The Spirit of Ornette Coleman hung in the air last Wednesday, manifesting itself in the form of the Mark Lockett Quartet. It was a quartet devoid of chordal instruments. It was Coleman, not Mulligan. It was original music and an example of Coleman induced Lockdown creativity. The inspiration may have come from Coleman’s approach, but Lockett is a true original. He drums musically and tells stories at every turn. His tune titles, his solos and his announcements are tales from a true raconteur. He is a storyteller with an open vocabulary.
I am always enthusiastic about a Lockett gig and with Lucien Johnson in the line-up, it was a sinch. I have reviewed several of Johnson’s albums, the last one, Wax///Wane, was especially fine. Like Lockett, he is adventurous and his musical fearlessness was an asset here. While Lockett composed the tunes (excepting two Monk tunes), Johnson was the principal arranger.
The resulting gig was a tribute to freedom. The sort that shocked in 1959 and doesn’t know. Colman never abandoned the rules, he just invented new ones. His hard to nail down theory of ‘harmolodics’, an evolving rearrangement of hierarchy, with harmony, melody, speed, rhythm, time and phrases jostling for equality. I think that he would have enjoyed this gig as he never wanted followers. What he wanted, was fellow travellers and he found that with this band.
I can’t recall when I last saw a trumpeter, Oscar Laven. He was smokin’ last Wednesday and his forthrightness and bright tone, balanced out the thoughtful and softer toned explorations of Johnson on tenor saxophone. Everyone took solos and the notes they blew added something worthwhile. Behind them and pounding out meaty basslines was Umar Zakaria. We saw Zakaria recently when he fronted his own gig. Here, he was at his best, a Mingus like figure powering the music to greater heights. He was just the right anchor and the others benefitted from his solid earthy cushion.
As the tour progresses throughout the Islands, the audiences will find much to enjoy, and as a bonus, they will hear Lockett’s tall tales of New York and elsewhere. His banter is worth the ticket price alone and if you add to that the joy of fresh sounding music, it’s a bargain.
Mark Lockett Quartet: Mark Lockett (drums), Lucien Johnson (tenor saxophone), Oscar Laven (trumpet), Umar Zakaria (upright bass). The gig was at Anthology, CJC Creative Jazz Club, 22 April 2021.
JazzLocal32.com was rated as one of the 50 best Jazz Blogs in the world by Feedspot. The author is a professional member of the Jazz Journalists Association, poet & writer.Some of these posts appear on related sites.
The pandemic hasn’t stopped the music, and while it is true that the clubs, bars and concert halls are placed out of reach for many, music has the qualities of water. It will flow through the cracks until it has found its own level. The recent Kiwi lockdown was mercifully short, and in random and serendipitous ways new music found me. As always, I was happy when it did. Below are three very different albums – check them out.
Early Risers ~ John Scurry’s Reverse Swing
During our recent lockdown I received an album in the post from Lionsharecords. The album, ‘Early Risers’ is John Scurry’s Reverse Swing ensemble, his second such release. Scurry’s earlier Reverse Swing album ‘Post Matinee’ was showered with praise, with one American reviewer describing it as ‘Ellingtonian’. The 2020 album has 19 original tunes spread over two CD’s and we are invited to view each volume as distinct but complementary.
Having recently travelled to New Orleans, I detected those influences in this band immediately. When you spend any time in NOLA, you realise that that city’s influences are very broad indeed. Everything from swing to soulful gator-funk, from Sun Ra to the various free jazz offshoots. It is a living, breathing up to the minute music and one with its own flavour. So it is with ‘Early Risers’, and with this album there are also a multiplicity of rich local influences.
I loved the album for its warmth and approachability. It is instantly engaging, but this is not a nostalgic romp. There is real depth here and many treasures are revealed to the deep listener. The interplay between the musicians is simply stunning and their time feel beyond caveat. Track one on the first album is my favourite and while comparisons can be odious, this gave me the same feeling as I had when first hearing the Cy Touff Octet & Quintet album. Perhaps there is even a hint of ‘West Coast’ as well – Sheldon ?
