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.