Jazz on Lockdown ~Hear it Here ~ John Rae

John Rae Wellington Musician

With humankind and their dogs confined to home, I set up a Zoom call with an innovative Wellington-based Jazz musician, John Rae. I knew instinctively that he was the right musician to initiate the lockdown interview series with. Rae is an important musician; here and well beyond these shores. He is a natural storyteller. 

Born in Edinburgh to a musical family, he began gigging at age sixteen. Accompanying him on those youthful gigs was his friend, saxophonist Tommy Smith. Later Rae worked with Smith in the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. Rae’s recording output is prodigious and there is much to bring a listener joy among those offerings. I will add links.

While those in Scotland or England will associate him with his two BBC albums of the year or his ‘Herald Angel Award’ from the Edinburgh Festival,  New Zealanders will love him for his work with The Troubles. A Joyous anarchic Mingus like ensemble telling it like it is. Rae’s compositional work looks out toward the world and it frequently blends with ethnic music; Celtic, Japanese Koto, Middle Eastern. As a drummer he exhorts the band, standing up and urging them on, while his beats roil beneath them like a gathering storm cloud supporting the sky above. I was not surprised to learn that he had frequently visited New Orleans (and played there). I can hear that unique influence in his drumming. The perfect cushion and always conversational.

The good news is, that he has a number of albums ready for release or re-release. The re-releases include his ‘Best of John Rae’s Celtic Feet’ from the 1990s and amongst his newer offerings, a Troubles album ‘KAPOW’ (live at Meow).  His website is johnrae.biz  His current recording labels are: Thick Records at www.thickrecords.co.nz, Rattle Records at Rattle-Records.bandcamp.com  Please buy these albums and keep this important original music alive. Check out the samples on the website.

John Rae: composer, bandleader, arranger, educator, drummer, Celtic Fidler ~ improviser in all styles from swing to free.  

The lockdowns won’t stop jazz! To assist musicians who’ve had performances cancelled, get their music heard around the globe. The Jazz Journalists Association created Jazz on Lockdown: Hear it Here community blog. for more, click through to https://news.jazzjournalists.org/catagory/jazz-on-lockdown/ 

 

Cover Art and Rattle Jazz

 

 

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Rattle Records stands out from the pack for a number of reasons and not least because of the label’s presentation. Most independent labels like Rattle run on a shoestring and to hold their own in a difficult market they need a strong identity. While the music and the technical aspects are paramount, the cover art is also important. So, the recording artist is the expert when it comes to musical content, but seldom so when it comes to cover art design. Fortuitously, Rattle has an over-arching concept when it comes to cover design, much like ECM does.

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The guru interpreting the musician’s desires while at the same time remaining true to the broader design concept is UnkleFranc. With his (or her) help the artwork is shaped. Rattle Records occupies a unique position in New Zealand contemporary music and the visual brand is clearly a factor. Someone purchasing a pop playlist on Spotify may not care about design, but the arts-minded folk who love Rattle certainly do. 

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With the arrival of music streaming, the interconnectedness of music and the visual arts largely faded into obscurity. What began as grand theft under Napster became petty theft under the various digital models and what passed for cover art morphed into pixilated blobs the size of postage stamps. Audiophiles cared but the average music consumer did not appear to. As the old model faltered, the race to bottom gathered pace. The proliferation of new platforms like Apple, while nowhere near as bad as Napster paid risible royalties to the recording artists.

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There were other consequences as well, the downloading and streaming industry had effectively severed the relationship between the consumer and cover art/liner notes and high fidelity music. In a newsletter to new recording artists, a major label pointed out that liner notes and recording details were no longer compatible with music presentation. Statements like that are woefully disrespectful as the creation and marketing of music is a collaborative enterprise. It matters who the musicians are and where the album was recorded or mixed. The presentation also matters.

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Throughout this period the CD and the newly revived LP were the hold-outs and it is worth noting that no analogue or digital medium has lasted as long as the Compact Disk. The fault for the decline in CD sales does not lie with the streamers or the disruptor technologies, the fault lies with the industry, who failed to adapt. The industry answer was to demand a bigger share of a shrinking pie and the ship sank slowly under its own inertia.

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If the good news has been slow in coming, the rise of the independent labels and the arrival of artist-friendly digital platforms like Bandcamp has offered hope. These are mostly run by musicians or committed curators (unlike the big three who own 80% of the industry, Sony BMG, Universal, Warners). On Bandcamp, you can buy an LP or CD and download or stream in HiFi. The artist also gets a better percentage, control is localised and cover art and liner notes are available. 

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I urge anyone reading this to visit Rattle on Bandcamp. If you don’t already own a copy and you like the look of the album cover, check it out. All of the information is there underneath the cover art. Listen to samples, read the liner notes and then buy in whatever form suits you. For me, this experience recaptures the lost lamented joy of browsing in record stores and then rushing home to try out the album out on your HiFi. All of the album covers I have posted here are attributed to UnkleFranc with the exception of ‘The Troubles’ cover which was designed by Fane Flaws. 

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Footnote: An odd research study was undertaken to investigate the relationship between music and the visual arts. The study wanted to see if personality traits were a determinant of musical preference. A questionnaire using the ‘Arnett Inventory of Sensation Seeking’ was used and the results were as follows: The majority of study participants identified themselves as liking either Classical or Popular Music and most of those indicated a preference for paintings with landscape images. The majority also indicated low preferences for Heavy Metal, images portraying violence or for world cultures (?). Classical music listeners related positively to all visual art images. Heavy Metal lovers liked all visual art images except for landscapes. Popular music lovers identified most positively with visual art religious images (? Madonna) and Jazz Lovers were cool with all visual art images except religious images (attribution, Sage Journals).

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The albums in the order of appearance: (1) Zoo (Tom Dennison) (2) Secret Islands (Jim Langabeer) (3) Ace Tone (Ron Samsom) (4) Good Winter (antipodes) (5) UM… (yeahyeahabsolutlynoway) (6) The Troubles (7) Fiddes vs Tinkler (Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra) (8) East West Moon (Jonathan Crayford) (9) Edge of Chaos (Dixon Nacey) (10) Shuffle (Manins, Samsom, Benebig, Lockett)

JazzLocal32.com was rated as one of the 50 best Jazz blogs in the world by Feedspot. The author is a professional member of the Jazz Journalists Association. 

Dixon Nacey ~ The Edge Of Chaos

 

Nacey.jpgThis Dixon Nacey album has long been anticipated and although Nacey has previously recorded as co-leader, this is the first album to be released exclusively under his name. Nacey is firmly on the radar of Jazz loving Kiwis, but his fan base extends well beyond that. He is a professional musician of considerable standing, an in-demand teacher and in recent years the musical director of CocaCola Christmas in the Park. To up and comers he is a guitar legend and on this album, they have something to aspire to; twenty years of experience distilled into excellence.     

The material arose from his Master’s degree which focused on advanced compositional techniques and which was completed last year at the UoA Jazz school. In the process, he gained important realisations and applied these to his art. As listeners, a music degree is not needed as the album has visceral appeal. Just follow your ears and you will get to the heart of things, and that is the point of compelling Jazz performance. 

I have caught many of Nacey’s performances over the years and they never disappoint. I have also gained a sense of the man. He is generous, open-hearted, enthusiastic and very hard working. He takes his craft seriously, but never at the expense of his human qualities. All of the above are evident in his warm playing. The man and his music are not separate. He was aiming at a modern sound here and he has achieved this beautifully and done so without a hint of contrivance. This is how guitarists sound post-Rosenwinkel or Moreno, but he has made the sound his own. A more exact equivalency would be to place him alongside the top-rated Australian guitarists. Price (1).jpg

On the album, he is accompanied by former colleagues and friends and it reminds me how lucky we are to have such musicians in our city. Keven Field on Rhodes and piano, Roger Manins on tenor saxophone, Olivier Holland on upright bass and Andy Keegan on drums. One track features Chelsea Prastiti and Jonathan Leung on vocals. With friends like this to help him realise his vision, he has received an added boon. They are all in peak form here and Rattle Records has also done the artist proud. Steve Garden and UnkleFranc you are extraordinary.

The launch at the CJC Jazz Club, Anthology room had Alan Brown on Keys and piano instead of Keven Field. I looked into my database and learned that it was exactly six years ago to the night that Dixon Nacey led a band at the CJC, and as it was last Wednesday with Alan Brown on keys. It was a great night filled with enthusiastic applause as everyone bathed in the vibe; and the soaring runs which glissed and glowed like silken fire. As well as numbers from ‘The Edge of Chaos’ album we heard a few earlier Dixon compositions like ‘Sco’ and ‘The all Nighter’. I have posted a video of The all Nighter from the gig – how could I resist. To listen to a sample of the album go to Rattle Bandcamp where you can order a hard copy or download it in any format. Try a sample track and you will certainly buy. And while you are at it, take time to reflect on our extraordinary musicians. 

The gig took place at Anthology for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, K’Road Auckland, 16 October 2019. Purchase the album from Rattle Records Bandcamp

Reuben Bradley ~ Shark Variations

SharkPost Trump’s inauguration, improbability is the new normal and in keeping with the mood of the times Wednesday’s gig emerged from improbable beginnings. It began with an international cat rescue mission, an attempt to thwart a ‘catricidal’ former neighbour. Before the mission had even been concluded a subplot had emerged; one involving the inhabitants of three cities, two countries, and assorted sharks. Those familiar with Reuben Bradley will not be surprised at this turn of events as he’s known for his humour, good nature and above all for his ability to turn improbable adventures into really good music. ‘Shark Varieties’ is a drummer led trio and a vehicle which showcases a bunch of the leader’s original tunes. It also showcases a joyful reunion.

