David Berkman – 2019 Auckland

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When David Berkman sits at a piano, any piano, he looks to be at one with the world.  In the parlance of Piano Jazz, the guy is a ‘beast’ and his mastery of the instrument is astonishing. Like all pianists of repute he is accustomed to high-end pianos but when he is confronted with an upright, he still makes it sing.  The last time he visited Auckland, the CJC Jazz club was located in the basement of the 1885 building. At that point, there was a Yamaha Grand on offer. Three moves on from then, the club is now in the ‘Backbeat’, a warm amenable performance space in Karangahape Road. The piano there is a Kawai upright. ‘Uprights are fine’, he said, ‘You just play more percussively’. I’m convinced that he could make a thumb piano sing or swing – and so it was on this night. 

The setlist was a mix of his own tunes and a few well-placed standards. Berkman’s tunes are strong vehicles for improvisation, always melodic and by default, they tend to swing like crazy. With one exception, the standards were Berkman arrangements, and while recognisable they came across as freshly minted masterpieces. Paring the flesh away from ‘All the things’ and giving those old bones a youthful lease on life; finishing wonderfully, gently, with the tag. His Cherokee while closer to the original was also a treat, a real burner. Who dares play that these days (more’s the pity)? Only a killer pianist is who, and contained therein was history, innovation and pure joy. With him were three local musicians who he fondly referred to as his regular New Zealand band. Roger Manins on tenor, Oli Holland on Bass and Ron Samsom on drums.

As I watched him throughout the night, I pondered where he fitted in the stylistic spectrum. Of course, he can range across many styles, but the name Cedar Walton sprang to mind. Later I ran into a musician who said unprompted, ‘This guy and his approach remind me of Cedar Walton’. A musician singled out his comping for high praise. “His comping goes beyond the usual, it is elevated to a high art form. Not just supportive but shepherding you into new territory, bringing out things in your own performance that surprise you”. So all of the above and more applies to him. A drummers pianist, a great comping pianist, a hard swinger. It is therefore not surprising that he shares the bandstand with Brian Blade, Joe Lovano, Billy Hart, Jane Monheit etc. He is also a well-respected educator. Anyone who follows the New York scene will already be a fan as he’s a regular performer around the New York Clubs. For the alert, he can sometimes be caught on the Australian and New Zealand Jazz circuit. If you snooze you lose down-under. Missing gigs like this would be categorised under high crimes and misdemeanors.

He records on Palmetto and his albums are readily available. Recommended is his latest: Old Friends and New Friends – also, Self Portraits or Live at Smoke. For more information go to davidberkman.com. The gig was at Backbeat, CJC Creative Jazz Club, March 2019 – last photograph by Barry Young

Phil Broadhurst Live 2019

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We don’t know for certain what the album title is, but ‘The Phil Broadhurst Quintet Live’ seems a likely contender. As an award-winning artist, Broadhurst needs no gimmicky titles to get our attention. His name is enough recommendation. We had a tantalising glimpse of this latest offering last week when the public attended the live recording session at the KMC. In keeping with his recent preference for adding an extra horn, he added trumpet/flugelhorn player Mike Booth to an already talented lineup; Broadhurst on piano, Roger Manins tenor saxophone, Oli Holland bass, and Cam Sangster drums. After an introduction by his partner Julie Mason the session began – mostly new material, a few older tunes and a tune written soon after he arrived in New Zealand.  Unsurprisingly there was a good audience to enjoy the event – this guy is a legend. 

The arrangements were superb and as if to underscore that, the horn players were in top form.  So in sync during the head arrangements that it appeared as if they had been playing the charts for years. They hadn’t. The tunes were melodic and memorable as Broadhurst’s tunes often are. And like all good small ensemble writing, it came across as something more expansive. Experienced writers like this know a few tricks and among them, how to make full use of an available palette.  

Broadhurst put his all into this recent project and I urge Jazz lovers to keep an eye out for its release. Based on what we heard, it will add another milestone to an already impressive catalogue. As a key contributor to the quality end of the New Zealand Jazz scene and an important educator, we owe him a lot.

Phil Broadhurst: piano, compositions & arrangements – Roger Manins, tenor saxophone, Mike Booth, trumpet and flugelhorn – Old Holland, upright bass – Cam Sangster, drums. The recording took place at the KMC UoA theatre, Shortland Streets, Auckland. Recorded by John Kim and Steve Garden, March 2019 

Julie’s Gap Year

Julie Mason’s gap year gig came hot on the heels of my returning home from Northern Europe. Unlike Mason (who was in Europe for a year), I was only missing for two months but my fogged brain was telling me otherwise. As I headed for the CJC, using my windscreen wipers as indicators and constantly telling myself that driving on the left-hand side of the road was now acceptable, I congratulated myself. I was back into the rhythms of my normal life. This self-congratulatory phase was all too brief as I soon discovered that I had forgotten to charge the camera and the video batteries. A few hours later an unscheduled power outage occurred, making me wonder if that was caused by an oversight on my part. Luckily, none of the above spoiled an enjoyable gig.

The gig title ‘Julie’s Gap Year’ references two recent and significant events in Mason’s life. Firstly the year she spent in France with her partner Phil Broadhurst during which time she wrote some new material and reworked a few favourites. And secondly, it drew a line under some very tough years health-wise which occurred preceding the Paris sojourn. The latter is thankfully now behind her. At one point during the night, she played a solo piece which referenced her mental health struggles and every one was deeply moved by the honesty and raw beauty of it. Everything she played and spoke about she did with confidence and her skills as a vocalist, composer and pianist were all on display. This was the Mason of old and the audience was delighted.

Her rhythm section was Ron Samsom (drums) and Olivier Holland (bass). Her guests were Phil Broadhurst (piano), Roger Manins (saxophone), Maria O’Flaherty & Linn Lorkin (backing vocals) and for the last number a French accordionist. The night was not without its challenges though, as the power outage could have brought the gig to an abrupt close. Instead under Mason’s guidance, the band morphed seamlessly into an acoustic ensemble and played on in the darkness.  Nothing of the previous mood dissipated during a half hour of darkness and when the club regained partial lighting the programme continued as if the whole thing had been planned.

This was a nice homecoming and In spite of passing through a number of wonderfully exotic places and experiencing interesting music on my travels, it was nice to be back home.

The gig took place at the Backbeat Bar, K’Road, 5 November 2018 – a CJC (Creative Jazz Club) event.

Phil Broadhurst Quintet 2018

PhilAfter a year of living in Paris the Auckland educator and pianist Phil Broadhurst and his partner, Julie Mason, have returned. The Broadhurst Quintet has been a regular feature on the Auckland scene for many years. The unit is fueled by a constant stream of great compositions, an unchanging line up of fine musicians and three critically acclaimed records (one of them a Tui Jazz Album of the year winner). Broadhurst’s ‘dedication trilogy’ set a high bar compositionally, but his pen is always crafting new compositions.  After last weeks gig, I suspect that another album capturing the artistic soul of France might be in gestation. Broadhurst, as many will know, is unashamedly francophile. Out of this deep appreciation and finely honed perception flows terrific creations.     Phil (1)

When people talk about the Auckland Jazz scene, the name Phil Broadhurst always comes up. His constancy has been a bedrock and an enabling presence. He is an exemplar of quality mainstream Jazz. When I looked back over my posts I noticed that this particular Quintet was first reviewed by me in 2012 but I have no doubt that it predates 2012. When so many people crowd into a small club it makes the sight-lines difficult, but I have managed to capture a number from his gig.

The tune in the clip is called ‘Stretched’ and it is from his ‘Flaubert’s Dance’ Album.  One of Phils newer compositions was titled ‘I’m Busy’ (dedicated to Jacky Terrasson). We also heard two lesser-known Jazz standards from Julie Mason.  The first was ‘You taught my heart to Sing’, a tune by the pianist McCoy Tyner; the second, ‘Speak no Evil’ by Wayne Shorter from his classic album of the same name (incidentally, a great album to play on a road trip as you plunge into the black of night).

The quintet personnel are Phil Broadhurst (leader, composer, keyboards), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Mike Booth (flugelhorn), Oli Holland (bass, composition), Cameron Sangster (drums). The gig was at the Backbeat Bar, CJC Creative Jazz Club, May 02, 2018.

  • Roger Manins and Oli Holland have just returned from an extended overseas trip. While there, Holland recorded an album with Geoffry Keezer and others (incl. Roger Manins). From what I hear, a real treat is in store for us when that album is released.

Oli Holland’s Jazz Attack

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2016 has seen more internationals passing through our Auckland Jazz club than ever before. Most of these offshore artists were extremely polished, playing at a level you’d expect from musicians tested in the hot-house of big city venues. Against that back drop it is exciting to encounter a first time up local band that can turn on a gig like this. ‘Oli Holland’s Jazz Attack’ is a fun band and an engaging one. The band’s leader (Dr) Olivier Holland, is an extraordinary bass player, renowned throughout New Zealand; the other experienced band member was trumpeter Finn Scholes, the remainder of the sextet were students.Oli 2016 121From early in the first set, I felt the passion behind the performances, the sheer exuberance that is generated when a group know that they are performing effectively. Seasoned touring musicians sometimes sacrifice this – perhaps the effort of being on the road, the effects of jet lag, robbing them of warmth. It reinforces my view as a listener, that an artist needs more than chops to fully engage with an audience. When a band is comfortable on stage, properly rehearsed and above all up for a riotous night, magic can happen.

I enjoyed this gig and what I will take away is that joyous enthusiasm they generated. This is largely down to Holland, a seasoned bass player who generally downplays his role as spokesman. “Bass players are not supposed to speak,” he said, “but I will anyhow”. A leader who can move from grin to deadpan in an instant; a natural talker, who milks the hell out of his spoken lines. He is extremely funny, the master of throw away lines and in between numbers storytelling. This clearly rubs off on the band members and establishes the mood.Oli 2016 126Trumpeter Finn Scholes can always surprise and over recent years he has impressed me increasingly. His vibrantly brassy ‘south of the border’ sound in the Carnivorous Plant Society is well-known, but anyone who thought that was all there was to him, hasn’t been paying due attention. He is raw and raspy on avant-garde gigs, mellow and moody on vibes and in this lineup reminiscent of the young Freddie Hubbard. His solo’s had bite and narrative, his ensemble playing was tight; above all, he generated palpable excitement, the sort that brings people back to live music again and again.Oli 2016 125

There were four students in the line up and the thing about students at this level, they have the ability to step up. Often though, they lack the confidence to do so. Many will over think a performance or only tentatively express what is in their heads – a careful observer can see that hesitation. The four students here stepped free of that hesitation, especially the tenor player Misha Kourkov. Being in the moment and bringing your skills to bear instinctively is what good Jazz performance is about.Oli 2016 129

Kourkov delivered some blistering solos and the best came surprisingly early in the gig. It has been a while since I saw him play (as a first or second year student I recall); he has come on in leaps and bounds since then. He looked and sounded good on the tenor, as if the instrument was a natural extension of his body. There was no mistaking the influence of Roger Manins either – that preparedness to reach for impossible notes, that full-bodied rich golden sound, storytelling.Oli 2016 123

On piano was Nick Dow from Christchurch, completing a Masters in Auckland. A nice touch and avoiding the trap of playing too many notes. On guitar was Michael Howell, no stranger to Auckland audiences, another AUJS student: playing an attractive solid body instrument; rounding out the sextet sound nicely and not over peddling. The remaining band member was Daniel Waterson (drums). Like the others he was obviously enjoying himself – he took a few solos and acquitted himself well. At the end of the first set, special guest ‘Heidi’ performed the jazz standard ‘Nature Boy’, rounding off the set nicely.

