This year has seen a lot of international acts through the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), compelling musicians with interesting stories to tell and often with serious gig miles under their belt. As exciting as it is to see the high-end performers of the scene, it is just as important to recognise and evaluate those who might one day take their place. Not all will last the course, but the persistent and the passionate can make that journey. Standing in front of a discerning club audience tests young musicians in ways not easily replicated. Unlike the Jazz School environment, the musicians technical prowess is subservient to the authenticity they bring to the bandstand. Fluffing a line is more likely forgiven than delivering a technically perfect but lifeless performance. Sam Weeks and Sean Martin-Buss tested themselves and came through the fire relatively unscathed.The gig was part of the emerging artists series and the musicians first time at the CJC as leaders. Both have previously played as sidemen at the club, but standing anonymously in a horn line is a different thing entirely. I am happy to give this gig the thumbs up as they performed well. It took the first few numbers for them to warm up properly, but warm up they did. The rest of the first set and the one after that delivered crackling performances. All of the material was their own and their writing skills were favourably displayed (especially those of Weeks). A piece titled ‘Missing Together’ by Weeks was a gem – opening with some tricky unison lines, followed by a few bars of counterpoint. They made it sound easy, but clearly, many of these compositions were not. The act of embracing the difficult is how a musician grows. I am glad they took some risks, as Jazz functions best in the absence of complacency.Sean Martin-Buss was on alto saxophone with Sam Weeks on tenor saxophone. Each gave the other ample room and the contrast between the horns was therefore amplified. They also differed stylistically and this gave an added piquancy to the gig. They made good use of interactive Banter, musician to audience and to each other. Off the wall comments came out of nowhere, and the audience included in the joke. The humour was not in the lines but in the offhand delivery. A very Kiwi type of onstage banter – self-effacing, mumblingly casual.Emerging musicians are often tempted to rely heavily on musicians from their own graduate class. There is nothing wrong with that per se, but the first question is always, which musicians will serve the gig best? Again the co-leaders made good choices in Tristan Deck (drums) and Eamon Edmundson-Wells (upright bass). The remaining band member was Crystal Choi on piano. Deck and Edmundson-Wells perform in public regularly and both have earned considerable respect. They personify good musical taste. They have talent and better yet, they work extraordinarily well together. It was this combination that tightened up the performance – real assets. Choi was extremely interesting on this gig. I have sometimes noticed a tiny hesitancy in her delivery. On this night, her performance exuded confidence and several of her solos were stunning. The enthusiastic audience responded throughout the night.Although the leaders possess perfect vision and are clearly not Venetian, the project was ‘The Blind Venetians’. This was also the name of the final number of the last set; a roistering finale bringing down the cantilevered shutters at gigs end.
The Blind Venetians: Sam Weeks (tenor saxophone, compositions), Sean Martin-Buss (alto saxophone, compositions), Crystal Choi (piano), Eamon Edmundson-Wells (upright bass), Tristan Deck (drums). Performed at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, Auckland, New Zealand, 04 May 2016
Thirty years ago Jazz students kept close to the safer standards for a first time club gig. Post millennium Students reference a variety of genres; even during a single number. That may sound like a recipe for disaster and if handled ineptly it would be. What I heard on this gig was at times clever and perhaps even cheeky. It bodes well for the adventures ahead. It is important that Jazz retains a sense of adventure and joy. There is certainly room for serious explorations, but music that takes itself too seriously is a downer.
The programming of CJC gigs ensures that a variety of acts. This is a particular strength. I have remarked upon this before and it is this practice that enables the Jazz club to hold ’emerging artists’ gigs every so often. It is far from being a weak commercial proposition as these nights usually draw significant crowds. Everyone who follows this music knows that artists don’t emerge from their studies fully formed. They develop incrementally; as they practice, play beside better musicians and as they perform in front of discriminating audiences. Having a project in hand like the ’emerging artists’ series is an important step. There are a number of Jazz schools in New Zealand (and some very good teachers in the private sector). It is therefore important that we evaluate the students. So far the quality of emerging artists has been impressive.
There was a double billing on the 6th August. First up was the Asher Tuppman Lattie quintet, followed by the J Y Lee Sextet. Following tradition the band members were all fellow students or recently graduated students and the reasoning behind this practice is sound. If they appeared with well established and highly competent musicians, a lingering doubt could remain. Would they have sounded as good without the latter? Choosing from fellow students gives context and synergy. Everyone needs to step up in unison.
I have posted a number titled ‘Tango’ which provides a context for my initial comments. At first it appears to be traditional Jazz Tango fare as it briefly utilises the raspy sounds made famous by Gato Barbieri. Then you get a sense of fun, as it playfully takes the genre apart. We get bebop and the merest hint of free in what follows. The vaudevillian feel of the piece worked well. It is similar to the sounds I heard during my explorations of Italian Jazz, a country where the blurring of Jazz, folk and free is often elevated to high art. Jazz Tango is something that I love and I’m not sure Kiwi’s get this. Listen to Gerry Mulligan with Aster Piazzolla or Gary Burton or even Carla Bley and you will find Tango gold. The Jazz Tango master who appeared to acclaim at the recent Wellington Jazz Festival was probably ignored by most Jazz fans. Their loss. The pianist Connor McAneny played the first set. He is an imposing presence; not because he is dominant, but because his assuredness when comping and his tasteful solos grow ever more confident.
Second up was J Y Lee, a young alto player who is often seen around town. He is heard in many lineups and his taste for the avant garde has added a piquancy to his sound. His played a varied set, giving him the ability to demonstrate a range of his writing and playing skills. Utilising Chelsea Prastiti on vocal lines was a masterstroke as the colour she adds to an ensemble is unique. As in the Asher Tuppman Lattie set the second horn player was Sam Weeks. Sam had played Alto in first set but took up tenor duties for the second set with J Y Lee. I have put up a piece which shows Weeks and Lee playing together. The arranged head is tight and melodic and as the piece opens out, everyone is given a chance to stretch a little.
The pianist for the second set was Chrystal Choi. She is a gifted pianist and it is a real shame that we don’t see her more often. In spite of having well-developed chops she never over-plays. Every note counts and she is definitely one to watch. Bass player Djordje Nikolic and drummer Tristan Deck played both sets. I have only heard Nikolic a few times but he acquitted himself well. Tristan Deck is increasingly seen about town and it is no wonder that he is employed more often. His time feel and confidence mark him out.
There was a good attendance for the gig and judging by the whoops and cheers everyone enjoyed it.
Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club) www.creativejazzclub.co.nz