Brian Smith is a legendary figure in New Zealand Jazz, achieving career highs that few others attain. Normally artists of this stature settle overseas and are seldom seen after that. It was our good fortune that Smith moved back to New Zealand and in consequence, we get to hear him perform locally. It’s a moot point whether good musicians ever truly retire (luckily, the answer is seldom). Not so long ago he formed a quintet and since then he has been performing at venues around town. While Smith is a regular at the CJC, this is the first time that we have seen the current quintet in action. The event was predominantly a standards gig and a band of veterans is the right vehicle where standards are concerned. When you bring a selection of loved tunes back into orbit, comparisons are inevitably made. Therefore it pays to choose well and to perform them well and that’s exactly what the Brian Smith quartet did.
Smith possesses an authoritative air on his horn, the end result of considerable experience and his well-acknowledged chops. Consequently, he always sounds great and always looks comfortable on the bandstand. Behind him in the darkness was Frank Gibson, Jr on drums. Gibson and Smith go back a long way and he is exactly the right drummer to lift these warhorse tunes to glory; most of them coming from the hay-day of Jazz. While Gibson has many strings to his bow, this is his forte. Up front was multi brass and reeds player Chris Nielson. It was good to hear Nielson again and especially on trombone, a horn that has sadly been disappearing from small ensembles since the 60’s. Nielson also brought other horns with him, favouring an American cornet, an instrument which in his hands, produced a strong rounded tone. On bass was Bruce Lynch, a highly competent electric and acoustic bass player who is well-known as a music producer and as a former member of the Cat Stevens band. Almost hidden on the right side of the bandstand was Dean Kerr on guitar. His guitar work was strongly chordal and supportive of the others, providing well-placed contrast for Smith and Neilson as he comped.
Among the standards were ‘In Walked Bud’ (Monk), Stolen Moments (Nelson), There is no Greater Love’ (Jones), Freddie Freeloader and All Blues (Miles), Killer Joe (Golson), St Thomas (Rollins). I have posted a clip of the perennial favourite ‘Softly as in a Morning Sunrise (Romberg/Hammerstein). There was also a nice tune by Smith which think is titled ‘Short Shift.
The gig took place at the Thirsty Dog for the CJC Creative Jazz Club on March 7, 2018. Brian Smith (leader, tenor saxophone), Frank Gibson Jr. (drums), Chris Nielson (trumpets, flugelhorn, trombone), Dean Kerr (guitar), Bruce Lynch (upright bass).
Good Music always says something interesting; it’s a form of communication where a musical statement begins a process and a listener responds. With any innovative musical form, we need to bring something of ourselves to the equation. The more open our ears the better the experience. Gifted improvisers of all cultures understand these fundamentals and because of this they mostly tell old stories in new ways. Rarely and bravely, musicians hit us with stories not yet fixed in the popular imagination. Steve Barry and his collaborators have a foot in both camps. While this is adventurous material, it is also approachable to anyone with open ears. What we heard at the CJC was innovative but the archetypes of all music were located deep in the compositional structure. A careful listening revealed trace elements from composers like Stravinsky or Bley and perhaps even of indigenous music.
The first piece they opened with was titled ‘Grind’ – a composition inspired by Sydney traffic (much as Tristano utilised every street sound that floated through his NY window). The piece began as journeys do with determined momentum – a degree of clarity followed by a more frenetic stop-start feel as the piece progressed – then reflection. It appealed to me greatly and twelve minutes in, I knew that I was hearing something similar to the approach used by Bley/Guiffre/Swallow in ‘Freefall’. There are moments in musical history when profound change is signalled and that album was one of them. The critics of the time hated it of course but modern Jazz audiences have caught up. The new Barry album ‘Blueprints and Vignettes’ will not be regarded as controversial but as vital and forward-looking. Back then clubs took fright and closed their doors but no club owner worth their salt would miss booking this group.
Barry is an interesting pianist and composer and this project may be his best to date. At the CJC he was confronted with a basic upright piano, but he somehow transformed it into a new instrument entirely. Many in the audience were fascinated and approached him afterwards to enquire how he achieved this slight of hand. Clever miking and a constant repetitive damping of the soft pedal was evident, but I suspect that his rapid-fire staccatissimo touch contributed as much to the effect. I know that Barry has also explored Bartok and the classical modernists and this may hold some clues as well. Whether by happenstance or contrivance, the overall effect was enormously pleasing. There were set patterns and themes, but these altered, developed, as fresh ideas arose from them.
I was delighted to finally catch up with Dave Goodman (PhD), having heard him last at the 505 in Sydney (along with Mike Nock, Rog Manins, James Muller and Cameron Undy). Goodman is an enormously versatile drummer and a popular educator. His role here is varied, but often that of ‘colourist’. Rolling his sticks over the drum heads, or providing contrast with irregular taps on the snare or a muted ride cymbal – and entering these interesting conversations as an equal. The other trio member was Jeremy Rose on reeds (his horns, the alto saxophone and bass clarinet). He was just superb and every bold sound or whispered breath added new dimensions. It is seldom that we hear a bass clarinet and to hear one in a trio setting of this kind is even rarer. The clarinets woodiness and rich harmonics added texture, the alto, a hawk awaiting its moment then swooping purposefully. In spite of the varying tempos and moods, the album imparts a delicacy from start to finish. Live, they got the best out of the acoustics and venue piano. What a perfect sound palette Barry has chosen for this project and whether live or recorded, how satisfying the realisation.
The album ‘Blueprints and Vignettes’ is available from stevebarrymusic.bandcamp.com or from retail and online sources (I recommend Bandcamp). The album features Max Alduca on bass. The live gig took place at the Thirsty Dog for the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) – February 21, 2018.
It was a good way to begin a year of music, a good way to breathe life into two enervating steamy nights. Hayden Chisholm was back in the country and around him formed various duos, trios, and quartets. He performed two gigs in Auckland and the first was at the Audio Foundation in Poynton Lane. The venue has long been an important source of innovative music and each time I descend the stairs to the sub-basement I find interesting changes to the clubs configuration. It really is an excellent venue and perfect for what it offers. At first glance, the two nights appeared quite different. One free improvised and the other a set of reflective ballads. In reality, both gigs were reflective, melodic and approachable. The open-hearted humanity and communication skills of the participants made it so.
When Norman Meehan, Paul Dyne, and Hayden Chisholm appeared last year in the UoA Jazz School auditorium, the audience was taken aback by the sheer beauty of the performance. The alto saxophone is heard less often than its fatter sounding big brother the tenor and it is seldom heard like this. There was something about that particular performance that stopped people in their tracks. The beauty of the tone and the way the sound informed the improvisational approach. It’s not as if we had never heard an alto and piano before, but the unusual clarity and the perfect juxtaposition between horn and Meehan’s tasteful minimalism made it special. Unsurprisingly there were good audiences at both of the 2018 Auckland gigs.
At the Audio Foundation, there were no charts and only the briefest of interactions between musicians prior to the performance. The sets were mostly duos – one with John Bell on vibraphone, followed by another with experimental vocalist Chelsea Prastiti and lastly Jonathan Crayford on piano. Chisholm also recited prose and played over a drone on his Sruti Box. The final number of the evening was a quartet made up of all four musicians.
