This is great news Auckland. The inaugural Auckland Jazz Festival opens on the 17th October, followed by 9 days of gigs across town. Put together by Ben McNicoll and the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) team, which guarantees the excellence and diversity in programming. A number of bars have enthusiastically come onboard and Jazz lovers should reward their commitment. Because there are smaller venues or bars in the mix there will be some gigs with no cover charge, while others will charge a modest entry fee. For pricing, bookings and programming visit the Auckland Jazz Festival website (below). The headline gigs will be held at the CJC with the Mike Nock Trio (Australia) appearing on Tuesday 21st October, followed by the Benny Lackner Trio (Germany/USA) 22nd October and Francisco Torres/Roger Fox (USA/New Zealand) on the 23rd.
It would be crazy to miss any of these three gigs, in fact hire a babysitter or cat minder and cancel anything that gets in the way. I know that I will endeavour to catch as many gigs as I can. If this is well supported it will likely become a feature of the Auckland City arts calendar. The gigs vary in style with each unique in some way. Opening the festival at the ‘Portland Public House’ Kingsland is Wellington’s, fabulously wild anarchic band ‘The Troubles” (who I can’t wait to see again). There are also offerings from the early swing era, groove funk, experimental improv and more besides.
An Auckland Jazz Festival of this sort is long overdue and sensibly it’s run along the lines of a fringe festival. There are no big sponsors calling the shots, which means that the choice of artists is in the hands of the organisers. In the absence of any taint of commercialism you can expect edge, cool and excellence. Think of it as a crowd sourced festival in which you have a vital part to play. I have attended Jazz festivals run along these lines before and I prefer them, as they offer intimacy and a listening experience which you just can’t find in the larger venues. The Montreal ‘L’Off’ festival immediately comes to mind. It is important that we show our support by attending as many gigs as we can and don’t forget to visit the web site and ‘like’ the various gigs on offer (you know the drill, it is an important indicator of support). The organisers and venue’s have put time and money into this and all we need to do is attend and enjoy ourselves. Let’s show them that we appreciate it and put to bed the tired old myth that Auckland never gets behind the arts – see you all there.
An array of guitar pedals is sometimes deployed to hide a multitude of sins, but in the hands of a skilful improviser the opposite occurs. Yeahyeahabsolutelynoway! illustrate the best of modern guitar work as they invoke past, present and future. Their gigs feature their own compositions, with performances drawing upon influences as diverse as rock, country, experimental improvised music and traditional Jazz. They juggle these competing influences skilfully while still imparting a surprising degree of subtlety. I have sometimes seen Jazz guitar traditionalists roll their eyes at the sight of pedals, but I would respectfully suggest that they haven’t been paying proper attention to their Jazz history.
Everyone from Charlie Christian onwards embarked upon a never-ending quest to change, modify, enhance and above all to extend their sound options. Without those open skies explorers and without enhancements, the use of the guitar in boisterous Jazz lineups would have reached its high-water-mark with Freddie Green. I love Freddie Green with a passion but the guitar is about more than chords. Almost every instrument used in Jazz today is modified or extended in some way. Putting a trumpet through a pedal and working in real-time with loops created by multi phonic effects does not mean that the musician is cheating. It must be about integrity and the sound. Beneath the right fingers improvisational integrity and storytelling always come to the fore. Yeahyeahabsolutelynoway! understand that.
‘Yeahyeahabsolutleynoway’ are the latest addition to the impressive Rattle Records stable. On the 16th July they did an album release gig at the CJC and for those who braved the winter night it was a treat. I had listened to the album in advance and so I knew what to expect, but to see them in action held a few surprises for me. I had wrongly imagined that there would be pre-recorded loops but this was strictly live music. Every effect we heard was created in realtime, with the constant adjustments from both guitarists giving them an immense palette to work with. If the sound scape was impressive the tunes were even more so.