The Shark Variations album was released by Rattle in 2017 and it followed a successful tour by the band a few months earlier. Bradley was in the process of moving to Australia at the time and he was keen to record with longtime collaborators Roger Manins and Bret Hirst. He needed to do this while they were all in the same place and this was his best window of opportunity. Hirst is an expat Kiwi who lives in Sydney, Manins is based in Auckland and Bradley was at that point, about to head for the Gold Coast. Because of their shared history, the musicians knew exactly what they were aiming for; an open-hearted collaborative and spontaneous expression of their art form. That they realised this vision will be apparent to those who listen to the album.

As a leader, Bradley never shies away from an opportunity to leaven his gigs with humour. He tells jokes against himself (the trademark of all good Kiwi humour) and as you peruse his tune titles you find a plethora of throwaway lines and in-jokes. During live gigs, the titles become hilarious stories and his delivery is always pitch-perfect. Improvising musicians frequently tell an audience that the title came after the composition and that they struggled to name tunes. In Bradley’s case, I suspect the reverse is true; that a series of off-beat incidents have stimulated his already vivid imagination and the incidents become the catalysts for his compositions. ‘Wairoa or L.A.’ ‘Wake up call’ Makos and Hammerheads’ are all examples, the latter giving rise to the title, in spite of the fact that he could only name two shark types (which he felt was more than enough). 

Humour aside, this is seriously good music. Bradley is a gifted and popular drummer and musicians love having him alongside. It is therefore not surprising that he would choose these collaborators. Manins is undoubtedly the best known contemporary New Zealand saxophonist and a musician whose formidable abilities are attested well beyond these shores. Hirst left New Zealand many years ago and is regarded as a bass heavyweight on the Australasian scene. He is frequently found performing with Mike Nock and his resume includes playing alongside James Muller, Greg Osby and other notables. 

The reunion gig took place on a cold wet Auckland night and many gladly braved the chill to get a piece of this. I have put up a video from the gig titled ‘Wake up Call’, which Reuben assured the audience had only the thinnest connection to an actual wake up call. In keeping with the ‘spirit’ of the gig, I miscalibrated my camera and the resulting shot turned Bradley and Manins into ghosts. The album is available from Rattle Records. The gig took place at Anthology, for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, 02 September 2019. 

Footnote: The cats were rescued safely and after an unfortunate travel accident they both found asylum abroad.

Steve Barry – ‘Blueprints’ Trio @ CJC

Barry S (1)Steve Barry left these shores many years ago and these days Australians count him as their own. It is hardly surprising that they do because since his departure he has raked in the accolades, won numerous awards and completed a Doctorate. Given the above, we can hardly begrudge his move. Music is like water it will always find its level, no matter where the wellspring. Everyone on the New Zealand Jazz scene looks forward to Barry’s yearly trips home as he never rests on his laurels. He brings us new and diverse projects and above all he showcases innovation. 

The ‘Blueprints’ Trio is a good example as it was formed primarily as a vehicle for his doctrinal compositions. For any student of pianism, these works are compelling as they combine strong elements of modern classical composition balanced against Jazz innovation. That Barry achieves this with such clarity, while never completely abandoning the history of jazz speaks strongly of his vision. Very few can achieve this without the music sounding contrived or lopsided. Barry’s compositions, although often challenging, are neither. Audiences listen and above all they smile as the music unfolds. Picking the references and enjoying the journey beyond. Those with a sense of history will hear Monk and Strayhorn; others will hear new music and neither is wrong.

The YouTube clip that I have posted illustrates this clearly as there are distinct Monkish references. When you listen closely though, you realise, that this is a twenty-first-century version and a Monk who has absorbed a whole lot of very contemporary ideas. The angular leap into ultra-modernity is abetted by his Australian bandmates; both completely at home in this adventurous new world.

With him in Auckland were the other members of the current Blueprints trio, Jacques Emery on Bass and Alex Inman-Hislop on drums. With Emery often playing arco bass and Inman Hislop splashing bold colour strokes, the distinctive vibe was complete. While this was very much Barry’s show, no one was in the background. For a copy of the latest Blueprints Trio album ‘Hatch’ go Rattle Records or to view his complete discography go to stevebarrymusic.bandcamp.com/

The Steve Barry ‘Blueprints’ Trio appeared at Backbeat, 100 K’Road, for the CJC Creative Jazz Club on 10 April 2019  

‘Orange’ Chisholm/Meehan/Dyne

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This is the second Unwind album and everyone who purchased the original will be delighted that the project is ongoing. The first gig promoting their new release ‘Orange’ took place at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) in Auckland last week. For that gig, the trio was expanded to include the well-known Auckland drummer Julien Dyne. Hayden Chisholm, Norman Meehan, and Paul Dyne go back a long way and in spite of Chisholm living in Germany, they have maintained their creative connection. This is an exceptionally fruitful association and it is our good fortune that they maintain it. These are seasoned musicians and able to draw upon a wealth of diverse musical experience.

Chisholm, in particular, brings qualities to the tunes which are unique and compelling; his tone production simply wonderful. He can produce a Konitz like tone but without a hint of mimicry. He is ancient to modern and his avant-garde credentials give him that finely tuned edge; especially evident when tackling reflective tunes like these. In live performance especially, he often embarks on fantastical introductions. Using a Shruti box and augmenting that with his quiet and always amazing throat singing. It works so well because it is applied judiciously. When playing the alto he takes you with him and each step along the way counts, his improvisations having a distinctly narrative quality.  When he plays the audience listens, really listens.

Norman Meehan and Paul Dyne are the perfect foils for Chisholm. They respond to every nuance – feed him lines – but also leave space for the music to breathe. Meehan’s voicings are notable for their delicacy, but counter-intuitively, his minimalism feels expansive. The notes (and silences) fleshing out the endless possibilities while never once crowding the melodic arc. Meehan is soon to move to America and we wish him well, provided that he returns often and with more performances like this one. Although the venue lacks a grand piano, Backbeat’s Kawai is an instrument of quality. Under Meehan’s touch, it rang clear.

Paul Dyne is a respected Wellington bass player and for the Auckland gig, he was joined by his son Julien. Both are exceptional musicians. Dyne senior makes the upright bass seem effortless and this is his forte. Co-led ensembles like this are all about interplay and the quality of Dynes bass work was evident. It was notable because it held the centre without seeming to do so.

The compositional duties were also shared.  Many tunes from the album were played but during the CJC gig, we heard a few recent compositions.  All three trio members contributed tunes and their compositions although very different were complimentary.  I have included a sound clip from the album, but to hear more and to purchase, go to Rattle Records and click-through to Rattles new Bandcamp site.

The album ‘Orange’ is released by Rattle Records. The band personnel: Hayden Chisholm (alto saxophone, Shruti box, throat singing), Norman Meehan (piano), Paul Dyne (upright bass) and for the live performance Julien Dyne. The gig took place at the Backbeat Bar for the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), March 13, 2019

 

Eat Your Greens / No Dogs Allowed

The decision to review these two albums together makes sense for a number of reasons. They were both released on the Rattle Label earlier this year and both are quite exceptional. I predict that both albums will be nominated for Jazz Tui’s next year, it’s a no-brainer. Once again, Rattle has served us up a tasty fare. Albums that are beautifully presented and which compare favourably with the best from anywhere.

IMG_0442‘Eat Your Greens’ is an album by to the popular Wellington pianist and educator Anita Schwabe. It was recorded at the UoA Kenneth Myers Centre in Auckland during her recent tour. Her band also performed live before a capacity audience at Auckland’s CJC Creative Jazz Club and it was immediately obvious that they were in great form. Schwabe normally plays with Wellington musicians and regularly with the Roger Fox Big Band. The idea of recording in Auckland was formed while sharing gigs with Roger Manins earlier and it was with his assistance that the Kenneth Myers Centre was made available for recording.

The semi-muted acoustics in the KMC auditorium work well for smaller ensembles and especially when John Kim captures them. Schwabe is a delightful pianist and her swinging feel was elevated to the sublime by the inclusion of Manins on tenor saxophone, Cameron McArthur on upright bass and Ron Samsom on drums. Having such fine musicians working in sync is the first strength of the album; the other strength is the compositions.

The album is a hard swinger in the classic post-bop mould, and in spite of the references to past greats, the musicians insert a down to earth Kiwi quality. The compositions are superb vehicles for momentum and improvisation and the band wastes no opportunity in exploiting those strengths.  In light of the above and unsurprisingly, a track from the album. ‘Spring tide’, won Schwabe an APRA Award for best New Zealand Jazz composition this year. As you play through the tracks you will be grabbed by Manins bravura performance during ‘Anger Management’ or by his sensitive playing on the lovely loping ‘The way the cards Lay’ (Manins is Getz like here); at how beautifully McArthur pushes that little bit harder in order to get the best from his bandmates or how finely tuned Samsom is to the nuances of the pulse (plus a few heart-stopping solos).

It is, however, every bit Schwabe’s album and it is her playing and her compositions that stay with you. I am particularly fond of ‘There once was a Time’ – a fond smile in Bill Evans direction and evocative from start to finish. That such a fine pianist should be so under-recorded is a mystery to me. Thanks to Rattle that may well change. This is an album that Jazz-lovers will play over and over and each time they do they will find something new to delight them.