I have never witnessed a free gig quite like that as the communication was so exquisitely personal. More than musicians finishing each other’s sentences. More than the flow of fresh ideas; there was a sense of musicians revealing something intangible. From out of the fading harmonics and the quiet spaces came that extra something. The quiet revealing something on the edge of consciousness, something we often miss. Arising from – evocative like a Rilke poem – or a haiku. Bell stroked his mallets across the bars or responded with staccato – or soft taps and clicks, Prastiti offered cries and bell-like utterances, framed as wordless questions, Crayford explored resonant possibilities by using extended technique or by mesmerizing with darkly descending chords – opening up a dialogue which was met in kind – sometimes gentle, at other times like a flow of coloured sparks.
The Thirsty dog gig on the following night featured the trio of Chisholm, Meehan, and Dyne (adding drummer Julien Dyne in the second half). Late last year the core trio released their album titled ‘Unwind’. Many of the tunes we heard last Wednesday and last year are on the album – plus a few new compositions. The album is released on Rattle Records and is highly recommended. If you like thoughtful, beautiful music with integrity, this is for you. The compositions are all by Meehan and Chisholm (with the exception of an arrangement of Schumann’s ‘Sei Gegrusst Viel Tausendmal’ (arranged by Chisholm). On Wednesday we also heard a delightful composition by Paul Dyne the Bass player. Adding the younger Dyne in the second half changed the mood and again the contrast between the duo, trio and quartet added to the whole. Julien Dyne is a fine drummer and I wish he appeared more often.
I must also comment on Chisholm’s playing over the Srusi Box drones. I love to hear good musicians playing over a drone and the quieter and multi-harmonic effects of the Srusi Box provided subtle wonders. Several times while the drone was sounding, Chisholm took the saxophone away from his lips and appeared to blow across the reed from a distance. As he did, a disembodied whistling sound emerged from nowhere – adding to the fading harmonics of the drone. I have no idea how he did this but it was spellbinding. To a microtonal pioneer, this is probably bread and butter – to an entranced audience it was no less than magic. I hope to put up a clip from one or both gigs later – check back in a few weeks.
The Australian saxophonist Paul Van Ross is a regular visitor to New Zealand, but there was a four-year gap between his recent Auckland gigs. He is a talented improviser, an interesting composer and an artist brimming with ideas, so his gigs are always worth catching when he passes through. As he did last time, he toured with drummer Mark Lockett, a friend and longtime collaborator. They were joined in Auckland by the in-demand bass player Cameron McArthur. Van Ross’s last visit featured Alan Brown on organ; this trip, however, was pianoless, providing him with clear skies and lots of space to stretch out in. All three grabbed at the opportunity enthusiastically and the audience benefited from the subsequent aerobatics.
While the tour focussed on his trio chops there was a secondary purpose; to showcase his Cuban Album “Mi Alma Cubana’. The trio played mostly originals and a number of tunes from the album. As much as I enjoyed the trio (and I did), it was the Cuban septet which really floored me. I have put up a video excerpt from the chordless trio gig, and I can’t resist adding two sound clips from the album. What an album this is – what unbounded joy and groove. It was almost impossible to choose which track to put up as they are all so great – ‘Break a Tune’ (an earlier composition), La Negra Tomasa (G. Rodriguez) the only non-original, the ballad ‘Melody for Mum? In the end I opted for ‘Swami in the house’ and ‘Hacienda de la Salsa’ (the latter containing hints of tango under infectious Cuban rhythms – a truly spicy salsa.
‘Mi Alama Cubana’ was recorded in Cuba during a visit in 2013. All of the musicians were hired in Cuba and the recording took place over two days in the EGREM studios Havana. In between tunes, Van Ross regaled us with stories of the recording session. No wonder the album turned out so well. The picture he painted was compelling; tales of wonderfully colourful musicians; the epitome good humour and remembered with real fondness. The pianist who didn’t need charts. the scantily clad percussionist, the innate professionalism.
It is our good fortune that these talented people came together at this time and that they injected such joyful enthusiasm into the Van Ross Australian/Cubano project. I highly recommend the album – it will make you smile and cause your feet to move unbidden. The weave of the clave will work its magic on body and soul. making summer that little bit brighter. It is important to support such endeavours right now; each time we embrace this extraordinary music we give a one finger salute to the bigotry that keeps such projects away from our ears.
Trio: Paul Van Ross (saxophones, compositions), Mark Lockett (drums), Cameron McArthur (bass). CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, Auckland, 13 Dember 2017
Mi Alma Cubana: Paul Van Ross (saxophones, flute), Alejandro Falcon (piano), Jorje Aragon (piano 3-5), Gaston Joya Perellada (bass), Oliver Valdes (drums), Jose Luis Quintana (timbales), Yoraldy Abreu Robles (conga, shekere, shaker, guiro)
The album was crowd-funded and released by the artists. Purchase from iTunes or from the Paul Van Ross website.
The last time the Jelly Rolls Jelly Rolls played at the CJC was two years ago and they are just the right band for a pre-Christmas 2017 gig. To my ears, nothing sounds more like Christmas than the Jelly Rolls. Forget your formulaic Christmas albums – this is good times music and you can feel it deep in your bones. The Jelly Rolls are important for a number of reasons, but not least because of their outreach to both provincial and urban New Zealand. The year has gone well for them and after touring the band to unlikely corners of the Island, they arrived in Auckland in peak form. Their particular brand of swing-infused music is seldom heard live and it’s a delight to hear it done (and done so well). To a new generation of listeners, this is often an eye-opener and so it should be. Their playlist comprises originals but also showcases an all but forgotten improvised treasure trove.
Much of the Jelly Rolls music comes from an important moment in the development of Jazz. It digs into the repertoire of musicians like Erroll Garner, Fats Waller, Ahmad Jamal, Jack Teagarden and Oscar Peterson. These musicians were far more important than mere historical footnotes – they were vital stepping-stones to where we are today; larger than life musicians who entertained and made us smile. In the Jelly Rolls hands, all of the above are referenced; not in a ‘let’s do some retro stuff’ way but by encapsulating style and essence. Those who know their music history will pick up these threads but will also enjoy the immediacy. This is music to be enjoyed in the now, enjoyed at a visceral level; foot-tapping body-swaying music. Some of what we heard, the swing material, was from their earlier ‘Live in Cromwell’ album (I love that title).
When I last saw Ben Wilcock he was about to move to Rotorua. His new location among the lakes and geothermal marvels prompted him to write some fresh material. The Phantom Canoe is an ambitious project focusing on Te Arawa legends of the central North Island. In deference to local Iwi and Hapu, he consulted elders as the project unfolded. Armed with their blessings and advice, he told the stories in his own voice. The album arising out of that project is on data-card and it includes a short video. There is a piece about a Taniwha, the epic of Hinemoa and Tutanekai is told in several parts but the most dramatic tale is the title track ‘The Phantom Canoe’. Beautifully paced, gently evocative of the landscape and the mysterious story behind it.
