Kevin Field @ Thirsty Dog

Kevin 3-2017 254 (1)It was appropriate that Warners ‘A List’ recording artist Kevin Field brought with him local A listers Dixon Nacey, Cam McArthur, Roger Manins and Stephen Thomas. Field has a substantial following in New Zealand and his innovative music attracts musicians and fans alike. Since his last ‘A List’ gig he’d clearly been busy – writing new material and rendering the familiar into something altogether different. Zoot Sims once quipped, “Jazz is a music where you never play the same thing once’. Field certainly exemplifies that tongue in cheek descriptor. Commentators and visiting musicians often remark on his innovative approach to harmony and rhythm. It is as if he has invented a new musical language out of the old. In truth, there are strong elements of related genres like R & B, latin and even disco funk there; under his fingers they become unique vehicles for improvisation.Kevin 3-2017 258Unlike Janet Jackson, Field never suffers from wardrobe malfunctions. He does however occasionally suffer from equipment malfunctions. I mention it only because his Rhodes had failed him during a previous weeks CJC gig. No one listening comprehended that he had lost some of the middle-register.  No one noticed because he re-voiced mid improvisation to work around the problem. I have heard of old timers doing this but seldom modern pianists. Field can effortlessly jump over obstacles and find a sweet spot.

On Wednesday he used the Thirsty Dog’s upright piano as well as his Rhodes. Miking an upright presents challenges that don’t arise when miking a grand, consequently the piano was a little quieter in the mix than the Rhodes (and Nacey’s guitar). It didn’t matter in the end because the music was wonderful and the others modulated their sound when necessary.Kevin 3-2017 256There were old favourites reworked like ‘Game Changer’, ‘Good Friday’ and ‘Left Field’, but the rest were recent compositions. Among the newer numbers were ‘Rain check’ and ‘Acme Music Corporation’ (the latter featuring Manins on soprano – a rare event). Another new number ‘Unconditional love’ was introduced by Field with the following story. ‘There are many types of love in the world and today an unusual  example came up in my twitter feed, – ‘Trumps deportation threats make my in-laws fearful. They live at 2b/34 Main St, Phoenix. My Mother in law arrives home from work at 4:30’ “.Kevin 3-2017 255The last tune ‘Home Schooled’ was the best possible number to finish the evening with. Far from being a wind-down number, the musicians reached inside themselves, each giving magnificent performances. Manins back for a second number was on tenor, and he sounded happy to be back on his favourite horn. Nacey was at his best, making his guitar soar, as if he had found an ancient alchemy, a way to condense sunlight into music; the epitome of sonic clarity, invention and virtuosity. McArthur and Thomas each in step and reacting to the challenges. With material like this good musicians can achieve wonders. 

Kevin Field: (Rhodes, piano, compositions), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Roger Manins (tenor and soprano saxes), Cam McArthur (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums). CJC (Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog Tavern, 29th March 2017.

Jasmine Lovell Smith – ‘Yellow Red Blue’

Jasmine 258After years traveling the wider Jazz world,  Jasmine Lovell-Smith came home; launching her latest album ‘Yellow Red Blue’ at the CJC last Wednesday. The Album features a quintet ‘Towering Poppies’; a group she formed in New York over five years ago. Her New Zealand gig featured locals Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Eamon Edmundson-Wells and Chris O’Connor. After her New York release she garnered a number of favourable reviews and no wonder. This is a lovely album, her compositions and arrangements outstanding, the recording immaculate.

Lovell-Smith spent the last seven years in the United States and Mexico. Along the way she studied with the experimentalist, saxophonist and composer Anthony Braxton. When you first listen to ‘Yellow Red Blue’, the wild raspy joyous alto of Braxton is not the first thing that comes to mind. Good musicians, and Lovell-Smith is one, learn from their teachers while transforming the information into something all their own. Lovell-Smith has clearly assimilated a multiplicity of interesting influences. Her beautifully crafted  compositions teeming with ideas.Jasmine 257 Her soprano sound  is warm and enveloping, the cleaner tone of her straight horn nicely counterbalancing with the woody earthiness of the bass clarinet, the well constructed charts coming into their own when these delightful interactions occur. The rich textures are never overwhelming, even when strings enter the mix. This is chamber Jazz at it’s best, engaging the listener without resorting to cliché.

The compositions also travelled well. Wednesday’s gig had a different lineup from the album. Replacing bass clarinet was a tenor saxophone (Manins) and in place of the piano was a Rhodes (Field). Manins is incredibly intuitive in these roles and a hint of that wild (Braxton-like) unconstrained joy was evident. On the head arrangements they were captivating, on the solo’s explorative. Field and Manins are so in tune after years of interaction, that they can push each other to greater heights effortlessly. In spite of such familiarity the two avoided falling into familiar groves, stimulated by the charts and aided by Eamon Edmundson-Wells intuitive bass lines. Edmundson-Wells is a multifaceted bassist and often seen with avant-gardests.Jasmine 256

As a special treat we had the amazing Chris O’Connor on drums. I can never get enough of this guy. He can do anything on traps including hyper subtlety. On the last number of the first set he turned in a solo which was so coherent, so perfect, that the world moved into his orbit. This faster-paced tune ‘A nest to fly’, was from an earlier Lovell-Smith album.

The tunes were all by Lovell-Smith with the exception of Joni Mitchell’s ‘I had a king’. Her arrangement on that teased out fresh ideas. One particular version of that tune always sticks in my mind, the one from ‘The Joni Letters’ (with Shorter & Hancock). This version pleased me for its raw beauty and quiet intensity. The sound-clips posted here are ‘Moving mountains’ from the album and ‘A nest to fly’ from the live gig.

The title track ‘Yellow Red Blue’ is reflective and abstract. It is written in reaction to the Mark Rothko painting of the same name. I have recently been on a modernist painting viewing binge in Europe and America. The bold eerie magnetism of Rothko is still fixed in my mind’s eye, greatly refreshed after this homage. The title ‘Red Yellow Blue’ and the Rothko reference feels appropriate. Neither invite pigeon holing, both draw you deep into a borderless world.IMG_0263.jpg

Lowell-Smith is back in New Zealand to pursue a Doctorate in composition with John Psathas. Her albums are available from www.jasminelovellsmith.com

Towering Poppies: Jasmine Lovel-Smith (soprano, compositions, arrangements), Josh Sinton (bass clarinet), Cat Toren (piano), Adam Hopkins (bass), Kate Gentle (drums). A string quartet features on 3,5 & 7)

Towering Poppies live NZ: Jasmine Lovell-Smith (soprano), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Kevin Field (Rhodes, piano), Eamon Edmundson-Wells, Chris O’Connor (drums). March 15, 2017, CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Thirsty Dog, Auckland.

 

Live Dog @ Thirsty Dog

DOG16 128.jpgAs another DOG night approached I could feel the excitement in my bones. I had followed their tracks from the groups inception, enjoying every moment along the trail. I was at their first gig in February 2013 and it amazed me then just how rounded and complete they were. If you search for the ‘(Dr) Dog’ post in this blog site you will find a video from that gig. Man that blew me away. I just couldn’t get the tunes and the excitement of that night out of my head. Later I used a cut ‘Dideldideldei’ (Holland) as the signature for my YouTube site. I also sent the cut to a Jazz DJ friend Eddie B in LA and he played it on his show. Unsurprisingly people phoned in immediately wanting to know, “who were those amazing cats”?  Before long the group decided to record – everyone who heard them wanted more. DOG seemed to encapsulate everything that was good and exciting about the local scene – DOG was, and still is, something special.DOG16 131.jpgThere are so many aspects to this group that it is hard enumerate them all; of course there are the outrageous dog jokes, the brilliant compositions from each band member, the powerful stage presence, but it is something else that excites me the most. This is a band that could gig anywhere in the world and we could hold our heads up, knowing that they would do us proud, tell our story. I felt excited when they were nominated for ‘album of the year’ and as pleased as a dog with two tails when they won the ‘Jazz Tui’. Now it is rumoured that a new DOG album is on the way. I can’t wait.

Most bands take a number or two to warm up, but not this one. At the Thirsty Dog the band leapt out of the starting gate like fixated greyhounds after a lure. The first number of the first set was a new composition by bass player Oli Holland (‘Scheibenwischer’ – this translates as windscreen-wiper) and it sounded great, setting the tone for the evening. Next was Ron Samsom’s tune ‘Push Biker’ (the first track on the DOG album). The intro begins with a long morse like pulse, everyone joining in but from a different perspective, then a melodic head – coming right at you like a freight train. A great vehicle for Roger Manins to use as a launch pad as he jets into orbit on his solo.DOG16 133.jpgThroughout the sets were a scattering of familiar DOG compositions – plus a few new ones (like ‘Merde’ by Samsom and Hollands ‘Shceibenwischer’). All of the tunes sounded fresh and somehow different, perhaps because Kevin Field was playing a Rhodes and not a piano. I love the Rhodes in all its antique glory and in Field’s hands it is especially wonderful. It cut through the room like crystal. Hearing the familiar tunes like ‘Peter the Magnificent’ (Manins), ‘Icebreaker’ (Field) and ‘Sounds like Orange’ was like meeting old friends. The last track of the evening was the familiar ‘Dideldideldei'(Holland). DOG ripped into it with the usual abandon, leaving us shaking our heads in disbelief and grinning like Cheshire cats.DOG16 129.jpgThe Thirsty Dog works well as a venue, having good acoustics, good sight-lines and a sizeable bandstand.  They also serve snack food and they are most welcoming. The first DOG album is available at Rattle Records and if you don’t own a copy don’t delay. Everyone wants a DOG for Christmas.

FYI: YouTube refuses to upload video, even though I have some great cuts from this gig – will post if I ever get it sorted.

DOG: Kevin Field (Rhodes, compositions), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone, compositions), Oli Holland (bass, compositions), Ron Samsom (drums, compositions) held for the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) at the Thirsty Dog, K’Rd, Auckland city, December 7th 2016.

Jennifer Zea

Zea 122Last Wednesday saw the Venezuelan-born vocalist Jennifer Zea performing at the CJC. Her appearance was long overdue, the audience enthusiastic in anticipation of spicy South American Rhythms and the warm tones of the Spanish language in song form. When you look at where Venezuela sits on the map, you learn a lot about its music. Located in the northeast of South America, bordered by the Caribbean and by Brazil, positioned on a unique musical axis. Music blithely ignores the artificial barriers imposed by cartographers and politicians. Even Trump’s insulting wall could never be built high enough to stem musical cross-pollination. Music goes where people go, and remains as an echo long after they have moved on. Jennifer Zea is an embodiment of her country’s music; folk traditions, newer forms (Jaropo), Jazz, Soul, Bossa influences from Brazil and a pinch of Mambo, Salsa or Merengue.Zea 124The Caribbean region is the prime example of musical cross-pollination; rhythms and melodies, vocal forms and hybrid harmonization, a constant evolution into new and vibrant forms while updating and preserving the discrete pockets of older folk music styles. A weighty tome titled ‘Music and the Latin American Culture – Regional Traditions’ makes two observations; the music of the Venezuelan region is mostly hot or vibrant (see the definition of Salsa) and there is a strong underlying tradition of shamanism (manifest in musical form). The hypnotic rhythms and chants remain largely intact according to Schecter. With percussionist, Miguel Fuentes backing her, Zea conveyed the compellingly hypnotic soulful quality of her traditional music to good effect. Zea K 120Fuentes was born in the USA but grew up in Puerto Rico. These days like Zea, he lives in Auckland. Music like this demands high-quality authentic latin percussion and that’s exactly what happened. Traps drums were not needed here. Regular Zea accompanist, Jazz Pianist Kevin Field was also in the lineup. Field plays in many contexts and his accompanist credentials are second to none. He has regularly worked with Zea and (like Fuentes) most notably on her lovely 2012 release ‘The Latin Soul’. If you have a love of Cubano or Caribean style music, grab a copy of this album. Even on straight-ahead gigs, I have heard Field sneak in tasty clave rhythms. If you want to hear cross-rhythms at their best – skillfully woven by Field and Fuentes, it is on this album. An added incentive are the compositions, mostly by Field and Zea (and Jonathan Crayford). On upright bass for this gig was Mostyn Cole, an experienced bassist now residing in the Auckland region.Zea 123The gig featured some Zea compositions, three standards and to my delight some authentic Bossa. The Bossa tunes were mostly by the Brazilian genius Tom Jobim and sung in Portuguese (which is not her native language). Although Portuguese is the most commonly spoken language in Latin America, it is only the main spoken language of one country, Brazil. To learn Bossa she spent time with a teacher in order to understand the nuances and deep meanings. While respecting the Bossa song form she had the confidence to bring the music closer to her own Venezuelan musical traditions. Even her intonation was redolent of her region, unmistakably Hispanic South American.

While hearing strong elements of Cuban or Brazilian music, North American standards (or a spicy salsa of the above) you also felt that each influence was deftly filtered through a Venezuelan cloth. Her rendering of ‘Fever’ (Cooley/Davenport) and ‘Georgia on my Mind’ (Carmichael) exemplified this. There was even a little Kiwi influence in there. I would like to think so because we all need happy music like this in our lives.Zea K 120 (1)

Jennifer Zea; (Vocals), Kevin Field (piano), Miguel Fuentes (percussion), Mostyn Cole (bass). CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel Basement, Wednesday 3rd August 2016.

 

 

Kevin Field Group – Winter 2016

Kevin Field 124Kevin Field has for many years been regarded as a phenomenon on the New Zealand Jazz scene. A gifted pianist and composer whose approach to composition and harmony is strikingly original. When you listen to many pianists you can hear their influences, discern the pathways that led them to where they are. With Field, those influences are less obvious. I suspect that this independence, originality, makes it easier for him to strike out in any direction of his choosing. On his ‘Field of Vision’ album, he moved into uncrowded space, one occupied by very few Jazz pianists. It was Jazz without compromise but utilising grooves, rhythms, and melodies of other genres. The music contained distinct echoes of the disco/Jazz/funk era, crafting it carefully and forging a new post-millennial sound.Kevin Field 123The tunes were all memorable and within a few listenings, you could hum the themes. This is not so common in modern Jazz and less so with music (like Fields) which retains its Jazz complexity. In Fields case, the clean melodic hooks do not come at the expense of harmonic invention. That is a tricky balancing act and one he achieves convincingly. His co-leadership of ‘DOG’ took him in a different direction again, but the same deftly crafted grooves astounded us. His recent album ‘The A-List’, was a further excursion into the disco/Jazz/funk realm. It is slightly tongue in cheek while still challenging the listener to think outside the square. Artists like this take the music forward, it is up to us to catch up.

