CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians, Straight ahead, Swing

Ben Wilcock + The Jelly Rolls

Ben Wilcocks (1)

The last time the Jelly Rolls Jelly Rolls played at the CJC was two years ago and they are just the right band for a pre-Christmas 2017 gig.  To my ears, nothing sounds more like Christmas than the Jelly Rolls. Forget your formulaic Christmas albums – this is good times music and you can feel it deep in your bones. The Jelly Rolls are important for a number of reasons, but not least because of their outreach to both provincial and urban New Zealand. The year has gone well for them and after touring the band to unlikely corners of the Island, they arrived in Auckland in peak form. Their particular brand of swing-infused music is seldom heard live and it’s a delight to hear it done (and done so well). To a new generation of listeners, this is often an eye-opener and so it should be. Their playlist comprises originals but also showcases an all but forgotten improvised treasure trove. Ben Wilcocks (3)

Much of the Jelly Rolls music comes from an important moment in the development of Jazz. It digs into the repertoire of musicians like Erroll Garner, Fats Waller, Ahmad Jamal, Jack Teagarden and Oscar Peterson. These musicians were far more important than mere historical footnotes – they were vital stepping-stones to where we are today; larger than life musicians who entertained and made us smile. In the Jelly Rolls hands, all of the above are referenced; not in a ‘let’s do some retro stuff’ way but by encapsulating style and essence. Those who know their music history will pick up these threads but will also enjoy the immediacy. This is music to be enjoyed in the now, enjoyed at a visceral level; foot-tapping body-swaying music.  Some of what we heard, the swing material, was from their earlier ‘Live in Cromwell’ album (I love that title).Ben Wilcocks

When I last saw Ben Wilcock he was about to move to Rotorua. His new location among the lakes and geothermal marvels prompted him to write some fresh material. The Phantom Canoe is an ambitious project focusing on Te Arawa legends of the central North Island. In deference to local Iwi and Hapu, he consulted elders as the project unfolded. Armed with their blessings and advice, he told the stories in his own voice. The album arising out of that project is on data-card and it includes a short video.  There is a piece about a Taniwha, the epic of Hinemoa and Tutanekai is told in several parts but the most dramatic tale is the title track ‘The Phantom Canoe’.  Beautifully paced, gently evocative of the landscape and the mysterious story behind it.

A Phantom Canoe appeared on Lake Tarawera on the 13th May 1886 and it was seen by the wiser Maori inhabitants as a portent of the coming eruption. The volcano erupted violently 10 days later, obliterating the villages around the shore and the iconic pink and white terraces. No such canoe had ever been on the lake and those in the canoe were dressed in traditional shrouds. Michael Barker’s vibraphone melody over a repeat pattern on piano and bass was just right for this, Wellington drummer John Rae completing the piece nicely as he evoked the final eruption sequence. It was obvious that the band enjoyed performing together and the audience picked up on that and responded.Ben Wilcocks (2) The line up on Squeaky Weasel, an earlier Jelly Rolls album, was as now Wilcock, Rae and bass player Yeabsley. The addition of Michael Barker on percussion and vibraphone is an evolution that makes perfect sense. Trumpeter Finn Scholes joined them for one number and delivered a well thought through high energy solo. To pick up a copy go to Ben Wilcock Thick Records Ltd – www.thickrecords.co.nz  They appeared at the CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog Tavern, K’Road, Auckland on 29 November 2017

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Piano Jazz, Straight ahead

The Jelly Rolls Trio @ CJC

Jelly Rolls #1 11-3-2014 055Thomas ‘Fats’ Waller and Errol Garner can install a smile on your face in two jaunty bars.  It is the same with Wellington’s ‘The Jelly Rolls’.  Waller and Garner are widely loved but seldom imitated; probably because what they do is extremely difficult.  The original recordings also stand up so well that mere clones would be a redundancy.  The Jelly Rolls have achieved something special by locating the spirit of this cheerful Harlem Stride influenced music; achieving this through a clever synthesis of the leading stylists. For good measure they have thrown in a touch of the more modern Ahmed Jamal and a pinch of Oscar Peterson.  This is the sound of joy, wild unbounded exuberance.  Jelly Rolls 11-3-2014 058