A Phantom Canoe appeared on Lake Tarawera on the 13th May 1886 and it was seen by the wiser Maori inhabitants as a portent of the coming eruption. The volcano erupted violently 10 days later, obliterating the villages around the shore and the iconic pink and white terraces. No such canoe had ever been on the lake and those in the canoe were dressed in traditional shrouds. Michael Barker’s vibraphone melody over a repeat pattern on piano and bass was just right for this, Wellington drummer John Rae completing the piece nicely as he evoked the final eruption sequence. It was obvious that the band enjoyed performing together and the audience picked up on that and responded. The line up on Squeaky Weasel, an earlier Jelly Rolls album, was as now Wilcock, Rae and bass player Yeabsley. The addition of Michael Barker on percussion and vibraphone is an evolution that makes perfect sense. Trumpeter Finn Scholes joined them for one number and delivered a well thought through high energy solo. To pick up a copy go to Ben Wilcock Thick Records Ltd – www.thickrecords.co.nz They appeared at the CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog Tavern, K’Road, Auckland on 29 November 2017
There is no way of calculating the number of subatomic particles routinely passing through a Neutrino Funk Experience, but we can safely quantify the delight on the faces of their audience. There is something about the structure of this unit that inclines them towards extreme risk-taking; the sort of risk-taking that transforms a band into an irregular elemental force. It is rumoured that a ‘play it safe’ memo was issued at their last venue, but the band either mislaid it or opted for willful disobedience. The only reasonable explanation for this hyper-energised, off the grid performance, is to blame it on passing Neutrinos. The band kicks arse with hobnail boots.
The NFE were once upstairs regulars at the Albion and later they became CJC favourites. This year has been quieter for them gig wise, but the group’s energy levels have continued to rise during their hiatus. From the first note on Wednesday they nailed it to the floor. Swooping on our unprepared sensibilities and taking complete control of the room. It is hard to say who creates the most sparks as they continually feed off each other’s energy. Roger Manins is always a towering presence on the bandstand; his ad-lib asides and gestures acting as prequels to his wild solos. Eyes always follow him as he moves about the stage, but this time he had competition; the über kinetic actions of Grant Winterburn – vying with him gesture by gesture for visual and sonic supremacy.
Ron Samsom and Cam McArthur were located behind Manins and Winterburn. In spite of being partially obscured and located in the darker recesses, you’d have thought they were playing in the chair beside you. While the band is loud, it is not unduly so; it is something else that projects them. The sound is in front, behind, inside, outside – neutrino laden energy, everywhere and nowhere – passing through the observers and imperceptibly, transforming them in a quantum fashion.
In the Bimhuis in Amsterdam, I saw Han Bennink put his boots on the kit during a drum solo. Samsom prefers his upper body and especially his elbows. Manins has some leg action. Winterburn, however, took the Bennink route and added a few wrinkles of his own. He sat on the keys, he walked on the keys and he shook his Nord until it cried out for mercy; and all of the while Samsom locked down a groove beat so tight that it became dark matter. This group not only understand group dynamics but they know how far they can go while taking the audience with them.
Towards the end of the first set, I was handed the microphone, reading one of my poems while they played softly beneath me, accenting keywords, moving where I did. I was so delighted at performing with this band that I forgot to press the record button – such is life. It takes real skill for a band to take risks while staying within a groove framework. I hope they keep doing what they do and perhaps they will record again soon? Their earlier album ‘Ace Tone’ is still available at Rattle Records so grab a copy for Christmas before the stock disappears. Dancing dementedly around the Christmas tree would not be the same without it.
The Neutrina Funk Experience: Ron Samsom (drums), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Grant Winterburn (organ), Cameron McArthur (upright bass). CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Thirsty Dog, Wednesday 22nd November 2017.
Bass player Nathan Brown is a rising New York Jazz star and he is very much in demand these days. The people he has worked with, underscore that point nicely. Notable among them are; Wes ‘Warmdaddy’ Anderson, Randy Brecker, Carl Allen, John Faddis, Wycliffe Gorden, Lewis Nash and Paquito D’Rivera. Of interest to us, he has also had a long collaboration with the New Zealand born drummer Mark Lockett. After years of performing with his regular trio at the ‘Cleopatra’s Needle Jazz Club’, he decided that it was time to record some of the material that they had been performing. The synergy between the artists was already great but what upped the ante were their influences. The trio guitarist Felix Lemerie was influenced by Grant Green; his drummer Peter Traunmuller by Philly Joe Jones and Brown by bassist Paul Chambers. These influences although not aligned stylistically, led Brown to ponder; what if all three had played together; what would such a trio sound like?. Out of that idea came the ‘This is the moment’ album and the next step was to take the music on the road. Thanks to Brown’s association with Lockett, New Zealand was included in an Australasian leg of the tour.
Throughout the tour, Brown kept to the original bass, guitar and drums format (with the exception of Auckland, where pianist Kevin Field was substituted). Lockett and Brown were the constants, with local guitarists stepping in along the way.
Just before he started the tour, I sent him a few questions to answer:
Q. Do you see your trio as a groove unit, a blended approach or something quite fresh and different?
For this particular album, I would have to say groove unit. the entire vibe of this album is heavily steeped in the hard-bop tradition coming out of the Blue note records of the 50’s
Q. I am fascinated in reading through your bio that you initially played Euphonium and Tuba. These have been used extensively for bass lines in the pre-amplification past and that tradition has continued with modern avant-garde units, nonets and Jazz orchestras. Bill Crow (from the Jerry Mulligan bands ) started on brass instruments like the tuba and valve trombone. Then he was encouraged (pushed) into changing to string bass. Do the brass bass lines inform your approach at all?
So much of the evolution of bass lines is tied directly to the string bass that playing the Tuba doesn’t really affect my approach to bass lines. The idiomatic bass line motions arose out of the technicalities What it does help me with however is a better understanding of brass and wind instruments. This is very useful when writing and arranging music for these instruments
Q. Any move from a sideman to a leader, will inevitably change things from a compositional point of view. I have seen bass player leaders happy to remain well back in the mix – leading from within, but that is less usual. What is your approach.?
I like to believe that jazz music is a collective effort. everyone involved should get a chance to shine. With my trio, I’m happy to play some in the forefront of the mix at points, but I also think it a necessity to play in the back of the mix at points to let me comrades come through with their musical statements.
Q. What were your thoughts, your aims, when assembling this trio?
There was no grand plan when I first assembled my trio. I’d been hosting a steady weekly gig at a well-known jazz club in New York City called Cleopatra’s Needle for years. At first, I would rotate my musician friends onto the band every week. I tried dozens of combinations of players over the course of a year. I finally settled upon Felix and Peter, we really communicated well musically. At that point, I started using them exclusively. I then started to take each of our influences (Grant Green for Felix, Philly Joe Jones for Peter, and Paul Chambers for me) and began composing music that channelled this together.
Q. Who among the artists that you have performed with have you enjoyed most.
I would say my first great mentor and teacher Wess “Warmdaddy” Anderson. Even after two strokes, he still has the ability to lift the musicianship and spirit of everyone performing on stage with him, and in turn, lift the spirit of the audience.
I didn’t get to hear the guitar trios live but with Kevin Field on board the swing and groove feel was maintained with ease. It was a pleasure to experience a gig that was so warm and soulful. The music was transporting, like an old friend; reminding us of a shared experience but then telling the stories in ways that were fresh to our ears. A good example was the groove tune Curly’s revenge. On the album, with guitar, it took you to Montgomery Land and then right to Grant Green’s doorstep. With piano, it had a delicious and unmistakable Bobby Timmons vibe. I love tunes like this; they hint of the familiar, then tell you something else; fragmentary quotes which flashed past before you could grab at them, morphing beautifully into new tunes and always with that deep swing feel.