There are many moods and whether a gentle ballad or a hotter number, all contribute uniquely to the whole. Underpinning each number are the quiet urgings of leader John Scurry’s guitar. We hear swing style guitar infrequently these days and more’s the pity. The tunes here were all penned by Scurry and he is also the co-arranger and producer. He has been a popular feature of the Australian scene for many years and I wonder what took him so long to launch this particular project. to listen go to Early Risers Lionsharecords
The other arranger (and horn arranger) is trumpeter Eugene Ball. Ball is another veteran of the Melbourne scene and a Bell award winner. I associate him with the moderism of Andrea Keller. Here you are overwhelmed by the richness of his sound. His tone production is often reminiscent of the latter-day swing trumpeters like Harry Sweets’ Edison and Henry ‘Red’ Alan.
I have also encountered James McCauley, and again I associate him with Keller. He is perfect in these very different rolls. The band members here are John Scurry (guitar, arrangements), Eugene Ball (trumpet, arrangements), Brennan Hamilton-Smith (clarinet), Stephen Grant (alto sax), Matt Boden (piano) Howard Cairns (bass), Danny Fischer (drums), + Sam Keevers (piano). The textures, tunes and uncanny interplay render this a terrific album. It may have its roots in traditional swing, but I defy anyone, whatever their taste in jazz, not to love this. It is released on Julien Wilson’s lionsharecords.com and on bandcamp. All art-work by John Scurry.
Wax///Wane ~ Lucien Johnson
Wax///Wane was released over summer and I’ve just caught up with it. I am always keen to check out gigs or albums featuring Lucien Johnson, so I downloaded it on Bandcamp. There was no information about the band or the recording on the album page, but my ears began to fill in the gaps. John Bell had to be the vibes player, surely it was him (an online search confirmed that)? Few south of the equator punch out modal grooves quite as convincingly as Bell. Of the remaining four musicians, two were known to me and two not. Michelle Velvin was on harp, Tom Callwood on upright bass, Cory Champion on drums and Riki Piripi on percussion (listed under the undividual tks).
The album features six compositions and each of these has an evanescent quality. They hint at places we think we might know, but can’t quite remember. Blue Rain, Forest Rendezvous, and Rubicon appear as if in a dream and as with the missing liner notes, we are encouraged to fill in the gaps with our imagination.
Johnson has chosen his bandmates well. Bell and Callwood are genre defying and have open-ears, and as with Johnson are well immersed in the freer regions of improvised music. I have seen Cory Champion several times, but never heard him in this context; very impressive. Adding a harp player and percussionist added texture in finely hued layers, and this gave the album that delightful Alice Coltrane feel. It’s great to see the harp revived as an improvisers instrument and especially with the vibes. They could get in each others way, but in skilled hands this is avoided and a shimmering pulse arises to good effect.
Johnson is a musician we most often associate with the Wellington scene, but these days he is perhaps better termed an international musician. Like all modern saxophonists, there is a foundation of Coltrane in his sound. There is also an airy freedom. Here, he has curated a groove fest. The sort of grooves that Bobby Hutcherson, Alice and John Coltrane, Julian Priester and others explored. It is what might be loosely termed spiritual Jazz. Music defying the mundane, an invitation to a better place where gravity is abandoned. In times like this we need music, and actually, we need more music like this. Music that stimulates the imagination and doesn’t preach. The playing here is superb but don’t over think the experience, sink into it and enjoy the trip. The cover-art is by Julien Dyne. Available on Bandcamp Lucienjohnson.bandcamp.com
Alan Broadbent/Georgia Mancio ~ ‘Quiet is the Star’
Alan Broadbent has an unerring ear for melody and this is in part, why he makes such a sensitive accompanist. While his albums can really swing, they also take direct aim at the heart. An astonishing technical mastery is evident but it is never allowed to obscure the essence of a tune. To put it more simply, he connects us to real emotions and to human life with its manifest joys and frailties. There are innumerable facets to his long and formidable career and none should be overlooked.