The Kevin Field Group often meets up to work through new and old compositions – this work ethic is evident in what we hear. While personnel changes occur from time to time, the group has a core membership. Field, Dixon Nacey, Clo Chaperon, Cameron McArthur, and Stephen Thomas. While we heard tunes from recent albums there were also a number of new tunes on offer. The new material took his earlier conceptions further out, while the older material was cunningly reworked. I have heard this group a number of times and each time I hear them I sense the progressive momentum.Kevin Field 129They played at the Wellington Jazz festival recently and for many Wellingtonians, this was their first exposure to the group. I saw that show and I immediately noticed how the familiar tunes had subtly changed. ‘Perfect Disco’ with its energised danceable funk momentum was recast as a duo piece. Field and vocalist Chaperon wowed them with that number. We also heard this duo version last week. Other familiar tunes had developed into profoundly interactive exchanges. The sort that can only occur between highly attuned musicians. This is where the guitar mastery and the deep listening of Nacey came into its own. His Godin guitar soaring with stunning clarity while Field reacted in kind, urging them further out with each challenge.Kevin Field 122Again we see Thomas and McArthur doing what they do best. Working hard and rising to the challenge. Thomas laying down the tricky rhythms and while McArthur runs his bass lines. While pleasant to the ear, there is not doubt at all that these compositions required skill and concentration. It is on gigs like this that the musicians familiarity with the material and each other pays dividends. It was also nice to hear Chaperon on some new and old material. She is a real crowd pleaser – she looks great on stage and sings up a storm.

Keven Field Group: Keven Field (piano), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Cameron McArthur (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums), Clo Chaperon (vocals), CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel 20th July 2016.

Jimmy Rainey & Byn van Vliet – Emerging Artists Series

Bryn & Jimmy 091These events focus on emerging Improvising artists and allow them to gain wider exposure in front of a discriminating audience. They generally occur around three or four times a year. Some of those featured in the Emerging Artists Series are recent graduates, others are still pursuing their studies. In this case, we had two horn players from out of town; Christchurch and Wellington respectively. Their horns were different, and their approaches to the sets different, but both approached the gig with the confidence of seasoned performers. Such confidence translates well on the bandstand and it informs an audience that the musician means business. Artists often remark that playing in a small Jazz club like the CJC is a unique experience. It’s not like a noisy bar, where people often ignore you, and it’s more intimate than a concert hall where an audience gives limited feedback. Club audiences listen intensely, they react boisterously at the end of a good solo and they call in encouragement when a phrase resonates. Mostly they listen in silence and but they listen actively.Bryn & Jimmy 098Jimmy Rainey, a tenor player from Christchurch played the first set. He is a graduate of the Jazz School in Christchurch, now furthering his Jazz studies at the Auckland University Jazz School. In Christchurch, he’s involved with a number of groups such as the Symposium Jazz Orchestra (many will recall that orchestra on Glen Wagstaff’s album), and the earthy ‘Treme’ styled Justice Brass Band. On Wednesday, he had a premier Auckland Rhythm Section at his disposal, Kevin Field, Cameron McArthur and Ron Samsom. Most of the compositions were Rainey’s and they showed a developing maturity. His sound was interesting, especially on the down-tempo numbers, having that downtown late-night feel. He is in Auckland for a while and I am certain that we see more of him. His father is well-known on the scene but he is earning his own place in the light. With a Jazz-famous name like Rainey, he has a head start.Bryn & Jimmy 087Bryn van Vliet has visited the club before as part of the boisterous Wellington Mingus Ensemble. In that context, I have seen him play in Auckland and Wellington, but never as a leader. He is also a member of the Roger Fox Big Band and a graduate from the Wellington Jazz School. While van Vliet often doubles on tenor, he played alto for this gig. What immediately caught my attention was his clean tone. A compelling tonal quality that quickly drew you in. His playing has cut-through in ways that Paul Desmond’s did, but for all that it was a modern sound. Vliet is originally from the far North but his Wellington credentials will no doubt anchor him there. Like Rainey, he brought many of his own compositions to the bandstand and the same rhythm section backed both players. For the last number, a standard,  they were on the bandstand together.

Emerging Artists Series: Jimmy Rainey (tenor) and Bryn van Vliet (alto). Rhythm section: Kevin Field (piano), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samson (drums) @ CJC Creative Jazz Club 16th March 2016

Jamie Oehlers @ ‘The Burden of Memory’ tour

Jamie 2016 091When the word gets about that a Jamie Oehlers gig is imminent, excitement mounts. Having turned people away last year, due to a capacity audience, the CJC offered two sessions this time. As expected, both were well attended. Oehlers is highly regarded in the Jazz world and it is not surprising. His astonishing mastery of the tenor saxophone is central to his appeal, but it is more than that. Every note he plays sounds authentic as if no other note could ever replace it, and all conveying a sense of musical humanism.

He introduced the numbers by painting word pictures; creating an expectation that the best is soon to come. The audience anticipating an interesting journey happily followed. He always gives us something of himself and it serves him well. Audiences like to glimpse the human being behind the music and not all musicians are capable of that. If done well (not forced), it must convey warmth. Oehlers is a natural in this regard. This affability applies to the man and to the musician. His egalitarian world-view inevitably seeping into his playing. This is how it is with all the greats. Their sound and their life eventually merge. The horn becoming breath.Jamie 2016 094Oehlers has a new album out titled ‘The burden of memory‘ and we heard many of the pieces as the sets unfolded. Accompanying him on the album is a dream rhythm section: Paul Grabowsky on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums. Each a heavyweight and living up to their formidable reputations. For the Auckland gig, there was Kevin Field on piano, Olivier Holland on bass and Frank Gibson Jr on drums. Jumping in where Grabowsky, Rogers, and Harland had gone was no doubt daunting but they pulled it off in style. All played exceptionally well, but Gibson was a standout. The exchanges between him and Oehlers memorable. These men have history and the old conversations were clearly rekindled on the bandstand. Roger Manins joined Oehlers for the last number of each set and the two dueled as only they can. Weaving skillfully around each other and sounding like two halves of a whole; grinning like Cheshire cats.Jamie 2016 092The album title and the song titles speak clearly of the musicians thought processes. He talks of his motivations and his horn takes us there. The burden of memory is a phrase he heard while listening to talkback radio and it resonated with him. He thinks deeply, examines the world about him and this communicates throughout the album. The second track ‘Armistice’ is a good example, possessing a melancholic beauty, and while it throws up the obvious images of a war ending, it also speaks of families and the tentative steps towards new possibilities.

The dreaming‘ references the indigenous peoples of Australia. An ancient meditative practice, the dreaming is an altered state of consciousness, where the past and future appear to those open enough to receive that gift. Of the two standards, the reharmonized version of ‘Polka Dots and Moonbeams‘ particularly appealed. The gig featured several tunes, not on the album; we were especially delighted by the ‘fast burner’ take on ‘After You’ve gone’. That particular standard by Turner Layton harks back to 1918. it was soon picked up by Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, and Fats Waller. This bebop referencing version breathed fire into the room. Those who attended the gigs were abuzz afterward and rushed to purchase the album. If you missed the tour and wanted a copy of the album I have included a link below. Recorded in Brooklyn New York at the System 2 studios, the album had the support of the WA Department of Culture and the Arts. Oehlers wrote six of the tunes and co-wrote a further three with Rogers, Harland, and Grabowsky. The remaining three tunes were by Grabowsky, Jobim and Van Heusen.

The event took place at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 02 March 2016. Britomart 1885 building, downtown Auckland, New Zealand.  You can purchase the album and learn more about the artists at www.jamieoehlers.com or http://www.jamieoehlers.bandcamp.com

 

The Matt Penman 2015 Auckland concerts

Penman (3)2015 was an amazing year for the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) and just when we thought the gigs couldn’t get any better this gig happened. It was an unexpected bonus, appearing out of nowhere. During the break of the CJC’s penultimate gig, Roger informed us that an extra gig would occur just two days before Christmas. Matt Penman was in town and he would appear with Kevin Field, Dixon Nacey and Steve Thomas. A buzz of excitement ran through the room and within a few days the gig was booked out. A second gig was quickly announced and that sold out as well.

Having Penman perform in the club was a coup. I had not seen him since the Scofield/Lovano gig in the Sky City theatre. Like most Jazz enthusiasts I had numerous recordings of him, including those he released as leader. It was his work with The San Francisco Jazz Collective, Aaron Parks and James Farm that took him to a wider audience and since those albums Penman’s acknowledged as one of the great bass players. Even though he has been in America for a long time, we love that he is an Auckland born musician. Because of his origins (like Alan Broadbent and Mike Nock) we happily claim him as ours.Penman (4)Fittingly the gig opened with ‘Two Steps’ (Penman) which is from the second James Farm album. Everything about the number is compelling and it oozes a post millennial Americana vibe – close to that espoused by artists like Brad Mehldau. James Farm are an extraordinary group co-led by Joshua Redman, Aaron Parks, Matt Penman & Eric Harland. A super-group where everyone is a gifted writer and virtuosic player. This is the pinnacle of modern American Jazz and we were lucky enough to get an up close taste of it. A warm glow swiftly enveloped us and from the first pull on the bass strings and we sensed on mass that this a different type of bass playing; supremely authoritative, melodic and with more momentum than a downhill freight train. We were especially fascinated to hear that Split Enz inspired him to write this tune. We heard other James Farm compositions – the moody ‘Juries Out’ (Penman) and Otherwise (Aaron Parks). Delightful Penman originals dominated the rest of the set (with the exception of a haunting Jewish folk song).Penman (2)As approachable as this music is, there are many rhythmic and textural complexities. Putting such a set list together with a band not used to playing the material, perilous. Two factors undoubtedly assisted here. Penman, Field and Nacey are old friends. Nacey attended Avondale college with Penman and Field has known him since his time at Auckland University. Field also recorded with Penman in New York on his recent Warners album ‘The A List’. The remaining band member was Stephen Thomas, the youngest of the quartet. He only met Penman the day of gig. When you examine Penman’s contributions to James Farm, the SF Jazz Collective and other albums, you realise that he writes with unusually gifted improvising musicians in mind. For a young drummer to step into the space occupied by Eric Harland and Obed Calviare and not only pull it off but to do it well is a credit to him. Penman singled him out for praise and told us we were lucky to have a young drummer of his ability on the scene.Penman (1)Of Field and Nacey we expect only the best and we got it. Replacing Redman, Moreno or Rosenwinkel with Nacey’s singing Godin Guitar felt a natural choice. I have heard Mike Moreno perform and Nacey is heading for that level of virtuosity. He is a good reader and a master musician and he always delivers. Field was also at his best that night and his best is something to behold. Losing himself in a music quite different from his own and doing it with utter conviction. Collectively they brought Christmas joy to everyone present. The best of Christmas presents from the best of Jazz clubs. I hope the CJC features Penman again soon – we love him down under.

Buy the James Farm album and support these artists – it is readily available from leading stores, Amazon or iTunes

Matt Penman (bass, Leader, compositions), Kevin Field (piano), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Stephen Thomas (drums) – CJC (Creative Jazz Club) – 30th December 2015

Caitlin Smith – The art of the gesture and the song

Caitlin Smith (2)Because the human voice is the most primal of instruments it has the capacity to engage in unexpected ways. When a skilled vocalist performs we watch as carefully as we listen. The merest inflection, micro pause or slurred note can captivate, but it is also the non verbal cues; the ones we assimilate subconsciously that draw us ever deeper inside the song. When Caitlin Smith sings you are hyper aware of the entire performance. Hers are not gigs where listeners drift away or endlessly fiddle with phones. The audience are as engaged as she is. That is her gift as a musician.Caitlin Smith (10)When Smith moves your attention moves with her. She will prance, dance, drop her head, pause for effect or sweep her hair back unexpectedly and all in service of the song. When you watch and listen to skilled performers like her (and they are few and far between) you discern a deeper truth. What appears extrovert can be something else. The actions and gestures are an act of losing oneself. This is the performers mask and behind it lies a certain vulnerability. When enough of this vulnerability informs the music we feel with them. Caitlin Smith (5)  During Smith’s performances there is a lot of interplay between band members. She is generous in her acknowledgements and genuinely appreciative of the musicians behind her – unlike some vocalists who make it very plain that this is all about them. She had two of her regular cohort with her, Kevin Field on piano and Oli Holland on bass. On drums was the talented Stephen Thomas and I had not seen him with Smith before. During the break I asked Thomas how he was enjoying the gig. His answer is worth repeating, as it illustrates the above points. Vocal artists who think disengaged equals cool might pick up a pointer here. “Working with Smith is perfect as you have so much to react to. Every gesture and look gives you new material to work with”. Caitlin Smith (4)Smith followed her usual pattern of alternating originals with standards. The set list moved between Jazz and singer song-writer soul. She only repeated one tune from last Decembers CJC gig and that was the lesser known Ellington Number “I like the Sunrise”. This is from Ellington’s ‘Liberian Suite’ performed and recorded first in 1947. The original featured Al Hibbler on vocals, soon followed by a Frank Sinatra version (also with the Ellington orchestra). More recently Kurt Elling recorded a version but all of the aforementioned are at a slower tempo. At the risk of committing heresy, I like the upbeat punch and swing of Smith’s version best. Caitlin Smith (8)The night was thoroughly enjoyable as I knew it would be, and with this rhythm section of Field, Holland and Thomas behind Smith that was guaranteed.

Caitlin Smith Quartet: Caitlin Smith (vocals, compositions, arrangements, percussion), Kevin Field (piano), Oli Holland (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums). The video is courtesy of Denis Thorpe

The ‘A’ List – Kevin Field

A List (10)‘The A List’ release has been a long time coming, or so it seems. Every recording of Kevin Field’s is noteworthy and when rumours of a New York album circulated I attempted to pin him down. Whenever I saw him playing as sideman about town or met him in the street I would pull him aside and say, “Kev, how is the album progressing, when will you release it?”. I invariably received iterations of the same cryptic answer; a knowing smile and a brief “it’s getting there, not too far away now”. the lack of specifics only fed my appetite. I have learned to read the signs and I can sense when an album pleases an artist. It is all in the body language, readable over the self-effacing vagaries of banter. Field had a look about him; a look that told me that he was nurturing a project that pleased him.  A List (7)  As the months progressed I gleaned additional fragments of information in bite sized chunks. Firstly that Matt Penman was on the recording, and incrementally that Nir Felder, Obed Calvaire, Miguel Fuentes, Clo Chaperon and Marjan Gorgani also. The substantive recording took place at Brooklyn Recording in New York with additional recording in Roundhead Studios Auckland. That was pretty much the extent of my knowledge. I have encountered this phenomena before. Treating an album as a child, holding it close before sending it out into the world. It generally presages good things to come. In this case it certainly did.  A List  The title is probably tongue in check, but it speaks truth. There are a number of A List personnel on the album. Field is arguably Auckland’s first call pianist. No one harmonises quite like him and his consistency as pianist and composer is solid. New Zealand Jazz lovers also regard Matt Penman highly. His appearances with leading lineups and his cutting edge projects as leader always impress. In the same vein is Nir Felder; frequently mentioned in the same breath as the elite New York guitarists. Obed Calvaire the same in drum circles. This was an obvious next step for Field; having risen to the top of the local scene, it was time to record with New Yorker’s.

