Backbeat Bar, Bebop, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Hard Bop, Straight ahead, Swing

Frank Gibson Plays Thelonius Monk

FrankEvery Jazz club needs a Monk night on their calendar and when it comes to Monk the local go-to person is definitely the well-known drummer Frank Gibson Jr. Gibson and the various iterations of his bands have long made a point of keeping the Hardbop era and Monk firmly on our radar. While the setlist was not exclusively Monk, the Monk tunes chosen were a solid mix of seldom-heard compositions and old favourites. Frank (2)

A good example of the former was Eronel which memorably featured on the Criss Cross album. I heard Jonathan Crayford play this number solo a few weeks ago and I recall thinking then – why is this wonderful tune not played more often? We also heard the tune Criss Cross, the title track from that album.  ‘Criss Cross’ with its atypical rhythmic displacement is an interesting and bold composition and one which took Monk into new territory. It occurred at the height of his fame. Another lessor known tune was Light Blue, which appears on Thelonius Monk in Action (at the Five Spot).  Others like ‘Rhythm-a-Ning’ and ‘I Mean You’ are well-known all were enthusiastically received. Frank (3)

Among the other tunes played were ‘Bessie’s Blues’ by John Coltrane, ‘Beatrice’ by Sam Rivers and an interesting Harold Danko tune titled ‘Tidal Breeze’. The band featured veteran guitarist Neil Watson and Bass player Cameron McArthur, but a newcomer to this particular lineup was Cameron Allen on tenor saxophone. Allen added that nice earthy-brass touch that Monk gigs benefit from. The gig occurred during an intense and devastating storm. Surprisingly, the audience braved horrendous weather to get there, navigating their way through fallen trees, power outages, flooding and through the debris which littered the city streets. It is always right to head for the music in troubled times and Monk is a force of nature in his own right. Frank (1)

The gig took place at the Backbeat Bar for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, Auckland, New Zealand, April 11, 2018.

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CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Interview

Alan Brown Band – The interview part two

The interview with Alan Brown & his band continued………

David Hodkinson 004

Q.  Alan the world and its dog loves ‘Blue Train’.   Is there any truth to the buzz about town that there will be a Blue Train reunion in 2013?

A.  At least somewhat of a reunion concert is planned for the Waiheke Jazz Festival in Easter. Steve Sherriff, Jason Orme and myself recently played a lot of the Blue Train tunes at the Taste Of Auckland festival, and it all felt really good, so I thought “why not?” Once I also found out that Aaron Nevezie will be in town at the time, and was keen to do the gig, I made it happen. Aaron played guitar on the Never You Mind album back in 1998 and is a fantastic musician, and engineer/producer based in New York with his own studio, Bunker Studios. Bassist Matt Gruebner will also be visiting but won’t be here at Easter, and will only have a window of a couple of days when he and Aaron will both be here, but if I can wrangle another gig in that time frame, I will!

Q.  I would love to do an updated photo essay on Blue Train.  Do you have much archival material of this seminal Auckland Jazz Groove band?

A.  Yes I do – I have a box of clippings, magazine articles etc, going right back to the early days when a young Matt Penman was playing with us! I also have a lot of print-outs documenting our success on the former mp3.com website back around 2000. So you’re welcome to have a sift through all that.

Q.  You own the Jazz Groove space in Auckland and you are enormously well-respected about town.   Do you feel a little cheated that music as well received and as popular as yours has not been picked up for wider distribution?

A.  Thanks John. As Blue Train we did reasonably well and had a certain amount of recognition, but I guess it was hard for venues, labels etc to categorise us – not traditional ‘jazz’ enough for some, or too jazz for the groove crowd. Not having a singer also limited our ‘acceptance’ in the gig scene. You need to remember that NZ is still quite small, and even though there are fantastic jazz musicians and bands around, the general public don’t really get exposed to the diversity that exists. So the average New Zealanders perception of jazz is fairly limited and safe, thus it’s hard for many great artists to get a voice or get picked up. Yes it can be frustrating, but I really appreciate what people like Roger & Caroline are doing with CJC to raise the profile of what’s happening in NZ. I’ve seen many jazz bars come and go, but these guys have got it right. If anything,THEY need the wider exposure! However, I know the market is much bigger overseas, and when you check out sites like nextbop.com, you realise just how much incredible cutting-edge jazz is out there. The international market is definitely somewhere I will be focussing more on in 2013. In any case, the ability to create, produce and play ones own music is such an incredible privilege, and at the end of the day, as long as it touches or inspires even one other person, I’m happy.

