CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Millenium, Straight ahead

James Wylie/Miles Crayford Group

 

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James Wylie last passed through Auckland in late 2012 when he played two gigs at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club).   A gifted alto saxophonist who doubles on clarinet, he has always been popular here.  In his travels around the world, his natural creativity has found endless new avenues for expression, examining, dissecting and assimilating the sounds around him.   What you get from Wylie is authenticity, an authenticity fuelled by indigenous music, country music, his own imaginings and all through a Jazz lens.    Last time he appeared, Greek singer Egli Katsiki accompanied him for two numbers.   This time we were again treated to some improvisations around traditional Greek melodies and to my delight a particularly lovely medieval Arab melody.  This interface between the ancient streams of Mediterranean music and Jazz is one that I am always up for, but seldom get a chance to hear in New Zealand.  Wylie is these days a resident of Greece.

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The co-leader Miles Crayford, now based in Auckland, has appeared at the CJC several times in recent months.  An interesting pianist and composer who compliments Wylie in unexpected ways.  This meeting of musical minds stimulated both artists.   The bass player was Mostyn Cole, but Crayford’s usual drummer, the Wellington based Reuben Bradley was replaced by Ron Samsom.  While all respected musicians in their own right, putting such combinations together is not in itself a guarantee of success.   In this case it worked well.   I like Reuben’s drumming enormously, but Ron Samsom gave the lineup an unusual colour that would not otherwise have been there. Samsom can draw on an endless array of styles, in each case arriving at a feel that is indispensable to the improvisers around him.   Like Wylie and Crayford, Cole contributed an original composition or two.   Cole is also based in Auckland these days and that is our gain.  He often incorporates passages of arco bass into his arrangements, perhaps more so than his local contemporaries.  IMG_1438 - Version 2 (1)

The musical connection between Crayford and Wylie was obvious, with the deliciously dark voicings of the pianist giving the alto player much to work with.   The first tune up titled ‘Taniwha’ (Crayford), set the tone for the evening.   A compelling tune with a melodic head, opening out to reveal depth upon depth.   In the second set Wylie showcased some traditional Greek tunes, unmistakable as to their origin, but somehow imparting a hint of that familiar Kiwi sound.  Kiwi musicians are reflections of our national character,  often excelling at what they do but seldom acknowledging their achievements.  Many are deliberately self-effacing, only letting their music speak for them.  Telling their stories in other ways is a writers job.

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I enjoyed this band and judging by the enthusiastic applause, so did the audience.   There was a time when I dreaded our more talented improvising musicians moving overseas as it felt like a loss.   Now I think differently.  Every-time James Wylie, Jonathan Crayford or Mike Nock returns home they bring back something new.   Nothing is ever lost if we listen properly and keep supporting the music.  These musicians and the many students who tread the same path are our legacy; where ever they live.  IMG_1417 - Version 2

Who: James Wylie/Miles Crayford Group.  – James Wylie (alto saxophone), Miles Crayford (piano), Mostyn Cole (bass), Ron Samsom (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Brittomart, Auckland, New Zealand.   http://www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

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CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians

P J Koopman quartet (with James Wylie)@ CJC

P J Koopman and Thomas Botting joined the ‘music drain’ exodus to Australia two years ago but Auckland still draws them back from time to time.  When they do return they are always booked at the CJC Jazz Club and this invariably draws old friends and new.   PJ Koopman is one of those guitarists who makes it look easy, but like all dedicated musicians he works extremely hard at his craft.  The CJC gig on the 3rd of October featured many of the fast flowing post bop tunes that PJ excels at, but there was something else in the mix.  His repertoire soon expanded to include some country tinged material of the sort Bill Frisell and Bruce Forman exemplify and while there were only two such numbers, it gave the evening a flavour that it would otherwise not have had.  This had the feel of an interesting project in the making.  

Thomas may not have put on any physical weight but he has certainly beefed up his compositional credentials .   After a week of listening to Americana just prior to returning to New Zealand, he has composed a tune, which I will now include as a You Tube clip.   This is a great composition and one which they executed well.   The tune called ‘Wylie Coyote’  had been written to honour alto saxophonist James Wylie, who joined the band for this one gig.   James is an ex-pat Kiwi who lives in Thessaloniki Greece and was due to return there within hours of the gig finishing.   James is well-known for his oblique takes on country tunes and so this title was appropriate on so many levels.   His out of left field rendition of Wichita Lineman is a perennial favourite.  

