Backbeat Bar, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians

Jay Rodriguez @ Backbeat Auckland

Jay 2019 (1)Anyone who saw Jay Rodriguez play the last time he was in town will have tripped over themselves to catch him again last week. Rodriguez is a talented and engaging improviser and when he steps onto the bandstand he wins hearts from the get-go. This seemingly innate ability arises from a keen understanding of what will work best with a particular audience. He picks ups on and feeds off the energies in the room. He is also a skilled technician, but he is not there to show off his undoubted chops. His purpose is to involve and to engage at the deepest level; offering musicians and audience alike an unforgettable musical experience.    

These days, dozens of talented musicians pour out of the prestigious Jazz schools and as good as they are, they often have a similar approach and sound. Over time the best of them shake this off, but it takes work and road experience to do so. While Rodriguez attended music school, he also gigged from a young age; cutting his musical teeth on the bandstand and learning his craft at the feet of masters (Tito D’Rivera, Phil Woods and Joe Henderson – playing lead alto with Tito Puente at 15 years of age). Those early days shaped his trajectory and enabled him to move effortlessly across the breath of the Jazz world – and later – traversing the wider music scene (Elvis Costello, Prince, Ribot etc).  You gain the impression that every day on the road added a certain something to his sound. He can channel a raw Texas tenor sound in the same gig as he has people swooning over a ballad.  Once this was a commonplace accomplishment, but as the old road warriors pass, we hear this stylistic breadth less and less.

Here I must offer a disclaimer; I was involved in this Auckland gig. Rodriguez had reached out and generously suggested that we could join forces, adding some spoken word into his show. We had a number of exchanges while he was touring with Marc Ribot (the Songs of Resistance project). Various ideas were canvassed – unlike many improvisers, he is experienced in working with poets as he has associated with many including the late lamented Amiri Baraka. From across the time zones, we explored possible rehearsal times and as is often the case, a quick rehearsal just before the gig was the only possible option. When it came to hiring the band, he made another generous suggestion; he was happy to have some younger and freer spirited musicians on board – in fact, he welcomed that. Crystal Choi and Eamon Edmundson Wells joined Ron Samsom as the core group, with special guests Jonathan Crayford and myself appearing on select numbers. 

Rodriguez is proficient on multi-reed and wind instruments and he frequently travels with most of them. This time he arrived with one flute, a soprano, and a tenor saxophone. When rehearsal time came he unpacked dozens of charts and spread them around clock fashion. My favourite author does this, slowly walking among short stories until an order is fixed. So it was with Rodriguez. We had been pre-warned that what was rehearsed would not necessarily be what was played, as he often changed things around as he read an audience (and often mid-tune by way of signals).

The setlist had a few well-chosen standards and of course, tunes from his critically acclaimed ‘Your Sound’ album.  Although he amended the setlist as the gig progressed and extended numbers, fusing the tunes into a heady new amalgam, the performance had a flow that was preternatural. Working with a musician like this and trusting his instincts to guide you forward is exhilarating. I know that the band enjoyed themselves – the gig became bigger than the individual musicians and that how good gigs should work.    

I have posted a longish clip from the gig, one which demonstrates the energies flowing between the musicians. The clip reminded me of the early Alice Coltrane projects. Deeply spiritual and unafraid to move with the vibe. Choi delighted the audience with her wholehearted engagement, moving from minimalist figures to crystalline arpeggios as the moment demanded. Edmundson Wells, like Choi, often appears on the avant-garde scene and was perfect for the gig.  Samsom, the other experienced hand, offered solid support, creating a cushion and a heartbeat. Last, but not least was Crayford, a generous enabler, a mentor to musicians like Choi. He would normally have appeared as the listed keyboardist, as he and Rodriguez have a deep friendship and they collaborate when they can. This time he was heavily engaged in a project of his own and arrived back in town hours before the gig. He waited out the first set, respecting the established line-up, joining the band with keys for the second. This added a whole new dimension to an already great gig – creating the broader palette that Rodriguez thrives on. The capacity audience reacted to every facet of the gig with enthusiasm and Rodriguez return is eagerly anticipated.

