CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Millenium, Straight ahead

Tom Dennison Quintet

Tom D (6)Dennison is a first class musician and someone we don’t hear nearly enough of on the Jazz circuit. He rarely gets to the CJC but when he does it is always a treat. These days he is mostly found doing session work or backing visiting artists and it is hardly surprising that he is a bass player of choice. Whether on upright bass or electric bass he is equally proficient; always an engaging presence, always demonstrating a deep musicality. He has one more string to his bow which can’t be overlooked and that is composition. His tunes are often whimsical, but whatever the mood, a deftly crafted structure sits beneath every phrase. Never over done, bass driven and just right. There is also a thread of melancholia and wistfulness in his ballad writing: these are difficult emotions to evoke and anyone with knowledge of poetry will know, that only the most skilful poets do the moods justice. Dennison can.Tom D (4)Passels playing was another high point of the evening for me. He just gets better every time we hear him. He is also exactly the right person to interpret mood. I liked the way he approached the tunes, working his way inside them methodically. Sometimes angular, at other times teasing at the melody. During the ballads, he often began with sparse phrasing, establishing mood without overstatement; then, slowly telling his story as if looking at the theme from differing viewpoints. Although he plays decisively, he carefully modulates; generally without flourish or vibrato – pushing at a note until subtle multiphonic textures form – his paper-thin Konitz-like tone saying more than any honk. His versatility is also an asset. Any player who can comfortably move outside and inside while still maintaining a theme is a person worth listening to.Tom D (3)McAneny, who initially faced a cable problem, overcame it quickly and delivered a fine performance. Having a Rhodes and a guitar together can be problematical, but the charts and McAneny’s nimbleness enabled him to avoid crowding the space. Howell gave a nice performance and his lines are terrific; He knows what he’s doing but I’d like to hear him bite into his solos a bit more. Drummer Adam Tobeck was on solid ground with this group, he obviously enjoyed the company and reacted well to whatever was thrown his way. After not playing here for a few years, he is now a regular on the bandstand. I like his drum work very much.

Dennisons post-Zoo material is terrific. Fresh, adventurous and deeply appealing. I hope this gig presages a ‘Zoo Two’ album (or ‘Zoo Two by Two’?).  From Zoo we heard ‘The Cat’ – of the newer material there were many great pieces – I loved ‘Unkindness’, also the punkish take on the Beatles ‘Day Tripper’ and ‘J Y Lee’ (a contrafact of ‘Donna Lee’ which in turn is a contrafact of ‘Indiana’).

Tom Dennison Quintet: Tom Dennison (5 string electric bass, compositions), Callum Passels (alto saxophone), Connor McAneny (Rhodes), Michael Howell (guitar), Adam Tobeck (drums). CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, July 5th 2017.

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CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Bop, Post Millenium

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

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Straight ahead

Michael Howell & Kenji Holdaway @ CJC

Howell Holdaway 075 This was ’emerging artists’ night and you wouldn’t have thought so. The club had packed to capacity and the performances were far beyond what you’d expect from students. The artists approached their sets differently, but the end results were equally satisfying. Both study at the Auckland University Jazz School and if that institution is turning out students of this quality it certainly reflects well on the faculty. Howell Holdaway 077Michael Howell is from West Auckland and for some reason a number of excellent guitarists emerge from that quadrant. Growing up in the Waitakere ranges seems to have gifted his playing with an expansiveness and it is not hard to imagine big vistas and tree-clad hills during his ballad numbers. Howells set opened with a ballad and edged into the faster tempos later. His thoughtful opening took us deep inside the music and this was a good way to start a set. As well as his own tunes he featured compositions by Ben Monder, Sam Rivers and John Scofield. When a guitar trio doesn’t use an organ or piano there is more space to work in. This was well utilised by Howell although he is also adept in larger group situations. I heard him a few days later when he sat in with a number of very experienced musicians and he stepped into that space effortlessly. There were two numbers with piano and fellow student Crystal Choi sat in for these (also adding a vocal line). The other musicians were Eamon Edmundson-Wells on Bass (who also played bass in the second set) and Tristan Deck on drums. These former UoA students have already made their mark on the scene.  Howell Holdaway 081Kenji Holdaway led the second set and his approach was quite different. Most of the tunes he chose favoured collective improvisation and they draw upon diverse genres. His bandstand presence and the way he approached tunes oozed confidence. He had also chosen some former UoA students to accompany him and his choice was right on the money. J Y Lee is a gifted alto player and he can work the spectrum from avant-garde through to the lyrical ballads that give sentiment a good name. His musicality shone through during this gig and he just gets better and better. On Rhodes and piano was Conner Mcaneny and he often pushed the group into a freewheeling fusion space. Once again It impressed me how well his playing served the music as it was far from formulaic. When the others were playing his comping chords acted as clever punctuation; urging them to reach further and deeper. Another surprise was Tom Legget on drums and perhaps I have not been paying proper attention. I recall him sitting in during the CJC Jam Sessions of 2012.  Now he is a fully formed drummer. His contributions tasteful and decisive. Eamon Edmundson-Wells was on bass once again and he showed what a tasteful player he is.  While the band was good it was Holdaway who dominated. It was not that he injected himself into others solos for he would regularly lay out respectfully. It was his impressive command of the guitar, that and the sense that he was really across this gig. Howell Holdaway 078