Q.  Tell me about a few of your favourite local musicians both in and out of your band.

A.  In the band? Well, everyone! Truly, each of these players are inspiring to me, which is why I chose to work with them. Jono is an incredible drummer with an intuitive grasp of time, so with the odd-time stuff, he was the perfect choice. Plus, he shares a similar passion for Radiohead, and has a lot of good musical input, hence his assistant production role on the album. Marika has just an amazing feel and sense of groove – she knows precisely where to put the notes but also has a strong melodic sensibility. And Andy has all the rock, jazz influences but is unique. He’s a stunning guitarist and has a playfulness which works so well in this context. I have been working with David Hodkinson in bass duties of late, and he’s also a very good, keen, passionate player. He has slotted in perfectly with the band.

Outside of the band? There honestly are SO many local musicians that have inspired, or continue to inspire me. Of course Matt Penman was an early inspiration, and still is. It’s been inspiring just to see his incredible growth as a musician over the years, and he’s such a nice guy. Brian Smith was also a big inspiration – we did a number of gigs together in my early jazz years, and I learned so much from just playing with him. The list goes on: Dixon Nacey, Kevin Field, Roger Manins, Nathan & Joel Haines…in fact I really draw inspiration from all of the local players!  Some of the young players coming through now, like Matt Steel, just blow me away too.

Q.  You have a deep interest in many of the cutting edge Israeli Jazz musicians and in Middle Eastern folk melody.   You were recently doing a masters and focusing on these works.  Tell us a little about Yaron Herman and others?

A.  Actually I haven’t completed my Masters yet! Still a work in progress. I did my Honours study on Avishai Cohen, as I was fascinated how he managed to blend the Middle Eastern elements of rhythm & melody, with classical and jazz, and create something that was very fresh and exciting. I’ve had a long-term love of Middle eastern music, especially the rhythm, but also the structure of it in terms of the various modes or maqams; the use of quarter-tones etc. So discovering artists like Cohen, Tigran Hamasyan, Shai Maestro & Yaron Herman has been an epiphany in jazz for me! My Masters study is partly on Yaron’s music, but also on the way he was taught.

He only starting learning piano at age 16, under the tutelage of Opher Brayer, who used mathematics, philosophy & psychology! At age 18, with a scholarship, he went to Berklee music school in the US, decided he didn’t like it, returned home via Paris, and at a jam session was offered a gig then and there. How Yaron so quickly reached such an incredible level interests me, but also the use of aspects such as psychology in the process – obviously it enabled Yaron to connect on a deep level which I’m sure is part of his rapid development. Shai Maestro, who played piano with Avishai Cohen for a while, also was taught under Opher Brayer. I’m also really digging Tigran Hamasyan at the moment – he incorporates Armenian folk tunes into his tunes, but is an incredible and passionate player. Very exciting stuff.

Q.  Your music is very contemporary and reflects new streams of Jazz influence.  Finally tell us about your interest in and the use of material by Bjork, Radio Head, Parks etc?

A.  I’ve touched on some of these artists in terms of how aspects of their styles has been a direct influence on writing for the quartet, but I guess what attracts me is their total uniqueness, and in many cases, such as Bjork, flying in the face of trends and expectations. Radiohead did the same with Kid A. Their writing also resonates with me – and aside from adapting specific aspects of that, the emotional & spiritual affinity I have with the music is what moves and inspires me. My goal is to similarly express my heart & passion in the most complete way I can – whatever musical form that takes.

Thank you for your time Alan.  Best wishes for 2013.

Andy Smith

I also asked drummer Jono Sawyer the following questions:

Q.  Jono you have played with Alan Brown for a long time and certainly from the beginning of the ‘Between the Spaces’ lineup.  How did you two team up?

 A.  Alan was actually a key part of my love of jazz as I grew up – I used to listen to the cassette of the debut ‘Blue Train’ album in the car with my Dad when I was about 6 or so! (This album also featured my great drum teacher Jason Orme). Alan and I got to play together after I approached him to see if he’d be interested in playing on my first Honours recital when I was studying at NZSM, and I think he liked the tunes I was hoping to do for the performance so he agreed. I was actually really nervous when I approached him and never thought he’d actually do it, here was a guy I listened to from when I was a boy and helped to shape my love of music, yet he was super into it! We’ve been playing together a lot ever since cause I think we both are on the same wavelength when it comes to contemporary jazz and the exciting stuff coming out of the modern scenes, particularly New York.