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I have posted ‘The Baseline Tune’ (Holland) which was second up in the first set, a tune which allowed everyone to stretch out. In Hollands introduction he warned the audience, “If you think you know where this piece is going you’ll be wrong. I don’t compose any tunes like that”. A typical Holland comment and accurate. All of the tunes were composed by him and all were quirky in some way. I liked the quirkiness, the way the tunes moved through many phases – often like a suite. In spite of their complexity they lingered in memory – you couldn’t hum them, but tasty fragments remained in your head. Challenging, satisfying, edgy improvised music for grownups.

Oli Holland’s Jazz Attack: Oli Holland (bass, compositions), Finn Scholes (trumpet), Nick Dow (piano), Michael Howell (guitar), Misha Kourkov (tenor saxophone), Daniel Waterson (drums) – guest Heidi (vocals). CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel basement, Auckland, Wednesday 17th August, 2016

Mark Isaacs 2015 @ CJC

Mark Isaacs 072Mark Isaacs is an important and highly respected Australian musician and it was a pleasure to see him in Auckland again. It was October 2013 when he last visited and since then he has been busy with the presentation of his symphony and a number of other noteworthy projects. He is a celebrated Jazz and classical musician and he continues to excel in both genres. Musicians like this are rare, as the two disciplines require very different approaches. When you talk to Isaacs you realise that he is passionate about both. He respects the art forms far too much to settle for anything less than his best. In either genre.

I once recall naively asking a visiting musician whether the ability to perform at the highest level on an array of difficult instruments was a unique skill. I have never forgotten the answer. “No it’s the outcome of hard work and an exponential increase in practice time. Every instrument you play is practiced equally and intensively’. I am certain that the same would apply to working across different genres.  That said, I suspect that attitude and aptitude are still somewhere in the mix.Mark Isaacs 071 (2)

Nothing annoys musicians more than being told that what they do is the result of a gift. It implies that the results come easily to them. Having great chops is only the starting point, as there is more to a successful Jazz musician than technique. Deep level communications are necessary and for a performance to work well, everyone must connect. Musician to musician and musicians to audience. Having something original to say and saying it well is something Mark Isaacs understands. Those performing at this level bring something unique to the equation. Something of themselves. An essence drawn from experience and an intuitive understanding of how time works. No matter how good a pianist, bass player or drummer, a piano trio is still a collaboration. Isaacs must have been happy with Holland and Samsom. They are two of our best musicians. Mark Isaacs 072 (2)

Isaacs comes from an exceptional musical family with a lineage stretching back to the Stephane Grapelli band and probably beyond that. Knowing the depth of his classical and Jazz heritage gives an added perspective to his multifaceted career trajectory.

I missed the first few numbers and arrived at the CJC just as the trio were warming up. The first number I heard was Kenny Dorham’s ‘Blue Bossa’. A much-loved standard that has remained extremely popular. Good improvising musicians extract gold from compositions like this (and often without needing to deviate far from the traditional chart). This was a night of wonderful standards played to perfection. Hearing a superb pianist and a solid rhythm section performing in such an intimate space is something Jazz fans live for. Everyone there experienced the warm glow. A warmth that only nights like this can impart. I truly wish Isaacs lived a lot closer. My appetite for his playing is far from being satisfied. Mark Isaacs 071 (4)My late arrival was due to a previous gig and as I walked in, the sound enveloped me completely. Before I had settled Ron Samsom had grinned in my direction, Oli Holland had poked out his tongue and Mark Isaacs had given a quick wave (mid solo). With those brief gestures the realisation swept over me that this club and these musicians are family. A. J. a club regular grabbed me in the break and said tongue in cheek, “Thank god your here man, the universe has realigned”.  Ron Samsom the drummer added, “Yeah it took us a while to settle because there were two strangers in YOUR chair and you were nowhere to be seen”. I guess I am like the guy who lives perpetually on the bar stool of his local bar.  Sort of Jazz furniture.

A performance of Mark Isaacs ‘Symphony’ has been professionally filmed and it was recently purchased by the ‘SKY Arts’ channel. It plays in New Zealand on the 10th June at 8pm.  Please support this important work by watching and perhaps writing to SKY Arts and saying how much we appreciate seeing material like this (The same for the recent Mike Nock/Contemporary Dance film on SKY Arts). These are important artists and landmark events. We live in a crass market-driven world where the Philistines try to dictate our taste. Without our support these amazing artists can struggle for wider recognition. Writing to encourage the purchase of such films is the least we can do by way of thanks. Remember, this works best as a collective enterprise and all of us have a role to play in this.

What: Mark Isaacs Trio – Mark Isaacs (piano), Oli Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand, Wednesday 22nd April 2015

Chris Cody @ CJC + Tauranga

Chris Cody 071 (2)When I saw that pianist Chris Cody was coming to New Zealand I immediately recognised the name. For a moment I couldn’t fill in the blank spots of memory but I sensed that the connection was both Australian and international. My CD collection is huge and I knew that the answer lay buried somewhere in the unruly muddle of music lying about the house. Then it came flooding back; Cody recorded a great ‘Chris Cody Coalition’ album in the nineties. The first international Jazz NAXOS recording titled ‘Oasis’ and produced by Mike Nock; an innovative exotic project brimming with warm middle eastern influences. Some quickChris Cody 077 research told me that the Chris Cody Coalition was still an entity and what equally excited me was to see the name Glenn Ferris on several of the albums credits. ‘Oasis’ featured the Australian Trombonist James Greening and on several of the later Coalition albums Cody features trombonist Ferris (an utterly distinctive player). His whispers, growls and smears are at times otherworldly, but also mysteriously human. Cody works especially well with trombone players and his writing reflects this on the latest album.

I trawled the Paris Jazz clubs in the nineties and recall seeing Ferris perform. Later I picked up an album by Henri Texier ‘Indians Week’ and loved it. Ferris has appeared on 179 albums; everyone from Stevie Wonder (‘Songs in the key of life’), to a co-led album with Chico Freeman and an Archie Shepp album (‘Meeting’). The new Chris Cody Coalition album ‘Conscript’ is enjoyable from start to finish. An accessible album that bathes you in warmth and light. There is real intimacy about the recording, a feeling that you areChris Cody 073 (1) in the front row and this is as much about Cody’s writing skills as the strong confident performances. It is also about the recording quality which is superb.  I strongly recommend this album. I first heard the quartet at the Tauranga Jazz Festival. A CJC Jazz stage showcased the finale and the Jazz Tui Awards presentation. I spoke to Cody in a break and quickly learned that he had New Zealand blood running in his veins. Born in Australia of Kiwi parents he studied music before moving to Paris. Based there ever since and gaining a strong reputation on the wider scene. He has very recently move back to Australia but he intends to return to Paris to work periodically.

It is the diversity of life experience that makes for interesting Jazz musicians and Cody has the aura of Paris cool about him. While he Chris Cody 072 (1)often draws on very American sources like Jamal, he is also in the mould of pianists like Jacky Terrasson (also a Parisian). Cody’s compositions are well thought out and replete with interesting asides. We heard many of these at the CJC and the album ‘Conscript’ is all originals. I am a sucker for a Cole Porter tunes and when he opened with ‘I love Paris in the springtime’ I couldn’t have been happier. Happy because I love the song and above all happy because the quartet played it so well. I have posted a video of the CJC performance and the title track from the ‘Conscript’ album with Ferris (the latter an official video release).Chris Cody 071 (1) His pick up band are the familiar and popular Roger Manins (tenor), Oli Holland (bass) and Ron Samsom (drums). In the rush of the Tui awards there was little time to rehearse, but it didn’t show. This is 3/4 of DOG and they are the 2015 Jazz Tui winners after all.

Who: Chris Cody Quartet – Chris Cody (piano), Roger Manins (tenor sax), Oli Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums). Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand, 8th April 2015 #jazzapril #jazzappreciationmonth http://www.jazzapril.com

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Phil Broadhurst Quintet + 1

JL32.com 11-3-2014 060In the coming months there will be a new Phil Broadhurst album released, ‘Panacea’. Broadhurst is an enduring musical presence, a backbone of the Auckland Jazz scene. Running the Massey School of Music Jazz programme in Auckland keeps him busy, but he somehow finds time to write interesting new material and to perform gigs about town. A prolific writer and arranger, he has released a number of albums in recent years and all have done well. His tribute to Michel Petrucciani ‘Delayed Reaction’ garnered favourable reviews here and offshore and his 2014 album ‘Flaubert’s Dance’ was short listed for a Jazz Tui.

On Wednesday, as a prequel to the Panacea album release, we heard the Phil Broadhurst Quintet (plus a friend) at the Creative Jazz Club. The identity of the mystery guest was a JL32.com 11-3-2014 061poorly kept secret, anticipated and not puzzled over. As the band set up, the shiny pedal-steel guitar and the battle-worn fender dispelled any remaining doubts. The band was Phil Broadhurst, Roger Manins, Mike Booth, Oli Holland, Cameron Sangster and of course Neil Watson (AKA the mystery guest).

There were newer tunes and a few familiar ones from past gigs. Most of the new tunes will feature on the Panacea album, which will probably be released in late May. As a writer Broadhurst avoids cliches, but at the same time he manages to avoid the obtuse. there are odd time-signatures but when he delves into complexity the tunes still remain accessible. These are tunes that sound familiar; not because you’ve heard them before or because they rely on well-worn licks. They sound familiar because they tap into a recognisable vibe.  At the heart of his writing is a real warmth. The tunes take you to a familiar place even though you’ve never been there before; carried by rich harmonies and well crafted heads.  JL32.com 11-3-2014 063

Holland Manins, Booth and Sangster have been with the band a long while and that familiarity enabled them to extract the maximum from the material. As many of the tunes were lyrical, Manins showed a gentler side to his tenor playing. While he favours fast burners (where he excels), his ballad work here had depth and feeling. Booth and Manins blend well and especially with Booth on Flugel. Adding Watson into the mix changed the dynamic and his solos on fender had urgency and edge. Watson is a good musician but one who never takes himself too seriously. He brings humour to any bandstand and minor mistakes are fodder for self-deprecatory slapstick asides.

One of the newer compositions made reference to Watson’s pedal steel guitar. Like an elephant, the tune title had undergone a long and difficult gestation. Broadhurst composed it just before going on an overseas trip and promptly forgot about it in the rush to pack. A year or so later he decided to clean up the computer program and JL32.com 11-3-2014 058 (3)began the process of mechanically purging duplicate copies of old tunes. By this point all had been given titles and saved elsewhere. Rescued from the lonely obscurity of the ‘untitled’ nomenclature. As he deleted them one by one he spotted an anomaly. One particular tune was mysteriously labeled ‘untitled-untitled’. He opened it, liked the look of it but didn’t recognise it, so he played it. He recalls wondering who had written it until the penny dropped. ‘Untitled-Untitled’, the tune rescued in the eleventh hour, was later shown to Neil Watson who was wrangling with his new pedal steel guitar. There are so many levers to operate he complained to Broadhurst, who replied, “I think that you’ve just named my lost tune’. ‘Lever’ is a great tune and its improbable genesis gives it that added piquancy.

Who: Phil Broadhurst (piano), Roger Manins (tenor sax), Mike Booth (trumpet & Flugel), Oli Holland (bass), Cameron Sangster (drums), – guest Neil Watson (pedal steel and fender guitars).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club) Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand 4th March 2015.