It was obviously a good time for Brown to emerge as a leader. The right time because his material is superb and his bass playing is burnished by years of gigging and absolutely compelling. His compositions also stood out. While the recorded trio would have been superb, we didn’t miss out. Field is an interesting musician, adaptable to any situation and always at the top of his game. The same goes for Lockett who is open-eared and responsive to nuance. Listening to Lockett is listening to history, but always with quirky asides thrown in to leaven the loaf.
For copies of the album visit nathanbrownmusic.com or Gut String Records. The gig was organised at this end by Mark Lockett of the WJC. His work on these tours is greatly appreciated as it dovetails nicely with the CJC Creative Jazz Club’s programmes and tours. The Venue was the Thirsty Dog in K’Rd Auckland, I November 2017.
I like South American music and the more I hear, the deeper I am drawn in. A rich and ancient fusion of African, European and Amerindian music, each coast and region nurturing distinct flavours. There are also highly localised variations; all rhythmically complex and all deeply infectious. This week the CJC featured the highly respected Brazilian musician Nanny Assis and New Zealand born vocalist Maggie Gould. Assis was born in Salvador, North Eastern Brazil; a region especially rich in musical traditions and heavily influenced by African rhythms. The coast below Bahia nurtured Tom Jobim, Roberto Menescal and a cohort of like-minded innovators; the creators of the Bossanova (new music) form. In a world where saccharine versions of great music often assail us, it is necessary to return to the source from time to time in order to refresh our ears. Listening to Tom Jobim and Elis Regina on the album ‘Elis & Tom’ – ‘Chovendo Na Roseira’ especially, is a good place to start. The time feel is subtly different from North American versions and the unique rhythmic tensions dance with life. Jobim is long gone but authentic practitioners of the various traditions are still there if we look. Assis is just one of these; a master of rhythm and of the many distinct Bahia styles.Gould was a successful photojournalist in an earlier life. When the pressures of that lifestyle became too much, she decided to abandon the frenetic media world and follow her passion instead. Rekindling a youthful dream she became a Jazz vocalist and has followed that path ever since. Eventually, her journey took her to New York where she met Assis and a musical collaboration began. While living in New York Gould has performed with a number of luminaries, notably the pianist John de Martino (who has also recorded with Assis). Gould and Assis have just toured New Zealand, appearing in festivals and clubs throughout the two Islands. They have toured with great musicians and they intend to record soon in Auckland. When they do, the well-known New York-based ex-pat Kiwi bass player Richard Hammond will join them.
It was not only the gentle Bossa rhythms that we heard on Wednesday but other livelier types of South American influenced music as well. These were danceable and energy fueled treats. During one such number, the room morphed into a seething mass of swaying bodies, hands raised as they danced. The last number, Magalena was a type of North-Eastern Brazilian rap – fast-paced and reminiscent of Jon Hendricks’ scatting. There were also quieter numbers, some Brazillian and a few from the USA; the standout among the latter being Gould singing the gorgeous ‘Some other time’ (Bernstein). On that, Roger Manins added whispering fills and Kevin Field provided the perfect understated accompaniment on piano. It is said that Latin American music is ‘the other swing music’. That makes for great synergies between Jazz and Latin musicians. It can work well, but only if the musicians have the ears and the courage to submit to the weave. Utilising the considerable skills of pianist Kevin Field, Alex Griffiths on 5 string bass and drummer Ron Samsom (plus for the CJC gig, saxophonist Roger Manins). The mix of Jazz musicians and Brazilian created a spark. Alex Griffiths is obviously well versed in Brazilian rhythms as his lines could not have been better placed. Field has for some time been immersed in this music and he is no stranger to the various clave rhythms either. His understated delicate lines in place of comping held the echoes of Jobim’s own tasteful piano accompaniment. During solo’s he gave both hands full reign in clave rich explorations. Samsom is a talented drummer and throughout the night, he and Assis worked in concert. With Assis on percussion and Samsom on the kit, a wonderfully rich sound scape emerged. At one point Assis beat a cowbell to hold the centre – allowing Samsom additional freedom to move. This was a moment of pure magic.
I read once, that a Jazz drummer playing Bossa or Samba is doing three basic things; the right hand replaces the shaker or cowbell, the left hand has the clave pattern and the kick drum follows the bass line. Add in actual congas shakers or cowbell and the interplay has the magnitude of a sonic earthquake.The number that I have posted is ‘O Barquinho’ or ‘My Little Boat(of Love)’ – a tune by Roberto Menescal and sometimes wrongly attributed to Jobim. It is a nice example of the Brazilian Bossa rhythms; rich in subtlety and contrast. It is a long-held tradition in this music to have a female and a male voice – call and response. Gould in English, imparting the wistfulness of the lyrics – Assis in Portuguese – taking me back to the master Joao Gilberto. The Portuguese language is extremely pleasant to the ear, while often masking incredibly sad songs. We didn’t need a dictionary or interpreter on Wednesday as we were transported without them. Nanny Assis’s voice, like his percussion and guitar playing, is pure magic – together the musicians gave us a great night.
They open the Wellington Jazz Festival this year on 30 November. The bottom photograph is by Reuben – the top 3 are mine.
Nanny Assis (percussion, vocals, guitar), Maggie Gould (vocals, arrangements), Alex Griffiths (electric six-string bass), Kevin Field (piano), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Ron Samsom (drums) – at the Thirsty Dog, CJC Creative Jazz Club, 25 October 2017
The fourth Auckland Jazz Festival was appropriately launched at the Thirsty Dog Tavern in Karangahape Road. A welcoming venue, nestled among ethnic food joints, strip clubs and private art galleries. It is timely that we pay tribute to the Thirsty Dog, who a year ago, generously offered the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) a regular Wednesday night slot. This occurred when the club most needed it. It is a good performance space and many visiting musicians have remarked on the rooms warm vibe.The first festival gig I attended was the Jennifer Zea group. The last time I saw her perform I liked by her Latin interpretations of the standards, but I particularly liked her rendering of the songs particular to her region (Cuba/Venezuela). She introduced more standards this time but it was the second set; a set of Venezuelan and bossa fused music that had the audience enthralled. These tunes were so infectious that they followed me home. I even woke up with one of them singing in my head the next morning. ‘Moliendo Cafe’ (Blanco/Perroni) has been popular in Venezuela (and the wider world) since 1959. Everyone from Jose Feliciano on has benefited from it. As Zea sang this wonderfully infectious tune, she danced to its rhythms, and along the back wall, a chorus of her countrymen and women sang along in unison. We seldom hear music like this and it is her forte. I have posted a bolero, Lagrimas Negras (or Black Tears – by Matamoras) a Cuban tune from the 1920’s. She was ably assisted by Kevin Field, Mostyn Cole and the wonderful Miguel Fuentes on percussion.
The next night was the Guy Buttery gig, a World musician who appeared at Backbeat. Buttery is a renowned acoustic guitarist from South Africa and a distinctive stylist. His musical influences are varied but always harnessed to his own vision. Although he played a six-string guitar (a truly beautiful instrument), he often reminded me of Egberto Gismonti (or perhaps Ralph Towner). His mastery of the instrument was simply astounding and his choice of material perfect for the occasion. He memorably played a saw at one point and accompanied the piece with a delightful story. Evidently, the piece has been adopted as a theme by a group of Roswell styled ‘alien watchers’. There were many devoted fans in the room and some who had travelled a long way to hear him. His gift is sound shaping, every harmonic given voice, every note sublimely resonant. The sounds he coaxed from his instrument were at times orchestral. All who came were delighted with the performance.