Q.  One day I asked you about your role in playing a groove beat across differing time signatures.  You told me then that it was instinctive.   Are you able to articulate the process of locating those grooves?

A. Half of the grooves are actually already written in their basic form when Alan brings a new tune to the group. He’ll demo a tune up on Logic so we get a good idea of the vibe he’s going for, and then as we practice the tune the groove becomes more refined and I add my own variances and subtleties to make it into the product… Of course, what Alan, Andy and Marika were doing would shape this; I remember the groove from ‘Sustainable Resources’ being slightly less related to the bass line at first, but as we jammed it just felt right to really articulate most of the bass line between the kick and snare, which in turn helped the flow of the tune, despite it being in 15/8 – I guess that’s where the instinct part comes in!

Q.  Tell me a little about who impresses you the most from among modern drummers.

A. I have a real passion for odd time playing through my love of 70s prog rock particularly, but what really impresses me from guys like Eric Harland, Ari Hoenig and this drummer called Gavin Harrison, is how they can navigate these odd times with such flow and ease. As well as this, they never let what they’re doing get in the way of the groove and the overall musicality of the tune. Ari is certainly one of my favourite players he has such control over the drum set that he can essentially play anything he wants! But also understands that sometimes, laying back on the groove, whether it be swing or more contemporary stuff, can be all that’s necessary for a tune to become perfection. All of these great players also have a wide knowledge of the greats that have come before them, and I’m finally starting to understand the importance of this too.

Q.  Where to from here?

A. Hopefully another Alan Brown album! I know Alan’s really passionate about trying to get some international gigs under our belt so that will be exciting if we get some dates lined up. I’m also keeping busy with Batucada Sound Machine, and we’re looking ahead to our European summer tour… I’m also involved in a project with the APO for a concert they’re doing in May, which should be good fun!  Lots of work to do for all those things though so I’d better get practicing.

Jono Sawyer 006

Lastly I interviewed David Hodkinson about his role on bass

I thought that I would ask a few of the other band members questions as well. The newest member of the lineup is David Hodkinson who plays electric bass. The original BTS album had Marika Hodgson on it and she had quite a following as her intense goove lines were compelling. David has seemlessly stepped into the role which was big ask and so I asked him what that was like.

Q.  David, I am impressed by how you handle your bass duties in this band.  How are you enjoying playing with an Alan Brown band?

A. I am really loving being a part of this group, the combination of a strong groove, interesting harmony, and odd meters make it fun on many levels! Also I consider these guys a ‘dream team‘ to play with, I have a huge amount of respect for them.

Q.  How did that happen.  Were you recommended by a friend, apply or were you approached directly?

A. I have known Alan for some time now, through University and playing with Trudy Lile/Mojave when he had filled in. I met Andy and Jono whilst studying too, and played in Andy’s Masters Combo. I was very excited when Alan approached me to be a part of it.

Q.  Tell a me a little about who impresses you most and your influences.

A. I am a big fan of Juan Nelson from Ben Harpers ‘Innocent Criminals’ band, also players like Bakithi Kumalo from the Graceland album, and Incognito. A big thing for me in regards to musicians is what kind of person they are, I would rather work with an absolute beginner with a good attitude than the opposite.

As far as influences go, I grew up playing Jamiroquai, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, and then it was really Paul Norman who introduced me to jazz/funk. I credit Paul as the biggest influence in my musical life. I was lucky enough to go through Avondale College and witness players like Ben Turua, and have Max Stowers as my tutor, so I was very fortunate.

Q.  I watched you play those bass groove lines once when you had no drummer in the Alan Brown band.  That is a lot of weight to fall on a bass players shoulders.   Was that a challenge?

A. It wasn’t really a challenge, just a shift in method. I try to get the pulse in my body through movement, which can then give me the seperation mentally to process it in the same way as if there was a drummer, good fun!

Q.  Where to from here?

A. Well I’ve bought some pedals so have been enjoying experimenting with different sounds. I play in the bands dDub, and Spiral as well so I am quite content at the moment. I have also been enjoying playing double bass again so I would like to do more of that in the future.

I would like to thank Alan Brown and his band for their indulgence with this.  I believe it to have been an incredibly worthwhile exercise as it gives insights into an important aspect of music within the Auckland Jazz spectrum.  Sadly Andy Smith was out of town but his contribution is considerable and acknowledged here.

John Fenton

Jazz Local 32.com

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Interview

Alan Brown interview & part one

IMG_3131 - Version 2

Interview with Alan Brown:  Leader, Composer Jazz/Groove Musician

Alan, thank you for agreeing to this interview – On behalf of Jazz Local 32 I would like to gain a few insights into your music and your primary influences.