In recent years there have been surprisingly few attempts to honour this era.  A Jazz historian once described Garner as a happy footnote; a blip aside from the mainstream. He was correct in one sense, as there is no Errol Garner school of pianism.  While that is less true of Waller the extent of their influence remains strangely allusive.  Great pianists can influence those who follow in subtle and various ways, but it often requires the fullness of time for their real influence to become evident.  A just released album ‘All Rise’ by the very modern pianist Jason Moran honours ‘Fats’ and names him as a prime influence. This is a post millennial interpretation and speaks in an engaging contemporary voice.  Some years ago a famous and well respected pianist took a different and traditionalist tack.  Although eminently qualified to tackle such a tribute, the album somehow fell short.  I have often puzzled at that.  When approaching ‘Fats’ Waller and especially Garner, the first requisite is having the chops.  The second requisite and perhaps the most important, is knowing when to subvert any sense of reverence and reach for the Joy. This is not music for a dry piano-roll type transcription.

Jelly Rolls 11-3-2014 060

The Jelly rolls did something special here; they effortlessly took us back to the era of rent parties and speakeasies. To a time when a pianists left hand worked harder than the ‘hoofers’ in the room. The fact that pianist Ben Wilcock’s braces kept falling to his elbows added to the illusion.  It made us feel like we were watching a Willie the Lion or a ‘Fats’Waller; something redolent of a hat tilted at an impossibly dangerous angle or a chewed cigar barely surviving the banter.  On bass was Dan Yeabsley, finding ways round that powerful walking left hand on piano and yet still holding the centre.  On drums was John Rae the iconoclast, playing the old style two-beat rhythms on brushes and sticks as if born to it. The same Rae we know to be madly expressive. The same Rae for whom no complex subdivision of time is out-of-bounds.  Here he was, working the gig like an old school drummer (that huge grin still intact).  All three were magnificent but Wilcock’s piano work must get the grand prize.  When post-bop practitioners like these pull out such performances a truth’s revealed.  Experienced, tasteful and talented Jazz musicians can tackle almost anything and do it well.

During the second set, Auckland’s premier tenor saxophonist Roger Manins came to the band stand. You could see that he was hungry for a piece of this magic and he shone.  Manins always amazes and he had somehow adjusted his embouchure to give out a full-bodied era-appropriate sound.  We were also impressed when Yeabsley put down his bass and played a sweetly melodic baritone saxophone.  After a good sampling of Waller, Jamal, Ellington and Garner, the Jelly Rolls rounded things off with ‘The Sheik of Araby/I’ve got a New Baby’. Just perfect.

There is an inescapable sense of fun about this trio.  They swing like crazy and they radiate mischief. This is especially evident as they shuffle together a few era appropriate licks.  The Jelly Rolls album “Sneaky Weasel’ can be purchased from the site below.

Jelly Rolls 11-3-2014 055

What: The Jelly Rolls – Ben Wilcock (piano), Dan Yeabsley (bass), John Rae (drums).

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) – Britomart 1885 Basement. 11th Feb 2015

 

 

Avant-garde, Beyond category, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs

