At some point in human evolution, the majority of humans decided to stay put. In consequence, the hunter-gatherers and the pastoral nomads became outliers. As civilizations grew, agriculture grew and large enclosures and granaries grew along with them. Beyond the walls and the jumble of enclosures; largely unnoticed, often unseen, foraging continued unabated. The homeless on the streets forage, philosophers forage, writers forage, wild and domestic animals forage and above all improvisers forage.
Martin Kay’s gig was a tribute to foraging; highlighting the activities of foraging animals, creatures large and small and to the improbable life lessons, they impart. It was about cultivating absurdity and profundity in equal parts, it was about following the ancient herds using postmodern skills. It nibbled at reality until you saw it afresh, building on overlooked narratives, finding the things we often miss; a Zen Koan wrapped in sound.I first saw Kay in 2013 with ‘Song FWAA’. The post from then and the accompanying sound clip is still available on this site (use site search, type in Song FWAA). On Wednesday, his charts were for a larger ensemble. This time offering fresh insights; taking us further down the Rabbit hole. The pieces were of variable lengths and sometimes in parts. At some point during the second set, he played a piece titled ‘Ligeti’s Goat (I first heard that back in 2013). While the piece has melodic hooks and a basic structure, it is more, a surrealistic journey. A place where imagining, spoken narrative and musical narrative meet. Ligeti’s goat is vividly embedded in my memory; it is not a piece easily forgotten, a goat wandering through pastures, locating carrots (perhaps forbidden carrots), digesting the vegetables in that mysterious way of all ruminants.
There was a piece titled puffer fish, another called ‘Thrice mice’ (that chart in a minuscule script like mice prints) and a vampire piece titled ‘Once bitten once shy’. There was also an appealing piece about a tracker dog, selling his skills to those who might have need of them. None of this was an invitation to anthropomorphize – Kay’s animals spoke for themselves. He spends much of his time in New Zealand these days as his wife works here. For this project, he selected a group of local improvisers to form the ensemble; younger players with an open approach to improvisation. In this respect, the location favoured him, bringing the gifted Callum Passels into the group. Also featuring Crystal Choi, Michael Howell, Eamon Edmuson-Wells and Tristan Deck; each one of these having a stake in explorative improvised music. The only non-original piece was ‘Turkish Bath’ by the innovative trumpeter Don Ellis. For material similar to Kays, you need not look any further than Ellis or perhaps Henry Threadgill. It is good to have Kay in our midst, as he’s an interesting, often challenging and worthwhile composer. I have put up two clips – Turkish Bath and narrative about the Tracker Dog.
Let’s go – much as that dog goes / intently haphazard….not direction, ‘but each step an arrival’ (poet Denise Levertov 1923- 1997)
Forage: Martin Kay (tenor saxophone, compositions), Callum Passels (alto saxophone), Crystal Choi (keys), Eamon Edmunson-Wells (bass), Tristan Deck (drums). CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K’Rd, Auckland, 20 September 2017
‘Leda’s Dream’ has been around for some time, but this is the ensemble’s first appearance at the CJC. When vocalist Chelsea Prastiti first conceived of the project, she saw it as a vehicle for unfettered collective improvisation. Her writing cleverly expands on that concept, encompassing real places, the past, abstract ideas, and opening the listener to endless possibility. There is a structure to her vision, but to grasp it you must let go of what you think you know. The pieces are mirage-like; if you look too closely they will disappear. As you listen, fragments of the familiar appear, then dissolve. These are seamless journeys; cleverly fusing reality with dreamscapes. Leda’s Dream is to be experienced and enjoyed, not pigeonholed.
This is avant-garde music, perhaps the bravest we have heard at the CJC this year. The traditional Jazz references were there, but the freedom to expand or contract themes characterised the tunes. During ‘Faster down ice’ I heard echoes of Mingus; driving, pulsating rhythms over which freedom was explored. Tristan Deck and Eamon Edmundson-Wells at the heart of this pulse (on drums and bass respectively). With a human voice in the mix, the ideas became multi-dimensional. The human voice is the oldest of instruments and when it moves beyond words, the forms which anchor it – a rawer emotion is exposed. Sometimes it is pretty or melodic, at other times a primal scream. Listening to this music is to experience sound on its own terms.Prastiti’s ‘Time Lapse Photography’ was filmic. Revealing the essence of unfolding plants – magical realism – biology expressed as music. In a similar vein was her piece,’Rain Flood’. As she sang, you experienced the droplets of water – falling slowly at first, then faster until they became a deluge. Communicating in this way is a gift few possess, the images seeming to emerge from nature or from experience, not from the musical form. I immediately thought of my favourite Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray and his mystical Monsoon scene from ‘Pather Panchali’. The effect created by Ray there, also swept us to the heart of a poignant interaction between man & nature (musically assisted in that case by Ravi Shankar and Mingus alumni Charlie Mariano).The Leda’s Dream ensemble are alumni from the UoA Jazz School. A lot of talent emerged during the years they attended and during this particular gig it coalesced. It was a pleasant surprise to see Crystal Choi playing this innovative abstract music. Choi is a musician who is fast evolving and growing in interesting ways. At Jazz school she stayed closer to traditional forms, or those referencing the folk infused ECM albums. Later I saw her giving a concert on solo piano, Jarrett like in its scope and quite wonderful. On Wednesday she embraced freedom. She was innovative, interactive and confident.
