I suspect that Blue Train has a following way beyond the traditional Jazz audiences and I can understand why. Their hard-driving funk laden grooves are impossible to resist and so people tend to flock to any Blue Train gig. Their audience occupies a broad age spectrum. Blue Train mostly plays music that you can dance to and just occasionally the set list includes some Jazz space funk. I’m a huge fan of this type of tripped out Jazz fusion, so if you like this sub-genre then find yourself some Blue Train recordings. There is of course much more to Blue Train than Funk Fusion and their Jazz chops show in everything that they do. Only highly competent Jazz musicians can play like this and only talented experienced musicians can write the material Alan does. This band is an Auckland cultural institution, they are jaw droppingly good and that’s why people love them. The Blue Train gigs are rare these days, as the band members all have other projects on the go. Any whisper of gigs should put an urgent blip across your radar. Tip: they will be at the Waiheke Jazz Festival this year – be there.
The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) filled to capacity on the night and they soon stood three deep at the bar. Blue Train was here again – the word had travelled.
Post millennium Jazz is a broad church and the younger audiences (and a few older ones like me) find this exciting. Blue Train has been around for more than 20 years and in spite of a few attempts to pension the band off, the fans just wont let it die. As a part of New Zealand’s improvised music heritage it deserves our ongoing support and respect. Don’t for a minute expect a mere cover band recycling the glory days. Blue Train are wisely resistant of resting on their laurels and after the ‘head’ of a tune they unravel the material in new and interesting ways. They play older material and new. Alan Brown’s compositions just keep on coming and they get better and better. He is a seasoned performer and his keyboard skills will always astound. As you listen you will hear new ideas being tried and old ideas being turned on their head. He is widely acknowledged as a great keyboardist but his piano skills are also considerable. This was very evident on the 6th of March 2013.
It was obvious that the band were thoroughly enjoying themselves and they stretched out as the tunes unfolded. The CJC gig edged closer to its Jazz roots than would have been the case at Deschlers in the 90’s. Those in the line up were mostly veteran band members, but there were some newer additions. Dixon Nacey on guitar has played with Alan for years and he has previously appeared in Blue Train line ups. He does not however go back as far as Jason Orme (drums) or Steve Sherriff (tenor and soprano saxophones). The newer band member is Karika Turua (electric bass).
Having Dixon Nacey in any band is always a treat and I always watch as his eyes fix on the other musicians – exhorting them to challenge him. He listens carefully to what is unfolding and is always ready to back someone up or to step out with new ideas. This is invariably done with a mile-wide grin and the looks of delight when he and Alan lock into an exchange is priceless. As on his three previous gigs, he had his gorgeous Godin Guitar with him and once again I will confirm that this is a match made in heaven.
Many of the Blue Train musicians have contributed compositions over time and Steve Sherriff deserves special mention there. He is well rounded horn player who can fit seamlessly into many situations (big band, straight ahead Jazz or funk). His tenor and soprano work were especially captivating on this gig and when he and Dixon played unison lines it was hard to believe that there was not an additional horn in the line up. Before the gig I ran into my niece and told her that it was nice to see her in the club. She then told me that a former teacher of hers was in the band. Who’s that I asked. “Mr Sherriff” she said. When I saw her later she summed up her impression “Wow who knew he played like that”. He does.
Jason Orme worked the grooves with finesse and enthusiasm and he knew how to play to the room. The same applies to Karika Turua who dug into serious grooves that echoed in your mind for days afterwards.
The sound levels were just right for the club and this is where the bands experience played a part . Some younger (and a few older musicians) forget to adjust their volume to the room and the CJC is lively; especially if the drums and bass are overly loud. Being professionals – Alan and Ben McNicoll (CJC sound and IT) got the job done properly.
What and Who: ‘Blue Train’ – Alan Brown (keys), Steve Sherriff (saxes), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Karika Turua (electric bass), Jason Orme (drums).
When: Wednesday 6th March 2013
Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club) – basement of the 1885 building Brittomart