Headline News: Nathan Haines meets DOG on Campus

AK UNI 11-3-2014 059On Wednesday five well turned out ‘men in black’ suspended time at Auckland University. This was a rare event, pairing two of New Zealand’s best known and best-loved contemporary tenor players. The invitation only concert billed as ‘Nathan Haines meets DOG’ kicked off of the Universities 2015 Summer Concert Series. New intake students attending (or viewing the video clip) discovered just how high the standard is; they also realised how lucky they are to have these teachers and these role models.AK UNI 11-3-2014 060The Nathan Haines/DOG line up can rightly be described as a super-group; the cream of New Zealand’s improvising artists. We saw Haines at his best here as he showcased his formidable talents on tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute & vocals. He is a multiple New Zealand Music Awards winner and perennially popular in New Zealand and London where he is now based. The DOG band members are all senior teaching staff at the Auckland University Jazz School (Faculty of the Arts). Collectively Ron Samsom (drums), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Oli Holland (bass) and Kevin Field (piano) form a dangerous new breed. The agility and intelligence of the animal has led many AK UNI 11-3-2014 058 (1)to speculate on its lineage; some suggesting Greyhound crossed with Border Collie? We will never know unless the parents own up, but it is beyond dispute that each band member has multiple acclaimed recordings to his credit. DOG is one of three groups short-listed for the 2015 Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards.

Supergroups are not always successful as promoters will tell you. It may seem counter intuitive, but there are many pitfalls in the format. Artistic and stylistic sensibilities can conflict and while less of an issue in Jazz, the rider still applies. Not every configuration gels. Putting two titans of the tenor together is an old concept and it was very popular in the 1940’s and 1950’s. These jousts or ‘cutting contests’ and the so-called battles between Lester Young and Bean (Colman Hawkins) have attained legendary status. There is a lot of mythology in the subsequent AK UNI 11-3-2014 058reportage and most musicians view the exchanges as a chance to collaborate; not cut someone down to size. It is an opportunity to challenge and be challenged; a high level musical interaction between equals. At its best it can bring out something special in both artists and Wednesdays gig achieved just that.

Manins and Haines played classic Selmer Mk 6 tenors but in the hands of each the instruments sounded different (although manufactured just 3 years apart). Their beautiful full-throated tenors blended perfectly and especially during the heads; creating a fat rich sound. The instruments when coaxed by experienced players like these, magnify subtle differences in tone. There is an attractive melodic thoughtfulness to Nathan’s improvisations, while Roger’s explorations can impart a wild edgy heart stopping quality. Both find their bliss and share it with the audience. This pairing on this night, will long be talked about in Auckland.  AK UNI 11-3-2014 061

The band leapt out of the starting gate with a crackling rendition of ‘Cheesecake’ by Dexter Gordon. This classic hard bop tune from ‘Dex’s’ Blue Note era gave the musicians a chance to shine. Both Selmers bit hard and with Field, Holland and Samsom playing behind them it was hardly surprising. The accolades heaped upon this particular rhythm section are unsurprising. Field’s comping was as tasteful as his well constructed solos. Hollands clean punchy bass lines were a beating heart in the mix. It fell to Samsom to control the energy levels and when appropriate he pushed the band to ever greater heights. On the up tempo numbers his facial expressions mirrored each rhythmic flurry as he dug ever deeper.

The set also featured a new ballad by Holland who introduced it with a tongue in cheek reference to the complexity of many modern Jazz compositions, “you will like this. It has a melody and lots of chords”. The remainder of the set featured Haines compositions. These compelling, well constructed tunes are by now familiar to local Jazz audiences. This band gave them fresh legs. Of note was the gorgeous ‘Lady Lywa’ which had Manins on tenor and Haines on flute. Once again the pairing worked to perfection.

Near the end (and to the delight of those familiar with this tune) Nathan sang ‘Impossible Beauty’ from his ‘Sound Travels’ album.  There is a lot to like about this haunting song; Nathan’s voice, the wonderfully evocative lyrics and the way the tune captures that dreamy Chet Baker vibe. To hear it with Roger Manins providing lovely fills on tenor was a treat.  I know that I keep saying this, but Haines needs to sing more often.  He is widely acknowledged as a gifted tenor, soprano and flute player; time to add vocals to the accolades.

As I was leaving I spotted the well-known arranger Wayne Senior. He is especially familiar with this venue as it was once the main studio of Television New Zealand. He has worked on pervious projects with Haines. The National Institute of Creative Arts & Industries (NiCAi) filmed the video and I acknowledge them. Lastly all credit to the Arts Facility, Music Department of Auckland University. This University Jazz programme adds inestimable richness to our cultural life. With the Philistines ever at the gate, you persist in supporting the creative arts.  Thank you.

Where: Auckland University Jazz School, Shortland Street Auckland New Zealand 18th February 2015

Who: Nathan Haines, Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Oli Holland, Ron Samsom

Caitlin Smith 2014

IMG_3770 - Version 2Caitlin Smith is a vocalist who can quickly put a smile on your face or shamelessly tug at your heart-strings.  She always finds a way to connect her audience to the essence of a song; deftly locating that illusive sweet spot.  While there is often power in her delivery, there is also remarkable subtlety. You could describe her voice in many ways; pitch perfect, having an almost operatic range, but there is much more to Smith than chops. In the parlance she owns each song she sings and embeds it with a uniqueness.  Like a seasoned saxophonist she tells beguiling stories in a distinctive way.  IMG_3756 - Version 2There is a well-worn cliché that vocalists hog the limelight and in truth many go through their careers with barely a reference to the musicians that they work with. Caitlin Smith is the opposite. You are left in no doubt that her gigs are a shared project as she interacts with band and audience, picking up on every nuance from either.  She works with a band as a vocalist should and she is comfortable giving them space to solo. There is a generosity of spirit about her persona and this manifests in the music.  I have also witnessed her solid support for emerging artists.  The ultimate litmus test for me, is that gifted improvising musicians enjoy playing in Caitlin Smith lineups.  IMG_3762 - Version 2While Smith is widely acknowledged as a gifted singer-songwriter, it is her Jazz repertoire that is turning heads of late.  Her performance with the AJO at the Tauranga Jazz festival won her many new fans.  She is a wonderful interpreter of Jazz standards and this aspect of her repertoire deserves critical attention. Her vocal gifts and incredible musicality thrive with this space; of particular note is the delightful way she plays with lyrics.  IMG_3776 - Version 2 (1)Smith is a natural performer and there is something wonderfully theatrical and engaging about her stage presence. This gives her gigs an added spark of life.  On Wednesday she included some of her own compositions like the beautiful ‘In between’, but the audience was particularly wowed by her take on jazz standards such as Ellington’s ‘I like the sunshine’.  I have heard her sing Ellington and Strayhorn at other gigs and I am always impressed by the way she freshens these standards up.

Her innate ability to carry off the more difficult of the Ellington/Strayhorn song-book tunes is beyond question. ‘Lush life’ in particular requires real vocal skills to pull it off well and her interpretation is flawless. This affinity cries out for her to record the material.  It would be great to see an Ellington album someday; accompanied by the Kevin Field Trio, alternating with the AJO. IMG_3749 - Version 2Another song from a different genre was ‘River’ (Joni Mitchell).  This classic Mitchell song was recently reinterpreted by Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.  As Smith delivered her version she phrased it in such a way that I could hear those elided Shorter fills in my head.  Her delivery was crystalline and it brought her two worlds together perfectly.

Who: Caitlin Smith (vocals, arrangements), Kevin Field (piano), Oli Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) (acknowledgement to Dennis Thorpe for the River video)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, 3rd December 2014

Nick Granville (with Dixon Nacey)

 

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Nick Granville’s return to the CJC was long overdue and the fact that he’d invited local favourite Dixon Nacey to join him made this an extra welcome return.  Granville is one of the busiest and most versatile guitarists in New Zealand.  Although a Jazz guitarist, he is just as likely to appear with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (the recent Dr Who tour), on TV, with visiting pop idols or touring beside visiting jazz royalty like Joey Defrancesco.   He’s a prolific recording artist, widely travelled and always in demand.  Dixon Nacey is also extremely well-known.  He has been absent from the club recently; touring the Pacific rim and gaining new fans wherever he goes.  Dixon is a real crowd pleaser.

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It is not often that we get two guitars in a quartet gig at the CJC and when the guitarists are Granville and Nacey it is a twelve stringed celebration.  When two guitarists play together, each needs hyper awareness of what the other is about.  Jazz guitar collaborations tend to fall into two camps; either they work extremely well or the musicians crowd into the same space.  These men are masters of their instruments and it was evident from the start that they knew instinctively when to play, comp or lay out.  The cross talk and the support was there without compromising the others space.

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Although there was an upbeat Scofield number and a very engaging Pat Metheny number, the gig gave a distinct nod to the traditional.  It was certainly not the material, as there were no standards; it was the approach.  Most of the compositions were contemporary originals but both guitarists bop roots were on show.  There is appropriateness to that when you consider the bench marks.  To my ears the twin guitar gold standard occurred in 1974 with Joe Pass and Herb Ellis on their ‘Seven to Eleven’ (Jake Hanna and Ray Brown rounded out that quartet).

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Granville is an Ibanez artist and Nacey a Godin artist.  In juxtaposition, under the lights, the gleaming instruments glowed as if in a beauty contest.  A preening mass of highly polished wood tones.   These instruments are things of great beauty and to see them and hear them together is a treat.   In the hands of these two guitarists even more so.  There were a number of Granville’s compositions played during the night but the second up; ‘Somewhere I’ve been’  (which is Granville’s reharmonisation of Shorter’s ‘Footsteps’) burned and crackled with unimaginable energy.   This set us up well for the evening, as we progressed through further compositions by Granville, Nacey, Samsom, plus a Scofield and a Metheny number.   I managed to capture Metheny’s  ‘Question & Answer’ and I have posted it.   This clip speaks well of the musicianship and the genuine interaction between the two guitarists.  IMG_3533 - Version 2

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On bass was Oli Holland and he is in perpetual good form.  With his Doctorate now completed we can expect to see more of him on the band stand.  Ron Samsom on drums played with fiery enthusiasm.  It is always a pleasure to hear Samsom and especially to hear his compositions.  That said, the icing on the cake was catching a photograph of that fleeting signature snarl.  This illusive manifestation of ‘drum face’ occurs all too rarely and only when Samsom digs deep.   I am a great believer in drum face as it often presages rhythmic riches.

Who: Nick Granville (guitar), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Oli Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand, 12th November 2014

Joel Haines @ CJC 2014

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Guitar Jazz is a surprisingly diverse sub-genre of improvised music.  So many barriers are broken down that almost all current (and past) musical genres are embedded in the improvising guitarists lexicon (including Punk).  At first listening it might be surmised that gifted guitarist Joel Haines sits somewhere closer to the rock spectrum than to Jazz but his roots are much broader than that.  As his gigs unfold you can hear Americana, modern Jazz guitar, country and a plethora of other influences.  There is also the unmistakable influence of film, as his themes invoke pictures.  This is what improvised music is about; appropriation and transformation.  Nothing ruled in or out, nothing too free, too exploratory, too dissonant or melodic.

When you’ve been around New Zealand Jazz awhile you learn that Haines is one of the musicians that other musicians respect deeply.  Guitarists especially come to hear him and I spotted a few in the audience on this night.  The two sets kicked off as Haines sets always do; with Haines hunching into his semi-hollowbody guitar and playing with deep absorption.  There are never introductions or tune titles, just waves of compelling music.  Because he constructs his improvisations around soulful, bluesy and deeply melodic ideas, perhaps more so than other guitarists, there is a radiating warmth that emanates from the band stand.  Black Tee-shirt, nut-brown wood-grained guitar, skin tones reddened by the club lights and rays of warm enveloping music.  IMG_3090 - Version 2

To my ears there is always a tangible hint of Jimi Hendrix in his voicings.  Few improvising guitarists could occupy this space so convincingly.  It is the place that Hendrix was heading for in his last days, only thwarted by his demons.  A place begging for further exploration by anyone brave enough.  For all that, Haines is a modern guitarist, as much in the Scofield camp as he is Rock inflected.  A feeling of familiarity guides us through his explorations, a sense of something familiar that you can’t quite place.  This is gift that only the best musicians bring to a gig.  His improvising journeys appear anchored by the vignettes he creates at the beginning of a piece, often worked over short loops, ostinato bass, or a tight driving pulse from the drummer.  Themes stated, constantly expanded then contracted again.  IMG_3040 - Version 2

For trio partners he had Oli Holland on upright bass and Ron Samsom on drums.  Being multi faceted and highly experienced musicians they quickly found the heart of the music.  Samsom in particular found his way deftly to where he added the most value.  He has considerable experience in lineups like this, music which edges closer to Frisell than to Pass.  Near the end of the first set Roger Manins sat in for a number (a composition by Joel’s brother Nathan from a recent award-winning album).   The number added breadth to the gig as it gave us a different perspective; Roger played like a demon as always.  This was another good night at the CJC and they just keep coming.