There is something special going on with Australian guitarists at the moment and this band and ‘The Grid’ are occupying a unique space in the antipodean Jazz spectrum. In the case of ‘yeahyeahabsolutelynoway’ there is no bass guitar, not even a five string. It is not that unusual to see two six string jazz guitars together in a trio with drums. What is more unusual is when neither of them takes on the traditional rhythm duties. These guys were often working the same space, swapping lines or converging on a passage to create a subtle filigree. While they worked as equals, they never appeared to intrude or crowd in on the other, so attuned they were. Their focus was always on the subtleties of the music and this made for a good listening experience. On a beautiful Ibanez solid body guitar was James Brown, who looked more like a member of ‘Z Z Tops’ than his namesake. On a classy looking blond Fender Tele was Sam Cagney. Both could be seen crouching at various times throughout the sets, as they coaxed beguiling sounds out of the pedals and all the while playing on through. The drummer Stephen Neville was vital to the mix and created a seamless flurry of beats or subtle whispers on brushes as required. It would be hard for me to pin down his drum style other than to say that it was effective and impressive.
The tunes in the set list and on the recording were varied in approach. A fun number is the rock influenced ‘Why Sleep?’ When I put the album on at home my partner Darien immediately replayed ‘Why Sleep over and over. It is the one to hook you and draw you in. I liked the Americana feel of ‘Down home’. It wouldn’t have been at all out-of-place on a Bill Frisell album. The album was recorded live in Adelaide South Australia where the bands originates from. Rattle is definitely on a roll this year (yeah, shake rattle & roll) and as the label goes from strength to strength, the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) and the Jazz audiences benefit. Keep them coming Steve Garden!
A foot note: I see that Columbia University is now running a Computer Science course on programming for Jazz Musicians. As Melhdau and others increasingly follow the footsteps of Herbie Hancock in using programmable devices to extend their range, such courses can only grow in number. Don’t be too dismayed, this is improvised music folks! Jazz will strike out in any direction that musicians take. It is up to us to keep up.
Who: yeahyeahabsolutelynoway! – James Brown (guitar, effects) Sam Cagney (guitar, effects), Stephen Neville (drums & cymbals)
Jazz was famously described by Whitney Balliett as the ‘sound of surprise’. This is at the very essence of improvised music as it strives to unravel, reveal, polish and at times shock. What you think you know is often challenged and this confrontation is the primary role of art and improvised music. When a familiar tune is reinterpreted and presented afresh it’s pleasing (if done well), but there are many ways that music can surprise. What we sometimes hear is an aggregation of profound subtleties and that is harder to define. We need ears attuned to nuance and a memory capable of recalling just what has preceded these vignettes. It is in these less obvious corners that we often find the most profound of revelations.
The Kevin Field trio (plus guest) appeared at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) on the 17th April. This was an important CJC/Jazz April event. Everyone on the New Zealand Jazz scene is familiar with Kevin Field the pianist, composer, teacher, and gifted accompanist. He delivers and so good sized crowds turn up.
Kevin had earlier humped his Fender Rhodes down into club and it sat nestled respectfully against the grand piano. The bass was lying on its side like an expectant whale and the drum kit was sparkling out of the gloom. Behind the drum kit you could barely make out the image of a guitar on a stand. Those gifted with 20-20 vision would have discerned that this was a Godin Guitar which can only mean one thing in Auckland; Dixon Nacey would be sitting in for a few numbers.
When Kevin Field and his trio filed to the band stand I experienced a tinge of anticipation. I had been looking forward to the gig because Kevin Field never settles for a mediocre performance and he is certainly no journeyman. With Cameron McArthur on bass and Stephen Thomas on drums we hoped for sparks. While Kevin often appears in support of others, or fronts bigger lineups he had not brought a piano trio to the club for a quite a while.
What happened next caught me quite off guard and perhaps it shouldn’t have. When you rate an artist highly you can easily fall into the trap of thinking that you know everything about them and that is plain foolish. There is also something about the CJC that urges musicians reach deep and many visiting artists have commented on that. The CJC is more than just a benign space, it is an enabling one. A performance space that says to an artist, ‘there I’ve created the ambiance for you, now make it happen’. It would take a subterranean ‘Feng Shui’ specialist to analyse this phenomenon .
The Kevin Field that we saw perform was quite extraordinary. It is hard to put into words but he approached the keyboards with such confidence and invention that was almost supernatural. At times I thought that I heard hints of Hamp Hawes or the modern Europeans (rich, spacious and original), but mostly I heard Kevin Field, alive to the moment and brim full of fresh ideas. His voice is definitely post Herbie Hancock and it engages with the realities of the post millennial world. This is a voice that marks Kevin Field out as an original stylist.
