During the first half of 2017, a significant number of respected international artists and established local artists appeared at the CJC Creative Jazz Club. While everyone enjoys such a cornucopia of riches, it is also important to keep sight of emerging artists, those who are just below the radar. No local venue manages to showcase the rich diversity of improvising talent as well as the CJC. This is no accident, as there is a guiding philosophy behind the programming of gigs. No artist, however good, gets an ongoing residency; the gigs, therefore, are different every week, are identifiable projects, and this keeps the audiences engaged. An important part of this is showcasing emerging artists.
Sam Swindells recently completed an Honours degree at the University of Auckland Jazz School and although not a new-comer to the scene, it is his first gig at the CJC. I recall someone telling me that his Honours recital created a buzz; that those who attended were impressed by it. On Wednesday he brought us that project and it was well received. One of the exciting things about the New Zealand Jazz scene is the growing strength of the writing and arranging. In Swindells case, he has taken a path less trodden; arranging and composing for an unusually configured brass-heavy octet. His inspiration was the stunning 1990’s John Scofield octet album ‘Quiet’.
When arranged music is at its best, the skillful management of contrasts is at its heart; tension and release, textural variance, tricks of modulation, surprise, clarity emerging from density; and if done well, presented as a coherent whole. This was an ambitious project, but in spite of that it worked. I would like to see Swindells develop the concept further, write or arrange more material like this, coral a group of musicians and rehearse them to within an inch of their lives. I have long thought that the nonet/octet ensemble form is under represented in Auckland (better represented in Wellington).
There are some marked stylistic differences between the Scofield ‘Quiet’ band and Swindells’. Scofield used an expanded ensemble, which at times numbered eleven and included tubas, French horns, English horns and bass clarinets (and an acoustic guitar). Swindells worked with a smaller palette and in spite of being brass-heavy, he managed to achieve a delightful airiness. With fewer instruments utilised, the arrangements were closer to Frisell’s ‘This Land’ in effect. The combination of brass instruments (flugelhorn, trumpet, and two trombones) acted as a counterweight to his guitar and that required skillful arranging.The first number was ‘Tulle’ from the Scofield album, after that we heard a number of his own compositions interspersed with standards. His ‘Who is Kenneth Meyers?’ appealed as did an angular rendition of ‘Surrey with the Fringe on Top (Hammerstein). Given the project in hand, it was unsurprising that he included ‘Boplicity’ by Miles Davis; ‘Birth of The Cool’ being the springboard from which all such arranging sprang. In the second half we heard trumpeter Mike Booth’s ‘Major Event’ – Booth is a skilled arranger and an experienced ensemble composer. It is possible that he has also influenced Swindells’ direction.
The octet was a mixture of older hands and younger musicians. The ever popular Finn Scholes on trumpet, Mike Booth on trumpet and flugel, Jonathan Tan and Jonathan Brittain trombones, Roy Kim alto saxophone and flute, Wil Goodinson bass and Tom Leggett drums. The stand out instrument was the guitar – A confident and competent performance from Swindells throughout.
Performed at the CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K’Rd, Auckland, August 2nd, 2017.