Q. I have seen various configurations of your bands over the years but I would first like to concentrate on the ‘Between the Spaces’ album.   As the composer and leader are you able to reflect on just what this particular body of work means to you?

A. It’s the culmination and articulation of ideas that had been floating around in my head for a while. They didn’t really solidify until I decided on a format (i.e. the quartet and choice of musicians thereof). Once I had that sorted, a lot of the ideas took shape, as I could hear how they would work with this line-up and the particular strengths of each musician. It also represents a new freedom in my writing, that of allowing all my various influences equal voice. Previously I had felt a bit stifled in my writing as I was constantly aware of ‘trying’ to write in a more ‘jazz’ style (whatever that is).

I was often aware of feeling the (self-imposed) pressure to make harmonies more complex where, in many cases, it wasn’t needed and took away from the purely creative and spontaneous aspect of writing. I mean I know there’s always an editing and fine-tuning that happens but sometimes I found I was just trying too hard to be ‘jazz’. Upon hearing some of the younger generation of jazz composers who were not afraid to push the boundaries but also use rock, RnB compositional ideas and harmony, I discovered a new freedom in my own work, and allowed the classical and pop/rock influences which were an early part of my growth, to be heard – without fear!

Q. This has the feel a well-conceived album, which is largely built around finite concepts.   Is that just my impression or was there a compositional focus?

A. There was definitely a compositional focus, even though a few of the tunes were older pieces I had written. The new writing freedom, along with a strong picture of the quartet sound I had in mind, and especially what each player was bringing to it, gave me a focus that I hadn’t had for a long time. There is a strong odd-time and polyrhythmic element to many of the tunes, which was partly inspired by what I was listening to at the time, such as Avishai Cohen et al. However, I distinctly remember one of the first tunes I wrote for the quartet, Captivated (which sadly never made it to the album, but is available on-line), was built from an idea I had for a while but just couldn’t get anywhere with.

One day I thought to try the idea in 7/4 rather than 4/4, and basically the rest of the tune wrote itself! I guess the excitement and challenge of the odd-time signatures propelled the writing burst that followed, although I never tried to force odd-times etc to fit – it still had to feel right no matter what was happening in the tunes. I was also inspired by the writing of bands like Radiohead in terms of song structure and dynamics, so the inclusion of forms such as coda sections to my tunes are a direct result of that. However there are also techniques I have used in my writing since the Blue Train days (and earlier!) present in these tunes, hence the groove element especially.

Q. What are the primary influences behind the BTS compositions?

A. Artists such as Avishai Cohen, as I already mentioned, in relation to the fresh combination of Middle Eastern rhythms and classical influences in his writing; Aaron Parks in terms of sound, structure and the strong sense of melody; Radiohead with regards to structure as I mentioned, but also harmony and again, strong melodic ideas.

The emotion that is present in Radiohead songs is something I was searching for in presenting these tunes in the quartet form I chose; Classical music plays a big part in my upbringing so much of the harmonic sense comes from that, especially in tunes like Eastern and Tableau. The latter tune also includes an obvious nod to minimalist classical composer, Philip Glass.

Q. Those touches of orchestration where you added strings and flute sounded so good.   It put me in mind of the CTI label of Creed Taylor where expanded works and orchestrations by Don Sebesky were the norm.  How did it feel working with an expanded sound palette?

A. I loved it! It presented its own challenges in terms of writing and understanding how the textures work together but it’s something I definitely want to explore further and include in subsequent compositions. Again it’s a sound that has strong ties to my classical influences, and therefore presents an emotional canvas that really resonates with me.

I particularly love the modern orchestration on Brad Mehldau’s Highway Rider album in terms of the close harmonies and inner movement within the strings, creating a vibrant, sometimes dissonant, but compelling texture. I recently found out that Brad was influenced by the the work of Francois Rauber in his work with Jacques Brel, and Bob Alcivar in his work with Tom Waits. I am starting to check these orchestrators out myself now.

Q.The complex rhythms, counterpoint and multi textural nature of the tunes must add a degree of difficulty.   Every band member has to work a different groove while keeping in mind what is happening elsewhere.  Is that a hallmark of the Alan Brown sound?