The Troubles @ CJC 2014

IMG_3891 - Version 2

‘Troubles’ come in many forms and what a proliferation of ‘Troubles’ we have seen in Auckland. In mid 2012 we saw a nonet replete with a sizeable string section (and clarinet). Earlier this year at the Auckland Jazz Festival we saw a septet (strings, no clarinet and with Roger Manins on tenor saxophone as guest artist).  By Wednesday December 10th 2014 all trace of rosin was purged and the sweet sounds and fresh faces of the front line string section replaced by three tall bearded men clutching saxophones (and a shorter clean-shaven trumpeter).  This was a bold and brassy line up; a weightier manifestation, delivering anarchic messages from darker corners.  IMG_3877 - Version 2This was too good an opportunity not to record and Rattle did just that.  Capturing chordal instruments in a space like the CJC is challenging as the sound has a number of hard edges to bounce off.  Recording a live performance of this particular brand of ‘Troubles’ might work well.  IMG_3883 - Version 2Guiding the proceedings with his well-known brand of anti-establishment megaphone diplomacy was ring master John Rae, ‘Troubles’ co-founder.  He shepherded the ensemble through a constantly shifting landscape. His effervescent flow of joyous and often irreverent cries only stemmed by Patrick Bleakley’s timely interjections.  Rae is the supercharged engine room, but Bleakley is clearly the anchor.  Like Rae he’s an original member.  IMG_3872 - Version 2With this Auckland horn section in place, a new front had opened and the tweaked charts took maximum advantage of that. On baritone was Ben McNicoll and his presence gave the sound added bottom. Roger Manins, who had stunned us with his wild death-defying solo’s at the Troubles Portland Public House gig was on tenor again.  Jeff Henderson took the alto spot and that was a significant addition. His ultra powerful unblinking delivery was the x-factor.  Unafraid of repeated motifs but able to negotiate the music without ever resorting to the familiar. That is the Henderson brand, original clear-cut and uncompromising.  In no way diminished by the powerful reed instruments surrounding him was Kingsley Melhuish on trumpet. Melhuish has a rich burnished sound and like the others, he is no stranger to musical risk taking.  IMG_3869 - Version 2Together they evoked a spirit close to the earlier manifestations of the Liberation Jazz Orchestra. Not just the rich and at times delightfully ragged sound, but the cheerful defiance of convention and discarding of political niceties.  Rae’s introductions were gems and I hope some of them survive in the recording.  He told the audience that it had been a difficult year for him. “It was tough experiencing two elections in as many months and in both cases the got it woefully wrong” (referring to the Scottish referendum and the recent New Zealand Parliamentary elections). “there are winners and losers in politics and there are many assholes”.  IMG_3890 - Version 2It wouldn’t be the ‘Troubles’ if there wasn’t a distinct nod to some of the worlds trouble spots or to political events that confound us.  I have chosen a clip ‘Arab Spring Roll’ (John Rae), a title which speaks for itself.  Following the establishment of a compelling ostinato bass line, the musicians build a convincing modal bridge to the freedom which follows.  Chaotic freedom is the perfect metaphor for the ‘Arab Spring’ uprising. The last number performed was the ANC National anthem and as it concluded, fists rose in remembrance of the anti-apartheid struggle.  It is right that we should celebrate the struggles for equality, but sobering to reflect on how far we have to go. The Troubles keep our feet to the flame, while gifting us the best in musical enjoyment.

What: ‘The Troubles‘ – John Rae (drums, compositions, exaltation), Patrick Bleakley (bass, vocal responses), with Roger Manins (tenor sax), Jeff Henderson (alto sax), Ben McNicholl (baritone sax), Kingsley Melhuish (trumpet, Trombone).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland New Zealand, 10th December 2014

Auckland Jazz Festival, New Zealand Jazz Gigs, USA and Beyond

Auckland Jazz Festival 2014 in retrospect

IMG_3226 - Version 2

The 2014 Auckland Jazz festival is over and it is time to reflect on ten days of warm vibes, edgy grooves, good company and above all truly exceptional music.  Auckland is a difficult beast when it comes to festivals.  It is like a smaller version of Los Angeles; a spread out town centre and an urban area sprawling over 600 Square Kilometres.  This contrasts with the smaller Wellington, where the suitable music venues are in close proximity.  While getting festivals off the ground has always been a challenge in Auckland, there are willing audiences out there.  The trick is getting them to pay attention.  It was an ‘underground’ festival and apart from a handful of flyers, some posters in the participating venues and student radio, the publicity machine was Facebook, a hastily created website and word of mouth.  In spite of that people turned up and everyone enjoyed the gigs.  Town halls and large commercial venues are utterly without soul and the decision to stick to smaller venues made good sense.  Because of that festival goers got to experience live music up close and personal.  A woman at the Mike Nock gig expressed delight that she could sit less than a metre away from the band.  Close enough to catch every nuance and smile; to connect with the joy.  To be so close to one of the worlds great pianists is an experience never forgotten.  This sort of intimacy is gold.  This is a solid foundation to build upon and potential sponsors will hopefully see that and come onboard next year.