The numbers were all originals and while a few were written for his recent ‘Warners’ album ‘Field of Vision’ (shortlisted for a Tui award), many were new to me. They came bundled up with stories and anecdotes and to see Kevin in the role of raconteur was delightful. When commenting on his second number of the evening ‘Complex Blue’, he told us that it was written with a Simply Red cover-band in mind. “Complex Blue could be a new type of Simply Red cover-band who would play everything but Simply Red tunes, thus giving them a broader repertoire”. The hilariously improbable tall stories and the incredible music made this a perfect evening of Jazz. I asked Kevin later if he had plans to record this new material and he indicated that he would be doing so shortly. If he captures half of what we experienced it will be well worth buying.
Cameron McArthur (bass) has experienced a meteoric rise to prominence and he has achieved this while still a student at the Auckland University School of Jazz. I can clearly recall his first tentative performance steps. Confidence, chops and musicality have become the default for him now and he is increasingly accompanying our best musicians. Stephen Thomas has been studying drums and performing at a high level for some time and he was an obvious choice for Kevin. We are seeing more and more of what he is capable of and as with Cameron there will be a lot more yet. This band works exceptionally well together and while Kevin is clearly in control as leader there is plenty of room for the others to shine.
In guest slot was Dixon Nacey. A guitarist who attracts superlatives and accolades as few others do. He always injects that special ‘Dix’ quality into a performance; brilliance tinged with unalloyed happiness.
Sometimes when the stars align the gods of music breathe extra life into a performance. When this occurs, those who are there feel incredibly fortunate and vow never to forget it. This was such a night.
Because this was the main CJC – Jazz April gig night the audience learned what the month stands for, who’s involved and why it is important. Everyone was challenged to do three things, (1) visit and ‘like’ the JJA Jazz April pages and International Jazz Day site (2) bring one or more friends to future gigs and spread the word (3) Hug and thank a Jazz musician tonight and in the following days. By sharing and growing this wonderful music we will see it survive.
It is always great to see the renowned tenor player Brian Smith performing in the intimate space of the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) and whenever he plays older and newer fans turn up to see him. While it is tempting to refer to him as being ‘seasoned’ or ‘an elder statesman’, any notion of that has a built-in redundancy factor. He is a ball of energy and ageless on the bandstand.
Brian has played with so many great artists over his long career that it would chew up serious bandwidth to enumerate even half of them. Being a member of the Maynard Ferguson band and numerous other well-known line-ups saw him playing across the world. His co-led genre stretching ‘Nucleus’ (with Ian Carr) won the top European band award at the Montreux Jazz Festival (1970). Since returning to New Zealand to settle (if a musician ever really does that) he has worked on numerous film scores and put out some well received (and commercially successful) albums.
Accompanying him on the 10th April gig were Kevin Field (piano), Kevin Haines (bass) and Frank Gibson Jr (drums). With this particular lineup he could dive deeper into his favoured repertoire of Hard Bop Jazz standards (with a few originals thrown in). When ‘Footprints’ was played Brian Smith approached the warhorse in an interestingly oblique manner; giving us a tune that contained the merest hint of familiarity and a large dollop of brooding mystery. This was a highpoint of the sets and a good example of how good musicians can extract new wine from old bottles. The introduction began with a very personalised statement on tenor which caught the attention while offering no insight into where it was going. Then out of nowhere the melody was stated, only to disappear as quickly as it had appeared; merged in probing re-haromonisations and oblique explorations.
The tunes of Wayne Shorter have remained perennially popular with Jazz audiences and they are constantly being reworked and updated. I have heard two versions of ‘Footprints’ performed in recent weeks and both mixed the familiar with the the new. These re-workings of familiar tunes have always been the bread & butter of Jazz and in the case of reworked ‘Footprints,’ Wayne Shorter sets the bar high. I saw him perform this in Verona, Italy a few years ago and after laying out a pathway to the melody he suddenly plunged us into a world of elision; forcing us to fill in the gaps as we listened. A familiar tune floating between chasms of crystalline emptiness; a tune more implied than played. I have posted a You Tube clip of the Brian Smith band playing ‘Footprints’ at the 10th April CJC gig.
Accompanying Brian on piano was Kevin Field who is so well-respected about town that he is a real drawcard in his own right. I have often mentioned his ability to add value to any band he plays with and this night was no exception (A post on his April 17th gig will be up shortly). On bass was Kevin Haines who is not only the most experienced bass player about town but one of the best. lastly there was Frank Gibson Jr on drums who is another respected and talented veteran Jazz identity about Auckland. Frank Gibson Jr, Kevin Field and Kevin Haines have all appeared recently leading groups. These guys will always impress and they proved that on this gig.
