CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Groove & Funk, New Zealand Jazz Gigs, Review

Alan Brown@CJC (KMC Live launch)- C3 organ/guitar/drums

Alan Brown & C3

When ever Alan Brown brings a band to the CJC, the club fills to capacity.  Alan is well-known, deeply respected and he swings like crazy.  The ‘KMC Live’ release was always going to be a significant musical occasion, but on this night the sparks of inspiration flew between the band members and we witnessed something transcendent .  This was an incendiary gig that lifted our spirits; causing us to tap our feet uncontrollably and for some, to dance with abandon in the flickering shadows.   Alan had arrived earlier in the day, because dragging a heavy C3 organ down into a basement presented challenges.   The patience of Job and the strength of Hercules are required.  These wonderful organs with their bass pedals, wood-paneled console and double keyboard have probably caused preachers to swear when moving then.   It would not surprise me if some elected to rebuild the church round the organ rather than drag it up front.  It is our gain entirely that Alan achieved the translocation.   Hearing the wonderful bluesy phrases flow effortlessly from his fingers as they flew over the keyboards and seeing his feet pedaling out compelling bass lines was a rare treat.

Josh Sorenson

Dixon Nacey is without a shadow of doubt one of the best guitarists in New Zealand and it is a joy to watch him solo and interact with the other musicians.  During solos he will often close his eyes while weighing up the next step and his facial expressions reveal his commitment to the process as he dives ever deeper into the tune.  It is also a revelation to watch him in call and response situations.    When he and Alan are batting each other ideas, this often turns into good-natured un-armed combat.    Dixon watches intently while waiting for a challenge.  Occasionally calling to the others as if to say, “do your worst”.  When a musical phrase is tossed into the air he will smile gleefully and pounce on it, turning it about until it is fashioned into a thing of his own.  Josh Sorenson proved to be the perfect groove drummer as he locked down the beat and pulled the unit together.    This type of drumming requires specialist skills and Josh most certainly possesses these.

Tonight was the launch of Alan’s album ‘Live at the KMC’.   This was recorded at the Kenneth Meyers Centre back in September 2010 and choice of venue was fortuitous.    The venue is of historic importance as it has nurtured radio and TV in its infancy.    It is now part of the Auckland University School of Music (Creative Arts Section).  An acoustic gem.  Alan had recorded this gig thinking only that it could prove useful as a private resource.   One listen convinced him that he needed to release the material at some future date.

The set list at the CJC gig (and on the album) was a mix of Alan’s original tunes with three standards thrown in.   The standards  were ‘Maiden Voyage‘(Herbie Hancock) and ‘All Blues‘ (Miles Davis) and ‘Chank’ (John Scofield) – all arranged by Alan.   The rest of Alan’s compositions were; ‘Mr Raven’ (from the Blue Train days), ‘Charlie’s Here’, ‘Shades of Blue’, ‘In Fluence’, ‘Slight Return’, ‘Inciteful’.    ‘Shades of Blue’ was the best known of the originals while Alan’s interpretation of ‘Maiden Voyage’ was delightfully brooding and moody.  It was a nice take on this well-loved tune.  If I had to choose which of the tunes I liked best however I would probably say ‘Inciteful’.   This was played in extended form and it teased every ounce of inventiveness and musicianship out of the band.

On this night the stream of ideas kept coming, as fresh musical vistas were revealed.   Each one holding us in suspense until the next gem appeared.  This was organ/guitar/drum music at its best; intelligent, highly charged and full of joyous abandon.  A groove jazz trio of the sort you might find in East Philly or Montreal had been formed on our own doorstep.  This gig took place at the Creative Jazz Club (CJC) in Auckland New Zealand on the 18th April 2012

Dixon Nacey
Post Millenium, Review

Zoo: Tom Dennison

‘Zoo’ is bassist Tom Dennison’s first album as leader and it is a thing of beauty. This is a concept album and such albums focus around a theme. The very best of them stimulate the imaginings as well; leading the listener into subtle dreamscapes that can shift and change endlessly. ‘Zoo’ does that.

Five of the seven tracks are named after animals, but we get no sense that these are the anthropomorphic playthings of humans. The Stingray, Owl, Llama, Cat and Antelope all gain distinct lives of their own; that not withstanding the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The first thing that the purchaser will notice is the exceptional art-work & design (by Caravan + Vivienne Frances Long). While the album can be purchased as a download, it would be a shame to miss out on the 3-fold cover or the best fidelity option. Every part of this album belongs together and perhaps that is its genius.

