CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Review, Straight ahead

The Jac launch ‘NERVE’ @ CJC & Meow

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I don’t know as much about the Wellington Jazz scene as I’d like to, but I’m working on that.   Recently an opportunity presented itself; two days in Wellington and a chance to catch up with some musician friends.  I did my homework and learned that ‘The Jac’ would be playing at ‘Meow’.  They had just recorded for Rattle and that made me keen to hear them; knowing that they were initially inspired by the ‘San Francesco Jazz Collective’ all the more so.

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While not a dedicated Jazz venue Meow is a great supporter of the music and a good place to experience live music in general.  The club has regularly hosted class Jazz acts like ‘The Troubles’ (and its various offshoots).  Located on a sharp right angle bend, down a narrow winding alley; intriguing car head-light effects sweep across the band when cars negotiate the turn.  This reminds me of the new Bimhuis Jazz club in Amsterdam, which has brightly lit trains passing right behind the band as they play.  From the first few bars I loved what I heard and was pleased to learn that they would be playing in the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) in Auckland a few weeks later.

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This band ticks a lot of boxes for me with their ancient to modern feel.   I love the Octet or Nonet sound and especially when a brass heavy front line is in evidence.  With ‘The Jac’ the four horns up front assault the senses in the best possible way; solidly augmented by two keyboards, drums and bass.  The original lineup (and the one recorded), features piano and guitar.  With the guitarist (Callum Allardice) overseas a Rhodes was added to replace the guitar.  While I like both configurations I’m particularly impressed by the added colour that the Rhodes brings to the mix.  In the hands of Dan Hayles it often sounds like Vibes and this takes the group closer to the sound-palette of the SFJC.

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There was a good audience at the CJC and ‘The Jac’ were received with enthusiasm.  It is all too rare to see such configurations in New Zealand and I wish more would surface.  There were solid performances from the soloists but the real stars were the stunning arrangements.  The charts sound modern, but implicit within is the Nonet/Octet tradition.  The Birth of the Cool is momentarily evoked but this is not the anchor point.  A modern aesthetic is at work here (listen to ‘Thieves in the Night’ composed by alto player Jake Baxendale and streamed below).

They opened with a tune titled ‘Major,major, major, major’ (to which Jake added – “in a minor key”).  Next we heard ‘New York Axel Man’, an airy free-flowing tune which highlighted the skills of Jake Baxendale (alto) and Alexis French (trumpet).   I was particularly taken with the skills of Lex French, as trumpet players of his calibre are not thick on the ground in New Zealand.  I asked him who his recent teachers were and learned that he had been studying at McGill University in Canada.  His articulation, clean lines and the ability to communicate an idea in a short space took my attention.   In a line up of competent musicians he managed to stand out.

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Jake Baxendale is the predominant soloist and his alto work is interesting.   As one of the writers and the collective’s front man, he rightly garners the lions share of attention.  The other Baxendale composition on the album is ‘Armada’.  A delightful piece with rhythmic complexity and a strong bass line underpinning it.  It is my sense that he is central to the octets success.

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Completing the horn section is Chris Buckland on tenor and Matthew Allison on trombone (Allison is a member of the NZSO).  This is highly arranged music and so tenor, alto, trombone and trumpet need to work as one entity.  As they negotiated the often complex charts they showed just how tight they could be.  This is a big sound, but one with a world of implied space.     

On bass is the talented Nick Tipping who is another well-respected Wellington musician.  Like Jake Baxendale he regularly plays with the Roger Fox Wellington Jazz Orchestra.  Often backing international artists when the come to town.  Buckland replaced Richard Thai (who played on the album) and as alluded to earlier, Dan Hayles on Rhodes replaced the guitarist.  This gave the ensemble two keyboards and the alignment worked extremely well in my view.  On the CJC Club piano was Dan Milward (he played keys at Meow).  The juxtaposition between Piano and Rhodes worked so well because the musicians were able to compliment each other while keeping out of each others way.   Milward took the subtler approach but his presence was never-the-less strongly felt.  IMG_9428 - Version 2 (1)  

Dan Hayles took several solos’ (which the audience loved) but his main role was to augment the mix with well placed fills and to add a sense of depth to the ensemble.   I have heard him on several previous occasions and rate him highly.  The remaining member is drummer Shaun Anderson and his stick work is superb.  A supportive and in-the-pocket drummer who can also breathe fire into proceedings.   It was Anderson and Hayles who took the more organic approach; both regularly stepping free of the charts and to great effect.  Both made the pulse quicken and this balanced out the carefully crafted shapes and forms of the ensemble.