Anita Schwabe: (piano, compositions), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Cameron McArthur (upright bass), Ron Samsom (drums). Released on Rattle

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‘No Dogs Allowed’ is the follow-up to the acclaimed 2015 Jazz Tui winning album ‘Dog’. The earlier album set such a high standard that it was hard to contemplate that offering being improved on. This, however, is not a band to rest on their laurels and the restless creative forces driving their upward trajectory have resulted in another album that feels like a winner. This time around there is an Australian in the mix, as they have added the astonishingly gifted Adelaide guitarist James Muller as a guest. It was a brave move to mess with a winning combination and to expand the quartet to a quintet but anyone who has heard Roger Manins play alongside Muller will know that this addition was always going to work to their advantage.

While Muller has chops to burn and manifests a rare tonal clarity, you will never hear him deploy a note or a phrase needlessly. Here you have five master musicians speaking a common language and communicating at the highest level. Although each is a seasoned veteran and bursting with their own ideas, they harness those energies to the collective and the result is immensely satisfying. It must be hard for gifted musicians to set ego aside this way, but these five did just that.

While the album is the perfect example of Jazz as an elevated art form it is never for a moment remote or high brow. As with the 2015 album, the core Dog members shared compositional duties. There are two tunes each from Manins, Field and Holland and three from Samsom. Their contributions are different stylistically but the tracks compliment. Place Manins, Field, Holland and Samsom in a studio and the potion immediately starts to bubble. Add a pinch of Muller and the magical alchemy is complete. When you are confronted with a great bunch of tunes like this and have to pick one it’s hard. In the end, I chose Manins ‘Schwiben Jam’ for its warm embracing groove. The album and particularly this track connects your ears directly to your heart.

The Album is released on Rattle and was recorded in Adelaide at the Wizard Tone Studios.  DOG: Kevin Field (piano and keys), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Olivier Holland (upright bass), Ron Samsom (drums) + James Muller (guitar).

 

 

 

Live Dog @ Thirsty Dog

DOG16 128.jpgAs another DOG night approached I could feel the excitement in my bones. I had followed their tracks from the groups inception, enjoying every moment along the trail. I was at their first gig in February 2013 and it amazed me then just how rounded and complete they were. If you search for the ‘(Dr) Dog’ post in this blog site you will find a video from that gig. Man that blew me away. I just couldn’t get the tunes and the excitement of that night out of my head. Later I used a cut ‘Dideldideldei’ (Holland) as the signature for my YouTube site. I also sent the cut to a Jazz DJ friend Eddie B in LA and he played it on his show. Unsurprisingly people phoned in immediately wanting to know, “who were those amazing cats”?  Before long the group decided to record – everyone who heard them wanted more. DOG seemed to encapsulate everything that was good and exciting about the local scene – DOG was, and still is, something special.DOG16 131.jpgThere are so many aspects to this group that it is hard enumerate them all; of course there are the outrageous dog jokes, the brilliant compositions from each band member, the powerful stage presence, but it is something else that excites me the most. This is a band that could gig anywhere in the world and we could hold our heads up, knowing that they would do us proud, tell our story. I felt excited when they were nominated for ‘album of the year’ and as pleased as a dog with two tails when they won the ‘Jazz Tui’. Now it is rumoured that a new DOG album is on the way. I can’t wait.

Most bands take a number or two to warm up, but not this one. At the Thirsty Dog the band leapt out of the starting gate like fixated greyhounds after a lure. The first number of the first set was a new composition by bass player Oli Holland (‘Scheibenwischer’ – this translates as windscreen-wiper) and it sounded great, setting the tone for the evening. Next was Ron Samsom’s tune ‘Push Biker’ (the first track on the DOG album). The intro begins with a long morse like pulse, everyone joining in but from a different perspective, then a melodic head – coming right at you like a freight train. A great vehicle for Roger Manins to use as a launch pad as he jets into orbit on his solo.DOG16 133.jpgThroughout the sets were a scattering of familiar DOG compositions – plus a few new ones (like ‘Merde’ by Samsom and Hollands ‘Shceibenwischer’). All of the tunes sounded fresh and somehow different, perhaps because Kevin Field was playing a Rhodes and not a piano. I love the Rhodes in all its antique glory and in Field’s hands it is especially wonderful. It cut through the room like crystal. Hearing the familiar tunes like ‘Peter the Magnificent’ (Manins), ‘Icebreaker’ (Field) and ‘Sounds like Orange’ was like meeting old friends. The last track of the evening was the familiar ‘Dideldideldei'(Holland). DOG ripped into it with the usual abandon, leaving us shaking our heads in disbelief and grinning like Cheshire cats.DOG16 129.jpgThe Thirsty Dog works well as a venue, having good acoustics, good sight-lines and a sizeable bandstand.  They also serve snack food and they are most welcoming. The first DOG album is available at Rattle Records and if you don’t own a copy don’t delay. Everyone wants a DOG for Christmas.

FYI: YouTube refuses to upload video, even though I have some great cuts from this gig – will post if I ever get it sorted.

DOG: Kevin Field (Rhodes, compositions), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone, compositions), Oli Holland (bass, compositions), Ron Samsom (drums, compositions) held for the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) at the Thirsty Dog, K’Rd, Auckland city, December 7th 2016.

Journalism, Digital Futures and Music

Garden Jan 2nd (14)While it is easy to feel discouraged by the state of the music industry and to agonise over the plight of long-form investigative journalism, there are pathways through the morass. Better alternatives, however tentative are forming and the emergence of more equitable models a possibility. These debates are worth having and the creative sector needs to become more vocal and activist. Everything of value is at stake here and the market rationalists will happily plunder the creative sector if artists and consumers leave them to it. As we ponder the challenges it is tempting to think of the music world as being too broken to fix. Acquiescence and inertia are the antithesis of creativity. The artists and journalists who care about this must do what we do best – confront, shock, overwhelm stupidity, dispense joy, start revolutions; throwing in the towel is for those devoid of imagination and banality produces nothing worthwhile.Maria Schneider  I recently watched two thought-provoking documentaries on the fate of the book and of in-depth journalism. ‘Out of Print’ and ‘Stop the Presses’. The first threw up a lot of intriguing questions, while the second provided some answers. Every new media platform brings with it a multitude of doom sayers and the invention of the printing press was no exception. Books have been with us for over four thousand years and while there are few local book-shops left in 2016, there are more books being printed than ever. The ability to record data and preserve it is the greatest of human achievements and the modern world rests upon it. In spite of determined efforts throughout history to burn books or to shut down the information flow, knowledge and information proliferates.

The tablets and engravings of antiquity are the most durable as the oldest texts known to us are readable today (the Hittite Linear B clay tablets). While a surprisingly large number of ancient books and texts survive, some modern attempts to ‘save the book’ have fallen flat on their face. Recently libraries rushed to put their catalogues into the CD Rom format. This marvel of modern technology was the answer to saving the printed word and so encyclopaedias and written texts were laboriously digitised. As suddenly as it appeared the platform vanished and a technical museum is now the only place where you can find a CD Rom reader (or a floppy disc). The ways of storing music, although covering an infinitely smaller time span have a comparable history. Platforms that seemed forever solutions came and went while the music migrated to newer formats. This process will continue and the new formats are not the problem.

The player-piano was a real threat to live music as was the Edison cylinder. Live music survived and recorded music morphed into the 78/EP/LP/tape/CD/Digital download and cloud streamed content. The changes will continue, probably accelerate, but we have learned that the best of the older formats can co-exist with emerging forms. The printed newspaper will survive with the digital for many years to come. It will likely become prestigious; a symbol of quality like the re-created LP.  Platforms will come and go as music good and bad is created – this will continue until the end of time. The eternal conundrum remains.

Who will reap the benefits, who will pay the piper and how will distribution occur.

The second documentary ‘Stop the Presses’ featured interviews with forward-looking media identities. There was a deliberately left/liberal bias and the programme did not feature the likes of Murdoch. Those of Murdoch’s ilk are part of the problem and not the solution. The Editor of the New York Times, Guardian reporters, leading investigative journalists (such as those from the now defunct Rocky Mountain News) and a number of important European print media spokespeople gave their views.  In spite of the carnage and catastrophic job losses there were glimmers of hope.

Immediately after World War Two ‘Le Monde’, the premiere French evening paper created a new model. Their charter ensured that no media barons like Lord Beaverbrook, Randolph Hearst or Rupert Murdock could ever exert editorial control. The paper ran along the lines of a worker collective and only the journalists (who had tenure) could choose the editor – elections were held for the post. Investors could invest but they could not exert influence. Sadly Le Monde ran into financial difficulties as the digital revolution bit harder and during a recent bailout new financial investors strove to exert editorial control – the staff refused and that situation has yet to play out.

One digital news-media outlet ‘Mediapart’ is particularly interesting. The editor (a former editor of Le Monde) Jerome Calhuzac puts up convincing arguments for a model better suited to the digital age. This digital only outlet has a rapidly growing circulation and it is successful by any measure. The business model is similar to the early Guardian and Le Monde – managed and owned by the reporters and the editor – the creators of content. It has a strict pay-wall, contains no advertising and employs the highest quality investigative journalists. Mediapart offers in-depth opinion pieces and makes no apology for having a point of view. It rejects advertising outright as that can influence editorial integrity. It does not see its role as outlining the broad sweep of daily events. It focuses instead on the important news stories, examines them in-depth and is beholden to no-one. Investors are welcome to a point, but they have no influence. Fifty percent of the cost of getting out print newspapers was in the distribution. Under a digital model that cost is infinitesimal and efficient high quality newspapers are now possible (more on distribution later). The only remaining obstacle is a generation of readers who expect quality information without having to pay for it. 