Once again the Auckland Jazz scene has surpassed itself and with these musicians it is hardly surprising. I know and admire most of the band members and Tom could hardly have picked better. There are a number of firsts as far as I can see and this being Toms debut album, the most obvious one. I have seen Tom Dennison play around town, but the first time I saw him was at an ‘Alan Broadbent‘ concert in the Auckland town hall. When the trio played ‘My Foolish heart‘ I could imagine Scotty La Faro nodding in approval – so perfectly did Tom execute the piece. He also played with pianist Mike Nock and not long after that went to New York to study with Larry Grenadier and the equally renowned Kiwi Bass player Matt Penman. It was after this sabbatical that he returned home to work on the ‘Zoo’ album and the results of his efforts are available for all Jazz lovers to enjoy. With chops and writing skills like this he was never going to disappoint.

I am pleased that the album features the New Zealand born but Sydney based pianist Steven Barry on piano. He is an astonishing musician and to have him recorded this well is pure bliss. While comparisons are often odious I cannot help but place him stylistically somewhere between Steve Kuhn and Brad Mehldau. When he played at the CJC a few months ago he floored us all. Those that knew him nodded with an “I told you so” look – while those who were less familiar became fans for life. This guy can breathe new life into any old warhorse and his own compositions amaze. He is a shaman of the keyboard and a perfect foil for the other players. He demonstrates this time and again as the album unfolds.

We also get to hear him in trio format on the final track. ‘The secret life of Islands‘ is intensely beautiful and it leaves you wanting more. This is the perfect bookend to the album. Introducing a song about an Island rounds off the ‘Zoo’ concept perfectly and gives it another Kiwi reference point. In my view the song could not have been written by anyone other than a Kiwi.

Also appearing is the gifted and much admired guitarist Peter Koopman Jr. Peter is both tasteful and innovative on this album and his long intelligent probing lines mark him out as a born improviser. His maturity as a player is more than evident here. Sadly for us he is to depart for Sydney in a week and that is Australia’s gain.

The veteran of the lineup is Roger Manins and he always pleases. We have come to expect Roger to play like there is no tomorrow and to play what is appropriate to whatever lineup he is in. On this recording he gives us his best and that is most evident on the ballad (track 5). Any song called the ‘The cat’ was always going to work for me and I was especially pleased with this composition. Roger plays this so convincingly that it sounds like a much-loved and familiar tune. That is also due to the skill of the writing.

The drummer Alex Freer is the remaining quintet member. I have not seen him play live, but he is like his band-mates, perfectly suited to the job in hand. I realise now that Alex, Tom, Peter and Steven have played together for a long time, because You Tube clips show them performing in their mid teens.

This album is New Zealand’s own version of ‘Empyrean Isles‘ and like Herbie’s album I am hoping that a ‘part two’ will be recorded someday . Perhaps featuring a rare and secretive pelagic bird like the New Zealand Storm Petrel?. Those particular birds were hidden in plain view and lived a secret life on nearby islands for 100 years. This album has been discovered from the moment of its inception and it will hopefully suffer no such fate.

Once again thanks to Rattle Records’ and to Steve Garden for recording this so beautifully. Order from http://www.rattlejazz.com

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs

Trudy Lile Quintet – CJC

Trudy Lile Quartet @ CJC

Trudy Lile is well-known around the New Zealand music scene as her multi genre flute playing skills take her into a number of diverse musical worlds.

On Wednesday she brought her new Jazz Quintet to the CJC . The lineup was: Trudy Lile (flute, vocals, leader), Kevin Field (piano), Andrea Groenewald (guitar, vocals), Jo Shum (bass) and Steve Harvey (drums). Many will already be familiar with her Latin/Jazz ‘Mojave’ Quartet. The only carry over from Mojave’s line up is the brilliant Auckland pianist Kevin Field. On the ‘Mojave’ ‘Well Dressed Standards‘ CD Trudy sings in addition to her flute work and her voice is well suited to the material she has chosen. Not surprisingly her flute work and singing are slightly more restrained on CD; but when she is playing in a Jazz club there is no hold back.