In my case, the overall experience was particularly rewarding – a true learning experience – note to self – let my spoken lines breathe more at the start. When you fit words around live music quick decisions are required, Sometimes you have mere seconds to judge the rhythms of an unfamiliar tune. An opportunity like this is rare and precious and I’m glad I took it.

Jay Rodriguez: (tenor & soprano saxophone, flute), Crystal Choi (piano), Eamon Edmundson Wells (upright bass), Ron Samsom (drums, percussion), – guests Jonathan Crayford (keys), John Fenton (spoken word) – at ‘Backbeat’, CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 27 February, 2019 – Jef Rodriguez recent album ‘Your Sound’ is available on Amazon, through record stores or go to jayrodriguez.com

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experimental improvised music, Poetry, Review, USA and Beyond

Maps to past and future

If you valued social justice and critical thinking, 2016 was confronting. Politically, it was the universe turned on its head. Pre-enlightenment thinking unexpectedly overwhelmed rational thought, barely literate misogynist tweets replaced policy announcements and the media discourse collapsed into alphabet rubble.  A constant throughout this mayhem was the focus of the creative sector. Writers still turned out exquisite prose, visual artists like Banksy spoke truth to power and improvising musicians played on. The year may have been chaotic, but good stuff happened in spite of it.

Alargo: During the last few months several recordings and books stood out for me and the first of these was the long anticipated Alan Brown-Kingsley Melhuish ‘Alargo’ album titled ‘Central Plateau‘. I first heard them at the Golden Dawn in Ponsonby Road and loved their atmospheric free-ranging explorations. Their palette is seemingly limitless as the two utilise a variety of instruments, loops and effects (eleven in all). These ranged from the oldest of instruments (Conch shells and horns) to live sampling and a variety of Synthesisers and keyboards.Alargo 128.jpg

In these hands, multi layered magic is woven into the mix. This is improvised music in the purist sense and it owes as much to the experimental innovators like Jon Hassell or Terry Riley as to anyone else. For Brown, in particular, the trajectory has been constant. It was inevitable that he should create an EP like this. His last album ‘Silent Observer’ took us deep into ambient territory. Now with the able assistance of the gifted multi instrumentalist Melhuish, a wonderful new soundscape is crafted. Jazz musicians have long played over drones or embraced mood over structural convention (locally, Gianmarco Liguori, Murray McNabb and Kim Paterson were early adaptors).

This is a local variant of the exciting explorations being undertaken by the Nordic ambient improvisers. It is however, a very New Zealand sound, as the sense of space, warmth and terrain evoked could only be ours. Last week I journeyed to the central North Island of Zealand where I spent time on the Desert Road and Central Plateau. I took this album with me and it was the perfect road trip soundtrack. The title of ‘Central Plateau‘ may refer to this particular place or perhaps to an imagined landscape. As I listened to the snow-fed mountain streams, and Tui, I marvelled at how perfectly Brown and Melhuish had captured the vibe. The album is available at alargo.bandcamp.com – in CD form or digitally.Alargo 129.jpgIn the months before Christmas, we were reeling from the twin body blows of Trump and Brexit. During this period of disbelieving paralysis, Norman Meehan, Paul Dyne and Hayden Chisholm came to town. What they played was a balm for our troubled souls, a sublime ballad gig. I reviewed the gig on November 27, 2016 (this site).  A week later Norman Meehan and Tony Whincup launched a new book titled ‘New Zealand Jazz life’.  This is a great read for anyone interested in New Zealand music history and a must for anyone interested in improvised music. Meehan’s prose is much like his playing, devoid of needless ornamentation but pleasing. he is a natural with words, but he also manages to impart vast amounts of information without the reader ever feeling force-fed. His interviews with significant New Zealand improvising musicians are carefully blended with personal observation. Musicians like Jim Langabeer, Lucian Johnson, Nathan Haines, Kim Paterson, Jeff Henderson, Anthony Donaldson, Frank Gibson jr and Roger Manins are featured. I highly recommend this book as a vital reference work and as a very good read. ‘New Zealand Jazz Life‘ is published by Victoria University Press and available at all good bookstores. img_0079

Most Anticipated Albums 2017 – 

Manins, Samsom, Holland, Field are rumoured to be recording a new ‘DOG‘ album.  If it is anything like DOG one, we can expect a wonderful album. In December the band performed at the Thirsty Dog, and on all indications this will be a contender for another Jazz Tui. The band is simply extraordinary and it is impossible to fault them. ‘DOG’ is renown for showcasing great compositions, superb musicianship and for generating joyous excitement.