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The compositions on the album are all by Baxendale and Allardice and it is these that give momentum to the project.   In future it would be interesting to hear some of the soloists given additional space, but not at the expense of those gorgeous rich harmonic voicings.  With a label like Rattle behind them this bodes well for future projects.

What: ‘The Jac’ at the release of their album ‘NERVE’ – Rattle Jazz (the album can be purchased direct from Rattle or at retail outlets).

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 12th February 2014 and Meow 29th January 2014

Who: Jake Baxendale (alto, arrangements, compositions), Alexis French (trumpet), Chris Buckland (tenor sax), Matt Allison (trombone), Dan Hayles (Rhodes), Dan Milward (piano), Nick Tipping (upright bass), Shaun Anderson (drums) – Album only – Callum Allardice (guitar, arrangements, compositions), Richard Thai (tenor).

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs

Steve Russell & Leigh Carriage

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Thanks to Roger Manins extensive connections and the ever widening reputation of the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) Auckland now attracts many gifted offshore Jazz artists.  On the 3rd of February Steve Russell (piano) and Leigh Carriage (vocals) each led a set at the CJC.  Leigh is from Lismore in Northern New South Wales and Steve (from Byron Bay) teaches at the Southern Cross University in Brisbane.  Both have worked extensively in the bigger Australian cities.   Steve Russell has appeared with James Morrison and done support gigs for the likes of Wynton Marsalis and John Scofield while Leigh Carriage has performed in many Australian Jazz festivals and at the Monterey Jazz Festival in America.

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Steve Russell opened with a quartet set which comprised himself on piano, Roger Manins (tenor), Cameron McArthur (bass) and Stephen Thomas (drums).   His choice of bandmates was fortuitous as Roger is a phenomenon and the other two are fast establishing themselves as the premier local musicians in their field.  The band was extremely tight considering that the musicians had been holidaying in far flung disparate locations.   I later learned that they had been sent the charts a few weeks earlier and had put in some time familiarising themselves with the music.  Sometimes flying by the seat of the pants works just fine and sometimes a little work prior to a gig yields dividends.  This was the latter.

Steve Russell is highly regarded as an accompanist (which is a specialist skill that all too few master).  He is also a gifted leader, and composer.   It was well that he chose three experienced musicians for his set because the complex time signatures and edgy rhythms of some tunes certainly demanded that.  He began with a tune called ‘Belongil Blues’ which laments the loss of access to a much loved wilderness area around Lismore.   The warmth and soulfulness of this number made it the perfect choice as a starter, because what followed was often edgy and crackling with fire.  Fine musicians like these can always extract gold from well used forms (this tune is a good illustration of that as it is simply lovely.  You can hear it as track 7 on Steve’s fine ‘Dark Matters’ album and in the streamed sample below).

As the set progressed we heard a Caprice, a latin infused tune (Sambol) and several tunes not from the album.   Stylistically there are hints of Evans in Steve’s playing but he is entirely modern for all that.  He is an artist that I will gladly seek out when the chance presents itself.   His compositions, his feel for time and the sheer exuberance of his playing won me over completely.

Roger Manins has been busy moving house over the holidays but he certainly didn’t need easing into giging again.  He hit the bandstand in exceptional form and his solo work on numbers like ‘Sambol’ can only be described as incendiary.  In certain light there appeared to be sparks and coloured orbs emanating from the bell of his classic 60’s Selmer.  Roger Manins is a musician at the peak of his powers and given the right bandmates he burns brighter than the sun.   I had not seen Cameron McArthur for over a month but he is also in peak form.  He’s always worth hearing and never more so than when he is challenged and well supported.   Stephen Thomas is a widely respected drummer and his work across various genres is gaining him a significant following.   He’s a musician well worth hearing because of his originality, chops and the deep intuitive feel for what ever music he’s playing.