The album is a thing of beauty and satisfying on many levels. Under Field’s watchful eye a flawless production has emerged. Having an album released by Warners is a coup. The big labels rarely release New Zealand Jazz (Nathan Haines being an exception). All compositions are by Field (on the vocal numbers he is co-credited with Clo Chaperon & Marjan Gorgani). From the title track onwards the album engages. We generally hear Field in a straight ahead context but he wisely followed his instincts here. This album extends the explorations of his well received ‘Field of Vision’ release; turning his conceptual spotlight on genres like disco funk and the brightly hued guitar fuelled explorations of the New York improvising modernists. The album also features Miguel Fuentes tasteful percussion which is subtle but effective. Field has done what brave and innovative artists should do. Take risks in the search for new territory.   A List (6)  The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) Auckland launch substituted ‘A’ List locals for the famous New Yorker’s. On guitar was Dixon Nacey, on bass Richie Pickard and on drums Stephen Thomas. The vocal section was; Clo Chaperon & Marjan Gorgani (as on the album). These musicians are superb and so the comparison with the album was favourable (Field is a little higher in the mix on the album and guitarist Felder is a little lower).  A List (5)The CJC was in different venue this time, owing to the refurbishment of the 1885.  The Albion is no stranger to Jazz and in spite of the ‘livelier’ acoustics, it was a good space in which to enjoy the music. Dixon Nacey always sounds like a guitarist at the peak of his powers, but somehow he manages to sound better every time I hear him. This time he used less peddling and spun out wonderfully clean and virtuosic lines. Apart from a tiny amount of subdued wah-wah peddle on the disco number his beautiful Godin rang out with bell-like clarity (the clipped wah-wah comping was totally appropriate in recreating the tight disco funk vibe).  The other standout performance was from Stephen Thomas, who is able to find a groove and yet mess with it at the same time. His complex beats added colour and he mesmerised us all. At the heart of the sound was Richie Pickard. Some of the material was definitely challenging for a bass player as timing was everything. Pickard navigated the complexities with ease. There are were three vocal numbers at the gig (two on the album). Chaperon and Gorgani are impressive together and well matched vocally. Hearing them on the album showcases them to best advantage, as sound mixing is harder in a club. Their presence certainly added excitement to the gig.A List (9)Buy the album and if possible see Field perform this material live. This music is exciting and innovative; past and present rolled into a forward looking Jazz form.

Kevin Field: The A List – Keven Field (Piano, Keys), Nir Felder (guitar), Matt Penman (bass), Obed Calvaire (drums), Miguel Fuentes (percussion), Clo Chaperon & Marjan Gorgani (vocals).  – Live performance: Kevin Field (piano, keys), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Richie Pickard (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums), Clo Chaperon & Marjan Gorgani (vocals). Performed at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, Auckland, 19th August 2015. Available from all leading retailers.

 

Doug Lawrence plays the CJC

Doug Lawrence 090Doug Lawrence is every bit the archetypal southern tenor man, from the top of his tall frame to the bell of his brightly shining tenor. His sound is fat and down-home-cooking rich, whether playing softly or at volume. He has more cut through than a diamond headed drill-bit. Lawrence has such considerable credentials that it is beyond my reach to enumerate them all here (google him).

He arrived in New Zealand several weeks ago as lead tenor player for the Basie Band. It was a sellout concert in the Civic and we marvelled at the tightness and punch of their sound. Eighty years on the road will do that. Kansas City swing is a wonder of the universe and seeing Lawrence solo in front of that famous orchestra told us that we were in for another treat. Unbelievably our CJC Jazz club had booked him to appear in a few days. At first we wondered how this came about, but we were soon to learn of a long-standing connection between him and the CJC’s Roger Manins. A wonderful Jazz back story informed this gig and we were the lucky beneficiaries.Doug Lawrence 2 089Lawrence is tall and as he performs he stoops slightly, forming a classic old school playing pose. Slowing bending his knees inwards before stretching and lifting his horn to the ceiling. His speaking voice is rich like his playing, a southern Louisiana drawl adding to his considerable charm. The first number was ‘End of a love Affair (Redding) and the audience whooped in delight as the band took the changes at a good pace. The rhythm section propelled by the tidal waves of sound emanating from the tenor. It was that sound and the power of delivery that grabbed you from the get go. The intonation and phrasing revealing influences which although readily identifiable, transformed them into a new sound. This was pure alchemy. It was like having Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon on the same band stand.Doug Lawrence 092It is during ballads that the skill of a musician is often tested. In this case we saw something close to perfection. It wasn’t just Lawrence, but his Kiwi pickup band as well. Spurred on by each other, they dug deeper and deeper. A night and a vibe that we will remember for years to come. There was an obvious rapport between pianist Kevin Field and Lawrence. I gather that he found Field’s harmonic approach interesting and perhaps this is an indication of our own development as we grow our standing. Lawrence’s intonation was the thing that grabbed you most and this made his solos particularly enjoyable. Long held notes ending in breathy flurries or else bending the note ever so slightly before delivering a short heart stopping burst of controlled vibrato.  With Holland and Samsom also finding their sweet spot this was a dream band.Doug Lawrence 093

There were a few evergreen Basie numbers like the swinging ‘Shiny Stockings’ (Foster) and ‘Jumping by the Woodside’ (Basie) but the biggest surprise came later when Lawrence invited Roger Manins and Nathan Haines up to join him. Leaning into the microphone he announced ‘Impressions’ by John Coltrane. This was a change of pace devoured by club audience and band alike as they dove deeper and deeper into the crazy off the grid modal grooves. Its true what they say. Cats like this can do anything when the spirit moves them. The spirit was sure among us that night.Doug Lawrence 2 096Here is the back story: 17 years ago a younger Roger Manins hit the New York streets, where he learned to scuffle in the time-honoured way of Jazz musicians. Because he possessed the hunger to learn he approached many established horn players. One of these was Doug Lawrence and traces of that time are still evident in Manins sound. All of those years ago Manins subbed for him and here is a Face Book extract that Lawrence posted once he returned to the USA. Doug Lawrence 097Roger has matured into a GREAT player and MAGNIFICENT teacher! All of his students have a SOUND and they are all inspired to play, because of Roger. The curriculum at the University of Auckland Jazz Department is second to none, and I am going to use it as my model when conducting masterclasses at other universities around the world. Roger and Ron Samsom and the rest of the faculty have got it right at the U of A and I’m going to suggest that each and every University I teach at check it out. Cheers ROG! You are doing it ALL right brother! I hope to see and play with you soon mate!”  That says it all really.

The last phase of the evening is best described as Tenor Madness. At times three tenors played in unison, at other times Nathan Haines keening Soprano took up the challenge.  When Manins and Haines (plus Haines father Kevin) took to the stage we found ourselves in 1940’s Kansas City.  Witnessing the good-natured, but no holds barred tenor battles of old. At the end of the second set the audience nearly rioted.  No-one wanted this night to end. Lawrence asked for another drink and picked up his saxophone again. “My plane for the States doesn’t leave for five hours, lets play on”, he said. And they did.

You can purchase Doug Lawrence’s ‘New Organ Trio album’ from iTunes, Cactus Records or from Amazon. Please show your appreciation for these amazing artists by purchasing their recordings.

Who: The Doug Lawrence Quartet – plus guests: Doug Lawrence (Tenor Saxophone, Kevin Field (piano), Olivier Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) – Guests: Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Nathan Haines (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone), Kevin Haines (bass).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand 3rd June 2015.

Headline News: Nathan Haines meets DOG on Campus

AK UNI 11-3-2014 059On Wednesday five well turned out ‘men in black’ suspended time at Auckland University. This was a rare event, pairing two of New Zealand’s best known and best-loved contemporary tenor players. The invitation only concert billed as ‘Nathan Haines meets DOG’ kicked off of the Universities 2015 Summer Concert Series. New intake students attending (or viewing the video clip) discovered just how high the standard is; they also realised how lucky they are to have these teachers and these role models.AK UNI 11-3-2014 060The Nathan Haines/DOG line up can rightly be described as a super-group; the cream of New Zealand’s improvising artists. We saw Haines at his best here as he showcased his formidable talents on tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute & vocals. He is a multiple New Zealand Music Awards winner and perennially popular in New Zealand and London where he is now based. The DOG band members are all senior teaching staff at the Auckland University Jazz School (Faculty of the Arts). Collectively Ron Samsom (drums), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Oli Holland (bass) and Kevin Field (piano) form a dangerous new breed. The agility and intelligence of the animal has led many AK UNI 11-3-2014 058 (1)to speculate on its lineage; some suggesting Greyhound crossed with Border Collie? We will never know unless the parents own up, but it is beyond dispute that each band member has multiple acclaimed recordings to his credit. DOG is one of three groups short-listed for the 2015 Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards.

Supergroups are not always successful as promoters will tell you. It may seem counter intuitive, but there are many pitfalls in the format. Artistic and stylistic sensibilities can conflict and while less of an issue in Jazz, the rider still applies. Not every configuration gels. Putting two titans of the tenor together is an old concept and it was very popular in the 1940’s and 1950’s. These jousts or ‘cutting contests’ and the so-called battles between Lester Young and Bean (Colman Hawkins) have attained legendary status. There is a lot of mythology in the subsequent AK UNI 11-3-2014 058reportage and most musicians view the exchanges as a chance to collaborate; not cut someone down to size. It is an opportunity to challenge and be challenged; a high level musical interaction between equals. At its best it can bring out something special in both artists and Wednesdays gig achieved just that.

Manins and Haines played classic Selmer Mk 6 tenors but in the hands of each the instruments sounded different (although manufactured just 3 years apart). Their beautiful full-throated tenors blended perfectly and especially during the heads; creating a fat rich sound. The instruments when coaxed by experienced players like these, magnify subtle differences in tone. There is an attractive melodic thoughtfulness to Nathan’s improvisations, while Roger’s explorations can impart a wild edgy heart stopping quality. Both find their bliss and share it with the audience. This pairing on this night, will long be talked about in Auckland.  AK UNI 11-3-2014 061

The band leapt out of the starting gate with a crackling rendition of ‘Cheesecake’ by Dexter Gordon. This classic hard bop tune from ‘Dex’s’ Blue Note era gave the musicians a chance to shine. Both Selmers bit hard and with Field, Holland and Samsom playing behind them it was hardly surprising. The accolades heaped upon this particular rhythm section are unsurprising. Field’s comping was as tasteful as his well constructed solos. Hollands clean punchy bass lines were a beating heart in the mix. It fell to Samsom to control the energy levels and when appropriate he pushed the band to ever greater heights. On the up tempo numbers his facial expressions mirrored each rhythmic flurry as he dug ever deeper.

The set also featured a new ballad by Holland who introduced it with a tongue in cheek reference to the complexity of many modern Jazz compositions, “you will like this. It has a melody and lots of chords”. The remainder of the set featured Haines compositions. These compelling, well constructed tunes are by now familiar to local Jazz audiences. This band gave them fresh legs. Of note was the gorgeous ‘Lady Lywa’ which had Manins on tenor and Haines on flute. Once again the pairing worked to perfection.

Near the end (and to the delight of those familiar with this tune) Nathan sang ‘Impossible Beauty’ from his ‘Sound Travels’ album.  There is a lot to like about this haunting song; Nathan’s voice, the wonderfully evocative lyrics and the way the tune captures that dreamy Chet Baker vibe. To hear it with Roger Manins providing lovely fills on tenor was a treat.  I know that I keep saying this, but Haines needs to sing more often.  He is widely acknowledged as a gifted tenor, soprano and flute player; time to add vocals to the accolades.

As I was leaving I spotted the well-known arranger Wayne Senior. He is especially familiar with this venue as it was once the main studio of Television New Zealand. He has worked on pervious projects with Haines. The National Institute of Creative Arts & Industries (NiCAi) filmed the video and I acknowledge them. Lastly all credit to the Arts Facility, Music Department of Auckland University. This University Jazz programme adds inestimable richness to our cultural life. With the Philistines ever at the gate, you persist in supporting the creative arts.  Thank you.

Where: Auckland University Jazz School, Shortland Street Auckland New Zealand 18th February 2015

Who: Nathan Haines, Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Oli Holland, Ron Samsom

Jazz stories that need retelling (2014)

“What often distinguishes a poetic list from a practical one is only the intention with which we contemplate it’ – Umberto Ecco (The Infinity of Lists).

At this time of year Jazz Journalists post their ‘best of’ lists.  By tradition, this provides a platform for the writers to focus on something that took their fancy (or not). It is seldom an exhaustive analyses of the years musical offerings, but a time to indulge in a few well-honed prejudices with impunity. I make no apology for the antipodean bias.

A look back at some pianists who impressed in 2014:

There has been a lot of ink spilt in analysing Jazz piano over the years and the task is always daunting. In recent years all too many masters of the keyboard have passed on such as the inimitable Hank Jones.  He encompassed a vast era of jazz, ever fresh and endlessly tasteful; bringing with him something of stride, bebop and hardbop and above all the blues.  At the passing of Jones and other acknowledged masters, there is an increased awareness of other great pianists still with us (a good example is the belated and welcome attention being given to George Cables).  Many of these artists have been hiding in plain view and paying them due attention is increasingly important.  As musical tastes mature, and new directions emerge, the field ever broadens.

Jazz fans who live outside of the USA generally have a reasonable awareness of pan-American, European, Scandinavian and (perhaps) Antipodean Jazz musicians.  If you live at the hub of the wheel, the USA, it will probably be less likely.  Pianism is not about how many notes you play, where you come from or the 0000210166_36cleverness your ideas. It is about integrity.  Musical integrity is rare but universally available.

There is a ‘sound’ that belongs to certain locations, perhaps to great cities; where an assimilation of environment occurs unwittingly, coalescing within an artist. This is not planned, as self-conscious cleverness is the road to perdition. The mindless recycling of others cleverness a greater anathema.  Mary Lou Williams once said (to slightly paraphrase): “Once a pianist comes to grips  with the instrument and can master its capabilities, stop taking formal lessons.  Risk taking explorations should occur next”.

