Backbeat Bar, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Small ensemble, Straight ahead

Steve​ Sherriff Sextet @ Backbeat Bar

Sherriff (1)This project was bound to happen sometime and it was long overdue. On the night of the bands first gig, the pent-up energy that had long been building found a voice. As they kicked off, the room filled with potent energy and the enthusiasm of the band was met in equal parts by the capacity audience. Steve Sherriff is fondly remembered from Alan Browns Blue Train days and he brought with him an interesting group of musicians. Most of them were compatriates from earlier bands and their familiarity with each other musically paid dividends.

On keyboards, was Alan Brown and this was an obvious and very good choice. Brown has a long history with Sherriff and this was evident as they interacted. On trumpet was the veteran Mike Booth; a musician more than capable of navigating complex ensemble situations and delivering strong solos. Ron Samsom was on drums, another well-matched band member, ever urging the band to ever greater heights as he mixed organic grooves with a hard swing feel. Then there was Neil Watson on pedal steel and fender guitars and Jo Shum on electric and acoustic bass. When you put a group of strong soloists and leaders together there is a degree risk, but these musicians worked in perfect lock-step. As in sync as they were, Sherriff was the dominant presence on stage and no one doubted who the leader was.  Sherriff

Sherriff is a fine saxophonist with a compelling tone on each of his horns. On this gig, he alternated between tenor and soprano (though he sometimes plays alto in orchestral lineups). He has an individual sound and it is especially noticeable on tenor ballads and on tunes where he plays soprano. His other strength lies in his compositions. He and Brown contributed all of the numbers for this gig, but in future, other band members will be contributing also.  This was small-ensemble writing of the highest order – tightly focused – melodically and harmonically pleasing. The faster-paced numbers were reminiscent of hard bop – the ballads memorably beautiful. Brown and Sherriff set a high compositional bar.Sherriff (2)

It was Watson though, who took the most risks and the audience just loved it. At times he appeared to be stress testing his Fender as he bent strings and made the guitar wail. At other times he was the straight-ahead guitarist in Kenny Burrell mode – then on a ballad number, he would gently coax his pedal steel guitar and play with such warmth and subtlety that you sighed with pleasure. It had been a while since I’d seen Jo Shum perform and this was a setting where she shone.

Although the band was only formed recently, they will be ready to record sometime in the near future.  The material and the synergy of the band is just too good to squander.

Steve Sherriff (compositions, leader, saxophones), Alan Brown (keyboard, compositions), Mike Booth (trumpet), Neil Watson (pedal steel and Fender guitar), Jo Shum (upright + electric bass), Ron Samsom (drums). The gig took place at the Backbeat Bar, K’Road, Auckland, for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, July 25, 2018.

 

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CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Groove & Funk, New Zealand Jazz Gigs

Blue Train – 2013

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I suspect that Blue Train has a following way beyond the traditional Jazz audiences and I can understand why.  Their hard-driving funk laden grooves are impossible to resist and so people tend to flock to any Blue Train gig.   Their audience occupies a broad age spectrum.  Blue Train mostly plays music that you can dance to and just occasionally the set list includes some Jazz space funk.   I’m a huge fan of this type of tripped out Jazz fusion, so if you like this sub-genre then find yourself some Blue Train recordings.  There is of course much more to Blue Train than Funk Fusion and their Jazz chops show in everything that they do.   Only highly competent Jazz musicians can play like this and only talented experienced musicians can write the material Alan does.   This band is an Auckland cultural institution, they are jaw droppingly good and that’s why people love them.  The Blue Train gigs are rare these days, as the band members all have other projects on the go.  Any whisper of gigs should put an urgent blip across your radar.   Tip: they will be at the Waiheke Jazz Festival this year – be there.

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The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) filled to capacity on the night and they soon stood three deep at the bar.   Blue Train was here again – the word had travelled.

Post millennium Jazz is a broad church and the younger audiences (and a few older ones like me) find this exciting.  Blue Train has been around for more than 20 years and in spite of a few attempts to pension the band off, the fans just wont let it die.  As a part of New Zealand’s improvised music heritage it deserves our ongoing support and respect.   Don’t for a minute expect a mere cover band recycling the glory days.  Blue Train are wisely resistant of resting on their laurels and after the ‘head’ of a tune they unravel the material in new and interesting ways.   They play older material and new.  Alan Brown’s compositions just keep on coming and they get better and better.   He is a seasoned performer and his keyboard skills will always astound.  As you listen you will  hear new ideas being tried and old ideas being turned on their head.  He is widely acknowledged as a great keyboardist but his piano skills are also considerable.  This was very evident on the 6th of March 2013.

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It was obvious that the band were thoroughly enjoying themselves and they stretched out as the tunes unfolded.  The CJC gig edged closer to its Jazz roots than would have been the case at Deschlers in the 90’s.  Those in the line up were mostly veteran band members, but there were some newer additions.   Dixon Nacey on guitar has played with Alan for years and he has previously appeared in Blue Train line ups.  He does not however go back as far as Jason Orme (drums) or Steve Sherriff (tenor and soprano saxophones).   The newer band member is Karika Turua (electric bass).

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Having Dixon Nacey in any band is always a treat and I always watch as his eyes fix on the other musicians – exhorting them to challenge him.  He listens carefully to what is unfolding and is always ready to back someone up or to step out with new ideas.   This is invariably done with a mile-wide grin and the looks of delight when he and Alan lock into an exchange is priceless.  As on his three previous gigs, he had his gorgeous Godin Guitar with him and once again I will confirm that this is a match made in heaven.

Many of the Blue Train musicians have contributed compositions over time and Steve Sherriff deserves special mention there.  He is well rounded horn player who can fit seamlessly into many situations (big band, straight ahead Jazz or funk).   His tenor and soprano work were especially captivating on this gig and when he and Dixon played unison lines it was hard to believe that there was not an additional horn in the line up.  Before the gig I ran into my niece and told her that it was nice to see her in the club.  She then told me that a former teacher of hers was in the band.   Who’s that I asked. “Mr Sherriff” she said.   When I saw her later she summed up her impression  “Wow who knew he played like that”.    He does.

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Jason Orme worked the grooves with finesse and enthusiasm and he knew how to play to the room.   The same applies to Karika Turua who dug into serious grooves that echoed in your mind for days afterwards.

The sound levels were just right for the club and this is where the bands experience played a part . Some younger (and a few older musicians) forget to adjust their volume to the room and the CJC is lively; especially if the drums and bass are overly loud.  Being professionals – Alan and Ben McNicoll (CJC sound and IT) got the job done properly.  IMG_6332

What and Who: ‘Blue Train’ – Alan Brown (keys), Steve Sherriff (saxes), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Karika Turua (electric bass), Jason Orme (drums).

When: Wednesday 6th March 2013

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club) – basement of the 1885 building Brittomart