Avant-garde, Beyond category, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Fusion & World

Blair Latham trio @ CJC

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There are musicians who have the ability to create vibrant pictures out of sound, deftly carving shapes, daubing them with colour, texture, leaving images suspended in the air, as tantalising spectres. Blair Latham is one of these.  He brings to the bandstand a tropical exoticism, redolent of the central Americas, but somehow still Kiwi.

I first saw Latham at the Rogue & Vagabond during the Wellington Jazz Festival.  The project was to re-create the vibe of the Headhunters album and it certainly did.  In the hands of Hayles, Latham and others a wild, hyper-energised brew of sounds radiated among us.  They took the brief to its outer limits and for the audience (who were undoubtedly Hancock enthusiasts), it was an immensely satisfying experience.  As Latham’s tenor wailed, the milling crowd urged him on, each phase wilder than the last.   IMG_2694 - Version 2

The Rogue & Vagabond channeled North American funk grooves, this gig took us a long way south of that, to central Mexico.  A Mexico seen through Kiwi eyes, a musicians eyes, the eyes and ears of a careful observer.  The energies had shifted as well.   A more thoughtful approach was evident.  Latham was telling stories that came from the heart, from experience and reflecting the altered light and filtered sounds of that populous country.

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As the band started playing there were powerful overwhelming images created.  I reached for my note pad and wrote the word Fellini.  This is how I heard it, the sounds of a happy and slightly chaotic Mexican circus, peopled by tumblers, clowns on stilts, parading animals and long lazy hours fuelled by Mezcal.  A rich mesmerising spectacle that took your breath away.  There were no high energy excursions, no roof blasting squalls of sound.  This was a journey of measured steps, full of subtleties.  At times the trio sounded like a bigger unit and as Latham switched between his rich woody bass clarinet and classic Selmer tenor saxophone, the effect amplified.  Each phrase, each line, hung in air long after the breath that created it had subsided.  There were a number of Latham’s compositions and some beautiful, haunting Mexican ballads.  Emotion and sentimentality are bound up in that world.  There is nothing buttoned-up about Mexican music.

Latham is unusual in New Zealand as his principal horns are bass clarinet and tenor saxophone. A handful of musicians double on bass clarinet, few are as proficient as he is.

It often happens that the best laid plans unravel unexpectedly.  The trio was initially advertised as Latham, David Ward & Chris O,Connor.  The trio we saw was Latham (bass clarinet, tenor saxophone, leader), Neil Watson (guitar, lap slide guitar), Stephen Thomas (drums).  I rate both Ward and O’Connor highly but this lineup worked extraordinarily well.  It was hard to believe that these musicians had not played together often.  The challenge of playing this music, reading these often complex charts, brought out the best in Watson and Thomas.   Both gifted musicians. both good readers.  Together they merged perfectly and we could see Latham’s pleasure at this.

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The drum charts called for a colourist approach, an oblique subtle rendering of  rhythms that were as much rooted in Mexican folk music as in avant guard jazz.  Thomas was exceptional as he tapped, scraped or made the kit whisper; even his solos were original and entirely appropriate.  This guy can tackle anything it seems.  Watson is a veteran of the unusual and a superb reader.  It was a joy to see him working counterpoint or even unison lines with Latham.  He is perfect for gigs like this as his unbridled imagination is not tethered to norms.  He moved between lap guitar and Fender solid body, enabling him to move closer to the Frissel like Americana sounds that so clearly influence him.   IMG_2663 - Version 2

The word Mexico brings to mind a jumble of exotic but occasionally troubling images.   For me the source is literature, films, art, photography and music.  The nearest that I got to Mexico was in books like ‘Under the Volcano'(Lowry), ‘On The Road’ (Kerouac) or ‘The Teachings of Don Yuan’ (Castaneda); in films like ‘The Night of the Iguana’, numerous cowboy movies; in crazy photographic images from the ‘night of the dead’ festival of Santa Muerte, in articles about the loathsome human traffickers or murderous drug cartels.  I have travelled extensively in Spain and down the Californian Coast, places where this beguiling country felt almost within reach.  This gig took me one step closer.  IMG_2654 - Version 2

“How’s the mezcal” he said. “Like ten yards of a barbed wire fence.  It nearly took the top of my head off.  I had a Tequila outside with the guitar hombre” – ‘Under the Volcano’ -Malcolm Lowry

Who: Blair Latham (bass clarinet, tenor saxophone), Neil Watson (guitars), Stephen Thomas (drums)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland, New Zealand, 3rd September 2014   –   www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

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CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, New Zealand Jazz Gigs, Post Millenium

The Chelsea Prastiti Septet

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There are a surprising number of good Jazz musicians living in New Zealand and that is why the CJC is able to provide a varied and interesting programme at the club.  With Roger Manins as programme director the quality of the music is consistently high.  I may have come to expect that, but I can still be pleasantly surprised.

Chelsea Prastiti is studying Jazz at the University of Auckland and I have heard her sing once or twice before.   I knew that she was good but what took me by surprise was just how good.   This was not your routine standards programme but fresh and original Jazz singing at the highest level.   It was the sort of programme that a Sheila Jordan or a Norma Winstone might have embarked upon and in spite of the risks it was perfectly executed.

Matt Steele

Matt Steele is a pianist I enjoy greatly and he certainly justified his place in the band on this night.  Matt is in his third year and each time I see him play he gets better and better. His extended solo on ‘Bells’ was extraordinary and I cursed the gods for allowing my HD video tape to run out just before that.

Callum Passells was also in great form and he showed us again why he is so well-regarded as a musician.  His alto needed little coaxing as he worked the changes and the ideas flowed in happy succession.  Any band with Callum in can count itself lucky.

The band members were; Chelsea Prastiti (leader, vocals, arranger, composer), Callum Passells (alto sax), Matt Steele (piano), Elizabeth Stokes (Trumpet, Flugal), Asher Truppman Lattie (tenor sax), Eamon Edmunson-Wells (bass), Jared Desvaux de Marigny (drums).

Chelsea had arranged the numbers in the set and five of the songs were originals composed by her.  I will mention three numbers in particular as the contrast between these illustrates how well thought-out the programme was.  Second in the set was ‘Bells’ ( C Prastiti) and it was mind-blowing.   The band blew like crazy and each band member seemed to urge the others to greater heights.  Chelsea, Matt and Callum excelled themselves .   This is one of Chelsea’s compositions and it had all of the elements of great Jazz contained within its structure.   A tight arrangement, harmonic inventiveness, room for hard blowing and a structure that lent itself to out-improvisation.  I was standing near to Caroline (who teaches her at the University) and after the number we looked at each other in disbelief.   Even in the subdued lighting I could see tears in her eyes.

Callum Passells

The fourth number was a skillful arrangement of Maurice Ravel‘s.  The airy – ‘La Vallee Des Cloches’.   This was a fully arranged piece and with vocalese in the mix it was the perfect counterweight to what had preceded it.   Drums, bass, piano, voice, alto sax, tenor sax and fugal horn in perfect concert.

It was the last tune that had us all wishing that the music would never stop.  The composition was once again by Chelsea and called ‘Santa Muerte’ (the Mexican ‘Saint Death‘).    It  immediately brought to mind the madness and the wild beauty that is Mexico.    A hint of mariachi and a lot of jazz chops were on display.    I have included that as a You Tube Clip.

That a student so perfectly executed such difficult and exciting material is breathtaking – more please Chelsea and soon.