For those wanting more there was a Roger Manins gig down at Frankie’s Bar in Wyndom Street two nights later.   This was a similar lineup, but with premier drummer Ron Samsom at the kit.  For this gig Aaron had brought his Fender Rhodes along.  They swung mightily and as I listened I could hear Ron pulling back on the beat.  There is some fine music around Auckland.  All it needs is our continued support.

Who: Aaron Blakey (piano) with – Roger Manins (tenor sax), Cameron MacArthur (bass), Adam Tobeck (drums).

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) Auckland 3rd July 2013

Sean Wayland & David Berkman @ CJC Winter International Series

Sean Wayland

Sean Wayland

We don’t get many offshore Jazz pianists visiting New Zealand, but we have seen quite a few over recent weeks. This particular gig comes hot on the heals of hearing Sean Wayland appearing as featured guest artist with the marvellous Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra. Sean had impressed me at the JMO gig and so I really looked forward to hearing him play at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club).

Before he had played a note Sean Wayland won us over with his easy-going banter. Especially when he thanked us for Mike Nock and mentioned band mate Matt Penman. These are two of Auckland’s best-loved sons and I suspect that Kiwi’s, like Canadians, enjoy our worth acknowledged by the big country next door. This generous acknowledgement by a respected New York based (Aussie born) pianist reveals an interesting truth about Australasian Jazz.

There may be a struggle to meet the financial realities, deal with lack of good pianos and the paucity of gigs, but the two scenes continually produce world-class Jazz musicians. The Scenes are in fact so intermingled that it is often hard to know who is an Aussie and who is a New Zealander. Steve Barry and Mike Nock illustrate this perfectly as they live and work in Australia. Roger Manins lives in New Zealand but gigs across the Tasman every other week.

In spite of the difficulties there is no lack of great music coming out of Australasia and the main problem is that of distribution. An upside of this changing business model is that bands travel more. For the keen Jazz fan live music is once again king. We don’t have to wait for a multi-national recording label to tell us what we should or shouldn’t like, we can explore ‘You Tube’ or ‘Bandcamp’ and hear from the artists directly.

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Sean Wayland is a hugely respected figure on the Australian scene and in New Zealand as well. He is a very modern pianist, as he moves in circles where new approaches are constantly being explored and new sounds developed. After listening to his compositions I was not in the least surprised to find him supported by the likes of Matt Penman, Jochen Rueckert, Will Vinsen, and James Muller. This is essentially the Rosenwinkel generation. While he speaks that language fluently he is unmistakably an individual stylist. No one sounds quite like Sean.

Sean’s tunes are very melodic. Often unfolding over a simple bass line as with ‘eenan’ off his ‘Lurline’ album. What sounds catchy and accessible can actually be quite complex as his approach to rhythm gives the tunes that unique feel. This is tension and release at its sophisticated best. I have put up a version of ‘eenan’ as a ‘You Tube’ clip which unfolds in subtle and beguiling ways. So beguiling in fact that I dreamed the tune two nights in row. Such powerful hooks are not accidental but the result of careful craftsmanship. There is a strong sense of pulse or swing to his tunes, but approached from a different perspective to that of the more traditional pianist.

This intergenerational shift is one that I hear more often as the changing of the guard occurs. Other tunes played to great effect were his, ‘Trane plus Molly equals countdown” and the solo piece ‘Little Bay’. Both of those tunes are found on the ‘Expensive Habit’ album. ‘Trane plus Molly equals countdown’ hints at McCoy Tyner, but you quickly realise that the voicings have very modern in feel. I can however certainly imagine Kurt Rosenwinkel doing the tune. It is an extraordinary composition where the left hand continuously punctuates the flow with oblique accents. I was left wanting more than the single set and I certainly hope that we get to see Sean again on his next trip back to Australia.

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Accompanying Sean were Cameron MacArthur (bass) and Jason Orme (drums). Both accomplished musicians who quickly slotted into the challenges of supporting a world-class and highly inventive pianist.

The next artist up was David Berkman. He has been to New Zealand before and anyone who saw him last time would have jumped at the opportunity of seeing this top flight New York Pianist in action. There is a fluidity to his playing and above all an impeccable sense of timing. This hard-driving post bop fluidity and the big bluesy chords is what most characterises his work.