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Millenium

Asher Truppman Lattie / J Y Lee emerging artist series

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Thirty years ago Jazz students kept close to the safer standards for a first time club gig.  Post millennium Students reference a variety of genres; even during a single number.  That may sound like a recipe for disaster and if handled ineptly it would be.  What I heard on this gig was at times clever and perhaps even cheeky.  It bodes well for the adventures ahead.  It is important that Jazz retains a sense of adventure and joy.  There is certainly room for serious explorations, but music that takes itself too seriously is a downer.

The programming of CJC gigs ensures that a variety of acts.  This is a particular strength.  I have remarked upon this before and it is this practice that enables the Jazz club to hold ’emerging artists’ gigs every so often.   It is far from being a weak commercial proposition as these nights usually draw significant crowds.  Everyone who follows this music knows that artists don’t emerge from their studies fully formed.  They develop incrementally; as they practice, play beside better musicians and as they perform in front of discriminating audiences.  Having a project in hand like the ’emerging artists’ series is an important step.  There are a number of Jazz schools in New Zealand (and some very good teachers in the private sector).  It is therefore important that we evaluate the students.  So far the quality of emerging artists has been impressive.  IMG_1957 - Version 2

There was a double billing on the 6th August.  First up was the Asher Tuppman Lattie quintet, followed by the J Y Lee Sextet.  Following tradition the band members were all fellow students or recently graduated students and the reasoning behind this practice is sound.  If they appeared with well established and highly competent musicians, a lingering doubt could remain.  Would they have sounded as good without the latter?  Choosing from fellow students gives context and synergy.  Everyone needs to step up in unison.   IMG_1953 - Version 2

I have posted a number titled ‘Tango’ which provides a context for my initial comments.  At first it appears to be traditional Jazz Tango fare as it briefly utilises the raspy sounds made famous by Gato Barbieri.  Then you get a sense of fun, as it playfully takes the genre apart.  We get bebop and the merest hint of free in what follows.   The vaudevillian feel of the piece worked well.  It is similar to the sounds I heard during my explorations of Italian Jazz, a country where the blurring of Jazz, folk and free is often elevated to high art.  Jazz Tango is something that I love and I’m not sure Kiwi’s get this.  Listen to Gerry Mulligan with Aster Piazzolla or Gary Burton or even Carla Bley and you will find Tango gold.  The Jazz Tango master who appeared to acclaim at the recent Wellington Jazz Festival was probably ignored by most Jazz fans.  Their loss.  The pianist Connor McAneny  played the first set.  He is an imposing presence; not because he is dominant, but because his assuredness when comping and his tasteful solos grow ever more confident.

Second up was J Y Lee, a young alto player who is often seen around town.   He is heard in many lineups and his taste for the avant garde has added a piquancy to his sound.  His played a  varied set, giving him the ability to demonstrate a range of his writing and playing skills.   Utilising Chelsea Prastiti on vocal lines was a masterstroke as the colour she adds to an ensemble is unique.   As in the Asher Tuppman Lattie set the second horn player was Sam Weeks.   Sam had played Alto in first set but took up tenor duties for the second set with J Y Lee.  I have put up a piece which shows Weeks and Lee playing together.   The arranged head is tight and melodic and as the piece opens out, everyone is given a chance to stretch a little.  IMG_1950 - Version 2

The pianist for the second set was Chrystal Choi.  She is a gifted pianist and it is a real shame that we don’t see her more often.  In spite of having well-developed chops she never over-plays.  Every note counts and she is definitely one to watch.   Bass player Djordje Nikolic and drummer Tristan Deck played both sets.   I have only heard Nikolic a few times but he acquitted himself well.   Tristan Deck is increasingly seen about town and it is no wonder that he is employed more often.  His time feel and confidence mark him out.