Meehan, Chisholm and Dyne have also finished recording and the album will be released sometime this year. Anyone who heard them on tour will certainly want the album. I will keep you posted on that.

Poetry:

I spent the northern Autumn travelling extensively throughout Europe and on the return journey I stopped off in San Francisco. Along the way I collected ‘found’ poetry. My self-imposed task was to record any poem (or fragment of a poem) scrawled on a wall or pavement, or in a street handout. These stumbled-upon poets were often unknown to me and this personalised anthology is the perfect trip reminder. As I moved from city to train, my bags become increasingly heavy with volumes of verse. In Gdansk, North Eastern Poland, I discovered the Nobel Prize winning poet Wislawa Szymborska. IMG_0083.jpgHer Maps‘ anthology has seldom been out of my hands since. Szymborska communicates the Polish experience like few others. She evokes a sense of impermanence, an un-belonging that has characterised Polish life for millennia. I am descended from Pomeranian Polish stock and perhaps this adds a particular resonance in my case. This is a window into a floating world surprisingly free of rancour. ‘Maps’ in translation is published by Mariner Books.img_0085The City Lights book shop in North Beach San Francisco has always been at the centre of my universe. Whenever I’m in that wonderful city I head there immediately. I had just spotted a verse from a Diane di Prima poem in a street pamphlet and I couldn’t wait to get a volume or two of her poetry. I have long been familiar with di Prima’s work, but the gifted female Beat poets were unfairly eclipsed by their male counterparts. A book published by Conari Press titled ‘Women of the Beat Generation’ is now back in print and it’s a good starting point for examining their body of work.IMG_0082.jpg di Prima is still with us and some of her best work is contained in a recent volume titled ‘The Poetry Prize’ published by the City Lights Foundation. IMG_0087.jpgLastly I will post one of my own recent poems, which rounds off the theme of maps. I wrote this in the week before my journey began. As I was about to depart, a well-known New Zealand Jazz musician shared some travel tips with me, offering insights, drawing me an abstract map as guide. I was so pleased with it that I wrote this poem. I took his wonderful  map with me and although I was unable to strictly follow it’s path, the spirit of it was an inner compass to guide me. It made me happy to have it near – now a prized possession, a travel memory, a manifest.Screen Shot 2017-01-14 at 2.59.51 PM.png

John Fenton JazzLocal32.com January 2017

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, experimental improvised music, Straight ahead, vocal

Stephen Small Group – Mexico City Blues

Poems (2)I made up my mind days before the Mexico City Blues gig that I would not, could not review it. It is some kind of crazy to review a gig where you’re in the band. Logic and custom sensibly warns you to walk swiftly in the opposite direction. The gig passed and I asked others if they would do the review; “You’re wrong man” they said, “You absolutely have to do it, but do it differently – tell a story about what it felt like performing for the first time, and what it felt like as a non musician being part of a high quality improvising band”. I thought about it for a while and gave in. In truth I had a world of stuff churning about in my brain and the subconscious urge to outline the experience was gnawing at me; my thoughts and impressions always seem to spill onto the page somehow (or into a poem) – so hell why not. It’s Gonzo journalism in its purest form; outlining crazy, using ones-self as the hapless protagonist.