This particular CJC gig fitted in perfectly with the wider Jazz April ethos which is about profiling Jazz & Improvised music in all its diversity. The month had kicked off with a co-led trio featuring guitar, bass and drums (all original music by Samsom/Nacey/Haines), A few days later we saw Nathan Haines at the ‘Q’ Theatre (a tentet complete with French horns and vibes) – a few days after that the Auckland ‘Jazz & Blues club’ featured a gig with a Caribbean-Jazz ensemble. The Kevin Field trio on the 17th. Auckland benefits from a rich sonic diversity and clubs like the CJC, The Auckland Jazz & Blues Club and Vitamin ‘S’ deserve our ongoing support. The month of Jazz April will conclude with two avant-garde bands (one local, the ‘Kparty Spoilers of Utopia’) at Vitamin ‘S’ on the 23rd at 8pm and one visiting from Australia (Song FWAA) which is a CJC gig on the 24th at 8pm. This is a cornucopia of riches and not one of these gigs should be missed. Note: The Vitamin ‘S’ gig is the last chance to see John Bell vibist, who departs for Korea on Thursday.
Who: the Brian Smith Quartet – Brian Smith (tenor), Kevin Field (piano), Kevin Haines (bass), Frank Gibson Jr (drums)
After the success of ‘Poets Embrace’ it is hardly surprising that Nathan Haines new album ‘Vermillion Skies’ has climbed so high in the charts. The album was the fifth best selling New Zealand album the last time I looked and this happened within days of its release by Warners. For a modern Jazz album anywhere to achieve this success is unprecedented. This has followed hot on the heals of ‘Poets Embrace’ winning the Tui Awards ‘Best Jazz Album of 2012’.
Anyone who knows Nathan will hardly be surprised to learn of his obsessive commitment to the last two projects. His approach has been Ghandalf like, as it involved a long period of woodshedding, an epic journey in search of analogue equipment and a reconciliation with the gods of past times. While Poets Embrace plumbed the depths of Coltrane’s vocabulary, Vermillion Skies has opened up the perspective and tapped into the wider ethos of 1950’s Jazz. What Vermillion Skies is not however is a cosy journey down memory lane.
It is about examining the epiphanies and sounds of the 50’s era and interpreting them with modern sensibilities. With the exception of one number, these are fresh compositions; a happy synthesis between past and present. Deliberately retro though is the analogue recording methodology. A one-take take approach and sound augmented by the use of reverb (not using a plate).
I followed the Vermillion Skies project from its inception and because I was in contact with the musicians via Face Book it was not difficult to keep abreast of progress. Alain Koetsier was returning from China, Nathan was returning from the UK and to use ‘GCSB speak’ there was a heightened level of ‘chatter’ about town.
Their fist gig was at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) and at this point the tunes had never been aired before. Some tunes were in embryonic form and they had only been rehearsed briefly. We were a focus group Nathan informed us; musical crash test dummies. The audience loved the gig but they knew that even better was to come.
A month later the musicians and veteran London Producer Mike Patto headed into the York Street studios to cut the tracks. The album was recorded in around two days of mostly live takes. To obtain an authentic reverb sound Nathan used the studio car-park, which is a huge cavernous brick building, resembling a stripped out Victorian cathedral. The neighbours in the posh Edwardian apartments next to the studio lacked the cool to appreciate this innovation. The reverberating horns made one of them complain (in tears) as the fulsome brassy sounds echoed across Parnell rise.
A few weeks after the recording Nathan contacted me and asked if I would interview him at York Street for the promotional video. I turned up a few hours before the appointed time and asked Jeremy (who runs the studio) if I could hear the masters. Hearing the material in its final form and in that space was a revelation. I quizzed Jeremy and Nathan about aspects of recording. I learned that the piano was isolated in a booth, but the drums and horn section were in the larger space with the saxophone. When it came to the vocals the band went home; those tracks were recorded without onlookers.
Nathan has sung on a previous album but he readily admits that it is not his comfort zone. It interested me that he didn’t have the same degree of confidence in his singing abilities as his voice is simply superb. In my view it compares favourably with Mark Murphy’s. The charts are well written and the hooks in ‘Navareno Street’ are so powerful that I am still hearing them in my head weeks later.
