JCJ ~ Baxendale /Allardice /Lovell-Smith

As our local pandemic restrictions were lifted, so our spirits rose, and the easing brought us, welcome travellers, from Wellington. It felt like our old lives were creeping back, but we should not underestimate how difficult these lockdowns have been for musicians. They are performing again, but with fewer venues, and reduced availability of flights. To top that there is the perpetual hassle of finding affordable accommodation. Because this is a new reality, music lovers need to redouble their commitment; religiously attending gigs, purchasing albums and getting the word about town. Luckily, Jazz audiences get that and there was a solid audience on Wednesday. 

The Band is named JCJ, which may or may not be a play on Auckland’s CJC Jazz Club; it does, however, align with the initials of the co-leaders forenames: Jasmine Lovell-Smith, Callum Allardice and Jake Baxendale. Together they represent a formidable presence on the bandstand with their international experience, various awards and accolades. In addition, the gig leaned heavily on their much-vaunted compositional skills. All have appeared on successful albums but never together as a co-led unit.

The soprano is Lovell-Smith’s primary horn and it shows. She is dextrous and inventive, she conveys deep emotion or surprises, but of equal appeal is her tone. There is a depth to it and because of that, she can move from the reflective to the edgy as naturally as breathing. When you hear her playing a ballad, it is tempting to think, how beautiful — that’s her forte then; but she will play completely free on the next number. I have heard her in a free ensemble and she’s as comfortable there as when tugging at the heartstrings with a lovely folksy ballad. 

Baxendale like his co-leaders is Wellington-based and we have seen him in a variety of visiting bands since the Creative Jazz Club’s earliest days. Aucklanders will likely associate him with ‘The JAC’ ‘Antipodes’ or ‘The Troubles’, but he has fronted or played in a number of Wellington bands. He is primarily regarded as an alto player, but on this gig, he played mainly bass clarinet. The instruments earthy underpinning, providing a lush cushion beneath the airy registers of the soprano and guitar.  

Allardice has had a long and fruitful association with Baxendale. They often share a bandstand, they have toured together, and both have won prestigious awards. I have always liked his tone on guitar, which is best described as silken. The first time I heard him perform there was an unmistakeable Rosenwinkel influence, but now I am hearing an original voice. His compositional skills have always been a forte and these were very much in evidence during this gig. 

The set opened with a gorgeous number by Lovell-Smith. It was titled ‘leaves of grass’ and its Whitman reference was apt. Whitman was the bravest of poets and a favourite with Jazz composers (‘I Sing the Body Electric’ Weather Report or tributes by Fred Hersch). And this was not the only literary reference by Lovell-Smith as a later tune was titled ‘The Pillow Book’ — this had an appropriately Japanese vibe.  Her other tune ‘Song for May’ is a stunner. I have heard it before as it is on her New York album ‘Towering Poppies’.  I would have put it up as a video, but a music stand had obliterated all view of her (note to artists: if you are being filmed, angle the music stands sideways or keep them low).  

Allardice’s compositions were as intriguing as ever, his moody ‘Dark Love’ and especially his upbeat tune with a beautifully memorable intro titled ‘Peaceful’. Baxendale brought some great tunes as well, and as he often does, he injected some off-beat humour. A tune titled ’Sleep (a glimpse of Plimpse)’ recounted a guilt-wracked dream. His tune ‘The Test’ was all that remained, of a failed attempt to break into the fantasy gaming genre (I think that I got that right). It was free-ranging and delightful and I have put that up as a video clip.

The pick-up rhythm section were Aucklanders. All three have been delighting Auckland audiences for years. To have them playing together and bouncing off a Wellington lineup was a rare treat. Firstly, Crystal Choi, who never puts a foot wrong and who is one of Auckland’s most inventive pianists. She is similar to her bass playing friend and bandmate, Eamon Edmundson Wells. Both lean heavily toward the avant-garde. On drums, there was Julien Dyne. Dyne is a powerhouse drummer and his beyond-genre approach allows him to excel in any given situation.  These three are the other reason that I put up ‘The Test’ video clip. This is a space that the Aucklanders relish, and the Wellingtonians matched them note for note. A little freedom never hurts a gig. 