Just over a week ago I got an email from Stephen Small. His email cut right to the chase; Would I consider performing Jack Kerouac’s poetry as part of his next gig. The invitation delighted me although I have a writers/photographers reticence about crawling out from behind the pen or the lens. Having read Kerouac from age fourteen I couldn’t resist. Those poems and that crazy-wonderful Beat vibe shaped my life and I needed to acknowledge that. I was certain that he wanted no more than one, or possibly two short verses; still daunting. I emailed Stephen asking how long we had to get this together. We’re up next Wednesday he replied, we will rehearse a few hours before the gig. Moments after agreeing a sense of terror overcame me; troublesome questions and self-doubt tumbled out the ether. Shit how do we do this, what will my voice sound like? Having never performed poems in front of an audience AND to music, I experienced brief bouts of wide-eyed terror over the next day.  Poems (4)I confided my fears to a few knowledgeable friends, Chris Melville and poet Iain Sharp. Both were very sensible and reassuring in their advice; “Just own who you are man, own your voice. You know this stuff backwards and you know the music”, they said. When I explained the hazards of fitting existing verse to music, drummer Ron Samson told me, “Don’t worry man, we will follow you – your safe with us”. I discussed it further with Stephen and he gave me a set list. From that list I chose three poems that roughly matched the rhythms of tunes. For ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ (Mingus) I chose Kerouac’s chorus 66 from ‘Orizaba 210 Blues’, for ‘Blue in Green’ (Evans/Davis) I selected the beautiful mystical 1st chorus of ‘Desolation Blues’. I was sure that two poems would be more than enough, but as a precaution I prepared a third as back up – verse 116 of ‘Mexico City Blues’ to Horace Silvers ‘Peace’.

On the day of the gig crazy set in. It started with a series of small mishaps like an email and printer crash. I immediately recognised the portents. The Sirens of the unknown were calling me into uncharted waters. Luckily I had my three poems ready – printed off in large type (as befitting a person of my age). At the last-minute, as if by divine providence, I threw a paperback of Kerouac’s ‘Book of Blues’ poems into my bag and headed for rehearsal. What happened next was pure Zen.  Poems (6)Jazz gig rehearsals tend to follow a formula, but viewing this process from the outside and being part of it are two very different things. From the inside your inbuilt detached observer gets fired from the cannon of weirdness. You realise just how random Jazz rehearsals are. They begin what becomes a slow descent into the controlled accident. The first hour of any rehearsal is a ‘hang’, insider jokes, war stories and talk of gear and gizmos. Then a sudden flurry of activity follows; disembodied items of musical machinery miraculously forming into new shapes. If the rehearsals are in a Jazz club the activity takes place in semi darkness. Instruments, microphones and amplifiers joined by a spaghetti of wires as the musicians stumble over precarious piles of instrument cases and zip bags. “Oh shit this channel is dead – (from out of the darkness) – don’t worry its the cable – have another in my car – its parked a few streets away. Can we route the cable through the Hadron-Collider? – clip click – sorry false alarm”.

Then the actual rehearsal begins; The rehearsal proper being tiny fragments of music accompanied by impossibly cryptic instructions in a language that sounds like computer machine code.  “Twice through the head – I’ll lay out – transition to this key at 32 – we’ll play Kathy’s Waltz in 4/4 as 3/4 is way to corny”. None of this is reassuring to a first timer, but the band leader (Stephen) managed to communicate profound information subliminally. Above all and surprisingly, I learned that he had absolute confidence in me. This gifted me a deeper understanding of the leaders role. Zen Master. The communications were less about detail than vision, their main purpose to bind the collective and set them on a path to the promised land; a guiding hand in a deeply mystical process. On the band stand the subtlest of gestures hold the collective together. A glance is a cue or a change of plan – a call to ‘Jump now’ – everyone trusted to do the business – me included. I know poetry and especially Kerouac’s poetry – it was my job in the collective to sell that.  Poems (7)Then came the truly random bit. “We can cue you in on each piece, or just dive in where ever you think best – we can follow”. The words ‘each piece’ threw me a curve ball. “I have only three poems printed off” I added lamely (or four if you counted a crumpled excerpt from ‘Desolation Angels’ tucked into the back of the folder). “No matter – just say anything – you’re a poet – it will be fine” said Stephen. Then I remembered the paperback of Kerouac’s ‘Book of Blues’ in my bag. “Great” said Stephen, “just pick the poems randomly – do it at the last-minute while we run through the head of each tune – perfect”. This was a band leader channeling the Zen Master – a role quite appropriate to a 1959 referencing gig – throwing me a Koan, an improbable musical puzzle, no escape route possible. When we got to the tune ‘Peace’ I gained confidence, “Ah I have something for this – yeah – Horace Silver”. At this point Stephen casually informed me that they were actually doing Ornette Coleman’s ‘Peace”, another tune entirely. Ornette, ORNETTE – holy crap – panic.  Next the gig