At the CJC Trudy’s band loosened up as Jazz audiences are used to a freer and more improvisational approach. As the evening progressed we were treated to snatches of overblown flute (often with vocal effects in the style of Sam Most or Rashaan Roland Kirk). The range of flute sounds evoked could shift from smooth-as-silk melodic lower register offerings to peppery high-end declamations that fired up the band. It was obvious that she liked the material she was presenting and that enthusiasm communicated well to the audience.

Unlike Trudy’s recent album (which is all standards), the set list on this night was mainly originals; mixed in with tunes like Herbie Hancock’s ‘Butterfly‘ and ‘Precious‘ by Esperanza Spalding. On those two numbers and others she and Andrea sang in duet and the contrast between their voices gave added colour. The material was beautifully executed and the band worked extremely well together.

Having pianist Kevin Field in a band is always a good thing and especially so where there is a singer to be accompanied. Kevin is not only a trio leader and innovator but he has that rare skill of being the perfect accompanist. Like Laurence Hobgood or Oscar Peterson he can place just the right notes and chords behind a singer while keeping out-of-the-way until his solo. I always enjoy seeing Andrea Groenewald perform and she sung and played well on this night. Her own tune ‘Paint the Sky‘ turned into a tour de force for the band and her guitar solo was a knock out. I have seen this performed a number of times and it keeps getting better, with Trudy’s flute adding new and interesting dimensions. Jo Shum was obviously enjoying herself as well and she and drummer Steve Harvey took some nice solos. Jo Shum (bass) was especially good on ‘Precious‘ (Esperanza Spalding) and the drum work on ‘Beverly ‘(Lile) impressed.

The flute is a relative late comer to Jazz – probably entering the music’s mainstream via its contacts with Latin American music. Frank Wess was one of the earlier practitioners of Jazz flute but names like Buddy Collette, Bud Shank, Sam Most, Rashaan Roland Kirk, Jerome Richardson, Eric Dolphy, James Spaulding and Charles Lloyd have established it firmly in the mainstream. While many of the above were flute specialists they were mostly saxophone players doubling on flute. Many modern practitioners do not double on reeds as the flute is their main axe.

This was a night when the gender diversity and musical diversity of the Auckland Jazz scene was manifest. The Auckland Jazz scene is growing rapidly and as it grows it brings with it maturity that comes from having real choice.

Andrea soloing@CJC - Trudy Lile band

Fig by Trudy Lile

Concerts - visiting Musicians, Fusion & World, Groove & Funk, Post Millenium, USA and Beyond

Herbie Hancock: Chameleon, Headhunter, visionary?

Even before septuagenarian Herbie Hancock rolled into town he had been sought out by most of the mainstream media.    This man fascinates people beyond the Jazz world and I suspect that everyone would give a different reason why.   Herbie is simply larger than life and terminal cool is his brand.   When asked by Lynne Freeman of Radio New Zealand whether he was going to spend the rest of his days fine tuning his impressive musical legacy he surprised her by replying, “Music is what I do but it is not who I am.  I am a human being and I want to work on real issues that effect ordinary people”.   A long time devout Buddhist (as is his close friend and long time collaborator Wayne Shorter) he exudes calm and speaks with commonsense.   Herbie does not buy into his star status; but to others he is never-the-less a living legend.
We could feel the excitement mounting as we waited for the show to begin and then right on 8 pm the lights dimmed and drummer Trevor Lawrence strode onto the stage   He laid down a solid mesmerizing beat until James Genus appeared, who then added to the groove on his electric bass.   Suddenly Herbie was on stage; grinning and bowing to the audience and the fun began.    He looked fit and ready to get-down to it.   The group swiftly ripped into an upbeat, spirited avante guard tinged piece (Actual Proof) that was more Ornette than Empyrean Isles.  I suspect that would have taken many out of their comfort zone and this was clearly the intention.   The mood was well set and throughout the concert Herbie skillfully used tension and release in enumerable ways.   As this amazingly high energy group moved through the varied repertoire you could see the joy on their faces.   James genus seldom took his eyes of Herbie and they played as a single entity.   We got spirited renditions of Hancock classics followed by highly atmospheric tunes (such as Joni Mitchell’s ‘court and spark’ from the Grammy winning ‘River’ album with Wayne Shorter).    ‘Court and spark’ and other songs were sung by the fourth band member, vocalist and violinist Kristina Train.  Her voice was smokey and appealing and the crowd loved her.   We heard a jazz version of Bob Dylan’s ‘the times they are a changing’ and Bob Marley’s ‘Exodus’ accompanied by pre-recorded Sudanese musicians.   ‘It’s 2011’ said Herbie as he pointed to the hard drive at the heart of his system. Herbie Hancock is the undisputed master of electronic keyboards and effects, but on Tuesday he reminded us that he still owned the acoustic piano chair as well.
This was the history of post 50’s Jazz and it was the perfect ethnomusicology lesson.    We heard Irish, African, folk music and classic delta blues but the master’s stamp was on all of it.   This edgy musical journey was still unmistakably Jazz.   In the middle portion of the concert however Herbie played solo piano, taking us on an impressionistic reflective journey through his Maiden Voyage albums.   The band came back to accompany him on ‘Cantaloupe Island’ in what was to end a half hour piano medley, which held every one in awe.  Even ‘Round about Midnight’ got an airing.  Not a sniffle , not a cough, even Keith would have been impressed.   The stuff that I loved best was his Headhunter funk and he swung and grooved that like crazy – deep down grooves played with boundless joyous energy.    At the end of the concert he brought on a visiting group of blues rockers; slide guitarist Derrick Trucks and his wife Susan Tedeschi (a loud singer who sounds a lot like Janis Joplin).      This was pure enjoyment from start to finish and if anyone thought that Jazz was in decline they should have seen the age-range of those present.   The faces of the audience as they came out told the whole story.
Concerts - visiting Musicians, Review, USA and Beyond