Pianists like Mike Nock, Barney McAll and Jonathan Crayford all have a unique quality, one that reflects where they come from.  They are musicians of the world having honed their craft on the road, but distinctly Australasian for all that. No English, Italian, Scandinavian or Australian pianist is going to sound like Randy Weston and nor should they.  Musicians of integrity will bring something of themselves to the mix and a select few will bring a sense of place. The three pianists I have mentioned have lived and worked in the USA (often extensively) but not at the expense of their roots voice.   Each found a groove that only they could unlock. There are 88 notes on the standard piano keyboard, but in the spaces between the notes and in the choices made, there are subliminal messages. That is where the real magic lies.

The Mike Nock Trio. (Aust) Gig at the ‘2014 Auckland Jazz Festival’, CJC (Creative Jazz Club). Mike Nock is one of New Zealand’s favourite musical sons and perhaps the improvising musician we most admire.  Although he has not lived here for many years, he often visits from Australia.  Many will know him from his ‘Fourth Way’ band, his recordings as sideman with people like Yusef Lateef or his long years as a celebrated member of the New York scene.  That said, his post USA work needs better examination and it is in Australia that people can gain a fuller sense of his body of work.  Nock is a truly gifted artist and he goes from strength to strength. “Nock’s ringing iconoclasm pervades all his music, taps a deep well of melody that transcends jazz and informs and ignites his every encounter.” – Fred Bouchard, Downbeat (USA). His live trio gigs are humour-filled and quirky, focussing on an eclectic mix of originals, standards turned upside down and almost forgotten tunes (i.e. Sweet Pumpkin).  The joy that Nock breathes into his gigs is infectious and it Mike Nock SIMA07_01makes you glad that you’re alive. Touring New Zealand with Nock were James ‘Pug’ Waples (drums) and Brett Hirst (bass)’.  These musicians while deeply attuned to each other were always full of surprises.  5 stars. *****

Barney McAll (USA) gigs in Auckland & Wellington NZ – Trio and Solo piano at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) and ‘The Wellington Jazz Festival 2014’.  McAll (an Australian) has lived in Brooklyn New York for many years, but he has never been forgotten in his home country Australia.  His visit to New Zealand won him many new fans.  There is an expansiveness and yet a completeness about McAll compositions. He sounds like no one else and as he digs into those earthy blues filled tunes, you hear the unmistakable echoes of real antipodean soul.  5 stars. *****

Jonathan Crayford, ‘Dark Light’ Trio (USA). It was Auckland’s good luck that the album release gig for Crayford’s ‘Dark Light’ Trio took place at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club).  A few weeks prior to that a local version of his ‘Biggish Band’ featured at the same venue (and at the Golden Dawn). I attended all three gigs. Jonathan Crayford is a peripatetic wonderer and a troubadour of immense talent.  His endless travels in music often bring him home to New Zealand and the lucky get to hear his imaginative projects.  4 stars ****

Other pianists of note: Kevin Field (NZ).  Field on piano or keys is a musical force to reckoned with. His taste is impeccable.  This year saw him record an album in New York with expat New Zealand bassist Matt Penman, drummer Obed Calvaire  and guitarist Nir Felder.  The album will probably be released sometime during 2015 and is eagerly anticipated.  Dark LightJan07_02Whether as accompanist or soloist, Field shines.  His work in 2014 on ‘Dog’, with Caitlin Smith and with the Australian saxophonist  Jamie Oehlers stand out as high points.  Adam Ponting (Aust) (Hip Flask ‘1’ & ’11’).  Ponting is an unusual but compelling pianist.  An original stylist who appears to approach tunes from an oblique angle, at first impressionistic, but leading you into a world of funky satisfying grooves.  This guy is definitely someone I would like to hear again.   It was also great to hear more of Alan Brown (NZ) on piano during 2014. He has some interesting piano and keys projects underway and we will hear more of those soon.   Steve Barry (Aust). Barry is an ex pat Auckland pianist now based in Australia.  He visited New Zealand twice during 2014.  His visits and albums are always received enthusiastically.  Barry is a musician who works hard and produces the goods.  His new album ‘Puzzles’ with Dave Jackson (alto), Alex Boneham (bass) and Tim Firth, lifts the bar for up and coming local musicians.  We had a number of visitors in 2014 and to bring us a European perspective was the Benny Lackner Trio (Germany/USA).  The pianist Benny Lackner has visited New Zealand on several previous occasions and the aesthetic he brings is finely honed. The band has a similar feel to EST.  There is the occasional use of electronics and they quickly find tasty grooves that could only emanate from a European Band.

Alan Broadbent (USA) has had a truly amazing year with the release of a solo album ‘Heart to Heart’ and his NDR Big band album ‘America The Beautiful’. Multiple Grammy 7kofphkhadu-htw5jpjp_zmxkdevwd478h5dat8o4ms winner Broadbent is our best known improvising export and he has spent the last year touring Europe and America to great acclaim.  The solo album was given a rare 5 star rating by downbeat and ‘America The Beautiful’ was recently voted one of the 10th best albums of 2014.

Miscellaneous Gigs and projects:  

Mike Moreno trio (USA) – for sheer guitar artistry and taste, Moreno is hard to beat.  His beautiful (often mournful) sound, compelling lines and clarity of vision left the Sydney audience in awe.  His Australian trio were Alex Boneham (bass) and Ben Vanderwal (drums).  the choice of sidemen was solid, as they complimented and responded to every nuance of Moreno’s playing.  This was a class act all round.  The Troubles (Wellington, NZ), Portland Public House, ‘Auckland Jazz Festival’.  This Wellington ensemble is a machine of wondrous invention.  Its anarchic dissing of powerful institutions, cheerful irreverence and inappropriate humour, carves it out a special place in the hearts of rebellious souls.  Iconoclast drummer and composer John Rae (ex-Edinburgh) had added the heavy weight presence of saxophonist Roger Manins (Auckland) to the mix for recent gigs. That was an inspired choice.  Jeff Henderson’s ‘Dreamville’ project (Auckland, NZ) CJC (Creative Jazz Cub). This avant-garde gig, billed as superconscious Jazzmares, was a triumph by any measure.  Like a dream, the gig moved forward under its own internal momentum.  Surreal themes constantly dissolving until exhausted, forms shifting without seeming to.  What made this journey so evanescent, but so compelling, was that certain motifs remained deep in our consciousness throughout; totems of sound embedding themselves. This gig won many to Henderson’s cause.

Notable local Albums of 2014: (in no particular order)

‘Dog’ (Rattle Jazz) Recorded in the now defunct and much-loved York Street studios Auckland.  This album is the realisation of a project by Manins, Field, Holland &  photo - Version 2 Samsom.  It sizzles, swings and while hinting at the vibe of a bygone era, it still sounds fresh & modern (and very Kiwi).  ‘Dark Light’ (Rattle Jazz) This excellent album is one of two that Jonathan Crayford released in 2014 – Recorded at ‘Systems Two Studio’ NY with Crayford (piano), Ben Street (bass), Dan Weiss (drums).  Don’t expect repetition from Crayford. This master musician takes us on many journey’s, each unlike the last and all brilliant.  Hip Flask 2 (Rattle Jazz)  A funk unit led by Australasian saxophone giant Roger Manins.  Accompanied by Adam Ponting (piano), Stu Hunter (organ), Brendan Clarke (bass) and Toby Hall (drums).  A thoroughly appealing album and a welcome follow-up to Hip Flask 1 (Hip Flask 1 included with the album).

Best Jazz Writing

The Parker Biography (part one): Stanley Crouch’s ‘Kansas City Lightning’ is a great read and a possible game changer.  It has sometimes been observed that Jazz  Parker Imagebiography is the weakest link in Jazz Writing. If that is true then the mould has truly been broken with this work.  Crouch has placed the story of Parker’s early life into a fuller historical context.  In learning things about the times, we learn a lot about the man.  This is a book that could be appreciated by anyone interested in the history of African-American life in the Mid-West.  I suspect that its significance will grow as time passes.  Above all the book is beautifully written and for me that counts.

 Best Jazz DVD

Charles Lloyd’s ‘Arrows to Infinity’ is a beautiful and informative document. It is packed with important music and astute observations.  The filming is tasteful and painterly and Dorothy Darr (artist and long time partner of Lloyd) has been the obvious guiding force (assisted Jeffery Morse).  Lloyd the musician is beyond caveat, but Lloyd the narrator also holds us in rapt attention.  The reborn, Big Sur Lloyd, communicates his deep calm with ease and his spiritual approach to music and life is compelling.  As he reflects honestly on the momentous times he lived through, we feel enriched by sharing the experience.  He sums up his approach to improvising and the duty of sharing his music as follows; “The winds of grace are always blowing, so set the sails high”.

Most anticipated events for the coming months.

Glen Wagstaff & the Symposium Orchestra Project. (NZ) 2015 album release (subject to sufficient funding levels being reached on kick starter).  This young guitarist references the writing of Kenny Wheeler and Brian Blade.  There is a deep melancholic beauty in his charts and the material soars.  The album features many gifted New Zealand musicians.  Christchurch, like Auckland & Wellington, has a deep reservoir of Jazz talent.

The Auckland Jazz Orchestra (NZ) – ‘Darkly Dreaming Suite’ by AJO conductor Tim Atkinson.  I witnessed the recording of this suite and what I heard sounds amazing. While there is a dark brooding quality of the music it is also strangely warm; like a glass of claret held up to stained glass window at dusk.  The album is due out in 2015 and the work marks step-up for the orchestra.

Maria Schneider conducts the Jazz Mothership Orchestra (USA/Aust) Our highly respected saxophonist Roger Manins is to feature with the JMO under Schneider’s batten. I don’t have all of the information yet, but the JMO will certainly be touring Australia.

CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 2015 events. The club had a great 2014 year in spite of the odds and difficulties. This is in large part due to JJA Jazz-Hero Roger Manins role as musical director (aided and abetted by Caro Manins and Ben McNicoll).  The task of keeping a not-for-profit Jazz Club float in a relatively small city is challenging, but Manins has managed to secure a solid programme and he did so while juggling his demanding teaching gig at the Auckland University Jazz School and his numerous live gigs and recording gigs around the pacific rim.   Having a brand new Auckland Jazz Festival (organised by Ben McNicoll) rounded the years events out perfectly.

Biggest Regrets of 2014 – missing the John Zorn gig in Adelaide – The passing of Kenny Wheeler whose music has given me so much pleasure over the years.

Video clips of Mike Nock & Barney McAll – filmed for this blog at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 2014.

http://youtu.be/zBd2yZZdvL4?list=UUvm6sdXjGJULG9k2nYZ9udA

http://youtu.be/m_oA8iLshNg?list=UUvm6sdXjGJULG9k2nYZ9udA 

 

Caitlin Smith 2014

IMG_3770 - Version 2Caitlin Smith is a vocalist who can quickly put a smile on your face or shamelessly tug at your heart-strings.  She always finds a way to connect her audience to the essence of a song; deftly locating that illusive sweet spot.  While there is often power in her delivery, there is also remarkable subtlety. You could describe her voice in many ways; pitch perfect, having an almost operatic range, but there is much more to Smith than chops. In the parlance she owns each song she sings and embeds it with a uniqueness.  Like a seasoned saxophonist she tells beguiling stories in a distinctive way.  IMG_3756 - Version 2There is a well-worn cliché that vocalists hog the limelight and in truth many go through their careers with barely a reference to the musicians that they work with. Caitlin Smith is the opposite. You are left in no doubt that her gigs are a shared project as she interacts with band and audience, picking up on every nuance from either.  She works with a band as a vocalist should and she is comfortable giving them space to solo. There is a generosity of spirit about her persona and this manifests in the music.  I have also witnessed her solid support for emerging artists.  The ultimate litmus test for me, is that gifted improvising musicians enjoy playing in Caitlin Smith lineups.  IMG_3762 - Version 2While Smith is widely acknowledged as a gifted singer-songwriter, it is her Jazz repertoire that is turning heads of late.  Her performance with the AJO at the Tauranga Jazz festival won her many new fans.  She is a wonderful interpreter of Jazz standards and this aspect of her repertoire deserves critical attention. Her vocal gifts and incredible musicality thrive with this space; of particular note is the delightful way she plays with lyrics.  IMG_3776 - Version 2 (1)Smith is a natural performer and there is something wonderfully theatrical and engaging about her stage presence. This gives her gigs an added spark of life.  On Wednesday she included some of her own compositions like the beautiful ‘In between’, but the audience was particularly wowed by her take on jazz standards such as Ellington’s ‘I like the sunshine’.  I have heard her sing Ellington and Strayhorn at other gigs and I am always impressed by the way she freshens these standards up.

Her innate ability to carry off the more difficult of the Ellington/Strayhorn song-book tunes is beyond question. ‘Lush life’ in particular requires real vocal skills to pull it off well and her interpretation is flawless. This affinity cries out for her to record the material.  It would be great to see an Ellington album someday; accompanied by the Kevin Field Trio, alternating with the AJO. IMG_3749 - Version 2Another song from a different genre was ‘River’ (Joni Mitchell).  This classic Mitchell song was recently reinterpreted by Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.  As Smith delivered her version she phrased it in such a way that I could hear those elided Shorter fills in my head.  Her delivery was crystalline and it brought her two worlds together perfectly.

Who: Caitlin Smith (vocals, arrangements), Kevin Field (piano), Oli Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) (acknowledgement to Dennis Thorpe for the River video)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, 3rd December 2014

Trudy Lile @ CJC 2014

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Trudy Lile is always in demand whether it’s cruise liner gigs, winery gigs or bar and club gigs.  Last night she was at the CJC with Kevin Field on piano, Cameron McArthur on bass and Ron Samsom drums.   This particular quartet is a regular lineup for Lile and it is hardly surprising.  Musicians like this are a gift to a leader, as each of them has pulling power, but they operate as a high functioning unit when together.   Lile is also an energetic and engaging performer and the enthusiasm she radiates is always evident in her music.

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As a singer/flutist Lile often favours standards or latin material, as these suit voice and flute so well.   She still surprises though with appealing lessor known tunes or sometimes popular tunes which lend themselves to wider explorations under her coaxing.  She is keen on finding new standards from the latter and we often hear material from sources not usually tapped by improvising musicians.   This use of popular material is becoming more commonplace and another recent example of this was Benny Lackner opening with a number from the latest Bowie album.   Lile also brought some interesting new compositions to the gig.    IMG_3140 - Version 2

The clubs audience numbers could have been better during the last month, perhaps they were saving for the festival,  but Lile being a true professional worked the room and fed off the interaction.   She has an abundance of charm, humorous banter and above all musicality.   The band responded to her lead with enthusiasm, amping up their performances to match hers.   Kevin Field is the sort of pianist who understands the accompanists role, comping sparingly at times and launching into heart stopping solos at others with McArthur and Samsom responding to each nuance.   I have posted a clip from the gig which is a favourite of Lile’s.  An Eliane Alias number titled ‘An Up Dawn’ from the album ‘The Three Americas’.

