Callum Passells, trio, quartet, quintet

Callum, Cameron & Adam

A few days ago the CJC presented the Callum Passells group.   Callum is a third year student at the Auckland University School of Music (Jazz Studies) and so are his band mates.  If anyone harboured the briefest thought that this group should be cut some slack on account of age or experience, forget it.   What we saw was a slick act, a great programme and the sort of discipline that generally comes with seasoned performers.   This band did the business and they held us in the palm of their hand throughout.

I had only seen Callum perform a few times; once at a house party and once during a jam season.  Those brief encounters had not been enough for me to form a clear view of his abilities and so I arrived with an open mind and no fixed expectations.   I now recall Roger Manins saying that Callum was a terrific saxophonist and that he had the hunger to succeed.  That should have clued me up.


Callum is a very nice altoist and his tone is as sweet or as hard-edged as the tune calls for.  Once in a while I could hear a hint of Cannonball Adderley.  Not a copied lick, but more of a bluesy swagger and the stuttering way that he would burst into a phrase.  During one such moment I must have uttered the word ‘Cannonball’ to myself.  The person sitting next to me suddenly said, “yeah, I heard that too”.

The band was well rehearsed and they had paid attention to the smallest of details including how they presented themselves on the bandstand.  Their programme was quite varied and each number fitted into its place and told its own story.   There were piano-less trio numbers, quartet numbers and quintet numbers.   The tunes were all originals and they were well written.

I have to comment on the quintet arrangements which were simply sublime.  Some of the better arrangers like Marty Paich or Kenny Wheeler could arrange tunes in such a way that smaller ensembles sounded as if they were much bigger.   The advantage of this is that it leaves the listener with a feeling of airiness.  A sense of the space around each instrument.   

When I first heard the quintet I was surprised at how big the sound was.  There were only two horns, Cullam Passells (as) and Liz Stokes (t, fh).   This is the illusion created by good arranging.  Liz Stokes was especially fluent in the second set and a Wheeler-esk slur added colour to the performance.

I have seen Cameron play before and he really stepped up a notch with this gig.  I think that he enjoyed it and it was a challenging workout for bass.  The drummer Adam Tobeck was comfortable throughout and he pushed himself harder in the second half.   A blistering solo earned him his stripes with the CJC audience.

The band member I am most familiar with is Matt Steele.   I have liked his playing from the first time I heard it and he was even better at this gig.   He has a mature style but it is different to many of the pianists I hear as his touch is often light and crisp.   His comping is breathtaking as he urges the soloists to greater heights.  While you are always aware of his right hand soaring in chromatic invention during his solos, his left hand weaves its own chordal magic.  If I needed a single word to describe his playing it would have to be melodic.  

The set list was a work of art in itself.  On the page it read like an Imagist poem by Langston Hughes or William Carlos Williams.

The set list was as follows:

Race-car Red Red Race-car, Molasses, What the Fuck is a Persimmon, Money Grubber, I’ve, So This is What it’s Like,  Magnetic North, Wrack, Candied Carrots, Elysium, Greens Waltz, Up Up Down Down Left Left Right Right AB

The band was in order of appearance – Trio:  Callum Passells (leader, arranger, composer, alto saxophone), Cameron MacArthur (double bass), Adam Tobeck (drums).  Quartet add; Matt Steele (piano), Quintet add: Liz Stokes (trumpet flugal horn).

Callum presided over the night with that easy confidence of a born leader. He told very funny stories (especially the WTF is a Persimmon story) and he encouraged his band in a way that ensured they gave their best.   If that is the calibre of students emerging from the city’s Jazz schools then we are in for an exciting future.   Big ups to the band and especially to Callum.


‘Keester Parade’ – ‘A Smooth One’

Listening to old friends like these is time well spent. The material comes from the swing era but these albums have a more modern feel as they were recorded at a time when bop and post bop music had gained ascendancy. The artists on the albums are a mix of the famous and not so famous, swing and boppers, East and West Coasters. When I run my eyes over the names on the track lists I marvel at the lineup and realise that many of these names are fading from our collective memory. Pepper, Mandel and Torme will never be forgotten but what of Cy Touf? He is a mere footnote in the Jazz lexicon and he only recorded a few times. Not withstanding that his Octet/Quintet album has remained a favourite with Jazz musicians and arrangers and this is probably because of the loose easy-going West Coast style arrangements by Johnny Mandel.

Even ‘Sweets’ Edison is fading from memory and few modern listeners would hunt for his name in a Basie band lineup (I do). Another great band leader and arranger was Marty Paich. His piano playing is probably what is termed arrangers piano but it still sounds fine to me. He has that minimalist touch and his arranging style owes a lot to Basie; sweet verses tart & hard swinging. I collect Marty Paich albums and never tire of his orchestration. He was called the Picasso of Big Band Jazz and his use of tonal colour was achieved to great effect. He allowed wonderful trumpeters like Jack Sheldon to shine and he is closely associated with Art Pepper. Lastly there is the Mel-Tones. Their origins go back to the Chico Marx Orchestra which Mel Torme joined up with in 1943. To modern ears their harmonising can sound old-fashioned, but this group (with Mel at the forefront) were big names in their day.

The albums date from 1955 and 1959 respectively and they star an almost unbelievable group of musicians. Only a few of these guys are still alive and that is sad because they once grooved their world (the famous Johnny Mandel is still an arranger par excellence and as a young man he also played the rare bass-trumpet like Cy Touf). To hear an incomparable ‘Sweets’ Edison solo with his signature lazy-feel, bluesy slurs or Art Pepper with his biting cut through on alto is still exciting to me.

These albums are a peephole into an era that is long gone but it is one that still deserves our respectful remembrance.

The albums;

Cy Touf his Octet and Quintet (Pacific Jazz 93162) featuring – #1 -4 Cy Touf (bass trumpet), Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison (trumpet) Conrad Gozzo (trumpet), Richie Kamuca (tenor sax), Matt Utal (alto and baritone sax), Russ Freeman (piano) (Pete Jolly (piano #3), Leroy Vinnegar (bass), Chuck Flores (drums). Johnny Mandel & Ernie Wilkins (arr).

Track one – Keester Parade (Johnny Mandel)

Track seven – A Smooth One (Benny Goodman)

Mel Torme- Art Pepper – Marty Paich Sessions: (Lonehill Jazz) Mel Torme (vocals) The Mel-Tones (vocal) Marty Paiche (piano) (celeste) (organ) (arranger) (Conductor) Orchestra featuring; Art Pepper (alto sax), Jack Sheldon (trumpet), Frank Rosolino (trombone), Bill Perkins (tenor sax), Victor Feldman (vibes), Barrney Kessel (guitar), Joe Mondragon (bass), Mel lewis (drums).

Track eighteen – Bunch of The Blues/ Keester Parade/ TNT/ Tiny’s Blues – (Mandel/Kahn).

Footnotes: The album track list that come up in iTunes gave ‘Keester Parade’ as ‘Easter Parade’. That would certainly have amused the musicians and especially Johnny Mandel. For those who don’t speak the lingua franca of the hipster 1950’s, a Keester is what you sit on. West Coast pianist Pete Jolly is credited in the Cy Touf album and he has a lot of loyal devotees in New Zealand. In the early 1960’s when tours by lessor known Jazz musicians were unheard of and when such journey’s were long and arduous, Pete Jolly and Ralph Pena visited here. The tour had been organised by Auckland Jazz fan Frank Collins and the subsequent fun has never been forgotten. Recordings from the gigs were carefully squirreled away by John Good (recently deceased) and these treasures were later released in the USA as a posthumous Pete Jolly album.