Wednesday 30th May was the Auckland launch of Sumo’s second album titled ‘Shiko’. I am reliably informed that Shiko is a stamping motion which Sumo wrestlers perfect during training. The action drives away evil spirits and when you hear the band, the descriptor strikes you as appropriate. Suspense and surprise are hallmarks of this unit and as in Sumo wrestling, you get theatre, tricky moves, tradition and a degree of inscrutability. Above all, they showcase quality improvised music.
The compositions were the first thing that interested me. Some were warm ballads, but mostly they were propulsive tunes with a compelling forward momentum. Sumo is billed as a quartet, but they regularly invite guests to perform with them and they encourage the guests to bring original compositions to the bandstand. This concept always works, as the best, improvised music arises out of challenges and tensions. Complacency is death in Jazz. The guest on this night was the talented Christchurch guitarist Brad Kang. I had heard his name mentioned by visiting musicians, but I had never heard him perform. He has a real presence on the bandstand and his effortless post-Rosenwinkel runs are jaw-dropping. He made it all look easy when clearly it was not.
The core group is Gwyn Reynolds on tenor saxophone, Darren Pickering on keys, Mike Story on bass and Joe McCallum on drums. During the evening we heard compositions from all of them and their different compositional approaches made the sets interesting. I like bands that exude human qualities rather than mechanical ones and underpinning this group was a warmth and an interconnectedness. Together they have a great sound and it is no wonder that Roger Manins had been trying to lure them north for some time. If there were any lurking bad spirits around that night they stood no chance of survival.
Sumo: Gwyn Reynolds (tenor saxophone), Darren Pickering (keys), Mike Story (upright bass), Joe McCallum (drums) plus Brad Kang (guitar). The gig took place at the Backbeat Bar, K’Road, Auckland for the CJC Creative Jazz Club. May 30, 2018.
On the 25th July 2012 the Christchurch band ‘The Silhouette of Mr Pink ‘ fronted the CJC. I had heard Roger Manins speak enthusiastically about the ‘New Music Collective’ and of Tamara Smith, but I had not yet encountered her music (I don’t think that Tamara or the band have recorded although they featured on Colette Jansen’s ‘Jazz Footprints’ program earlier in the year).
It is becoming commonplace for small groups to omit chordal instruments and this group was essentially a flute led trio/quartet. The variety of instrumental configurations popping up around the country tells me that New Zealand Jazz audiences are increasingly open to adventurous and quirky Jazz.
Tamara is a real presence on stage and her personality and chops leave you in no doubt that she could play solo flute and still hold the attention of an audience.
The band opened the first set as a trio, with Tamara on C & Alto flutes, Andrew Keegan on drums and Mike Story on bass. Tamara’s compositions were reworked for the gig and they emanated from a long sojourn in Paris when she was younger. The compositions sounded fresh and in many ways unexpected as they tallied perfectly with the stories that Tamara told. Her musical and verbal vignettes spoke of exotic locations and they reminded me of haiku. Perfectly contained miniatures – pebbles of sound hitting a pond and spreading like ripples. It was up to us to interpret and we did; this drew the audience nicely into the creative process.
As the evening progressed the fourth member of the band Chris Burke (tenor sax) joined in. In keeping with the smaller group he tended to favour unison lines unless either he or Tamara were soloing.
The track that I have put up “Cheeky Monkey” was composed by Tamara and it gives a good account of the group’s dynamics. It begins with her playing unaccompanied (although you would hardly know that, so full is the sound). Many of the modern flute techniques can be heard such as her singing in parallel harmony and in producing a multitude of extended flute techniques too numerous to mention. The multi-phonic effects added real depth the sound.