A. Yes and no. I mean, it was definitely something I had in mind for this album but I’m always wanting to stretch myself and be open to other influences, so I don’t want to be confined to a particular sound or approach. However, every writer does have their own signature style which is something that should come through unconsciously, but the vehicle for expression should be open to whatever provides the creative ‘spark’ at the time. In saying that though, I do love the multi dimensional nature of what happens in these tunes, that there are elements that one can focus on and think “that’s cool”, but that they’re still part of the whole. In other words, it’s got to groove no matter how difficult or ‘clever’ it may appear.

Q. Is there a ‘Between The Spaces two’ planned?

A. I’d like to think so! I have been slowly writing some more tunes, at this stage with the quartet in mind, but as I mentioned, I’d also like to explore various palettes more, especially with strings. Some of the writing is with my Masters study focus, but is still very much what resonates emotionally with me.

Part two and a short review to follow in the next post:

Avant-garde, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Fusion & World, Post Millenium

Salon Kingsadore @ CJC

Murray McNabb

It had been a very busy week for me and I had not paid too much attention to the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) website.   All I could recall about the gig was that it would be something different.   The instruments came into view as I descended the stairs and as my eyes accustomed to the gloom I saw Murray McNabb.   Murray is a veteran of the New Zealand Jazz scene and ‘different’ is exactly what he does best.  There was a bank of keyboards, numerous pedals, leads everywhere, a drum kit and two guitars barely visible in the back ground.  I quickly learned that this was the release gig for the second album by Salon Kingsadore – ‘Anti Borneo Magic’.  Yes the title gave more than a hint of what we were in for.  An exotic improvised trance like dreamscape.   After a hectic week that was exactly what I needed and from the first vamp I relaxed into the music.

Salon Kingsadore was formed in 2004 to write a soundtrack for a play and their works are styled – spontaneous cinematic compositions.  Not long after that first album they were invited to perform at a film release in Italy.  These projects appear to be under the creative guidance of Murray McNabb (keyboards) and Gianmarco Liguori (guitars).  The other band members are Hayden Sinclair (bass) and Steven Tait (drums).  Murray McNabb is a successful film score composer having written for films like ‘Once were Warriors’.  Steven Tait

I have seen Murray perform many times and his own compositions are notable for the way in which he mines simple themes in subtle and deceptively complex ways.  He is the master of ostinato.  There are often references to modal music in his compositions (Turkish Like) but tonight the fare was more tightly focused.  At first listen there was an impression that the drums, bass and guitar were playing the same motif over and again while Murray developed the themes and added fills and colour.   This was not the case as subtle variants and accented changes could be determined if you listened properly.  Continuous and spontaneous improvisation over a vamp requires certain disciplines and foremost among these is a keen awareness of space and dynamics.  This interactive process requires everyone to participate actively and when that happens the repetitive transforms itself into something profound.

This is music that takes some right out their comfort zone as it references such diverse sources as John Zorn, film music, African music, psychedelic fusion and even surf music.   Someone asked me if it was Jazz.  I would certainly place it within the spectrum of jazz, but as an outlier with strong filmic qualities.  I have listened to a lot of John Zorn, Manfred Schoof and psychedelic Jazz Fusion over the years and so this was never going to scare me.

After a long week I quickly relaxed into the aural dreamscape unfolding.  This is music that you can dive into, swim away from shore and float free in.

WHAT: Salon Kingsadore – ‘Anti-Borneo Music’. Album release.

WHERE: CJC Creative Jazz Club – 1885 Brittomart

WHO: Murray McNabb (keys), Gianmarco Liguori (guitars), Hayden Sinclair (bass), Steven Tait (drums). Sarang Bang Records www.sarangbang.co.nz

WHEN: December 5th 2012

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians, Review

Steve Barry trio @ CJC – Album Release Tour

Steve Barry

Steve Barry the Auckland born Jazz pianist left New Zealand a few years ago and with him he carried our highest expectations.  That can be a distraction to an emerging artist, but Steve possesses a faculty that overrides distractions.  He is one of the better pianists that I have heard and there is a back story to that.  His focus is unwavering to the point of obsession and he is an artist that won’t be  hurried.  We impatiently awaited his first album, the eponymously named ‘Steve Barry‘; always urging him to record.  He resisted all entreaties, practicing and refining while an innate sense of timing guided him.

He was right and we were wrong – now is the perfect time.  The album launch at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) and the album itself fulfilled every expectation.