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With the Auckland Jazz Festival shortly underway and a wealth of quality music on offer, I must echo what my friend Stu said, “This will surely be remembered as the golden age of Auckland Jazz and improvised music”.

Who: The Joel Haines Trio – Joel Haines (guitar), Oli Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland, New Zealand    – www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

Brian Smith quartet 2014

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For a man who says that he’s “taking it easy these days”, Brian Smith is remarkably active.  He has been a strong supporter of the recent CJC Sunday Jam sessions,  he still teaches and regularly fronts CJC gigs.   Many regard him as the elder statesman of the tenor saxophone in New Zealand and he certainly has the credentials to fit that title.  It is only when you see him playing his Cannonball or Selmer tenor that you realise just how youthful he is.  Like many experienced tenor players he appears ageless on the bandstand.  That is the alchemy of the instrument and the alchemy of the born improviser.

Advertised as Brian Smith (tenor saxophone), Kevin Field (piano), Kevin Haines (bass) Frank Gibson (drums) but on the night Oli Holland replaced Kevin Haines on bass.

It takes a lot of space to list Brian’s musical credentials and it is all too easy to miss out important elements, but here is a brief summary that I have gleaned from elsewhere;

‘Brian relocated to London in 1964, performing at Ronnie Scott’s and working & touring with such names as: Humphrey Littleton, Alexis Korner, T-Bone walker, Georgie Fame,Alan Price, Annie Ross, Bing Crosby, Mark Murphy, Jon Hendricks, John Dankworth, & Tubby Hayes. He was a founder member of ‘Nucleus’ alongside Ian Carr, which won the European Band competition in Montreaux in 1970, resulting in gigs at Newport Jazz Fest and tours of Italy, Germany, Holland, and America. In 1969 he started working in the Maynard Ferguson band, staying with them until 1975 including touring and recording. He also backed acts like Nancy Wilson, The 4 Tops, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Donovan, Dusty Springfield, Sandy Shaw and Lulu.’

The programming at the CJC is mostly centred around musicians projects.  The gigs are therefore heavily focused on original material or perhaps an oblique take on a particular oeuvre.   We do hear standards but seldom more than one or two a gig.  The exception occurs when international artists arrive in town or when iconic musicians like Brian Smith front a gig.  On occasion it is nice just to sit back and enjoy familiar tunes.  Letting them wash over you, being able to anticipate the lines and comparing them in your head to the versions that you have grown up with.  The very fact that some tunes become standards implies that they have a special enduring quality.  These are vehicles well suited for improvisation and having musical hooks that invite endless exploration for listener and musician alike.  Standards composers are the greatest writers of the song form, but the inside joke is that these wonderful tunes often came from musicals which failed miserably.

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It was great to hear the quartet play ‘You and the night and the music’ which is a firm favourite of mine.  Composed by Arthur Schwartz  (lyrics Howard Dietz), it came from the musical ‘Revenge with music’ which closed on Broadway after a few months.   Frank Sinatra and Mario Lanza revived it and it became popular with Jazz musicians for a while during the 50’s and 60’s.  While the earlier popular renderings tended toward the saccharine, Jazz musicians like Mal Waldren purged the tune of its syrupy connotations.  It was the obscure tartly voiced Lennie Niehaus Octet version (with Lennie on alto, Jimmy Giuffre on baritone and Shelley Manne drums) which won me over.  Over a decade ago I heard HNOP and Ulf Wakenius perform a killing version of it at the Bruce Mason centre and I had not heard it since.  That is until last Wednesday.

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Another great standard was Horace Silvers ‘Song for my father’.  Standards have the power to move us deeply and this tune in particular brought a lump to my throat as my father was slipping away that very week.  One of pianist Kevin Field’s tunes ‘Offering’ was also played and while not a standard it is a favourite about town.   Everyone played well that night with  Oli Holland and Kevin Field up to their usual high standard; Frank Gibson on drums was in exceptional form.  His brush work and often delicate stick work was perfect and it reminded everyone why he is so highly regarded about town.

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I have chosen a video clip from the gig which is arguably the most famous standard of all.  Cole Porters ‘What is this thing called love’.  Cole Porter would always say that the song and lyrics wrote themselves and this version is certainly a worthwhile addition to the selection.  Unlike many of the vocal versions it is fast paced and authoritative.  IMG_1278 - Version 2

Who: Brian Smith Quartet – Brian Smith (tenor saxophone), Kevin Field (piano), Oli Holland (bass), Frank Gibson Jr (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand –  June 25th 2014   http://www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

 

 

‘DOG’ unleashed on International Jazz Day

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The DOG project was conceived two years ago and during its public outings the band garnered enthusiastic support.  Those who heard DOG urged them to record and eventually they did.  The long-awaited album was ready for release on International Jazz Day 2014; a gestation time roughly equivalent to that of an elephant.  The time however has been very well spent, as the band members have composed a wealth of new material.  DOG (formally Dr Dog) is Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Oli Holland and Ron Samsom.  Manins, Field & Holland are lecturers at the Auckland University School of Music (Jazz program), Samsom is the senior lecturer.   They are all in demand for the best gigs about town.  They are the big dogs on the block.

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International Jazz day was the perfect time to release this album, underscoring as it does a local Jazz scene crackling with life and teeming with invention.  Anyone familiar with the Auckland Jazz Scene will know that these musicians are a driving force; inspiring, challenging and empowering emerging artists.  It is a band of titans but it is also a true band of equals.  In the Jazz world bands made up of many leaders often fall short.  A juggling act’s required to unify a multiplicity of visions.  That problem does not apply here.  These men appear to breathe in unison and react to each other intuitively.  At the ripe old age of two DOG is in peak condition.

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The album is beautifully recorded and the mix could hardly be improved upon.  Credit to the York Street Studios in Auckland and to the tasteful mixing by Rattle’s Steve Garden (and DOG themselves).  ‘Rattle Records’ are going from strength to strength and if the last three months output is anything to go by, this will be their best year yet.  From the first few notes the album reels you in and holds your attention throughout.  There is a virtuosity and a tightness to the performances but it is more than that.   Beneath the unquestionable musicianship there is a radiating warmth and a bounty of good humour which shines through.  This was especially evident during the International Jazz Day performance at the CJC.  It was a humour filled affair and delightfully laid back.

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Roger Manins was the front man for the release gig and the dog jokes and banter had people in fits of laughter.  He teased the band mercilessly and they responded with sad looks or dismissive gestures.  The Zeppo Marx to Manins Groucho.  This is a role that he is well suited to and his jokes are quintessential Kiwiana.  Some of the titles contained obscure dog references.  ‘Race to Space’ honours the Russian dog which led off the space race, others inspired by loveable but hapless dogs of good breeding as in ‘Evolution’.  At one stage Manins directed people to a comparative dog intelligence chart.  “This is my spaniel rated at number fifty three, which is around the middle of a descending scale”.  Next he asked, “Does anyone here own an Afghan Hound?”.  No one owned up, perhaps guessing what was to transpire.  “Ladies and gentlemen they are number ninety two on the list, almost at the bottom of the intelligence scale”.  Some brave soul responded, “Surely not”.  “Have you ever tried to play cards with an Afghan Hound” was Manins quick response.  Roger Manins drawings for the cover art say it all.

Because there are four composers, the tunes have a variety of moods and tempos.   I like them all, but if forced to choose one I would go for Hollands ‘Didel Didel Dei’.   There are burning solos on this uptempo track and the interplay is quite exceptional.  On this track you will hear Manins at his best.  As usual there is no sugar-coating as he pushes the tenor to its outer limits.  Field, Holland and Samsom responded in kind.  This music they play has the utmost integrity and the audience laps it up.

International Jazz Day has become the premier event on the International Jazz Calendar with the brightest stars in the Jazz firmament showcased.  Auckland, New Zealand can hold its head high in the midst of these international celebrations.   This album and this live performance did us proud.

Who: ‘DOG’ is Roger Manins (tenor Sax), Kevin Field (piano), Oli Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) – compositions by all band members

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland, New Zealandhttp://www.rattlerecords.net/   http://www.creativejazzclub.co.nz/

Phil Broadhurst Quintet @ CJC Jazz April gig

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The second gig in the CJC #jazzapril series featured a quintet led by veteran Auckland musician Phil Broadhurst.  Phil is a very familiar figure on the New Zealand Jazz scene thanks to his many recordings, his broadcasting, gigs and Jazz education.   He is also a finalist in New Zealand’s 2014 Jazz Tui awards and we will hear the results this coming Easter weekend.   The last two years have certainly been busy for Phil.  In between running the Massey University Auckland Jazz Program and hosting visits by overseas Jazz musicians he has found time to compose new material and to record several highly rated albums.   I have previously reviewed his passionate tribute to the diminutive Jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani ‘Delayed Reaction’ (he’s an authority on Petrucciani’s work), and his beautifully crafted ‘Flaubert’s Dance’ (now up for the Tui).

Phil Broadhurst compositions are well constructed and seldom just head arrangements.  There is always a subtler framework behind the obvious; something that invites you to look beyond the tune.  The song titles and the stories that accompany them give a strong sense of place or sometimes touch upon an all but forgotten quirky interlude from the past.  Phil Broadhurst is well read in several languages and it shows in his work.  His compositions reference this but never in a preachy way and there is a strong sense of seeing the world through his eyes.  This experiential vantage point rather than any particular idiom informs his work most.  His compositions also convey ideas and at the conclusion of a piece we feel like examining them further.

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The first set began with ‘Delayed Reaction’ from his Petrucciani album, followed by a number of newer tunes.  I have posted a You Tube clip from the latter titled ‘Precious Metal’.  It initially sounded familiar but I couldn’t quite grasp why.  It is a tribute to Horace Silver and the form here is recognisably hard bop.  This gives a strong impression of the famous Jazz pianist and it was that impression which sounded so tantalisingly familiar.  This is what Phil Broadhurst does so well.

As is normally the case with busy musicians there had been no time to rehearse other than a twenty-minute run-through before the gig.  In situations like this it is essential to have good readers and if you are lucky musicians who are familiar with your work.  With Roger Manins (tenor sax), Mike Booth (trumpet, flugelhorn), Oli Holland (bass) and Cameron Sangster (drums) it was always going to go well.  There is a subtle difference between bands who work well together and those who really gel.  There were no high octane numbers and the mood was consistent rather than variable.  This worked very much to the bands advantage and the laid-back feel gave them a chance to delve deeply into the compositions during solos.  Everyone pulled out great performances and you could tell afterwards how pleased they were that the gig had gone so well.  It just goes to prove that nights like this can bring about just as pleasing results as the edgier higher octane ones.  IMG_0233 - Version 2

Roger Manins and Mike Booth blended perfectly and Booth has never sounded better.  Their solos were thoughtful, probing and often intensely melodic.  They clearly understood what Broadhurst had in mind and worked with it.   Oli Holland who sings lines during his bass solos was in great form (when is he not).  Having played with Manins and Broadhurst often he needed no prompting, his powerful bass lines giving just the right momentum.   Phil has used several drummers in the past but he obviously likes working with Cameron Sangster who is the youngest band member.   “He has subtlety and gives colour where it’s needed” said Broadhurst afterward.  IMG_0226 - Version 2

#jazzapril is a about sharing the joy of Jazz and it is about celebrating the diversity of the music.  Improvised music is increasingly embraced by younger audiences and those audiences and the many younger musicians performing bring exciting new sounds to the mix.   Getting the mix right between the experienced and the up-and-coming is a challenge but at the CJC appears to get it right.  Jazz has long been established in New Zealand and this is a time to celebrate its longevity and its diversity.

