This particular group is an uncommon thing on the Auckland scene. A Jazz guitar trio formed by three of our best musicians and each of the musicians in it for the long haul. Samsom/Nacey/Haines have been playing and recording together for a long time and the commitment has remained constant throughout. Their longevity is clearly about musical chemistry, but also about their combined approach to composition. Each band member writes in their own style, but each instinctively understands how the others will react to the chart. This is how mature bands operate; the familiarity enabling the collective to dive into the heart of a composition and extract the best from it. While their original compositions form the bedrock of their output, they also tackle standards; especially when performing live.
Their approach to standards and the arrangement of them is flawless; leading you away from the familiar, while somehow retaining an essence of what you know and how you remember it. This ability to interpret while mixing comfort and risk in equal parts is a gift. It requires a degree of expertise that younger bands seldom possess. Samsom, Nacey and Haines know a thing or two about focusing the attention and on challenging audiences to listen more deeply. They have recorded three acclaimed albums already and a fourth is almost certainly lurking in the wings.
There were a quite few new compositions (some as yet untitled), some familiar tunes from earlier albums and a tasteful assortment of cleverly arranged standards. Three of the standards grabbed my attention: Nica’s Dream (Horace Silver), In Your Own Sweet Way (Dave Brubeck) and Detour Ahead (Herb Ellis/ Johnny Frigo). I have posted a clip of the Brubeck number as it typifies the adventurous nature of the trio. True improvisers often extract gold from this composition, a case in point being Brubeck himself. He seldom played it the same way twice and on a 1964 Belgian clip, he exposes the bones while Desmond lays down a new tune entirely (a miraculous example of melodic re-invention captured on film for posterity).
Anyone of the musicians could have introduced these tunes, but the duties fell to Kevin Haines. His easy-going banter struck just the right note. He was engaging and above all funny. I have often observed how easily this comes to the more seasoned performers. Years of standing at the microphone teach them that a few well-chosen words can enhance any performance – especially a good performance.
Samsom/Nacey/Haines are – Ron Samson (drums, compositions), Dixon Nacey (guitar, compositions), Kevin Haines (upright bass, compositions). The gig was at the Backbeat Bar, K’Road, for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, on April 18, 2018.
Long after the ANZAC commemorations had finished, when The World Masters Games contestants were either celebrating their success or limping toward the nearest A&E, a largely unheralded gig took place at the KMC in Shortland Street. It was fitting, that on a day of remembrance, the faithful old war horses, the standards, were honoured. It is surprisingly rare to see a standards only instrumental gig these days. The event was curated by Kevin Haines and what a treat it was. The definition of what makes a Jazz standard is a moveable feast, but the safest definition is that the tunes are, or were, from the standard repertoire. Most, but not all standards come from the Great American Songbook, e.g. Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Victor Young, Duke Ellington Ira & George Gershwin etc. Many of them, and often the best, from failed musicals. Other Jazz standards come from the pen of gifted composers like Sonny Rollins. When introducing the band, Haines stated,” The ability to play the standards well, is the benchmark against which Jazz musicians are ultimately judged”. Assembled on the bandstand were some of New Zealand’s finest musicians. Kevin Haines (bass), Nathan Haines (tenor & soprano saxophones, vocal), Kevin Field (piano), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Ron Samsom (drums). The band gave it everything and the exchanges were beautiful – Nacey and Field conjuring up the Evans/Hall duos, Nathan Haines making his tenor sound like the Desmond Alto. The night was well attended and it will certainly be remembered.
The set list on the night was magnificent, with several surprises nestled among the more famous standards: (1) Beautiful Love (tune composed in 1931 by King/Young/Alstyne – it was featured in two long forgotten movies during 1932) (2) Tarde (Milton Nascimento 1969 – immensely popular in Brazil but popularised in Jazz circles by Wayne Shorter). (3) Alone Together (Schwartz/Dietz 1932 – from the musical ‘Flying Colours’). (4) But Not For Me (tune George Gershwin, 1930, from the musical ‘Girl Crazy’). (5) impossible Beauty (Nathan Haines 2000 – a New Zealand standard if ever there was one -from his album ‘Sound Travels’). (6) If I should lose You (tune by Rainger 1936 – used in the film ‘Rose of the Rancho’. (7) Stella by Starlight (tune by Victor Young 1944 used as the score in the film ‘The uninvited’ rated the 10th most popular standard in the world). (8) Detour Ahead (Herb Ellis, Johnny Frigo and probably Lou Carter, 1947 – a true Jazz Standard, famously played by BIll Evans on his Village Vanguard sessions and later, and closer to home by Vince Jones), (9) All The Things You Are (tune by Jerome Kern, 1939, written for the musical ‘Very Warm for May’ played frequently, sometimes parodied, often messed with, much-loved).