P J Koopman was exactly the right guitarist to tackle this tune and I’m certain Thomas had that firmly in mind when he composed it.  I had not heard PJ do this type of material before, but the fact that he did it so well is scarcely surprising.   He has open ears, good mentors, great chops and above all taste.   His Frisell like slurred chords portrayed the roots of the genre (and perhaps his other influences); but without sacrificing his originality.  The other country tune was the gorgeous ‘Tennessee Waltz’ and the first few chords took me back to a film I saw in the 70’s.  Antonioni’s movie Zubritzki Point was a portrayal of the youth counterculture and its soundtrack has outlived the popularity of the movie.  The soundtrack featured Pink Floyd (‘Heart Beat Pig Meat’ – who could forget the exploding food in slow motion), The Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia solo (playing etherial improvised licks while the actors writhed in a strange love-making frenzy which stirred up lots of desert dust).  best of all was the version of Tennessee Waltz which twanged out sweetly while tumbleweeds blew past a silent desert bar.    This track conjured up all that happy madness again and this is the power of good music.  

The drummer on the gig was Andrew Keegan, who has recently moved up from Christchurch to Auckland .   Andrew is an invaluable asset to the Auckland scene.   ‘Wylie Coyote’ was in 4/4 time but the feel was different because of the way the beats were accented.   Andrew handled his traps like he had been playing with these cats for months.   Nice work all round.

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Fusion & World, USA and Beyond

James Wylie & Friends@CJC

James Wylie is a respected saxophonist, clarinetist and composer who has played, studied and taught all over the world. He initially studied in Wellington where he attended the New Zealand School of Music. One and a half years ago he moved to Berlin and soon after that to Thessaloniki in Greece.

Those reading the CJC webpages eagerly look out for returning expats, as they very often bring new ideas back with them while still retaining a core of that ‘New Zealand sound’. James played alto saxophone on this gig and he demonstrated why the alto is rapidly becoming a popular instrument again. For years the popularity of the alto waned but happily that is no longer the case. Improvised music often gives the impression of being a ‘blue skies’ horizon where no boundaries exist. All freedom comes from discipline and it is the knowledge of what works best in a given situation that marks players apart. Chops count but musical taste counts too. James showed an intuitive understanding of this.

Tonal and textural contrasts add considerable depth to a performance and in this we were well served. We not only heard the multiple facets of James Wylie’s tasteful alto playing, but we benefited from the addition of Roger Manins tenor. This was a double dose of saxophone magic. The quartet was completed by two Christchurch expats, Richie Pickard on upright bass and Andrew Keegan on drums.

While their first number ‘The Mooche’ (Ellington) got our attention, the second number ‘Just in Time Contrafact’ (Wylie) simply demanded it. It was an outright cooker. Roger Manins particularly shines in these situations and as he and James worked the changes and stretched out, there were enthusiastic cheers from the audience. The sets contained a couple of originals, some well-known standards and seldom played tunes by Jazz greats like Monk. Best of all were the tunes we have never heard in a Jazz setting. ‘Wichita Lineman’ (Campbell-Webb) – [It is a little known fact but Glenn Campbell was one of the original Beach Boys], ‘I can’t help falling in Love With You’ (Elvis) , and a memorable version of the standard ‘For All We Know’.

Nat Cole and Billie Holliday sung this so memorably (and hauntingly) that post 50’s bands often shied away from it. That is a pity because it can still evoke all of the emotions that made it a popular classic. The band approached it in the way that the late 50’s piano-less quartets did. Playing contrapuntally while extracting the maximum beauty from the melody. In this style of playing the bass is pivotal and Richie Pickard was perfect.

While the horns naturally took centre stage I never-the-less had my attention drawn to drummer Andrew Keegan again and again. The quality of New Zealand drummers often amaze and Andrew is a traps player I will keep an eye on. He is not overly busy but he has an in-the-pocket propulsive style. He listens carefully to what the others are doing and reacts in kind.

The last portion of the second set featured James interpretations of traditional Greek songs. My love of Mediterranean infused Jazz is constant and hearing Greek music was a treat. James interpreted the lovely melodic tunes (in crazy time signatures) with an ease that can only signify his deep interest in this music. In this portion he accompanied Greek singer Egli Katsiki. Her voice while a little soft at times resonated perfectly with the keening alto and between them they reached deep into the hearts of the spellbound listeners.

It was nice to have James here and I am keen to see where his musical journey takes him next (back here soon I hope).