IMG_0229 - Version 2  Auckland’s CJC (Creative Jazz Club) has created a Jazz Appreciation Month program with all of the above in mind.  This week there is a B3 master from French New Caledonia, next week the globe-trotting genius of the keyboard Jonathan Crayford.  Best of all is the long anticipated album launch of ‘Dr Dog’ on International Jazz Day.   I feel lucky to live near a club that can present such wonderful artists.  Grab this opportunity by the ears Kiwis, now is the perfect time to enjoy this music and above all share it with others.

 

Who: Phil Broadhurst Quintet – Phil Broadhurst (compositions, piano), Roger Manins (tenor sax), Mike Booth (trumpet), Oli Holland (bass), Cameron Sangster (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885 Building, Auckland, New Zealand, 9th April 2014

 

Jamie Oehlers @ CJC #JazzApril 2014

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#JazzApril is International Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) and the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) in Auckland New Zealand has lined up an impressive roster of artists.  The opening gig for Jazz April was the acclaimed saxophonist Jamie Oehlers from Perth Australia and the club could hardly have done better than engage this titan of the tenor.  Anyone who had heard Jamie Oehlers on previous visits needed no second invitation; the club filled to capacity.  Jamie is tall, so tall in fact that I managed to chop off his head while filming the first video clip (having foolishly set up the camera during the sound check when he was not present).  In fact everything about Jamie Oehlers is larger than life. His presence fills a room in ways that it is hard to adequately convey.  The sound of his tenor has a warm luminous quality about it and it seems to penetrate every nook and cranny of a room; whether playing softly or loudly it reaches deep into your soul.

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Two hundred years ago ( November 1814) a young Belgium instrument maker Adolphe Sax was born and in the 1840’s he patented the tenor saxophone.  It has gone through relatively few modifications since that time.   Fast forward to the Jazz age and the instrument came into its own.   Nobody brought the instrument to the wider public’s attention more than Coleman Hawkins and few took it to such dizzying heights as John Coltrane.  Listening to Jamie Oehlers perform made me think of the tenor’s history and above all it reconfirmed my deep love for the instrument.  Last time he was in Auckland he played ‘Resolution’ from Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’  (it is the 50th anniversary of ALS this year).   Among other numbers in the set list this year was Coltrane’s ‘Dear Lord’ (recorded by JC in 1963 but only released in the 1970’s on the ‘Dear old Stockholm’ album).  Jamie Oehlers was born to interpret Coltrane and he certainly held our rapt attention last Wednesday.   IMG_0132 - Version 2

He had requested the same local musicians for this visit as last time; Kevin Field (piano), Oli Holland (bass) and Frank Gibson (drums).   Roger Manins joined the band for the last two numbers and the two tenor masters unsurprisingly wowed everybody by the way they cajoled each other to new heights.  There were introspective ballads, freshly interpreted standards and a few fire-breathing fast burners.   I filmed quite a few numbers and have posted a duo performance of Mal Waldrons ‘Soul Eyes’ (Jamie Oehlers and Auckland pianist Kevin Field).   It is during ballads and especially the slower paced duo numbers that a musician is left naked.   No pyrotechnics to hide behind, no lightening strike runs or off the register squawks to dazzle us with.   This clip says everything about Oehlers as a man and as a musician.  Thoughtful, compelling and always authoritative.

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He was right to request Field, Holland and Gibson for this gig.   They showed repeatedly that they were up to the task and gave of their best.  It is gigs like this that make us proud of our down-under musicians and we know when we hear performances like these that we can hold our heads high in the wider Jazz world.  There was no more appropriate gig than this in which to kick off Jazz April.   Listen to the You Tube clip and I’m certain that you will agree.

Who: The Jamie Oehlers Quartet – Jamie Oehlers (tenor sax), Kevin Field (piano), Oli Holland (bass), Frank Gibson (drums).

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Cub), Britomart 1885 basement, Auckland New Zealand, 2nd April 2014

James Muller Quartet @ CJC

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Every Jazz guitarist in Australasia seems to admire James Muller.  Here in New Zealand at the mere mention of him, guitarists shake their heads in disbelief and fall into a contemplative trance.  It is as if you had uttered a secret mantra; one ascribed to an unnamable deity.  I have always been drawn to Jazz guitar and while I need no prompting to follow the genre, pointers like this are irresistible.  When musicians are so highly regarded by other musicians it is generally with good reason.

I first encountered the name James Muller on the 1999 Naxos disc titled ‘Sonic Fiction’.  Even in his twenties there was no mistaking that lovely clean sound, the imaginative improvising and the virtuosity.  Since that time James was awarded a number of prestigious music awards including a recent Australian Arts Council Fellowship grant (two years) and the ARIA award.  These achievements have never gone to his head and he comes across as an artist constantly examining his body of work to see where he could improve.  After half a dozen stints in New York, numerous recordings as sideman and at least four albums as leader he ranks among the premier Australasian Jazz artists.

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Because we are getting more highly rated international jazz musicians coming to the CJC, I bailed up Roger Manins and asked him about bringing James back (he was here three years ago).  It was already on his radar and towards the end of last year he told a delighted CJC audience that James Muller would be appearing in early 2014.   I had always been of a mind to seek out one of his gigs and then a chance presented itself.  Roger Manins told me of a gig with Mike Nock, James Muller, Dave Goodman and Cameron Undy at the 505 in Sydney.  It was time for a family visit, so I headed to Australia.  Seeing the Manins, Muller, Nock band was a highlight.  Now a few months later I looked forward to the Auckland gig.

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Roger Manins, Oli Holland and Ron Samsom were to accompany James at the CJC.

I have learned that James generally avoids playing with pianists, but there are certainly exceptions to this.   His longtime friends Sean Wayland and Mike Nock would top that list of exceptions.  In Auckland he expanded his default guitar trio format to include Roger Manins on Tenor sax.  When James and Roger play together the guitarist generally lays-out during solos.   This allows for the intensive probing improvisation that both are known for. What we saw on the 12th of March was Jazz of exceptional quality and a packed club.   They queued early, mostly younger people and among them numerous guitarists who had just been to the masterclass at Auckland University.

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The set list was a mix of James Muller compositions, some standards and a Roger Manins composition.   Most of the heads were often approached obliquely and what followed were long solos and unencumbered explorations.  This was a chance for the musicians to stretch out and they certainly did.  In contrast was the standard ‘Moonlight in Vermont’.  A lovely tune and one played less often these days.  Unlike the other numbers there was no laying out during the saxophone solo.  It felt right to approach this lovely tune with tasteful comping and soloing closer to the melody.  They later played a fast paced version of ‘Rhythm n Ning’ (Monk), a killing ‘More than you Know'(Rose/Eliscu/Youmans) and absolutely best of all a Lennie Tristano number.

I am an acolyte of the Tristano cult and I doubt that anyone could ever deprogram me.  To hear ‘317 East 32nd Street’ performed so well was bliss.  As Roger and James ran those memorable unison lines I felt the joy wash over me.  Here was a tune I truly loved and they had even included the car-horn sounds that had so influenced Tristano when he composed it.  Tristano once told a musician, “this tune was composed in front of an open window, while listening to the New York street sounds outside”.

Both Oli Holland and Ron Samsom gave exceptional performances during the evening.   Oli with his Slam Stewart like sung unison lines during his solos.   Ron with his subtle and interactive drumming on the slower paced numbers and his blistering explosions of white heat on the burners.  I have read that James likes the bass as an anchor and the drums to work more outside.   That is what he got.

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I have spoken to James on several occasions now and he seldom discusses his accomplishments.  This is not false modesty or even shyness, but rather a manifestation of that classic antipodean sense of understatement.  It is the hallmark of Australasian musicians that they are often self-effacing, preferring to use throw-away-lines or obscure insider humour in verbal communication.   I have often observed this in local musicians and it fascinates me.  It is particularly evident in their bandstand banter. When I meet American musicians they seldom come across as self-effacing.  There is an ebullience about them that underpins the conversation and selling their accomplishments comes naturally.  It is seldom the same with Australian or New Zealand musicians who rely on their music to speak up for them. 

We hear many fine guitar players at the CJC but this gig would rate among the high points.

Who : James Muller Quartet – James Muller (guitar), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Oli Holland (upright bass), Ron Samsom (drums).

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland 12th March 2014

Natalie Dietz @ CJC

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We learned in late November that an excellent Australian jazz singer Natalie Dietz would be the featured artist for the last CJC gig of 2013.  She recently recorded with Aaron Parks and Mike Moreno in N.Y.C and the fact that she had connected with these heavyweights of the modern American Jazz Scene told me that we could expect something out of the ordinary.   She had toyed with bringing some Australian Musicians over with her but instead elected to use locals.   Not surprisingly these locals were drawn from among our finest musicians Kevin Field (piano), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Oli Holland (bass) and Adam Tobeck (drums).

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Natalie is the complete package, as she not only has a fabulous voice and an appealing bandstand presentation, but she is a gifted writer.  It is common to see charts laid out for bands, but these were especially well written and complex charts.   Not simple lead sheets.  The standards had been slightly reharmonised or re-interpreted and the original numbers voiced in such a way as to maximise her vocal lines.  These were not numbers belted out, but well crafted tunes which required subtle interplay.

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Natalie’s own compositions were pleasing and especially ‘The Mood I’m in’.   This gorgeous tune is reminiscent of Sara Serpa’s output and this is no accident.  Natalie mentioned a number of influences and Sara Serpa is one of them.  The piece opens with Natalie singing wordless lines in unison with the guitar.   Dixon Nacey’s Godin sings anyhow and the blend was beautiful.   This lovely tune reinforces my bias towards wordless vocalisation in an ensemble.   As much as I enjoy lyrics, adding the human voice as an instrument feels archetypal and so right to my ears.

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There were a number of standards as well and I was initially surprised to see ‘Body and soul’ (Green/Heyman/Sour/ Eyton) in the set list.  This is one of the most recorded songs in history and perennially popular.  It is hard to look at such a well-travelled tune from a new angle but Natalie did just that.  Her take on it was slightly dark and brooding and it sounded tantalisingly fresh.  Among the other standards was Skylark and a few Jobim tunes.  Natalie was well received by the CJC audience and she appeared to appreciate that.

Who: Natalie Dietz (vocals), Kevin Field (piano), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Oli Holland (bass), Adam Tobeck (drums)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland – 11th December 2013

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).

The Nick Granville Group @ CJC

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On Wednesday the 21st of August ‘Rattle’ records launched Nick Granville’s ‘Refractions’ album.  Nick Granville needs no introduction to Wellington audiences, being a professional musician who works extensively throughout that city.  While he is not as well-known in Auckland, that is rapidly changing, as he has played a number of well received gigs here over the last year.  CJC audiences now look forward to his return.

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He is increasingly featured in the award-winning Roger Fox Wellington Jazz Orchestra and his recorded output as leader and sideman is growing by the year.  This latest album is definitely his best to date and there is every expectation that this upwards career trajectory will continue.  With this album his guitar chops are very much on display but it is the engaging warmth and unmistakable integrity that draws you into the project.  All of the numbers on the album are originals and all are either blues based or have a distinct blues feel.  Nick attributes this to the strong Scofield influence that has shaped his progress over the years.

