It was great to catch a sextet gig lead by a trombonist. There are a number of trombone players about Auckland, but we usually see them buried in the centre of a Jazz orchestra or hiding in the shadows of an ensemble. When they do appear in a brass section they enrich the palette and texture. There is something special about that fat burnished sound. The slurs, the rich colour tones, the pitch, and above all that hint of wistfulness that can hang in the air momentarily after the sound emerges from the bell: even mournfulness on occasions.
Emerging in the late baroque period, the trombone has a lineage stretching back to the sackbut. In Jazz lineups it is the saxophone family which dominates the brass instruments, closely followed by the trumpet. The slide trombone and especially the uncommon valve trombone are rarer commodities. This is the reverse of what occurs in the classical setting where saxophones are still regarded as interlopers. While the instrument may not dominate modern Jazz lineups, listeners, musicians and composers alike hold a deep affection for it. On Wednesday we heard Scott Taitoko perform a number of Hardbop era standards. This was the high watermark for Jazz trombone (the Jazz orchestra not withstanding). Hardbop leaders like Horace Silver and Art Blakey always included a bone and players like Kai Winding, J J Johnson, Curtis Fuller and Frank Rosolino were never out of work.
As I went down the stairs before the gig, I could hear the sextet rehearsing a few bars of an uptempo J J Johnson number. It sounded marvellous, as Johnson numbers do. Later, well into the first set Taitoko performed the achingly beautiful ballad ‘Lament’ (also by Johnson). This was a trio piece, just guitar, bass and bone and it worked beautifully. As Sam Taylor comped gently, Richie Pickard wove perfect bass lines; In Taitoko’s hands the melody filled the room and hung there in its melancholic splendour. We all love the gorgeous arrangements and rich voicings of the familiar Gil Evans/Miles version or our own Wayne Senior’s chart (who arranged it for Nathan Haines on his ‘Vermillion Skies’ album), but it was nice to hear it stripped down to the essentials. The other Hardbop composers who featured prominently were Horace Silver (who passed away just over a month ago) and Joe Henderson. These are among the greatest composers of Hardbop standards.
There was at least one original during the evening and that was a stunner. Taitoko had penned it as a tribute to his grandmother and to the Marae he identifies with in the King Country. The tune ‘Koromiko’ references his mountain, his Marae and his forebears. We felt that connection strongly during the piece and the musicians clearly did too as they told the story with feeling. I have put up a clip of Horace Silver’s ‘Tokyo Blues’. A perennial favourite done well. There were nice solos on this tune by Taitoko, Steele, France and particularly by Sam Taylor. Steele could not have been better, taking a slightly oblique approach at the beginning, working with the complex meters and nailing it.
There is a strong Christchurch connection to this lineup with Taitoko, Pickard, Taylor and Keegan all having strong connections with that city. We see a lot of Pickard and Keegan these days and are the richer for it. We hear the talented expat Scot, Pete France less often and more’s the pity.
Who: Scott Taitoko Sextet – Scott Taitoko (leader, Trombone), Pete France (tenor saxophone), Matt Steele (piano), Sam Taylor (guitar), Richie Pickard (bass), Andrew Keegan (drums).
Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand. 1st October 2014