Australian and Oceania based bands, Piano Jazz, Review

Chris Cody – ‘Not My Lover’

Cody CdcoversmallDue to the timing of the Chris Cody album ‘Not My Lover’, some jumped to the conclusion that his Jazz love letter to Paris was in response to the recent atrocities. In fact Cody recorded it well before those tragic events and much to the relief of family and friends he was safely in Australia at the time. The City of Light has the strongest of Jazz associations and Cody captures that intimate relationship perfectly. You can feel the ebb and flow of the city’s life running through his fingertips as he plays. The beauty of the architecture, the elegant Seine, the mad driving through the twisted maze of streets. Through his perceptive lens we gain a sense of the city which for hundreds of years has welcomed visiting creative artists to its heart; regardless of creed or colour. We also catch a fleeting glimpse of the harsher realities hidden behind the gorgeous facade.

Cody is a man of great charm and warmth and the compositions echo his urbane humanity. The album he has crafted is more than a collection of tunes loosely referencing Paris. When you listen carefully you realise that it is a soundtrack for the city; sonic impressionism. His deft pointillism revealing a Paris with its exotic and often troubled connections to North Africa, the complex realities of its political life, its restless intellectualism and the almost mythical sophistication of its women.

On tenor is Karl Laskowski, an important Australian saxophonist who was heard to such great effect on Mike Nocks ‘Hear and Know’ album. Cody albums typically feature the trombone prominently, but this is an exception. The textures are therefore different and in writing for tenor saxophone the piano and horn form an interwoven intimacy. Whereas the trombone is a voice calling up from the streets, the tenor speaks of cafe’s and basement night clubs. On bass is Brendon Clarke who I know best from his association with the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra and tenor player Roger Manins. Lastly there is James Waples on drums. Another highly respected musician and one who regularly features in Nock lineups. This band is the business.

There are ten tracks on the album. Eight by Cody plus ‘I Love Paris’ (Porter) and La Javanaise (Gainsburg). I have heard Cody play ‘I love Paris’ a number of times and the way he voices it and swings puts me in mind of the mature Hampton Hawes (Clarke, Waples and Cody interact so well here).  The title track ‘Not My Lover’ is fabulous, with its sensuous moody introduction overtaken by a lively fast-paced segment which dances and moves delightfully. It is not a big leap to imagine it as the soundtrack for one of those timeless gritty neorealist French movies. Laskowski and Cody stand out here. Lastly I must comment on Cody’s composition ‘For Satie’.  Satie is variously described as the father of modernism, the first minimalist etc. Which ever way people choose to remember him, his avant-garde approach caused a seismic shift in music. In this piece Cody has respectfully captured his essence. Capturing Satie, a man of few notes and delicate sensibilities required good taste and deft touch. That is Cody in a nutshell. Below is the title track ‘Not My Lover’.

Chris Cody (piano, compositions), Karl Laskowski (tenor saxophone), Brendon Clarke (bass), James Waples (drums). – purchase from www.chriscody.com

Australian and Oceania based bands, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians, Straight ahead

Mike Nock’s Australian Trio @ CJC 2013

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A lot’s been written about Mike Nock and he is well recorded.   In spite of this there is so much more to say and the unfolding story has come to define Australasian Jazz.  It would be accurate to describe him as one of the greatest musicians New Zealand has produced, but Mike Nock deserves evaluation on a much wider stage than Oceania.  As lucky as we feel owning him, he is a citizen of the world, highly ranked among the best that global Jazz has to offer.  IMG_8361 - Version 2

This was summed up by one of the audience; an American who has been following the international Jazz Scene for many years.  He shook his head in amazement and said “That was the best performance I have heard in ages”.  He asked about Mike’s history and I gave him a potted version.   “Oh yeah” he said.  “Well all of those years in America have given him that deep blues feel that only top players realise”.

I caught up with Mike before the gig and he was his usual friendly self.   Over dinner there were jokes and numerous war stories.  Because I have attended too many loud gigs my hearing is not quite as good as it was.  At one point the drummer James Waples said something to me which I missed entirely.  I apologised, explaining that my eyesight and hearing were failing me.   Mike leapt on the comment as quick as lightning, saying, “Man don’t worry.  That’s exactly what we like in a critic”.

There was the briefest of discussions between the band members about the set list, which ended in Mike saying, “We’ll figure it out as we go and you’ll know when you hear me start to play”.  While this is not unusual among Jazz musicians, it was evident that Mike would be digging into some obscure and unrehearsed standards during the evening.

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The spirit of Bernie McGann hung over us as he had passed the previous evening.  Mike spoke movingly of him and then he played one of Bernie’s compositions followed by ‘Bernie’s Tune’ (Bernie Miller) and the lovely old standard ‘No Moon at All’ (David Mann).  ‘No Moon at all’ is hardly ever played these days but it was once very popular.  It was famously recorded by Julie London, Nat Cole, Mel Torme and Anita O’Day.  There are more recent versions by Karrin Alyson and Brad Mehldau.  In Mike Nock’s hands this jaunty mid-tempo classic took on a deep bluesy feel and as it unfolded he achieved something that only the Jazz greats can manage.

