The last time Nick Granville played in Auckland was 2014. A year prior to that he released his Rattle Jazz album ‘Refractions’ here At that time the CJC was located in an old downtown basement venue and that feels like a lifetime ago. Wellington is his home base and Wellington keeps Granville busy. He teaches, he gigs about town, he backs visiting artists, he plays in shows, he records, he tours and he is the featured guitarist in the Rodger Fox Big Band. The last time I saw him play was in Wellington, but that was a few years ago. Much water has passed under the bridge since then and his reputation has meantime grown apace. I have also kept an eye on his teaching clips, and his ongoing evolution as a musician is evident in these. Almost everything Granville plays is coloured by the blues in some way; that is his thing. On a mid-winter night, it is my thing as well.With the exception of ‘Alone Together’ by Schwartz/Dietz, all compositions were Grenville’s. Some were from his Rattle Album, such as Tossed Salad & Scrambled Eggs or Blues For Les, while others were much newer. The compositions were all ear-grabbing and most appeared to reference geographical locations or old TV programs. ‘Funky New Orleans Groove Thing’ was certainly true to label; a rhythm-driven groove piece that generated white heat. With Stephen Thomas on the job, the New Orleans beat never sounded better. Thomas is an exceptional drummer.A tune that I have heard Granville play previously is ‘Somewhere You’ve Been’. The title is a clever play on Wayne Shorter’s ‘Footprints’. The tune, although not a contrafact of Footprints is close enough to bring it to mind, It is nicely constructed and a good vehicle for a band to play off. For this gig Granville had wisely engaged old friends; Roger Manins, Oli Holland and Steven Thomas. Together on the bandstand, they represented genuine firepower and everyone dug deep when it came to delivering solos
Footnote: If things go according to plan, Granville will soon be off to the Monterey Jazz Festival with the Rodger Fox Big Band, followed by a recording session in a famous LA recording studio.
Nick Granville (guitar, compositions), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Olivier Holland (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums). The gig took place at the Thirsty Dog K’Road for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, 28th June 2017.
‘Panacea’ is the third of Phil Broadhurst’s ‘dedication trilogy’ series and as fine as the earlier two albums were, this one stands out. Everything about it is superb, the individual performances, the ensemble playing, the recording quality, the cover art by Cameron Broadhurst and above all the compositions. Broadhurst, always a prolific composer has excelled himself here. Instead of theming the album around a particular influence or musician he has tapped into the subliminal forces guiding his creativity.
This is the more difficult pathway and I suspect one that is fraught with risk. Delving into the subconscious mind can produce perverse results, as anyone who has suffered long-winded descriptions of someone elses dreams will know. Working in this way requires a ‘quantum’ approach; be aware but don’t look too closely or what you examine will disappear like Schrödinger’s cat. Poets (and cats) understand this. When he composed ‘Precious Metal’ he was at first unaware of the influence until a student pointed it out. It certainly speaks of Horace Silver but more importantly it conjures the essence of the man behind the music. The ensemble playing on this is simply sublime. An arranged head yields to Mike Booth on trumpet. He swiftly encapsulates the ethos of Silver in his delightfully moody solo. Broadhurst follows – expanding on the theme and signalling the direction, effectively setting the tune up for Roger Manins and Oli Holland who follow. There is a logical flow throughout and the piece works all the better because of it. I have heard it several times, but even on first hearing it sounded warmly familiar. That is the skill of good writing; evocation not imitation. For me the greatest joy was ‘Wheeler of Fortune’ his Kenny Wheeler tribute. So well realised was the mood that it might have been John Taylor playing a Wheeler composition. Again this is an extraordinary piece of writing and articulation, lovely because while capturing the style of these lost lamented greats it reminds us just what made them so dear to our hearts. In spite of being a piece for piano trio you can sense Wheeler reaching for those impossible high notes or mournfully smearing his over-running melancholic lines. It must have been tempting to use Booth’s flugel on this, but the implied sound is all the more powerful.
Like ‘Panacea’, the heart-felt ballad ‘Absent Friends’ is a lament for band mates passed from us; the delicately woven lines conveying a sense of reverence and affection. This is Broadhurst the romantic and Manins demonstrating the best of his formidable ballad playing skills. Another piece ‘knee lever’ begins with Neil Watson’s Pedal Steel guitar sounding quietly above the melody; understated like a soft sunrise casting a glow on the sea. As the piece progresses there are several surprises, first from Broadhurst who imbues it with a distinct rhythmic treatment (like that of Eliane Elias) – then Watson solos – his soaring guitar reaching for the sky. As the horns come in I am aware of a subtle Wheeler influence again. I played it over several times and yes, above the arranged horn phrases I hear a Norma Winstone like wordless voice. I look in the liner notes, no human voice shown – then it struck me. This is Watson, again understated but adding something to the piece which lifts it into the realm of musical magic – an exceptional and original musician. The album would be the poorer without his contributions. Subconscious influences shape every musicians work and it is right to celebrate those. Purging these influences is often a mistake. All creative people whether writers, poets, musicians or painters have these voices at their core. Improvising musicians stand on the shoulders of giants and it is fitting to celebrate that. Broadhurst has done so with due reverence, due acknowledgement but never sycophancy. This was his time to say thank you and his own original voice shone through the multitude of influences.Booth sounds better each time I hear him. His undoubted strength lying in the way he reminds us of the great traditional trumpet players – especially those from the Hardbop era (like Blue Mitchell). A wonderful musician, a fine arranger and one who nicely compliments a saxophone modernist like Manins. Playing off the latter gives the edge. Manins is such an original that you hear something new and exciting each time he plays. I have observed before how well he plays off Broadhurst compositions. This says something about the skill of both men.
