Karrin Allyson with Tom Warrington Trio

Allyson 089Thanks to Rodger Fox and the CJC management we were lucky enough to see five times Grammy nominee, Jazz vocalist Karrin Allyson in our Auckland Jazz Club last Wednesday night. Seeing an artist like this in a concert hall is one thing; seeing her in the warm intimate surroundings of a small Jazz club and just a metre away is quite another. Always a sucker for quality Jazz vocalists I first heard her in 1992 (the album ‘I Thought About You’ was the first of hers I purchased). On the basis of her recorded output, I booked for both the CJC gig in Auckland and the Wellington Jazz Festival concert. The flights between these cities are surprisingly affordable when you book in advance, and these opportunities don’t come around often when you live in the South Pacific.Allyson 096Following her 1992 release further albums came out and by the time ‘Ballads: for Coltrane’ and ‘In Blue’ were released there was no mistaking it. This was an important vocal interpreter. Her voice has particular qualities, an attractive smoky veneer, but then there’s that extra something. A sense of shared intimacy, a way of interpreting lyrics in an original way while still paying tribute to earlier interpreters. Her version of ‘O Barquino’ or ‘Double Rainbow’ (both by Jobim) immediately brings to mind the fabulous Elis Regina. Her ‘West Coast Blues’ conjures up Wes Montgomery just as much as the instrumentalists. She scats in ways that adds value to the narrative content of the song, never overdone and always wonderfully inventive. It came as no surprise, therefore, that she could conquer an audience in a heart beat.Allyson 091From the first vocal number, Allyson teased the audience, turning the lyrics into a conversation. Her set list spanned her Concord recordings including her recent release ‘Many a New Day: Karrin Allyson Sings Rogers & Hammerstein’ (When I think of Tom/Hello Young Lovers). Everything she performed was extraordinary but when she moved to the piano and accompanied herself on ‘Bye Bye Country Boy’ I was especially delighted. For some unaccountable reason, few vocalists interpret Blossom Dearie and more’s the pity. Dearie was a true original and a fiendishly clever Jazz vocalist. Her voice had a deceptive depth if you listened properly and like Allyson her ability to communicate was perfectly honed. It is fitting that Allyson should tackle Blossom Dearie as she is able to convey the same wry humour and wrap it up in a very attractive vocal package. She was simply killing in her interpretation.Allyson 090Accompanying Allyson was the Tom Warrington trio. Although it is five years since we saw them last, they have been regular visitors to New Zealand thanks to Fox. Tom Warrington is a superb bassist, having worked with everyone from Peggy Lee to Stan Getz. His list of credits is staggering. Formerly based in LA, where he was constantly in demand and no wonder. The choices underpinning each note he plays are beyond caveat. His musicality, teaching and compositional skills of the highest order. Today he lives a quieter life in rural New Zealand. When you hear his bass lines, and especially during a ballad, you recall the classic piano-trio bass players. Loading each note with meaning and carrying as much weight as any chordal instrument. Warrington has released four superb albums with this trio and all are highly recommended.Allyson 094On chordal duties was Larry Koonse, playing a lovely hollow body Borys guitar. An impressive guitarist and a stalwart of the LA Jazz scene. Again, he is widely recorded, also releasing a number of albums under his own name. In many ways, Koonse encapsulates the best of the pre-millennial guitar tradition. That said, his fresh approach to tunes is also very much evident. His voice leading is a masterclass; dissonant/consonant inversions that have more bottom than most guitarists can muster in a lifetime and a gorgeous warm tone which lingers in the memory long after the gig. This, together with his other skills, makes him the perfect accompanist for a vocalist. When he played ‘Bolivia’ (Cedar Walton) with the trio, it took on the urgency and excitement that the tune demands. On ‘Whisper Not’ (Benny Golson) he extracted unalloyed beauty. I have known Larry for a decade and speaking to him after the gig, I complimented him on those tunes. At that point, my mouth raced way ahead of my brain and I said, “that was ‘Speak Low’ wasn’t it”? That fact that my slip of the tongue had accidentally come up with an exact antonym of ‘Whisper not’ made his day.Allyson 095Last but not least is the Warrington Trio drummer Joe La Barbera. No one needs reminding of his long list of credits and impeccable credentials. As Warrington said during the introductions. “As everyone knows, Joe La Barbera was in the last Bill Evans trio. This puts us in some rarefied air”. Along with Marc Johnson, he breathed new life into that trio. While rightly famous for his superb drum work with Evans, he is a multi-faceted drummer; having also worked in avant-garde settings and with medium to larger sized ensembles such as ‘The West Coast All Stars’, ‘The Woody Herman Band’ and with ‘Kenny Wheeler’. He has often worked with famous vocalists such as Tony Bennett and Karrin Allyson. La Barbera has an inclusive quality that enhances bass and guitar but never overshadows them. When he solos, it is to the point. His stick and brush work add subtlety and texture – the effect always jaw-dropping. It is easy to see why he is so much in demand. A musical drummer who gives so much while working so hard to support the others.

