Australia & Pacific gigs, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, New Zealand Jazz Gigs, Review

Jazz stories that need retelling (2014)

“What often distinguishes a poetic list from a practical one is only the intention with which we contemplate it’ – Umberto Ecco (The Infinity of Lists).

At this time of year Jazz Journalists post their ‘best of’ lists.  By tradition, this provides a platform for the writers to focus on something that took their fancy (or not). It is seldom an exhaustive analyses of the years musical offerings, but a time to indulge in a few well-honed prejudices with impunity. I make no apology for the antipodean bias.

A look back at some pianists who impressed in 2014:

There has been a lot of ink spilt in analysing Jazz piano over the years and the task is always daunting. In recent years all too many masters of the keyboard have passed on such as the inimitable Hank Jones.  He encompassed a vast era of jazz, ever fresh and endlessly tasteful; bringing with him something of stride, bebop and hardbop and above all the blues.  At the passing of Jones and other acknowledged masters, there is an increased awareness of other great pianists still with us (a good example is the belated and welcome attention being given to George Cables).  Many of these artists have been hiding in plain view and paying them due attention is increasingly important.  As musical tastes mature, and new directions emerge, the field ever broadens.

Jazz fans who live outside of the USA generally have a reasonable awareness of pan-American, European, Scandinavian and (perhaps) Antipodean Jazz musicians.  If you live at the hub of the wheel, the USA, it will probably be less likely.  Pianism is not about how many notes you play, where you come from or the 0000210166_36cleverness your ideas. It is about integrity.  Musical integrity is rare but universally available.

There is a ‘sound’ that belongs to certain locations, perhaps to great cities; where an assimilation of environment occurs unwittingly, coalescing within an artist. This is not planned, as self-conscious cleverness is the road to perdition. The mindless recycling of others cleverness a greater anathema.  Mary Lou Williams once said (to slightly paraphrase): “Once a pianist comes to grips  with the instrument and can master its capabilities, stop taking formal lessons.  Risk taking explorations should occur next”.

Pianists like Mike Nock, Barney McAll and Jonathan Crayford all have a unique quality, one that reflects where they come from.  They are musicians of the world having honed their craft on the road, but distinctly Australasian for all that. No English, Italian, Scandinavian or Australian pianist is going to sound like Randy Weston and nor should they.  Musicians of integrity will bring something of themselves to the mix and a select few will bring a sense of place. The three pianists I have mentioned have lived and worked in the USA (often extensively) but not at the expense of their roots voice.   Each found a groove that only they could unlock. There are 88 notes on the standard piano keyboard, but in the spaces between the notes and in the choices made, there are subliminal messages. That is where the real magic lies.

The Mike Nock Trio. (Aust) Gig at the ‘2014 Auckland Jazz Festival’, CJC (Creative Jazz Club). Mike Nock is one of New Zealand’s favourite musical sons and perhaps the improvising musician we most admire.  Although he has not lived here for many years, he often visits from Australia.  Many will know him from his ‘Fourth Way’ band, his recordings as sideman with people like Yusef Lateef or his long years as a celebrated member of the New York scene.  That said, his post USA work needs better examination and it is in Australia that people can gain a fuller sense of his body of work.  Nock is a truly gifted artist and he goes from strength to strength. “Nock’s ringing iconoclasm pervades all his music, taps a deep well of melody that transcends jazz and informs and ignites his every encounter.” – Fred Bouchard, Downbeat (USA). His live trio gigs are humour-filled and quirky, focussing on an eclectic mix of originals, standards turned upside down and almost forgotten tunes (i.e. Sweet Pumpkin).  The joy that Nock breathes into his gigs is infectious and it Mike Nock SIMA07_01makes you glad that you’re alive. Touring New Zealand with Nock were James ‘Pug’ Waples (drums) and Brett Hirst (bass)’.  These musicians while deeply attuned to each other were always full of surprises.  5 stars. *****

Barney McAll (USA) gigs in Auckland & Wellington NZ – Trio and Solo piano at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) and ‘The Wellington Jazz Festival 2014’.  McAll (an Australian) has lived in Brooklyn New York for many years, but he has never been forgotten in his home country Australia.  His visit to New Zealand won him many new fans.  There is an expansiveness and yet a completeness about McAll compositions. He sounds like no one else and as he digs into those earthy blues filled tunes, you hear the unmistakable echoes of real antipodean soul.  5 stars. *****

