CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Straight ahead

Black Spider Stomp – Jazz Manouche

Black SS 094Wellington has long possessed a gypsy soul and Jazz Manouche thrives there. In Auckland there are fewer such groups and the common form here is hybridised Gypsy. I am more familiar with these hybrid forms, but as a devotee of improvised music I possess many Django Reinhardt and Bireli Legrene recordings. The Black Spider Stomp are a traditional Gypsy Jazz group and everything about them shouts ‘du Quintet de Hot Club of France’. For a start they look the part in their slick black outfits and they mirror the traditional ensembles – three Manouche guitars, upright bass and clarinet (the clarinet player doubling on soprano and trumpet).Black SS 089The hallmark of gypsy authenticity is the ability to swing in a particular way, and Black Spider Stomp achieves this. In western European gypsy the absence of a percussion instrument places heavier emphasis on guitar led rhythm. The rhythm guitars are essential to the momentum with their striking ‘la pompe’ strum. This hard swinging pumping style is very distinctive, with its dark chromaticism, bent notes, adherence to certain voicings, rapid arpeggios, powerful rhythms and regular use of vibrato. The tunes are mostly in 4/4 with a heavy accent on two and four (although waltzes are also in the repertoire).Black SS 093The style is so distinctive that it owns the tunes whatever their origin. Once while traveling in the Carmargue I stopped at a typical Provencal village. As dusk fell a group of Gitano guitarists started playing in the square. The tune was maddeningly familiar and I wrongly thought – this is a Reinhardt composition. It stuck in my head for days and then the penny dropped. It was ‘My Way’ – the tune popularised by Paul Anka and Frank Sinatra. Recently I learned that it is actually a French pop tune. Talk about music travelling where it will. Another perennial favourite in Jazz Manouche is Stevie Wonder’s ‘Isn’t she lovely’. Manouche Jazz itself is a hybrid of American Jazz and Gypsy – and each of those musical influences are sources as vast as an ocean.

Music has origins …. but no fixed abode.

Black SS 095The groups use of soprano saxophone (but in this case the straight-horn variant) is also authentic. While violinists like Stephane Grapelli regularly led Manouche ensembles (pre war), the arrival in Paris of horn playing musicians like Sydney Bechet influenced the post war style. Jazz Manouche reached maturity in Paris around the time of WW2 and it was so loved there, that a handful of Jazz loving occupying Nazi’s covertly protected it.  The use of a trumpet intrigued me for two reasons. For a reeds musician to double on trumpet is rare – the embouchure is so different. Post millennium we seldom hear such a distinct nod to Louis Armstrong – or to the early swing trumpeters. Perhaps with Armstrong or Bubber Miley in mind, reeds and brass man Baron Oscar Laven treated us to the occasional muted growl and smear. His cheerful enthusiasm for all of his horns was obvious.Black SS 087Guitars always fascinate me. These were obviously based on the famous Selmer ‘Maccaferri’ guitars favoured by Django. There are two main styles of Jazz Manouche guitar – the ‘D’ hole ‘large mouth’ with its broader rich tone and woody resonance (most often the lead guitar) and the ‘O’ hole ‘small mouth’, which is brighter in sound and has serious cut through. Solos from both were heard. These guitars are things of real beauty, earthy multi-hued wood-grained and framed in a blur of hands appearing from the darkness.

Nothing says acoustic quite like an array of wooden instruments carrying a gypsy tune.

Black Spider Stomp: Sam Thurston (guitar), James Quick (guitar), Adrian Jenson (guitar), Scott Maynard (upright bass), Baron Oscar Laven (woodwinds and brass) – find their work on Bandcamp   – The gig took place at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 17th Feb 2016.

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CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Millenium, Straight ahead

Richard Thai 5 @ CJC

Richard Thai#1Richard Thai was on the first JAC album but by the time I saw the ensemble live he had left New Zealand for America to complete his postgraduate studies. Recently he returned to his hometown of Wellington where he now teaches and leads the Richard Thai 5. While the ensemble is a basic line up of saxophone, piano, guitar, bass and drums it is never the less forward-looking. This is post millennial music.