Calhuzac sees the enemy as being the ‘entertainment’ model; driven by the relentless neo-rationalist imperatives of the marketplace. Mediapart’s mission is simple. ‘We are a cornerstone of democracy and as such independence and fearlessness is everything. We do this because it is our duty to humanity and to the fabric of democracy. It is not just about the journalists, the editors or the readers but a commitment to the principles of democracy’. Crucially the paper determined that quality has never come free of charge and that everyone must contribute a fair share – this is a public good – it has a price just as democracy has a price’. The subscribers agreed and have responded extremely well. ‘Trying to provide quality content for free has never worked and we avoid that trap’. Free content funded by advertisements is a flawed approach leading to a once-over-lightly product – an overload of fragmented information of undesirable quality. In short news as sound-bite entertainment.

Giving content away free was a bold but flawed experiment. It was a recipe for dumbing down and the new aggregated sites like the Huffington Post pillaged the content from other newspapers. When doing this they not only steal but they close down the very newspapers they steal from. As the aggregator websites don’t pay investigative reporters (to replace those being laid off by their actions), that content will eventually vanish. Musicians, independent labels and informed music consumers will see the parallels here.

This is exactly what is occurring in the music world and the equivalent of the Huff Post and to a lesser extent Buzz Feed are the digital streaming platforms. Most are parasitic and return nothing of value to the creators of the music. You Tube is a little different as it can act as a feeder to artist run websites, independent labels and offer teasers. Some users go too far and put up whole albums without the artists permission. It is popular but as a business model it struggles.

To bring this full circle, I received my copy of Maria Schneider’s latest album, ‘The Thompson Fields’ yesterday. The album won the best of category in the prestigious NPR poll and is receiving accolades from the various music industry papers. It was not produced by a major label and yet it is one of the most beautiful albums you will ever hear(or see). The label is ‘Artists Share’ – a cooperative run by musicians and their associates – interacting directly with the consumer. ‘The Thompson Fields’ is a rich convergence of the arts as it features fine art prints, poetry, extraordinary photographs, old maps on art paper and well written prose. It is also stakes out a strong environmental position without being preachy. This is an album of rare beauty and it even smells like a rare book (the album booklet has aged patterned end papers). Schneider’s album gives us extraordinary music (performed by nineteen of the improvising worlds best) but it also has detailed liner notes, credits for the musicians, various collaborations with artists, poets, photographers and a connection to like minded community organisations.Garden Jan 2nd (15)If such an extraordinary album can rise to the top utilising a fan-funded artist controlled model there is hope. Progress is painfully slow but these projects can work. The Artist-Share label is not a recent innovation and the model doesn’t yield quick results. If better focused and more equitable distribution models developed then the high-end independents could gain a significant foothold in the market. There is a feel good factor in associating ourselves with models like this.

The New Zealand equivalent is Rattle Records. Like ECM it knows what it stands for and provides a consistently beautiful product. This is surprising given its reach. Like Schneider’s album (and ECM albums), Rattle has retained either liner notes (or quality photography) – even poetry appears on occasion. I declare a vested interest in this as my photographs, liner notes and poems have featured on a number of Jazz albums.

This convergence of music journalism, compelling art and high quality musicianship provides for a richer experience. It is possible for the digital download format to deliver liner notes, musicians credits and artwork but it seldom does. I would happily pay a few extra dollars to get such an enhanced version. Above all it is grossly disrespectful to the musicians when their names are excluded from download information. As the old models fail and the greedy few extract the lions share of revenue (without permission), the consumers of music need to become better informed. This is the point that Jerome Calhuzac of Mediapart makes. The listening public needs to grasp the fact that quality offerings have a cost. Lets get behind Rattle Records and other labels like Artists Share – where ever possible we should become ‘commissioners’ (a term used by Schneider for fan-based contributors).

The missing piece of the puzzle is distribution and as with Mediapart subscribers have a role. Buzz Feed gives us some clues here. Powerful algorithms can detect trends and this has a multiplier effect when an album is noticed. Those observing a trend then recommend the album to those with similar tastes. At present those algorithms serve the big players like Amazon but there is no reason why the technology could not work across the non Amazon Indie Label spectrum. New (albeit clumsy) distribution models utilise platforms like Facebook, Twitter and other vehicles.

It is often commented upon that I am a ‘busy’ Facebook user and blogger. There is a method in my madness. I have a respectable readership on my JL32 blog site. I also host a small Facebook group page and have a Twitter account. The people who follow my sites often take up my recommendations and hopefully this assists distribution. The consumers are increasingly a key factor in distribution and everyone should tout their musical recommendations to like-minded friends. Leaving it up to disinterested money men is not an option.

Lets ramp up the dialogue around streaming and the problems arising from free content. Paying a fair price for quality music is our duty to the creative arts. Support the independent musician run labels, recommended albums online and sponsor (crowd fund) a musician that you respect. We are all in this together.

 

Auckland Jazz Festival 2015 – part two

AJO picBy the time the second week of the Auckland Jazz Festival arrived, I began to feel my age. I had already experienced a number of late night gigs and a further week of music stretched ahead of me. This was no time to flag, as some interesting and innovative music lay ahead. The festival programme structure provided audiences with variety. The depth and breadth of the improvising scene was on show and I wanted to see everything possible. The week started well with the Meehan/Griffin/Manhire poetry project (see earlier review for this). That gig brought a new audience and I was still AJO pic (1)buzzing come Tuesday.

On Tuesday night the AJO (Auckland Jazz Orchestra) shoehorned into the CJC for the release of their Darkly Dreaming album. The AJO have a growing fan base and this was an eagerly anticipated event. Having earlier witnessed the actual recording session and a pre-taste performance of the suite, I was happily expectant. With charts as demanding as this, a thoroughly rehearsed band is essential and I knew that they would be. It was clear that this would be the definitive live performance so I couldn’t wait to hear that first swell of sound and to get my hands on the album.  AJO @ Festival (5)I had volunteered for door duty that night, turning up early to help. I enjoy the Jazz orchestra set-up process – in this case nineteen musicians and a conductor configuring a behemoth in an impossibly small space. It was like witnessing Nasa scientists beginning the launch sequence. Instruments and gauges checked, tapped and rechecked, cabling run out; each adding a layer to the criss-cross tangle of shoes, stands and chairs.  Soon there were rows of brassy instruments standing in an (almost) orderly line, with the odd human interloper spoiling their symmetry. Random buzzing sounds came from warming up lips; and all punctuated with honks and plucked notes from far-flung corners of the room. this is the counterfactual of the sounds that follow.  AJO @ Festival (7)Band leader Tim Atkinson composed and arranged the suite. He has carefully shaped this ground breaking project as befitting a work of this importance. This is a modern piece of music in the mould of Darcy James Argue. Richly textured, evocative of the title and especially in the warm multi layered dissonance that swells out of the quieter passages. The work has captured a mood and an orchestra going places. This is a moment which benchmarks the growing maturity of the Auckland Jazz scene and I am truly glad to have witnessed it. The overall performance on the night was flawless, but if anyone stood out it was altoist Callum Passels. His solo on ‘The Dark Passenger’ was wonderful. it was a feat of story telling, of mood and it oozed freedom – as if he had somehow escaped the confines of room and orchestra. Importantly, he managed this without once deviating from the logic of the composition. I urge people to purchase this album and I guarantee that you will play it over and again. AJO @ Festival (1)On Wednesday I spent time with the Benny Lackner Trio. A popular USA/German (French) trio who seldom passed up an opportunity to playfully ambush each other and often along the lines of nationality. Their mock combative banter acting as a counterweight to the cohesion they showed on the bandstand. I have seen this trio three times as they have a long association with New Zealand. In my view they are the true successor to Sweden’s lost lamented EST, but there is more to them besides. Their approach is similar but additional elements inform their music. The influence of Lacker’s former teacher Brad Mehldau is discernible but the band is forging a new sound. This is the confident face of post millennium European Jazz. Never compromising, unafraid to appropriate elements from their native culture, and done without a hint of self-consciousness. These guys are heavyweights and we are bound to hear a lot more of them in years to come.  Benny AJF picThe trio’s set list was a mix or originals and some very interesting covers. What was not composed by Lackner or by the drummer Chazarenc, were often unexpected tunes; Brahms, Cold Play, David Bowie, Rodriguez and Jimmy Hendrix. ‘If Six were Nine’ was simply stunning. Warmly familiar to those of us who remembered the rock original. Taking the bones of a 1960’s tune and infusing it with edgy lines and modern harmonic conceptions. I have long-held the view that the new standards will come from material exactly like this. None of the band were alive when this acid blues classic was cut in 1969, but their joy at performing it was evident. Jimi would have loved it. Benny AJF pic (2)The bass player on this trip was Bruno Schorpe. When offered an upright bass he declined – choosing to remain on electric bass throughout. I’m glad that he did because the instrument had the bite to act as counterweight.  Balancing out well the electronics and various effects of Lackner’s keyboards. Then there was drummer Matthieu Chazarenc. He has accompanied Lackner on previous trips and to my ears he is directly out of a great tradition. French Jazz drummers have a sound that is distinct. Like many of his compatriots Chazarenc’s sound is crisp, even dry; utilising dynamics in ways that younger drummers are often incapable of.  A label like ACT must surely pick the trio up sometime soon.  They would be a perfect fit – much as they would for ECM.

Thursday brought us ‘The JAC‘ from Wellington. A delightful octet shortlisted in the 2015 New Zealand Jazz awards for their ‘Nerve’ album. This project is clearly one that will remain with us for some time and if any band deserves to become an institution it is this one. A brassy octet with an orchestral yet airy sound and one which I am particularly enthusiastic about. This was the release gig for their newest album.