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When Leigh Carriage began her set she was accompanied by Steve Russell (her usual accompanist) plus Roger Manins, Cameron McArthur and Stephen Thomas.  A set like this required an entirely different set of skills and the band moved into this supportive role seamlessly.  Leigh Carriage has a voice that reaches deep into your soul.  There is a certain purity to it; a quality that is not always evident in Jazz singers.  What she does with her voice is special, using subtlety and nuance to reveal a thousand colours and shapes.  Leigh Carriage is also a composer of note.  She performed a number of self penned songs from her most recent album ‘Mandarin Skyline’ and one standard ‘Get Out of Town’, which she made her own.   She has also released an album titled ‘Get out of Town’.   There is often a wistful melancholic edge to her songs and the album is largely in that vein.  In the club she added a few upbeat numbers and it was a delight to hear her voice and Roger Manins tenor saxophone merging in unison.   Although she is far from a blues belter, hers is an exceptionally strong voice.  Of her own material ‘I’m not leaving’ stands out particularly’.  IMG_9328 - Version 2

As expected Steve Russell took an altogether different role during the vocal set.   Though his note placement was sparser and his attack more subdued, his strong presence was still felt.

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Who: Leigh Carriage and Steve Russell – with Roger Manins, Cameron McArthur, Stephan Thomas.

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart, 1885 building, Auckland  – 5th February 2014

AlbumLeigh Carriage; ‘Mandarin Skyline’ with Jonathan Zwartz (bass), Steve Russell (piano), Matt McMahon (piano), Sam Keevers (piano), Phil Slator (trumpet), Matt Smith (guitar), Hamish Stuart (drums).

AlbumSteve Russell; ‘Dark Matters’, Matt Smith (guitar), Greg Lyon (bass), Scott Hills (drums).

Review, vocal

The Fondue Set – Review

Jan29#03

There are a number of enigmas in the music world and why this Fondue Set album lay unreleased for so long is one of them.  A recent New Zealand Herald article described Caitlin Smith as one of New Zealand’s best known singers and that’s true.  Because she is so well respected I can’t help wondering why she’s not profiled more often in the mainstream media.  Her voice is simply stunning and the material she choses, her choice of musicians and the way she plays with the lyrics sets her apart.

The Fondue Set have been part of the music scene for more than a decade.  Founded by Graeme Webb, the group has gone on to gain a kind of cult status and perhaps that imparts an added cache.  There have only been two previous Fondue Set CD’s released and both remain popular.  This album was recorded on mini disc in 2004 and it will be a welcome addition to their recorded output.

Caitlin’s voice is a real draw card, but as anyone who has seen her perform will know, her stage presence adds yet another compelling dimension.   As this is a live recording much of that magic is communicated.   Founding member Graeme Webb is not performing on ‘Down To The Rind’ but the other original member Steve Gerrish is.  The new addition is Nigel Gavin who is well known about town for his stellar musicianship and the wonderful sounds he coaxes from his guitars.  These musicians work well with Caitlin, providing all the support she could wish for.

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The arrangements are by Smith, Garrish and Webb and what fine arrangements they are.  Caitlin Smith is known for appropriating songs from other genres and turning them into earthy Jazz vehicles.  It’s the fine arrangements that underpin that process.   I was particularly drawn to  ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ (Trad), ‘Secret Love’ (Pain/Webster) and the red hot treatment of ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ (Mingus).  There is also a gorgeous version of ‘Tennessee Waltz’ (Stewart/King).  This song is very much in vogue with Jazz-Americana musicians and well it might be.   Nigel Gavin works his special brand of magic on Tennessee Waltz and the echoes linger happily in the memory long after the track is finished.

This is available from record stores, iTunes or from http://www.caitlinsmith.com/music

Who: Caitlin Smith (vocals, arrangements), Nigel Gavin (7 string Tui guitar), Steve Gerrish (guitars, arrangements) – Graeme Webb (arrangements)

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Hard Bop

Hardbopmobile @ CJC Dec 2013

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Hardbopmobile has been around for some years and the longest collaboration is between leader drummer Frank Gibson and guitarist Neil Watson.   This pair are particularly well matched and their ability to capture the mood and vibe of the hardbop era in a fresh way makes for a great night out out.  The group had experienced two personnel changes since I last saw them and in spite of liking the old configuration, this one worked extremely well.  Cameron Allen the regular tenor player was unavailable and so Frank decided to add a different horn.  Replacing the tenor player with a trombonist might seem a little unusual, but when you look back at those iconic lineups from the hardbop era it makes perfect sense.  There is no better drummer to underpin this music than Frank and he opened all the stops for this gig.  IMG_8866 - Version 2

Haydyn Godfry was perfect for this role as his formidable chops and his engaging solo’s gave the band new dimensions to explore.   The rich full sound of the trombone blended perfectly with guitar and bass and it brought back memories of J. J. Johnson and others.   The other change was the replacement of Bassist Junior Turua with Tom Dennison.  This in itself was a fortuitous choice as Tom is hugely respected about town.   The stage was set for good music and happy memories and that is exactly what we got.

