Eamon Dilworth is a frequent visitor to New Zealand and we hope that continues. His projects draw on many sources and he is unafraid to change direction completely. His last visit saw the release of his beautiful Viata album. An album that would sit comfortably in the ECM catalogue with its unhurried atmospheric Euro Free ethos. The haunting deliberations leaving crystalline arcs trailing behind each note. The time before he came with ‘Tiny Hearts’ and before that with ‘The Dilworth’s’. All of these projects were enthusiastically received and the albums that resulted were popular on both sides of the Tasman.
His most recent project, the Crawfish Po ‘Boys’ is yet another step change. It is rooted in the sounds of the southern USA. Although a take on the contemporary New Orleans sound, it also harks back to the vibe of Louis Armstrong and Big T.Unlike Viata or its predecessors, the latest album is an EP (around 20 mins long). As I listened to it, two things stood out. The focus on vocals and the choice of musicians. The vocals are led by Dilworth with a number of backing vocalists adding heft. With respected musicians like Stu Hunter (organ), Julien Wilson (saxophone), Chris Vizard (trombone) and Paul Derricott (drums) it could hardly be less than engaging.
The first gig took place at the Auckland Jazz & Blues club and it focussed on traditional fare. At the CJC the following night Dilworth gave us contrasting sets, and unlike recent visits where Australian musicians like Alistair Spence joined him, he worked with a local lineup.Roger Manins was on tenor sax, Andy Keegan on drums and from Wellington, Daniel Hayles on the organ.He opened with some tunes from Viata, but they were given a different treatment this time.The biggest point of difference was the inclusion of Daniel Hayles, a groove inclined keyboardist who quickly found his place and pushed the tunes in a different direction.This was achieved without resorting to showy bravura runs and by creating an underlying chordal pulse. It was particularly evident during Toran where he played ostinato; using subtle variations to enhance the performance of the melodic lines from saxophone and trumpet.
The second half was shorter and some of those tunes came closer to his Crawfish Po’Boys material. His version of Iko Iko was fun. Dilworth, Keegan, Manins, and Hayles obviously enjoy playing together but I’d like to hear them tackle the raunchy old New Orleans tunes someday. Pushing deeper into the bluesy heartland of Jack Teagarden – the time is ripe for such a re-appraisal.
Eamon Dilworth (trumpet, compositions), Daniel Hayles (Hammond organ), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Andy Keegan (drums). Backbeat, CJC Creative Jazz Club, Auckland, Mayday 2019
The trumpet is arguably the first instrument of Jazz but we hear it infrequently in Auckland. When we do it is seldom the lead instrument. To redress the balance, the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) featured Lex French last week, an impressive musician who is garnering increasing attention on the Jazz scene. This gig was one to look forward to. The occasion was the launch of his new Rattle album ‘The Cut’, which is an international affair; recorded at McGill University’s MMR & Studio ‘A’ utilising top rated young Montreal musicians. The mixing and mastering done in Auckland by Rattles Steve Garden. For the album release tour French had assembled a quintet of Wellington based musicians, people he has played with before and all well-respected.
While French has been around for some time and amassed an impressive CV he is not as well-known in Auckland. After this album (and gig) that should change. In spite of his relative youth he has already worked extensively overseas and has long been an essential component of the Wellington scene. He came to my attention earlier this year when ‘The JAC’ toured New Zealand and he really stood out, as trumpet players of his calibre are few and far between in New Zealand. His ability to engage an audience goes way beyond mere chops as the way he connects is personal. His tone is impressive as is his control of dynamics. While a strong decisive player, he can also whisper a beguiling phrase. ‘The Cut’ features his own compositions and these are as strong as the playing on the album.
If I had to pinpoint a particular mood, a particular composition I would draw your attention to ‘Metro’. Montreal has an impressive metro, teaming with cosmopolitan life. This track (2) and the others on the album connected me back to a city I love; a great Jazz city. This is what Jazz does best, paints sound pictures, reconnects us to fading memories while at the same time pointing to the unknown. ‘The Cut’ has an up to the moment feel with strong edgy interplay between instruments. Strangely it conveyed to me the vibe of Miles ‘Sorcerer’ album. Perhaps it was the compositions, perhaps it was the phrasing and intonation of the trumpet, but whatever the reason it evoked memories. Over the week I have played the album over and over and with each acquaintance a new pleasure discovered.