Doug 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.Lawrence 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.It 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.
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.Here 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. “Roger 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).
Nathan Haines is a master of the melodic and the model and he has a beautiful and distinctive sound on all his horns (and winds). He has a strong following around the world and it is no wonder when he turns on gigs like this. His following crosses genres, attracting younger and older audiences equally. He also cuts through media blind spots in a way that few other New Zealand improvising musicians do. It is good to have him on home soil for a while and good that he is focussing on fresh local projects. What he does is always exciting and this gig was no exception.The talented and hard-working, Haines always thinks through his projects. Hot on the heals of his successful award-winning Jazz albums ‘Poets Embrace’ and ‘Vermillion Skies’ he has again teamed up with arrangers Wayne Senior and Mike Booth. The decision to include more Jazz vocals is a welcome development. There’s a paucity of male jazz singers in the modern world and they’re a rarity in New Zealand. The set list was an interesting mix of Haines originals and a few Jazz standards seldom heard live. Like his recent Jazz projects, these tunes evoked and reinterpreted the classic era of the 50’s. Consequently they oozed cool. With Michal Martyniuk on piano, Kevin Haines on bass and Ron Samsom on drums he was already on solid ground. This is also where Haines excels. He is a bandleader who choses his musicians well. Martyniuk made his presence felt and soloed beautifully while never over playing. It was exactly what these charts required. Kevin Haines is a highly-respected, tasteful bass player with an impeccable CV. During the sets smiles and friendly banter flowed between father and son; further enhancing the mood. The highly experienced Samsom was on drums throughout. He is new to Haines lineups. His approach to the kit springs from a confident inner logic; more organic than Haines usual drummers. It was interesting to watch their interactions as they sparked off each other. Samsom giving Haines a different platform to work from.
The first few numbers were quartet only and the gorgeous and evocative ‘The Night Air’ opened the set. This is a lovely composition by Haines, with the warmth and vibe of a classic Impulse vinyl album (see clip). His tone is unique and especially evident when doing this material. It immediately took me back to hearing Pharoah Sanders for the first time. When Haines plays these modal pieces, there’s a spiritual joy that comes across. This is a strong suit for him and for those of us who love that era a balm.
As the set progressed the ensemble doubled to include a four piece horn section. There were distinct tonal and textural qualities to this ‘Little Big Band’; differing from his ‘Vermillion Skies’ horn section as that had French horns. The line up of trombone, tenor Saxophone, Alto saxophone and trumpet/flugal worked well. From ‘Vermillion Skies’ we heard J. J. Johnson’s ballad ‘lament’ and the vocal ‘Navarino Street’. Wayne Senior and Mike Booth had worked on the arrangements and few in New Zealand can match their arranging skills. Perhaps the greatest pleasure was hearing an arrangement of ‘Boplicity’ from the 1949 Miles Davis album ‘Birth of Cool’. Few bands tackle this and more’s the pity. The octet horn section were Mike Booth, Roger Manins, Callum Passells and Hayden Godfrey.
It’s always good to hear Haines singing and I think we will hear more of that in future. That said, as long as Haines puts a tenor saxophone to his lips he will draw audiences because his tenor playing infects us with joyousness. There’s a real warmth to his playing and if you have listened to Jazz for as long as I have, your memories will quickly conjure the days of Coltrane, Lateef or Sanders. On nights like this you feel the best of your yesteryear listening captured, then gifted back to you. As I filmed I noticed the famous artist Billy Apple sitting beside me. He leaned forward smiling and said, “This is wonderful, the vibe is just like a New York Jazz club of the 50’s or 60’s”. He is right.
Who: Nathan Haines Quartet & Octet – Nathan Haines (tenor, saxophone, vocals, compositions)- Michal Martyniuk (piano), Kevin Haines (bass), Ron Samsom (drums), Mike Booth (trumpet, flugel, arrangements), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Callum Passells (alto saxophone), Hayden Godfrey (trombone), – conductor arranger Wayne Senior.
Where:(CJC Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, 27th May 2015
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.
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.
Accompanying 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.