JCJ were Jasmine Lovell-Smith (soprano saxophone), Jake Baxendale (alto saxophone & bass clarinet), Callum Allardice (guitar) with – Crystal Choi (piano), Eamon Edmundson Wells (bass) and Julien Dyne (drums). The gig was held at Anthology, CJC Creative Jazz Club, K’Road, Auckland October 7, 2020.

JazzLocal32.com was rated as one of the 50 best Jazz Blogs in the world by Feedspot. The author is a professional member of the Jazz Journalists Association. Many of these posts also appear on Radio13.co.nz – check it out.

Noveltones & Knotted Throats @ AF

Noveltones (7)There is a world of interesting music happening at the Audio Foundation and this three-set gig exemplified the foundations imaginative ahead of the game programming. The evening featured a cross-section of music from the fully arranged to the unconstrained and free. From the open dialogue of the Knotted Throats to the carefully crafted texturally rich four-piece voicings of a jazz ensemble. Then, and perhaps this is the essence of the programming, the two groups merged and out of that came a declaration. Sound exists without boundaries. The borders and demarcation lines as we organise or sculpt sound are only human constructs and beyond these artificial barriers, the various languages merge. When that occurs music is the richer for it. Improvised music is always on the move and just as post-bop moved seamlessly between free, fusion, hard bop, bop and groove, so the journey continues. Noveltones (3)

The Noveltones are an assembly of gifted equals, collectively shaping sound while expressing individual voices. Soprano saxophonist Jasmine Lovell-Smith, who studied in the USA is at present working toward a doctorate in composition at the NZSM. Bass clarinettist Blair Latham who spent years in Mexico is fluent with many horns. Bass player Tom Callwood (mostly playing arco), who we saw recently with the Melancholy Stinging Babes (a formidable figure on the avant-garde scene), and Tristan Carter, a violinist who rounds off the ensemble sound beautifully. The music initially reminded me of Gunter Schuller’s third stream pieces, but this ensemble is in no way time locked. The principal composer for the first set was Lovell-Smith and her compositional experience was especially evident in the harmonic concepts. There were also compositions by Latham. The pieces often balanced a spiky beauty with voice-led passages. There was also an appealing textural quality. The current ensemble hasn’t yet recorded, but I hope that they do. I have put up a Noveltones sound-clip from the gig.

The second set was another aural feast as it featured Jeff Henderson, Hermione Johnson and Tom Callwood. Henderson (on baritone saxophone) is the heavyweight of the New Zealand avant-garde scene and he never disappoints. There are few musicians who can muster such authority or draw you in as deeply. He taps into the primal essence of sound itself. Johnson is a renowned experimental musician, the foremost voyager with prepared piano, a noted composer and an organist. She is particularly known for her bold originality. Callwood, who we heard earlier, is exactly the bass player you would want in this situation. His gift for adventurous arco and extended technique was put to good use. What we heard were essentially reflective pieces; pieces tailor-made for deep listening and wonderfully mesmerising. As the motifs repeated a brooding presence hung over the room, the voice of unquiet spirits released from constraint. Happily, this is a zone located well beyond the reach of the music police. I found this set profoundly engaging and I count myself lucky to have caught it.

The last set brought both ensembles together and this time with the addition of the gifted drummer and percussionist Chris O’Connor. A great evening of music.

Noveltones (6)

For those keen to hear more of Henderson’s explorations, they can’t go wrong by accessing an album he recorded with Clayton Thomas (bass) and Darren Moore (drums). It is titled, ‘For a Clean Cut – Sharpen the Blade’. This gem was recorded in the basement of an old Auckland Church and it is a cause for rejoicing. If ‘free’ music scares you then this may not be your bag; but if it does, why? Sculpting sound is what musicians do. 

The album is on Bandcamp at iiiirecords.bandcamp.com 

The gig artists were Jasmine Lovell-Smith (soprano saxophone), Blair Latham (bass clarinet), Tom Callwood (upright bass), Tristan Carter (violin), Jeff Henderson (baritone saxophone), Hermione Johnson (prepared piano), Chris O’Connor (percussion) IMG_1256

10th October 2019 Audio Foundation, Auckland Central.