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Footnote: My ability to comprehend the softly spoken human voice with any accuracy has declined in recent years; probably due to the endless procession of loud gigs in intimate spaces that I attend.   What I heard Lile announce was a tune called “An Up Storm’ and so I labeled the You Tube clip accordingly.  When I saw Lile a few days later she laughingly told me what the actual title was.  Unfortunately I misheard that as well, as ‘An Up Swarm’.  The clip now correctly refers to ‘An Up Dawn’, but I do like my rogue re-titling.   Perhaps Trudy Lile could reharm the tune, utilising my imaginative and thought-provoking title(s)?  I am sure Eliane wouldn’t mind.  There is more than a hint of Chaos Theory in what I had originally settled on;  An up swarm of bees in Brazil causing a storm in Auckland.

Who: Trudy Lile (leader, flute, vocals), Kevin Field (piano), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samsom (drums)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885 basement, Auckland New Zealand 15th October 2014

Brian Smith quartet 2014

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For a man who says that he’s “taking it easy these days”, Brian Smith is remarkably active.  He has been a strong supporter of the recent CJC Sunday Jam sessions,  he still teaches and regularly fronts CJC gigs.   Many regard him as the elder statesman of the tenor saxophone in New Zealand and he certainly has the credentials to fit that title.  It is only when you see him playing his Cannonball or Selmer tenor that you realise just how youthful he is.  Like many experienced tenor players he appears ageless on the bandstand.  That is the alchemy of the instrument and the alchemy of the born improviser.

Advertised as Brian Smith (tenor saxophone), Kevin Field (piano), Kevin Haines (bass) Frank Gibson (drums) but on the night Oli Holland replaced Kevin Haines on bass.

It takes a lot of space to list Brian’s musical credentials and it is all too easy to miss out important elements, but here is a brief summary that I have gleaned from elsewhere;

‘Brian relocated to London in 1964, performing at Ronnie Scott’s and working & touring with such names as: Humphrey Littleton, Alexis Korner, T-Bone walker, Georgie Fame,Alan Price, Annie Ross, Bing Crosby, Mark Murphy, Jon Hendricks, John Dankworth, & Tubby Hayes. He was a founder member of ‘Nucleus’ alongside Ian Carr, which won the European Band competition in Montreaux in 1970, resulting in gigs at Newport Jazz Fest and tours of Italy, Germany, Holland, and America. In 1969 he started working in the Maynard Ferguson band, staying with them until 1975 including touring and recording. He also backed acts like Nancy Wilson, The 4 Tops, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Donovan, Dusty Springfield, Sandy Shaw and Lulu.’

The programming at the CJC is mostly centred around musicians projects.  The gigs are therefore heavily focused on original material or perhaps an oblique take on a particular oeuvre.   We do hear standards but seldom more than one or two a gig.  The exception occurs when international artists arrive in town or when iconic musicians like Brian Smith front a gig.  On occasion it is nice just to sit back and enjoy familiar tunes.  Letting them wash over you, being able to anticipate the lines and comparing them in your head to the versions that you have grown up with.  The very fact that some tunes become standards implies that they have a special enduring quality.  These are vehicles well suited for improvisation and having musical hooks that invite endless exploration for listener and musician alike.  Standards composers are the greatest writers of the song form, but the inside joke is that these wonderful tunes often came from musicals which failed miserably.

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It was great to hear the quartet play ‘You and the night and the music’ which is a firm favourite of mine.  Composed by Arthur Schwartz  (lyrics Howard Dietz), it came from the musical ‘Revenge with music’ which closed on Broadway after a few months.   Frank Sinatra and Mario Lanza revived it and it became popular with Jazz musicians for a while during the 50’s and 60’s.  While the earlier popular renderings tended toward the saccharine, Jazz musicians like Mal Waldren purged the tune of its syrupy connotations.  It was the obscure tartly voiced Lennie Niehaus Octet version (with Lennie on alto, Jimmy Giuffre on baritone and Shelley Manne drums) which won me over.  Over a decade ago I heard HNOP and Ulf Wakenius perform a killing version of it at the Bruce Mason centre and I had not heard it since.  That is until last Wednesday.

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Another great standard was Horace Silvers ‘Song for my father’.  Standards have the power to move us deeply and this tune in particular brought a lump to my throat as my father was slipping away that very week.  One of pianist Kevin Field’s tunes ‘Offering’ was also played and while not a standard it is a favourite about town.   Everyone played well that night with  Oli Holland and Kevin Field up to their usual high standard; Frank Gibson on drums was in exceptional form.  His brush work and often delicate stick work was perfect and it reminded everyone why he is so highly regarded about town.

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I have chosen a video clip from the gig which is arguably the most famous standard of all.  Cole Porters ‘What is this thing called love’.  Cole Porter would always say that the song and lyrics wrote themselves and this version is certainly a worthwhile addition to the selection.  Unlike many of the vocal versions it is fast paced and authoritative.  IMG_1278 - Version 2

Who: Brian Smith Quartet – Brian Smith (tenor saxophone), Kevin Field (piano), Oli Holland (bass), Frank Gibson Jr (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand –  June 25th 2014   http://www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

 

 

‘DOG’ unleashed on International Jazz Day

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The DOG project was conceived two years ago and during its public outings the band garnered enthusiastic support.  Those who heard DOG urged them to record and eventually they did.  The long-awaited album was ready for release on International Jazz Day 2014; a gestation time roughly equivalent to that of an elephant.  The time however has been very well spent, as the band members have composed a wealth of new material.  DOG (formally Dr Dog) is Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Oli Holland and Ron Samsom.  Manins, Field & Holland are lecturers at the Auckland University School of Music (Jazz program), Samsom is the senior lecturer.   They are all in demand for the best gigs about town.  They are the big dogs on the block.

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International Jazz day was the perfect time to release this album, underscoring as it does a local Jazz scene crackling with life and teeming with invention.  Anyone familiar with the Auckland Jazz Scene will know that these musicians are a driving force; inspiring, challenging and empowering emerging artists.  It is a band of titans but it is also a true band of equals.  In the Jazz world bands made up of many leaders often fall short.  A juggling act’s required to unify a multiplicity of visions.  That problem does not apply here.  These men appear to breathe in unison and react to each other intuitively.  At the ripe old age of two DOG is in peak condition.

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The album is beautifully recorded and the mix could hardly be improved upon.  Credit to the York Street Studios in Auckland and to the tasteful mixing by Rattle’s Steve Garden (and DOG themselves).  ‘Rattle Records’ are going from strength to strength and if the last three months output is anything to go by, this will be their best year yet.  From the first few notes the album reels you in and holds your attention throughout.  There is a virtuosity and a tightness to the performances but it is more than that.   Beneath the unquestionable musicianship there is a radiating warmth and a bounty of good humour which shines through.  This was especially evident during the International Jazz Day performance at the CJC.  It was a humour filled affair and delightfully laid back.

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Roger Manins was the front man for the release gig and the dog jokes and banter had people in fits of laughter.  He teased the band mercilessly and they responded with sad looks or dismissive gestures.  The Zeppo Marx to Manins Groucho.  This is a role that he is well suited to and his jokes are quintessential Kiwiana.  Some of the titles contained obscure dog references.  ‘Race to Space’ honours the Russian dog which led off the space race, others inspired by loveable but hapless dogs of good breeding as in ‘Evolution’.  At one stage Manins directed people to a comparative dog intelligence chart.  “This is my spaniel rated at number fifty three, which is around the middle of a descending scale”.  Next he asked, “Does anyone here own an Afghan Hound?”.  No one owned up, perhaps guessing what was to transpire.  “Ladies and gentlemen they are number ninety two on the list, almost at the bottom of the intelligence scale”.  Some brave soul responded, “Surely not”.  “Have you ever tried to play cards with an Afghan Hound” was Manins quick response.  Roger Manins drawings for the cover art say it all.

Because there are four composers, the tunes have a variety of moods and tempos.   I like them all, but if forced to choose one I would go for Hollands ‘Didel Didel Dei’.   There are burning solos on this uptempo track and the interplay is quite exceptional.  On this track you will hear Manins at his best.  As usual there is no sugar-coating as he pushes the tenor to its outer limits.  Field, Holland and Samsom responded in kind.  This music they play has the utmost integrity and the audience laps it up.

International Jazz Day has become the premier event on the International Jazz Calendar with the brightest stars in the Jazz firmament showcased.  Auckland, New Zealand can hold its head high in the midst of these international celebrations.   This album and this live performance did us proud.

Who: ‘DOG’ is Roger Manins (tenor Sax), Kevin Field (piano), Oli Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) – compositions by all band members

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland, New Zealandhttp://www.rattlerecords.net/   http://www.creativejazzclub.co.nz/

Jamie Oehlers @ CJC #JazzApril 2014

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#JazzApril is International Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) and the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) in Auckland New Zealand has lined up an impressive roster of artists.  The opening gig for Jazz April was the acclaimed saxophonist Jamie Oehlers from Perth Australia and the club could hardly have done better than engage this titan of the tenor.  Anyone who had heard Jamie Oehlers on previous visits needed no second invitation; the club filled to capacity.  Jamie is tall, so tall in fact that I managed to chop off his head while filming the first video clip (having foolishly set up the camera during the sound check when he was not present).  In fact everything about Jamie Oehlers is larger than life. His presence fills a room in ways that it is hard to adequately convey.  The sound of his tenor has a warm luminous quality about it and it seems to penetrate every nook and cranny of a room; whether playing softly or loudly it reaches deep into your soul.

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Two hundred years ago ( November 1814) a young Belgium instrument maker Adolphe Sax was born and in the 1840’s he patented the tenor saxophone.  It has gone through relatively few modifications since that time.   Fast forward to the Jazz age and the instrument came into its own.   Nobody brought the instrument to the wider public’s attention more than Coleman Hawkins and few took it to such dizzying heights as John Coltrane.  Listening to Jamie Oehlers perform made me think of the tenor’s history and above all it reconfirmed my deep love for the instrument.  Last time he was in Auckland he played ‘Resolution’ from Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’  (it is the 50th anniversary of ALS this year).   Among other numbers in the set list this year was Coltrane’s ‘Dear Lord’ (recorded by JC in 1963 but only released in the 1970’s on the ‘Dear old Stockholm’ album).  Jamie Oehlers was born to interpret Coltrane and he certainly held our rapt attention last Wednesday.   IMG_0132 - Version 2

He had requested the same local musicians for this visit as last time; Kevin Field (piano), Oli Holland (bass) and Frank Gibson (drums).   Roger Manins joined the band for the last two numbers and the two tenor masters unsurprisingly wowed everybody by the way they cajoled each other to new heights.  There were introspective ballads, freshly interpreted standards and a few fire-breathing fast burners.   I filmed quite a few numbers and have posted a duo performance of Mal Waldrons ‘Soul Eyes’ (Jamie Oehlers and Auckland pianist Kevin Field).   It is during ballads and especially the slower paced duo numbers that a musician is left naked.   No pyrotechnics to hide behind, no lightening strike runs or off the register squawks to dazzle us with.   This clip says everything about Oehlers as a man and as a musician.  Thoughtful, compelling and always authoritative.

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He was right to request Field, Holland and Gibson for this gig.   They showed repeatedly that they were up to the task and gave of their best.  It is gigs like this that make us proud of our down-under musicians and we know when we hear performances like these that we can hold our heads high in the wider Jazz world.  There was no more appropriate gig than this in which to kick off Jazz April.   Listen to the You Tube clip and I’m certain that you will agree.

Who: The Jamie Oehlers Quartet – Jamie Oehlers (tenor sax), Kevin Field (piano), Oli Holland (bass), Frank Gibson (drums).

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Cub), Britomart 1885 basement, Auckland New Zealand, 2nd April 2014

Natalie Dietz @ CJC

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We learned in late November that an excellent Australian jazz singer Natalie Dietz would be the featured artist for the last CJC gig of 2013.  She recently recorded with Aaron Parks and Mike Moreno in N.Y.C and the fact that she had connected with these heavyweights of the modern American Jazz Scene told me that we could expect something out of the ordinary.   She had toyed with bringing some Australian Musicians over with her but instead elected to use locals.   Not surprisingly these locals were drawn from among our finest musicians Kevin Field (piano), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Oli Holland (bass) and Adam Tobeck (drums).

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Natalie is the complete package, as she not only has a fabulous voice and an appealing bandstand presentation, but she is a gifted writer.  It is common to see charts laid out for bands, but these were especially well written and complex charts.   Not simple lead sheets.  The standards had been slightly reharmonised or re-interpreted and the original numbers voiced in such a way as to maximise her vocal lines.  These were not numbers belted out, but well crafted tunes which required subtle interplay.

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Natalie’s own compositions were pleasing and especially ‘The Mood I’m in’.   This gorgeous tune is reminiscent of Sara Serpa’s output and this is no accident.  Natalie mentioned a number of influences and Sara Serpa is one of them.  The piece opens with Natalie singing wordless lines in unison with the guitar.   Dixon Nacey’s Godin sings anyhow and the blend was beautiful.   This lovely tune reinforces my bias towards wordless vocalisation in an ensemble.   As much as I enjoy lyrics, adding the human voice as an instrument feels archetypal and so right to my ears.

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There were a number of standards as well and I was initially surprised to see ‘Body and soul’ (Green/Heyman/Sour/ Eyton) in the set list.  This is one of the most recorded songs in history and perennially popular.  It is hard to look at such a well-travelled tune from a new angle but Natalie did just that.  Her take on it was slightly dark and brooding and it sounded tantalisingly fresh.  Among the other standards was Skylark and a few Jobim tunes.  Natalie was well received by the CJC audience and she appeared to appreciate that.

Who: Natalie Dietz (vocals), Kevin Field (piano), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Oli Holland (bass), Adam Tobeck (drums)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland – 11th December 2013

Caitlin Smith @ CJC (with Kevin Field trio)

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Caitlin Smith is well-known to those who follow the Auckland music scene, where she is highly respected as a vocalist and voice coach.  Scrolling down her resumé reveals just how active she has been over the years and just how far-reaching her influence is.

She sits comfortably on the Soul to Jazz spectrum, often occupying a stylistic space similar to that of Joanie Mitchell or Ricky Lee Jones.  Her material’s drawn from a mix of originals, standards and pop covers but all interpreted in her own unique way.  She has an impressive vocal range and she can captivate an audience with incredible ease.   She is a true performer and her elegance and professionalism are immediately evident.  It takes years for a performer to look this comfortable in front of an audience and many never achieve it.  The fact that she has a severe vision impairment just adds to her allure.