Two days later I picked up the Belgium pianist Jef Neve and his crew from the airport. I spent the next three days with them and wrote about the experience in my previous post. I got home at around midnight on Saturday after sitting through nearly 5 hours of rehearsal and a two-hour concert. I loved every second of it. If that makes me an improvised music geek then so be it. jazzlocal32.com/2017/10/18/jef-neve-spirit-control/
On Tuesday, Marjan appeared with the ‘Experience Band’ at the Auckland Jazz and Blues Club. The Experience Band is an 11 piece ensemble and consequently, it provided a very different flavour to her appearance with a quartet at the CJC last month. Her voice has real power and she’s a compelling performer; easily able to adjust to the bigger sound. The audience loved her. Her set list was skillfully tailored to the room as the audience was older than the CJC crowd. In particular, her cheeky take on ‘Making Whoopie’ brought the house down. At one point she paid tribute to her high school music teacher, saxophonist Markas Fritsch, who was in the front line of the ensemble. She credits him with steering her towards Jazz – something we should all thank him for.On Wednesday, the third headline festival act was presented at the Thirsty Dog. It has been over a year since the world-renowned bassist David Friesen was in New Zealand. During last years tour, his trio was recorded at the 1885 venue. The night was captured perfectly in the newly released Rattle album ‘Another Time Another Space’. Frieson is an improvised music celebrity and it was good to have him back. He has a unique approach to composition and performance and he caps that off with his engaging and witty bandstand banter. He was again accompanied by Dixon Nacey on guitar and Reuben Bradly on drums. This trio communicates superbly, reacting to each other like old friends. The recording is amazingly good, especially so considering that it was captured in the 1885, which is an acoustically lively space. Nacey’s singing lines blend perfectly with Frieson’s – the sort of woody resonance that high-end luthiers aim for.On Friday the Chris Mason-Battley band returned to the Thirsty Dog. I really like this band with their predilection for tasty modal grooves. There is no one in New Zealand who plays quite like the Mason-Battley – and as an entity, the group have a distinct footprint. I have written about them recently and I suggest you check them out if you get the chance – they are not heard about town very often and more’s the pity. As with the last gig; on the keyboard was David Lines, on electric bass Sam Giles and on drums the innovative Stephen Thomas. There is now talk of a new CMB project and perhaps one with more electronics? Friday nights are the hard-yards for Jazz musicians and this one was no exception. Throughout the performance, you could hear two blokes yakking, obviously pleased to be catching up and seemingly unaware that this was a listening gig. A number of ray-like stares were beamed in their direction but they proved quite impervious to hints. Loud chatting seldom happens on a mid-week night where listeners and improvisers own the space.The last gig at the Auckland Jazz Festival was Jim Langabeer’s ‘Secret Islands’ album release’. This is another Rattle album and the musicianship is stunning. A project which arose out of Langabeer’s multi-phonics explorations at Auckland University. There is a lot that is referred to as fusion these days and most of it is not. In this case, the term could be a good descriptor. Indigenous instruments, multiple reeds and winds; pedal steel guitar and fender; beautiful melodies placed in Mingus like settings. While the album sits comfortably on the Jazz spectrum, the material takes us way beyond that. With the authoritative elder statesman Langabeer at the helm, and assisted by Rosie Langabeer, Roger Manins, Eamon Edmundson-Wells, Neil Watson and Chris O’Connor, what else would you expect. For this and other ‘Rattle’ recordings, go to www.rattlerecords.net/
Music listeners split into two main camps; active and passive listeners. Those who listen to improvised music incline towards active, deep-listening. We know that the brains of improvising musicians light up in unusual ways when playing. Much the same applies to listening Jazz audiences. On Wednesday night a saxophone trio played at the Thirsty Dog; no chordal instruments, no lingering over familiar melody lines, a trio which worked within a broader musical architecture, following the changes where ever they led. Nick Hempton is an interesting player and the right person to take us on this journey.This sort of gig works well with listening audiences because it invites active participation. On Wednesday, each piece began with a few lines from a familiar standard, often just implied; then, a few bars in, the lines evolved into new melodies based on the changes. As the trio responded the horn led the others to various way-points: places where the music changed course. Fragments of new standards were discovered, unravelled, abandoned. The human brain is hard-wired for pattern recognition, but we love the puzzles that arise from the search. Settling for the familiar is not how we evolved. We evolved by following the risk takers, marvelling at their daring. Following this musical risk-taker, was our delight.The point was not so much the standards themselves but the opportunities they presented. Appearing and disappearing in medley form was; ‘Night in Tunisia’, ‘Body and Soul’ A Sony Rollins waltz, ‘Exactly Like You’ and ‘Rhythm a Ning’ – these and more were examined. Standing alone was the lovely ballad ‘When I Grow too old to Dream’ (Romberg) and in Hempton’s hands, it was beautifully realised. There was also a great rendition of ‘Just Squeeze Me (don’t tease me)’ (Ellington) – I have posted that. The last trio piece was ‘Poor Butterfly (Hubbell [Puccini])’; followed by Roger Manins joining the trio for two last two numbers. As is often the case when two tenors appear on the same stage, a delightfully upbeat and riotous vibe emerges. Friendly sparring matches like this always go down well.
Hempton is a fixture on the New York scene and regularly performs at the popular Smalls Jazz Club in the Village. His pick up band in Auckland was Cameron McArthur (bass) and Chris O’Connor (drums). I was delighted to see McArthur back after his extended time overseas. O’Connor is always a good choice when imaginative drumming is required. The trio did not rehearse – Hampton sent them a list of possible tunes before the gig and nothing more. This allowed for spontaneity and unconstrained exploration. Ever striking out for new ground, Hempton released his recent ‘Catch & Release’ album incrementally – one track at a time. It is available from nickhemptonband.com
Nick Hempton (tenor saxophone), Cameron McArthur (upright bass), Chris O’Connor (drums) – guest Roger Manins (tenor saxophone). CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K’Road, Auckland, 4 October 2017.
Jamie Oehlers is a tenor saxophone heavyweight who earns widespread respect. His playing is conversational, and like all good conversationalists, he listens as well as he articulates his own point of view. An unashamed melodicist, a musician of subtlety, a dream weaver with a bell-like clarity of tone. Oehlers tours regularly and we are lucky enough to be on his touring circuit. This trip, he was accompanied by Tal Cohen; an Israeli born, New York-based pianist; an artist increasingly coming to the favourable attention of reviewers; an artist praised by fellow musicians. Cohen and Oehlers have been playing together for years and over that time they have built an uncanny rapport. Out of that has emerged something special; their 2016 duo album titled ‘Innocent dreamer’.As far as I know, this was Cohen’s first visit to New Zealand and it was certainly his first visit to the CJC. He’s a compelling pianist and the perfect counter-weight for Oehlers. On duo numbers, they responded to each other as good improvisers should, each giving the other space and expanding the conversation as the explorations deepened. Intimate musical exchanges of this type work best when the musicians care deeply about the project. They work best between friends. We saw two sides to Cohen on this tour. The thoughtful, unhurried, deep improviser and the percussive player who found a groove and worked it to the bone. The second half of the gig brought a rhythm section to the bandstand; Olivier Holland and Ron Samsom. Having such an interesting contrast between sets made both halves work better. The second set was approached with vigour; Oehlers digging into a standard, often preceded by a nice intro, through the head and then… boom. This was when the fireworks happened.
