Backbeat Bar, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Millenium

Watson meets Ward @ Backbeat Bar

Watson & WardIt is not often that you attend a gig where a set list covers such a range of styles but still pays due respect to each. If anyone could pull off such a gig; traversing the heights of Monk, Murray McNabb, Frantz Casseus, Bill Frisell and Ornette Colman it was these two. In lesser hands, the trajectory would have faltered, the items come across as disembodied. Here, the connecting threads, however improbable, made perfect sense. The centre held and the arc of the journey was a joyous adventure. Watson & Ward (1)

Neil Watson is a musician who musicians flock to hear. He breaks rules and strikes out in directions where few dare to follow. Everyone from Sharrock to Montgomery is referenced in his sound; with a generous pinch of Ribot thrown in for good measure. He sometimes hides in pit bands backing dancing fools, tours with famous country stars, opens for people like Marc Ribot, but whatever he does, he does convincingly. In recent years he purchased a pedal steel guitar and that is now an essential part of his repertoire. He exudes real warmth on stage, both as a storyteller and a musician.

I have only seen David Ward play on the odd occasion but it is always a treat. Like Watson, he is a master of diverse styles and he is particularly noted for his award-winning theatre compositions. He has toured extensively and gained a formidable reputation over the years. In Jazz and alternative music circles, it is the improvising band RUKUS that we mostly associate him with. RUKUS has featured a who’s who of adventurous improvisers such as Chris O’Connor, John Bell, Jeff Henderson, Eamon Edmundson-Wells, Cameron Allen, Finn Scholes & Rui Inaba. Watson & Ward (2)

The pairing of Watson and Ward guaranteed that creative sparks would fly.  It was always on the cards that they would perform together but until now the opportunity had not presented itself. I am certain that this project will develop from here –  logic tells me it has to. The quality of their musicianship was very much on display at the Backbeat Bar. On the three Monk tunes, they either ran unison lines or interwove an intricate counterpoint, and miraculously, the jagged phrases often created a fat Monkish dissonance; each guitarist deliberately landing on different voicings- creating a piano cluster chord effect. This was a quality band as Watson & Ward were backed by Cameron Allen (tenor and Baritone saxophones) Cameron McArthur (upright bass) and Chris O’Connor (drums). Understanding exactly what was required here the three left the lion’s share of the limelight to the guitarists. O’Connor displayed his usual eclectic virtuosity as the drum styles required were many and varied. Watson & Ward (3)

At one point Watson played solo, a composition by Frantz Casseus (a folksy classical guitarist who has influenced the likes of Marc Ribot). Out of his Fender came a delicate classical guitar sound – a moment of whispering clarity and magic. The pair also showcased their own compositions and again these contrasted in a good way. Ward’s ‘Mango’, ‘Shebop’ and ‘Hip replacement’ – Watson’s ‘Trash talkin’ (a Western Swing) and his extraordinarily ‘Murray’ – an apt tribute to the lost lamented and much-loved Jazz musician Murray McNabb. Among the tunes, we heard some heartfelt Americana (rare in New Zealand Jazz clubs and it is especially rare to hear Western two-beat Swing).

The high points were many, but I will put up two clips; The first is a Bill Frisell number ‘I am not a farmer’ from his moody atmospheric album ‘Disfamer’. The second up is a short clip where Watson plays a Frantz Casseus tune ‘Improvisations’ solo on Fender.

The gig took place at the Backbeat Bar, K’Road Auckland for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, 15 August 2018.

 

 

 

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Backbeat Bar, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Small ensemble, Straight ahead

Steve​ Sherriff Sextet @ Backbeat Bar

Sherriff (1)This project was bound to happen sometime and it was long overdue. On the night of the bands first gig, the pent-up energy that had long been building found a voice. As they kicked off, the room filled with potent energy and the enthusiasm of the band was met in equal parts by the capacity audience. Steve Sherriff is fondly remembered from Alan Browns Blue Train days and he brought with him an interesting group of musicians. Most of them were compatriates from earlier bands and their familiarity with each other musically paid dividends.