Interviewing Nathan Haines is a pleasure as he is knowledgeable, articulate and expansive when prompted. Because he is across his topic he can talk at length about the minutia of the project, but what was surprising was they way he allowed me to discuss his vulnerabilities. His warmth and often self-effacing commentary gave the interview an added depth.
On April 9th the official launch occurred at the ‘Q’ Theatre in Queen Street Auckland. The tickets sold out quickly. The theatre is well suited for such a performance as it has the space, sight-lines and well padded surfaces. This enabled good sound control. Unlike the CJC gig, there were twelve musicians appearing (not quite the full album line-up which had a 15 piece band on one track). The first half featured the basic quartet with a few guest artists such as brother Joel Haines on guitar and two others. Joel can channel the rock god thing while fitting perfectly into a Jazz ensemble. His sound is modern but his lines are Jazz. Also on stage was John Bell the multi talented vibist. John Bell’s contribution added texture and depth. He does not rely on heavy vibrato, favouring a more minimalist approach. I reflected that I had last seen him in a decidedly avant-garde setting. This was far from Albert Ayler but as always his musicianship impressed. Mike Booth (lead trumpet in the horn section) also appeared in the first half. Mike Booth has a clean tone on trumpet and flugal and is the go to guy for anything involving horn sections or Jazz orchestras. His sight-reading skills are as impressive as his performance skills.
In the second set, a six piece horn section joined in and the arranger Wayne Senior conducted the ten piece band. Wayne Senior is part of the history of New Zealand Jazz and he is especially renowned for his work with TV and Radio orchestras. His ensemble arranging is legendary. The six piece horn-section was two French horns, Two trumpet/flugal horns, a trombone and a bass trombone.
I love nonets and tentets as they have a big sound while leaving room for a band to breathe. The textural qualities of this tentet and the rich voicings were particularly noteworthy. ‘Frontier West’ (by Nathan Haines) left the audience gasping in delight as the ‘Birth of the Cool’ vibe in modern clothing gave us a rare treat. Such wonders are seldom heard in this country. The last item (and the only tune not written by Nathan) was the aching beautiful ballad ‘Lament’ by J. J. Johnson. The best known version of this is on the ‘Miles Ahead’ album. That Gil Evans arrangement involves a 20 piece orchestra. Wayne Senior re-arranged this for tentet and the results are amazing. Nathan caught every nuance of the tune as he built his improvisation around the rich voicings. I am in no doubt that the ‘Lament’ on ‘Vermillion Skies’ compares favourably with the best historic versions (Miles, JJ Johnson, Rahsaan Roland Kirk).
The performances on the album and at the various gigs have all been different. This is because it is Jazz where ‘you never play anything the same way once’ and because there have been personnel changes along the way. As leader and player, Nathan Haines always seems to squeeze that bit extra out of each performance. His intense focus on the tenor of late has been good for him and good for us as his approach to this material while fluid, never looses its edge. He is arriving at that enviable place where people will say after one bar, “oh….that has to be Nathan Haines”.
Kevin Field and Nathan go back a long way and their chemistry is evident. Kevin is the pianist of choice for many local and visiting bands. As an accompanist he never looses sight of what an accompanist is there for. He can shine during the piano solos, but his fills, deftly placed chords and subtle comping speak to his other strengths. It was often necessary for him to keep out-of-the-way of the other instruments (such as the horn section which occupied a register that he would normally utilise). Drummer Alain Koetsier returned to New Zealand for the recording and his drum chops and musicality had not subsided during his sabbatical away from Jazz performance. He is a fine musician and sorely missed on the Auckland scene now that he resides in China. The bass player Ben Turua is also rock solid on the recording. I have heard him play often but never better than here. Sadly he has since departed for Sydney, where he will no doubt flourish as do many Kiwi Jazz expats.
The departure of Alain Koetsier and Ben Turua left a gap and so the original recording lineup was amended for the gigs to include Stephen Thomas on drums and Cameron MacArthur on bass. I cannot speak highly enough of Stephen Thomas. He has been on the scene for a few years and if anyone was going to fill Alain’s shoes it would be him. He is a hard-working young drummer who demonstrates his passion and skill every time he sits at the kit. The other replacement was Cameron McArthur who is still a student at Auckland university. This was a big step up for him and he took it with ease. His bass solo at the ‘Q’ Theatre brought a huge applause and like Stephen Thomas we can expect great things of him.