Karrin Allyson records for Concord and her albums are easy to locate – for more information about the artist go to www.karrin.com

The Tom Warrington trio records on the Jazz Compass label which the artists created along with Clay Jenkins. Their latest album ‘Nelson’ is a good start point.

The gig took place at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, Auckland, June 1, 2016.


Larry Koonse; Jazz Guitarist

Larry Koonse may be one of the nicest guys in Jazz but he is a killer guitarist.   He has recorded under his own name and toured or recorded extensively with such famous artists such as Bob Brookmeyer, Karrin Allyson, Mel Torme,  Joe La Barbera, Billy Childs, Terry Gibbs, Warne Marsh, Johnny Dankworth, Jimmy Rowles, Alan Broadbent, Charlie Haden, Toots Thielmans and many others.   At the invitation of Nelson Mandela and UNICEF he was once asked to perform in South Africa.   He has been the featured soloist with the LA Philharmonic plus other orchestras and has performed in Carnegie Hall.   He sometimes performs with his father Dave Koonse (who is also a jazz guitarist, having played at the ‘Lighthouse’ with John Grass).  Larry is a well seasoned and gifted musician and he is always a joy to listen to.

I first saw Larry perform when he came to New Zealand with Joe La Barbera and Tom Warrington.  It was Kiwi big band leader Roger Fox who had organised for the trio to come out here and many were grateful that he did.   Larry’s guitar playing captivated me throughout the concert and I marveled at how the Tom Warrington trio’s “You must believe in Spring’ could somehow reverence Bill Evens and Lennie Tristano at the same time.   Larry’s cool-style is perfectly balanced by the warm tones that he elicits from his guitar and in his playing you can hear hints of Johnny Smith, and even Bill Bauer.  I loved every note of it.

After the concert some of the band came out to mingle with the crowd and I got to speak to Larry about his music.  Joe La Barbera was there as well, chatting and signing CD covers .  Larry is a very friendly guy and we have met once since then and exchanged emails.   Making contact with world class musicians in clubs or after concerts is one of the great joys of being a jazz fan and I often wonder if that chance exists in any other musical genre.

I have many recordings featuring Larry and in each of them I hear new subtleties.  Sometimes his long lines are unmistakably of the Tristano school (especially in his co-led LA Jazz Quartet),but with the Tom Worrington trio he can sound closer to the style of Herb Ellis or Johnny Smith.   The best place to purchase Larry’s music is from the ‘Jazz Compass’ label online.   Alternately go to his next gig and purchase the music there.    He tells me that he will probably be in in New Zealand in Late May 2011 and I will certainly keep you posted on that.

The clip has Bruce Forman on the left and Larry Koonse on the right as you face the screen.

Concerts in the wind.

Quick Concert update:

This Saturday we get to hear the amazing Jack deJohnette – colourist and straight ahead master of the ‘traps’- probably the greatest drummer alive.     Jack’s band is performing an update on the ‘Miles Davis‘ fusion classic ‘Jack Johnson‘.     Next month Herbie Hancock is returning to Auckland (Tuesday 26th March) and his new ‘Imagine Project’ band will include talented Benin Guitarist Lionel Loueke.   I was in touch with old friend Larry Koonse last week (gifted West Coast Jazz guitarist) and he told me that he will likely be here again in a few months with the Roger Fox Big Band.     He may even return with Joe La Barbera like last time.

Lastly saxophone colossus Sonny Rollins is going to be playing in Wellington this winter (July).    As grumpy as I am with Wellington for canceling the International Jazz Festival because of the World Cup I will attend.     Swapping Jazz for rugby is a cardinal sin (or it bloody well should be).