Most recently, he released ‘Trio in Motion’ his second album with bassist Harvie S and drummer Billie Mintz. And if you haven’t done so before now, check out his discography, a body of work that astounds; critically acclaimed albums, two Grammys and so it goes. The man is a legend.
‘Quiet is the Star’ is the second album from the Broadbent/Mancio duo. Their last album’ Songbook’ aired in 2017 and it was pure delight; this new release is a welcome follow up. Georgia Mancio is a London-based award-winning vocalist and lyricist and the pairing has reaped dividends. They have performed together since 2013 and toured Europe and elsewhere to acclaim.
Mancio has a lovely voice and she uses it to great effect, her emphasis though is on breathing life into her lyrics. The stories she reveals are intimate and she invites the listener to share in these experiences. While all good duos are conversational, here we are invited in on the conversation and it is a privilege. Released by Roomspin Records 27 March. Cover artwork Simon Manfield.
JazzLocal32.com was rated as one of the 50 best Jazz Blogs in the world by Feedspot. The author is a professional member of the Jazz Journalists Association.some of these posts also appear in other music sites. When purchasing, please support the Bandcamp platform whenever possible. Respect musicians rights.
The eponymously titled album ‘Lucian Johnson+5’ was first released in 2016 and has recently been re-released in Japan on vinal. I have only encountered Johnson performing once or twice as he has spent a lot of time outside of New Zealand. He was born in Wellington, but led an interesting life elsewhere, travelling the world with various innovative bands and living for long periods in Paris. I first encountered him when he toured with ‘The Troubles; a delightfully anarchic folksy ensemble he co-founded along with Scottish Jazz drummer John Rae. After hearing Lucien Johnson+5, I will be paying close attention to his futures offerings.
I became aware of the album’s existence soon after its release, but carelessly lost the Bandcamp access code when I changed computers. I finally regained access, listened and was immediately impressed. This is a mature piece of work with real depth. Given the diversity of experience, the musicians bring to the project that is hardly surprising. Johnson’s musicianship and compositional abilities are well known – pare him with these five musicians and you get something special. Any project involving Crayford, French, O’Connor, Van Dijk and Callwood is going to grab the attention.
There is a certain mood emanating from this album, a palpable sense of the Iberian Peninsula. It is more than just the track names – it cuts far deeper than that. You will not hear overt Jazz Flamenco or Moorish tunes. You will hear reflective ballads, Latin, hard swing and all with fine arrangements (arrangements which evoke the hay-day of the classic Jazz ensemble). The album warmly invites us to engage, and the deeper we engage the greater the reward. The musicians were clearly onboard with the project and each of them gets a chance to shine. There are many wonderful solos, none that are too long and each solo harnessing to the spirit of the collective. Brilliant musicians all, but with no egos on display.
‘Light Shaft’ has a dancy Latin feel with French and Johnson reacting to Crayford’s rhythmic accenting; Crayford later tying it all together with a masterful solo. ‘El Cid’ is another great tune, again with a Latin American flavour, this time Afro Cuban. The clave aside, it evokes the Reconquista hero perfectly. El Cid’s is a tale well worth the re-telling; especially since modern scholars discovered that his antecedents were actually Moors, the very people he fought with such evangelistic fervour – a modern parable. ‘Zapata’ is another delightful tune and with plenty of meat on the bone. It opens with O’Connor beating out a Krupa like rhythm on the toms, the ensemble comes in next, navigating a skillfully arranged head with nimble ease. Van Dijk and Crawford follow with stunning solos, but everyone is superb. This is a great piece of ensemble playing and above all it is fun. Here is Zapata:
My favourite from the album is ‘Asturias’. This track has a thoughtful quality and as many layers as a ripe onion. In spite of being a sextet, the ensemble sounds like a nonet at times – capturing the vibe of 50’s Gil Evans. This lies mainly in the skillful writing, as space and texture are maximised. The rich voicings of the horn line are also of importance, as they somehow manage to convey substance and airiness at the same time. Nick Van Dijk in particular, utilising the opportunity to shine through. Crayford and Callwood also have essential roles – Crayford creating a strumming effect, as Callwood did in the opening bars. Asturias is a region of northwestern Spain and also a Flamenco guitar style (a style often adapted to other instruments). Albeniz wrote in this style in the 19th century, The melody over a strummed pedal chord (the thumb playing the melody line).