Frank had selected a great set list with mainly fast paced burners, but with a few ballads thrown in to balance things out.  There was the expected favourites like Horace Silver’s ‘Filthy Mcnasty’ but also the unexpected, such as a soulful rendering of Danny Boy (trad).   It also come as a pleasant surprise that of all the Monk tunes on offer he selected ‘Mysterioso’.  I recall hearing piano trio and saxophone led versions of this marvellous classic but never one involving an interchange between drums, bass, guitar and trombone.  The quirky nature of the composition with its delightfully quizzical asides, hung in the air as the tune unfolded, a joy to hear.  IMG_8837 - Version 2

During the second set the quartet numbers were interspersed with a trio number and a duo.   The trio (Neil Frank and Tom) played ‘Danny Boy’ and in Neil’s hands this traditional ballad was reinterpreted as Jazz Americana at its best.  Neil showed us his versatility during this gig and he left us in no doubt that his hardbop-guitar credentials are second to none.  Another treat was a duo between Hadyn Godfry and Tom Dennisson.   They played the well loved standard ‘Softly as a morning sunrise’ and it was simply superb.  So inventive were the solos and so skilful was the counterpoint that it immediately put me in mind of Bob Brookmeyer’s duo work with Jim Hall.  They nailed it and gave us a killing performance.

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The last two numbers were a tribute to Caroline Manins (Moon) and Roger Manins for their commitment to making the gigs happen.  To my delight Caro sang one of my favourite tunes ‘Jeannine’ (Duke Pearson).   A forgotten hardbop treasure often played by Cannonball and Nat Adderley.   Roger played the last number ‘Weaver of Dreams’ (Young/Elliot) and his beautiful gently swinging rendering took me back to Cannonball Adderley and Kenny Burrell, who made this number their own so many years ago.

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Frank has a winning formula here and long may it continue.

Who: ‘Hardbopmobile’ with Frank Gibson (leader, drums), Neil Watson (guitar), Tom Dennison (bass), Hadyn Godfry (trombone). + Caroline Manins (vocals) and Roger Manins (tenor saxophone).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 1885 Britomart, Auckland

experimental improvised music, Fusion & World, USA and Beyond

Natalia Mann update from Marseille

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I interviewed Natalia Mann after the release of her very successful Rattle album ‘Pacif’ist’ and since then we have kept in touch .  Improvising harp players are a rare commodity, but things are slowly changing.  This year the Columbian harpist Edmar Castaneda won a major Jazz poll.  Natalia is simply killing at whatever she undertakes but her new trio brings her squarely into the jazz orbit.   Having gained a considerable reputation playing with various symphony orchestras and after undertaking a number experimental music projects, she is more than ready to enhance her improvisational credentials.   She has recently been playing to critical acclaim at Mediterranean Jazz festivals and this video clip was made for the AKBANK Jazz festival in Istanbul.  Her compositions are beguiling and exotic, while retaining an elusive mysterious quality.   This is music that leaves you wanting more.

Natalia is of Samoan Kiwi extraction but for some years she has lived in Istanbul.  She’s married to the Turkish percussionist Izzet Kizil who appears in the clip below.  She was most recently the recipient of the ‘ARts Pacifica’ award in her hometown of Wellington.  Having recently studied Jazz at Skopje University she is now engaging frequently with the improvising world.   This stunningly beautiful piece swings to its own pulses and rhythms; aided by solid bass work from Dine Donneff (Greece) and the perfectly executed percussion of husband Izzet Kitil (Turkey).

I have promised to take her to the CJC next time she is in Auckland and just maybe if we are lucky, we could talk her into performing?

Natalia is in Marseilles at present and she sent me this clip of her new Jazz trio a few days ago.   Kiwi musicians certainly do well in the world.