On keyboards, was Alan Brown and this was an obvious and very good choice. Brown has a long history with Sherriff and this was evident as they interacted. On trumpet was the veteran Mike Booth; a musician more than capable of navigating complex ensemble situations and delivering strong solos. Ron Samsom was on drums, another well-matched band member, ever urging the band to ever greater heights as he mixed organic grooves with a hard swing feel. Then there was Neil Watson on pedal steel and fender guitars and Jo Shum on electric and acoustic bass. When you put a group of strong soloists and leaders together there is a degree risk, but these musicians worked in perfect lock-step. As in sync as they were, Sherriff was the dominant presence on stage and no one doubted who the leader was.  Sherriff

Sherriff is a fine saxophonist with a compelling tone on each of his horns. On this gig, he alternated between tenor and soprano (though he sometimes plays alto in orchestral lineups). He has an individual sound and it is especially noticeable on tenor ballads and on tunes where he plays soprano. His other strength lies in his compositions. He and Brown contributed all of the numbers for this gig, but in future, other band members will be contributing also.  This was small-ensemble writing of the highest order – tightly focused – melodically and harmonically pleasing. The faster-paced numbers were reminiscent of hard bop – the ballads memorably beautiful. Brown and Sherriff set a high compositional bar.Sherriff (2)

It was Watson though, who took the most risks and the audience just loved it. At times he appeared to be stress testing his Fender as he bent strings and made the guitar wail. At other times he was the straight-ahead guitarist in Kenny Burrell mode – then on a ballad number, he would gently coax his pedal steel guitar and play with such warmth and subtlety that you sighed with pleasure. It had been a while since I’d seen Jo Shum perform and this was a setting where she shone.

Although the band was only formed recently, they will be ready to record sometime in the near future.  The material and the synergy of the band is just too good to squander.

Steve Sherriff (compositions, leader, saxophones), Alan Brown (keyboard, compositions), Mike Booth (trumpet), Neil Watson (pedal steel and Fender guitar), Jo Shum (upright + electric bass), Ron Samsom (drums). The gig took place at the Backbeat Bar, K’Road, Auckland, for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, July 25, 2018.

 

Backbeat Bar, Bebop, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Hard Bop, Straight ahead, Swing

Frank Gibson Plays Thelonius Monk

FrankEvery Jazz club needs a Monk night on their calendar and when it comes to Monk the local go-to person is definitely the well-known drummer Frank Gibson Jr. Gibson and the various iterations of his bands have long made a point of keeping the Hardbop era and Monk firmly on our radar. While the setlist was not exclusively Monk, the Monk tunes chosen were a solid mix of seldom-heard compositions and old favourites. Frank (2)

A good example of the former was Eronel which memorably featured on the Criss Cross album. I heard Jonathan Crayford play this number solo a few weeks ago and I recall thinking then – why is this wonderful tune not played more often? We also heard the tune Criss Cross, the title track from that album.  ‘Criss Cross’ with its atypical rhythmic displacement is an interesting and bold composition and one which took Monk into new territory. It occurred at the height of his fame. Another lessor known tune was Light Blue, which appears on Thelonius Monk in Action (at the Five Spot).  Others like ‘Rhythm-a-Ning’ and ‘I Mean You’ are well-known all were enthusiastically received. Frank (3)

Among the other tunes played were ‘Bessie’s Blues’ by John Coltrane, ‘Beatrice’ by Sam Rivers and an interesting Harold Danko tune titled ‘Tidal Breeze’. The band featured veteran guitarist Neil Watson and Bass player Cameron McArthur, but a newcomer to this particular lineup was Cameron Allen on tenor saxophone. Allen added that nice earthy-brass touch that Monk gigs benefit from. The gig occurred during an intense and devastating storm. Surprisingly, the audience braved horrendous weather to get there, navigating their way through fallen trees, power outages, flooding and through the debris which littered the city streets. It is always right to head for the music in troubled times and Monk is a force of nature in his own right. Frank (1)

The gig took place at the Backbeat Bar for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, Auckland, New Zealand, April 11, 2018.

