The Circling Sun

Circling Sun 11-3-2014 063Any astronomer worth their salt will tell you that it is paradoxical for a sun to embark on a circular orbit. The last time this happened was during the Spanish Inquisition. On Wednesday the paradox increased when the Circling Sun departed their orbit to play at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club). This gig had been a long time coming and we welcomed it. Hearing them away from the babble of the hard-drinking Ponsonby Road crowd was a treat for us. The Circling Sun always give of their best, but this time we could hear the quirks and subtleties unfiltered. This is a band with a vast soundscape and the Jazz club echoed to the sounds of doogan, Tuba, analogue keyboards, digital keyboards, piano, trumpet, flugel horn, flute, tenor Circling Sun 11-3-2014 066saxophone, upright bass, drums and electronics. This is the type of music that sits well with me.

In spite of the name, the Circling Sun is not solipsistic. Not locked into an inwards gazing spiral. A dictionary definition tells us that Solipsism is a spiralling madness that no-one else can enter. Theirs is an inclusive madness of serendipitous happenstance. A band where personnel changes are as seamless as flowing water and where the only truly unchanging thing is the name. A band that can appropriate sounds and recreate them into new musical forms and all achieved without fear or favour. Another-world to experience.

The group cited influences as far-flung as Alice Coltrane, Yusef Lateef, Randy Western and Tom Waits. Although the link is possibly fanciful on my part, perhaps the influence Cosmic Jazz/Funk is present, an obscure genre close to my heart. They are chaotic, loose and free atCircling Sun 11-3-2014 074 times; then out of nowhere come tasty arranged melodic heads. Deftly extracted from the frequent mesmerising groove laden vamps.

Cameron Allen should be heard more often in settings like this. He is a gifted saxophonist and winds player with great musical ideas, often imparting a raw energy. He is also drawn to home-assembled electronic wizardry as many in this band are.  Finn Scholes on horns is another who doubles atypically (including tuba, keys and piano). He has recently been overseas and since returning I have seen him perform on a number of occasions.  His articulation is always interesting and he has a rich sound. Tinged with the vibrato of the mariachi trumpet. A sound which he owns and one that fits the bands vibe perfectly.  Circling Sun 11-3-2014 070

Neil Watson like Cameron Allen is a mainstay of this band. His classic fender, augmented lately by pedal steel guitar. The latter adding colour and texture and above all adding that warm embracing feel of country. Anyone who has followed Frisell’s journeys, fusing Jazz with country americana will get this. Rui Inaba on bass is often encountered with Watson and frequently in this lineup. Here he sits solidly at the heart of the storm, maintaining the rhythmic groove unfazed.  Circling Sun 11-3-2014 062The most powerful presence is drummer Julien Dyne. A versatile gifted artist who has travelled and recorded widely. His beats while often referencing his multi genre background, urge the band to greater heights. It is a privilege to see drummers of this calibre and I hope that he continues with open-ended Jazz projects like this. I have heard him on numerous occasions and I like what I hear.  As a unit, this combination takes no prisoners and the audience were glad of it. The first guest to join them was J Y Lee who quickly settled in on baritone saxophone. He often plays with the Circling Sun and is a popular addition.Circling Sun 11-3-2014 075During the second set a great gig got even better. Jonathan Crayford arrived and without too much persuading, sat in on piano. This was met with obvious delight by the audience, as Crayford is extremely popular. He knew none of the tunes as they were mostly originals and there was virtually no sheet music to guide him. It didn’t matter. Someone would announce the key and then a few chords in he would locate the heart of the tune. A musician of his experience and gifts is no stranger to situations like this. The audience, clearly wild about the gig, were by now whooping with enthusiasm between numbers. When Crayford sat in they felt like they’d won the lottery. He doesn’t get home often, but improvised music fans are eager to soak up what ever they can get of him.

Who: Circling Sun – Cameron Allen (tenor sax, flute, keys, doogan), Finn Scholes (Trumpet, Flugel, tuba, Piano, Keys), Neil Watson (Fender guitar, pedal steel guitar), Rui Inaba (upright bass), Julien Dyne (drums, electronics) – guests: Jonathan Crayford (piano, keys), J Y Lee (alto sax, baritone sax).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland 11th March 2015

Jonathan Crayford @ CJC

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Jonathan Crayford has long intrigued me as a musician so I make a point of catching him when the situation presents itself.  He’s an artist embedded so deeply within his music that his persona reflects in those terms.  It’s as if he were the embodiment of sonic shapes and forms.