IMG_3162 - Version 2 (2)

Over the ten days I managed to attend five gigs, including the three headline acts.  Like any music lover I wanted to attend more.  Actually there were over thirty gigs on offer for those with time on their hands and that is impressive.  The opening gig was at the Portland Public House in Kingsland which is an intimate entertainment space with a delightfully shabby-sheik decor and great bar food.   ‘The Troubles’ were the perfect act to launch the festival, as their rollicking, anarchic, good time vibe engaged the large and enthusiastic crowd from the first note.  I am a huge fan of this group which is a collective led by Wellington drummer John Rae.  This time, and it was an inspired move, they had included Auckland’s Roger Manins in the lineup.  This transformed a wonderful boisterous freedom loving band into a full-scale riot.   The five piece string section were the perfect foil and they shone.  Neither Manins nor Rae gave any quarter as they hungrily fed off all challenges like musical Pacmen.   The Troubles music bubbles out of a deep well of musicality and exuberance.  It references the sounds of protest, eastern European music, the vibrancy of street life and above all joy.  As the chants, cries, shouts, dissonance and snatches of sweet melody catch your ear, you realise that this is ancient and future music.  It is honest and often deeply swinging.  It is everything from Mingus to now.

IMG_3146 - Version 2

On Monday I got an email.  ‘If I was free, would I be able to pick up Mike Nock and his trio from the airport’.  I truly like him as a human being as there is an irreverence and a sense of fun about him.  Hanging with him is a positive experience and it was also a good opportunity to gain a few insights into the gig.  He has a Zen approach to life and to music; living in the moment and cutting through the bullshit.  He is funny and a great storyteller, but surprisingly humble about his own impressive accomplishments.   Anyone who has studied the history of New Zealand music (and arguably Australian) will inevitably say at some point, “Oh yeah, Mike Nock; this is THE guy”.  At the airport I ran into another returning Jazz Pianist Steve Barry, so we all crammed into my hatchback.   Musicians, personal luggage and cymbals.  “What will you play tonight” I asked on the way into town?  Mike gave a typical Mike reply, “Man I don’t always know until my fingers are on the piano keys”.  When I repeated this to bass player Brett Hirst he laughed, “Yes and I age a year every-time he does it” he said.   “These days whether a standard or an original, all I want to do is reach deep inside until I find the poetry”, added Nock.

IMG_3228 - Version 2

It is this last statement that epitomises his approach.  You watch him seated quietly at the keyboard, calmly flexing his arms and then suddenly he is playing; the melody stated as if in passing, feeling his way to the essence of a tune.  It is always a masterclass for the careful listener.  All of the dross and excess baggage of a tune is dispensed with as the smiling Nock shares his joy with those present.  As he plays he sings quietly or exclaims joyously.  Sometimes pausing momentarily, dropping his hands from the keys, acknowledging a special moment.   In a club like the CJC you get an immediacy like no other venue and being part of a Mike Nock experience is very special.   Nock played a variety of tunes, some well-loved standards, some almost forgotten older tunes and an original or two.   IMG_3208 - Version 2When he played Irving Berlin’s lovely ‘How Deep is the Ocean’ he prefixed it with a long intro, pulling you deep into the mood of the piece and then suddenly swinging madly, the melody dancing with him.  It was as if we were hearing it for the first time.  Next was ‘Solar’ (Miles Davis), which in lessor hands could be viewed as a surprising choice.  The tune was given no quarter.  Nock, Brett Hirst and James Waples (drums) immediately peeled the layers away to reveal an energised core which burned like a super nova.   Life is good when the Mike Nock trio is in town.

The next night featured the Benny Lackner Trio from Germany.  Lackner has played at the CJC twice previously, but this was the first time that he had brought his European trio with him.  He is an interesting artist and his music is very different from that of the Mike Nock Trio.   This music is firmly rooted in the European aesthetic and less rooted in the bluesy traditions of America.  What he offers is something wholly modern and closer to the oeuvre of artists like Esbjorn Swennson and Tigran Hamasyan .   It was a rare chance to hear a type improvised music that I have long followed with enthusiasm but get few chances to hear being so far away from Europe.  Rather than drawing on the blues it seems to appropriate folk music and near eastern song forms.   The tunes though are all originals and they are often lovely to the ear.  The trio uses electronics in the way that EST did, but there is more edge these compositions.  There are complex cross rhythms and pulsing bass lines on the upbeat numbers; probing filigree explorations around the beautiful melodic lines on the ballads.  On upright and electric bass was Paul Kleber and on drums the interesting Matthieu Chazarenc.  This was music to savoured and thought about long afterwards.  Offering complimentary but contrasting artists is at the heart of good festival programming.