I was tentative during my first seconds of delivery and that was entirely due to where my awareness was.  I mistakenly looked out to see how it was coming across; people were giving me the thumbs up and the band sounded perfect. After that I just relaxed. Stephen’s final instructions were as brief as they were powerful. He leaned across and said to me; “There is only one thing to remember tonight and that’s to have fun”. Minutes into the gig the advice sank in and I did. As I relaxed the strangest thing happened. It was a quasi-mystical sort of thing and I can only explain it in those terms. All sense of self and separation vanished as I felt a golden thread of sound and colour run through me. I recall glancing about me and feeling totally at one with the band. These are exceptional musicians and I suspect that they were doing all the heavy lifting. They treated the poetry with respect and they treated me as an equal. As a non-musician I will never forget that. Poems (5)I was suddenly experiencing the music as an insider, a privileged viewpoint that few non musicians ever get to experience. I leaned across to Hadyn Godfrey (on trombone) and said, “Holy crap is it always this much fun, I’m totally tripping on this?”. As I read I started playing with the phrasing and found that as I moved, the band moved with me. Even more amazingly we managed to converse musically.  Me clumsy and them eloquent, but it felt so fine, so damn fine. I have never previously experienced such power – the engine of a musical collective. I am a careful listener and I know this music backwards, but from the inside everything looks different. There is nowhere to hide but everything to gain; that’s what makes it so exciting.

The gig was about placing the famous Jazz standards of 1959 into a wider context. We all love these tunes, but few grasp the wider sociopolitical forces at work behind the times. These musicians were part of a vital modernist movement; A reaction against the suburban atrophy of racially segregated urban America. Miles, Colman, Coltrane, Brubeck, Mingus, Kerouac and the Beats were counter-culture warriors, bent on ushering in a better world. A place were fresh ideas, the arts and people mattered. Poems (1) I will not critique my performance, that is for others. What I will do however is comment on the extraordinary Stephen Small Group – the ‘Mexico City Blues’ musicians. Stephen Small is a man of broad musical tastes, real vision and very open ears. He empowered a wonderful band and under his skilful and subtle coaxing they gave it their best. His piano never gets in the way of others, but it adds amazing texture and substance to the performances. It is deeply in the blues tradition and lovely. Instinctively he knew who to hire and what to expect of them.

Olivier Holland brought his electric bass as well as his upright bass. I hadn’t previously heard Oli on electric bass, but he is simply killing. Ron is always marvellous and as a musician said to me, “With those beats pushing at your back and pulsating through your body anything seems possible”. Neil Watson on guitar and pedal steel is another talented musician; his feel for the blues is exceptional. He also has a happy grasp of the absurd and this is an essential prerequisite for any good improvising musician. Lastly there is Hadyn Godfrey, an experienced talented trombonist who effectively added electronics to his horn for this gig. The use of pedals, a small Moog and various forms of extended technique gave the gig an other-worldly dimension. 1959 never sounded so good.

I may never get to do this again but I will not forget this night. Stephen Small did what good leaders do. He made us all believe that the improbable could become magic. He took an idea from the margins and helped us realise it in a fresh way. Jazz at its best is a controlled accident, a high wire act, an intrepid exploration. For one truly wonderful night I was a small part of that.