French is from Wellington New Zealand and there he obtained a B Mus with honours before moving to Montreal’s McGill University to complete a Masters. McGill has a highly respected Jazz Studies course (the Schulich School of Music). As an aside, New Zealand has another respected McGill alumni in drummer Ron Samsom (now head of Auckland University’s Jazz Studies Program). The musicians on ‘The Cut’ are all from McGill, Montreal. They are Lex French (trumpet), David Bellemare (tenor saxophone), Nicolas Ferron (guitar), Nicolas Bedard (bass) and Mark Nelson (drums). French is clearly the leader, giving a consistently strong performance, but with impressive sounding musicians like this behind him he is extremely well supported. For the New Zealand tour he had Jake Baxendale (alto saxophone), Dan Hayles (Rhodes, Piano), Scott Maynard (bass) and Lauren Ellis (drums). Having keys replace guitar changed the feel somewhat, but both configurations were effective in their way. With the authoritative French upfront it could hardly be otherwise.
French is impressive in an ensemble but he is a standout when leading his own unit. Buy this CD to show your support for an up and coming artist, but above all buy it for the pure enjoyment of sampling the best of contemporary Jazz. We can also chalk this up as another win for Rattle, in what is already an impressive 2014 Jazz catalogue.
Who: Lex French Quintet: (‘Album) Lex French (trumpet, leader), David Bellemare (tenor saxophone), Nicolas Ferron (guitar), Nicolas Bedard (bass), Mark Nelson (drums). (NZ tour) Lex French (trumpet, leader), Jake Baxendale (alto saxophone), Dan Hayles (Rhodes, piano), Scott Maynard (bass), Lauren Ellis (drums). www.alexisfrenchmusic.com
I don’t know as much about the Wellington Jazz scene as I’d like to, but I’m working on that. Recently an opportunity presented itself; two days in Wellington and a chance to catch up with some musician friends. I did my homework and learned that ‘The Jac’ would be playing at ‘Meow’. They had just recorded for Rattle and that made me keen to hear them; knowing that they were initially inspired by the ‘San Francesco Jazz Collective’ all the more so.
While not a dedicated Jazz venue Meow is a great supporter of the music and a good place to experience live music in general. The club has regularly hosted class Jazz acts like ‘The Troubles’ (and its various offshoots). Located on a sharp right angle bend, down a narrow winding alley; intriguing car head-light effects sweep across the band when cars negotiate the turn. This reminds me of the new Bimhuis Jazz club in Amsterdam, which has brightly lit trains passing right behind the band as they play. From the first few bars I loved what I heard and was pleased to learn that they would be playing in the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) in Auckland a few weeks later.
This band ticks a lot of boxes for me with their ancient to modern feel. I love the Octet or Nonet sound and especially when a brass heavy front line is in evidence. With ‘The Jac’ the four horns up front assault the senses in the best possible way; solidly augmented by two keyboards, drums and bass. The original lineup (and the one recorded), features piano and guitar. With the guitarist (Callum Allardice) overseas a Rhodes was added to replace the guitar. While I like both configurations I’m particularly impressed by the added colour that the Rhodes brings to the mix. In the hands of Dan Hayles it often sounds like Vibes and this takes the group closer to the sound-palette of the SFJC.
There was a good audience at the CJC and ‘The Jac’ were received with enthusiasm. It is all too rare to see such configurations in New Zealand and I wish more would surface. There were solid performances from the soloists but the real stars were the stunning arrangements. The charts sound modern, but implicit within is the Nonet/Octet tradition. The Birth of the Cool is momentarily evoked but this is not the anchor point. A modern aesthetic is at work here (listen to ‘Thieves in the Night’ composed by alto player Jake Baxendale and streamed below).
They opened with a tune titled ‘Major,major, major, major’ (to which Jake added – “in a minor key”). Next we heard ‘New York Axel Man’, an airy free-flowing tune which highlighted the skills of Jake Baxendale (alto) and Alexis French (trumpet). I was particularly taken with the skills of Lex French, as trumpet players of his calibre are not thick on the ground in New Zealand. I asked him who his recent teachers were and learned that he had been studying at McGill University in Canada. His articulation, clean lines and the ability to communicate an idea in a short space took my attention. In a line up of competent musicians he managed to stand out.
Jake Baxendale is the predominant soloist and his alto work is interesting. As one of the writers and the collective’s front man, he rightly garners the lions share of attention. The other Baxendale composition on the album is ‘Armada’. A delightful piece with rhythmic complexity and a strong bass line underpinning it. It is my sense that he is central to the octets success.
Completing the horn section is Chris Buckland on tenor and Matthew Allison on trombone (Allison is a member of the NZSO). This is highly arranged music and so tenor, alto, trombone and trumpet need to work as one entity. As they negotiated the often complex charts they showed just how tight they could be. This is a big sound, but one with a world of implied space.