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The set list was mainly from her latest album ‘Stories to tell: The Thorndon Project’.  Sponsored by The Disabilities Commission and PVINZ (Parents of Vision Impaired New Zealand).  Caitlin and the drummer on the album Mark Lockett (also vision impaired) had pulled together an impressive lineup for the session.    Caitlin (vocals), Alan Brown (organ), Paul Van Ross (saxophone, flute), Mark Lockett (drums).   The purpose of the album is to raise awareness around disability issues and to highlight the dedication of the parents caring for those with disabilities.  This hit me right where I live, because my granddaughter has cerebral palsy and I know just how incredibly hard it is for her.  I am also hyper aware of the sacrifices that her mother (my daughter) lovingly makes each day.

The creative arts are often at the forefront of such campaigns and this one is personal and special.  The personnel assembled for the album are all renowned musicians and while three hail from New Zealand, they are a truly international lineup.   Paul Van Ross is from Melbourne, but he is currently in New York.   Mark Lockett is originally from Wellington but he recently moved to New York.  Alan Brown has a legendary status on the New Zealand music scene and works, performs and teaches around Auckland.

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Caitlin had a different band when she appeared at the CJC.  Kevin Field, a regular accompanist for Caitlin had just returned from recording in New York (I am particularly excited about that, as he recorded with Matt Penman and Nir Felder).   Kevin is an extraordinary pianist and leader but he also knows how to accompany a singer.  Anything involving Kevin Field will be worth hearing.  On bass was Vanessa McGowan who bowled me over with her sound and musicality.  I have heard her before but with bigger groups, where she had blended into the mix as a good bass player should in such situations.  In this trio setting she shone.  Her lines were great, but it was the fat warm sound that really captivated me.   She can sing as well.   More of her in trio settings please.  The remaining member was Ron Samsom and he can bring out the best in any band. Whether on mallets, sticks or brushes, Ron is the person you want in your band.   He is simply one of the best traps drummers in New Zealand.  IMG_7830 - Version 2

Caitlin’s own composition ‘In Between’ was impressive and her interpretation of ‘I Don’t Want to Waist my Time on Music you Don’t Really Need’ (Over the Rhine) was edgy and soul infused.    I have chosen a video clip from her CJC band to post; Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’.   When I panned to the audience, what the camera failed to pick up out of the darkness was Trudy Lile coming in on the chorus.  Vanessa McGowan also sang beautiful harmony on the chorus.  Jazz singing is evolving and while perhaps this was not Jazz singing in the traditional sense it was a pleasure to hear.   The feel good factor should never be overlooked and Caitlin delivered this.

Dedicated to those with severe disabilities and to their support networks – for Mala and Jennie especially

Who: Caitlin Smith (vocals, leader, composition), Kevin Field (piano), Vanessa McGowan (bass, vocals), Ron Samsom (drums).

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Building, Brittomart, Auckland.

Album: ‘Stories to Tell: The Thorndon Project’  PVINZ imprint – available from www.caitlinsmith.com

Kevin Field Trio@CJC Jazz April Event

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Jazz was famously described by Whitney Balliett as the ‘sound of surprise’.    This is at the very essence of improvised music as it strives to unravel, reveal, polish and at times shock.   What you think you know is often challenged and this confrontation is the primary role of art and improvised music.  When a familiar tune is reinterpreted and presented afresh it’s pleasing (if done well), but there are many ways that music can surprise.  What we sometimes hear is an aggregation of profound subtleties and that is harder to define.  We need ears attuned to nuance and a memory capable of recalling just what has preceded these vignettes.   It is in these less obvious corners that we often find the most profound of revelations.

The Kevin Field trio (plus guest) appeared at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) on the 17th April.  This was an important CJC/Jazz April event.  Everyone on the New Zealand Jazz scene is familiar with Kevin Field the pianist, composer, teacher, and gifted accompanist.  He delivers and so good sized crowds turn up.

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Kevin had earlier humped his Fender Rhodes down into club and it sat nestled respectfully against the grand piano.   The bass was lying on its side like an expectant whale and the drum kit was sparkling out of the gloom.  Behind the drum kit you could barely make out the image of a guitar on a stand.  Those gifted with 20-20 vision would have discerned that this was a Godin Guitar which can only mean one thing in Auckland; Dixon Nacey would be sitting in for a few numbers.

When Kevin Field and his trio filed to the band stand I experienced a tinge of anticipation.  I had been looking forward to the gig because Kevin Field never settles for a mediocre performance and he is certainly no journeyman.  With Cameron McArthur on bass and Stephen Thomas on drums we hoped for sparks.  While Kevin often appears in support of others, or fronts bigger lineups he had not brought a piano trio to the club for a quite a while.

What happened next caught me quite off guard and perhaps it shouldn’t have.   When you rate an artist highly you can easily fall into the trap of thinking that you know everything about them and that is plain foolish.  There is also something about the CJC that urges musicians reach deep and many visiting artists have commented on that.  The CJC is more than just a benign space, it is an enabling one.  A performance space that says to an artist, ‘there I’ve created the ambiance for you, now make it happen’.   It would take a subterranean ‘Feng Shui’ specialist to analyse this phenomenon .

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The Kevin Field that we saw perform was quite extraordinary.   It is hard to put into words but he approached the keyboards with such confidence and invention that was almost supernatural.   At times I thought that I heard hints of Hamp Hawes or the modern Europeans (rich, spacious and original), but mostly I heard Kevin Field, alive to the moment and brim full of fresh ideas.  His voice is definitely post Herbie Hancock and it engages with the realities of the post millennial world.   This is a voice that marks Kevin Field out as an original stylist.

The numbers were all originals and while a few were written for his recent ‘Warners’ album ‘Field of Vision’  (shortlisted for a Tui award), many were new to me.   They came bundled up with stories and anecdotes and to see Kevin in the role of raconteur was delightful.  When commenting on his second number of the evening ‘Complex Blue’, he told us that it was written with a Simply Red cover-band in mind.  “Complex Blue could be a new type of Simply Red cover-band who would play everything but Simply Red tunes, thus giving them a broader repertoire”.  The hilariously improbable tall stories and the incredible music made this a perfect evening of Jazz.   I asked Kevin later if he had plans to record this new material and he indicated that he would be doing so shortly.   If he captures half of what we experienced it will be well worth buying.

Cameron McArthur (bass) has experienced a meteoric rise to prominence and he has achieved this while still a student at the Auckland University School of Jazz.  I can clearly recall his first tentative performance steps.  Confidence, chops  and musicality have become the default for him now and he is increasingly accompanying our best musicians.    Stephen Thomas has been studying drums and performing at a high level for some time and he was an obvious choice for Kevin.   We are seeing more and more of what he is capable of and as with Cameron there will be a lot more yet.  This band works exceptionally well together and while Kevin is clearly in control as leader there is plenty of room for the others to shine.  IMG_6708 - Version 2

In guest slot was Dixon Nacey.  A guitarist who attracts superlatives and accolades as few others do.  He always injects that special ‘Dix’ quality into a performance; brilliance tinged with unalloyed happiness.

Sometimes when the stars align the gods of music breathe extra life into a performance.   When this occurs, those who are there feel incredibly fortunate and vow never to forget it.  This was such a night.

Because this was the main CJC – Jazz April gig night the audience learned what the month stands for, who’s involved and why it is important.  Everyone was challenged to do three things, (1) visit and ‘like’ the JJA Jazz April pages and International Jazz Day site (2) bring one or more friends to future gigs and spread the word (3) Hug and thank a Jazz musician tonight and in the following days.  By sharing and growing this wonderful music we will see it survive.

This has been a Jazz April Event;  visit the Jazz Journalists Association Web Site and JJA Facebook page, plus International Jazz Day page and all of the Jazz April gig review pages on this JazzLocal32.com site.   Please ‘like’ all sites as it helps.

What: Kevin Field Trio (plus guest) -Kevin Field (piano and fender rhodes), Cameron McArthur (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums), guest Dixon Nacey (guitar)

Where and When:  CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 1885 building, Brittomart, Auckland. April 17th 2013

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Brian Smith @ CJC Jazz April gig

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It is always great to see the renowned tenor player Brian Smith performing in the intimate space of the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) and whenever he plays older and newer fans turn up to see him.   While it is tempting to refer to him as being ‘seasoned’ or ‘an elder statesman’, any notion of that has a built-in redundancy factor.   He is a ball of energy and ageless on the bandstand.

Brian has played with so many great artists over his long career that it would chew up serious bandwidth to enumerate even half of them.  Being a member of the Maynard Ferguson band and numerous other well-known line-ups saw him playing across the world.    His co-led genre stretching ‘Nucleus’ (with Ian Carr) won the top European band award at the Montreux Jazz Festival (1970).  Since returning to New Zealand to settle (if a musician ever really does that) he has worked on numerous film scores and put out some well received (and commercially successful) albums.  IMG_6561 - Version 2

Accompanying him on the 10th April gig were Kevin Field (piano), Kevin Haines (bass) and Frank Gibson Jr (drums).    With this particular lineup he could dive deeper into his favoured repertoire of Hard Bop Jazz standards (with a few originals thrown in).  When ‘Footprints’ was played Brian Smith approached the warhorse in an interestingly oblique manner; giving us a tune that contained the merest hint of familiarity and a large dollop of brooding mystery.  This was a highpoint of the sets and a good example of how good musicians can extract new wine from old bottles.  The introduction began with a very personalised statement on tenor which caught the attention while offering no insight into where it was going.  Then out of nowhere the melody was stated, only to disappear as quickly as it had appeared; merged in probing re-haromonisations and oblique explorations.

The tunes of Wayne Shorter have remained perennially popular with Jazz audiences and they are constantly being reworked and updated.  I have heard two versions of ‘Footprints’ performed in recent weeks and both mixed the familiar with the the new.  These re-workings of familiar tunes have always been the bread & butter of Jazz and in the case of reworked ‘Footprints,’ Wayne Shorter sets the bar high.  I saw him perform this in Verona, Italy a few years ago and after laying out a pathway to the melody he suddenly plunged us into a world of elision; forcing us to fill in the gaps as we listened.  A familiar tune floating between chasms of crystalline emptiness; a tune more implied than played.   I have posted a You Tube clip of the Brian Smith band playing  ‘Footprints’  at the 10th April CJC gig.

IMG_6564 - Version 3Accompanying Brian on piano was Kevin Field who is so well-respected about town that he is a real drawcard in his own right.   I have often mentioned his ability to add value to any band he plays with and this night was no exception (A post on his April 17th gig will be up shortly).  On bass was Kevin Haines who is not only the most experienced bass player about town but one of the best.  lastly there was Frank Gibson Jr on drums who is another respected and talented veteran Jazz identity about Auckland.     Frank Gibson Jr, Kevin Field and Kevin Haines have all appeared recently leading groups.  These guys will always impress and they proved that on this gig.

This particular CJC gig fitted in perfectly with the wider Jazz April ethos which is about profiling Jazz & Improvised music in all its diversity.    The month had kicked off with a co-led trio featuring guitar, bass and drums (all original music by Samsom/Nacey/Haines), A few days later we saw Nathan Haines at the ‘Q’ Theatre (a tentet complete with French horns and vibes) – a few days after that the Auckland ‘Jazz & Blues club’ featured a gig with a Caribbean-Jazz ensemble. The Kevin Field trio on the 17th.  Auckland benefits from a rich sonic diversity and clubs like the CJC, The Auckland Jazz & Blues Club and Vitamin ‘S’ deserve our ongoing support.  The month of Jazz April will conclude with two avant-garde bands (one local, the ‘Kparty Spoilers of Utopia’) at Vitamin ‘S’ on the 23rd at 8pm and one visiting from Australia (Song FWAA) which is a CJC gig on the 24th at 8pm.   This is a cornucopia of riches and not one of these gigs should be missed.  Note: The Vitamin ‘S’ gig is the last chance to see John Bell vibist, who departs for Korea on Thursday.

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Who: the Brian Smith Quartet – Brian Smith (tenor), Kevin Field (piano), Kevin Haines (bass), Frank Gibson Jr (drums)

Where and When: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Building, Brittomart 10th April 2013

This is a Jazz April 2013 gig : links Jazz April or Jazz Journalists Assn FB page.

Vermillion Skies Launch – A Jazz April Highlight

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After the success of ‘Poets Embrace’ it is hardly surprising that Nathan Haines new album ‘Vermillion Skies’ has climbed so high in the charts.   The album was the fifth best selling New Zealand album the last time I looked and this happened within days of its release by Warners.  For a modern Jazz album anywhere to achieve this success is unprecedented.  This has followed hot on the heals of ‘Poets Embrace’ winning the Tui Awards ‘Best Jazz Album of 2012’. IMG_5902 - Version 2

Anyone who knows Nathan will hardly be surprised to learn of his obsessive commitment to the last two projects.  His approach has been Ghandalf like, as it involved a long period of woodshedding, an epic journey in search of analogue equipment and a reconciliation with the gods of past times.  While Poets Embrace plumbed the depths of Coltrane’s vocabulary, Vermillion Skies has opened up the perspective and tapped into the wider ethos of 1950’s Jazz.  What Vermillion Skies is not however is a cosy journey down memory lane.

It is about examining the epiphanies and sounds of the 50’s era and interpreting them with modern sensibilities.  With the exception of one number, these are fresh compositions; a happy synthesis between past and present.  Deliberately retro though is the analogue recording methodology.  A one-take take approach and sound augmented by the use of reverb (not using a plate).

I followed the Vermillion Skies project from its inception and because I was in contact with the musicians via Face Book it was not difficult to keep abreast of progress.  Alain Koetsier was returning from China, Nathan was returning from the UK and to use ‘GCSB speak’ there was a heightened level of ‘chatter’ about town.

Their fist gig was at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) and at this point the tunes had never been aired before.   Some tunes were in embryonic form and they had only been rehearsed briefly.  We were a focus group Nathan informed us; musical crash test dummies.  The audience loved the gig but they knew that even better was to come.  644217_10152395531247588_299377990_n

A month later the musicians and veteran London Producer Mike Patto headed into the York Street studios to cut the tracks.  The album was recorded in around two days of mostly live takes.  To obtain an authentic reverb sound Nathan used the studio car-park, which is a huge cavernous brick building, resembling a stripped out Victorian cathedral.  The neighbours in the posh Edwardian apartments next to the studio lacked the cool to appreciate this innovation.  The reverberating horns made one of them complain (in tears) as the fulsome brassy sounds echoed across Parnell rise.

A few weeks after the recording Nathan contacted me and asked if I would interview him at York Street for the promotional video.   I turned up a few hours before the appointed time and asked Jeremy (who runs the studio) if I could hear the masters.  Hearing the material in its final form and in that space was a revelation.  I quizzed Jeremy and Nathan about aspects of recording.  I learned that the piano was isolated in a booth, but the drums and horn section were in the larger space with the saxophone.  When it came to the vocals the band went home; those tracks were recorded without onlookers.