I have seen him perform on a number occasions but there’s no second guessing what will materialise on any given night.  His experiences in music lead him in many directions and all of them interesting.  While some describe him as genre busting, I think the descriptor is overly simplistic.  I have heard him perform a killing version of, “I Pity the Poor Immigrant” (Bob Dylan).  Yes, he appropriates the sounds about him and often performs with artists from outside of the Jazz spectrum, but at heart he’s an improvising musician.  No matter what notes he plays you can feel the integrity; the perpetual questioning of a deep level interpreter.  IMG_9576 - Version 2

For the CJC gig he showcased a folder of new tunes; the charts interpreted by a six piece band that he had assembled for the gig.  As he explained, “this band is work shopping some new ideas which I will record later in Europe”.  The numbers were all in extended form, giving the musicians space to develop the themes and ideas.   Many of the tunes began and ended with a percussive vamp and as a groove established the horns congas, bass and drums swelled the sound.   The textures and complex layers of sound created an implied centre over which the soloists improvised.  Watching over this was the leader, a benevolent presence who knew just when exhort, when to extend or curtail a solo and when to pull the explorations back to the head.  The tune titles where intriguing also; ‘Groove 21’, ‘Strange Tune’ and others which told a more cerebral story.

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‘Bruno’s Dream’ in particular piqued my interest.  Jonathan Crayford has worked extensively on film scores and his association with the actor/musician Bruno Lawrence gives us the context for this piece.  After Bruno’s passing Jonathan dreamed this tune, a kaleidoscope of images as imagined through Bruno’s eyes.  This is wonderful expansive music and the band entered into the spirit of it.  As with all dreams the evolving and often surreal story has several parts.  In this piece we saw the best of Crayford’s keyboard artistry and writing skills.  There were solid solo performances by Kim Patterson on valve trombone and Finn Scholes on trumpet.  Kim Patterson is the elder statesman here, having recorded over his long career with most of the luminaries of New Zealand Jazz.    The last section of the tune, an intense modal sequence was a gift to Scholes, who grabbed the opportunity with glee mining it convincingly for all it’s worth (echoes of ‘Teo’).  IMG_9494 - Version 2

Early in the second set a brief change in pace occurred, when we heard a duet between Crayford and Patterson.  They performed the only standard of the evening, the gorgeous ‘Old Folks’ (Robison).  It lived up to its heart-string tugging potential.  At the end satisfied sighs were heard from the audience.  Piano and valve trombone work extremely well together and I was briefly minded of the duet recordings between Bob Brookmeyer and others.  IMG_9584 - Version 2

Having both traps drums and congas was integral to the sound as they added heft and edge.   On traps was Julien Dyne, an energetic and multi faceted drummer who has worked previously with Jonathan Crayford ( ‘Pins & Digits’ – Dyne’s album).   On congas (and facing the band) was Miguel Fuentes, a highly experienced percussionist who never flagged during the long and energised grooves.  The remaining band member was Chip Matthews on electric bass.  His presence was integral to the mix and he managed to provide  both an anchor and groove lines without crowding out the others.  The sound scape was dense at times and intentionally so, but the overall momentum was never lost.   With Jonathan Crayford at the helm this is hardly surprising.

The other departure from the format occurred when Jonathan invited Miles Crayford to sit in for a number.   Miles a pianist and keyboardist also, came to wider attention when he participated in Reuben Bradley’s award-winning ‘Resonator’ album.

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If you ask Jonathan Crayford where he lives now you will get vague answers.  He lives where the current project is happening and where the music is.   For the next two month’s he’ll be gigging around New Zealand and then returning to New York to mix and master his next album (with the well-known New York bassist Ben Street and drummer Dan Weiss).  The album is intriguingly named ‘Dark Light’.  Crayford tells me that he wrote the music during a long winter sojourn in London, where the seemingly endless days of low light are commonplace.  Having lived in London I understand this focus with radiating light.  The interplay and intensity of light occupies your thoughts there as it never does in sunnier climes.

If you Google this artist you’ll notice that he’s recorded as ‘currently living’ in Spain or Paris; throw in London and New York and the picture becomes a little clearer.   This is a musician chasing the music and living in the moment.  In Spain he records two solo albums, in New York trios and a sextet and then on to new projects in other cities.   We gladly claim him as an expat Kiwi but in reality he’s a citizen of the world.

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Who: Jonathan Crayford (piano, keyboards, compositions, leader), Kim Patterson (valve trombone, percussion), Finn Scholes (trumpet), Miguel Fuentes (percussion), Chip Matthews (electric bass), Julien Dyne (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland.  19th February 2014

Jonathan Crayford albums (and streamed samples) are available from his website, Rattle or iTunes –  jocray.com