‘The Troubles’ – Review

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.

Nathan Haines – ‘The Poets Embrace’

On the 29th November 2011, those lucky enough to be at Nathan Haines CJC gig heard him playing ‘The Poets Embrace’ material.  As far as I know, this was the first public outing for the band and everyone who attended quickly grasped the importance of the event.   Hearing Nathan exclusively playing tenor (and not just any tenor) was intriguing because he is noted for being a multi reeds and winds player.   This gig was somehow different and it had a focus that was palpable.  It was about authenticity and it was about a deeper exploration of Nathan’s music.

Nathan’s approach to his music is a comment on his professionalism.  He divides his time between the UK and New Zealand and he recently headlined at Ronny Scotts Jazz Club in London.  Nathan is one our most talented musicians and I have learned that he never does things half heartedly.

Following that gig Nathan and the band cut an album.     The producer was flown in from London, the vinyl was pressed at Abbey Road, the tenor was a Selmer Mk 6 (ex Brian Smith), The piano was a Steinway B, The recording was made at the York Street studios on analog equipment and using classic microphones….I think you get the picture….glowing valves….absolute authenticity.     Above all this is terrific music and it may become the bench mark for future New Zealand Jazz albums.  The album will be released by Haven Records a division of Warners Music and it should be widely available.

The album is to be released on the 19th March (available on CD or limited edition vinyl)  The promo video is also worth watching as it conveys a real sense of the music we are about to experience.   The attention to detail is evident and one senses that the narrative is an important part of this journey.  People should book now for the launch, which is on Friday March 23rd, 8pm at the Monte Christo Room (behind the TVNZ building Nelson Street).    The entry price for the official launch is $25 pre-sales/$30 at door.  For those who are otherwise engaged on Friday why not get down to JB Hi Fi between 12pm – 12:30pm (any day 19th – 23rd).  If you do you will hear the full band.   It is impressive that a mainstream outlet like JB’s has been so supportive.    Please turn up if you can and this will encourage the store to support more Jazz releases in the future.  If it is wet outside so what, there is no cost to attending and what could be better; Jazz on an Autumn Day.

 These are all great musicians as you will soon hear.  They are; Nathan Haines (ts), Kevin Field (p), Thomas Botting (db) Alain Koetsier (d).

For the gig review see my earlier blog post “The Nathan Haines Fourtet”.