Stephen Small Group: Mexico City Blues – Stephen Small (leader, piano, keys), Neil Watson (fender guitar, pedal steel guitar, electronics), Hadyn Godfrey (trombone, electronics), Olivier Holland (electric bass, upright bass), Ron Samsom (drums), John Fenton (Kerouac poems)

Special acknowledgement to Chris Melville for the photographs

Review, USA and Beyond

Happy New Year – JazzLocal32.com

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Thanks to everyone who reads and visits JazzLocal32.com and particularly the musicians and Jazz lovers who let me into their lives, many of whom are close friends.

Improvised music is a profound manifestation of the human condition and a loadstone to guide us on. It tells us that we can reach beyond the known and touch an illusive world of new possibilities; but only if we adjust our perspective.

It is the job of musicians, writers, visual artists and poets to challenge, interpret and shock. Jazz musicians understand this better than many Jazz fans. Life can be stunningly beautiful and ordered but profound realisations can also arise from discord. These conditions are not separate but co-dependent refractions from life’s experience.

I dedicate this post to the musical risk takers who ride currents that we cannot see but which we experience through them.

Early Jazz confounded listeners as it was unknown to them. Swing took ten years to replace two beat Jazz and beBop ten years to displace the later. Jazz does not stand still anymore than life does. It is not a museum.

Whether we listen to avant-garde, fusion, funk, swing or post bop it comes from the same restless explorations if played with integrity. My wish for everyone who enjoys this music is that they will become more adventurous.

The Creative Jazz Club in Auckland has a genius for expanding our horizons and by feeding club goers a varied diet it stretches our ears. We don’t have to like everything we hear but we should be respectful of the act of creation.

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I am writing this from one of the great Jazz cities of the world (San Francisco) and Jazz is deep in the DNA of this place. On New Year’s Eve there were a lot of unimaginative ear splitting DJ events but Jazz coexisted and held its ground.

To paraphrase John Zorn there are blocks of sound everywhere – it just needs someone to interpret and arrange them. No manifestation of sound is invalid. The musicians do the rest and we are an integral part of the result.

We are all poets and musicians in our way if we stretch out observe and above all listen with fresh ears.

I was in a nice eatery two nights ago and a fine musician Terrance Brewer was playing smoking Jazz guitar. In the first break I went up and told him how much I had enjoyed the group and his playing. Next break he came and spoke with us – giving me two of his CDs as gifts.

The Jazz community is truly a universal family and because I listened and acknowledged the music we connected as kindred spirits.

Happy new year to my jazz family – I love you all.

listen LISTEN

Written on the road from the wonderful liberal San Francisco ( as a guide book said – Republicans and the unhip risk being run out of town).

John Fenton

PS – I now own the domain name JazzLocal32.com

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CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Jazz Journalists Association

JJA Jazz Awards Satellite Party in Auckland

Press release: Wed 6th June 2012

Creative Jazz Cub & Auckland Jazz Orchestra presents the

JJA Jazz Awards Satellite Party

The 16th Annual Jazz Journalists Association Jazz Awards is an international black tie event held at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York on Wednesday 20th June and features hundreds of musicians, jazz journalists, educators and industry associates.

Auckland musician/saxophonist Roger Manins has been awarded a Jazz Hero Award by JJA, so to celebrate and honour New Zealand’s jazz heroes, Auckland’s Creative Jazz Club (CJC) will be hosting the world’s first 2012 Awards Satellite Party at the Britomart’s Basement Bar also on Wednesday 20th June. The Awards will feature music by the Auckland Jazz Orchestra (AJO) and as New Zealand will be acknowledged at the New York Awards event, willing musicians and Jazz fans should arrive early for photographs – to be posted on the Jazz Journalists Associations Awards official web sites. Don’t miss one of the biggest events on the Jazz calendar!

Wednesday 20 June – Basement Bar, AUCKLAND

Home of the Creative Jazz Club, 1885, Galway St Central, BRITOMART

8pm, Tickets GA $10, CJC members & students $7, student members $5

http://www.jjajazzawards.org,  www.rogermanins.com,  www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

CJC contacts – caroline@creativejazzclub.co.nz    roger@creativejazzclub.co.nz   John Fenton blogsite – Jazz Local 32   http://www.jon4jaz.wordpress.com

Publicity – Leesa Tilley / publicity-machine@clear.net.nz / phone 09 3766 868

The Jazz Journalists Association (JJA) honours excellence in jazz music, recordings, presentation and journalism. The 2012 Jazz Awards has 39 categories of excellence including Lifetime Achievement and Best of the Year Awards for musicians, presenters, recordings, photos, journalists, publications, blogs and websites. A star-studded coterie of musicians, journalists and music-world movers and shakers will be honoured in jazz’s only independent, international, culture-and-community-wide awards celebration.