Jonathan Crayford, ‘Dark Light’ Trio (USA). It was Auckland’s good luck that the album release gig for Crayford’s ‘Dark Light’ Trio took place at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club).  A few weeks prior to that a local version of his ‘Biggish Band’ featured at the same venue (and at the Golden Dawn). I attended all three gigs. Jonathan Crayford is a peripatetic wonderer and a troubadour of immense talent.  His endless travels in music often bring him home to New Zealand and the lucky get to hear his imaginative projects.  4 stars ****

Other pianists of note: Kevin Field (NZ).  Field on piano or keys is a musical force to reckoned with. His taste is impeccable.  This year saw him record an album in New York with expat New Zealand bassist Matt Penman, drummer Obed Calvaire  and guitarist Nir Felder.  The album will probably be released sometime during 2015 and is eagerly anticipated.  Dark LightJan07_02Whether as accompanist or soloist, Field shines.  His work in 2014 on ‘Dog’, with Caitlin Smith and with the Australian saxophonist  Jamie Oehlers stand out as high points.  Adam Ponting (Aust) (Hip Flask ‘1’ & ’11’).  Ponting is an unusual but compelling pianist.  An original stylist who appears to approach tunes from an oblique angle, at first impressionistic, but leading you into a world of funky satisfying grooves.  This guy is definitely someone I would like to hear again.   It was also great to hear more of Alan Brown (NZ) on piano during 2014. He has some interesting piano and keys projects underway and we will hear more of those soon.   Steve Barry (Aust). Barry is an ex pat Auckland pianist now based in Australia.  He visited New Zealand twice during 2014.  His visits and albums are always received enthusiastically.  Barry is a musician who works hard and produces the goods.  His new album ‘Puzzles’ with Dave Jackson (alto), Alex Boneham (bass) and Tim Firth, lifts the bar for up and coming local musicians.  We had a number of visitors in 2014 and to bring us a European perspective was the Benny Lackner Trio (Germany/USA).  The pianist Benny Lackner has visited New Zealand on several previous occasions and the aesthetic he brings is finely honed. The band has a similar feel to EST.  There is the occasional use of electronics and they quickly find tasty grooves that could only emanate from a European Band.

Alan Broadbent (USA) has had a truly amazing year with the release of a solo album ‘Heart to Heart’ and his NDR Big band album ‘America The Beautiful’. Multiple Grammy 7kofphkhadu-htw5jpjp_zmxkdevwd478h5dat8o4ms winner Broadbent is our best known improvising export and he has spent the last year touring Europe and America to great acclaim.  The solo album was given a rare 5 star rating by downbeat and ‘America The Beautiful’ was recently voted one of the 10th best albums of 2014.

Miscellaneous Gigs and projects:  

Mike Moreno trio (USA) – for sheer guitar artistry and taste, Moreno is hard to beat.  His beautiful (often mournful) sound, compelling lines and clarity of vision left the Sydney audience in awe.  His Australian trio were Alex Boneham (bass) and Ben Vanderwal (drums).  the choice of sidemen was solid, as they complimented and responded to every nuance of Moreno’s playing.  This was a class act all round.  The Troubles (Wellington, NZ), Portland Public House, ‘Auckland Jazz Festival’.  This Wellington ensemble is a machine of wondrous invention.  Its anarchic dissing of powerful institutions, cheerful irreverence and inappropriate humour, carves it out a special place in the hearts of rebellious souls.  Iconoclast drummer and composer John Rae (ex-Edinburgh) had added the heavy weight presence of saxophonist Roger Manins (Auckland) to the mix for recent gigs. That was an inspired choice.  Jeff Henderson’s ‘Dreamville’ project (Auckland, NZ) CJC (Creative Jazz Cub). This avant-garde gig, billed as superconscious Jazzmares, was a triumph by any measure.  Like a dream, the gig moved forward under its own internal momentum.  Surreal themes constantly dissolving until exhausted, forms shifting without seeming to.  What made this journey so evanescent, but so compelling, was that certain motifs remained deep in our consciousness throughout; totems of sound embedding themselves. This gig won many to Henderson’s cause.

