Backbeat Bar, Beyond category, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Fusion & World, Small ensemble

Jonathan Besser @ Backbeat Bar

BesserThere is an inescapable charm surrounding any Besser performance and Wednesday’s Zestniks gig at the Backbeat bar was no exception. While his music has many strands feeding it and although it can be hard to categorise, it is never the less rooted in the Jewish musical traditions. Besser is somewhat of an icon in Arts circles and deservedly so. The arc of his work has a momentum that few could emulate. As it alights on various styles or genres it borrows their raiment, and seemingly without compromising what lies at the music’s heart; gathering what is necessary and no more. Over the years he has collaborated with leading conceptual artists, filmmakers, symphony orchestras, electronic adventurers and Jazz musicians. The Zestnics performance reflected much of this fascinating journey.Besser (2)

I am always drawn to performers who leaven their gigs with an appropriate portion of banter and Besser’s comments and asides were delightful. They were delivered with a deadpan expression and consequently were nicely understated. As with music, timing and delivery are everything.  Many of the tunes were from his ‘Gimel Suite’ and a quick investigation of the word leads you to a cornucopia of meanings. It is the third letter of the Hebrew alphabet, it is a letter imbued with special qualities and it this case it is a footing or foundation for composition. This is an ancient to modern music and I suspect that those listening will have conjured their own associations. Because I have recently travelled through eastern Europe, I heard the warp and weft of Polish or Czech street music.   Besser (1)

The other ensemble members came from a variety of disciplines and this was fitting. Caro Manins on vocals with her deep knowledge of ancient Sephardic Ladino music; Nigel Gavin, an adventurous ‘World music’ musician who ignores artificial boundaries; John Bell, a Vibes player from the free to groove or ‘World’ end of town; Eamon Edmundson-Wells on bass, a versatile bass player and also frequently seen in avant-garde settings; Alistair Deverick on drums, navigating those exhilarating rhythms. Lastly were two from the expanded Black Quartet; Peau Halapua on violin and Sophie Buxton on viola – popular classical musicians and sometimes seen with Jazz or ‘World’ ensembles. Besser, of course, was on piano.

Some of the tunes were nostalgic or even mournful, some were brimming with joy – all were enjoyable.  The tunes never strayed too far from the notation, but there were some brief improvised sections which balanced things up nicely. I have posted the last number of the gig and while I am not sure of the title, I know that it brought the house down.

The gig took place on the 4th of July, 2018 at the Backbeat Bar, K’Road, for the CJC Creative Jazz Club.

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Review, vocal

The Fondue Set – Review

Jan29#03

There are a number of enigmas in the music world and why this Fondue Set album lay unreleased for so long is one of them.  A recent New Zealand Herald article described Caitlin Smith as one of New Zealand’s best known singers and that’s true.  Because she is so well respected I can’t help wondering why she’s not profiled more often in the mainstream media.  Her voice is simply stunning and the material she choses, her choice of musicians and the way she plays with the lyrics sets her apart.

The Fondue Set have been part of the music scene for more than a decade.  Founded by Graeme Webb, the group has gone on to gain a kind of cult status and perhaps that imparts an added cache.  There have only been two previous Fondue Set CD’s released and both remain popular.  This album was recorded on mini disc in 2004 and it will be a welcome addition to their recorded output.

Caitlin’s voice is a real draw card, but as anyone who has seen her perform will know, her stage presence adds yet another compelling dimension.   As this is a live recording much of that magic is communicated.   Founding member Graeme Webb is not performing on ‘Down To The Rind’ but the other original member Steve Gerrish is.  The new addition is Nigel Gavin who is well known about town for his stellar musicianship and the wonderful sounds he coaxes from his guitars.  These musicians work well with Caitlin, providing all the support she could wish for.

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The arrangements are by Smith, Garrish and Webb and what fine arrangements they are.  Caitlin Smith is known for appropriating songs from other genres and turning them into earthy Jazz vehicles.  It’s the fine arrangements that underpin that process.   I was particularly drawn to  ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ (Trad), ‘Secret Love’ (Pain/Webster) and the red hot treatment of ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ (Mingus).  There is also a gorgeous version of ‘Tennessee Waltz’ (Stewart/King).  This song is very much in vogue with Jazz-Americana musicians and well it might be.   Nigel Gavin works his special brand of magic on Tennessee Waltz and the echoes linger happily in the memory long after the track is finished.

This is available from record stores, iTunes or from http://www.caitlinsmith.com/music

Who: Caitlin Smith (vocals, arrangements), Nigel Gavin (7 string Tui guitar), Steve Gerrish (guitars, arrangements) – Graeme Webb (arrangements)

Beyond category, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Fusion & World

Afterword – ‘Mother Tongue live’

This was an amazing night of music and to those who missed it – shame on you. If you have a domestic air ticket lying about or are living in the lower North Island or South Island you can still catch the act (see previous post). Carolina is quite something on her ‘Mother Tongue’ recording but to see her perform live is to experience much more. She is a singer who should be experienced live because she is also a stellar performer. The intricate sinuous hand gestures as she sings, create an added texture to an already rich and evocative music.