Creative Jazz Club (CJC) was set up two years ago by musicians Carolina Moon, Roger Manins and broadcaster Mark Robinson. Webmaster Ben McNichol and journalist John Fenton complete the team. Now a world-class jazz club, CJC fosters and promotes the development of Auckland’s creative jazz scene by providing musicians with a dedicated performance space, nurturing emerging artists, and the programming of innovative local, national and international talent in its weekly Wednesday club night. Vocalist and composer Carolina Moon – who is currently touring her medieval world music fusion Mother Tongue in-between teaching jazz vocals at the University of Auckland – said “I was motivated to start CJC primarily because there was nowhere for us to play our music, and I thought well there must be other people in the same boat too. When we first opened, one of NZ’s landmark jazz musicians said to me – ‘now I have something to practice for’ – and gee I just wanted to cry.  So we started out at Cafe 121, Ponsonby Rd and over that first year we saw the creative scene really start to grow as it provided bands with an outlet for their creative projects – AND an audience which wants to listen and be part of it.”

Roger Manins won the Australian National Jazz Awards for saxophone in 2002 and this month, will receive a JJA Jazz Hero Award as international recognition of his outstanding musicianship and services to the community and education. Roger was born in Waiuku and currently teaches at the University of Auckland between touring nationally and internationally with various groups such as the Roger Manins Trio/Quartet, Hip Flask, Carolina Moon, Resonator, Manins Muller featuring Mike Nock plus a series of Trans-Tasman collaborations. Roger has released 3 CDs – Hip Flask, Trio and Latitude – and is recorded on more than 30 jazz albums with some of Australasia’s leading artists.

an outstandingly gifted musician with a warmly passionate sound, remarkable instrumental ability and total
musical integrity” – Mike Nock

one of the best newly issued hard bop recordings I’ve heard in quite some time. Manins sounds incredible throughout, but is particularly exceptional on Monk’s Well You Needn’t. Manins et al. aren’t merely recreating—they’re creating new music by taking Hard Bop elements to new places” – Slim’s Spins, Cadence Magazine, USA (March 2012)

http://www.jjajazzawards.org http://www.rogermanins.com http://www.creativejazzclub.co.nz CJC contacts – caroline@creativejazzclub.co.nz / roger@creativejazzclub.co.nz

John Fenton blogsite – Jazz Local 32 – http://www.jon4jaz.wordpress.com (Jazz Journalists Association).

Publicity – Leesa Tilley / publicity-machine@clear.net.nz / phone 09 3766 868

Australia & Pacific gigs, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs

Steve Barry – PJ Koopman Quartet

We had been expecting the official release of Tom Dennisons ‘Zoo’ album but instead we got two musicians from that group in a new and exciting configuration.   While we were saddened that the ‘Zoo’ date was postponed, we could not complain as we were treated to a slice of Jazz heaven under the skillful co-leadership of Steve Barry and P J Koopman.

I make no bones about my enthusiasm for Steve Barry’s piano as I have heard him and reviewed him twice before.    Steve was back in town for two gigs only and the first of them under the leadership of premier Australian drummer Andrew Dickeson, had been a success by any measure.   This time Steve was appearing as co-leader and so many of his own compositions got an airing.  He and the much respected guitarist P J Koopman were also able to stretch out on some well-chosen and seldom heard compositions gleaned from the Jazz song book.

The other two quartet members were Oli Holland (bass) and Ron Samsom (drums).    This dream lineup gave us our moneys worth and a whole lot more.