There were mostly numbers from the current album featured at the CJC launch,  but we also heard a few updated older compositions.  As I am familiar with that material it gave some interesting points of comparison.  The stand out tune from that earlier period was ‘Somewhere You’ve Been’ which is a well crafted reharmonisation of the standard ‘Footsteps’.

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This album has a lot of strong points and compositionally it is a tour de force.   It pays a subtle but heart-felt homage to John Scofield without being slavishly imitative or needing to play Sco tunes.  Strong material like this just begs to played by the best musicians available and Nick has pulled this off.  Much of the material was composed while completing  his Masters at the Auckland University Jazz School, and this enabled him to utilise faculty members for the album.   The three who joined him on the album are Roger Manins (tenor sax), Oli Holland (bass) and Ron Samson (drums).   You would be hard put to find better musicians anywhere and they had obviously warmed to the task in hand.

A really good album is one that manages to sound familiar, yet original and Nick Granville has achieved this rare feat.

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Roger Manins has a busy schedule teaching, co-managing the CJC and gigging around New Zealand and Australia.   There is nothing that he can’t tackle as he is a very strong reader and a fearless improviser.  His storytelling ability and improvisational inventiveness mark him out.  Whether delivering a breathy ballad, where each gentle rasp of air counts,  or a fast burner where the furies rain down, he’s a phenomena.

Oli Holland had barely returned from a holiday in Germany, but he showed no sign of jet lag on the band stand.  He and Nick go back a way and so it was not surprising that he is on the album.  Oli is one of the strongest bass players in New Zealand.  At times he surprised as he delivered the sort of raunchy biting grooves that you would expect of an electric bass.  Mostly though we heard his deeply resonant fluid lines weaving skilfully throughout the mix.  photo copy 6 - Version 2

I always enjoy Ron Samsom’s drumming but he really stands out on this album.   When you listen to ‘Gloves off’ in particular you will hear what a multi faceted Jazz drummer can do.  This hard-driving funky tune is my personal favourite.  It has a punch to rival Jack Johnson’s and an edgy groove that delights.  It is one of the tracks that I return to again and again.  Throughout this album Ron Samsom is marvellous.

The other strength is the quality of the recording and this is largely down to ‘Rattle’s’ Steve Garden.  Every detail from the cover art to the sound quality is meticulously attended to.  When it comes to mixing and mastering Steve has a special touch and the results here attest to that.

Nick Granville has pulled one out of the bag here and I strongly advise people to grab a copy.

What: Nick Granville Band.  Nick Granville (guitar, leader, compositions), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone). Oli Holland (bass), Ron Samson (drums). Released by Rattle.

Where: the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Wednesday 21st August 2013

Sean Wayland & David Berkman @ CJC Winter International Series

Sean Wayland

Sean Wayland

We don’t get many offshore Jazz pianists visiting New Zealand, but we have seen quite a few over recent weeks. This particular gig comes hot on the heals of hearing Sean Wayland appearing as featured guest artist with the marvellous Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra. Sean had impressed me at the JMO gig and so I really looked forward to hearing him play at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club).

Before he had played a note Sean Wayland won us over with his easy-going banter. Especially when he thanked us for Mike Nock and mentioned band mate Matt Penman. These are two of Auckland’s best-loved sons and I suspect that Kiwi’s, like Canadians, enjoy our worth acknowledged by the big country next door. This generous acknowledgement by a respected New York based (Aussie born) pianist reveals an interesting truth about Australasian Jazz.

There may be a struggle to meet the financial realities, deal with lack of good pianos and the paucity of gigs, but the two scenes continually produce world-class Jazz musicians. The Scenes are in fact so intermingled that it is often hard to know who is an Aussie and who is a New Zealander. Steve Barry and Mike Nock illustrate this perfectly as they live and work in Australia. Roger Manins lives in New Zealand but gigs across the Tasman every other week.

In spite of the difficulties there is no lack of great music coming out of Australasia and the main problem is that of distribution. An upside of this changing business model is that bands travel more. For the keen Jazz fan live music is once again king. We don’t have to wait for a multi-national recording label to tell us what we should or shouldn’t like, we can explore ‘You Tube’ or ‘Bandcamp’ and hear from the artists directly.

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Sean Wayland is a hugely respected figure on the Australian scene and in New Zealand as well. He is a very modern pianist, as he moves in circles where new approaches are constantly being explored and new sounds developed. After listening to his compositions I was not in the least surprised to find him supported by the likes of Matt Penman, Jochen Rueckert, Will Vinsen, and James Muller. This is essentially the Rosenwinkel generation. While he speaks that language fluently he is unmistakably an individual stylist. No one sounds quite like Sean.

Sean’s tunes are very melodic. Often unfolding over a simple bass line as with ‘eenan’ off his ‘Lurline’ album. What sounds catchy and accessible can actually be quite complex as his approach to rhythm gives the tunes that unique feel. This is tension and release at its sophisticated best. I have put up a version of ‘eenan’ as a ‘You Tube’ clip which unfolds in subtle and beguiling ways. So beguiling in fact that I dreamed the tune two nights in row. Such powerful hooks are not accidental but the result of careful craftsmanship. There is a strong sense of pulse or swing to his tunes, but approached from a different perspective to that of the more traditional pianist.

This intergenerational shift is one that I hear more often as the changing of the guard occurs. Other tunes played to great effect were his, ‘Trane plus Molly equals countdown” and the solo piece ‘Little Bay’. Both of those tunes are found on the ‘Expensive Habit’ album. ‘Trane plus Molly equals countdown’ hints at McCoy Tyner, but you quickly realise that the voicings have very modern in feel. I can however certainly imagine Kurt Rosenwinkel doing the tune. It is an extraordinary composition where the left hand continuously punctuates the flow with oblique accents. I was left wanting more than the single set and I certainly hope that we get to see Sean again on his next trip back to Australia.

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Accompanying Sean were Cameron MacArthur (bass) and Jason Orme (drums). Both accomplished musicians who quickly slotted into the challenges of supporting a world-class and highly inventive pianist.

The next artist up was David Berkman. He has been to New Zealand before and anyone who saw him last time would have jumped at the opportunity of seeing this top flight New York Pianist in action. There is a fluidity to his playing and above all an impeccable sense of timing. This hard-driving post bop fluidity and the big bluesy chords is what most characterises his work.

The Kiwi members of the quartet were Roger Manins (tenor), Olivier Holland (bass) and Ron Samsom (drums). Together they formed a powerhouse of inventiveness and Roger in particular seemed to benefit from this grouping. His solo’s were so incendiary as to cause gasps of surprise and from an audience who are used to such pyrotechnics. While we expect Rogers high wire acts he is always able to surprise us and this night saw him really on fire. David Berkman certainly knows how to amp up the tension and his ability to extol a horn player to reach deeper and deeper is impressive. He worked the room with as much enthusiasm as he would have done in a prime New York club and everyone there appreciated that commitment. This was the kind of gig where you sat back and let the sound wash over you, tapping your feet uncontrollably and yelling enthusiastically between numbers.

David Berkman

David Berkman

David Berkman’s repertoire was a well-balanced mix of his own compositions and some lessor known standards. During the gig he talked about his mentor, the much respected pianist Mulgrew Miller (who sadly passed away that very evening). He has worked with a wide variety of artists such as trumpeters Tom Harrell and Dave Douglas and his contribution to Jazz education is well-known. Having moved to New York some years ago he quickly settled into the routines of gigging, recording and teaching and since then he has been a fixture on the local scene. He travels extensively and is a Palmetto recording artist.

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The two pianists were very different, but both were amazing in their way. In David Berkman we heard the history of the post bop era and in Sean Wayland we glimpsed the future.

What: Sean Wayland and David Berkman Winter International Series.

Who: Sean Wayland (p) (leader) Cameron McArthur (b) Jason Orme (d). – David Berkman (p) (leader), Roger Manins (s), Oli Holland (b), Ron Samsom (d)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 29th May 2013

Phil Broadhurst ‘Flauberts Dance’@CJC

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Phil Broadhurst is a regular at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) just as he was at the ‘London Bar’ in its hey day.   He is also the compiler and presenter of the well-known Jazz radio slot ‘The Art of Jazz’.  His last album titled ‘Delayed Reaction’ was well received and shortlisted in the Jazz Tui Awards.  It was dedicated to the music of Michel Petrucciani, the diminutive and wonderfully brilliant French pianist whose life was blighted by ‘brittle bone syndrome’.  That project was obviously a labour of love, as Phil had long been immersed in Petrucciani’s music.  The album, (out on IA-Rattle), outlined a very personal journey for Phil and while showcasing the project about New Zealand he must have pondered ‘what next’?   The what-next is ‘Flaubert’s Dance’.

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From ‘Delayed Reaction’ it was a logical step to examine other artists who had influenced him and for whom he had a deep affinity.  Not all are pianists but all take a pianistic approach to their music.  All are currently at the top of their game.  The compositions on ‘Flauberts Dance are all Phil Broadhurst’s and they are dedicated to the following musicians:  Herbie Hancock, Manu Katche, Enrico Pieranunzi, Eliane Elias, Kieth Jarrett and Tomasz Stanko.   What these artists have in common is striking originality, a modern approach to harmony and the fact that none of them are easy to compartmentalise.  They are consequently quite different from each other.    A Tomasz Stanko tune and a Manu Katche tune could hardly be confused even though they have worked together.  IMG_6922 - Version 2

It is obvious from the above list that Phil often reaches outside of the Americas for musical inspiration.  While Jarrett and Hancock have influenced most modern pianists their ubiquitous presence tends to eclipse others of equal importance.   It is therefore fitting that the latin infused Brazilian born Eliane Elias and the two Europeans give counterweight to the North Americans.   The composition ‘First Shot’ dedicated to Hancock looks at a particular tune rather than the scope of his career to date.   I truly like this number as it has the distinct feel of a European or an Antipodean acknowledging Herbies work, not an American.

Phil has had no trouble in assembling top class musicians for the album and with Roger Manins (tenor sax), Olivier Holland (bass)  and Cameron Sangster (drums) his quartet had depth and experience.   He also enlisted trumpeter Mike Booth for three numbers.

The title track on the album is dedicated to the scandalously underrated and utterly brilliant Italian Pianist Enrico Pieranunzi.   This track ‘Flaubert’s Dance’ had everyone listening in rapt silence and even though the club filled to bursting point you could have heard a  pin drop.  With unerring accuracy he has dived right into the essence of the man he pays homage to.   The voicings, the phrasing and a unique sense of weightless swing that is so European.  When Roger Manins comes in the Pieranunzi connection deepens.  Bringing to mind the Italian tenor player Stefano de Anna who along with Hein Van de Geyn featured so strongly on the classic Pieranunzi album ‘Don’t Forget the Poet’.  IMG_6927 - Version 2

Tenor player Roger Manins always gives of his best and he showed us once again that he can wring deep sentiment and even prettiness out of ballads while never sounding cliched.  In the mid tempo tunes he imparts that intensity and locomotive drive that he is so well-known for.  When the tunes are explorations, it is only fitting to have a born story-teller like Roger onboard.  Olivier Holland (bass) has often played in Phil Broadhurst line ups and his approach is that of the consummate professional.   These days it is not uncommon to hear bass players vocalising lines an octave above the pitch.   Once the preserve of Major Holley and Slam Stewart, Oli has increasingly been employing that technique (but not so much arco bass).   His improvisational approach has always been solid but the vocalising appears to extend that.   It is perhaps like a saxophone player having the words of a standard firmly in their head as they lay down the melody.   It changes the dynamic in positive ways.   Cameron Sangster (drums) works across many genres and he is one of the few drummers to appear regularly with big bands in Auckland.   He has a strong sense of space and dynamics and can switch to a more colourist mode if the number requires that.   He is also able to moderate his sound to a room.   A tasteful drummer.  The remaining band member is trumpeter Mike Booth who played on three numbers.  His soloing and ensemble work is great and musicians about town are often utilising him for his impressive and varied skills.   He and Roger in lock-step are a force to behold.   Both the quartet and quintet gave Phil Broadhurst adequate room to shine and he did.

