This is part one of two posts on ‘The Troubles’; An interview with John Rae and Lucien Johnson to follow in a day.
When I received a brief email from Steve at Rattle Records informing me that he was sending me two very interesting disks I sensed that he was excited about what was on offer. When the tightly wrapped package arrived I wrestled ‘The Troubles’ from its box. Putting it straight on, I was stunned by what I heard and I played it through twice, letting the sound wash over me. Steve was right; this was special.
Jazz is supposed to be fresh and to convey the ‘sound of surprise’ and this was bloody surprising. It immediately put me in mind of ‘The Liberation Music Orchestra’ or even Charles Mingus in the various incarnations of those bands. Having said that this is very much a New Zealand sound.
The Troubles is performed by a Nonet with the instrumentation hinting at the albums context. Adding a texture to the music; its wild but perfectly placed brush strokes marking it apart.
There is a string section of violin, cello and viola (Tristan Carter, Andrew Filmer, Charley Davenport) which contrasts nicely with the winds and reeds. Lucien Johnson plays tenor sax, soprano and flute – Nick Van Dijk doubles on trumpet and trombone while Daniel Yeabsley plays alto, baritone and clarinet. Add to the above the insistent drumming and shouts of John Rae, the bass of Patrick Bleakley and especially the percussion of Anthony Donaldson and you have a band that is capable of much.
The band had been playing at ‘Happy’ (a Wellington Bar renowned for experimental music) for some time and for a number of reasons this proved to be serendipitous. What came together during those months is perfectly captured here. This was recorded on one particular night and due to the exceptional musicianship of the band, the skillful writing and connectedness of everyone involved (including the loyal audience) we have a very special album.
Against the odds New Zealand Jazz is rapidly becoming identifiable as a separate and interesting entity. Perhaps a subset of the Australasian-Pacific Jazz sound. On the best Kiwi albums and in the clubs I hear this certain something and I want to confront the musical establishment and say, “Are you freakin deaf…can’t you hear this”? This thing is ours, it can be wonderful and it is certainly worthy of proper attention. New Zealand music is very diverse and this is a healthy thing. Original and exciting bands are continually being formed, but in order for this vibrancy and originality to flourish the music must be better supported. Here is an album that exemplifies this diversity and it says something unique about us and our place in a sometimes troubled world .
Support the band, buy the album but above all relax and enjoy it. I defy anyone to dislike this roller-coaster ride through the worlds troubled spots. It is a journey undertaken with deep humanity but also with a liberal helping of humour throughout. A warm echo derived from the cacophony about us and filtered through an anarchic but sharply focussed Kiwi lens.
Purchase from Marbecks, JB HiFi, Real Groovy, or leading record stores – otherwise purchase directly from Rattle Records.