The Kiwi members of the quartet were Roger Manins (tenor), Olivier Holland (bass) and Ron Samsom (drums). Together they formed a powerhouse of inventiveness and Roger in particular seemed to benefit from this grouping. His solo’s were so incendiary as to cause gasps of surprise and from an audience who are used to such pyrotechnics. While we expect Rogers high wire acts he is always able to surprise us and this night saw him really on fire. David Berkman certainly knows how to amp up the tension and his ability to extol a horn player to reach deeper and deeper is impressive. He worked the room with as much enthusiasm as he would have done in a prime New York club and everyone there appreciated that commitment. This was the kind of gig where you sat back and let the sound wash over you, tapping your feet uncontrollably and yelling enthusiastically between numbers.

David Berkman

David Berkman

David Berkman’s repertoire was a well-balanced mix of his own compositions and some lessor known standards. During the gig he talked about his mentor, the much respected pianist Mulgrew Miller (who sadly passed away that very evening). He has worked with a wide variety of artists such as trumpeters Tom Harrell and Dave Douglas and his contribution to Jazz education is well-known. Having moved to New York some years ago he quickly settled into the routines of gigging, recording and teaching and since then he has been a fixture on the local scene. He travels extensively and is a Palmetto recording artist.

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The two pianists were very different, but both were amazing in their way. In David Berkman we heard the history of the post bop era and in Sean Wayland we glimpsed the future.

What: Sean Wayland and David Berkman Winter International Series.

Who: Sean Wayland (p) (leader) Cameron McArthur (b) Jason Orme (d). – David Berkman (p) (leader), Roger Manins (s), Oli Holland (b), Ron Samsom (d)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 29th May 2013

Rosie & The Riveters@CJC

Rosie & the Riveters

Rosie & the Riveters

The name ‘Rosie & The Riveters’ grabbed my attention immediately as I come from an activist family. The derivation goes back to WW2 when women had to work on the production lines while their men were away fighting. When the men returned after the war they were expected to return to obedient domesticity but many resisted and the ‘Rosie’ symbol became a potent feminist statement. Roseann Payne understands this history as she referred to it in her introduction but she also had a more prosaic explanation on offer. “My name is Rosie and I hope we will be riveting”.

Rosie Payne had graduated from the Auckland University Jazz School on the day of the CJC gig and her upbeat mood reflected this achievement. She had assembled her support band mainly from fellow students and alumni: Ben Devery (p), Cameron McArthur (b), Adam Tobeck (d), Callum Passells (alto & baritone sax), Asher Truppman-Lattie (tenor sax) and Elizabeth Stokes (trumpet & flugal). It was a night of celebration and the cheerfulness communicated itself to everyone present. IMG_7072 - Version 2

The set list alluded to the time-honoured influences such as Ella Fitzgerald but mainly it spoke of the forces that are shaping young singers post millennium. The influence of Sera Serpa and Esperanza Spalding were evident in the source material, interpretations and compositions. Along with Gretchen Parlato, these are the new influences on Jazz singing and they bring a vibe that is modern and in some ways quite nuanced. At times there is a hint of Blossom Dearie in this new way of singing and I make no judgement about that (I like Blossom Dearie and her ability to poke subtle digs at the male hegemony while singing in that wispy girlie voice). Jazz singing is as much a journey as jazz instrumental playing and good improvisers should dive into the sounds about them for fresh inspiration. Interpretation and authenticity is everything and while it is important to acknowledge the past it is not necessary to dwell there permanently.

I have put up a You Tube Clip from the night, which is a slightly reharmonised version of ‘Body & Soul’ sung in Spanish (probably influenced by the Spalding version). This interpretation ably illustrates the juxtaposition between past and present. ‘Body & Soul’ (Johnny Green Edward Heyman, Robert Sour) is one of the oldest jazz standards and for a long while it was the most recorded song in the history of music. Standards survive because they have depth and subtle hooks. Just possessing a hummable melody will not cut the mustard as many a pretty tune has fallen by the wayside. There must be an ‘X’ factor and in Jazz the tune needs to be a good springboard for improvisation. It was the great tenor player Colman Hawkins who again elevated it from obscurity and its wide appeal caught him by surprise (1940). “It’s funny how it [body & Soul] has become such a classic” he mused. “It is the first and only Jazz record that all the squares dig as much as the a Jazz people”. Hawkins hadn’t even bothered to listen to it after the recording session and it surprised him to learn that he had such a big hit. His version only briefly toyed with the melody which makes it all the more surprising. The song was written in haste by the relatively unknown Johnny Green; commissioned by Gertrude Lawrence who quickly rejected it. Whiteman, Goodman, Tatum, Hawkins, Holiday and a thousand others are glad it survived (source references Ted Gioia). IMG_7053 - Version 2