Callum Passells was the lead-horn on alto saxophone. Beside him in the front line for part of the gig was Liz Stokes on trumpet. Passells is especially comfortable in this space. Playing sparingly and never playing a note for the sake of it, each note meaning something. Michael Howel came on stage for the second set as the full Leda’s Dream experience emerged. First as a quintet then sextet and finally as a septet.
Leda’s Dream: Chelsea Prsatiti (voice, compositions), Chrystal Choi (piano, voice), Callum Passells (alto saxophone, voice), Liz Stokes (trumpet), Michael Howell (guitar), Eamon Edmudson-Wells (upright bass), Tristan Deck (drums), 16th May 2017, CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K’Rd Auckland.
The last time I saw Rebecca Melrose perform was at a CJC gig, not long after her graduation from the UoA Jazz School. That was well over a year ago. Since then she has made her way as a vocalist, exploring several musical genres and recording an EP (yet to be released). This gig was straight ahead Jazz; her interpretations of various Jazz standards. I remember being impressed by Melrose the last time I heard her as there is a rich quality to her voice and she knows how to play with lyrics. At the last gig she took risks with her choice of material and it paid off. This time the sets were more mainstream but she exuded an easy-going confidence; the sort that comes with time in front of audiences.Accompanying her were three graduates from the UoA Jazz Programme. Crystal Choi on piano, Eamon Edmunson-Wells on bass and Jared Devaux de Marigny, drums. CJC audiences have seen a lot of Edmunson-Wells over recent years and increasingly we are seeing Choi. Desvaux de Marigny is not seen as often. These are all fine musicians. Additional to the core lineup were guest artists Callum Passells (alto) and Liz Stokes (trumpet).
The rhythm section worked well as accompanists and stood out during the brief solo spots (when they functioned as a trio). In this space Choi stood out in particular, her piano work showing edge and maturity. For a recent graduate she shows enormous promise and her own gig (to follow this) will be one to catch. I have put up the clip ‘Afro Blue’ (Mongo Santamaria) as it has a modernist feel about it. Her take being closer to the Robert Glasper/Erykah Badu version than the original.Melrose has been selected as a semi-finalist in the prestigious Shure Vocal Competition (the only Australasian/Pacific finalist). She will fly to Montreux shortly to compete in the finals at the 2015 ‘Montreux Jazz Festival on Lac Lemon. This gig and other events are to help her get there. I wish her well.
Quartet: Rebecca Melrose (leader, vocals), Crystal Choi (piano), Eamon Edmunsen-Wells (bass), Jared Desvaux de Marigny (drums).
CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, 17th June 2015
John Bell is an iconoclast, always bringing something new and unexpected to the bandstand. There is also a rich vein of tongue in cheek humour that runs though his onstage banter. Like his music, it takes unexpected twists and turns. That is not to say that his shows lack serious intent as he utilises quality musicians; doing what they do well. It is perhaps best to describe his gigs as full of Zen humour, the sort that Carla Bley is so adept at. The slap in the face accompanying a sly tickle of the ribs. Even Bells instruments are other than the expected. A metallophone instead of a vibraphone (vibes, sans motor and Leslie unit as played by Gary Burton these days). A horn in a gig titled Horn Free (and an obscure tenor horn at that). I was equally unsurprised when I was invited to their live recording date; “Last Modern Jazz Qtet Concert’. Perfect.
To do justice to his music Bells gigs require quirky and talented musicians. Good readers, good time keepers, prepared to veer off at a moments notice into uncharted realms. No genre remains un-pillaged in the source material for John Bells compositions; Korean folk songs, bebop or brass band music. When he announces a standard it is best to think popular Korean TV program theme, Sonny Sharrock or Sankey Hymn. Nothing is what it seems in his Kaleidoscopic world of shimmering sweet and suddenly dissonant sounds. The music is weighed up and re-evaluated long after the event. It leaves an impression hanging in the air for weeks and because of that it is somehow more satisfying than predicable gigs. Perhaps it is in the ears of the listener, but to my ear this was brave and satisfying music. It made me happy.