AJO pic (2)‘The Green Room(out on Rattle.) Rattle has an uncanny Knack of locating the best of new Zealand music and presenting it in ways that even the big labels seldom manage. The album is beautifully recorded and live the JAC simply sparkle as they weave texture and into their shape shifting grooves. In many ways it is a band of equals as almost everyone stands out at some point. While there is an incredible tightness to their performance, they manage to loosen up enough to create rub and textural complexity. Jac pic (3)It is almost overkill to single out soloists with a cohesive group like this as every one is notable in some way or another. Altoist Jake Baxendale is their nominal leader and three of the compositions on the album are attributed to him (including the title track). If any number captures the essence of the group it is this. The solo on his tune Andalucia also captures a strong sense of place. I know Andalucia well and this is a convincing testimony.

Jac pic (2)It is hard to know where to start with Callum Allardice; he grows as a musician every time I hear him. His compositions are stunning and his guitar work so fluid and exciting that it defies belief. These are performances that stop you in your tracks and few New Zealand guitarists capture that particular sound. Lex French is another spectacular performer and we would hardly expect otherwise. He is now the leading local voice on that horn. Perhaps the most experienced player is Nick tipping who never puts a foot wrong. On the new album we hear him at his best.  Jac pic (4)Convincing contributions by the likes of Chris Buckland, Matthew Alison and Shaun Anderson reinforce the view that this is an all-star band. Lastly there is pianist Daniel Milward. He has recently moved to Melbourne and his voice is particularly strong on the recording; more so than on the first album. Not a showy pianist but an extremely tasteful one who gets it just right. I have put up a sound clip of the Allardice Composition ‘The Heist’, as I have loved it since first hearing it (probably at the Tauranga Jazz Festival).AJO pic (3)

On the 24th I attended another Rattle Jazz album release. This time at the Auckland University Jazz School in the Kenneth Meyers Centre. The Chris Mason Battley Group were performing the album DIALOGOS; this arising from the music of celebrated New Zealand composer John Psathas. The project is exciting and while very much in the moment, a careful crafting is evident. If that sounds like a contradiction it is not. Improvised music is forever reaching beyond imposed structural limitations; the boundaries of convention. Without that restless outreach the music would wither on the vine. This is an example of the new music that you might find on ECM (or Rattle), it is minimalist and references the ethos of John Cage or perhaps even Zorn; it reaches the outer limits of the known.  AJF CMB pic (2) In Psathas words, “it is not arranging or adapting…(rather) a continuing of the composing process”. There are works or arrangements which re-imagine and examine a work from an outside perspective. That is not the case here. This is part of a developing story and the Psathas vision remains at its heart. I recently read a trilogy by a famous and highly respected author. He had intended to write a fourth volume but died before he could proceed. A year later another author picked up where the original author left off and achieved something extremely rare. He added to the body of work seamlessly; continuing the narrative in ways that were his own and entirely consistent with the original. Although a more serious work, DIAGOLOS was an unmitigated triumph. AJF CMB pic (1)Mason-Battley is a thoughtful gifted musician, but we don’t see him perform about town very often. Any new project gets his undivided attention and that was the case here. Counter intuitively, it is his careful preparation which affords him the extraordinary freedom he demonstrates on the bandstand. During this performance he took us right to the edge; you gained the sense listening that he was pushing himself a little further with each phrase. It is at times like this that great music emerges. While adventurous with electronics, he evokes a classic Coltrane sound on his Soprano. There are a number of local musicians who double on soprano but few (if any) sound like Battley. AJF CMB picThe Chris Mason-Battley Group has been around for some time and the original group set New Zealand records for the number of downloads and albums purchased. For this project core members David Lines, Sam Giles and Mason-Battley remain with the addition of drummer Stephen Thomas. Unlike earlier configurations, there is no guitar. Bringing Thomas into the mix has worked extremely well. The drummer of choice for many gigs and a gifted percussionist in the fullest sense. Psathas music calls for sensitive drum work and Thomas has exactly the right approach. His understanding of subtle dynamics, time awareness and overall sensitivity to the project were very much on display. I also appreciated David Lines piano. Lines early classical training was evident in places and again this made him a very good choice for the project. The work required a pianist with a particular chordal approach. At times he was minimalist and with a particular approach to voice leading. Lines like the other four were indispensable to the project. Lastly there was Sam Giles – an electric bass player I wish I heard more often. Giles often leans towards the avant-garde and innovative projects. That is where he shines. AJF CMB pic (5)The Last Auckland Jazz Festival gig I attended was the Alan Brown/Kingsley Melhuish Alargo project at the Golden Dawn. The Golden Dawn is the perfect place to wind down and a very good place to hear laid back grooves and experience deliciously exotic ambient adventures. This music creates a world we wished we lived in. A world of exotic grooves and shifting realities. Seeing and hearing is believing with Alargo, their sound as wide as the ocean and as deep (a little songbook reference there). What Brown and Melhuish are crafting is terrific. Sound shaped, altered, looped and all guiding you inexorably toward that fantasy world of improvised/groove Jazz/electronica. As wonderful as it is to watch, it is essentially a place in which to abandon yourself. As you dive in you feel the buffeting of warm grooves all about you, as the tiredness of a busy fortnight evaporates. I thought that I was an early discoverer of improvised ambient music but Brown was way ahead of me. We have often discussed this genre and we see it as a local space worth claiming. Melhuish was always going to end up beside Brown on this project; trumpet, pedals, programming, percussion and shells swimming around the keyboards. An otherworldly magic evoked by Browns deft fingers. I like to think that I gave this music a slight nudge along the way.  AJF CMB pic (4)This has been an interesting Jazz Festival and although it is cliched, there was something for everyone. From manouche through to the avant-garde. I loved that it retained the feeling of local and of intimacy – even when showcasing offshore bands. The CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Rattle Records, 1885 Britomart, Auckland University, Golden Dawn, Portland Public House, Hallertau, Ostro, Lot 23, One2One, Hotel DeBrett, Lewis Eady, The Refreshment Room, the Vic, The Wine Cellar and other venues deserve our heartfelt thanks. Above all its Ben McNicoll who we must acknowledge as he lost sleep and carried the heaviest load. We are also in the debt of Caro and Roger Manins for the part they played. The vision belongs to these innovators and what ever happens along the way, I hope that the Auckland Jazz Festival continues as the fine fringe festival they envisioned.

Auckland Jazz FestivalCJC (Auckland Jazz Club)Rattle Records (go to Rattle to purchase the albums listed – the exception is Darkly Dreaming at the AJO website)

Reuben Bradley’s ‘Cthulhu Rising’ @ CJC

Cthulhu Rising 085H P Lovecraft died under appreciated, but it didn’t curb his output. His imaginings took him to darkly strange and exciting places. Places that few of us dared contemplate. While he reached deeper than writers like Edger Alan Poe and further into the human psyche, his wildest dreams could not have prepared him for Wednesday night. Reuben Bradley, time traveller and keeper of lost grooves has wrestled with the spirits and brought Lovecraft to life again.

If anyone was up to this interesting challenge it was Bradley. An original drummer who moves across the kit with balletic fluidity and whose focus and musicality enhances any undertaking. He possesses superb compositional skills and these are fed by a fertile imagination. There is another quality to Bradley and perhaps this is the key. He has a highly developed sense of the absurd. A good humoured irreverence that is never far from the surface. This time his attributes were given full rein and he has excelled himself. Cthulhu Rising 091This is a truly exceptional album and it is no wonder when you consider the source material and the musicians associated with it. Bradley, Penman and Eigsti are a deadly combination and their interplay is crisply on the mark. Matt Penman is dear to our hearts in New Zealand. One of our finest Jazz exports. An expat from Auckland who conquered the American improvised bass scene in ways that few others manage. His work with James Farm, the San Francisco Jazz Collective, Aaron Parks, Kurt Rosenwinkel and a long list of luminaries is instructive. That he still appears with the best of our local artists and on local recordings is our immense good luck. An imaginative and wonderfully musical bass player who holds the groove and manages to tell interesting stories without distracting us from the overall focus of the piece. Few bass players could do this better than Penman.

Last but least is Taylor Eigsti on piano and keys. The New York based Eigsti is also an original stylist. While his name is often associated with the likes of Eric Harland, Joshua Redman, Ambrose Akinmusire, Julian Lage and Gretchen Parlato he deserves evaluating in his own right as leader. For a number of years now the Jazz community has singled him out as an exceptional talent. His back story and youthful entry onto the world Jazz scene is fascinating, but it is his mature output that continually amazes. He is well recorded, well reviewed and getting better with each passing year. At times you can hear influences but they are not the predominant voice. This is a wholly formed original artist and what he brought to Cthulhu Rising was priceless.Cthulhu Rising 094The judicious use of sampled ‘Lovecraft’ readings in several places adds to the atmospheric feel and doesn’t detract from the overall musical experience. Every note played and every voice-over is well placed. Yet again Rattle Records have excelled themselves here. The secret of ‘Rattle Records’ tasteful Jazz catalogue must surely be seeping into the wider world by now. ‘Rattle’ is the ‘ECM’ of the South Pacific. This album was recorded at the ‘Bunker Studios’ in New York, Engineered by Aaron Nevezie and mixed and mastered by Steve Garden at ‘The Garden Shed’ Auckland.Cthulhu Rising 088There was a change of personnel for the CJC ‘Cthulhu Rising’ release gig and for the Australasian tour to follow. Respected bass player Brett Hirst took Penman’s place and this was a sound choice. Hirst, another expat Kiwi, is well established on the Australian scene and frequently employed by visiting artists. He is a gifted musician and perfect for high end gigs like this.