IMG_3251 - Version 2

The third headline act was a double trombone lineup.  From the USA was Francisco Torres who is best known for his stellar work with Poncho Sanchez or the award-winning Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band.   His credits are considerable and everyone from Terrance Blanchard to Natalie Cole has benefitted from his strong playing.   The other trombonist was Wellington’s Rodger Fox who like Torres has an impressive list of credits to his name.  Fox wears many hats, promoter, educator, composer and trombonist.  Neither Torres nor Fox had played at the CJC before and it was appropriate that they were given a quality rhythm section.   On piano was Kevin Field, Bass Oli Holland and drums Ron Samsom.  The gig was therefore titled ‘two bones and a dog’.  The dog reference was about the ‘Dog’ band which features Field, Holland and Samsom.  Perhaps because it was the third headline gig in a row the numbers were down and that was a shame because they played like there was no tomorrow; mostly standards and particularly those with strong trombone associations.   It was nice to hear a tune by the ill-fated master of the west-coast trombone, Frank Rosolino.  I am always overwhelmed by the warmth of the instrument.  In the semi darkness a glow of burnished gold radiated from the horns, reflecting the warmth of the music perfectly.  There were a number of trombonists in the audience, grinning from ear to ear.   Another great festival night.

IMG_3288 - Version 2

The final gig that I attended was at the Golden Dawn.  Recently voted the best bar in town, it is a welcoming place; a venue begging to become your local, no matter how far away you live.  The management have the happy knack of engaging the quirkier bands, showcasing an edge that can only emerge from underground music.  The lighting is particularly appealing, something between a vaudeville dressing room and a prohibition era speak-easy.  The multi hued lighting seeps through dark-toned wood grain and bounces off the bottles behind the bar, losing its intensity on the journey.   Sunday night is jazz night and what better place to finish up a festival.  When I arrived the Alex Ward trio had just set up and they played a short opening set.  We heard Tigran Hamasyan’s ‘leaving Paris’, a Brad Mehldau tune (from his Easy Rider album) and a standard or two.  The number that I most enjoyed was Wards own composition ‘Litmus Test’, which strongly references and builds upon the vibe of 60’s McCoy Tyner.  IMG_3332 - Version 2

The closing set was ‘Harry Himself’ and this under-the-radar band is truly amazing.  It is a hybrid music with enormous appeal, similar to the Jazz from the Nordic countries.  Unusual combinations of instruments, some electronics, loops and an endless supply of deep grooves.   All of the musicians were of the highest calibre and perhaps this is the bands ace in the hole.  When doing something brave and unusual, do it really well.   Leading the band was Kingsley Melhuish on tuba, trumpet, trombone, flugal and vocals (and pedals).  On pedal steel guitar and Fender was Neil Watson, a much admired musician who can subvert and then create afresh like few others.  Sam Giles was pumping out-deep groove electric bass lines and it was good to see him on the band stand again.  At the rear and barely visible, but clearly audible, was Ron Samson, a drummer as respected as he is versatile.  Carried on the pulses of blue light were shimmering outlines, accompanied by mesmerising waves of sound; intensely textural grooves, layer building upon layer.

IMG_3366 - Version 2

At times Melhuish would set up a loop on tuba, tweak the sound and then play wonderful figures over it on trumpet or flugal.  In behind, bending notes on fender or adding fills on the pedal steel guitar was Watson.  This unusual combination of instruments works so well that it should definitely be repeated.  It begs further explorations.  With Samsom and Giles in the mix a pulsing original sound scape unfolded; perhaps best described as a Second Line gumbo meeting psychedelic Americana.  The festival finished up with a Jam session at the same venue.

IMG_3183 - Version 2

Those who attended the various festival gigs were very pleased with what was on offer and those who found out too late cursed their ill luck.   I understand that the notification period will be longer for next years festival, so watch out for it next Spring.

What: The Auckland Jazz Festival  17th to 26th October 2014

Who: The Troubles (septet), The Mike Nock Trio, The Benny Lackner Trio, Francisco Torres/Roger Fox (quintet), Alex Ward Trio, Harry Himself (quartet).

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), The Portland Public House, The Golden Dawn.