Notable local Albums of 2014: (in no particular order)

‘Dog’ (Rattle Jazz) Recorded in the now defunct and much-loved York Street studios Auckland.  This album is the realisation of a project by Manins, Field, Holland &  photo - Version 2 Samsom.  It sizzles, swings and while hinting at the vibe of a bygone era, it still sounds fresh & modern (and very Kiwi).  ‘Dark Light’ (Rattle Jazz) This excellent album is one of two that Jonathan Crayford released in 2014 – Recorded at ‘Systems Two Studio’ NY with Crayford (piano), Ben Street (bass), Dan Weiss (drums).  Don’t expect repetition from Crayford. This master musician takes us on many journey’s, each unlike the last and all brilliant.  Hip Flask 2 (Rattle Jazz)  A funk unit led by Australasian saxophone giant Roger Manins.  Accompanied by Adam Ponting (piano), Stu Hunter (organ), Brendan Clarke (bass) and Toby Hall (drums).  A thoroughly appealing album and a welcome follow-up to Hip Flask 1 (Hip Flask 1 included with the album).

Best Jazz Writing

The Parker Biography (part one): Stanley Crouch’s ‘Kansas City Lightning’ is a great read and a possible game changer.  It has sometimes been observed that Jazz  Parker Imagebiography is the weakest link in Jazz Writing. If that is true then the mould has truly been broken with this work.  Crouch has placed the story of Parker’s early life into a fuller historical context.  In learning things about the times, we learn a lot about the man.  This is a book that could be appreciated by anyone interested in the history of African-American life in the Mid-West.  I suspect that its significance will grow as time passes.  Above all the book is beautifully written and for me that counts.

 Best Jazz DVD

Charles Lloyd’s ‘Arrows to Infinity’ is a beautiful and informative document. It is packed with important music and astute observations.  The filming is tasteful and painterly and Dorothy Darr (artist and long time partner of Lloyd) has been the obvious guiding force (assisted Jeffery Morse).  Lloyd the musician is beyond caveat, but Lloyd the narrator also holds us in rapt attention.  The reborn, Big Sur Lloyd, communicates his deep calm with ease and his spiritual approach to music and life is compelling.  As he reflects honestly on the momentous times he lived through, we feel enriched by sharing the experience.  He sums up his approach to improvising and the duty of sharing his music as follows; “The winds of grace are always blowing, so set the sails high”.

Most anticipated events for the coming months.

Glen Wagstaff & the Symposium Orchestra Project. (NZ) 2015 album release (subject to sufficient funding levels being reached on kick starter).  This young guitarist references the writing of Kenny Wheeler and Brian Blade.  There is a deep melancholic beauty in his charts and the material soars.  The album features many gifted New Zealand musicians.  Christchurch, like Auckland & Wellington, has a deep reservoir of Jazz talent.

The Auckland Jazz Orchestra (NZ) – ‘Darkly Dreaming Suite’ by AJO conductor Tim Atkinson.  I witnessed the recording of this suite and what I heard sounds amazing. While there is a dark brooding quality of the music it is also strangely warm; like a glass of claret held up to stained glass window at dusk.  The album is due out in 2015 and the work marks step-up for the orchestra.

Maria Schneider conducts the Jazz Mothership Orchestra (USA/Aust) Our highly respected saxophonist Roger Manins is to feature with the JMO under Schneider’s batten. I don’t have all of the information yet, but the JMO will certainly be touring Australia.

CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 2015 events. The club had a great 2014 year in spite of the odds and difficulties. This is in large part due to JJA Jazz-Hero Roger Manins role as musical director (aided and abetted by Caro Manins and Ben McNicoll).  The task of keeping a not-for-profit Jazz Club float in a relatively small city is challenging, but Manins has managed to secure a solid programme and he did so while juggling his demanding teaching gig at the Auckland University Jazz School and his numerous live gigs and recording gigs around the pacific rim.   Having a brand new Auckland Jazz Festival (organised by Ben McNicoll) rounded the years events out perfectly.

Biggest Regrets of 2014 – missing the John Zorn gig in Adelaide – The passing of Kenny Wheeler whose music has given me so much pleasure over the years.