Throughout the New Zealand leg of their tour they were enthusiastically acclaimed and no wonder. The project is well conceived and well realised. In spite of the incredible strengths of his band mates, this is still very much Bradley’s album. We are seeing more drummer led albums lately and the sheer exuberance and depth of this one is proof that the New Zealand improvised music scene just gets better and better.

Cthulhu Rising: Reuben Bradley, Taylor Eigsti, Matt Penman – on tour Brett Hirst – purchase the album from Rattle records or in stores

Live Gig: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand

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yeahyeahabsolutelynoway @ CJC

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An array of guitar pedals is sometimes deployed to hide a multitude of sins, but in the hands of a skilful improviser the opposite occurs.   Yeahyeahabsolutelynoway! illustrate the best of modern guitar work as they invoke past, present and future.   Their gigs feature their own compositions, with performances drawing upon influences as diverse as rock, country, experimental improvised music and traditional Jazz.  They juggle these competing influences skilfully while still imparting a surprising degree of subtlety.  I have sometimes seen Jazz guitar traditionalists roll their eyes at the sight of pedals, but I would respectfully suggest that they haven’t been paying proper attention to their Jazz history.  IMG_1659 - Version 2

Everyone from Charlie Christian onwards embarked upon a never-ending quest to change, modify, enhance and above all to extend their sound options.   Without those open skies explorers and without enhancements, the use of the guitar in boisterous Jazz lineups would have reached its high-water-mark with Freddie Green.  I love Freddie Green with a passion but the guitar is about more than chords.  Almost every instrument used in Jazz today is modified or extended in some way.   Putting a trumpet through a pedal and working in real-time with loops created by multi phonic effects does not mean that the musician is cheating.  It must be about integrity and the sound.  Beneath the right fingers improvisational integrity and storytelling always come to the fore.   Yeahyeahabsolutelynoway! understand that.

‘Yeahyeahabsolutleynoway’ are the latest addition to the impressive Rattle Records stable.  On the 16th July they did an album release gig at the CJC and for those who braved the winter night it was a treat.  I had listened to the album in advance and so I knew what to expect, but to see them in action held a few surprises for me.  I had wrongly imagined that there would be pre-recorded loops but this was strictly live music.  Every effect we heard was created in realtime, with the constant adjustments from both guitarists giving them an immense palette to work with.  If the sound scape was impressive the tunes were even more so.

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There is something special going on with Australian guitarists at the moment and this band and ‘The Grid’ are occupying a unique space in the antipodean Jazz spectrum.   In the case of ‘yeahyeahabsolutelynoway’ there is no bass guitar, not even a five string.   It is not that unusual to see two six string jazz guitars together in a trio with drums.  What is more unusual is when neither of them takes on the traditional rhythm duties.  These guys were often working the same space, swapping lines or converging on a passage to create a subtle filigree.  While they worked as equals, they never appeared to intrude or crowd in on the other, so attuned they were.  Their focus was always on the subtleties of the music and this made for a good listening experience.  On a beautiful Ibanez solid body guitar was James Brown, who looked more like a member of ‘Z Z Tops’ than his namesake.  On a classy looking blond Fender Tele was Sam Cagney.  Both could be seen crouching at various times throughout the sets, as they coaxed beguiling sounds out of the pedals and all the while playing on through.   The drummer Stephen Neville was vital to the mix and created a seamless flurry of beats or subtle whispers on brushes as required.   It would be hard for me to pin down his drum style other than to say that it was effective and impressive.

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The tunes in the set list and on the recording were varied in approach.  A fun number is the rock influenced ‘Why Sleep?’  When I put the album on at home my partner Darien immediately replayed ‘Why Sleep  over and over.   It is the one to hook you and draw you in.   I liked the Americana feel of ‘Down home’.  It wouldn’t have been at all out-of-place on a Bill Frisell album.  The album was recorded live in Adelaide South Australia where the bands originates from.  Rattle is definitely on a roll this year (yeah, shake rattle & roll) and as the label goes from strength to strength, the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) and the Jazz audiences benefit.   Keep them coming Steve Garden!  IMG_1680 - Version 2

A foot note:  I see that Columbia University is now running a Computer Science course on programming for Jazz Musicians.  As Melhdau and others increasingly follow the footsteps of Herbie Hancock in using programmable devices to extend their range, such courses can only grow in number.   Don’t be too dismayed, this is improvised music folks!  Jazz will strike out in any direction that musicians take.   It is up to us to keep up.  

Who: yeahyeahabsolutelynoway! – James Brown (guitar, effects) Sam Cagney (guitar, effects), Stephen Neville (drums & cymbals)

What: A Rattle Jazz Album: UM.. yeahyeahabsolutelynoway!   http://www.rattlejazz.co.nz

Where: Live album release at CJC (Creative Jazz Club), 1885 Britomart, Auckland, New Zealand      www.creativejazzclub.com

 

Lex French Quintet @ CJC 2014

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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.

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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.  photo

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.

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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.   10462624_10202402878617968_7985350930627100965_n

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.

What: Lex French ‘The Cut’ Album release for Rattle Records      www.rattlerecords.net

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

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand, 18th June 2014  www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

Jonathan Crayford – ‘Dark Light’ Trio @ CJC #jazzapril

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I attended three Jonathan Crayford gigs while he visited New Zealand.   All of the bands were different and all were exceptional in their way.  This tells me something important about the artist; a leader able to communicate a vision with the utmost clarity and bring out the best in other musicians.  Just over a month ago I interviewed Crayford and my first question was, “What projects do you have in the pipeline?”.  He told me about an album that he is going to record in New York in a few months.  We then talked about ‘Dark Light’, his new ‘Rattle’ album.  As the title implies this is about that mysterious place behind the light.  This recurring theme is regularly mined by improvising musicians.  Monk, Jarrett, Maupin, Towner, Pieranunzi and others have peered into this chiaroscuro world, where the shadows between light and dark reveal subtle wonders.  This piano trio album recorded in New York in late 2013, has the stellar sidemen Ben Street on bass and Dan Weiss on drums.  The album was pre-released to New Zealand audiences during Crayford’s gig on Wednesday which was the fourth of the Creative Jazz Club’s 2014 #jazzapril series.  IMG_0373 - Version 2

I hear a lot of music these days and much of it I like, but occasionally an album comes your way that really stops you in your tracks.  This is just such an album.  It has a profundity and a depth to it that works on so many levels.  It is an album that deserves hearing over and again and since obtaining a copy I have done just that.  At first impression I thought of game changing pianists like Esbjorn Svensson or some of the modern Scandinavians, but this has a strongly original feel.  As in all Crayford’s compositions, we hear a skilfully written head, that gradually evolves into an ever-widening groove, begging deeper exploration.  While it is music played at the highest level it is neither self-indulgent nor introspective.  The album has real depth but it is also incredibly accessible.  This is music that everyone will recognise at some level: partly because it is so articulate, but also because the blues and a myriad of other familiar song forms are neatly distilled into it.

It was obviously not practical to fly Street and Weiss (who are New York based) down for the CJC launch and so Crayford engaged two New Zealand musicians.  While not hearing the full recorded trio was a shame, we were not disappointed by their substitutes.  He could hardly have chosen better.  On bass he had Wellington musician Patrick Bleakley and on drums was Auckland musician Chris O’Connore.   I am less familiar with Bleakley but I certainly know him by reputation.   The last time I saw him was with ‘The Troubles’, a delightfully anarchic Wellington band.  He is an experienced and melodic bass player with an instinctive feel for time.  On the album with Street and with the New Zealand trio, the bass player anchored the pieces; leaving piano and drums to react to each other.  O’Connore is one of the finest drummers on the New Zealand scene and he routinely plays in diverse situations.  This open skies approach gives him a real edge.   He is a drummer and percussionist with a highly developed sense of space and dynamics and in this case his colourist tendencies were strongly in evidence.  IMG_0422 - Version 2

The tracks have an organic logic in the way they’re ordered and a natural ebb and flow is discernible.   The set list at the gig followed that order, creating the sense that we were on a journey.  The titles of the pieces reference the ‘Dark Light’ theme and none more so than ‘Galois Candle’.  Galois was a genius French mathematician (1811 – 1832) who used abstract algebra to prove the links between field theory and group theory.  He suffered unbelievable bad luck in his short life and was not appreciated or understood until the 20th century.  Many of his proofs were accidentally or careless destroyed by others, hence the title.  As I play this sad evocative piece, the story of Galois unfolds before me.  This is what Jazz can do well; steal a moment out of time and create a compelling narrative.

