Joel Haines is a well-known and established New Zealand guitarist. He also comes from an exceptionally talented musical family and this carries additional expectations. While this was very much a funk-Jazz gig Joel had brought a little of the rock-god to the bandstand. Many post Jim Hall Jazz guitarists bring elements of the Rock dialect into Jazz and in this case we certainly heard strong hints of that. Accompanying him was veteran funk Jazz organist Alan Brown on a Hammond B3 portable (XK-3C) and Stephen Thomas on a classic 1960’s Rogers drum kit. Joel played his stunningly beautiful Ibenez hollowbody guitar on all numbers except one.
The gig was always going to be loud (and it was) but interestingly not as much as some bands when playing in this confined club space. I was surprised by this as I was in the front row. The answer may lie in the fact that Joel uses an older style valve amp which he did not feed into a PA. Alan Brown used a Lesley Unit with valve amplification and at one point I could hear someone in the audience say appreciatively – “look at the glow and pulse of those valves”. It was brother Nathan. It is possible that hearing analogue uncompressed sound is more pleasant to the ear.
The set began with one of Alan’s compositions ‘Minor Avalanche’. The tune has a solid vamp which builds and builds. Over that Joel played his funky bluesy lines with Stephen locking into the groove. The second number (‘Ferret droppings’ – by Noel Haines) was slower and in consequence we saw more of what the trio was capable of. There was time to construct well thought-out solo’s and the drumming was a little looser, with more cymbal work and less kick drum. Needless to say Alan always acquits him self well with a Jazz audience as he smilingly punches out his signature staccato chords while dazzling with his right hand.
On the third track, Alan Brown’s ‘Shades of Blue’ we struck the mother lode. I have loved this tune from the minute I first heard it on the Alan Brown trio album ‘About That Time’ – Ode Records. ‘Shades of Blue’ is a great tune and above all it is a perfect vehicle for improvisation. Several bars into the number there are a couple of compelling hooks and nice as they are they are not overdone; leaving you wanting more. Alan certainly knows how to write good charts. It was on this number that we saw Joel at his best. His solo was fabulous and every note counted. As he bent the strings and worked his pedals you could hear echos of ‘Electric Ladyland’. Not sounding like a clone of Hendrix but taking the sounds deep into a Jazz context.
Joel’s ‘Live at Wembley’ was a nice ballad with long melodic lines and his other contributions were tunes interestingly titled ‘Who Flung Dung’ and ‘Hangover’.
Yes there were plenty of licks and tricks of technique but the band took us way beyond cliché.
‘Blue Train’ have been around for about twenty years and most Auckland Jazz lovers will be very familiar with them. On Wednesday night they returned to the CJC by popular demand and as anticipated the club filled up quickly with an expectant crowd. This band is everything you could hope for if you are looking for a get-down & dirty – groove Jazz funk outfit. Not only did they play well, but they hardly needed a glance at their charts. They had a world of tunes already in their heads and they locked into each others wave-length so quickly that a collective brain appeared to possess them when they played. Not all of the band members had been with them from the beginning but the band still meshed into a tight working unit and from the first number the crowd knew that their expectations would be more than met.
They opened with an Alan Brown number ‘Lets Dress Up‘ and it hit a real sweet-spot – deep groove heaven fed by a Fender Rhodes sound, funk guitar, electric bass, tenor sax and drums. This sound put a ten-mile wide smile on our faces and if anyone had wanted dark and tortuous they’d have had to look elsewhere. This jazz is about kinetic energy and a mesmerizing groove, which makes listeners feel that they could dive right into the music and swim in the ocean of sound. The club was alive with happy people giving cries of encouragement. After a while some in the crowd started dancing and before long the majority were either dancing, swaying or tapping the beat out on their chair arms. In the second set the flailing hands of a man flickered across my sight line creating a strobe effect in the soft club lighting. I just love it that Jazz like this absolutely compels people to dance.
Alan Brown was clearly in charge of the unit and he would give an occasional glance to the soloists who needed no extra cues than that. Andy played a few tracks on the club piano but would often switch to a small red electric keyboard mounted beside him: the latter holding a good bank of funk orientated sounds. He would sometimes play both instruments at the same time. With special guest Dixon Nacey on guitar this band was always going to hit the Jazz funk stratosphere, because this man is a monster on his red guitar and he can do the seemingly impossible without needing to think about the curve balls being thrown at him by Alan.
Steve Sherriff (soprano sax/ tenor sax) and Jason Orme (drums) are veterans of the group, but newer member Chip Mathews on bass did more than hold up his end. Chip is a skilled bassist and able to jump into any band I suspect.
Steve Sherriff is well-known about town and he can be seen working in a number of Jazz styles. While his tenor playing is always great, his soprano saxophone playing is free ranging and often ecstatic. The band regularly hit fever pitch and the energy they floated on was ably abetted by Jason Orme’s high energy drumming. Jason appeared to be using the locked in style made famous by Byron Landham and others; where he would enter into a powerful intense groove and then push the band as hard as he possibly could. We just loved watching him. This is as far from colourist drumming as it gets, but it is exactly the right style for a Jazz-funk unit like this.
I eagerly await their new album which is due out next month. See this band whenever you get the opportunity and purchase their CD’s. The ‘Parachute label’s ‘Blue Train’ album ‘No Free Lunch‘ can still be found and a more recent organ trio album ‘All about time‘ is quite readily available (Alan Brown ‘Hammond’, Dixon Nacey ‘guitar’, Josh Serenson ‘drums’) – ‘Ode Records‘.
‘Blue Train’ clips are hard to find on You Tube but I did locate their version of ‘Nasty McFly” – this track was simply riotous on Wednesday – enjoy.