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Guitar, Post Bop

The Missing Video Series (1)

Neil 2Around Christmas, I discovered that I could not upload video to ‘YouTube’.  I spent a few weeks trying to figure out what was causing the problem and then I made a fatal error – I consulted grown-up experts and that only delayed the problem. I should have asked a 12-year-old because none of the experts had the faintest idea what was occurring. After three months I finally nutted it out for myself, old as I am.  FYI – when you upgrade your operating system, the default setting on power-saver puts the machine to sleep half an hour after the last keystroke.

Yesterday was Tito Puente’s birthday and so this is an appropriate time to post the first of the missing videos. First up is the Neil Watson Quartet playing a medley. The latter part of which is Tito Puente’s magnificent samba ‘Picadillo’. What a fabulous tune and what a hard-swinging rendition. It is all the more amazing due to the first two segments of the medley; An eye-popping version of the Erroll Garner classic ‘Misty, which swings between tradition and something akin to a Marc Ribot Ceramic Dog version. This Avant Jazz -Punk rendition gives us new ears on an old tune. Part two of the medley is ‘Moonlight in Vermont’ (Blackburn/Suessdorf). This particularly references the famous Johnny Smith/Stan Getz version but again inviting us to reconsider it from an altered vantage point. A brief and deliberately clichéd quote from ‘Stairway to Heaven’ caused hoots of laughter.
The second video is from the DOG Live concert December 15th, 2016. This was a great gig and the performances were of the highest order. What a bad week for my videos to become unavailable! Posting the clip now makes amends and I have more to follow.  We can expect a new DOG album sometime this year – I can’t wait.  The tune in the video clip is titled ‘Push Biker’ by drummer Ron Samsom.  Roger Manins and the other DOG members are playing out of their skins here.  The intensity of this performance is astonishing, even by DOG standards. The group is by now well seasoned and it shows – in dog years they are well and truly veterans.DOG 254 2

‘Studies in Tubular’ available from www.neilwatson.co.nz. ‘DOG’ (a Tui winner as New Zealand Jazz album of the year) from Rattle Jazz. Both gigs were at the Thirsty Dog for the CJC Creative Jazz Club

More clips will follow incrementally.  I would also like to thank those who watch the videos – more than 70,000 of you have during the last two or three years.

John Fenton  – JazzLocal32.com

Beyond category, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Concerts - visiting Musicians, Piano Jazz

Neil Watson gig / Crystal Choi gig

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Neil W 128.jpgTubular Live: Having earlier reviewed the long anticipated Neil Watson ‘Tubular’ album I looked forward to the live launch. The Thirsty Dog gig was well attended, the audience extremely enthusiastic and no wonder. Although we saw a slightly different line-up from the album band, they were on fire from the first note. Watson, always a confident performer, was more in command than I have ever seen him and he communicated his musical vision effortlessly. Perhaps this was due to the long gestation of the material, but now he had a platform to extend the concepts further and he grabbed the opportunity.  The evening seamlessly covered the breadth of guitar jazz and beyond. While much of the material was influenced by Jazz/Rock or improvisations built on genres like surf guitar, the gentler mainstream Jazz heroes of the past like Johnny Smith and Errol Garner were also honoured. Neil W 130.jpgOn the ‘Tubular’ album his musical influences are evident. At the live gig, he stared those influences down and carved out his own space. He is one of the few New Zealand musicians who can convincingly occupy Frisell or Ribot territory and he demonstrated that. The perfect example was his rendering of the classic five beat Mambo Picadillo by Tito Puente. He began with a solo intro, dissonant chords offering brief hints as to where he was heading. As he developed his theme the audience gasped in delight as Errol Garners ‘Misty’ emerged, morphing into the gentler Johnny Smith version of ‘Moonlight in Vermont’. That it worked at all is a tribute to his musicianship, that it was done so well all the more so. The Mambo was well-arranged and just superb, not a foot remained still and the bar staff stopped in their tracks, swaying.  Another tour de force (not on the album) was his arrangement of ‘Hard rains are going to fall’ (Dylan). This followed his gentle ballad ‘Kerala’.Neil W 131.jpg

The band finished the last set with an upbeat number and there was no way the audience was going to let things lie there. Watson in keeping with his quirky humour and well within his brief; finished with the 1959 surf/rock guitar classic ‘Sleepwalk’ (Santo & Johnny). Accompanying him he had the talented and versatile Ron Samsom (drums) and Olivier Holland (upright bass). Replacing Grant Winterburn on Keyboards and Roger Manins on tenor saxophone was Cameron Allen. If anyone can replace two talented musicians and do so convincingly it is Allen. Instead of a tenor he played baritone saxophone and at other times his array of keyboards and ‘doogon’. I have video but I am still experiencing upload problems – I will upload when sorted.

