Against a background of complacency in regard to the ever declining biodiversity on the planet, one band is determined to raise our awareness. Those who have encountered the quartet on prior occasions will know the back story, connect the dots. GRG67 arose out of an impulse of crustacean empathy, an emotion usually confined to marine biologists and not Jazz musicians. However, once you grasp the fact that the band’s founder is Roger Manins, the rest falls into place. A sustainable fisher and co-manager of a small menagerie, Manins could best be described as the David Attenborough of the tenor saxophone. His world is strewn with animals and that’s the way he prefers it.
GRG67 the band, was inspired by a sea crab named Greg (as there are evidently no vowels in the crab language, the name was rendered as GRG – but still pronounced Greg by etymological purists). At the bands inception the improvisational possibilities of the crustacean kingdom were examined, then the net was widened. Wednesday nights gig set sail for chook territory, relentlessly braving the ‘fowl’ winds of the wild west coast. With one or two exceptions, chooks (Gallus gallus domesticus) were eulogised in composition. They were plucked at by Michael Howell and Mostyn Cole, given a thunderous improvisational makeover by Tristan Deck and vocalised in all their glory by Manins.Each tune title was accompanied by a personal story or zoological insight; each bird was treated with deep respect. With titles like ‘chook empathy’, ‘chook 40’, ‘ginger chook’, ‘dark chook sin’ we were afforded some rare insights into the avian world. ‘Chook 40’ was not about the 40th chook as you might suppose. It opened our eyes to the fact that chooks have one more chromosome than humans. During that particular tune you could really sense that extra chromosome. ‘Dark chook sin’ was an invitation to anthropomorphism. What would a chook sin look like? Manins felt that Mallard ducks were more likely to sin than a chook (anyone living near ducks who has a deck will have a view on this). The quartet played with wild enthusiasm in both sets and the good humour of the evening was infectious. Given the subject matter it was only fitting that the gig took place at the Thirsty Dog (dogs are also a recurring theme with Manins). The venue was congenial and the acoustics good. What more could you want on the last night of Spring. This band is a rallying cry, reminding us that in this troubled world we shouldn’t take the good things for granted. At a time when we are buffeted by the ill winds of international politics, the arts matter more than ever. New Zealand Jazz rewards us in so many ways and the diversity of improvised music in our city is a treasure. You get good musicianship and fun combined – and if you’re lucky a musical insight into the natural world around us. I have posted the bands signature tune GRG67 as it simply crackled (cackled) with life (and it broke a previous speed record). These guys are fine musicians and GRG67 was never better than on this night. These guys sizzle.
GRG67: Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Michael Howell (guitar), Mostyn Cole (electric bass), Tristan Deck (drums). Playing at the Thirsty Dog, CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Auckland November 30th 2016.
#JazzApril is International Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) and the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) in Auckland New Zealand has lined up an impressive roster of artists. The opening gig for Jazz April was the acclaimed saxophonist Jamie Oehlers from Perth Australia and the club could hardly have done better than engage this titan of the tenor. Anyone who had heard Jamie Oehlers on previous visits needed no second invitation; the club filled to capacity. Jamie is tall, so tall in fact that I managed to chop off his head while filming the first video clip (having foolishly set up the camera during the sound check when he was not present). In fact everything about Jamie Oehlers is larger than life. His presence fills a room in ways that it is hard to adequately convey. The sound of his tenor has a warm luminous quality about it and it seems to penetrate every nook and cranny of a room; whether playing softly or loudly it reaches deep into your soul.
Two hundred years ago ( November 1814) a young Belgium instrument maker Adolphe Sax was born and in the 1840’s he patented the tenor saxophone. It has gone through relatively few modifications since that time. Fast forward to the Jazz age and the instrument came into its own. Nobody brought the instrument to the wider public’s attention more than Coleman Hawkins and few took it to such dizzying heights as John Coltrane. Listening to Jamie Oehlers perform made me think of the tenor’s history and above all it reconfirmed my deep love for the instrument. Last time he was in Auckland he played ‘Resolution’ from Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’ (it is the 50th anniversary of ALS this year). Among other numbers in the set list this year was Coltrane’s ‘Dear Lord’ (recorded by JC in 1963 but only released in the 1970’s on the ‘Dear old Stockholm’ album). Jamie Oehlers was born to interpret Coltrane and he certainly held our rapt attention last Wednesday.
He had requested the same local musicians for this visit as last time; Kevin Field (piano), Oli Holland (bass) and Frank Gibson (drums). Roger Manins joined the band for the last two numbers and the two tenor masters unsurprisingly wowed everybody by the way they cajoled each other to new heights. There were introspective ballads, freshly interpreted standards and a few fire-breathing fast burners. I filmed quite a few numbers and have posted a duo performance of Mal Waldrons ‘Soul Eyes’ (Jamie Oehlers and Auckland pianist Kevin Field). It is during ballads and especially the slower paced duo numbers that a musician is left naked. No pyrotechnics to hide behind, no lightening strike runs or off the register squawks to dazzle us with. This clip says everything about Oehlers as a man and as a musician. Thoughtful, compelling and always authoritative.
He was right to request Field, Holland and Gibson for this gig. They showed repeatedly that they were up to the task and gave of their best. It is gigs like this that make us proud of our down-under musicians and we know when we hear performances like these that we can hold our heads high in the wider Jazz world. There was no more appropriate gig than this in which to kick off Jazz April. Listen to the You Tube clip and I’m certain that you will agree.
Who: The Jamie Oehlers Quartet – Jamie Oehlers (tenor sax), Kevin Field (piano), Oli Holland (bass), Frank Gibson (drums).
Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Cub), Britomart 1885 basement, Auckland New Zealand, 2nd April 2014