Note: I will add a Torres/Fox video shortly

Avant-garde, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, New Zealand Jazz Gigs

‘Troubles’ hit the CJC

John Rae exhorting everyone; call & response

It has always been said that troubles arrive in pairs.   In this case the old adage was woefully awry as ‘The Troubles’ arrived in nonet form.  Their arrival may have ‘Rattled’ us somewhat, but we are built of stern stuff in Auckland.   We fortified our ourselves with strong liquor and pep talks, adjusted our parental lockout settings to allow for some serious swearing and settled in for the realpolitik of John Rae’s and Lucien Johnson’s crazy-happy Jazz.     ‘Oh Yeah’, we told ourselves, ‘We are ready to handle anything a Wellington band can throw our way’.

The Troubles-  call & response

There are bands that I like, bands that I respect and bands which drive me wild with pleasure.   ‘The Troubles’ are of the latter kind.   I’m besotted with this band and their deliberately ragged, madly political, quasi-serious satire.    This band digs deep into the well-springs of life and what bubbles up is a joyous lake of barely controlled madness.   The anarchic overtones are deliberate, but there is a scream-in-your-face humour that overshadows all else.   This is about chiaroscuro; a bunch of opposites vying with each other for attention.

This band is about plunging us without warning into the troubled spots of the world and then showing us humour where we thought none existed.  The overt political messages were a joy to me as I have never quite understood why this space is not filled more often.   The history of Jazz is intensely political and to describe ‘The Troubles’ music as a continuation of the work done by Carla Bley, Charlie Haden and especially Charles Mingus (even Benny Goodman) is not too far-fetched.    This band is a talented group of clowns shaking us by the scruff and saying; laugh or cry but for god’s sake look at the world about you.   There is no solace for Lehman Bros, Merrill Lynch, Barclay’s or John Key here.  For Jazz lovers with big ears there is joy aplenty.

This band is about call & response; not just between instrumentalists, but by the band vocally responding to John Rae’s trade mark exhortations.  Although he leads from the drum kit, that doesn’t prevent him standing up and shouting at the band (or the audience) to elicit stronger reactions.  During one of the middle Eastern sounding numbers (which appeared to lay the Wests hypocrisy bare), he shouted in what I can only assume was faux Arabic.  A flow of equally Arabic sounding responses flowed back .   It was the string section verbally responding as they wove their melodies around the theme.

On another occasion John Rae announced that we would be celebrating an often ignored trouble spot.   “I will now express solidarity with the North Americans”, he announced.  “The Sioux, Cherokee, Iroquois, Apache, Mohave etc”.   He began with a corny war dance drum beat which quickly morphed into a tune from ‘Annie Get Your Gun’.   As the melodic structure unwound into free-Jazz chaos we all understood the history lesson and laughed at the outrageousness of the portrayal.

Another Tango melody written by Lucien gradually reached a joyous fever pitch.  During the out-chorus the instruments dropped out one by one and as each instrument stopped playing the musicians raised a closed fist in a revolutionary salute.   Although it was quite dark in the club we had all picked up the cues.  This was a musical night beyond glib definition.

Like life, the music gave us lighter and then more thoughtful moments.  Musically it was amazing fun and after a difficult week I was suddenly glad I was alive.

Mission accomplished I think John and Lucien – keep shaking us up please.

John Rae (drums, co-leader, co-writer, co-arranger).  Lucien Johnson (sax, co-leader, co-arranger, co-writer).  Patrick Bleakley (double bass).  Daniel Yeabsley (Clarinet). Jake Baxendale (saxes). Hanna Fraser (violin). Charley Davenport (cello), Tristan Carter (violin). Andrew Filmer (viola).   Buy a copy of ‘The Troubles’ today at Rattle Records Ltd.  Venue – CJC Jazz Club Auckland.

Avant-garde, Interview

‘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.

Avant-garde, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, New Zealand Jazz Gigs, Review

‘Seven’ – Tim Hopkins Trio

Interaction - Tim & Dixon

I purchased a copy of ‘Seven’ from Rattle Records not long after it was completed.   The cover art portrayed black sand, which is strange to those unfamiliar with it.   For those who have not encountered it before, black sand can also be surprising.  Subtle light-shifts can throw up a myriad of purple and blue hues, and the textures revealed by the drift patterns are in constant flux.   ‘Seven’ reflects Tim Hopkins’ music in much the same way.