This album marks another high watermark in New Zealand Jazz as it is brave enough to confront the past without being captured by it. Nathan Haines is heading back to London in a few weeks and we can’t begrudge him that. His ascendency offshore is our gain and we should never forget that these two great albums have been recorded in Auckland, New Zealand and with Kiwi musicians.
Who: The Nathan Haines Band. Album – Nathan Haines (tenor sax, vocals, leader, composer). Kevin Field (piano), Ben Turua (bass) , Alain Koetsier (drums), Joel Haines (guitar – 2,5), Leon Stenning (guitars -5), Mickey Utugawa (Drums – 5), Mike Booth (lead trumpet, flugal), Paul Norman (trumpet, flugal), David Kay (French horn), Simon Williams (French horn), Haydn Godfrey (trombone), John Gluyas (bass trombone), John Bell (vibraphone 2-5), ‘Big’ Cody Wilkington (steel guitar, vocals, percussion – 5), Wayne senior (arranger, session/launch gig conductor). ‘Q’ Theatre and later gigs replace Koetsier with Stephen Thomas (drums), replace Ben Turua with Cameron McArthur (bass).
The first ‘Jazz April‘ gig was at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) featuring the ‘Samsom/Nacey/Haines’ band. I can’t think of a better way to kick off Jazz April 2013 than by hearing seasoned musicians having fun, while at the same time stretching themselves as players and composers. The group formed in 2008 with the idea of providing a vehicle for new compositions. The outcome of these collaborations was an album named ‘Open to Suggestions‘ and later the 2010 ‘Oxide‘ album was released (with guests Kevin Field, Chris Melville, Neville Grenfell and Roger Manins). The albums have all been extremely well received with ‘Open to Suggestions‘ ending up as a finalist in the Tui Music Awards and ‘Oxide‘ (Rattle Records 2010) receiving critical acclaim from far & wide. The name ‘Oxide‘ arose from John Ruskin’s writings on crystals (artist, author, patron of the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood and proto-socialist philosopher). This album is still available in record shops or from Rattle Records and I highly recommend it.
It is hardly surprising that there was an expectation of a third album. The new release titled ‘Cross Now’ has no guest artists appearing. Left to bounce off each others ideas and in an uncluttered musical space, the three musicians made the most of the situation. This spirit of collaboration was particularly evident at the gig as they joked and constantly acknowledged each others skills while downplaying their own input. That is a very Kiwi thing and audiences take it as good form. No one would dare do this if they were uncomfortable with their performance. It is a matter of reading the cultural codes. When they were improvising, the interaction between players was both cerebral and intuitive. There were moments when they appeared as one entity.
As soon as the first set kicked off a sense of joy and playfulness emanated from the bandstand. Some the best music arises from joy and good humour; musicians tapping into an unconscious wellspring of creative goodwill and being at one with the world.
The material on ‘Cross Now’ is new and like ‘Oxide’ some tunes were only finished days before recording them (or even polished in the studio car park). This is Dixon Nacey’s forte; to write brilliant tunes in the eleventh hour. Someone told me that his ‘The Lion” was written on the way to the ‘Oxide‘ recording sessions. Kevin Haines informed us that Dixon’s moving tribute to the recently diseased and much-loved drummer Tony Hopkins, was likewise written days before the recording. The compositions represent the styles of the originators and even though the compositions are jointly attributed, it is possible to detect just whose hand has had the greatest influence over each number.
So often the back stories behind tunes can enrich a listening experience, but I am not sure how many musicians appreciate this fact. While it is true up to a point that the music should speak for itself, that liner notes or background stories are an added superfluity, that received wisdom obscures a deeper story. To many of us music is an experience extending way beyond the auditory senses. We pick up cues from the musicians movements, we absorb colours from the lights glancing off the instruments and we gain insights from the stories. To me improvised music is like a good film and a well shot film is like improvised music. A place to occupy empathetically for that one hyper-sensitised moment in time. No sensory input should therefore be denied.
Kevin Haines wrote ‘…With Eyes Averted…’ (which began with a poem about relationships) and this added a perspective to the tune that would not otherwise have been evident (I have posted a video of this which features Matt Bray on 2nd guitar) . His tune ‘Cross Now’ was about a particularly irritating crossing signal outside of a Tokyo hotel. In Kevin Haines hands the annoying beeps became a polyrhythmic pulse to build a tune upon. He also contributed ‘Broken Tones’.