Bass player Oli Holland and drummer Cameron Sangster are the remaining components of the rhythm section. Their performances are hard swinging; understanding the right moment to amp things up or to dial back. Everyone is playing at a high level on this album, everyone is indispensable. The word panacea is from the ancient Greek meaning ‘all healing’. The modern definition extends the concept beyond cure-all potion – applying it more to the realm of ideas. The album is truly a balm in our troubled times. I highly recommend it as a Christmas present to yourself or a loved one. It must surely be contender for next years Tui’s.
Panacea: Phil Broadhurst Quintet – Phil Broadhurst (piano, compositions), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Mike Booth (trumpet, flugel), Olivier Holland (bass), Cameron Sangster (drums) – guest Neil Watson (Pedal Steel and Fender guitars).
The trumpet is arguably the first instrument of Jazz but we hear it infrequently in Auckland. When we do it is seldom the lead instrument. To redress the balance, the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) featured Lex French last week, an impressive musician who is garnering increasing attention on the Jazz scene. This gig was one to look forward to. The occasion was the launch of his new Rattle album ‘The Cut’, which is an international affair; recorded at McGill University’s MMR & Studio ‘A’ utilising top rated young Montreal musicians. The mixing and mastering done in Auckland by Rattles Steve Garden. For the album release tour French had assembled a quintet of Wellington based musicians, people he has played with before and all well-respected.
While French has been around for some time and amassed an impressive CV he is not as well-known in Auckland. After this album (and gig) that should change. In spite of his relative youth he has already worked extensively overseas and has long been an essential component of the Wellington scene. He came to my attention earlier this year when ‘The JAC’ toured New Zealand and he really stood out, as trumpet players of his calibre are few and far between in New Zealand. His ability to engage an audience goes way beyond mere chops as the way he connects is personal. His tone is impressive as is his control of dynamics. While a strong decisive player, he can also whisper a beguiling phrase. ‘The Cut’ features his own compositions and these are as strong as the playing on the album.
If I had to pinpoint a particular mood, a particular composition I would draw your attention to ‘Metro’. Montreal has an impressive metro, teaming with cosmopolitan life. This track (2) and the others on the album connected me back to a city I love; a great Jazz city. This is what Jazz does best, paints sound pictures, reconnects us to fading memories while at the same time pointing to the unknown. ‘The Cut’ has an up to the moment feel with strong edgy interplay between instruments. Strangely it conveyed to me the vibe of Miles ‘Sorcerer’ album. Perhaps it was the compositions, perhaps it was the phrasing and intonation of the trumpet, but whatever the reason it evoked memories. Over the week I have played the album over and over and with each acquaintance a new pleasure discovered.
French is from Wellington New Zealand and there he obtained a B Mus with honours before moving to Montreal’s McGill University to complete a Masters. McGill has a highly respected Jazz Studies course (the Schulich School of Music). As an aside, New Zealand has another respected McGill alumni in drummer Ron Samsom (now head of Auckland University’s Jazz Studies Program). The musicians on ‘The Cut’ are all from McGill, Montreal. They are Lex French (trumpet), David Bellemare (tenor saxophone), Nicolas Ferron (guitar), Nicolas Bedard (bass) and Mark Nelson (drums). French is clearly the leader, giving a consistently strong performance, but with impressive sounding musicians like this behind him he is extremely well supported. For the New Zealand tour he had Jake Baxendale (alto saxophone), Dan Hayles (Rhodes, Piano), Scott Maynard (bass) and Lauren Ellis (drums). Having keys replace guitar changed the feel somewhat, but both configurations were effective in their way. With the authoritative French upfront it could hardly be otherwise.
French is impressive in an ensemble but he is a standout when leading his own unit. Buy this CD to show your support for an up and coming artist, but above all buy it for the pure enjoyment of sampling the best of contemporary Jazz. We can also chalk this up as another win for Rattle, in what is already an impressive 2014 Jazz catalogue.
Who: Lex French Quintet: (‘Album) Lex French (trumpet, leader), David Bellemare (tenor saxophone), Nicolas Ferron (guitar), Nicolas Bedard (bass), Mark Nelson (drums). (NZ tour) Lex French (trumpet, leader), Jake Baxendale (alto saxophone), Dan Hayles (Rhodes, piano), Scott Maynard (bass), Lauren Ellis (drums). www.alexisfrenchmusic.com
I don’t know as much about the Wellington Jazz scene as I’d like to, but I’m working on that. Recently an opportunity presented itself; two days in Wellington and a chance to catch up with some musician friends. I did my homework and learned that ‘The Jac’ would be playing at ‘Meow’. They had just recorded for Rattle and that made me keen to hear them; knowing that they were initially inspired by the ‘San Francesco Jazz Collective’ all the more so.