On bass is the talented Nick Tipping who is another well-respected Wellington musician. Like Jake Baxendale he regularly plays with the Roger Fox Wellington Jazz Orchestra. Often backing international artists when the come to town. Buckland replaced Richard Thai (who played on the album) and as alluded to earlier, Dan Hayles on Rhodes replaced the guitarist. This gave the ensemble two keyboards and the alignment worked extremely well in my view. On the CJC Club piano was Dan Milward (he played keys at Meow). The juxtaposition between Piano and Rhodes worked so well because the musicians were able to compliment each other while keeping out of each others way. Milward took the subtler approach but his presence was never-the-less strongly felt.
Dan Hayles took several solos’ (which the audience loved) but his main role was to augment the mix with well placed fills and to add a sense of depth to the ensemble. I have heard him on several previous occasions and rate him highly. The remaining member is drummer Shaun Anderson and his stick work is superb. A supportive and in-the-pocket drummer who can also breathe fire into proceedings. It was Anderson and Hayles who took the more organic approach; both regularly stepping free of the charts and to great effect. Both made the pulse quicken and this balanced out the carefully crafted shapes and forms of the ensemble.
The compositions on the album are all by Baxendale and Allardice and it is these that give momentum to the project. In future it would be interesting to hear some of the soloists given additional space, but not at the expense of those gorgeous rich harmonic voicings. With a label like Rattle behind them this bodes well for future projects.
What: ‘The Jac’ at the release of their album ‘NERVE’ – Rattle Jazz (the album can be purchased direct from Rattle or at retail outlets).
Who: Jake Baxendale (alto, arrangements, compositions), Alexis French (trumpet), Chris Buckland (tenor sax), Matt Allison (trombone), Dan Hayles (Rhodes), Dan Milward (piano), Nick Tipping (upright bass), Shaun Anderson (drums) – Album only – Callum Allardice (guitar, arrangements, compositions), Richard Thai (tenor).
The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) is increasingly on the world Jazz circuit, but it also attracts a number of artists from around New Zealand. This outreach is exactly what Roger Manins, Caroline Manins and Ben McNicholl had envisaged when the collective began. The CJC’s prime purpose is to further Jazz and improvised music as an art form and to create an intimate performance space where projects can be realised. This space is suited to listening audiences, which in turn spurs the musicians on. The trio who performed on Wednesday appreciated that.
On Wednesday we heard the Wellington based Myele Manzanza trio. A drummer led band has a different feel to a piano led trio. When a drummer is leader the drums are generally more forward in the mix than is otherwise the case. This is the way of things and whether it’s Max Roach or Matt Wilson we expect to have the drums as a strong focus. Myele Manzanza is a captivating drummer and I was immediately struck by how different he is to most Auckland drummers. When I spoke to him later I went out on a limb by suggesting that his style was reminiscent of Manu Katche. He told me that he had not heard him, but that others had said the same.
According to Myele, Roger Manins suggested that they should push the boundaries. Rising to that challenge the band hastily composed a tune for the gig. The gig was a mix of standards, interesting takes on tunes not usually associated with jazz and a few originals. The originals were often subjected to an angular approach and with pared back melody. Their take on the Ellington tune ‘Caravan’ was probably the most conventional of their tunes but even then it was given individual treatment. The pianist approached the tune in a percussive manner, but with right hand runs that were definitely post bop (a little like Michel Petrucciani was fond of doing). Led by the drummer, time signatures morphed into various new patterns.
The Pianist Daniel Hayles often begins pieces with long ostinato intro’s and while not quite a minimalist, he never-the-less avoids excessive ornamentation. I really warmed to him as the evening progressed and I found his approach modern and fresh (and often North European). With Scott Maynard on bass the unit knitted together well. Because of the way the tunes unfolded it was essential that he made his presence felt and he did. In situations like this the bass often has to carry some extra weight.
Myele has spent time working in New York and he has studied under Jazz drummer E J Strickland. I also know that he is passionate about Jazz, but why his band sounds different is because other very modern influences have seeped into the mix. Myele Manzanza works with many ground breaking non-Jazz lineups and that is probably what he is best known for. This brings me back to Manu Katche who is a very modern jazz drummer, but one who works across a variety of genres (Peter Gabriel and Sting). Katche’s Jazz drumming is atypical and madly engaging. Jazz should never stand still and this window on yet another approach to our music tells me that the exploration continues.
I hope that the band returns again as they expand our horizons while making us smile. After thanking his band Myele Manzanza turned to the audience and said, “Thank you Auckland and the CJC. This is an unusual situation for us. An audience that listens appreciatively and doesn’t talk through the gig. This is what Wellington lacks”.
Every city needs a CJC …and lots of nights like this.
Who: Myele Manzanza (Leader, drums), Daniel Hayles (Keys, Piano), Scott Maynard (bass).