Young musicians like Rosie are acknowledging the history while giving us their own perspective and that is as it should be. The band was right for her and as they moved through the sets we heard flashes of brilliance. Callum on Baritone sax really stood out, especially when you consider that this is not his principal horn. Adam Tobeck is a drummer that engages the attention and Cameron McArthur is fast becoming a fixture at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club). New to me was Pianist Ben Devery and tenor player Asher Truppman-Lattie. Both did well by Rosie. Lastly there was Liz Stokes who had also graduated on that day. Her skills gave an added dimension to the line up.IMG_7061 - Version 2 (1)

Kevin Field Trio@CJC Jazz April Event

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Jazz was famously described by Whitney Balliett as the ‘sound of surprise’.    This is at the very essence of improvised music as it strives to unravel, reveal, polish and at times shock.   What you think you know is often challenged and this confrontation is the primary role of art and improvised music.  When a familiar tune is reinterpreted and presented afresh it’s pleasing (if done well), but there are many ways that music can surprise.  What we sometimes hear is an aggregation of profound subtleties and that is harder to define.  We need ears attuned to nuance and a memory capable of recalling just what has preceded these vignettes.   It is in these less obvious corners that we often find the most profound of revelations.

The Kevin Field trio (plus guest) appeared at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) on the 17th April.  This was an important CJC/Jazz April event.  Everyone on the New Zealand Jazz scene is familiar with Kevin Field the pianist, composer, teacher, and gifted accompanist.  He delivers and so good sized crowds turn up.

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Kevin had earlier humped his Fender Rhodes down into club and it sat nestled respectfully against the grand piano.   The bass was lying on its side like an expectant whale and the drum kit was sparkling out of the gloom.  Behind the drum kit you could barely make out the image of a guitar on a stand.  Those gifted with 20-20 vision would have discerned that this was a Godin Guitar which can only mean one thing in Auckland; Dixon Nacey would be sitting in for a few numbers.

When Kevin Field and his trio filed to the band stand I experienced a tinge of anticipation.  I had been looking forward to the gig because Kevin Field never settles for a mediocre performance and he is certainly no journeyman.  With Cameron McArthur on bass and Stephen Thomas on drums we hoped for sparks.  While Kevin often appears in support of others, or fronts bigger lineups he had not brought a piano trio to the club for a quite a while.

What happened next caught me quite off guard and perhaps it shouldn’t have.   When you rate an artist highly you can easily fall into the trap of thinking that you know everything about them and that is plain foolish.  There is also something about the CJC that urges musicians reach deep and many visiting artists have commented on that.  The CJC is more than just a benign space, it is an enabling one.  A performance space that says to an artist, ‘there I’ve created the ambiance for you, now make it happen’.   It would take a subterranean ‘Feng Shui’ specialist to analyse this phenomenon .

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The Kevin Field that we saw perform was quite extraordinary.   It is hard to put into words but he approached the keyboards with such confidence and invention that was almost supernatural.   At times I thought that I heard hints of Hamp Hawes or the modern Europeans (rich, spacious and original), but mostly I heard Kevin Field, alive to the moment and brim full of fresh ideas.  His voice is definitely post Herbie Hancock and it engages with the realities of the post millennial world.   This is a voice that marks Kevin Field out as an original stylist.

The numbers were all originals and while a few were written for his recent ‘Warners’ album ‘Field of Vision’  (shortlisted for a Tui award), many were new to me.   They came bundled up with stories and anecdotes and to see Kevin in the role of raconteur was delightful.  When commenting on his second number of the evening ‘Complex Blue’, he told us that it was written with a Simply Red cover-band in mind.  “Complex Blue could be a new type of Simply Red cover-band who would play everything but Simply Red tunes, thus giving them a broader repertoire”.  The hilariously improbable tall stories and the incredible music made this a perfect evening of Jazz.   I asked Kevin later if he had plans to record this new material and he indicated that he would be doing so shortly.   If he captures half of what we experienced it will be well worth buying.

Cameron McArthur (bass) has experienced a meteoric rise to prominence and he has achieved this while still a student at the Auckland University School of Jazz.  I can clearly recall his first tentative performance steps.  Confidence, chops  and musicality have become the default for him now and he is increasingly accompanying our best musicians.    Stephen Thomas has been studying drums and performing at a high level for some time and he was an obvious choice for Kevin.   We are seeing more and more of what he is capable of and as with Cameron there will be a lot more yet.  This band works exceptionally well together and while Kevin is clearly in control as leader there is plenty of room for the others to shine.  IMG_6708 - Version 2

In guest slot was Dixon Nacey.  A guitarist who attracts superlatives and accolades as few others do.  He always injects that special ‘Dix’ quality into a performance; brilliance tinged with unalloyed happiness.

