I attended three Jonathan Crayford gigs while he visited New Zealand. All of the bands were different and all were exceptional in their way. This tells me something important about the artist; a leader able to communicate a vision with the utmost clarity and bring out the best in other musicians. Just over a month ago I interviewed Crayford and my first question was, “What projects do you have in the pipeline?”. He told me about an album that he is going to record in New York in a few months. We then talked about ‘Dark Light’, his new ‘Rattle’ album. As the title implies this is about that mysterious place behind the light. This recurring theme is regularly mined by improvising musicians. Monk, Jarrett, Maupin, Towner, Pieranunzi and others have peered into this chiaroscuro world, where the shadows between light and dark reveal subtle wonders. This piano trio album recorded in New York in late 2013, has the stellar sidemen Ben Street on bass and Dan Weiss on drums. The album was pre-released to New Zealand audiences during Crayford’s gig on Wednesday which was the fourth of the Creative Jazz Club’s 2014 #jazzapril series.
I hear a lot of music these days and much of it I like, but occasionally an album comes your way that really stops you in your tracks. This is just such an album. It has a profundity and a depth to it that works on so many levels. It is an album that deserves hearing over and again and since obtaining a copy I have done just that. At first impression I thought of game changing pianists like Esbjorn Svensson or some of the modern Scandinavians, but this has a strongly original feel. As in all Crayford’s compositions, we hear a skilfully written head, that gradually evolves into an ever-widening groove, begging deeper exploration. While it is music played at the highest level it is neither self-indulgent nor introspective. The album has real depth but it is also incredibly accessible. This is music that everyone will recognise at some level: partly because it is so articulate, but also because the blues and a myriad of other familiar song forms are neatly distilled into it.
It was obviously not practical to fly Street and Weiss (who are New York based) down for the CJC launch and so Crayford engaged two New Zealand musicians. While not hearing the full recorded trio was a shame, we were not disappointed by their substitutes. He could hardly have chosen better. On bass he had Wellington musician Patrick Bleakley and on drums was Auckland musician Chris O’Connore. I am less familiar with Bleakley but I certainly know him by reputation. The last time I saw him was with ‘The Troubles’, a delightfully anarchic Wellington band. He is an experienced and melodic bass player with an instinctive feel for time. On the album with Street and with the New Zealand trio, the bass player anchored the pieces; leaving piano and drums to react to each other. O’Connore is one of the finest drummers on the New Zealand scene and he routinely plays in diverse situations. This open skies approach gives him a real edge. He is a drummer and percussionist with a highly developed sense of space and dynamics and in this case his colourist tendencies were strongly in evidence.
The tracks have an organic logic in the way they’re ordered and a natural ebb and flow is discernible. The set list at the gig followed that order, creating the sense that we were on a journey. The titles of the pieces reference the ‘Dark Light’ theme and none more so than ‘Galois Candle’. Galois was a genius French mathematician (1811 – 1832) who used abstract algebra to prove the links between field theory and group theory. He suffered unbelievable bad luck in his short life and was not appreciated or understood until the 20th century. Many of his proofs were accidentally or careless destroyed by others, hence the title. As I play this sad evocative piece, the story of Galois unfolds before me. This is what Jazz can do well; steal a moment out of time and create a compelling narrative.
There is a luminous quality to Crayford’s playing; a quality which sounds newly minted and yet familiar. Crayfords contribution to Jazz deserves wider recognition and with this album it could happen. I would therefore give the album four and a half stars out of five, not out of some Kiwi patriotism but purely on merit. No Jazz lover will regret the purchase
I have posted a track titled ‘Bikes in Space’ below.
Who: Jonathan Crayford (piano) Ben Street (bass *album), Dan Weiss (drums *album) – Patrick Bleakey (bass *CJC), Chris O’Connore (drums, percussion *CJC)
What: ‘Dark Light’ released by Rattle Records http://www.rattlerecords.net
Where: Pre release CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland 23rd April #jazzapril