The first number was the 1935 Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein classic ‘I’ve Told Every Little Star’.   It started with the bones of the melody and swiftly evolved into a swinging medium tempo number.  The composition should perhaps be credited to a small melodic bird, as it came to Kern when he heard a rare finch with a beautiful name singing on his windowsill (Melospiza Melodia).  It was also the last thing Kern sang from his death-bed.   In the hands of this band both bird and composer could not have failed to appreciate the updating.

The next number was a rendition of the moody atmospheric ‘Mantra’ by Kendrick Scott.   This is the perfect vehicle for guitar and piano and its deep penetrating lines were used to advantage by the band.    It is also a number where the drums (with mallets) and bass can be brought right up in the mix and this was certainly not a band to miss such an opportunity.  As they moved through the set list the audience were transfixed.  The guitarist PJ Koopman was at his best that night and it was a joy to see how well he and Steve Barry interacted.    An imperative for piano/guitar configurations is for each to keep out of the others way and they did that instinctively as they have played together over many years.   With a tasteful drummer like Ron Samsom and a skillful bassist like Oli Holland underpinning the chordal instruments, it was never going to be anything but satisfying.

As the set progressed they played two of Steve’s compositions – ‘Untitled 3’ and ‘Unconscious-Lee’.    The latter composition was dedicated to Lee Konitz and his tune ‘Subconscious-Lee’ which he so famously played with Warne Marsh.   It was here that we saw Steve’s writing skills come to the fore and above all experienced the fluidity of P J’s guitar.   I have often been told by guitarists how difficult this Lenny Tristano stuff is to do.   Long unison lines performed to metronome like timing (Tristano hated flashy drummers and famously said that his preference was for a metronome as time-keeper – he would not have minded Ron I’m sure).  There are real subtleties in this music and in lessor hands the message could have been subsumed in the detail.  P J and Steve ran their lines perfectly and when I closed my eyes I could hear an echo of Billy Beaur (g) and Lenny Tristano (p).

The last set begun with ‘Parks’ (Steve Barry) and I have heard him play this before. The tune had stuck fast in my head from the first time I heard it and so I had always wanted to know more about it. It was composed as a tribute to Aaron Parks during a period in which Steve had been listening to a lot of his music (you can find Aaron on the ‘James Farm’ albums along with top rated ex-pat kiwi bassist Matt Penman – sampled on Sound Cloud). Once again Ron Samsom used his mallets to great advantage with Oli Holland’s bass lines weaving skillfully throughout. I will never tire of hearing this complex but satisfying tune.

It was probably the penultimate number of the night which will linger longest in the minds of the audience. A friend commented on how utterly beautiful it was and cursed the fact that her bus was due to leave before the number was finished. The tune was a medley beginning with ‘Iris’ (Wayne Shorter) and segueing into ‘Clusters’ by Steve Barry. It was a good choice on so many levels as it was a more reflective number; allowing the band to showcase their melodic skills, improvisational skills and mastery of the Jazz vocabulary. This was a tune where the subtlety of the exchanges between guitar, piano, drums and bass was paramount. To maintain subtlety while stretching out is always a hard ask but they managed it perfectly. Of note were PJ with his stunningly beautiful chord work and Ron Samsom with his colourist mallet work. Ron is one of our best Kiwi drummers and certainly my favourite. Like all good drummers he understands that less is sometimes more and he is extremely tuneful. I watch his moves closely on gigs and to see him use all parts of the stick or mallet (and even use a beer bottle rolled across the cymbal) is fascinating.

Steve Barry has just been awarded a scholarship and so he will be extremely busy in Sydney over the next three years. What with that and giging his timetable will be full but we hope that he will remember his home town and visit as often as he is able. P J Koopman next returns to NZ to perform at the Tauranga Jazz festival and we look forward to that.

Other tunes performed were ‘P J B’ by Sean Wayland, ‘Cyclic Episode’ by Sam Rivers and ‘Cheryl’ by Charlie Parker.

As our best and brightest move offshore others step up in their place – Sam, Eli (and friend Rachel) gave us a taste of that in the late night Jam session following the gig.

Oli Holland & Ron Samsom (all photography by John Fenton)