There was a good attendance for the gig and judging by the whoops and cheers everyone enjoyed it.

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club)  www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Straight ahead

Emerging Artists Matt Bray & Crystal Choi

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It’s an institution that the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) dedicates a handful of gig nights to emerging-artists.  This is often the musicians first public performance.  Performing in a club is a step up for any emerging artist, as audience expectations must be confronted.  In a Jazz club they’re expected to entertain; communicate something special.  It is not an exercise in ticking the ‘must demonstrate chops’ box.  Audiences have to like what you’re doing, rather than thinking how clever.

The sets attracted good crowds and that is important.  Supporting this music starts by supporting its emerging artists.

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The first set up was Matt Bray’s, who varied his pieces to reflect his many influences.   There were standards, original compositions and even a ‘Radiohead’ number.  Matt plays guitar and he has been keen explore the tonal and voicing possibilities of that instrument.  We saw him on the bandstand only the week before, as he plays in the AJO (Auckland Jazz Orchestra).  With the AJO he had tackled complex Cuban melodies and rhythms.  On this gig he was free to explore a wider vista; looking to modern guitarists like Kurt Rosenwinkel whose influence was evident.  He had chosen his band mates well and especially with the experienced and multi faceted drummer Cameron Sangster.  Cameron is the resident drummer with the AJO, but he is also featured to advantage in several well-known local bands.

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Conner McAneny was on piano (+keys) and he’s already performed several gigs at the CJC.  He’s a reliable performer and well able to keep out-of-the-way of the guitar, while shining in solo spots.   The last band member was Eamon Edmundson-Wells who recently graduated from the Auckland University Jazz School.   He was in both sets and is unfailingly impressive.   At the rate he is going he will soon be chasing Cameron McArthur and the fact that he is stepping into the gig slots normally taken up by Cameron (who is playing in the Chicago Musical pit band) tells its own story.

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The second set was Crystal Choi’s and it puzzled me that I had not met her until recently.   Crystal is a very fine pianist and she oozed confidence and style (she started her studies as a classical pianist but wanted more freedom to explore music).   She has emerged from the Auckland University Jazz school as a well formed and supremely confident pianist and to hear her perform it was hard to get my head around the fact that it was her first club performance.  I tracked her down later and put a few questions to her.   What year was she? (A third year graduate); had she performed with this trio/quintet outside of the Jazz School? (No).  She said that she had not felt ready before, but now she did.   Well she certainly showed us ‘ready’ that night.   The audience went wild after her set and kept yelling for an encore.  A superb first outing by any measure.

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The first number up was Bud Powell’s ‘Un Poco Loco’ and she skilfully moulded it to to her purpose.  This was a burner with plenty of flash, but a lot of soul besides.  I wondered if her handling of a ballad would be as assured, because ballads can reveal weaknesses quicker than any fast paced number.  I soon found out that ballads were no obstacle either and in addition her own compositions took interesting directions.   Her quintet was Peter Ruddell (tenor saxophone), Michael Howell (guitar), Eamon Edmundson-Wells (bass) and Tristan Deck (drums).

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The charts were textured and interesting; often augmented by Crystal singing unison lines.  I have chosen a clip of Crystals rendering of the standard, ‘In Your Own Sweet Way’ (Dave Brubeck).   I was impressed by this as it was slightly reharmonised and the implied notes spoke as clearly as the notes played.  When a musician knows what to leave out and what not to, they are well on the way.

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Michael Howell certainly caught my attention, as his clean soaring lines told me that he was a modernist but with a good sense of history.   Tristan Deck I have heard before and so I was not surprised to see how seamlessly he handled the changes in mood and texture.  A good drummer to have on board.   The remaining band member was Peter Ruddell on Tenor saxophone.   He only played briefly but he had a lovely tone and his lines were clean and imaginative.  This band played well together.   They we’re tight, but they never once strangled the music.

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I look forward to hearing Matt Bray and Crystal Choi as they develop further.

What & Where: Emerging Artists gig @ CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 1885 Britomart, Auckland 13th November 2013

Who first set: Matt Bray (leader, guitar), Connor McAneny (piano, keys), Eamon Edmundson-Wells (bass), Cameron Sangster (drums)

Who second set: Crystal Choi (leader, piano), Peter Ruddell (tenor saxophone), Michael Howell (guitar), Eamon Edmundson-Wells (bass), Tristan deck (drums).

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Millenium

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

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, New Zealand Jazz Gigs

Connor McAneny Trio – Matt Steele Trio@CJC

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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.