There is a luminous quality to Crayford’s playing; a quality which sounds newly minted and yet familiar.  Crayfords contribution to Jazz deserves wider recognition and with this album it could happen.  I would therefore give the album four and a half stars out of five, not out of some Kiwi patriotism but purely on merit.  No Jazz lover will regret the purchase

I have posted a track titled ‘Bikes in Space’ below.IMG_0430 - Version 2 (2)

Who: Jonathan Crayford (piano) Ben Street (bass *album), Dan Weiss (drums *album) – Patrick Bleakey (bass *CJC), Chris O’Connore (drums, percussion *CJC)

What: ‘Dark Light’ released by Rattle Records http://www.rattlerecords.net 

Where: Pre release CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland 23rd April #jazzapril

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

Samsom/Nacey/Haines – Jazz April

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The first ‘Jazz April gig was at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) featuring the ‘Samsom/Nacey/Haines’ band. I can’t think of a better way to kick off Jazz April 2013 than by hearing seasoned musicians having fun, while at the same time stretching themselves as players and composers. The group formed in 2008 with the idea of providing a vehicle for new compositions. The outcome of these collaborations was an album named ‘Open to Suggestions‘ and later the 2010 ‘Oxide‘ album was released (with guests Kevin Field, Chris Melville, Neville Grenfell and Roger Manins). The albums have all been extremely well received with ‘Open to Suggestions‘ ending up as a finalist in the Tui Music Awards and ‘Oxide‘ (Rattle Records 2010) receiving critical acclaim from far & wide. The name ‘Oxide‘ arose from John Ruskin’s writings on crystals (artist, author, patron of the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood and proto-socialist philosopher). This album is still available in record shops or from Rattle Records and I highly recommend it.

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It is hardly surprising that there was an expectation of a third album. The new release titled ‘Cross Now’ has no guest artists appearing. Left to bounce off each others ideas and in an uncluttered musical space, the three musicians made the most of the situation. This spirit of collaboration was particularly evident at the gig as they joked and constantly acknowledged each others skills while downplaying their own input. That is a very Kiwi thing and audiences take it as good form. No one would dare do this if they were uncomfortable with their performance. It is a matter of reading the cultural codes. When they were improvising, the interaction between players was both cerebral and intuitive. There were moments when they appeared as one entity.

As soon as the first set kicked off a sense of joy and playfulness emanated from the bandstand. Some the best music arises from joy and good humour; musicians tapping into an unconscious wellspring of creative goodwill and being at one with the world.

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The material on ‘Cross Now’ is new and like ‘Oxide’ some tunes were only finished days before recording them (or even polished in the studio car park). This is Dixon Nacey’s forte; to write brilliant tunes in the eleventh hour. Someone told me that his ‘The Lion” was written on the way to the ‘Oxide‘ recording sessions. Kevin Haines informed us that Dixon’s moving tribute to the recently diseased and much-loved drummer Tony Hopkins, was likewise written days before the recording. The compositions represent the styles of the originators and even though the compositions are jointly attributed, it is possible to detect just whose hand has had the greatest influence over each number.

So often the back stories behind tunes can enrich a listening experience, but I am not sure how many musicians appreciate this fact. While it is true up to a point that the music should speak for itself, that liner notes or background stories are an added superfluity, that received wisdom obscures a deeper story. To many of us music is an experience extending way beyond the auditory senses. We pick up cues from the musicians movements, we absorb colours from the lights glancing off the instruments and we gain insights from the stories. To me improvised music is like a good film and a well shot film is like improvised music. A place to occupy empathetically for that one hyper-sensitised moment in time. No sensory input should therefore be denied.

Kevin Haines wrote ‘…With Eyes Averted…’ (which began with a poem about relationships) and this added a perspective to the tune that would not otherwise have been evident (I have posted a video of this which features Matt Bray on 2nd guitar) . His tune ‘Cross Now’ was about a particularly irritating crossing signal outside of a Tokyo hotel. In Kevin Haines hands the annoying beeps became a polyrhythmic pulse to build a tune upon. He also contributed ‘Broken Tones’. IMG_6521 - Version 2

Drummer Ron Samsom’s, ‘Happy Dance’ (a fast samba) was fabulous. Written about his dog, we could feel the exuberant bounding energy as the tune progressed. Ron Samsom had begun with the tongue in cheek announcement, “yes drummers write tunes too”. After ‘Happy Dance’ we heard ‘Seiko (in 13/8 time) and a ballad ‘Qua’. I heard someone murmur that drummers needed to write more tunes and in Ron’s case I agree (See You Tube Clip by Jen Sol).

Dixon’s contributions were ‘Song for Xavier’ (written for his son) and ‘Conversations with Mr Small’ which he explained as arising from, ” Well perhaps this won’t be such an interesting reason for title…ah…it is about my musical theory conversations with Dr Stephen Small”. In comedy and music, timing is everything and these guys had it down pat. The tune that we will never forget is Dixon Nacey’s moving tribute to the beloved and much lamented Jazz drummer Tony Hopkins. I found myself glancing at the places where Tony had sat and imagined him at the kit; knitting the band together in that particular way of his. This is the power of Jazz. The musicians interpret while we see, feel and hear a story unfold. The tune was, ‘The Remarkable Mr Hopkins’ and by the end a few of us were tearing up. From the bottom of my heart, thanks Dix.

The new album will be in the record outlets shortly, but your best bet is to contact Rattle online and order a copy.

Who: Samsom/Nacey/Haines (guest Matt Bray)

Where & When: The (CJC Creative Jazz Club) Brittomart 3rd April

This was a Jazz April event – visit the JJA Website by following this link.

John Fenton

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Mark Lockett – ‘Sneaking Out After Midnight’

Some weeks ago I received Rattle Records latest release.  It was Mark Lockett’s ‘Sneaking Out After Midnight’.   

It is a while since Mark left Wellington and he has obviously achieved much since then.   He is an educator, an innovator and a drummer with great chops.   When you look at who he has played with in the last decade and who his own teachers have been, the narrative falls into place.   This is an album that could not have been made by a lessor musician.

Mark is joined by two fine New York musicians; Joel Frahm (sax) and Orlando le Fleming (bass).   Joel Frahm has been around for a while and his album with Bill Charlap is one that immediately comes to mind.   He has been very much in demand around New York.    Orlando le Fleming (who was born in the UK) is equally impressive having also played with Bill Charlap and an impossibly long list of jazz notables.    These three were never going to be anything less than great when they joined forces.

It’s a nicely presented album with great artwork and even though cover art shouldn’t matter – actually it does.  Rattle always tries to present a complete package.

Good albums strive to break free of formulaic constraints and when a musical story is told in a fresh way this is achieved.   This is an album with an open, joyful and honest sound.   It is also Mark’s fourth album, which has allowed him to push harder at the musical boundaries.   His writing skills and his vision have made this a worthwhile journey.  

The Interview:

 

Q. Apart from the obvious subdivisions of genre do you have a view on what if anything makes NZ drummers so diverse in sound?

A. One of the many great things about being a musician in NZ is that you have to find your own voice and because there’s less competition musicians don’t have to perform to a certain technical level as to the all the other guys working on the same street as a musician in Melbourne or NY for that matter. Musicians in NZ have an opportunity like almost nowhere else in the world to find their own voice without being inhibited and from this a beautiful raw energy often emerges.

Q. Many drummers are writing now and in fact some of the most innovative compositions around are coming from the likes of John Hollenbeck, Matt Wilson, Eric Harland and Marilyn Mazur,who took the baton from Paul Motian and Jack DeJohnette. Why do you think this is as a drummer/composer?

A. I don’t often like compositions written by drummers and I think this is because they lack harmonic direction having said that I believe that more drummers are having lead their own bands these days to remain busy and employed and I don’t think this is a bad thing. Playing standards is great and I love doing it but when you play and tour a lot you can’t help but start looking for other musical vehicles from which to improvise.

Q. I have known about Joel Frahm for some time as he brought out an album with Bill Charlap (they are old friends). Orlando Le Fleming is an exciting bass player who has often worked with the amazing Lage Lund and Will Vincent among others. How did the collaboration come about?

A. A good friend of mine Aaron Choulai (piano player) got a chance to record with Tim Ries (sax player at the time with the rolling stones) in NYC some years back I first met Joel through that connection down at smalls jazz club. We bumped into each other several times over the years and I’ve always dug his playing. Another friend of mine happened to have Joel’s number so I called him up and he was really into it. Orlando was recommended to me by another great friend of mine and my current drum teacher Ari Hoenig.

Q. How was it working with these New Yorker’s.

A. Working with Joel and Orlando was the most amazing experience and one I’ll never forget.  These cats are true professionals in every sense of the word and two of the nicest, normal and most down to earth people one could wish for.

Q. How are things going in Australia for you?

A. I live in Melbourne and things are going great I’m very busy at present playing in several Peoples projects and planning my tour to NZ to promote the new cd dates are 3 July Wgtn Havana, 4th July Auck CJC and 5th July ChCh NMC at the conservatorium.

Q. Working without a chordal instrument brings different challenges and rewards. What are your feelings about working and recording with a sax, drum & bass trio.

A. I love this combination because it allows for a lot of musical freedom. It’s hard to find guitarists and piano players who are really skilled in comping.

Q. Is there anything that you would like to add about the album?

A. This album is my fourth release and I’m so excited about it, I think because it was a lot of fun to make and I grew up listening to these master musicians recorded with my hero’s eg Bill Stewart, Brian Blade etc I mean I use to sit in my flat in Wgtn in the 90’s and dream of playing with these cats and now a dream come true.

Thanks man we look forward to seeing you on your tour of NZ.    

Aucklander’s note; Mark will appear at the CJC 5th July

W: www.marklockett.com.au

E: mark@marklockett.com.au

‘The Troubles’ – Review

This is part one of two posts on ‘The Troubles’; An interview with John Rae and Lucien Johnson to follow in a day.

When I received a brief email from Steve at Rattle Records informing me that he was sending me two very interesting disks I sensed that he was excited about what was on offer.  When the tightly wrapped package arrived I wrestled ‘The Troubles’ from its box.  Putting it straight on, I was stunned by what I heard and I played it through twice, letting the sound wash over me.  Steve was right; this was special.