What: The Phil Broadhurst Quartet

Who: Phil Broadhurst (piano), Roger Manins (tenor sax), Olivier Holland (bass), Cameron Sangster (drums) – guest Mike Booth (trumpet).

Where and What: ‘Fauberts Dance’ album released by Rattle Records  –   CJC (Creative Jazz Club) basement 1885 Brittomart building, Auckland

Number filmed by Jennie Sol

Dr Dog Unleashed @ CJC

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A few weeks ago someone had whispered, “Dr Dog is back”.  What started as a mere dog whistle soon became an insistent rumour; confirmed beyond doubt when I saw a red van cruising the streets with ‘who let the dogs out’ emblazoned on its side.    I checked the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) website and sure enough there was the gig listing.   Dr Dog are the business or as the vernacular will have it ‘the dogs bollocks’.   We had all been hanging out for this return gig.  This was a risky outing for them as there would almost certainly be an attempt to capture them live during the performance.  The sight of determined looking technicians carrying a tangle of cables and heavy suitcases down the 1885 staircase club confirmed this.  IMG_6222

‘Dr Dog’ are some of the best musicians that the Auckland Jazz Scene has to offer.   Roger Manins – tenor,  Kevin Field – piano, Oli Holland – bass and Ron Samsom – drums.   They all teach at the Auckland University Jazz Studies course where Ron Samsom is program director.    They are teachers, but they also gig regularly.   These guys have honed their skills over many years of playing with the best.  Suffice it to say that expectations are always high when any one of them performs, but when all four appear on the same stage it is a noteworthy event.

Dr Dog is a showcase for the talents of the four band members, all of whom have written original material for the occasion.  I suspect that these compositions are not for the faint hearted and a sneak look at the heavily annotated scores confirmed that.   It was dog eat dog on the bandstand as each musician tried to outdo the other.  Heads would occasionally bend low over the charts in mock dismay and between numbers quick animated conferences were held.  This was not a set list designed to give band members an easy ride.   It was the audience who got the best of these exchanges and while the sweat poured off the band we lapped up the music.  This was a rare treat, just as we knew it would be.

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As you would expect from a dog band there were cool licks a playful approach to the music, a meat raffle and stick chasing.   I filmed most of the sets and I was particularly impressed with the first number up.  It was obvious that these guys had their eye on the ball.  I have put up that clip titled ‘Dideldideldei’.   Being Oli Holland’s composition I knew that it would be well written and have a back story (perhaps involving fishing?).  Oli has a strong sense of irony which is in his titles.   Dideldideldei was evidently a phrase uttered by a Jazz hating apartment dweller in a German comedy, who had the misfortune to live above a Jazz club.  He would shower the band with rotten fruit while yelling, “this is not music it’s just dideldideldei”.    All of the tunes had equally illusive or improbable titles and that only added to the fun.

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Roger contributed ‘Peter the Magnificent’ which he had written in honour of Peter Koopman and tune called ‘Evolution’ (dog evolution).  He gave an explanation of the titles but as I was near the back I couldn’t hear because the people up front were laughing so hard.  Kevin contributed a few tunes and one named ‘Synaesthesia’ referenced the unusual condition which he tells me afflicted one of the great classical composers.  Synaesthesia is a rare condition where colours are heard as sounds or sounds as colours.   Pat Martino Jazz guitar master uses this affliction as a vehicle to assist his improvisation.  In the end I lost track of who had composed what because the dogs only wanted to play.    While this was occurring they were captured by a sound man named John.  An album and a properly attributed track list should result from that.   This band is long overdue in recording and I am hoping that the live take is adequate to purpose.  If the sound is not good enough then they should shake their tails and get to the studio ASAP.   I for one can’t wait.

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Who: Dr Dog – Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Oli Holland, Ron Samson

Where: CJC Creative Jazz Club February 20th 2013

Dixon Nacey – Zauberberg IV

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Dixon Nacey always exudes enthusiasm.   He is one of those musicians who you cannot think of separately from his music.   He is articulate, a family man and a thoroughly well-rounded human being, but music never the less defines him.  He is one of New Zealand’s great guitar talents and so people trip over themselves to attend his gigs.  Dixon appears in a variety of contexts: teacher, composer, sideman (to the likes of Alan Brown and sometimes up & coming musicians like Rebecca Melrose) but most often as leader or co-leader.   This is the guitar go to guy.

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We tend to associate Dixon with the more up tempo pieces where the changes are gleefully eaten up, but like Marc Ribot he can surprise with thoughtful acoustic offerings.  When this occurs there is a hush because the nuanced story telling and the rich voicings take us to warmer place than we ever imagined possible.   We heard both facets during the Zauberberg IV sets and the contrast spoke volumes about Dixon.  A number of originals (composed by  he and Oli Holland) were reharmonised versions of standards.   ‘Gutted and Gilled’ could only have come from the pen of Ollie Holland the obsessive fisher.   It is a metaphor for what this band can do with a tune; paring it to the bone.  Dixon’s red Gibson was no where to be seen and he playing another brand of guitar during the 13th February CJC gig.  He was trying out a handsome looking custom-made guitar (the name alludes me).   This was a wonderful instrument with the warmth of a Les Paul and the bite of Strat.

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‘Day and Night’ made references to ‘Night & Day’ but they emerged as glimpses arising from a darker tapestry.   ‘Conversations with Dr Small’, (another great title) had quirky adventurous twists and pointed squarely at Dr Stephen Small (pianist), who I presume this number was referencing.  ‘If I Should Lose You’, ‘Recordame’, ‘Everything Happens to Me‘, ‘Softy as a Morning Sunrise” and ‘Have You Met Miss Jones were a sampling of the standards played.  ‘Softly as a Morning Sunrise’ was played with such high-octane and at such a velocity that we were pulling ‘G’ forces.  On the other hand the beautiful ballad ‘Everything Happens to Me’ was approached in a loving and respectful manner.  Jason Jones has a gorgeous tone and when Dixon comped behind him with warm soft chords the mood was perfect.   It is right to place such numbers in juxtaposition, as contrast is a vital ingredient of any rich palette.  IMG_6079

Oli Holland on Bass has long occupied an unassailable position on the Auckland scene.  It was a good day for New Zealand when a long sea voyage washed him up on our shores.  He is increasingly providing compositions for the more experienced musicians about town.   Compositions which both challenge and please.   I have often witnessed band members commenting, “Oh this is challenging”, but the results speak for them selves.

Andrew Keegan on drums may be a relative newcomer to Auckland but he has made his mark already.   He brings with him a wealth of experience (including from offshore).  CJC audiences are always pleased to welcome him back.  His posture when drumming is compact and that makes him great to photograph.   It is as if he is drawing all of his energy into a circumscribed arc before unleashing its power.

Jason Jones is the last member of the group and he is somewhat of an enigma.   People who have been around the scene for a while remember him well, but his public appearances have been scant in recent years.   He teaches at the Auckland University Jazz School and was Berklee Trained.

There is often an interesting back story to a band and so I asked Dixon hoping to get gain a few insights.  His reply was typically self effacing but actually yielded rich pickings.  Many years ago Oli had been in a band in Germany named the ‘Zauberberg III’ and they had recorded several times.   This gig was actually booked over a year ago as the ‘Alain Koetsier Quartet’s’ second appearance.    That particular line up was Alain, Dixon, Pete France and Oli (see earlier review).  As the time got closer Alain unexpectedly found himself booked for a week of recording for the second Nathan Haines Warners album.  Pete France had to drop out suddenly and that left Oli Holland and Dixon Nacey with a week to go and short by two band members.   When in doubt re-invent yourself and above all improvise.   The new name came from Oli, Jason Jones was coaxed back into performing and the often complex set list (typical of Dixon and Oli) emerged in the nick of time.

Jazz line ups are often conjured out of thin air and I have witnessed quite a few such manifestations.   It is my observation that flying by the seat of your pants can  often yield the best results.   This is how humankind has always moved the paradigm: our advances over the millennia have always come from risk taking.  In life and Jazz improvisation is everything.

I have posted the Matt Denis tune because it is so beautiful that I even managed to shed a tear through a very bad cold.

Where: Creative Jazz Club Auckland

When: 13th February 2013

What: Zauberberg IV

Sean Coffin (AUS)@ CJC

On Wednesday the 24th October we had an overseas visitor playing at the club, tenor saxophonist Sean Coffin.   This has been a great year for the Auckland Jazz scene and especially for the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) as a number of interesting local bands, out-of -towner’s, and overseas acts have appeared.  It’s the clubs imperative to offer genuine diversity, and this has caused the CJC to extend its reach.   Because Roger Manins has such a well established Australasian reputation and because the CJC is increasingly seen as a great club to play in, the net is ever-widening.   We are on the Oceania Jazz circuit fair and square.  

Sean Coffin is known in his native Australia for his stellar educational work, but it is his high level tenor playing that draws people to him.  He is among the best that Australia has to offer.   For many years he has been accompanied by his brother Greg (piano) and the work of this formidable pair is well recorded.   Sean studied at the Berklee School of Music and later as a postgraduate at the Manhattan  School of Music.  Among his many teachers I would single out George Garzone, as this world leading tenor player appears to have created a cadre of exceptional students in Australasia.  

At the CJC Sean showcased his most recent compositions and they were mostly themed around his children.  This proved a good source of inspiration as the numbers ranged from heart-felt ballads to some faster paced offerings (one referenced children at play).   These lovingly drawn compositions were well crafted and executed and no one had difficulty relating to them.   It is arguably risky to focus exclusively on family material, but the gamble paid off because the improvisations were tender without once descending into introspective noodling.   The integrity of the compositions as Jazz vehicles was always evident.  A lovely ballad to ‘Garz’ (dedicated to George Garzone) rounded things off nicely.

A local rhythm section was put together for this gig and in due deference to the visitor he was given the best.  Ron Sampsom (drums) and Oli Holland (upright bass).  With Kevin Field overseas, Dr Stephen Small took the piano chair.  No one needs to puzzle over my views on Ron Sampson and Oli Holland as my support for their work has been constant over time.  These two go way beyond the merely competent; they are solid, reliable musicians and they are also gutsy enough to handle new challenges without flinching.   Listening to them live or in a recorded situation will tell you everything you need to know.

Seeing Stephen Small again was an unexpected pleasure, as the patch he normally patrols is on the periphery of the Jazz world.  Because he teaches classical piano at Auckland University it would be easy to overlook the fact that he has other strings to his bow.   He is a madman on keyboards and I have seen him cut loose on banks of synthesisers during a Jazz fusion gig.   To say that his fusion performance was riveting would be an understatement.  He created textural layers of sound which swirled and soared alternatively.  Put him together with a fusion versed guitarist like Nick Granville or Dixon Nacey and he will take your ears apart in the best possible way.  Stephen is also a highly talented, straight-ahead, post-bop pianist and judging by the whoops of delight as he negotiated his solo’s he needs to get down to the CJC more often.   I am casting my vote for one of his Jazz fusion gigs.

Sean worked hard all evening and at the end he invited Roger Manins to the bandstand.   There was obvious respect between the two men but that didn’t stop them from going hard out.  When the best tenor players occupy the same bandstand, it generally ends up being a joyful celebration rather than a cutting contest.   This was respectful but no quarter was given.

Jamie Oehlers NZ quartet@CJC

There are good gigs, bad gigs, predictable gigs and everything in between. Mostly we appreciate what is before us but just occasionally, we attend a gig that is every kind of wonderful. This was it.