The chemistry between Oehlers and Cohen was obvious in the duo set, but adding in the hard-swinging Holland and on-fire Samsom shook up the dynamic once again. Suddenly there were new and wild interactions occurring, short staccato responses, dissonant asides, crazy interjections; these guys were bouncing off each other and above all, they were enjoying themselves. When musicians live in the moment, and the audience feels that magic, they feed it back. The virtuous loop that sustains all performance art. I spoke to Cohen later and talked about playing styles. He is not impressed by pianists who strive to sound like the past. You can respect the past, bring it to your fingertips but still sound like your taking it somewhere new. He did. This night was the proof of the pudding; the standards performed were all living breathing entities.The first set opened with a heartfelt ‘Body & Soul’ (Green) which set the tone. The tune that really took my attention though was Oehlers ‘Armistice’. A beautiful piece conjuring up powerful images and telling its story unequivocally. There was also a nice tune referencing Cohens family. The first set finished with the lively Ellington tribute – ‘Take the Coltrane’ . The second set (the quartet) opened with the lovely ‘It could happen to You’ (Van Heusen), followed by a tune that Oehlers has made his own; ‘On a Clear Day’ (Learner/Lane) – (a recent Oehlers album title). Next, the quartet performed ‘Nardis’ (Evans/Davis) – this was wonderful and it reminded me of the endless re-evaluation and probing of that tune by Evans in his final years. This version did not sound like Evans – it was born again – if any modal tune deserves to live forever, it is surely this one.
Lastly, and in keeping with their tradition, Oehlers invited tenor player Roger Manins to the stand. After a quick discussion, they settled on ‘I remember April’ (de Paul). Back and forth they went, weaving arpeggios in and out of each other’s lines – moving like dancers; counterpoint, trading fours, all of the band responding to the challenge and reacting in turns. A KC set piece at the bottom of the Pacific.
Jamie Oehlers (tenor saxophone), Tal Cohen (piano), plus Olivier Holland (bass) and Ron Samsom (drums) – for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K’Rd Auckland, 27 September 2017. Google Jamie Oehlers Bandcamp.com for a copy of the album.
At some point in human evolution, the majority of humans decided to stay put. In consequence, the hunter-gatherers and the pastoral nomads became outliers. As civilizations grew, agriculture grew and large enclosures and granaries grew along with them. Beyond the walls and the jumble of enclosures; largely unnoticed, often unseen, foraging continued unabated. The homeless on the streets forage, philosophers forage, writers forage, wild and domestic animals forage and above all improvisers forage.
Martin Kay’s gig was a tribute to foraging; highlighting the activities of foraging animals, creatures large and small and to the improbable life lessons, they impart. It was about cultivating absurdity and profundity in equal parts, it was about following the ancient herds using postmodern skills. It nibbled at reality until you saw it afresh, building on overlooked narratives, finding the things we often miss; a Zen Koan wrapped in sound.I first saw Kay in 2013 with ‘Song FWAA’. The post from then and the accompanying sound clip is still available on this site (use site search, type in Song FWAA). On Wednesday, his charts were for a larger ensemble. This time offering fresh insights; taking us further down the Rabbit hole. The pieces were of variable lengths and sometimes in parts. At some point during the second set, he played a piece titled ‘Ligeti’s Goat (I first heard that back in 2013). While the piece has melodic hooks and a basic structure, it is more, a surrealistic journey. A place where imagining, spoken narrative and musical narrative meet. Ligeti’s goat is vividly embedded in my memory; it is not a piece easily forgotten, a goat wandering through pastures, locating carrots (perhaps forbidden carrots), digesting the vegetables in that mysterious way of all ruminants.
There was a piece titled puffer fish, another called ‘Thrice mice’ (that chart in a minuscule script like mice prints) and a vampire piece titled ‘Once bitten once shy’. There was also an appealing piece about a tracker dog, selling his skills to those who might have need of them. None of this was an invitation to anthropomorphize – Kay’s animals spoke for themselves. He spends much of his time in New Zealand these days as his wife works here. For this project, he selected a group of local improvisers to form the ensemble; younger players with an open approach to improvisation. In this respect, the location favoured him, bringing the gifted Callum Passels into the group. Also featuring Crystal Choi, Michael Howell, Eamon Edmuson-Wells and Tristan Deck; each one of these having a stake in explorative improvised music. The only non-original piece was ‘Turkish Bath’ by the innovative trumpeter Don Ellis. For material similar to Kays, you need not look any further than Ellis or perhaps Henry Threadgill. It is good to have Kay in our midst, as he’s an interesting, often challenging and worthwhile composer. I have put up two clips – Turkish Bath and narrative about the Tracker Dog.
Let’s go – much as that dog goes / intently haphazard….not direction, ‘but each step an arrival’ (poet Denise Levertov 1923- 1997)
Forage: Martin Kay (tenor saxophone, compositions), Callum Passels (alto saxophone), Crystal Choi (keys), Eamon Edmunson-Wells (bass), Tristan Deck (drums). CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K’Rd, Auckland, 20 September 2017
During the apartheid era in South Africa, a heady brew of danceable Jazz bubbled up from the townships. The all white National Party hated it and a game of ‘whack-a-mole’ followed. As soon as one venue was shut down by the police, another would spring up. The music was resilient and hopeful. No racist or repressive regime likes Jazz because it has rebellion, hope and joyous defiance in its DNA. The Zimbabwean born Thabani Gapara imbibed South African Jazz from his earliest days, eventually taking up the saxophone, that most anti establishment of instruments. Since then, he has performed in Zimbabwean, South African and New Zealand projects.
The powerful influence of Cape Town Jazz is especially evident – the cradle of South African improvised music. Since coming to live in New Zealand he has collaborated with many well-known musicians; The Hipstamatics, Batucada Sound Machine, Stan Walker and others. He has recently completed a B. Mus. in Jazz at the New Zealand School of Music and after graduating, he formed this group. Unbelievably, this was their first gig.
There were a few ballads during the night but the music was mainly of a danceable, high-octane, delightfully groove based type. The key to the vibe was leader Thabani Gapara. What a great stage presence he has; the ready smile that he flashes when someone mines a groove. It is also his tone on all three horns, the marvellous compositions and tight arrangements. His compositions all reference his life’s journey and they strike a nice balance between groove hooks and flights into melodic ecstasy. I am always drawn to musicians who dance while they play. This is not an easy thing to pull off; it can affect concentration and in a reeds or winds player, it can affect the embouchure. Gapara skillfully utilises body movements to enhance the groove and he does so without a hint of contrivance. He wowed them and the audience gave back, and during that interaction, the spirit of live improvised music glowed like a fire.
There is no doubt that the band was well rehearsed. No group can generate that sort of energy or negotiate changes or tricky rhythms without being comfortable with each other. I have heard guitarist Nathan James once before; on this gig he was wonderful. The interplay between he and Gapara was conversational, the sort of conversation that friends might have on good night out. When his solo’s intensified they never strayed far from the groove. The other chordal instruments were played by Peter Leupolu, nice effects and in the pocket; subtly pushing the others; urging them on. Lastly, we come to electric bass player Issac Etimeni and drummer Elijah White. The audience was wildly enthusiastic about both. The punchy post-Jaco electric bass; the groove-based drumming bravura.