Nathan has sung on a previous album but he readily admits that it is not his comfort zone.   It interested me that he didn’t have the same degree of confidence in his singing abilities as his voice is simply superb.   In my view it compares favourably with Mark Murphy’s.  The charts are well written and the hooks in ‘Navareno Street’ are so powerful that I am still hearing them in my head weeks later.

Interviewing Nathan Haines is a pleasure as he is knowledgeable, articulate and expansive when prompted.   Because he is across his topic he can talk at length about the minutia of the project, but what was surprising was they way he allowed me to discuss his vulnerabilities.  His warmth and often self-effacing commentary gave the interview an added depth.

On April 9th the official launch occurred at the ‘Q’ Theatre in Queen Street Auckland.  The tickets sold out quickly.  The theatre is well suited for such a performance as it has the space, sight-lines and well padded surfaces.  This enabled good sound control.  Unlike the CJC gig, there were twelve musicians appearing (not quite the full album line-up which had a 15 piece band on one track).   The first half featured the basic quartet with a few guest artists such as brother Joel Haines on guitar and two others.  Joel can channel the rock god thing while fitting perfectly into a Jazz ensemble.   His sound is modern but his lines are Jazz.  Also on stage was John Bell the multi talented vibist.  John Bell’s contribution added texture and depth.  He does not rely on heavy vibrato, favouring a more minimalist approach.  I reflected that I had last seen him in a decidedly avant-garde setting.   This was far from Albert Ayler but as always his musicianship impressed.  Mike Booth (lead trumpet in the horn section) also appeared in the first half.   Mike Booth has a clean tone on trumpet and flugal and is the go to guy for anything involving horn sections or Jazz orchestras.  His sight-reading skills are as impressive as his performance skills.

by John Chapman

by John Chapman

In the second set, a six piece horn section joined in and the arranger Wayne Senior conducted the ten piece band.   Wayne Senior is part of the history of New Zealand Jazz and he is especially renowned for his work with TV and Radio orchestras.  His ensemble arranging is legendary.  The six piece horn-section was two French horns, Two trumpet/flugal horns, a trombone and a bass trombone.

I love nonets and tentets as they have a big sound while leaving room for a band to breathe.   The textural qualities of this tentet and the rich voicings were particularly noteworthy.  ‘Frontier West’ (by Nathan Haines) left the audience gasping in delight as the ‘Birth of the Cool’ vibe in modern clothing gave us a rare treat.  Such wonders are seldom heard in this country.  The last item (and the only tune not written by Nathan) was the aching beautiful ballad ‘Lament’ by J. J. Johnson.   The best known version of this is on the ‘Miles Ahead’ album.  That Gil Evans arrangement involves a 20 piece orchestra.  Wayne Senior re-arranged this for tentet and the results are amazing.  Nathan caught every nuance of the tune as he built his improvisation around the rich voicings.   I am in no doubt that the ‘Lament’ on ‘Vermillion Skies’ compares favourably with the best historic versions (Miles, JJ Johnson, Rahsaan Roland Kirk).

The performances on the album and at the various gigs have all been different.  This is because it is Jazz where ‘you never play anything the same way once’ and because there have been personnel changes along the way.  As leader and player, Nathan Haines always seems to squeeze that bit extra out of each performance.  His intense focus on the tenor of late has been good for him and good for us as his approach to this material while fluid, never looses its edge.   He is arriving at that enviable place where people will say after one bar, “oh….that has to be Nathan Haines”.

Kevin Field and Nathan go back a long way and their chemistry is evident.  Kevin is the pianist of choice for many local and visiting bands.  As an accompanist he never looses sight of what an accompanist is there for.  He can shine during the piano solos, but his fills, deftly placed chords and subtle comping speak to his other strengths.  It was often necessary for him to keep out-of-the-way of the other instruments (such as the horn section which occupied a register that he would normally utilise).  Drummer Alain Koetsier returned to New Zealand for the recording and his drum chops and musicality had not subsided during his sabbatical away from Jazz performance.   He is a fine musician and sorely missed on the Auckland scene now that he resides in China.   The bass player Ben Turua is also rock solid on the recording.   I have heard him play often but never better than here.  Sadly he has since departed for Sydney, where he will no doubt flourish as do many Kiwi Jazz expats.

The departure of Alain Koetsier and Ben Turua left a gap and so the original recording lineup was amended for the gigs to include Stephen Thomas on drums and Cameron MacArthur on bass.  I cannot speak highly enough of Stephen Thomas.  He has been on the scene for a few years and if anyone was going to fill Alain’s shoes it would be him.  He is a hard-working young drummer who demonstrates his passion and skill every time he sits at the kit.   The other replacement was Cameron McArthur who is still a student at Auckland university.   This was a big step up for him and he took it with ease.   His bass solo at the ‘Q’ Theatre brought a huge applause and like Stephen Thomas we can expect great things of him.

This album marks another high watermark in New Zealand Jazz as it is brave enough to confront the past without being captured by it.  Nathan Haines is heading back to London in a few weeks and we can’t begrudge him that.   His ascendency offshore is our gain and we should never forget that these two great albums have been recorded in Auckland, New Zealand and with Kiwi musicians.

Who: The Nathan Haines Band.  Album – Nathan Haines (tenor sax, vocals, leader, composer). Kevin Field (piano), Ben Turua (bass) , Alain Koetsier (drums), Joel Haines (guitar – 2,5), Leon Stenning (guitars -5), Mickey Utugawa (Drums – 5), Mike Booth (lead trumpet, flugal), Paul Norman (trumpet, flugal), David Kay (French horn), Simon Williams (French horn), Haydn Godfrey (trombone), John Gluyas (bass trombone), John Bell (vibraphone 2-5), ‘Big’ Cody Wilkington (steel guitar, vocals, percussion – 5), Wayne senior (arranger, session/launch gig conductor). ‘Q’ Theatre and later gigs replace Koetsier with Stephen Thomas (drums), replace Ben Turua with Cameron McArthur (bass).

This is a Jazz April post – support Jazz April and International Jazz Day by visiting the Jazz Journalists Association website and JJA Facebook page

What & Where: ‘Vermillion Skies’ album gigs,  CJC (Creative Jazz Club) Brittomart, ‘Q’ Theatre Queen Street Auckland, various festivals and concerts.

Navareno Street audio clip:  

Dr Dog Unleashed @ CJC

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A few weeks ago someone had whispered, “Dr Dog is back”.  What started as a mere dog whistle soon became an insistent rumour; confirmed beyond doubt when I saw a red van cruising the streets with ‘who let the dogs out’ emblazoned on its side.    I checked the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) website and sure enough there was the gig listing.   Dr Dog are the business or as the vernacular will have it ‘the dogs bollocks’.   We had all been hanging out for this return gig.  This was a risky outing for them as there would almost certainly be an attempt to capture them live during the performance.  The sight of determined looking technicians carrying a tangle of cables and heavy suitcases down the 1885 staircase club confirmed this.  IMG_6222

‘Dr Dog’ are some of the best musicians that the Auckland Jazz Scene has to offer.   Roger Manins – tenor,  Kevin Field – piano, Oli Holland – bass and Ron Samsom – drums.   They all teach at the Auckland University Jazz Studies course where Ron Samsom is program director.    They are teachers, but they also gig regularly.   These guys have honed their skills over many years of playing with the best.  Suffice it to say that expectations are always high when any one of them performs, but when all four appear on the same stage it is a noteworthy event.

Dr Dog is a showcase for the talents of the four band members, all of whom have written original material for the occasion.  I suspect that these compositions are not for the faint hearted and a sneak look at the heavily annotated scores confirmed that.   It was dog eat dog on the bandstand as each musician tried to outdo the other.  Heads would occasionally bend low over the charts in mock dismay and between numbers quick animated conferences were held.  This was not a set list designed to give band members an easy ride.   It was the audience who got the best of these exchanges and while the sweat poured off the band we lapped up the music.  This was a rare treat, just as we knew it would be.

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As you would expect from a dog band there were cool licks a playful approach to the music, a meat raffle and stick chasing.   I filmed most of the sets and I was particularly impressed with the first number up.  It was obvious that these guys had their eye on the ball.  I have put up that clip titled ‘Dideldideldei’.   Being Oli Holland’s composition I knew that it would be well written and have a back story (perhaps involving fishing?).  Oli has a strong sense of irony which is in his titles.   Dideldideldei was evidently a phrase uttered by a Jazz hating apartment dweller in a German comedy, who had the misfortune to live above a Jazz club.  He would shower the band with rotten fruit while yelling, “this is not music it’s just dideldideldei”.    All of the tunes had equally illusive or improbable titles and that only added to the fun.

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Roger contributed ‘Peter the Magnificent’ which he had written in honour of Peter Koopman and tune called ‘Evolution’ (dog evolution).  He gave an explanation of the titles but as I was near the back I couldn’t hear because the people up front were laughing so hard.  Kevin contributed a few tunes and one named ‘Synaesthesia’ referenced the unusual condition which he tells me afflicted one of the great classical composers.  Synaesthesia is a rare condition where colours are heard as sounds or sounds as colours.   Pat Martino Jazz guitar master uses this affliction as a vehicle to assist his improvisation.  In the end I lost track of who had composed what because the dogs only wanted to play.    While this was occurring they were captured by a sound man named John.  An album and a properly attributed track list should result from that.   This band is long overdue in recording and I am hoping that the live take is adequate to purpose.  If the sound is not good enough then they should shake their tails and get to the studio ASAP.   I for one can’t wait.

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Who: Dr Dog – Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Oli Holland, Ron Samson

Where: CJC Creative Jazz Club February 20th 2013

Nathan Haines 2013

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My recent travels to the USA led to many musical adventures, but as good as those experiences were I had missed the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) and our local musicians.   There is a passion and sometimes a raw edge in New Zealand Jazz which I find compelling.

The first gig I attended upon my return was the Nathan Haines CJC gig.  This had been widely anticipated and after the success of ‘Poets Embrace’ the rumours of a new album had started to circulate.   Just before Christmas Nathan Haines returned from London for a month or so and not long after Alain Koetsier returned from China.  The rumours became fact as there is definitely a new album in the making.  The band was well received at London’s ‘Ronnie Scotts‘ last year and an overwhelmingly positive review appeared in the influential ‘London Jazz’.  That gig had reunited most of the ‘Poets Embrace’ band.  IMG_5880 - Version 2

By the time of the ‘Ronny’s’ gig Nathan had moved back to London, while Kevin Field and Alain Koetsier flew in to join him.  When a good band like this travels exposure to wider markets occurs.  This can bring rewards.  Having Warners behind Nathan proved fortuitous and ‘Poets Embrace’ has now been released in Europe as well as Australasia.  With a follow-up album coming the expectations are rising again.

Nathan is no stranger to success (here or offshore) but to break into a difficult market releasing analogue classic 50’s style Jazz demonstrates his appeal.  This is not just a lucky break but the result of hard work, Savvy, skilfully written charts and knowing who to choose as bandmates.   Although Alain Koetsier (drums) has been working in China for a year he had already gained a solid reputation in New Zealand before he left.  He can be heard on a number of top quality recordings where his chops and musicality are self-evident.   Pianist Kevin Field has released a few albums of his own as leader and of particular note is his  last release ‘Field of Vision’ (Produced by Nathan and released on the Warners label).    The original bass player Thomas Botting is no longer with the band and in his place is the talented Ben Turua.   This is the second time that I have seen Ben play with this band and he is a good choice.  Sadly he is moving to Sydney after the recording.

On the night of the CJC gig we heard a mix of tunes from ‘Poets Embrace’ and some new compositions.   Some were so new that they had never been played before in public.   I assume that at least a few of these will end up on the new album.  The first set started with a selection from Poets Embrace and it was immediately obvious that they were back on familiar ground and ready to notch it up a level.   Nathan quickly established the melody and just as quickly moved to explore what lay beyond.  Together they mined the material for new stories and the level of confidence was noticeable. The newer material was a little more tentative but this was a first outing.    With the recording session due very shortly I have no doubt that we will hear an album every bit as exciting as the last.   This music has its echoes in the era of 50’s Coltrane and others but here’s the interesting thing;  Nathan has a young and an older fan base.   This is a timeless music for the universal man (and woman).  IMG_5902 - Version 2

Nathan is hopefully going to include a few of the vocal numbers he performed on the new album.  His song ‘Impossible Beauty’ from ‘Sound Travels’ was an attractive haunting tune that stuck in the memory.  I rate his (slightly husky) voice highly and I hope he adds vocals to his repertoire more often.  The male Jazz singer is sadly an endangered species.

Last weekend the band played ‘The Sawmill’ in Leigh.   The seats sold out quickly and to all accounts the gig was amazing.  If there is anyone who hasn’t yet purchased a copy of ‘Poets Embrace’ do so immediately and grab up the new album upon release (in Vinyl or CD).  I can promise you endless replays.

Who: Nathan Haines Band with Kevin Field, Alain Koetsier & Ben Turua.

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) the basement 1885 -Britomart – downtown Auckland

When: Wednesday 30th January 2013

Jamie Oehlers NZ quartet@CJC

There are good gigs, bad gigs, predictable gigs and everything in between. Mostly we appreciate what is before us but just occasionally, we attend a gig that is every kind of wonderful. This was it.

Jamie Oehlers has the sort of reputation that scares aspiring tenor players and creates life-long fans. This man is a monster on the tenor saxophone and no amount of scrambling for adjectives on my part is ever going to capture the intensity of his performance. Luckily I filmed much of the gig and so I will put up a number of cuts on You Tube over the coming weeks. This gig won’t be forgotten as it fizzed and washed over us like a blissful tsunami of sound.

Typical of many Australasian musicians Jamie Oehlers is self-effacing, and quietly humorous, but his down to earth persona remains intact only until he puts the horn in his mouth. Then we see confidence, elegance, fire-breathing and effortless virtuosity of a sort that almost defies belief. He is one of those musicians who reaches beyond the known, bringing the rhythm section and the audience along with him. His solos have an almost mystical coherence; as if guided by a universal logic that he is able to share with the audience.

Those who saw the performance at the CJC on the 19th September 2012 will understand exactly what I am saying.

As marvellous as Jamie was, his local rhythm section was there for him every inch of the way. Not for the first time I marvelled as Kevin Field (piano) responded to every challenge, managing to inject a sense of originality and invention into a number of almost unassailable standards. Kevin stands out as a pianist as he understands perfectly which chords to accent, when to lay out and when to work harder behind the soloist. He is exactly the right pianist to play behind a talented visitor.