Cryst 128.jpgCrystal Choi (private concert): This particular invitation-only concert was organised by Jonathan Crayford and the invitations were swiftly taken up. Crayford is a legendary figure on the New Zealand music scene and when he gets behind a young artist, people pay attention. I have watched Choi develop musically over the years, but I had not seen her perform for some time. In the past she has appeared with students, part of an ensemble, seldom stepping into the limelight for long. This was a departure, a brave step into the challenging world of improvised solo piano. Developing artists (and even experienced performers) struggle with this format, some panic and resort to noodling. When Crayford introduced the concert he stated, “Crystal is amazing, and what you are about to hear will speak for itself”. He was right.Cryst 129.jpg

What we witnessed was a rapidly maturing artist. She exuded a confidence I had not seen before and her ideas were well-developed, all communicated with the utmost clarity. There were two sets and most of the compositions were her own. It was a large crowd for such a small space, but not a soul talked, shuffled, clinked glasses or coughed. She had them all in rapt attention as she wove her stories around themes and explored harmonic visions. This is the right musical space for Choi and I hope she develops it further.  A sound that is more European in concept than American, where space, melody, and nuance are dominant. As she worked her way through the sets, everything flowed. If this is what she is like at 22 years of age, I can’t wait to hear her at 32. The sound was well captured and surprisingly, there were no awkward echoes or untoward harmonics considering the size of the room. It certainly helped that she had a ‘Grotrian’ grand to perform on. I hope that we see more solo piano from Choi.

Neil Watson ‘Tubular’ Live: Watson (guitars, compositions), Cameron Allen, (baritone sax, keyboards, electronics), Ron Samsom (drums), Olivier Holland (upright bass) @ the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Thirsty Dog, Auckland.15th February 2017

Chrystal Choi: Solo piano – 12th February 2017

Beyond category, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Review

Studies In Tubular

IMG_0215.jpgA review copy of the album ‘Studies in Tubular’ arrived in my letterbox a few days ago and it is vintage Neil Watson. It was recorded in 2011 and left to mature like a fine wine; it was worth the wait. I haven’t asked Watson why he titled the album ‘Studies In Tubular’, but the title feels appropriate. My first thought was that it might reference Mike Oldfield’s trippy minimalist classic ‘Tubular Bells’, and then I recalled that the word ‘tubular’ was once surfer slang for ‘exceptionally good’. Whatever the reason, this is exceptionally good music. The surf reference is not such a great stretch either when you listen carefully. This is deliciously eclectic music and although it touches on many sources, it is an original and highly satisfying offering. Referencing many things but never beholden to any of them.

Watson’s influences are seldom mainstream, but in spite of his touchstones like Sonny Sharrock, Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot, he always brings fresh ideas to the music. His trademark humour is always present in abundance and the ability to avoid taking himself too seriously is a gift that more musicians could adopt to advantage. This is an album made for a long drive, a lazy day at the beach or a sultry summer evening. Track two ‘Wes da Money’ opens with a nod to Wes Montgomery, then deftly takes us into very different territory, this without losing the essence of the opening bars. Guitar surf music (the Atlantics), Jimi Hendrix (Band of Gypsies), early Rock, & Roll. It’s all in there – wonderfully overlaid, motif upon motif.