Watching an animated vibes player is pure theatre. They throw themselves into the task more than other instrumentalists. At times Bell would launch him self forward with apparent fury. His left foot trailing behind him as the energy released. This wonderful two or four mallet dance was a product of the reduced amplification. Body, mallet and instrument interacting with intensity.
The rest of the lineup consisted of guitar, drums and bass. A mix of veterans and up and coming players. Neil Watson was on guitar and he is the perfect foil for Bell. He is at least as iconoclastic as Bell, with wild forays ranging from the joyously punk to fusion bebop. Watson is a respected musician about town and if he has boundaries they are not immediately obvious. Stylistically he is often somewhere east of Frissel, Montgomery and Ribot. He has gradually been adding more slide guitar into his repertoire (and now a pedal steel guitar is part of his bag of tricks). Watson provided one composition to the gig and while different to Bells compositions it was equally enjoyable. A well-known musician sitting beside me whispered, “That is in the time signature of Take Five, but it is way further out”.
Eamon Edmunson Wells was on bass and Cameron Sangster on traps. While Bell and Watson often leave the known universe to explore the outer reaches, Edmunson Wells and Sangster hold the ship intact. I have heard both often, but never in this context. I was extremely impressed by their efforts and my respect has deepened for both. If you do something well in a straight-ahead context that doesn’t necessarily translate into a more avant garde setting. Musicians like Joey Baron show us just how far you can stretch if you are so minded. It pleases me to see younger musicians following this braver path.
The audience numbers were not as good as they could be and that was a pity. This music is a rare treat and it deserves our attention. All you need to enjoy music like this is a pair of open ears. If you listen, really listen, you will soon have a smile on your face.
(an updated audio to clip to be added shortly in this space)
Who: John Bell (metallophone, tenor horn), Neil Watson (guitars), Eamon Edmunson Wells (bass), Cameron Sangster (drums).
Chelsea Prastiti could be said to represent an intergenerational change in the direction Jazz Vocals are headed. I have watched her grow in confidence since her time at the Auckland University Jazz School and she is always ready to try brave new experiments. Because her default is the use of wordless vocal lines, she has better been able to explore the relationship between voice and the other instruments. This integrated approach is possible for two main reasons. Her keen awareness of what is happening around her and above all her compositional skills.
Chelsea Prastiti is writing good material. At times it feels brave and edgy, but it is always interesting. Perhaps another factor is the musical familiarity with her band mates. Her bands generally feature Matt Steele (piano), Callum Passells (alto saxophone), Liz Stokes (trumpet), Eamon Edmunson-Wells (bass) and Tristam deck (drums). Because they were students together and because she has played with them often, I have gained the impression that she may even write material with them in mind. One of her best recent performances was as guest artist on Callum Passells last CJC gig. These two always work well together, but hearing them moving in lockstep as they traversed standards and amazingly innovative free numbers was a joy.
There were a few newer compositions and some re-arranged takes on earlier compositions. Everything in the sets was composed by Prastiti. I like ‘Bells’ which begins with a simple peal of bells, but quickly evolves into an altogether more complex piece. Steele was standout on this, never over-playing but making every note count. His comping was at times minimalist but he conveyed a certain strength. The rhythmic feel that he laid down was further enhanced by Deck and Edmunson-Wells. This allowed Passells and Prastiti to explore the tune in a methodical manner. Steles solo is worth a particular mention on ‘Bells’, as it underscores his growing maturity as a pianist.
Prastiti is involved in a number of local projects including an ethnically influenced a capella group. It is however her ability to edge toward the avant-garde that always interests me the most.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
Chelsea has only just graduated from the Auckland University Jazz School but she is already somewhat of a veteran performer about town. I often spot her name in gig notifications and I have seen her in the role of leader at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) at least three times. Chelsea is popular, original and able to assemble good lineups.
I have avoided using the correct descriptor for her most recent band after Chelsea ran into an unexpected problem with the name. The band is actually called the Chelsea Prastiti sextet, but Facebook abbreviated it to read; Chelsea Prastiti Sex……. As she later bantered with the audience, “If your here for that go home”. There is a sense of easy-going effervescence that permeates all Chelsea’s gigs and audiences quickly warm to her. It is a credit to her that this is so, because her specialty is wordless singing (or a mix of wordless singing and lyrics). Thus following in the not so well-worn path of Eddie Jefferson, Norma Winstone and others. This adventurous exploration of vocal sounds is not all that she does, but it is a hallmark of her repertoire.