Jasmine Lovell Smith – ‘Yellow Red Blue’

Jasmine 258After years traveling the wider Jazz world,  Jasmine Lovell-Smith came home; launching her latest album ‘Yellow Red Blue’ at the CJC last Wednesday. The Album features a quintet ‘Towering Poppies’; a group she formed in New York over five years ago. Her New Zealand gig featured locals Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Eamon Edmundson-Wells and Chris O’Connor. After her New York release she garnered a number of favourable reviews and no wonder. This is a lovely album, her compositions and arrangements outstanding, the recording immaculate.

Lovell-Smith spent the last seven years in the United States and Mexico. Along the way she studied with the experimentalist, saxophonist and composer Anthony Braxton. When you first listen to ‘Yellow Red Blue’, the wild raspy joyous alto of Braxton is not the first thing that comes to mind. Good musicians, and Lovell-Smith is one, learn from their teachers while transforming the information into something all their own. Lovell-Smith has clearly assimilated a multiplicity of interesting influences. Her beautifully crafted  compositions teeming with ideas.Jasmine 257 Her soprano sound  is warm and enveloping, the cleaner tone of her straight horn nicely counterbalancing with the woody earthiness of the bass clarinet, the well constructed charts coming into their own when these delightful interactions occur. The rich textures are never overwhelming, even when strings enter the mix. This is chamber Jazz at it’s best, engaging the listener without resorting to cliché.

The compositions also travelled well. Wednesday’s gig had a different lineup from the album. Replacing bass clarinet was a tenor saxophone (Manins) and in place of the piano was a Rhodes (Field). Manins is incredibly intuitive in these roles and a hint of that wild (Braxton-like) unconstrained joy was evident. On the head arrangements they were captivating, on the solo’s explorative. Field and Manins are so in tune after years of interaction, that they can push each other to greater heights effortlessly. In spite of such familiarity the two avoided falling into familiar groves, stimulated by the charts and aided by Eamon Edmundson-Wells intuitive bass lines. Edmundson-Wells is a multifaceted bassist and often seen with avant-gardests.Jasmine 256

As a special treat we had the amazing Chris O’Connor on drums. I can never get enough of this guy. He can do anything on traps including hyper subtlety. On the last number of the first set he turned in a solo which was so coherent, so perfect, that the world moved into his orbit. This faster-paced tune ‘A nest to fly’, was from an earlier Lovell-Smith album.

The tunes were all by Lovell-Smith with the exception of Joni Mitchell’s ‘I had a king’. Her arrangement on that teased out fresh ideas. One particular version of that tune always sticks in my mind, the one from ‘The Joni Letters’ (with Shorter & Hancock). This version pleased me for its raw beauty and quiet intensity. The sound-clips posted here are ‘Moving mountains’ from the album and ‘A nest to fly’ from the live gig.

The title track ‘Yellow Red Blue’ is reflective and abstract. It is written in reaction to the Mark Rothko painting of the same name. I have recently been on a modernist painting viewing binge in Europe and America. The bold eerie magnetism of Rothko is still fixed in my mind’s eye, greatly refreshed after this homage. The title ‘Red Yellow Blue’ and the Rothko reference feels appropriate. Neither invite pigeon holing, both draw you deep into a borderless world.IMG_0263.jpg

Lowell-Smith is back in New Zealand to pursue a Doctorate in composition with John Psathas. Her albums are available from www.jasminelovellsmith.com

Towering Poppies: Jasmine Lovel-Smith (soprano, compositions, arrangements), Josh Sinton (bass clarinet), Cat Toren (piano), Adam Hopkins (bass), Kate Gentle (drums). A string quartet features on 3,5 & 7)

Towering Poppies live NZ: Jasmine Lovell-Smith (soprano), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Kevin Field (Rhodes, piano), Eamon Edmundson-Wells, Chris O’Connor (drums). March 15, 2017, CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Thirsty Dog, Auckland.