While not a dedicated Jazz venue Meow is a great supporter of the music and a good place to experience live music in general. The club has regularly hosted class Jazz acts like ‘The Troubles’ (and its various offshoots). Located on a sharp right angle bend, down a narrow winding alley; intriguing car head-light effects sweep across the band when cars negotiate the turn. This reminds me of the new Bimhuis Jazz club in Amsterdam, which has brightly lit trains passing right behind the band as they play. From the first few bars I loved what I heard and was pleased to learn that they would be playing in the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) in Auckland a few weeks later.
This band ticks a lot of boxes for me with their ancient to modern feel. I love the Octet or Nonet sound and especially when a brass heavy front line is in evidence. With ‘The Jac’ the four horns up front assault the senses in the best possible way; solidly augmented by two keyboards, drums and bass. The original lineup (and the one recorded), features piano and guitar. With the guitarist (Callum Allardice) overseas a Rhodes was added to replace the guitar. While I like both configurations I’m particularly impressed by the added colour that the Rhodes brings to the mix. In the hands of Dan Hayles it often sounds like Vibes and this takes the group closer to the sound-palette of the SFJC.
There was a good audience at the CJC and ‘The Jac’ were received with enthusiasm. It is all too rare to see such configurations in New Zealand and I wish more would surface. There were solid performances from the soloists but the real stars were the stunning arrangements. The charts sound modern, but implicit within is the Nonet/Octet tradition. The Birth of the Cool is momentarily evoked but this is not the anchor point. A modern aesthetic is at work here (listen to ‘Thieves in the Night’ composed by alto player Jake Baxendale and streamed below).
They opened with a tune titled ‘Major,major, major, major’ (to which Jake added – “in a minor key”). Next we heard ‘New York Axel Man’, an airy free-flowing tune which highlighted the skills of Jake Baxendale (alto) and Alexis French (trumpet). I was particularly taken with the skills of Lex French, as trumpet players of his calibre are not thick on the ground in New Zealand. I asked him who his recent teachers were and learned that he had been studying at McGill University in Canada. His articulation, clean lines and the ability to communicate an idea in a short space took my attention. In a line up of competent musicians he managed to stand out.
Jake Baxendale is the predominant soloist and his alto work is interesting. As one of the writers and the collective’s front man, he rightly garners the lions share of attention. The other Baxendale composition on the album is ‘Armada’. A delightful piece with rhythmic complexity and a strong bass line underpinning it. It is my sense that he is central to the octets success.
Completing the horn section is Chris Buckland on tenor and Matthew Allison on trombone (Allison is a member of the NZSO). This is highly arranged music and so tenor, alto, trombone and trumpet need to work as one entity. As they negotiated the often complex charts they showed just how tight they could be. This is a big sound, but one with a world of implied space.
On bass is the talented Nick Tipping who is another well-respected Wellington musician. Like Jake Baxendale he regularly plays with the Roger Fox Wellington Jazz Orchestra. Often backing international artists when the come to town. Buckland replaced Richard Thai (who played on the album) and as alluded to earlier, Dan Hayles on Rhodes replaced the guitarist. This gave the ensemble two keyboards and the alignment worked extremely well in my view. On the CJC Club piano was Dan Milward (he played keys at Meow). The juxtaposition between Piano and Rhodes worked so well because the musicians were able to compliment each other while keeping out of each others way. Milward took the subtler approach but his presence was never-the-less strongly felt.
Dan Hayles took several solos’ (which the audience loved) but his main role was to augment the mix with well placed fills and to add a sense of depth to the ensemble. I have heard him on several previous occasions and rate him highly. The remaining member is drummer Shaun Anderson and his stick work is superb. A supportive and in-the-pocket drummer who can also breathe fire into proceedings. It was Anderson and Hayles who took the more organic approach; both regularly stepping free of the charts and to great effect. Both made the pulse quicken and this balanced out the carefully crafted shapes and forms of the ensemble.
The compositions on the album are all by Baxendale and Allardice and it is these that give momentum to the project. In future it would be interesting to hear some of the soloists given additional space, but not at the expense of those gorgeous rich harmonic voicings. With a label like Rattle behind them this bodes well for future projects.
What: ‘The Jac’ at the release of their album ‘NERVE’ – Rattle Jazz (the album can be purchased direct from Rattle or at retail outlets).
Who: Jake Baxendale (alto, arrangements, compositions), Alexis French (trumpet), Chris Buckland (tenor sax), Matt Allison (trombone), Dan Hayles (Rhodes), Dan Milward (piano), Nick Tipping (upright bass), Shaun Anderson (drums) – Album only – Callum Allardice (guitar, arrangements, compositions), Richard Thai (tenor).