Tim Hopkins is well-known to those us who have followed the New Zealand Jazz diaspora.   He has recorded extensively as a sideman with the likes of Mike Nock (and many others) and he has recorded a significant number of albums as leader.  Tim lived in Sydney for many years but he eventually returned to New Zealand where he is now based.  He teaches and performs in the capital city.  His long experience as a tenor player has taught him to throw caution to the wind.   He is adept at developing free-flowing Post Bop lines, but he is not limited by that.  While quite capable of playing sweet and low he does not invite complacency, as he can just as suddenly deliver a scalding declamation.   His style is to conduct an honest conversation with the audience and few punches are pulled.  This is not to say that he is too serious for he has a highly developed sense of humour which he uses to advantage.

Tim started the gig by explaining some of the concepts behind the ‘Seven’ band.   “Someone is missing from this band” he said gesturing behind him and I initially thought that he was referring to Richard Nunns (who had appeared on a few tracks of the album).  Tim meanwhile continued to explain, “He wasn’t invited, (pausing) it is the bass player”.   A bass player is the compass and when a band plays adventurous and complex music the lack of a bass places a heavier burden on the remaining musicians.  These guys were fully aware of the job in hand.   It is often the case that an experienced leader will develop an uncanny knack for selecting just the right sidemen and this was evident here.

Dixon Nacey is not only a versatile and superb guitarist but he is a musical free spirit.   His eyes light up when he is thrown a challenge and he soon throws a challenge back.    This guy is one of our finest musicians and the younger guitarists watch his every move.    I suspect that a lot of the weight fell to Dixon in this gig, but you wouldn’t have known it to see him smiling as he dared Tim or John to answer his challenges.    This was call and response at its best.

Dixon Nacey

The drummer was also perfect for the role.  It was the first time that I had seen John Rae on traps and I hope that it will not be the last.  He is unlike many of the drummers we see, as his approach is loose and organic.  If he wants to up the ante he will suddenly shout at the others; exhorting them to give even more.  He is also far from a locked-in drummer as he will punctuate and change the groove at will.  I really liked this approach as it was the ideal foil to Tim and Dixon.

I also sensed that the band was unafraid of being overt and about confronting the political realities of our times.  This flowed through the music and I loved that about them.

At the beginning of the second set Tim was about to introduce the number when he looked into the audience and said, “Can someone bring a bouncer and throw out that old man talking in the front row”. The talking continued and Tim said in a slightly menacing northern Irish accent, “old man – go home to your wife – go home to your children”.   A short silence followed and then “Dad shut up”.   The smiling offender was Tony Hopkins his father.   Tony is much-loved on the Auckland scene for his skillful drumming.    I saw him when I was young and I would like to acknowledge his influence on my generation and beyond.

Another good example of Tim not taking himself too seriously was the introduction to ‘23rd century love song‘.   He explained that this was the result of endless navel gazing and that the market he was aiming for was probably chemistry professors.

While aspects of the gig were challenging, the night has left me with a lot to think about.   Music should occasionally challenge us and it should make us think.   I find myself going back to the album to re-examine a track or a phrase and this is a good thing. The communication is still happening.  John Rae

The numbers that have stuck with me are ‘Road From Perdition’, ‘All Blacks & Blues’ and the lovely ‘The Sleeping Giants’.   for a copy of this go directly to Rattle Records at http://www.rattle.co.nz – failing that try ‘Real Groovy’ ‘JB HiFi’ or ‘Marbecks’.

The Jam: After the gig there was a jam session and it quickly morphed into a mammoth affair.    Drummers, saxophonists, guitarists and singers crowded the band stand while fours and honks were traded to the delight of the audience.  I don’t think that I could name everyone who played but I will try: Roger Manins(ts), Tim Hopkins(ts), Noel Clayton(g), Aron Ottignon(p), Matt Steele(p) Tyson Smith(g), Dan Kennedy(d), Tony Hopkins(d), Tim ?(d), a young drummer (?), Dixon Nacey(g), Callum Passells(as), Holly Smith(v).    Roger played a lovely breathy Ben Webster sounding ‘Sunny Side if The Street’, Holly sung a fabulous bluesy ‘Summertime’ while Tony played just like he always does.  Sitting just a fraction behind the beat and in perfect time.