Video clips of Mike Nock & Barney McAll – filmed for this blog at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 2014.

http://youtu.be/zBd2yZZdvL4?list=UUvm6sdXjGJULG9k2nYZ9udA

http://youtu.be/m_oA8iLshNg?list=UUvm6sdXjGJULG9k2nYZ9udA 

 

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CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Millenium, Straight ahead

James Wylie/Miles Crayford Group

 

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James Wylie last passed through Auckland in late 2012 when he played two gigs at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club).   A gifted alto saxophonist who doubles on clarinet, he has always been popular here.  In his travels around the world, his natural creativity has found endless new avenues for expression, examining, dissecting and assimilating the sounds around him.   What you get from Wylie is authenticity, an authenticity fuelled by indigenous music, country music, his own imaginings and all through a Jazz lens.    Last time he appeared, Greek singer Egli Katsiki accompanied him for two numbers.   This time we were again treated to some improvisations around traditional Greek melodies and to my delight a particularly lovely medieval Arab melody.  This interface between the ancient streams of Mediterranean music and Jazz is one that I am always up for, but seldom get a chance to hear in New Zealand.  Wylie is these days a resident of Greece.

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The co-leader Miles Crayford, now based in Auckland, has appeared at the CJC several times in recent months.  An interesting pianist and composer who compliments Wylie in unexpected ways.  This meeting of musical minds stimulated both artists.   The bass player was Mostyn Cole, but Crayford’s usual drummer, the Wellington based Reuben Bradley was replaced by Ron Samsom.  While all respected musicians in their own right, putting such combinations together is not in itself a guarantee of success.   In this case it worked well.   I like Reuben’s drumming enormously, but Ron Samsom gave the lineup an unusual colour that would not otherwise have been there. Samsom can draw on an endless array of styles, in each case arriving at a feel that is indispensable to the improvisers around him.   Like Wylie and Crayford, Cole contributed an original composition or two.   Cole is also based in Auckland these days and that is our gain.  He often incorporates passages of arco bass into his arrangements, perhaps more so than his local contemporaries.  IMG_1438 - Version 2 (1)

The musical connection between Crayford and Wylie was obvious, with the deliciously dark voicings of the pianist giving the alto player much to work with.   The first tune up titled ‘Taniwha’ (Crayford), set the tone for the evening.   A compelling tune with a melodic head, opening out to reveal depth upon depth.   In the second set Wylie showcased some traditional Greek tunes, unmistakable as to their origin, but somehow imparting a hint of that familiar Kiwi sound.  Kiwi musicians are reflections of our national character,  often excelling at what they do but seldom acknowledging their achievements.  Many are deliberately self-effacing, only letting their music speak for them.  Telling their stories in other ways is a writers job.

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I enjoyed this band and judging by the enthusiastic applause, so did the audience.   There was a time when I dreaded our more talented improvising musicians moving overseas as it felt like a loss.   Now I think differently.  Every-time James Wylie, Jonathan Crayford or Mike Nock returns home they bring back something new.   Nothing is ever lost if we listen properly and keep supporting the music.  These musicians and the many students who tread the same path are our legacy; where ever they live.  IMG_1417 - Version 2

Who: James Wylie/Miles Crayford Group.  – James Wylie (alto saxophone), Miles Crayford (piano), Mostyn Cole (bass), Ron Samsom (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Brittomart, Auckland, New Zealand.   http://www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

Beyond category, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs

Joel Haines trio @ CJC

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At its best Jazz is a place of unexpected intersections.  Being the music of appropriation there are deliberate collisions with other art forms and out of this comes new ideas and rich pickings.  The Joel Haines gig last week caught us by surprise as Joel seldom gigs these days.   He’s embedded deep within the session, film and TV world and his work will be known to most of us without realising it.   I have seen him perform a number of times over the years, but these outings are often in the role of sideman.  The last time I saw him was when his brother Nathan was in town.

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I really like his playing which infuses Rock and Country voicings into an open-ended Jazz vocabulary.   He musical lineage is impeccable as he comes from one of the most respected Jazz dynasties in New Zealand.  Father Kevin is a highly regarded and well recorded bass player, while brother Nathan is one of New Zealand’s best known and most respected Jazz exports.   This family has all bases covered with talent shared equally.