Miles: Jack Johnson and Jack DeJohnette

Last night the ‘Dark Magus’ was among us again and what a joyful experience it was.   The DeJohnette band performed the often overlooked ‘Jack Johnson’ music, complete with the famous Jack Johnson film as back drop. The original Miles Davis album had been cut in 1970; not long after the more abstract ‘Bitches Brew’ and just before his free flowing ‘Fillmore’ excursions.   A very different sound was emerging and it is only now being properly evaluated.   Miles wanted to carve a pathway right into the hearts of the younger rock audiences and he achieved that without jettisoning all of his loyal Jazz audience.    At the time of its first release ‘Jack Johnson” alternately shocked or thrilled Miles fans.    The music was most definitely not rock music and if anything it was an edgier avante guard type of Jazz.     The brilliance of its execution and the raw electric energy created new fans to replace the older ones who stopped listing.   The  ‘Jack Johnson’ story-line is fundamentally about the issues of race and achievement against the odds, but there is a thread of good natured humour in this celebration of a likable man.    ‘Jack Johnson’ the soundtrack was pure Miles and pure genius.    It is obvious that Miles saw Jack Johnson as a role model.

A large part of Miles genius was in finding the right musicians and giving them the right push.    This resulted in some of the most successful collaborations in Jazz.   The original ‘Jack Johnson’ was actually a pared back version featuring Miles (t),Steve Grossmnan (ss), Herbie Hancock (ky), John McGlaughlin (g) Michael Henderson (b)Billy Cobham (d) and Brock Petters (v).  The first release was soon followed by ‘The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions’ and we saw a much enriched palette with the additional artists -Jack DeJohnette (d), Wayne Shorter(ss), Bennie Maupin (bcl), Chick Corea & Keith Jarrett (ky), Herbie Hancock (org), Sonny Sharrock (g), Ron Cater, Dave Holland, Gene Perla (b), Airto Moreira (perc), Hermeto Pascoal (v, d).

Last night master drummer Jack DeJohnette  presided over a new and updated version of ‘Jack Johnson’.    His guiding hand as a leader was in evidence every step of the way and with a smaller lineup than the original band he achieved the same result.  It was electrifying from start to finish as the soundscape ranged from the hauntingly beautiful (the boxers loneliness after winning the the world heavyweight title only to be ignored in his own country) to the dissonance  accompanying shocking Klu Klux Klan scenes.     The musicians were almost all multi-instrumentalists and their virtuosity on which-ever axe they picked up was evident.   There were two older musicians, Jack DeJohnette and Bass player, Jerome Harris; The rest were younger and all were very talented.   All respect to Byron Wallen for playing Miles so beautifully but the real accolade must go to Jack DeJohnette .   To see him sitting under a large projected image of Miles was to see see a perfect juxtaposition between past and present.