They played a number of Gapara’s compositions; ‘The Journey’ (which I have posted), ‘Places and Faces’, ‘Tears’, ‘Family’, and ‘On The Beach’. All of these strongly referenced Southern African Jazz. To my delight, they also played Roy Hargrove’s fabulous ‘Strasbourg St Denis’ – a great tune and executed with such verve and Joy. The remaining numbers were, ‘Spanish Joint’ (D’Angelo), ‘Time Will Tell’ (Bobby Watson), ‘I Can’t Help It’ (Stevie Wonder), and ‘I Want You Back’ (Jackson Five). I still have a 45rpm of that at home (the Jacksons first’ break-through Motown recording).
After the gig, I talked to Gapara about his music. I told him that I had experienced this style in Paris where it thrives in clubs like the New Dawn: played by the likes of Etienne Mbappe, Hugh Masekela etc. He agreed, saying that Paris is the new centre for experiencing these Jazz blended, bass heavy, African influenced styles. Now, as migration increases, the styles are evolving again; evolving as they move around the planet. Influences are never static; they bounce back and forth endlessly.
If you see this group playing anywhere, grab a ticket and experience the fun. They truly deserve to do well and I hope they stay together for the long haul. Another great night, in an already wonderful CJC, Thirsty Dog season. Get down there on a Wednesday folks.
Thabani Gapara Project: Thabani Gapara (alto, tenor, soprano saxophones), Issac Etimeni (electric bass), Peter Leupolu (keyboard & piano), Nathan James (guitar), Elijah White (drums) – CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K’Rd Auckland, 13 September 2017.
When Marjan stepped up to the microphone, she owned the room from that moment on. Her previous association with the Jazz club had been peripheral, but this gig changed everything. I have sometimes engaged with her about Persian music or Sufi poetry and I have heard her performing in the Kevin Field ‘A List’ band. She is always impressive when she sings, but this was impressive in a different way. It was her first Jazz club gig as a leader and suddenly, here she was delighting a capacity audience, every bit the seasoned professional; exuding an easy-going confidence. It was tempting to think that she had magically transformed herself into this fully formed artist, but her back story offers deeper insights. Marjan is of Persian descent and while this breathes exoticism into her music, it is only a fragment of her story. In truth, she has been a performer for much of her life; an established presence in the world of film, an in-demand voiceover artist, a teacher of music, dance, and drama. She draws on many strengths but on Wednesday they coalesced; a marvellous voice and a formidable stage presence the outcome.If her choice of a first number was to make a bold statement, then she succeeded admirably. Stepping out from behind the black curtains, accompanied by a shimmering Rhodes, she embarked on her engrossing journey. The first few bars of her ‘Desert Remains’ were straight out of the Sufi Jazz tradition; it was a call for universal tolerance: arising from her belief that music provides a pathway to transcend the banal. Almost imperceptibly, the tune became a love song, settling into new and funky rhythms. This was a nice piece of writing and the rhythmic interplay gave her much to work with. The influences in many of her compositions are generational; Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Brian Wilson and of course her indigenous roots. All of this is filtered through a Jazz lens. Although her approach is modern, she doesn’t shy away from the traditional fare of Jazz singers.Looking to popular music for new material is not a recent phenomenon for Jazz vocalists. Ella tackled ‘A Tisket a Tasket’, Louis appropriated a multitude of pop songs. The great American songbook is a selection of one-time popular songs. It is what Jazz musicians do; explore, steal and transform. The more diverse the influences the richer the music. When she tackled the lovely Jazz standard ‘Detour Ahead’ (Ellis/Frigo) she owned it completely. That hint of smokey voice, that delicate phrasing; being adventurous while showing deep respect to the composition. It was hard not to think of Norah Jones; an artist who is traditional and modern in equal parts. I would also give her top marks for her set list; the numbers included ‘The look of love’ (Burt Bacharach), ‘God only knows’ (Brian Wilson), ‘I’ll be free’ (Donny Hathaway) and of course her own compositions and one of Kevin Field’s.
To sound your best you need fine musicians backing you and she had that with Keven Field on Rhodes and piano, Michael Howell on guitar, Mostyn Cole on bass and Stephen Thomas on drums. Everyone on the Auckland scene is familiar with Field, Cole and Thomas – they never fail to please. I would like to single out Howell here as he gave us a great performance. It was tightly executed, appropriately modulated and exactly what was required. Nice fills, tastefully brief solos and well executed pedalling. It can take years for a chordal accompanist to learn these skills. In a younger artist, it shows real maturity. It seems certain that Marjan’s singing career can only gain pace from here. Her grace, good sense, great vocal chops and confidence will see to that.
Marjan (vocals, compositions, arrangements), Kevin Field (piano, co-arranger), Michael Howell (guitar), Mostyn Cole (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums) – CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K’Rd Auckland, 6th September 2017.
Behind the doors of the beautiful Kauri villa, down the long corridor and the wide descending staircase, past the crush of people eagerly awaiting a significant and unique musical event, we edged forward; shuffled by the crowd, finding ourselves in a surprisingly large room; large enough to hold seventy people, a gorgeous warmly lit room with mirrored walls – an old dance studio brought back to life. As we crossed the room Jay Rodriguez greeted us, behind him, Jonathan Crayford shuffled through sheet music; both framed by an elegant grand piano and an array of horns on stands. I had interviewed Rodriguez earlier and had attended his sell out gig at the CJC Creative Jazz Club. There was never any doubt that this night, like the one a few nights earlier would deliver something special.If ever two musicians were destined to play duo format, it is these two. It is a challenging format as the safety nets are gone; it is deep level communication and frighteningly intimate. It requires deep listening and empathy as much as storytelling; it requires conversational dexterity. This was a night never to be forgotten, a night when great music became sublime. Rodriguez and Crayford have been friends for a long time, meeting up in New York in the late 90’s and forming an instant connection; Rodriguez’ ‘Groove Collective’ and other projects the meeting ground. They refer to each other as musical brothers and their communication during the last three days underscored that. The first time I saw them together was around eight years ago. The gig stuck in my mind for many reasons, but especially because of one tune; Bob Dylan’s ‘I pity the poor immigrant’. It spoke directly to me as it oozed with humanity. When I interviewed Rodriguez I teased out this a theme; pointing to the set lists, the tunes which cut to the heart of the human condition, tunes communicated with deep empathy. For example, their rendition of Keith Jarrett’s ‘The rich (and the poor)’, Coltrane’s ‘Alabama’. The former, a blues, reminding us that the blues is more than just a musical form. In their hands, it informs us about inequality, discrimination, hurt and hope. The human condition again. The latter, ‘Alabama’, moved me to tears. Jazz lovers know this story, but it has seldom been told so well. The piece is based on the cadences of a Martin Luther King speech, a speech given immediately after four little girls were killed as they worshipped, murdered by an unrepentant KKK. The musicians dived straight into the emotion of this awful tale; the incomprehension and anger, then a plea for humanity, an exhortation to do better, the hope; it was all in there.