Joel is certainly not an extrovert and at this gig he sat huddled, as if subsumed by his rich-toned Ibanez.   When he leans forward to play, his long hair falls across his face and the effect is complete.  His sound however tells the opposite story, the shrinking of physical presence enables him to become the notes and the lines he plays.  There was only one announcement and there was only one number identified.

‘No introductions, lets just play”, he said quietly and they did.   On stage Joel is all about the music.

This is Jazz informed by Joel’s years at the ‘Cause Celebre’ and above all by his musical influences.  At times you can hear the echoes of Jimi Hendrix voicings or perhaps Bill Frisell, but the truth is that all of these influences arise from a deep well of ideas.  His material is predominantly lyrical and warm at heart.  You cannot separate this type of music from the film scores that have engaged us over the years.  Jazz and Movie sound tracks have been inextricably linked since Ellington’s ‘Anatomy of Murder’ or Miles ‘Escalator to the Scaffold’.   Joel works successfully in this world and a number of TV shows feature his music.  I am one of those people who remain after a movie is over, waiting for the music credits to scroll.  You would be surprised who you find in those fleeting glimpses.  I recently watched a great Sicilian move where John Surmon wrote and performed the soundtrack.  With the paucity of earning ability in Jazz, going into the studios or becoming a session musician has always been a good option.

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For the last two numbers Roger Manins joined them on tenor.  The tune ‘Lady Lywa’ (by brother Nathan) was wonderfully performed and I am glad it was in the mix (as the only tune composed by someone other than Joel).  This would be a contender for a New Zealand Jazz standard if given a chance.  It was not surprising that Roger blended in seamlessly, as he Ron, and Oli are constantly playing together and the material gave them a solid spring-board for improvising.

I can recall Nathan once putting a cupped hand to his ear during a gig and saying, “Listen to that, the warm hum of valves).   That hum was also evident between numbers at this gig, but for the main part the warmth emanated from the compositions and the ebb and flow of a solid performance.

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 1885 building, downtown Auckland

Who: Joel Haines (guitars), Oli Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) – with guest Roger Manins (tenor).

Avant-garde, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Fusion & World, Post Millenium

Salon Kingsadore @ CJC

Murray McNabb

It had been a very busy week for me and I had not paid too much attention to the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) website.   All I could recall about the gig was that it would be something different.   The instruments came into view as I descended the stairs and as my eyes accustomed to the gloom I saw Murray McNabb.   Murray is a veteran of the New Zealand Jazz scene and ‘different’ is exactly what he does best.  There was a bank of keyboards, numerous pedals, leads everywhere, a drum kit and two guitars barely visible in the back ground.  I quickly learned that this was the release gig for the second album by Salon Kingsadore – ‘Anti Borneo Magic’.  Yes the title gave more than a hint of what we were in for.  An exotic improvised trance like dreamscape.   After a hectic week that was exactly what I needed and from the first vamp I relaxed into the music.

Salon Kingsadore was formed in 2004 to write a soundtrack for a play and their works are styled – spontaneous cinematic compositions.  Not long after that first album they were invited to perform at a film release in Italy.  These projects appear to be under the creative guidance of Murray McNabb (keyboards) and Gianmarco Liguori (guitars).  The other band members are Hayden Sinclair (bass) and Steven Tait (drums).  Murray McNabb is a successful film score composer having written for films like ‘Once were Warriors’.  Steven Tait

I have seen Murray perform many times and his own compositions are notable for the way in which he mines simple themes in subtle and deceptively complex ways.  He is the master of ostinato.  There are often references to modal music in his compositions (Turkish Like) but tonight the fare was more tightly focused.  At first listen there was an impression that the drums, bass and guitar were playing the same motif over and again while Murray developed the themes and added fills and colour.   This was not the case as subtle variants and accented changes could be determined if you listened properly.  Continuous and spontaneous improvisation over a vamp requires certain disciplines and foremost among these is a keen awareness of space and dynamics.  This interactive process requires everyone to participate actively and when that happens the repetitive transforms itself into something profound.

This is music that takes some right out their comfort zone as it references such diverse sources as John Zorn, film music, African music, psychedelic fusion and even surf music.   Someone asked me if it was Jazz.  I would certainly place it within the spectrum of jazz, but as an outlier with strong filmic qualities.  I have listened to a lot of John Zorn, Manfred Schoof and psychedelic Jazz Fusion over the years and so this was never going to scare me.