When we listen to evocative music, we bring our imagination to the experience. Whether intended by Johnson or not, this album took me back to Spain. I have travelled extensively in Andalucia and rekindling those memories through this music was a pleasure. The artwork is also superb and that is credited to George Johnson. The best place to source this album is on Bandcamp or via the Lucien Johnson website. lucienjohnson5.bandcamp.com
It has always been said that troubles arrive in pairs. In this case the old adage was woefully awry as ‘The Troubles’ arrived in nonet form. Their arrival may have ‘Rattled’ us somewhat, but we are built of stern stuff in Auckland. We fortified our ourselves with strong liquor and pep talks, adjusted our parental lockout settings to allow for some serious swearing and settled in for the realpolitik of John Rae’s and Lucien Johnson’s crazy-happy Jazz. ‘Oh Yeah’, we told ourselves, ‘We are ready to handle anything a Wellington band can throw our way’.
The Troubles- call & response
There are bands that I like, bands that I respect and bands which drive me wild with pleasure. ‘The Troubles’ are of the latter kind. I’m besotted with this band and their deliberately ragged, madly political, quasi-serious satire. This band digs deep into the well-springs of life and what bubbles up is a joyous lake of barely controlled madness. The anarchic overtones are deliberate, but there is a scream-in-your-face humour that overshadows all else. This is about chiaroscuro; a bunch of opposites vying with each other for attention.
This band is about plunging us without warning into the troubled spots of the world and then showing us humour where we thought none existed. The overt political messages were a joy to me as I have never quite understood why this space is not filled more often. The history of Jazz is intensely political and to describe ‘The Troubles’ music as a continuation of the work done by Carla Bley, Charlie Haden and especially Charles Mingus (even Benny Goodman) is not too far-fetched. This band is a talented group of clowns shaking us by the scruff and saying; laugh or cry but for god’s sake look at the world about you. There is no solace for Lehman Bros, Merrill Lynch, Barclay’s or John Key here. For Jazz lovers with big ears there is joy aplenty.
This band is about call & response; not just between instrumentalists, but by the band vocally responding to John Rae’s trade mark exhortations. Although he leads from the drum kit, that doesn’t prevent him standing up and shouting at the band (or the audience) to elicit stronger reactions. During one of the middle Eastern sounding numbers (which appeared to lay the Wests hypocrisy bare), he shouted in what I can only assume was faux Arabic. A flow of equally Arabic sounding responses flowed back . It was the string section verbally responding as they wove their melodies around the theme.
On another occasion John Rae announced that we would be celebrating an often ignored trouble spot. “I will now express solidarity with the North Americans”, he announced. “The Sioux, Cherokee, Iroquois, Apache, Mohave etc”. He began with a corny war dance drum beat which quickly morphed into a tune from ‘Annie Get Your Gun’. As the melodic structure unwound into free-Jazz chaos we all understood the history lesson and laughed at the outrageousness of the portrayal.
Another Tango melody written by Lucien gradually reached a joyous fever pitch. During the out-chorus the instruments dropped out one by one and as each instrument stopped playing the musicians raised a closed fist in a revolutionary salute. Although it was quite dark in the club we had all picked up the cues. This was a musical night beyond glib definition.
Like life, the music gave us lighter and then more thoughtful moments. Musically it was amazing fun and after a difficult week I was suddenly glad I was alive.
Mission accomplished I think John and Lucien – keep shaking us up please.
John Rae (drums, co-leader, co-writer, co-arranger). Lucien Johnson (sax, co-leader, co-arranger, co-writer). Patrick Bleakley (double bass). Daniel Yeabsley (Clarinet). Jake Baxendale (saxes). Hanna Fraser (violin). Charley Davenport (cello), Tristan Carter (violin). Andrew Filmer (viola). Buy a copy of ‘The Troubles’ today at Rattle Records Ltd. Venue – CJC Jazz Club Auckland.