This is an artist who puts the integrity of the music before any rapid career path.  This is the right time for the album release, placed as it is firmly within the ambit of work being done by Aaron Parks, Matt Penman, Kurt Rosenwinkel and other ground breaking younger artists.  This new sound is gaining ascendency and with adherents like Will Vinson, Lage Lund and Mike Moreno it will continue to do so (‘James Farm’ are perhaps the epitome).  This music is mainstream Jazz but it references sources as diverse as Lenny Tristano, Indie Rock and even Hip Hop.  The fractured and complex rhythms are juxtaposed with soaring fluid guitar lines.  Against that are the textures and layers of melody.   Only the best musicians can pull this material off and only the best composers can write such material.

While Steve is clearly influenced by this ‘new sound’ he is no slavish imitator.   He has found something that often alludes younger pianists; a recognisable and original voice.Tim Firth

One listen to this album explains everything about this artist and this incredible band.  All of the tunes on the new album are composed by Steve Barry and the compositions are sometimes dense and multi-layered.  This is a musical journey of the profoundest sort.  One that demands your fullest attention and perhaps a little knowledge of what is happening in the Jazz world.  The highest rewards in Jazz occur when we understand something of what is going on.   This is not background music for cocktail parties.  This is up to the minute real.

Jazz musicians tell me that the ones who succeed are those with an almost monomaniacal focus; Steve is such a musician.  He works harder than most as do the band members.   These guys have been playing together for a number of years and they respond to each others every nuance.   If you close your eyes when Tim Firth is playing, you blink them open just to make sure that Eric Harland hasn’t jumped into the drum chair.  His ability to chop up rhythms and channel trip-hop beats is nothing less than astonishing.  I have seen drummers watch him in open-mouthed amazement.  He can also launch a flurry of quiet brush work which is never-the-less as propulsive as a whispering rocket.

Alex Boneham is another stellar musician and he has long been a favourite with New Zealand bass players and Jazz fans.  He is the glue holding these often complex compositions in place and he does so with unwavering certainty.  As the charts unfold the musicians pull away from the known – taking different routes as they stretch against the boundaries.  In spite of the complexity and the risk taking, the implied centre always holds firm.   One musician said to me that he had never heard a band hold such a tight centre while reaching so far into the unknown.  Alex Boneham

The program was nicely balanced and to do this the band deviated from the album on occasion.   There were three lessor known standards performed on the night and the one that stood out was Wayne Shorter’s achingly beautiful ballad ‘Teru’ (from ‘Adams Apple’).   There were two Shorter tunes and that did not surprise me.  Shorter’s works are deceptively complex and they fitted tidily into the repertoire.   As nice as the Shorter was, Steve Barry’s own compositions are the most deserving of praise.   Many of us in Auckland are familiar with these as he has been refining them over several years.  Each time I hear a tune like ‘Parks’, Unconcious-lee (yes referencing Tristano) or ‘Clusters’, I find that the works have evolved.   This is what good Jazz is about.  A restless exploration into the heart of the music.

The highlight of the evening came at the beginning of the second set.   The trio launched into a spirited up-tempo number ‘Changes’ which segued into a long probing introduction.   The solo introduction was of a quality that we seldom hear – no one breathed as the piece unfolded delicately.  The new tune was ‘Vintage’ (also from the album).  At a point so delicately balanced that no one saw it coming we suddenly became aware of the pulse of brushes.  The moment was so perfectly executed  that a gentle gasp arose from the audience.  There were fleeting glances left and right as everyone acknowledged the moment they had witnessed.  The brushes played a solid 4/4 groove over the tune which is in 7/4.

An older woman next to me had tears of joy in her eye; “It was so wonderful that I dared not breathe” she said.  “I was his original piano teacher and as a pupil he was one in a thousand.  He worked harder than most and was relentlessly passionate about music”.  This confirmed the source of the magic, hard work endless commitment….and chops.

There is an additional member on the album who did not make the New Zealand leg of the release tour, Carl Morgan.   His work is also extraordinary and very much in the style of Lage Lund, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Mike Moreno.  The album deserves to do well and if it’s distributed widely enough it will.   Don’t just take my word for it; buy a copy and judge for yourself.   Be quick because the copies will go fast.  This is a must for any Jazz Lovers stocking whether you’re from Oceania or further afield.     CD Art - Front Cover

WHAT: ‘Steve Barry’ Cd  Jazz Groove Records, http://www.stevebarrymusic.com

WHO: Steve Barry (piano), Alex Boneham (bass), Tim Firth (drums), Carl Morgan (Guitar 3,4,9)

WHERE: Launch tour at CJC (Creative Jazz Club)

WHEN: November 28-11-2012

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians

Sean Coffin (AUS)@ CJC

On Wednesday the 24th October we had an overseas visitor playing at the club, tenor saxophonist Sean Coffin.   This has been a great year for the Auckland Jazz scene and especially for the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) as a number of interesting local bands, out-of -towner’s, and overseas acts have appeared.  It’s the clubs imperative to offer genuine diversity, and this has caused the CJC to extend its reach.   Because Roger Manins has such a well established Australasian reputation and because the CJC is increasingly seen as a great club to play in, the net is ever-widening.   We are on the Oceania Jazz circuit fair and square.  