The beautiful track ‘Kerala’ starts as folksy Americana, evoking a vibe reminiscent of Bill Frisell or Greg Leiz. On ‘Five Bye Blues’ he adds organist Grant Winterburn and what a treat that is. While drummer Ron Samsom lays down a groove beat and bass player Olivier Holland locates the heart, Winterburn comps tastefully behind a lovely guitar line; this reminiscent of the groove merchants like Pat Martino. There is Booker T, Boogie, Zorn and more in this package. This is a music of heart and soul and it brought a smile to my face.  The weather has been a problem this month but with this album you can dispell that memory and lock in an endless summer vibe. Purchase a copy from www.neilwatson.co.nz or alternatively come to the launch at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) which has relocated to the Thirsty Dog, Karangahape Road, 8pm, 15th Feb 20017IMG_0217.jpg

Watson was accompanied on all tracks by Holland and Samsom – Winterburn added his grooves to 2,3,& 5 – additional guests Lewis McCallum and Roger Manins played on tracks 6 & 7 respectively. With a lineup like this, Watson was in good company, but so were they.

Studies in Tubular: Neil Watson (electric, acoustic & synth guitars, compositions), Olivier Holland (upright bass), Ron Samsom (drums and percussion), guests; Grant Winterburn 2,3,5, (organ & Wurlitzer), Lewis McCullum (alto saxophone), Roger Manins (baritone saxophone) – (disclaimer: the album rear photograph is mine)

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Hard Bop, Straight ahead

Frank Gibson – New Quartet

FrankNov16 129.jpgFrank Gibson is a drummer of international repute, a sideman, educator and bandleader.  While he is a versatile drummer, his predilection is for bebop and hard-bop (especially Monk).  On Wednesday the 16th November, our last night at the Albion for a while, we heard six Monk tunes (plus tunes by Wes Montgomery, Lee Morgan, Joe Henderson and Sam Rivers).

The first set opened with the Sam Rivers tune,  a biting trio number (Beatrice). This was followed by four Monk numbers -‘Monk’s Dream’, ‘I Mean You’, Light Blue’ and ‘Straight No Chaser’. With this Gibson quartet (as with any Gibson quartet), Monk becomes real; you experience the music in a visceral way. FrankNov16 127.jpgThis is not a clone of the original Monk bands, but a modern quartet connected to the Monk vibe by musical lineage.
While Gibson is obviously the driving force, the presence of guitarist Neil Watson is also an essential element in the mix. With Watson you get authenticity and unexpected twists. Watson is a chameleon who can play a swinging version of ‘Limehouse blues’, wailing Jimi Hendrix, or in this case Monk through a Sonny Sharrok lens.  The other (newer) band members were Craig Walters on tenor saxophone and Cameron McArthur on bass. McArthur we are very familiar with and he never puts a foot wrong. Walters is from New Zealand, but spent many years in Australia after studying at Berklee in the USA. Walters is now living in New Zealand which is our gain.FrankNov16 128.jpgThere were familiar, much-loved Monk tunes and a few that are seldom heard such as ‘Light Blue’ and ‘Eronel’. Monk wrote around 70 compositions and they are instantly recognisable as being his. The angularity, quirky twists, the choppy rhythms, the lovely melodies and particular harmonic approach – a heady brew to gladden the heart of a devoted listener. We never tire of him or his interpreters. After Ellington, Monk compositions are the most recorded in Jazz. We remain faithful to his calling whether our tastes run to the avant-garde, swing or are firmly rooted in the mainstream. These tunes are among the essential buttresses holding up modern Jazz. They are open vehicles inviting endless and interesting explorations.  They are a soundtrack to the Jazz life.FrankNov16 130.jpg

The second set began with a duo (Gibson and Watson). The tune was Wes Montgomery’s ‘Jingles'(this appears on ‘The Wes Montgomery Trio’ album, where he was accompanied by organist Melvin Rhyne and drummer Paul Parker). A nice groove number and well realised. Next we heard ‘Ceora’ a pretty tune penned by Lee Morgan. This appeared on the ‘Cornbread’ album (an iconic recording with the mouth-watering lineup of Herbie Hancock, Hank Mobley, Jackie McLean, Billy Higgins, Larry Ridley). Again the quartet did the number justice. The track I have posted is the Monk number ‘Eronel’. While not as familiar it is unmistakably Monk (the original appeared on Monks ‘Criss Cross’ and was later reprised as a solo number).

Frank Gibson New Quartet: Frank Gibson (drums), Craig Walters (tenor saxophone), Neil Watson (guitar), Cameron McArthur (bass).