This band is first class and what they brought to the music was simply wonderful. Having two of Auckland’s best drummer/percussionists in the one band did not hurt at all. They were similar in style to Manu Katche and Nano Vasconcelos who have often performed together in such Jazz/World music. It was the second time that I had caught Chris O’Connor at a gig and I can see why he is so in demand – especially for intricate drum work like this. Ron Samsom’s skill on the drum kit was already very familiar to me and it was fascinating to watch these two percussion masters swap roles throughout the performance.

Roger Manins did not play his usual tenor saxophone but showed his chops on the bass clarinet (Eric Dolphy and others used this axe to great effect). The deeper and woodier sounds were entirely appropriate for this ancient music and Roger still managed to stretch out convincingly. He also played the more traditional clarinet and the flute.

Nigel Gavin used a resonator guitar and a manouche guitar, and he stunned with his combination of lightening speed and middle eastern modal riffs. Although his guitars were amplified and had the usual array of pedals, his contributions were so well placed and appropriate to the music that it was hard to imagine the pieces without him. Kevin Field (piano), Matthias Erdrich (bass) and Jessica Hindin (violin) performed their parts with ease and this underscores their musicianship as none can have been that familiar with such diverse musical genres.

Apart from the Sephardic music we heard songs in Hebrew, English and Gaelic. There was also a standard, ‘Black is the colour’. This old english ballad was so beautifully executed that the audience seemed to hold their breath at each phrase. No one wanted to miss a single note.

I have long wondered why Jan Garbarek‘s compositions and arrangements are not used more by Jazz musicians and on Wednesday I had that view reinforced. A version of Garbarek’s arrangement of the traditional Nordic piece ‘Gula Gula‘ from ‘I took up the Runes‘ was played. It was the best version you could ever hope to hear and Carolina who is a gifted linguist had learned the Gaelic pronunciation of the song. During this piece the band stretched out and went crazy. It was one of those moments when you hoped that the music would never stop. If I have one plea it would be; perform more Garbarek compositions and arrangements please – perhaps with a bowed electric bass Eberhard Weber style.

Beyond category, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Fusion & World, New Zealand Jazz Gigs, Review

‘Mother Tongue’ – Carolina Moon (the Sephardic music of medieval Spain)

Carolina’s wonderful album ‘Mother Tongue’ is beguiling and all it takes is a single listen, for the mysterious beauty of this ancient music to stay with you forever.   This album speaks of medieval Spanish Sephardic culture with absolute authority and in partaking of the journey we are connected to a time and place most New Zealanders know little about.

The Moors ruled much of Southern Spain (Al Andalus) for nearly 700 years and what is little known is that they welcomed the Jewish diaspora to live among them.     This tolerance by Islamic Spain lasted until the Reconquista by the Catholic Christian armies of the north and after their arrival (15th century), the Judeo-Spanish faced the ultimatum of expulsion, conversion or death.  The songs of the Sepahardic Jewish are rich in imagery and the cadences of their unique language are evident in these sensual and often wistful songs.     Contained in this music are the rhythms of Arab, Hebrew and Spanish life.    A truelly blended music that has been deeply enriched by the streams that have fed it.    Ladino (Latin) is the term for this ancient language, which has also helped form the distinct Catalan variant of Spanish.

Carolina Moon (Mannins) is a fine Jazz singer but she is also a multi-lingual singer and well versed in other musical genres.  She is British by birth but has worked extensively as a musician and music teacher in the UK, Australia and for some time now New Zealand.   This is our gain.   The excellent arrangements on ‘Mother Tongue’ are Carolina’s and it is this factor, coupled with her unmistakably rich voice,  that gives the album that extra depth and authenticity.  It is obvious that she has invested everything in these performances.   This has never been just another gig for her

I would like to make mention of several songs that are on the album.  The first is the wonderful ‘Ondas’ (13th century Spanish).  The word in Spanish means wave or ripple and she could not have chosen a better track to open with.  The timbre of her voice is rich and filled with the passion and longing of the song.   At certain points the emotion is so visceral that it sends a shiver down the spine.     I have not reacted to a voice in that way since I last heard Sassy on ‘tenderly’.  The second and contrasting song is ‘Tres Hermanicas’ (track 8).    This is a traditional Sephardic song and the full band is used to very good effect.    Because of the arrangement and the rhythm it sounds closer to the Manouche traditions.

The accompanying musicians are all top rated and many are the cream of the Jazz world.   New Zealand’s finest acoustic guitarist Nigel Gavin is the only choice for this music, as his Manouche credentials and guitar chops are impeccable.    Kevin Field is on piano and once again he has managed to be the perfect accompanist. Caroline’s husband Roger Manins weaves his usual magic and his abilities as a multi reedist are manifest here.   Ron Samsom and Chris O’Connor (percussion and drums), Jessica Hindin (violin), Matthias Erdrich, Mostyn Cole, Steve Haines (acoustic bass).

Every music lover should purchase a copy of this, which is produced and mixed by Steve Garden for Ode records (with the assistance of Creative NZ).    To learn more about this gifted artist go to;  http://www.moonmusik.com – better yet come and hear her perform live during the tour – underway at present.   The next performance is at the CJC (Basement of 1885 Galway St) Wednesday 2nd November.

Footnote: The first merger of western music and African Music was always thought to be Jazz, but musico- ethnologists are now pointing to Moorish Spain (over a 1000 years before), as the first time this occurred.    The improvising traditions are deep streams within all good music.