The set list on Wednesday featured Thai’s compositions. The well constructed tunes had an attractive ebb and flow, but behind the arranged heads and often lingering melody, lay obscured complexity. This is the type of material that can sorely test a band but under his quiet guidance they delivered. There are few hard edges to Thais sound, but he is unafraid to reach deep inside a solo; probing until it yields more. He is above all a confident player and in spite of his very even delivery, he conveys a lot of information. Richard ThaiThe best illustration of this was heard in his second tune, ‘Capricorn’. A marvellous composition. Like much of Thai’s material it has powerful hooks to draw you in. What sounds simple is in truth anything but, as it shifts between major and minor keys with disarming ease. Many tunes do this, but with Capricorn the device is extraordinarily well conceived. The shifts in focus are pleasing, but what sets the tune apart is a sweet over-arching dissonance; diminished chords acting as a bridge to carry you across the major-minor divide. The arranged head is especially tantalising; setting the listener up expectantly for the explorations that promise to follow.Richard Thai (5)Capricorn’s momentum is that of a multi-hued butterfly in a tropical storm; pushing against the cross winds, never losing its way, pulse, or sense of purpose. Thai’s tenor picks at the tune, peeling the layers back, exposing the heart. This contrasts with pianist Matt Steele’s oblique approach. Steele clearly took the difficult route and along the way it yielded gold. You were with him note by note as he undid the knots of the puzzle confronting him. Steele is always an interesting pianist and always one to watch. It is his determination, his preparedness to take risks and his ability to learn on the bandstand that marks him out from many of his peers. He grows as an artist each time I see him. Richard Thai (14)The last to solo on Capricorn was guitarist Callum Allardice. After the long complex solos preceding his, he wisely chose to linger nearer to the melody. His tight elliptical figures rounding out the earlier solos and bringing us gradually back to the outro. His time to shine as soloist came on the last number where his guitar soared as if free of gravity (much to the delight of the audience). Allardice has many fans in Auckland.Richard Thai (6)The remaining two band members Shuan Anderson and Scott Maynard are also established musicians from the Wellington area. Anderson (like Allardice) was also a member of the Tui nominated JAC and he has played at the CJC before. A responsive drummer who interacted well and picked up on the subtle nuances of the material. The bass player Scott Maynard has been a member of various leading Wellington units (e.g. Myele Manzanza, Lex French). He has played at the CJC before and he never disappoints.  His role in giving a heart beat to this often complex material was vital. I look forward to hearing more of this ensemble and above all I would like to some hear more Thai compositions. With a few more years of performance under their belt the unit could achieve even more.

Richard Thai 5 – Richard Thai (tenor saxophone), Callum Allardice (guitar), Matt Steele (piano), Scott Maynard (bass), Shaun Anderson (drums).

CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland on 9th December 2015

 

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Millenium, Review

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

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Millenium

Myele Manzanza Trio

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The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) is increasingly on the world Jazz circuit, but it also attracts a number of artists from around New Zealand.   This outreach is exactly what Roger Manins, Caroline Manins and Ben McNicholl had envisaged when the collective began.  The CJC’s prime purpose is to further Jazz and improvised music as an art form and to create an intimate performance space where projects can be realised.    This space is suited to listening audiences, which in turn spurs the musicians on.  The trio who performed on Wednesday appreciated that.  IMG_6436 - Version 2

On Wednesday we heard the Wellington based Myele Manzanza trio.  A drummer led band has a different feel to a piano led trio.  When a drummer is leader the drums are generally more forward in the mix than is otherwise the case.  This is the way of things and whether it’s Max Roach or Matt Wilson we expect to have the drums as a strong focus.  Myele Manzanza is a captivating drummer and I was immediately struck by how different he is to most Auckland drummers.  When I spoke to him later I went out on a limb by suggesting that his style was reminiscent of Manu Katche.  He told me that he had not heard him, but that others had said the same.

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According to Myele, Roger Manins suggested that they should push the boundaries.   Rising to that challenge the band hastily composed a tune for the gig.   The gig was a mix of standards, interesting takes on tunes not usually associated with jazz and a few originals.  The originals were often subjected to an angular approach and with pared back melody.   Their take on the Ellington tune ‘Caravan’ was probably the most conventional of their tunes but even then it was given individual treatment.  The pianist approached the tune in a percussive manner, but with right hand runs that were definitely post bop (a little like Michel Petrucciani was fond of doing).  Led by the drummer, time signatures morphed into various new patterns.

The Pianist Daniel Hayles often begins pieces with long ostinato intro’s and while not quite a minimalist, he never-the-less avoids excessive ornamentation.  I really warmed to him as the evening progressed and I found his approach modern and fresh (and often North European).  With Scott Maynard on bass the unit knitted together well.  Because of the way the tunes unfolded it was essential that he made his presence felt and he did.   In situations like this the bass often has to carry some extra weight.IMG_6431

Myele has spent time working in New York and he has studied under Jazz drummer E J Strickland.  I also know that he is passionate about Jazz, but why his band sounds different is because other very modern influences have seeped into the mix.   Myele Manzanza works with many ground breaking non-Jazz lineups and that is probably what he is best known for.   This brings me back to Manu Katche who is a very modern jazz drummer, but one who works across a variety of genres (Peter Gabriel and Sting).  Katche’s Jazz drumming is atypical and madly engaging.   Jazz should never stand still and this window on yet another approach to our music tells me that the exploration continues.

I hope that the band returns again as they expand our horizons while making us smile.   After thanking his band Myele Manzanza turned to the audience and said, “Thank you Auckland and the CJC.   This is an unusual situation for us.  An audience that listens appreciatively and doesn’t talk through the gig.   This is what Wellington lacks”.

Every city needs a CJC …and lots of nights like this.

Who: Myele Manzanza (Leader, drums), Daniel Hayles (Keys, Piano), Scott Maynard (bass).

When and Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 1885 building Brittomart, 20th march 2013

Note: Jazz April and International Jazz Day are nearly upon us.  Do your bit by supporting as much jazz as you can during April.

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