Who: the Brian Smith Quartet – Brian Smith (tenor), Kevin Field (piano), Kevin Haines (bass), Frank Gibson Jr (drums)
The first ‘Jazz April‘ gig was at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) featuring the ‘Samsom/Nacey/Haines’ band. I can’t think of a better way to kick off Jazz April 2013 than by hearing seasoned musicians having fun, while at the same time stretching themselves as players and composers. The group formed in 2008 with the idea of providing a vehicle for new compositions. The outcome of these collaborations was an album named ‘Open to Suggestions‘ and later the 2010 ‘Oxide‘ album was released (with guests Kevin Field, Chris Melville, Neville Grenfell and Roger Manins). The albums have all been extremely well received with ‘Open to Suggestions‘ ending up as a finalist in the Tui Music Awards and ‘Oxide‘ (Rattle Records 2010) receiving critical acclaim from far & wide. The name ‘Oxide‘ arose from John Ruskin’s writings on crystals (artist, author, patron of the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood and proto-socialist philosopher). This album is still available in record shops or from Rattle Records and I highly recommend it.
It is hardly surprising that there was an expectation of a third album. The new release titled ‘Cross Now’ has no guest artists appearing. Left to bounce off each others ideas and in an uncluttered musical space, the three musicians made the most of the situation. This spirit of collaboration was particularly evident at the gig as they joked and constantly acknowledged each others skills while downplaying their own input. That is a very Kiwi thing and audiences take it as good form. No one would dare do this if they were uncomfortable with their performance. It is a matter of reading the cultural codes. When they were improvising, the interaction between players was both cerebral and intuitive. There were moments when they appeared as one entity.
As soon as the first set kicked off a sense of joy and playfulness emanated from the bandstand. Some the best music arises from joy and good humour; musicians tapping into an unconscious wellspring of creative goodwill and being at one with the world.
The material on ‘Cross Now’ is new and like ‘Oxide’ some tunes were only finished days before recording them (or even polished in the studio car park). This is Dixon Nacey’s forte; to write brilliant tunes in the eleventh hour. Someone told me that his ‘The Lion” was written on the way to the ‘Oxide‘ recording sessions. Kevin Haines informed us that Dixon’s moving tribute to the recently diseased and much-loved drummer Tony Hopkins, was likewise written days before the recording. The compositions represent the styles of the originators and even though the compositions are jointly attributed, it is possible to detect just whose hand has had the greatest influence over each number.
So often the back stories behind tunes can enrich a listening experience, but I am not sure how many musicians appreciate this fact. While it is true up to a point that the music should speak for itself, that liner notes or background stories are an added superfluity, that received wisdom obscures a deeper story. To many of us music is an experience extending way beyond the auditory senses. We pick up cues from the musicians movements, we absorb colours from the lights glancing off the instruments and we gain insights from the stories. To me improvised music is like a good film and a well shot film is like improvised music. A place to occupy empathetically for that one hyper-sensitised moment in time. No sensory input should therefore be denied.
Kevin Haines wrote ‘…With Eyes Averted…’ (which began with a poem about relationships) and this added a perspective to the tune that would not otherwise have been evident (I have posted a video of this which features Matt Bray on 2nd guitar) . His tune ‘Cross Now’ was about a particularly irritating crossing signal outside of a Tokyo hotel. In Kevin Haines hands the annoying beeps became a polyrhythmic pulse to build a tune upon. He also contributed ‘Broken Tones’.
Drummer Ron Samsom’s, ‘Happy Dance’ (a fast samba) was fabulous. Written about his dog, we could feel the exuberant bounding energy as the tune progressed. Ron Samsom had begun with the tongue in cheek announcement, “yes drummers write tunes too”. After ‘Happy Dance’ we heard ‘Seiko (in 13/8 time) and a ballad ‘Qua’. I heard someone murmur that drummers needed to write more tunes and in Ron’s case I agree (See You Tube Clip by Jen Sol).
Dixon’s contributions were ‘Song for Xavier’ (written for his son) and ‘Conversations with Mr Small’ which he explained as arising from, ” Well perhaps this won’t be such an interesting reason for title…ah…it is about my musical theory conversations with Dr Stephen Small”. In comedy and music, timing is everything and these guys had it down pat. The tune that we will never forget is Dixon Nacey’s moving tribute to the beloved and much lamented Jazz drummer Tony Hopkins. I found myself glancing at the places where Tony had sat and imagined him at the kit; knitting the band together in that particular way of his. This is the power of Jazz. The musicians interpret while we see, feel and hear a story unfold. The tune was, ‘The Remarkable Mr Hopkins’ and by the end a few of us were tearing up. From the bottom of my heart, thanks Dix.
The new album will be in the record outlets shortly, but your best bet is to contact Rattle online and order a copy.
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.
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.
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.