Her style of singing moves the focus to the timbre of the human voice. Using it as another instrument, adding colour, tight unison lines and performing solos much like a guitar or horn would do. Like other young singers Chelsea often includes numbers from the likes of Sera Serpa, Gretchen Parlato or Esperanza Spalding. At this last gig those influences were felt in different way, more as reference points. Most of the material (if not all of it) was Chelsea’s own. Her composition skills are developing fast as she reveals her own musical stories. Modern in sound, touching on the history of Jazz singing, but above all communicating the intensely personal.
As with previous gigs she has drawn upon musicians from her own generation. Friends from the Auckland University Jazz School and especially those she had been most closely associated with. Matt Steele (piano), Callum Passells (alto), Liz Stokes (trumpet & flugal), Eamon Edmunson-Wells (bass). Newer to the line up was drummer Tristan Deck – this was his first appearance at the CJC and on the basis of his performance this night I’m sure we will see him more often. Liz Stokes, Matt Steele and Callum Passells were all in good form, each delivering some great audience pleasing solos. It was also good to see Eamon Edmunson-Wells, who is a bass player we don’t see often enough. As friends they feed off each others energies and the familiarity works well for them. The ultimate test will come when they plunge in at the deep end beside highly experienced ultra challenging musicians.
It was particularly nice to hear Chelsea’s composition ‘Bells’ performed once again. The interwoven melodic lines and the lovely harmonies are deeply compelling. I like her compositions and the CJC crowd certainly shared that view.
What: Chelsea Prastiti sextet
Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 5th June 2013
Who: Chelsea Prastiti (vocals) (leader) (compositions), Matt Steele (piano), Eamon Edmunson-Wells (bass), Tristan Deck (drums), Elizabeth Stokes (trumpet), Callum Passells (alto saxophone).
There are a surprising number of good Jazz musicians living in New Zealand and that is why the CJC is able to provide a varied and interesting programme at the club. With Roger Manins as programme director the quality of the music is consistently high. I may have come to expect that, but I can still be pleasantly surprised.
Chelsea Prastiti is studying Jazz at the University of Auckland and I have heard her sing once or twice before. I knew that she was good but what took me by surprise was just how good. This was not your routine standards programme but fresh and original Jazz singing at the highest level. It was the sort of programme that a Sheila Jordan or a Norma Winstone might have embarked upon and in spite of the risks it was perfectly executed.
Matt Steele is a pianist I enjoy greatly and he certainly justified his place in the band on this night. Matt is in his third year and each time I see him play he gets better and better. His extended solo on ‘Bells’ was extraordinary and I cursed the gods for allowing my HD video tape to run out just before that.
Callum Passells was also in great form and he showed us again why he is so well-regarded as a musician. His alto needed little coaxing as he worked the changes and the ideas flowed in happy succession. Any band with Callum in can count itself lucky.
The band members were; Chelsea Prastiti (leader, vocals, arranger, composer), Callum Passells (alto sax), Matt Steele (piano), Elizabeth Stokes (Trumpet, Flugal), Asher Truppman Lattie (tenor sax), Eamon Edmunson-Wells (bass), Jared Desvaux de Marigny (drums).
Chelsea had arranged the numbers in the set and five of the songs were originals composed by her. I will mention three numbers in particular as the contrast between these illustrates how well thought-out the programme was. Second in the set was ‘Bells’ ( C Prastiti) and it was mind-blowing. The band blew like crazy and each band member seemed to urge the others to greater heights. Chelsea, Matt and Callum excelled themselves . This is one of Chelsea’s compositions and it had all of the elements of great Jazz contained within its structure. A tight arrangement, harmonic inventiveness, room for hard blowing and a structure that lent itself to out-improvisation. I was standing near to Caroline (who teaches her at the University) and after the number we looked at each other in disbelief. Even in the subdued lighting I could see tears in her eyes.
The fourth number was a skillful arrangement of Maurice Ravel‘s. The airy – ‘La Vallee Des Cloches’. This was a fully arranged piece and with vocalese in the mix it was the perfect counterweight to what had preceded it. Drums, bass, piano, voice, alto sax, tenor sax and fugal horn in perfect concert.
It was the last tune that had us all wishing that the music would never stop. The composition was once again by Chelsea and called ‘Santa Muerte’ (the Mexican ‘Saint Death‘). It immediately brought to mind the madness and the wild beauty that is Mexico. A hint of mariachi and a lot of jazz chops were on display. I have included that as a You Tube Clip.
That a student so perfectly executed such difficult and exciting material is breathtaking – more please Chelsea and soon.