Drummer Ron Samsom’s, ‘Happy Dance’ (a fast samba) was fabulous. Written about his dog, we could feel the exuberant bounding energy as the tune progressed. Ron Samsom had begun with the tongue in cheek announcement, “yes drummers write tunes too”. After ‘Happy Dance’ we heard ‘Seiko (in 13/8 time) and a ballad ‘Qua’. I heard someone murmur that drummers needed to write more tunes and in Ron’s case I agree (See You Tube Clip by Jen Sol).
Dixon’s contributions were ‘Song for Xavier’ (written for his son) and ‘Conversations with Mr Small’ which he explained as arising from, ” Well perhaps this won’t be such an interesting reason for title…ah…it is about my musical theory conversations with Dr Stephen Small”. In comedy and music, timing is everything and these guys had it down pat. The tune that we will never forget is Dixon Nacey’s moving tribute to the beloved and much lamented Jazz drummer Tony Hopkins. I found myself glancing at the places where Tony had sat and imagined him at the kit; knitting the band together in that particular way of his. This is the power of Jazz. The musicians interpret while we see, feel and hear a story unfold. The tune was, ‘The Remarkable Mr Hopkins’ and by the end a few of us were tearing up. From the bottom of my heart, thanks Dix.
The new album will be in the record outlets shortly, but your best bet is to contact Rattle online and order a copy.
The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) is increasingly on the world Jazz circuit, but it also attracts a number of artists from around New Zealand. This outreach is exactly what Roger Manins, Caroline Manins and Ben McNicholl had envisaged when the collective began. The CJC’s prime purpose is to further Jazz and improvised music as an art form and to create an intimate performance space where projects can be realised. This space is suited to listening audiences, which in turn spurs the musicians on. The trio who performed on Wednesday appreciated that.
On Wednesday we heard the Wellington based Myele Manzanza trio. A drummer led band has a different feel to a piano led trio. When a drummer is leader the drums are generally more forward in the mix than is otherwise the case. This is the way of things and whether it’s Max Roach or Matt Wilson we expect to have the drums as a strong focus. Myele Manzanza is a captivating drummer and I was immediately struck by how different he is to most Auckland drummers. When I spoke to him later I went out on a limb by suggesting that his style was reminiscent of Manu Katche. He told me that he had not heard him, but that others had said the same.
According to Myele, Roger Manins suggested that they should push the boundaries. Rising to that challenge the band hastily composed a tune for the gig. The gig was a mix of standards, interesting takes on tunes not usually associated with jazz and a few originals. The originals were often subjected to an angular approach and with pared back melody. Their take on the Ellington tune ‘Caravan’ was probably the most conventional of their tunes but even then it was given individual treatment. The pianist approached the tune in a percussive manner, but with right hand runs that were definitely post bop (a little like Michel Petrucciani was fond of doing). Led by the drummer, time signatures morphed into various new patterns.
The Pianist Daniel Hayles often begins pieces with long ostinato intro’s and while not quite a minimalist, he never-the-less avoids excessive ornamentation. I really warmed to him as the evening progressed and I found his approach modern and fresh (and often North European). With Scott Maynard on bass the unit knitted together well. Because of the way the tunes unfolded it was essential that he made his presence felt and he did. In situations like this the bass often has to carry some extra weight.
Myele has spent time working in New York and he has studied under Jazz drummer E J Strickland. I also know that he is passionate about Jazz, but why his band sounds different is because other very modern influences have seeped into the mix. Myele Manzanza works with many ground breaking non-Jazz lineups and that is probably what he is best known for. This brings me back to Manu Katche who is a very modern jazz drummer, but one who works across a variety of genres (Peter Gabriel and Sting). Katche’s Jazz drumming is atypical and madly engaging. Jazz should never stand still and this window on yet another approach to our music tells me that the exploration continues.
I hope that the band returns again as they expand our horizons while making us smile. After thanking his band Myele Manzanza turned to the audience and said, “Thank you Auckland and the CJC. This is an unusual situation for us. An audience that listens appreciatively and doesn’t talk through the gig. This is what Wellington lacks”.
Every city needs a CJC …and lots of nights like this.
Who: Myele Manzanza (Leader, drums), Daniel Hayles (Keys, Piano), Scott Maynard (bass).