Jazz is supposed to be fresh and to convey the ‘sound of surprise’ and this was bloody surprising.  It immediately put me in mind of ‘The Liberation Music Orchestra’ or even Charles Mingus in the various incarnations of those bands.  Having said that this is very much a New Zealand sound.

The Troubles is performed by a Nonet with the instrumentation hinting at the albums context.  Adding a texture to the music; its wild but perfectly placed brush strokes marking it apart.

There is a string section of violin, cello and viola (Tristan Carter, Andrew Filmer, Charley Davenport) which contrasts nicely with the winds and reeds.  Lucien Johnson plays tenor sax, soprano and flute – Nick Van Dijk doubles on trumpet and trombone while Daniel Yeabsley plays alto, baritone and clarinet.   Add to the above the insistent drumming and shouts of John Rae, the bass of Patrick Bleakley and especially the percussion of Anthony Donaldson and you have a band that is capable of much.

The band had been playing at ‘Happy’ (a Wellington Bar renowned for experimental music) for some time and for a number of reasons this proved to be serendipitous.  What came together during those months is perfectly captured here.  This was recorded on one particular night and due to the exceptional musicianship of the band, the skillful writing and connectedness of everyone involved (including the loyal audience) we have a very special album.

Against the odds New Zealand Jazz is rapidly becoming identifiable as a separate and interesting entity.  Perhaps a subset of the Australasian-Pacific Jazz sound.  On the best Kiwi albums and in the clubs I hear this certain something and I want to confront the musical establishment and say, “Are you freakin deaf…can’t you hear this”?    This thing is ours, it can be wonderful and it is certainly worthy of proper attention.  New Zealand music is very diverse and this is a healthy thing.   Original and exciting bands are continually being formed, but in order for this vibrancy and originality to flourish the music must be better supported.     Here is an album that exemplifies this diversity and it says something unique about us and our place in a sometimes troubled world .

Support the band, buy the album but above all relax and enjoy it.  I defy anyone to dislike this roller-coaster ride through the worlds troubled spots.  It is a journey undertaken with deep humanity but also with a liberal helping of humour throughout.   A warm echo derived from the cacophony about us and filtered through an anarchic but sharply focussed Kiwi lens.

Purchase from Marbecks, JB HiFi, Real Groovy, or leading record stores – otherwise purchase directly from Rattle Records.

‘Seven’ – Tim Hopkins Trio

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I purchased a copy of ‘Seven’ from Rattle Records not long after it was completed.   The cover art portrayed black sand, which is strange to those unfamiliar with it.   For those who have not encountered it before, black sand can also be surprising.  Subtle light-shifts can throw up a myriad of purple and blue hues, and the textures revealed by the drift patterns are in constant flux.   ‘Seven’ reflects Tim Hopkins’ music in much the same way.

Tim Hopkins is well-known to those us who have followed the New Zealand Jazz diaspora.   He has recorded extensively as a sideman with the likes of Mike Nock (and many others) and he has recorded a significant number of albums as leader.  Tim lived in Sydney for many years but he eventually returned to New Zealand where he is now based.  He teaches and performs in the capital city.  His long experience as a tenor player has taught him to throw caution to the wind.   He is adept at developing free-flowing Post Bop lines, but he is not limited by that.  While quite capable of playing sweet and low he does not invite complacency, as he can just as suddenly deliver a scalding declamation.   His style is to conduct an honest conversation with the audience and few punches are pulled.  This is not to say that he is too serious for he has a highly developed sense of humour which he uses to advantage.

Tim started the gig by explaining some of the concepts behind the ‘Seven’ band.   “Someone is missing from this band” he said gesturing behind him and I initially thought that he was referring to Richard Nunns (who had appeared on a few tracks of the album).  Tim meanwhile continued to explain, “He wasn’t invited, (pausing) it is the bass player”.   A bass player is the compass and when a band plays adventurous and complex music the lack of a bass places a heavier burden on the remaining musicians.  These guys were fully aware of the job in hand.   It is often the case that an experienced leader will develop an uncanny knack for selecting just the right sidemen and this was evident here.

Dixon Nacey is not only a versatile and superb guitarist but he is a musical free spirit.   His eyes light up when he is thrown a challenge and he soon throws a challenge back.    This guy is one of our finest musicians and the younger guitarists watch his every move.    I suspect that a lot of the weight fell to Dixon in this gig, but you wouldn’t have known it to see him smiling as he dared Tim or John to answer his challenges.    This was call and response at its best.

Dixon Nacey

The drummer was also perfect for the role.  It was the first time that I had seen John Rae on traps and I hope that it will not be the last.  He is unlike many of the drummers we see, as his approach is loose and organic.  If he wants to up the ante he will suddenly shout at the others; exhorting them to give even more.  He is also far from a locked-in drummer as he will punctuate and change the groove at will.  I really liked this approach as it was the ideal foil to Tim and Dixon.

I also sensed that the band was unafraid of being overt and about confronting the political realities of our times.  This flowed through the music and I loved that about them.

At the beginning of the second set Tim was about to introduce the number when he looked into the audience and said, “Can someone bring a bouncer and throw out that old man talking in the front row”. The talking continued and Tim said in a slightly menacing northern Irish accent, “old man – go home to your wife – go home to your children”.   A short silence followed and then “Dad shut up”.   The smiling offender was Tony Hopkins his father.   Tony is much-loved on the Auckland scene for his skillful drumming.    I saw him when I was young and I would like to acknowledge his influence on my generation and beyond.

Another good example of Tim not taking himself too seriously was the introduction to ‘23rd century love song‘.   He explained that this was the result of endless navel gazing and that the market he was aiming for was probably chemistry professors.

While aspects of the gig were challenging, the night has left me with a lot to think about.   Music should occasionally challenge us and it should make us think.   I find myself going back to the album to re-examine a track or a phrase and this is a good thing. The communication is still happening.  John Rae

The numbers that have stuck with me are ‘Road From Perdition’, ‘All Blacks & Blues’ and the lovely ‘The Sleeping Giants’.   for a copy of this go directly to Rattle Records at http://www.rattle.co.nz – failing that try ‘Real Groovy’ ‘JB HiFi’ or ‘Marbecks’.

The Jam: After the gig there was a jam session and it quickly morphed into a mammoth affair.    Drummers, saxophonists, guitarists and singers crowded the band stand while fours and honks were traded to the delight of the audience.  I don’t think that I could name everyone who played but I will try: Roger Manins(ts), Tim Hopkins(ts), Noel Clayton(g), Aron Ottignon(p), Matt Steele(p) Tyson Smith(g), Dan Kennedy(d), Tony Hopkins(d), Tim ?(d), a young drummer (?), Dixon Nacey(g), Callum Passells(as), Holly Smith(v).    Roger played a lovely breathy Ben Webster sounding ‘Sunny Side if The Street’, Holly sung a fabulous bluesy ‘Summertime’ while Tony played just like he always does.  Sitting just a fraction behind the beat and in perfect time.

Resonator; Reuben Bradley

It is well-known on the New Zealand Jazz scene that Resonator won this years ‘Jazz Tui’ award.  As this is drummer Reuben Bradley’s first album that is no mean feat.  The band played at the CJC earlier in the week as part of their Australasian tour and pulled a good audience for the gig.

The band we saw on Wednesday did not have the full complement of band members present on the album, as the pianist Miles Crayford who had played piano, Fender Rhodes & synth had been replaced by guitarist Tyson Smith.   Also absent were guest artists Tom Callwood (arco bass), James Illingworth (synth) and Kirsten Te Rito (vocals).

This was a paired down hard-driving unit and they took the high energy, high volume route.   The band was: Reuben Bradley (drums, percussion), Mostyn Cole (electric bass), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone) Tyson Smith (guitar).   It was also obvious that this was a drummers band because Reuben seemed to direct all aspects of the music; the band taking their cues from the complex rhythms he was laying down.   I had heard much about his ascendancy as a drummer and his chops were certainly evident at this gig.    He was also an engaging presence as he bantered with the audience.  Jazz musicians are capable of delivering knock out one liners, self-deprecating asides and sly insider jokes from the bandstand.   I am happy to see that tradition continue at the CJC.

While most of the pieces swiftly morphed into full-on blowing numbers there was one ballad.    In situations like this a band could not do better than call on Roger Manins to execute the key lines and he delivered in spades.   Reuben introduced the number by saying, ” I had always wanted to write a dark evil sounding ballad because I figured that there was a real market for this”.    This number ‘Search in progress’ gave us an insight into the subtler aspects of the band’s repertoire.

Every Kiwi (and offshore) Jazz fan should contact ‘Rattle Records’ http://www.rattlejaz.com and purchase the ‘Resonator’ album.   It can also be purchased at ‘Marbecks Records’, ‘Slow Boat Records’ and ‘Parsons Records & Books’ and is available as a download on iTunes.   ‘Rattle Records Ltd.’ are to be congratulated for their burgeoning catalogue of top quality NZ Jazz and I urge all Jazz lovers to support this label.    It must be pleasing to the band that Mike Nock has praised the group. He saw this album as being ample evidence that “The new generation of New Zealand Jazz musicians have moved up several notches”.

After the gig I sought out Mostyn Cole the bass player to apologise for wrongly naming him as the bassist at the previous weeks gig.   I could not find him but the guitarist Tyson Smith said, “It doesn’t matter man because I am credited as being in the band but I was not on the album we are touring to promote and so it all equals out”.   That caused me to recall Roger Manins tongue in cheek announcement the previous week. “We believe in truth in advertising tonight and this is one of the rare examples where the people on the album are actually the people performing on the promotional tour,  Get a signed copy of the CD now as this may never happen again”.    Jazz humour is the best.