Jamie Oehlers has the sort of reputation that scares aspiring tenor players and creates life-long fans. This man is a monster on the tenor saxophone and no amount of scrambling for adjectives on my part is ever going to capture the intensity of his performance. Luckily I filmed much of the gig and so I will put up a number of cuts on You Tube over the coming weeks. This gig won’t be forgotten as it fizzed and washed over us like a blissful tsunami of sound.

Typical of many Australasian musicians Jamie Oehlers is self-effacing, and quietly humorous, but his down to earth persona remains intact only until he puts the horn in his mouth. Then we see confidence, elegance, fire-breathing and effortless virtuosity of a sort that almost defies belief. He is one of those musicians who reaches beyond the known, bringing the rhythm section and the audience along with him. His solos have an almost mystical coherence; as if guided by a universal logic that he is able to share with the audience.

Those who saw the performance at the CJC on the 19th September 2012 will understand exactly what I am saying.

As marvellous as Jamie was, his local rhythm section was there for him every inch of the way. Not for the first time I marvelled as Kevin Field (piano) responded to every challenge, managing to inject a sense of originality and invention into a number of almost unassailable standards. Kevin stands out as a pianist as he understands perfectly which chords to accent, when to lay out and when to work harder behind the soloist. He is exactly the right pianist to play behind a talented visitor.

Oli Holland was so good during this gig that I embarrassed him with a bear hug afterwards. He could have been Reggie Garrison at one point as the urgent stabbing notes from his bass propelled the others on. Listen to the first clip below and particularly where Kevin is soloing. This unit was never less than in perfect lockstep.

Frank Gibson on drums was equally marvellous. You never know how drummers will respond to high-octane material like this but he responded by reaching deep within and capturing every nuance of the set. I have never heard him perform better.

The first set began with the standard ‘On a Clear Day’ (Lane), ‘Alina’ AKA ‘Variation 11 from Suspended Night’ (Tomasz Stanko) [one of my favourite tunes], ‘Aisha’ (John Coltrane), ‘Take the Coltrane'( Ellington-Coltrane) , Portrait in Black and White ( Jobim) and more.

Near the end of the second set the band decided to play John Coltrane’s ‘Resolution’ from ‘A Love Supreme’ (1962). ‘A Love Supreme’ is hardly ever played and more is the pity. This avoidance relates to the holy grail status of ‘A Love Supreme’ among post Coltrane saxophonists. My view is that we should honour it and especially in this week. John Coltrane was born on September 23rd. It is a shame not to have all four movements performed together though; ‘Resolution’ is after all only a part of a mystical four piece puzzle which makes perfect sense when heard in its entirety.

Jamie stated the theme over and again, but each time working in subtle re-harmonisations and embarking upon brief angular explorations. We knew intuitively that we would end up in a place of almost unbearable intensity and we were on the edges of our seats in expectation. This was not a gate to be rushed and although we understood that, the anticipation was palpable. Tension and release is at the very essence of Jazz and Jamie achieve this end by stalking his prey in measured steps like a confident hunter.

‘Resolution’ is an Everest of a tune utilising Coltrane’s new-found ideas which were somewhere between hard bop and free. Jamie interpreted intelligently without trying to out do Coltrane. He made it his ‘Resolution’ as well. Kevin field was the same, as he took a more oblique approach than McCoy Tyner. This was a perfect homage without being a slavish imitation.

At the end of the gig we received an additional treat when Jamie asked Roger Manins to play. The best moment was when they played ‘On Green Dolphin Street‘ (Washington). With these two masters working the changes and probing every hidden corner of the melody, it reminded us that standards interpreted with integrity can sound as fresh as at first hearing.

Jamie Oehlers lives in Australia where he runs a Jazz School. He has so many awards that storage must be problem (including being judged winner of the ‘World Saxophone Competition’ in Montreux by Charles Lloyd and Bruce Lundvall of Blue Note). He has put out 10 albums as leader as well as being sideman for the whose who of the Jazz world.

I ran into Jazz guitarist Dixon Nacey as I was leaving and he summed it up nicely. “Man I have just received a series of Jazz upper-cuts”.

‘Dr Dog’ takes the Jazz Pulse of Auckland

Animal lovers, children and Jazzers alike were delighted to learn that the ‘Dr Dog’ Jazz quartet would be performing in the Creative Jazz Club (CJC). This was somewhat of a dream band as it featured ‘I cani popolari‘ from the halls of academia; Roger Manins (tenor), Kevin Field (piano, Rhodes), Oli Holland (Bass) and Ron Samsom (drums).

The band having no clear leaders could follow their noses, but in spite of that they worked as one throughout the evening. In Jazz-dog years they represented around 317.4 years of experience and so their ability to act in a disciplined manner was hardly surprising. They took their lead from each other.

Roger had managed to sniff out the microphone first and so the job of introducing the band members and the numbers fell to him. An endless stream of puns and dog stories followed and at one point some frank observations on the variability of dog intelligence risked causing serious offense to Afghan owners. As none appeared to be present the crises was averted and the dog related compositions flowed in happy succession.

If anyone thought this to be a frivolous exercise, they should be disabused of that notion. This was a band which had ‘chops’ (OK I had to put that in), the ability to delight a crowd and a string of intelligent compositions to shine over.

It is expected that the canine metaphors and jokes will continue to dog this band for some years; peaking around 2014 before eventually subsiding. As a departure from the normal CD prize there was a meat raffle. A cat named Jason took that prize.

The music that we heard was so good that a few of us are going to lay a trail of sausages; leading from the Auckland University School of Music Jazz Programme to the nearest recording studio (Yorkie Street studios or Ratter Records).

In researching this Canine Jazz phenomena I recalled another dog band which had performed at the CJC . Guitarist Neil Watson’s ‘Zen Dogs’ performed at the club about a year ago. When I ran into Neil months later I asked him if ‘Zen Dogs’ would be performing again soon. He answered in that enigmatic way of all Zen masters. “Oh that was a concept band”. “But will they be performing again”, I asked?. “No the band was literally a concept – not an actual band”. Confused and pondering the meaning of this Koan, I could not help wondering. Had I imagined the entire gig?

‘Dr Dog’ on the other hand is a band grounded in realty. A cartoon dog band entirely relevant to our times.

Footnotes: I have used sepia photographs to show respect, as they add a certain gravitas befitting the age and experience of the band. All photos are mine including ‘Dr Dog’ who was caught in Chelsea London and subjected to Photoshop without his permission. You will be pleased to learn that I managed to avoid using the following: barking up the wrong tree, woofers and Roger was a wag.

Alain Koetsier Band @ Finding Kiwi ‘Standards’

I have watched drummer Alain Koetsier perform over the last year and his credentials on the traps are unimpeachable.  Alain is a drummer with a modern feel and it is plain to see why so many of our top Jazz groups utilise him.  This was probably his first outing as leader and he had chosen wisely on two fronts.  His band mates were consummate professionals and their approach to the music was intuitive.  They interacted as if with one mind.  The second thing Alain did well was to select a set list of recent compositions by New Zealand Jazz Musicians.  I liked the concept.

People expect a band to play their own originals but when a set list focuses on a wider spectrum of Kiwi Jazz compositions it feels respectful.  It somehow lifts the tunes to another level of availability; a place of wider appreciation.  Doing this is a good start point in identifying our own ‘standards’ and some of the tunes played could well reach that bench mark.  As the scene continues to mature this will surely happen.

Alain & Dixon

Alain & Dixon

I was pleased to hear two tunes which had impressed me at recent gigs; ‘Dicey Moments’ by Oli Holland and the wonderful ‘Ancestral Dance’ by Nathan Haines.   Both of these new compositions are distinctive, clever and memorable.  Dixon Nacey compositions also catch the attention as he has a knack for locating the right hooks while providing a solid base for improvisation.The first set had contained ‘Bad Lamb’ (Dixon Nacey).    The tune had nice chordal voicings and the way it unfolded led us easily into the heart of the tune.

Another memorable number was ‘Tree Hugger’ by the Auckland-born bass player Matt Penman.   Matt has moved into the upper echelons of Jazz bass, occupying a respected place on the world scene.   Maybe he will return the compliment one day and acquaint North America with a few of the other compositions.

The gig was fun to experience and obviously fun to play as the musicians enjoyment of what they were doing was easy to discern.  Like many Jazz gigs there was a high degree of spontaneity and perhaps this came from being thrown in at the deep end.   Working musicians seldom have a lot of time to rehearse and when confronted by complex charts they appear to relish the prospect.

The musician that I was unfamiliar with was Pete France on tenor.   I know that he has played the CJC before and my friends tell me that they had hoped for his return one day.    His tone is rich and full and his improvised lines meaningful.   He is also relaxed on the bandstand and when you consider the calibre of his band mates this ease of manner speaks volumes.

Oli Holland

The band featured Oli Holland on bass.  His approach and focus drew you in inexorably as he demonstrated chops, impeccable timing and melodic invention.  His skills are considerable, as he can move from contrapuntal walking bass to melodic invention in an eye blink.   Oli gave his best, but then he always dies.

Pete France & Oli's hand

Lastly I come to Dixon Nacey.  His playing is widely appreciated throughout the NZ Jazz scene. As good as he is, he always strives to do better.   His compositions sing to us and his chordal work and rapidly executed lines astound.    It is good to be in a town where this man is playing and long may it continue.

Well done Alain – more please.

Oli Holland’s Shortland Street Gig

Oli Holland - Roger Manins

I recently received an invitation to Jazz Bassist Olivier Hollands DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) recital.  It was titled ‘Dicey Moments’.  The gig was held in the Kenneth Myers centre at the top of Shortland Street.   This ornate crenellated building has a solid place in the history of New Zealand Music as it was formerly the home of the old Shortland Street TV studios. In its time the studio had hosted various radio orchestras and a few Jazz programs had emanated from there.  Stephen Small

When an experienced musician and gifted educator like Oli is performing a Doctorate recital it is bound to be an extraordinary gig.  Just playing a few standards would never cut it as the judging panel would certainly be looking for something unique and innovative.  In my view the performance easily met the required standard and all those who attended (mainly musicians) were deeply impressed.  Oli had written a number of complex charts for the recital and these conveyed a profound understanding of how improvised music can work.  While they were undoubtedly a challenge to play, they were still incredibly accessible to the listener.  The tunes flowed as fresh as a mountain stream and better yet they provided wonderful vehicles for the musicians to interpret and blow over.  Ron Samsom

I assume that the brief would be to choose band mates with considerable experience, solid reading skills and depth.  Band mates who would augment the vision, excel, but never overpower the lead instrument or the music.  These musicians were among the best on offer and they understood very well that this was about the music.  Oli remained firmly in control while encouraging the musicians and loosening the reigns when required; this is what a good leader does.

Oli had split the recital into two district halves; so to achieve a chiaroscuro effect and the appropriate contrast in styles, he had chosen two different bands.  One was a straight ahead jazz unit with Roger Manins on tenor, Kevin Field on piano and Ron Samsom on drums (Oli on upright bass).    The second unit was a fusion band with Dr Stephen Small keys, Nick Granville solid body guitar and Stephen Thomas drums.  Once again Oli played an upright bass, which worked exceptionally well, as the slap and bite provided a real contrast to the non acoustic instruments.  In the manner of all good leaders he joked with the audience.   “I used to agonise about the tune titles” he said, “but one day I had the profound realisation that it doesn’t matter what you name a tune. The next tune title has nothing what-so-ever to do with the music”.

The musicians gave their best and I have seldom heard any of them play better. The fusion half had the audience gasping in delight, as Nick Granville’s guitar, soared around Stephen Smalls fusion keyboard flurries.  The success of this recital is a tribute to the musicians but above all it is a tribute to Oli Holland.  His bass lines whether soloing or underpinning his charts worked perfectly.  Dr Oli it is then.

Nick & Oli

Nick Granville & Oli Holland