After a long week I quickly relaxed into the aural dreamscape unfolding.  This is music that you can dive into, swim away from shore and float free in.

WHAT: Salon Kingsadore – ‘Anti-Borneo Music’. Album release.

WHERE: CJC Creative Jazz Club – 1885 Brittomart

WHO: Murray McNabb (keys), Gianmarco Liguori (guitars), Hayden Sinclair (bass), Steven Tait (drums). Sarang Bang Records www.sarangbang.co.nz

WHEN: December 5th 2012

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Bop, Review

Phil Broadhurst Quartet updated

Phil Broadhurst

I last saw this band at the launch of Phil’s ‘Delayed Reaction’ album.    That was September 25th 2011 and things have moved on apace since than.   For a start the album has had universally good reviews, reasonable airplay and attracted interest from offshore.  For a number of reasons it was bound to do well.  I suspect that the quality of the interpretations and the musicianship of the band clinched the deal.    While a number of well-chosen Petrucciani tunes are featured in the album, it is Phil’s own material that best focuses us on the diminutive masters work.

Oli, Alain & Roger

It is ironic that it has taken someone from the antipodes to put a fine lens on the inner workings of Petrucciani’s music.  Step by step as the material progresses we are granted the most intimate of glimpses.  Guided into a private world that only Phil Broadhurst has been able to reveal. This is the power of Jazz at its best.  Being able to dive deeper into the meaning of a tune as inner forms and colours unfold.   What is already wonderful is somehow made better or revealed afresh.

Petrucciani may have been small in stature but his percussive playing and unusually bold voicings have marked him out as a heavyweight.  His legacy is in fact so strong as to be virtually unassailable.  A few European tribute bands have recycled his compositions but there are few if any sound-a-likes (as happened with Evans).  Phil and the band made no attempt at slavish imitation; they did better than that.  They captured the essence of the music.

I suspect that Phil Broadhurst is one of the worlds foremost authorities on Michel Petrucciani and this is our good fortune.

We heard many of the tunes from the album, such as Phil Broadhurst’s own composition ‘Orange’ and Petrucciani’s  ‘Brazilian like’.   The material had not only been updated but we also heard some new material which Phil had written.  The band was playing up a storm and it was great to see Roger back after a successful trip gigging in Australia.  His tenor is always on fire and Phil and he sparked off each other as the night progressed.  Roger always watches the others carefully during gigs.  He watches them until he is ready to solo.  Then he leans back and takes off like a Titan rocket, leaving an open-mouthed audience in his slipstream.

Roger laying out before he unleashes hellfire

With Alain on drums delivering a flurry of beats, a fiery solo or whispering poetically on brushes the traps could not have been in better hands (he has become a favourite of mine and he will be missed when he goes overseas).  Oli’s playing is always worth hearing and he delivered strong bass lines and gave the band the support they needed.  He had been a little low in the mix for the first few numbers and that is a pity because what he has to say is worth hearing.   Once the sound had been adjusted it was if the jazz universe had suddenly fallen into place.

This was to be the bands last outing before Tauranga.  The group is finalists in the Jazz Tui awards and a play-off will occur Saturday night between The Phil Broadhurst Quartet (Delayed Reaction), The Tim Hopkins Trio (Seven) and the Roger Fox Big Band (Journey Home).  I have heard and reviewed all three bands and I know most of the musicians. This will be a tough call for the judges.

The Band is: Phil Broadhurst (leader, comp, piano), Roger Manins (tenor), Oli Holland (bass), Alain Koetsier (drums).

Avant-garde, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, New Zealand Jazz Gigs, Review

‘Seven’ – Tim Hopkins Trio

Interaction - Tim & Dixon

I purchased a copy of ‘Seven’ from Rattle Records not long after it was completed.   The cover art portrayed black sand, which is strange to those unfamiliar with it.   For those who have not encountered it before, black sand can also be surprising.  Subtle light-shifts can throw up a myriad of purple and blue hues, and the textures revealed by the drift patterns are in constant flux.   ‘Seven’ reflects Tim Hopkins’ music in much the same way.

