Noveltones & Knotted Throats @ AF

Noveltones (7)There is a world of interesting music happening at the Audio Foundation and this three-set gig exemplified the foundations imaginative ahead of the game programming. The evening featured a cross-section of music from the fully arranged to the unconstrained and free. From the open dialogue of the Knotted Throats to the carefully crafted texturally rich four-piece voicings of a jazz ensemble. Then, and perhaps this is the essence of the programming, the two groups merged and out of that came a declaration. Sound exists without boundaries. The borders and demarcation lines as we organise or sculpt sound are only human constructs and beyond these artificial barriers, the various languages merge. When that occurs music is the richer for it. Improvised music is always on the move and just as post-bop moved seamlessly between free, fusion, hard bop, bop and groove, so the journey continues. Noveltones (3)

The Noveltones are an assembly of gifted equals, collectively shaping sound while expressing individual voices. Soprano saxophonist Jasmine Lovell-Smith, who studied in the USA is at present working toward a doctorate in composition at the NZSM. Bass clarinettist Blair Latham who spent years in Mexico is fluent with many horns. Bass player Tom Callwood (mostly playing arco), who we saw recently with the Melancholy Stinging Babes (a formidable figure on the avant-garde scene), and Tristan Carter, a violinist who rounds off the ensemble sound beautifully. The music initially reminded me of Gunter Schuller’s third stream pieces, but this ensemble is in no way time locked. The principal composer for the first set was Lovell-Smith and her compositional experience was especially evident in the harmonic concepts. There were also compositions by Latham. The pieces often balanced a spiky beauty with voice-led passages. There was also an appealing textural quality. The current ensemble hasn’t yet recorded, but I hope that they do. I have put up a Noveltones sound-clip from the gig.

The second set was another aural feast as it featured Jeff Henderson, Hermione Johnson and Tom Callwood. Henderson (on baritone saxophone) is the heavyweight of the New Zealand avant-garde scene and he never disappoints. There are few musicians who can muster such authority or draw you in as deeply. He taps into the primal essence of sound itself. Johnson is a renowned experimental musician, the foremost voyager with prepared piano, a noted composer and an organist. She is particularly known for her bold originality. Callwood, who we heard earlier, is exactly the bass player you would want in this situation. His gift for adventurous arco and extended technique was put to good use. What we heard were essentially reflective pieces; pieces tailor-made for deep listening and wonderfully mesmerising. As the motifs repeated a brooding presence hung over the room, the voice of unquiet spirits released from constraint. Happily, this is a zone located well beyond the reach of the music police. I found this set profoundly engaging and I count myself lucky to have caught it.

The last set brought both ensembles together and this time with the addition of the gifted drummer and percussionist Chris O’Connor. A great evening of music.

Noveltones (6)

For those keen to hear more of Henderson’s explorations, they can’t go wrong by accessing an album he recorded with Clayton Thomas (bass) and Darren Moore (drums). It is titled, ‘For a Clean Cut – Sharpen the Blade’. This gem was recorded in the basement of an old Auckland Church and it is a cause for rejoicing. If ‘free’ music scares you then this may not be your bag; but if it does, why? Sculpting sound is what musicians do. 

The album is on Bandcamp at 

The gig artists were Jasmine Lovell-Smith (soprano saxophone), Blair Latham (bass clarinet), Tom Callwood (upright bass), Tristan Carter (violin), Jeff Henderson (baritone saxophone), Hermione Johnson (prepared piano), Chris O’Connor (percussion) IMG_1256

10th October 2019 Audio Foundation, Auckland Central.

CJC – Ben Sinclair band – Manins/Koopman

The CJC always manages to find interesting lineups and the Ben Sinclair quartet and sextet (+2) was no exception.   This is a young band and the often ironic or whimsical song titles comprising the set material are also contemporary.    Ben is not long out of University and his chops as a fast developing Tenor player (doubling effectively on Alto) are evident.   The band opened the first set with a quartet lineup and a song titled ‘Printy‘ (dedicated to a favourite desktop printer).   The initial configuration was two Tenor Saxophones (Ben Sinclair + Jimmy Garden), Cameron McArthur (Bass) and Johnny White (Drums).    The Tenors focussed on unison playing or soloing and so there was only a slight nod towards chordal structure.   This was raw, inventive and occasionally challenging music and it underscored the tone of the numbers that followed.   By the third number the quartet had expanded to include two French-Horns and a Flugal, which enhanced the concept and added considerable texture and depth.    The groups sound was original, but during the fifth number, the second Tenor Sax player Jimmy Garden managed to toss in a brief quote from ‘Softly as a morning sunrise‘ which brought instant smiles of recognition from the audience.

The second set was headed by a three-part suite titled ‘The Bourne Trilogy‘ (referencing the movie).     For this suite the band was enhanced by the addition of Matt Steele (Piano); an often fiery and Tyner influenced soloist.   The octet was completed by Liz Stokes (Trumpet and Flugal), and the two French Horn players (one also a woman).   This trilogy showed how mature Ben’s writing is and when playing these charts the bands enjoyment of the material was obvious.   This suite worked on all levels and the nice soloing rounded out the performance.

Last but not least was ‘Snake Attack’.   The number was high energy and the band had tightened up on their delivery while allowing for free-flowing solos and a locked-together kick-ass groove.    Drummer Johnny White particularly caught my attention in this last number as he set up a tight ‘E.S.T.'(Magnus Ostrom) type beat (nicely accented by rim-shots).

The ‘Roger Manins regular jam session’ followed the CJC sets and that was the icing on the cake for me, as I got to hear the nucleus of Roger’s band for the first time.   The band set up in minutes and were soon playing their first number ‘Beatrice‘, which was profoundly beautiful and deep in-the-pocket from the first bar.    Roger (on Tenor) is a monster musical force and his band swings like a well oiled gate.   You always know when a Tenor player uses his axe as a confident extension of self; when every shade of meaning is conveyed without the musician needing to rely on an excess of notes.    He has chops to burn but more importantly he lets the music speak for itself.

For a number of months I have heard people speaking in reverential whispers about wunderkind guitarist Peter Koopman.    I just love Jazz guitar and so when I learned that he would perform as part of Roger’s band, I was pleased.  This guy is freakin amazing and to hear his rapid fire licks and intelligently constructed lines is to hear the very best that New Zealand Jazz guitar has to offer.    I would advise everyone to get down and hear this band as soon as they can as gifted musicians like Peter are likely to be sucked into the wider Jazz universe someday soon.   Matt Steele was on piano and extremely fine bass player Thomas Botting played as if his life depended on it (I have a weakness for bass played in the upper register).   This guy along with the highly energised drummer Johnny White powered the band.  Others joined the band at times including a singer (Chelsea) and a female Banjo player who tackled Mile Davis ‘Solar’ with confidence and ease.  With Peter and Roger exerting their benign influence; the less experienced musicians could not have been more supported.

I urge Jazz lovers to support this club and if the last months offerings are typical then you certainly wont be disappointed.