Sean Coffin is known in his native Australia for his stellar educational work, but it is his high level tenor playing that draws people to him.  He is among the best that Australia has to offer.   For many years he has been accompanied by his brother Greg (piano) and the work of this formidable pair is well recorded.   Sean studied at the Berklee School of Music and later as a postgraduate at the Manhattan  School of Music.  Among his many teachers I would single out George Garzone, as this world leading tenor player appears to have created a cadre of exceptional students in Australasia.  

At the CJC Sean showcased his most recent compositions and they were mostly themed around his children.  This proved a good source of inspiration as the numbers ranged from heart-felt ballads to some faster paced offerings (one referenced children at play).   These lovingly drawn compositions were well crafted and executed and no one had difficulty relating to them.   It is arguably risky to focus exclusively on family material, but the gamble paid off because the improvisations were tender without once descending into introspective noodling.   The integrity of the compositions as Jazz vehicles was always evident.  A lovely ballad to ‘Garz’ (dedicated to George Garzone) rounded things off nicely.

A local rhythm section was put together for this gig and in due deference to the visitor he was given the best.  Ron Sampsom (drums) and Oli Holland (upright bass).  With Kevin Field overseas, Dr Stephen Small took the piano chair.  No one needs to puzzle over my views on Ron Sampson and Oli Holland as my support for their work has been constant over time.  These two go way beyond the merely competent; they are solid, reliable musicians and they are also gutsy enough to handle new challenges without flinching.   Listening to them live or in a recorded situation will tell you everything you need to know.

Seeing Stephen Small again was an unexpected pleasure, as the patch he normally patrols is on the periphery of the Jazz world.  Because he teaches classical piano at Auckland University it would be easy to overlook the fact that he has other strings to his bow.   He is a madman on keyboards and I have seen him cut loose on banks of synthesisers during a Jazz fusion gig.   To say that his fusion performance was riveting would be an understatement.  He created textural layers of sound which swirled and soared alternatively.  Put him together with a fusion versed guitarist like Nick Granville or Dixon Nacey and he will take your ears apart in the best possible way.  Stephen is also a highly talented, straight-ahead, post-bop pianist and judging by the whoops of delight as he negotiated his solo’s he needs to get down to the CJC more often.   I am casting my vote for one of his Jazz fusion gigs.

Sean worked hard all evening and at the end he invited Roger Manins to the bandstand.   There was obvious respect between the two men but that didn’t stop them from going hard out.  When the best tenor players occupy the same bandstand, it generally ends up being a joyful celebration rather than a cutting contest.   This was respectful but no quarter was given.

Avant-garde, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, New Zealand Jazz Gigs

Spoilers of Utopia / Ruckus@CJC

The way that music is interpreted by the human brain is understood up to a point, but there are many mysteries remaining. The topic interests neuroscientists, fans and musicians alike. While pattern recognition is one the of the main hooks drawing us deeper into a piece of music, we also become bored if the pattern remains relentlessly familiar. That doesn’t rule out repeated notes or a vamp as the points of variance are incredibly subtle; groove music or John Cage compositions bear this out. Whether subtle or overt, educated Jazz audiences prefer music that challenges, delights, reveals or amazes.

Good Jazz and improvised music does this despite the few fans who slavishly confine themselves to a single era or style. Live gigs will drag you out of your comfort zone and here’s the thing. Music is a language and we learn by hearing the unfamiliar and comparing it with what we know. Learning language is an innate skill possessed by all humans. As we listen to what we are unsure of, our tastes grow proportionally. These days Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Carla Bley and Zorn have a solid foothold in our consciousness; just as Jackson Pollack makes overwhelming sense when seen on a gallery wall. Jazz listeners should always want more than sonic wallpaper.

In keeping with Roger Manins enlightened approach as program director of the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), he had booked two very interesting groups to play on the 17th October 2012. First up was ‘Ruckus’, a quartet that was anything but run of the mill. The second was the out-brass ensemble (+ four), ‘Spoilers of Utopia’. What we got was joyful, challenging and outrageously humorous music. Music that was fiendishly clever without once resorting to introspective navel gazing.