Sometimes when the stars align the gods of music breathe extra life into a performance.   When this occurs, those who are there feel incredibly fortunate and vow never to forget it.  This was such a night.

Because this was the main CJC – Jazz April gig night the audience learned what the month stands for, who’s involved and why it is important.  Everyone was challenged to do three things, (1) visit and ‘like’ the JJA Jazz April pages and International Jazz Day site (2) bring one or more friends to future gigs and spread the word (3) Hug and thank a Jazz musician tonight and in the following days.  By sharing and growing this wonderful music we will see it survive.

This has been a Jazz April Event;  visit the Jazz Journalists Association Web Site and JJA Facebook page, plus International Jazz Day page and all of the Jazz April gig review pages on this JazzLocal32.com site.   Please ‘like’ all sites as it helps.

What: Kevin Field Trio (plus guest) -Kevin Field (piano and fender rhodes), Cameron McArthur (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums), guest Dixon Nacey (guitar)

Where and When:  CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 1885 building, Brittomart, Auckland. April 17th 2013

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Connor McAneny Trio – Matt Steele Trio@CJC

Connor@CJC

This gig was signalled by CJC Jazz club some months ago and as I am a real fan of piano trio’s I had looked forward to it.  It was hinted that this would be a duel, but both trio’s approached the gig from quite different perspectives and this makes comparisons a little redundant.   It was perhaps surprising as these are Auckland University Jazz Studies students and you would not expect to find such interesting stylistic diversity in young pianists.

While the gig was a tribute to Connor and Matt (and their sidemen), it was also a tribute to Kevin Field their teacher.   A gifted pianist who obviously encourages students to find their own voice.

The first up was the Connor McAneny trio.   Connor (piano), Cameron McArthur (bass) and Chris Wratt (drums).   The set began with the famous medium tempo hard bop classic ‘Inner Urge’ (by tenor man Joe Henderson).  There were also a number of interesting originals played with intriguing titles (e.g. Black Monday, Underwear) but my pick was the fabulous Lennie Tristano tune ‘317 East 32nd Street’.  I love Tristano tunes with their long probing lines and relentless forward propulsion.  When Lennie was around his drummers had to keep a subdued metronome-like beat, but that approach has gradually faded into the mists of time.   This is a tune that begs interpretation and interplay between piano, bass and drums is now a part of that exploration.  The constant however is the rhythmic momentum of the piano.  This is not an easy tune to play, but Connor executed it extremely well.  Chris Wratt met the challenge interestingly, as he kept the pulse while working hard against the bass lines.

Cameron McArthur has been noticeably stepping up this year and that he played in both trios while dealing effortlessly with the differing approaches is an indication of his growth as a musician.  Only a fortnight has passed since he played with the AJO at the Bennie Maupin, Dick Oatts concert where he acquitted himself well (Matt Steele also played with the AJO on that gig).  Cameron’s solo on ‘317 East 32nd Street’ was memorable.

Matt Steele is a pianist that I have been watching for some time and I have made no secret of my enthusiasm for his rapid progress as a musician.  With each passing month he navigates increasingly difficult territory and being challenged in a variety of gig situations is working for him.  There is a hint of the European Jazz pianists like Marcin Wasilewski in his playing, but there is also a boldness and clarity that is not often heard in a student.  It is partly the way he approaches a piece (allowing compositions room to breathe) and it his clean melodic touch.  He is a particularly animated player (making him hard to photograph) but the movement appears to give his tunes a strong sense of swing.   It was therefore no surprise when the first tune in his set was ‘Little One’ (Tomasz Stanko).   It originated from ‘Suspended Night – Variation v1’ but this version is a later incarnation.    That is why I was sure that knew it well, but could not place the title.  Matt also played some compositions of his own and these showed promise.

Once again Cameron Arthur was on bass and he dealt with this different material as adeptly as he dealt with Connors.

I had expected Matt to bring his usual Trio, but instead he used Cameron and well-respected Auckland drummer Stephen Thomas.  Stephen’s inclusion was inspired, as he brought a very different feel to the numbers.  While Jared had been adept in subtle colourist drumming, Stephen ramped up the proceedings by throwing constant challenges in the direction of the bass and piano.   That is not to say that his drumming was overly busy, but he did exactly what a drummer on a live gig should do; laid down a perfect improvisational platform while throwing in a few twists and turns of his own.

The trio communicated beautifully and they never lost sight of each other musically. 

I love to see emerging pianists in action and especially when they deliver.   The above trios convinced a seasoned audience that they were both worthy of future attention.