Tim Hopkins is well-known to those us who have followed the New Zealand Jazz diaspora.   He has recorded extensively as a sideman with the likes of Mike Nock (and many others) and he has recorded a significant number of albums as leader.  Tim lived in Sydney for many years but he eventually returned to New Zealand where he is now based.  He teaches and performs in the capital city.  His long experience as a tenor player has taught him to throw caution to the wind.   He is adept at developing free-flowing Post Bop lines, but he is not limited by that.  While quite capable of playing sweet and low he does not invite complacency, as he can just as suddenly deliver a scalding declamation.   His style is to conduct an honest conversation with the audience and few punches are pulled.  This is not to say that he is too serious for he has a highly developed sense of humour which he uses to advantage.

Tim started the gig by explaining some of the concepts behind the ‘Seven’ band.   “Someone is missing from this band” he said gesturing behind him and I initially thought that he was referring to Richard Nunns (who had appeared on a few tracks of the album).  Tim meanwhile continued to explain, “He wasn’t invited, (pausing) it is the bass player”.   A bass player is the compass and when a band plays adventurous and complex music the lack of a bass places a heavier burden on the remaining musicians.  These guys were fully aware of the job in hand.   It is often the case that an experienced leader will develop an uncanny knack for selecting just the right sidemen and this was evident here.

Dixon Nacey is not only a versatile and superb guitarist but he is a musical free spirit.   His eyes light up when he is thrown a challenge and he soon throws a challenge back.    This guy is one of our finest musicians and the younger guitarists watch his every move.    I suspect that a lot of the weight fell to Dixon in this gig, but you wouldn’t have known it to see him smiling as he dared Tim or John to answer his challenges.    This was call and response at its best.

Dixon Nacey

The drummer was also perfect for the role.  It was the first time that I had seen John Rae on traps and I hope that it will not be the last.  He is unlike many of the drummers we see, as his approach is loose and organic.  If he wants to up the ante he will suddenly shout at the others; exhorting them to give even more.  He is also far from a locked-in drummer as he will punctuate and change the groove at will.  I really liked this approach as it was the ideal foil to Tim and Dixon.

I also sensed that the band was unafraid of being overt and about confronting the political realities of our times.  This flowed through the music and I loved that about them.

At the beginning of the second set Tim was about to introduce the number when he looked into the audience and said, “Can someone bring a bouncer and throw out that old man talking in the front row”. The talking continued and Tim said in a slightly menacing northern Irish accent, “old man – go home to your wife – go home to your children”.   A short silence followed and then “Dad shut up”.   The smiling offender was Tony Hopkins his father.   Tony is much-loved on the Auckland scene for his skillful drumming.    I saw him when I was young and I would like to acknowledge his influence on my generation and beyond.

Another good example of Tim not taking himself too seriously was the introduction to ‘23rd century love song‘.   He explained that this was the result of endless navel gazing and that the market he was aiming for was probably chemistry professors.

While aspects of the gig were challenging, the night has left me with a lot to think about.   Music should occasionally challenge us and it should make us think.   I find myself going back to the album to re-examine a track or a phrase and this is a good thing. The communication is still happening.  John Rae

The numbers that have stuck with me are ‘Road From Perdition’, ‘All Blacks & Blues’ and the lovely ‘The Sleeping Giants’.   for a copy of this go directly to Rattle Records at http://www.rattle.co.nz – failing that try ‘Real Groovy’ ‘JB HiFi’ or ‘Marbecks’.

The Jam: After the gig there was a jam session and it quickly morphed into a mammoth affair.    Drummers, saxophonists, guitarists and singers crowded the band stand while fours and honks were traded to the delight of the audience.  I don’t think that I could name everyone who played but I will try: Roger Manins(ts), Tim Hopkins(ts), Noel Clayton(g), Aron Ottignon(p), Matt Steele(p) Tyson Smith(g), Dan Kennedy(d), Tony Hopkins(d), Tim ?(d), a young drummer (?), Dixon Nacey(g), Callum Passells(as), Holly Smith(v).    Roger played a lovely breathy Ben Webster sounding ‘Sunny Side if The Street’, Holly sung a fabulous bluesy ‘Summertime’ while Tony played just like he always does.  Sitting just a fraction behind the beat and in perfect time.