Oli Holland was so good during this gig that I embarrassed him with a bear hug afterwards. He could have been Reggie Garrison at one point as the urgent stabbing notes from his bass propelled the others on. Listen to the first clip below and particularly where Kevin is soloing. This unit was never less than in perfect lockstep.

Frank Gibson on drums was equally marvellous. You never know how drummers will respond to high-octane material like this but he responded by reaching deep within and capturing every nuance of the set. I have never heard him perform better.

The first set began with the standard ‘On a Clear Day’ (Lane), ‘Alina’ AKA ‘Variation 11 from Suspended Night’ (Tomasz Stanko) [one of my favourite tunes], ‘Aisha’ (John Coltrane), ‘Take the Coltrane'( Ellington-Coltrane) , Portrait in Black and White ( Jobim) and more.

Near the end of the second set the band decided to play John Coltrane’s ‘Resolution’ from ‘A Love Supreme’ (1962). ‘A Love Supreme’ is hardly ever played and more is the pity. This avoidance relates to the holy grail status of ‘A Love Supreme’ among post Coltrane saxophonists. My view is that we should honour it and especially in this week. John Coltrane was born on September 23rd. It is a shame not to have all four movements performed together though; ‘Resolution’ is after all only a part of a mystical four piece puzzle which makes perfect sense when heard in its entirety.

Jamie stated the theme over and again, but each time working in subtle re-harmonisations and embarking upon brief angular explorations. We knew intuitively that we would end up in a place of almost unbearable intensity and we were on the edges of our seats in expectation. This was not a gate to be rushed and although we understood that, the anticipation was palpable. Tension and release is at the very essence of Jazz and Jamie achieve this end by stalking his prey in measured steps like a confident hunter.

‘Resolution’ is an Everest of a tune utilising Coltrane’s new-found ideas which were somewhere between hard bop and free. Jamie interpreted intelligently without trying to out do Coltrane. He made it his ‘Resolution’ as well. Kevin field was the same, as he took a more oblique approach than McCoy Tyner. This was a perfect homage without being a slavish imitation.

At the end of the gig we received an additional treat when Jamie asked Roger Manins to play. The best moment was when they played ‘On Green Dolphin Street‘ (Washington). With these two masters working the changes and probing every hidden corner of the melody, it reminded us that standards interpreted with integrity can sound as fresh as at first hearing.

Jamie Oehlers lives in Australia where he runs a Jazz School. He has so many awards that storage must be problem (including being judged winner of the ‘World Saxophone Competition’ in Montreux by Charles Lloyd and Bruce Lundvall of Blue Note). He has put out 10 albums as leader as well as being sideman for the whose who of the Jazz world.

I ran into Jazz guitarist Dixon Nacey as I was leaving and he summed it up nicely. “Man I have just received a series of Jazz upper-cuts”.

Brian Smith Quintet featuring Pete Barwick @ CJC

Brian Smith & Pete Barwick

Lets face it, no one will be disappointed by a Brian Smith Band and this particular lineup was an all-star affair.  Man did they deliver.

You expect Brian to deliver royally as he has had such a successful output as evidenced by his 2006 (Taupo’ album).   This also goes for Kevin Field (‘Field of Dreams’ album), Kevin Haines (‘Oxide’ album) and Frank Gibson Jnr (‘Rainbow Bridge‘ album), but a question mark may have lingered in some minds over Pete Barwick’s inclusion as he was the lessor known band member.  He is a veteran sideman and widely respected among musicians; Brian knew exactly what he was doing.  Pete was amazing on the night and he more than earned his place in this star studied lineup.

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In spite of their respective pedigree’s this was a band of equals and out of that amalgam came a night of exceptional Jazz.  A Hard Bop devotee in the audience said after the show, “I have been to Jazz clubs and concerts all over the world, but this may have been the best I have seen”.

The band played a number of Hard Bop standards as expected, but there were a few new originals as well.  An original number featured at the end of the first set titled ‘CJC’ delighted everyone.   Brian had penned this composition in the weeks preceding the gig and he dedicated it to Roger & Caroline Manins.  Before playing the number Brian paid tribute to them and to the CJC club.  The crowd loved this and applauded wildly.

In fact the audience was enthusiastic throughout the night and as tunes by Horace Silver, Heyman/Green, Brian Smith and others filled the club they could not have been happier.

The Creative Jazz Club (CJC) came into being for the express purpose of enabling such interactions and on nights like this both musicians and audiences are especially thankful for the clubs existence.

Pete Barwick

If any of you haven’t yet obtained a copy of Brian Smiths 2006 album ‘Taupo’ (Ode label) you need to remedy that situation immediately.   This last gig may begin a buying frenzy and as the world has recently learned to its cost regarding in demand commodities – scarcity drives prices up.  It is truly a marvelous album.  If you can’t find a copy in Marbecks or JB HiFi then try Real Groovy Records or Trade Me – just buy it.

Nathan Haines ‘Poets Embrace’ reprise

Nathan, Ben, & Steve

Last week saw the Nathan Haines Fourtet return to the CJC with an altered line-up.  Alain Koetsier the former drummer is now running a language school in China and Thomas Botting has packed up his bass and moved to Australia.   Above all we knew that this would also be the last time that we would see Nathan for while as he moves back to the UK in July.

In place of the departed musicians we heard Stephen Thomas on drums and Ben Turua on bass.    There had also been some changes made in the club configuration and it was surprising how the rearrangement of furniture subtly altered the sound.    The sight lines were also greatly improved for those standing along the bar and near to the entrance.     I have heard this material at four different gigs now, but for accessibility and quality of sound this gig worked the best for me.  It was great to be able to watch Kevin Field at work as the piano was no longer obscured by the bar.

Kevin Field

Those of us who have been listening to the ‘Poets Embrace’ album for months knew the material backwards, but with new personnel, such keen improvisers and an extremely enthusiastic audience we were always going to get something different.  We did.

I like every track on the album but if pushed I would single out ‘Ancestral Dance’ as a favourite.  The version on the night was blistering and it captured the drive and ethos of the band perfectly.   As Nathan mines deeper into this material he constantly finds new ideas and it has been a real privilege to watch this project grow from its inception to this final CJC gig three-quarters of a year later.

This album has achieved a rare feat in New Zealand.   It rose to number three on the best-selling album list and tracks from the album rocketed up the charts to unprecedented heights.  To those of us who have rated the album highly this has not been surprising, but here’s the interesting thing.  This is no-holds-barred model jazz of the sort that came out on the Impulse Label.

Younger listeners found this no barrier and embraced it whole heartedly, which was evidenced by the age of the audience at the gigs.   Nathan has always had a diverse following, but this journey took us to a new place in our Kiwi Jazz journey.  For that he deserves our deepest respect and we wish him the best as he returns to London.   This era that is so faithfully evoked was the high water-mark of analogue sound and the warmth and glow is evident in the recording (see earlier blogs on Jazz Local 32 for the methodology of ‘The Poets Embrace’ recording).

An undoubted highlight of the evening was the tenor battle between Nathan and Roger Manins.   It was our own version of the Sony Stitt and Gene Ammons tenor sessions.   The crowds whooped in delight as this full-throated exchange occurred.   It was a night never to be forgotten.

The clip I have included here was filmed in the weeks before Alain left for China and so Stephen is not yet in the band.  The lineup on the night was Nathan Haines (tenor sax), Kevin Field (piano), Ben Turua (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums) – guest Roger Manins (tenor sax).

‘Dr Dog’ takes the Jazz Pulse of Auckland

Animal lovers, children and Jazzers alike were delighted to learn that the ‘Dr Dog’ Jazz quartet would be performing in the Creative Jazz Club (CJC). This was somewhat of a dream band as it featured ‘I cani popolari‘ from the halls of academia; Roger Manins (tenor), Kevin Field (piano, Rhodes), Oli Holland (Bass) and Ron Samsom (drums).

The band having no clear leaders could follow their noses, but in spite of that they worked as one throughout the evening. In Jazz-dog years they represented around 317.4 years of experience and so their ability to act in a disciplined manner was hardly surprising. They took their lead from each other.

Roger had managed to sniff out the microphone first and so the job of introducing the band members and the numbers fell to him. An endless stream of puns and dog stories followed and at one point some frank observations on the variability of dog intelligence risked causing serious offense to Afghan owners. As none appeared to be present the crises was averted and the dog related compositions flowed in happy succession.

If anyone thought this to be a frivolous exercise, they should be disabused of that notion. This was a band which had ‘chops’ (OK I had to put that in), the ability to delight a crowd and a string of intelligent compositions to shine over.

It is expected that the canine metaphors and jokes will continue to dog this band for some years; peaking around 2014 before eventually subsiding. As a departure from the normal CD prize there was a meat raffle. A cat named Jason took that prize.

The music that we heard was so good that a few of us are going to lay a trail of sausages; leading from the Auckland University School of Music Jazz Programme to the nearest recording studio (Yorkie Street studios or Ratter Records).

In researching this Canine Jazz phenomena I recalled another dog band which had performed at the CJC . Guitarist Neil Watson’s ‘Zen Dogs’ performed at the club about a year ago. When I ran into Neil months later I asked him if ‘Zen Dogs’ would be performing again soon. He answered in that enigmatic way of all Zen masters. “Oh that was a concept band”. “But will they be performing again”, I asked?. “No the band was literally a concept – not an actual band”. Confused and pondering the meaning of this Koan, I could not help wondering. Had I imagined the entire gig?

‘Dr Dog’ on the other hand is a band grounded in realty. A cartoon dog band entirely relevant to our times.

Footnotes: I have used sepia photographs to show respect, as they add a certain gravitas befitting the age and experience of the band. All photos are mine including ‘Dr Dog’ who was caught in Chelsea London and subjected to Photoshop without his permission. You will be pleased to learn that I managed to avoid using the following: barking up the wrong tree, woofers and Roger was a wag.

Kevin Field – ‘Field of Vision’ gig & album

Some die-hard Jazz fans complain that the modern jazz scene doesn’t produce enough music that sounds like that of the ‘classic era’.    This mythical era that they remember so fondly didn’t exist in the way they thought.  They forget that Louis Armstrong accused Dizzy Gillespie of playing ‘Chinese music’ and that Bill Evans was accused of not swinging.

The Jazz in any defined era has always sounded surprisingly different from the music that preceded it.   Jim Hall circa 2012 sounds nothing like the Jim Hall of the early ‘Pacific Jazz’ Era and why should he.   This is not a music to be set in aspic or to be kept in a hermetically sealed container to protect it from impurities.  Jazz is not a fragile dying art form but a vibrant improvised restless music that lives perpetually in the now.  As Whitney Balliett so famously said it is ‘the sound of surprise’.

Kevin Fields new album illustrates this premise perfectly. 

On Wednesday 25th April the CJC (Creative Jazz Club of Aotearoa) featured pianist Kevin Field as he promoted his ‘Field of Vision’ album.   Being a fan of Kevin’s, I had been quick to obtain a copy of the album and I was delighted by what I heard.  This was music with a deep groove and an unmistakable pulse.  The banks of synthesizers, the singers and the electric bass lines had given it a distinct Soul Jazz context.  Out of this came a series of mesmerizing grooves, which engulfed us in a way that made definitions quite meaningless.  As the band played at the CJC we sunk happily into a warm vibe that made the Autumn night seem very far away.  

The club gig kicked off with ‘See Happen’; a number that drew us deeper and deeper into a vamp while figures on the piano created a pleasing filigree by way of contrast.   The next number ‘imaginary friend’, opened the vistas wider.  On the album this was especially noticeable as the Steinway Grand, Fender Rhodes, Prophet T8 and Roland Jupiter 8 worked beautifully over the four piece string section

It had an almost cinematic feel to it and I could not help but be reminded of the work of Creed Taylor’s CTI label.  Instead of CTI’s Don Sebesky this album had utilised the services of Wayne Senior who arranged the string section.   The first airing of this material had been in the Kenneth Myers Centre and it was therefore fitting that Wayne Senior had been involved as his connection with the KMC goes back a long way.

The album was produced by Nathan Haines and his handiwork is evident throughout.  He plays alto flute, an ARP synth and is credited as co-composer on 4 of the 11 numbers.  The rest of the numbers were written by Kevin and they are probably his best work to date.

The band that Kevin brought to the CJC was a smaller unit than on the album and that is just as well because the club was packed.  A small club has a very different sound to a recording studio and the warmth and intimacy is the obvious benefit of being in that space.   When you buy the disk (and you should) you will notice a broader sound palette, a bigger line up and a crisper sound.  Both experiences are complimentary and anyone attending who has also purchased the album will count themselves lucky.  

Stephen Thomas had been brought in as drummer for the CJC gig and he had sweetened the deal by a congratulatory email that he sent to Kevin after the initial release.   “Man those were some sick grooves” he had messaged.  Kevin immediately confirmed him as right drummer for the gig.  Stephen is a terrific drummer and the choice was a good one.

Once again we saw Dixon Nacey perform and as always we watched open-mouthed.   This man is so good that it is frightening.  Completing the lineup were guests; Nathan Haines, Marjan Gorgani and Clo Chaperon (the latter had great soul voices).   All added something essential to the rich mix and in Nathan’s case this is only to be expected.

I would also like to mention Karika Turua.  He played a big Fender bass and his grooves although loud, were as big as his guitar.

There were a few quieter piano passages as well and on these we hear the crisp touch, the harmonic exploration and the crunched chords that have become so familiar to us in Kevin’s playing.  Kevin has many fans in New Zealand and most will have heard his previous piano trio album ‘Irony’ (Rattle Records).  Although different I would regard both as essential purchases as we follow Kevin Fields career.

The CJC band was: Kevin Field (Leader, Yamaha piano, Fender Rhodes, Synth) – Dixon Nacey (guitar) – Stephen Thomas (drums) – Karika Turua (bass) – Marjan Gorgani / Clo Chaperon (vocals) – guest Nathan Haines (alto flute, soprano sax).

On the album were: Kevin Field (Leader, Steinway piano, Fender Rhodes, Roland Jupiter 8, ARP Odyssey,Prophet T8  ) – Nathan Haines (ARP Odyssey, alto flute) – Dixon Nacey (guitar) – Joel Haines (guitar) – Mickey Ututaonga (drums) – Migual Fuentes (percussion) – Karika Turua (bass) – Bex Nabouta/ Marjan Gorgani/Kevin Mark Trail (vocals) – Cherie Matheson (backing vocals) – Miranda Adams/Justine Cormack (violins) – Robert Ashworth Viola) – Ashley Brown (Cello) – Chris Cox – (drum programming).

This album can be purchased in any major record store or for more information contact ‘Haven Music’ a division of ‘Warners Music NZ’.

All photographs by Peter Koopman – Gig venue/CJC Jazz club Auckland