The tune turned into something else; it was somehow transformed into ‘every tune’.  From the first few bars everyone smiled and many whispered in the dark, “Oh I must know this but I can’t recall the name”.  Like many probing improvisers Mike hummed and sang as he played.  As the piece unfolded something extraordinary happened.  People started quietly humming along with the trio; a deep connection  was made and it was primal.  I’m certain that many in the audience had never heard the tune before, but they thought that they had.   Keith Jarrett has often invoked this state of grace, finding a hidden place deep within the music.  So has Mike Nock.  Several musicians later commented that he had moved in and out of the song form and that the bluesy overlay had been utterly effective.  Another delightful old tune that the trio played was ‘Sweet Pumpkin’ (Ronnell Bright).

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On Drums was James Waples and he certainly lives up to his reputation.   He has featured on several of Mike’s albums and goes back a long way with Mike.   There is a subtlety to his drumming that is hard to put into words.  He is a powerful presence whether executing the softest brushwork or a driving upbeat tempo.  He has a great ear and knows when to push the others or hold back.  He is perfect for a multi faceted piano trio like this and I would go out of my way to hear him again.

Many Kiwi’s have forgotten (and many Australians will deliberately overlook the fact), but Brett Hirst is an expat New Zealander.   He is highly regarded on the Australian scene and like James he has had a long association with Mike.  When these three are in lockstep it is extraordinary.  Like the others Brett is a deep listener and clearly at ease in this open-ended format.  At one point in the program Mike stopped and said, “What shall we play now, something unexpected?”.   Then he added, “Oh I know, I will try this”.   Brett asked hopefully, “Can we know?”  The number had started before an answer could be given and he was immediately there.  Brett was up to handling any curve balls thrown and clearly relished them.

During the second set the trio were ready to take things further out and we sensed that they were in a zone where the communication is telepathic.  It is during these explorations that we see another side of their music.  Every interplay however subtle conveys layers of meaning and the spaces between the notes communicates a profundity.   This is art-music at its very best but for all that it is never far from its blues roots.   I have listened to Jazz across the globe and you would never, never hear better than this.

Who: Mike Nock (piano), Brett Hirst (bass), James Waples (drums).  www.mikenock.com

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Brittomart basement 1885 building, Auckland, New Zealand.

When: 18th September 2013

Australian and Oceania based bands, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Bop, Review

Mike Nock – albums reviewed

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Mike Nock: Hear & Know / Kindred

Mike Nock is always capable of surprising and this has long been his hallmark.  A restless innovator and improviser who never settles on his laurels, Nock is surpassing himself yet again.  ‘Hear and Know’ was recorded in 2011 following his aptly named and deeply satisfying ‘Accumulation of Subtleties’ album.

On ‘Hear & Know’ he is again accompanied by brothers Ben Waples (Bass) & James Waples (drums).  There is an unmistakable synergy between these three and so adding Karl Laskowski (tenor sax) and Ken Allars (trumpet) had its risks.  While there is a different dynamic and altered textural qualities, the magic of intimacy is maintained.   It carries over much of the subtle interplay of the earlier album but creates a different range of moods as well.

I was always impressed by the subtle and profound sub-divisions of mood in the ancient Japanese Haiku.  The almost untranslatable ‘wabi-sabi’ are the moods invoked when we can almost touch something profound, sense it and appreciate the mood, but know that it will be forever illusive.  A further subdivision is ‘yugen’, which is the sense of mystery which underpins profound moments.  To define them more accurately is to lose the moment.    Mike Nock has achieved this for me compositionally and through his recording.   The moods are profound invoking deep and somehow unnamable emotions.

I felt this most strongly on the beautifully named and wonderfully crafted ‘The Sibylline Fragrance’ and later while listening to ‘After Satie’.   In the former piece there was an obvious reference to memory and our sense of smell, which is closely aligned with that.  Beyond that was something else, a sense of the history of this music.  Touching briefly on the past but rooted firmly in the now.   When music achieves this it is especially satisfying.   I have seen the trio performing and I have seen Ken Allars with the wonderful Jazzgroove  Mothership Orchestra.  Karl Laskowski was not previously known to me.   All of these musicians must feel pleased with this album.

‘Kindred’ is the more recent album and one with a pared back line up.  Featuring just Mike Nock on piano and drummer Lorenz Pike, this album seems denser in texture and more introspective.  Lorenz Pike is an interesting drummer and well-chosen; he is obviously colourist in tendency and that is the only choice for this music.  Once again Mike Nock has made a virtue out of contrast.  First impressions are often deceptive though and there is a degree of space and subtlety if we listen.  The stories unfolding are at times free and open but there is always an underlying thread.  The titles also fascinate me as they refer (as with the previous album) to a mixture of things past (references to the classical world), nature untamed and various private worlds.  I am a strong believer that improvised music benefits from narratives, not to define, but to augment the journey.

Mike has created subtle narratives out of the whole, which sit in the consciousness like Haiku.  There is something special about these two albums and I am certain that only Mike Nock could tell these particular stories.

What: Mike Nock – ‘Hear & Know’ and ‘Kindred’ albums FWM Records or visit http://www.mikenock.com

Where: You be able to hear Mike Nock in Auckland on Tuesday 23rd July 2013 at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club).