‘Ruckus’ led by David Ward, a fine guitarist who has assimilated a dozen guitar styles and then stepped free of them. He composed the tunes Ruckus played and they were a metaphor for the inventiveness and vibrancy of the New Zealand Jazz scene. The set list was interesting and the group showed real guts in their interpretations. No one cruised through this material and consequently the collective pulse was quickly amped to a point of high intensity. Some of this material was reminiscent of a Fellini soundtrack, while still managing to evoke real-time global references. It was modern in the best possible way while hinting at its musical origins. I like musical surprises and this music surprised me.

Club goers recognised two well-known locals in ‘Ruckus’, Chris O’Connor (d) and John Bell (vibes). I do not recall seeing the bass player Rui Inaba before but this unit really did come together. Chris and John had double duties this night as they were not only in ‘Ruckus’ but in the ‘Spoilers of Utopia’ as well.

Chris is a drummer that I am very familiar with as his multifaceted approach to traps and percussion makes him a favourite on a number of scenes. He is one of the most talented, open and interesting drummers in New Zealand and it is always fascinating to watch how other drummers flock to hear him. Chris never rushes to fill any void as he understands how complete an implied or missed beat is. He has such a well honed sense of time that he can push at the fabric of reason without losing momentum . He also knows how to remain relaxed at the kit and how to say more with less. The fact that he is one of the nicest cats on the music scene is an added bonus.

John Bell is an extraordinary vibes player and he generally favours the free over the straight ahead. In Ruckus he showed that he is comfortable moving between both worlds. He can swing like ‘Hamp’ then merge that groove seamlessly into an irregular pulse. The one thing that stands out however is his musical courage. John shows an integrity that few vibists do. While a lovely ringing vibrato is what we most often associate with the vibes (early Gary Burton or Bags), the instrument is capable of more besides. He is recapturing the history of the vibraphone while showing us a possible future path. The vibraphone is a percussion instrument and that can easily be forgotten.

The Spoilers of Utopia (also ‘Tparty Spoilers of Utopia’) are a brass heavy ensemble and they are marching resolutely into new territory. While the charts are initially familiar they are never quite what you think. The genius of this music is its kaleidoscopic quality, as it reflects a thousand fractured images while somehow keeping the whole intact. We feel that we can almost grasp the essence; only to find the familiar deconstructed. A pack of travelling Jesters has skilfully woven a new cloth from the old and what was once orderly descends into a pleasant chaos. We follow the twists and turns and just as we fear we are lost…. a disciplined brass band marches out of the haze. This is a new take on tension and release and it really works for me.

The ‘Spoilers of Utopia’ are usually a nonet and as anyone who knows me will verify, I just love a nonet. They are big enough to create to create the illusion of a larger unit but small enough to leave a sense of airiness. To balance out the five brass instruments there was Vibraphonist (John Bell), guitarist (Neil Watson), bass player(Darren Hannah) and drummer (Chris O’Connor). The Brass section were Kingsley Melhuish, Ben Ziber, Finn Scholes, Owen Melhuish, (Don McGlashan absent that night).

I know Finn Scholes having been wowed by his facility on the trumpet (or flugal horn) before. Neil Watson is also a familiar figure at the CJC and I noted how well his solid-body guitar sound fitted the brass dominant ensemble. I liked his contributions enormously and knowing his quirky offbeat take on life and music, it must have been a no-brainer to include him in the mix. There was also a degree of unison playing and with the unusual instrumental configurations, the timbre of the instruments merged to create a richer sound. George Shearing and Tristano grasped this long ago. Having Piano, vibes and/or guitar playing unison lines changed the sound. Putting vibes and guitar with brass was to produce a wonderful contrast. As the ensemble moved from order to chaos and back again I could feel the guiding spirit of John Bell at work: the demented dance instructor shimmering in darkness.

The track that I have selected from the ‘Spoilers of Utopia’ set is so good that I have watched it over and over. The tune is a hymn beloved of the Salvation Army bands, ‘We’re Marching to Zion’ (Sankey). Someone decided on the spot that a drum solo should occur in the middle. As the band proceeded the overall effect of this anarchic but strangely reverential wizardry brought us to our feet? The audience showed wild enthusiasm (and if you peered into the darkness and listened carefully, I swear you could hear Sankey laughing).

This comes from where Jazz began; brass marching bands and random instruments merging to form a new and riskier sound.

Thank you to Jen Sol for providing the video material (as I stupidly forgot my camera bag on that night)