In answer to the question about humanism, Rodriguez pointed out the realities of American life. “We are living through hard times back home and the blues is about reality. Expressing life from the heart is something that can’t be taught in Jazz school. Jazz school gives you the basics, but your voice is something else, you have to search; some never find it”. He told me that he had been lucky enough to find his own musical voice early on and he was comfortable with it. He can play in many styles with ease and the key to this is the man himself. He is intelligent, open-minded and well-informed, but it’s his friendliness and warmth that impresses most. The man and his music are one.He is a multi-reeds and winds player and his command of each instrument is strong. I asked him if he favoured one horn over another or had been tempted to double less? This was prompted by a similar discussion with Bennie Maupin. Maupin’s answer had cut to the point, “It’s mostly about dedication, hard work and five times the amount of practice”. Rodriguez answer was a little different. “Man, I love these instruments, every single one of them, and I couldn’t abandon any of them”. It is impressive to hear an artist sounding so strong and so individualistic on so many instruments; bass clarinet, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute (he also doubles on alto and baritone saxophone). His bass clarinet is rich and woody with a tone production like John Surman – his tenor can range from low down raspy bluesiness to the light vibrato-less sound of ‘Pres’; and all of this in a clear authentic voice.
Crayford is an extraordinary musician, but last week he pulled out something extra. This was about personal chemistry (or perhaps alchemy). It was largely down to him that the project was conceived and he certainly made the most of it. He is the New Zealand ‘Tui’ Jazz artist of the year, a respected international troubadour, a pioneer reaching beyond the stars. The CJC quartet gig was a satisfying and joyous occasion but there was even better to come. When I interviewed Rodriguez a few days later he and Crayford invited me to a private event; the mysterious duo gig: so here I was in this amazing space, the mirrored dance studio, an oasis hidden in deep suburbia. As soon as they began playing the conversation deepened, each revealing new subtleties and wearing their hearts on the sleeves; … humanity. As far as I know, none of it was recorded and while that is sad, perhaps it is only right. Sometimes magic should be left well alone – left untrammelled, lest it changes like Schroedinger’s cat. During the dance studio gig, their song choices delighted and astonished. For example, Monk’s ‘Epistrophy’, A Puccini aria, Michel Legrand’s ‘You must believe in spring’, McCartney’s ‘Long and winding road’; all in all an improbable and extraordinary journey. The CJC set list included Yusef Lateef’s stunningly beautiful ‘Morning’, Victor Young’s ‘Golden Earrings’ Keith Jarrett’s ‘Rich (and the poor man)’ – from the Dewey Redman/Jarrett/Haden Impulse era, John Coltrane’s ‘Alabama’ and a lovely original by Rodriguez (I think it was titled ‘Your Sound’). Mostyn Cole and Ron Samsom were amazing as well. They are both fine musicians and a good choice for this line-up.
When you look at the Jay Rodriguez discography or bio, it is no wonder he is so comfortable in such a variety of musical spaces. He started on saxophone as a child and soon came under the tutelage of the greats. His mentors along the way included Paquito D’ Rivera, Phil Woods, Sir Roland Hannah, Barry Harris, Kenny Werner, George Coleman, Joe Henderson, John Gilmore, Gil Goldstein and so it goes on. It reads like the history of Jazz. I can think of few players who have worked with both Doc Cheatham and John Zorn (yes he evidently played Cobra and has performed at the Knitting Factory). He is Grammy nominated and has guested on the Jimmy Fallon show.
Music is a universal language, but its primal source is often overlooked. Scientists tell us that it is, the original and most profound form of communication; it is the lingua franca of our polyglot planet. All too often we focus on the scaffolding or the dialect; all too often we marvel at technical skills or frown at the lack thereof. The older I grow, the more I desire something different; the sound of the human spirit; communication straight from the heart. While Jay Rodriguez and Jonathan Crayford possess a grab bag of wizardry, they also transform notes into an unforgettable life experience. Long may this collaboration continue.
Rodriguez/Crayford Quartet: Jay Rodriguez (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, Flute), Jonathan Crayford (Rhodes, electronics), Mostyn Cole (upright bass), Ron Samson (drums). 30th August 2017, CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, Auckland.
Rodriguez/Crayford Duo: Jay Rodriguez (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, flute) – Jonathan Crayford (piano). 1st September 2017, Grey Lynn.
The popularity of ‘hardbop’ is enduring but we seldom hear it on the band stand. The probable reason is its very familiarity; if you play this music you will be judged against the source. There is also the evolutionary factor: improvised music strives to outlive its yesterdays. It is even less common for musicians to write new music in that idiom or to create a vibe that calls back the era. Such an enterprise invariably falls to experienced musicians; those with the wisdom to reverence the glories without it being merely slavish. Booth and Walters are especially well suited to that task. They have the chops, charts and the imagination and above all, they make things interesting. If you closed your eyes during this gig, you could easily imagine that you were listening to an undiscovered Blue Note album. It was warm, swinging and accessible. Booth and Walters are gifted composers and on Wednesday the pair reinforced their compositional reputations. Some of Booth’s tunes have appeared recently in orchestral charts. Walters’ tunes while heard less often are really memorable (‘as good as it gets’ stuck in my head a long time ago). These guys write and arrange well. Notable among Booth’s compositions were ‘Deblaak’, “A Kings Ransome’ and ‘On track’. From Walters; ‘Begin Again’, ‘Queenstown’ and ‘Wellesley Street Mission’. There was also a lovely version of the Metheney/Scofield ‘No Matter What’ from the ‘I Can See Your House From Here’ album. I have posted Booth’s ‘A Kings Ransom’ as a video clip, as it captures their vibe perfectly. Booth has such a lovely burnished tone – a sound production that no doubt comes with maturity and a lot of hard work.The last number was Walters ‘Wellesley Street Mission’ and I would have posted that, but my video battery ran out. This is a clear reference to the appalling homeless problem which blights our towns and cities. The bluesy sadness and the deep compassion just flowed out of Walters’ horn – capturing the issue and touching our innermost beings, challenging our better selves. I may be able to extract a cut of this and post it later – we’ll see!
While the gig felt like classic Blue Note Jazz it was not time-locked. As the tunes unwound, the harmonies became edgy and modern and with Kevin Field on piano, they could hardly be otherwise. Here a sneaky clave move, there, an understated flurry, (even a few fourths); mainly though, his typical wild exuberance. Again we saw the maturity and effortless cool of drummer Stephen Thomas. This guy is exceptionally talented. On Wednesday he played like a modern drummer, but somehow, and wonderfully, he managed to include some Art Blakey and Philly Joe Jones touches (crisp pressed rolls and asymmetrical rim shots). Wednesday was the third time that I have heard bass player Wil Goodinson. We should pay attention to this young artist – he is a rapidly developing talent. His tasteful solo’s and his effortless bass lines were great. Lastly, there was that mysterious dancer, appearing from nowhere, drawing sustenance from the music until the street swallowed her again.
Walters & Booth Quintet: Craig Walters (tenor saxophone), Mike Booth (trumpet and flugelhorn), Kevin Field (piano), Wil Goodenson (upright bass), Stephen Thomas (drums) @ CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K’Rd, Auckland, 23rd August 2017.
Roger Manins uncoupled the microphone and looked around the club. It was winter outside but you wouldn’t have known it. The windows were steamed up from the heat of a capacity crowd; all eyes were fixed on the stage and the stocky man holding the tenor saxophone. “You know how lucky you are …. right,” Manins asked the audience? A loud cheer went up accompanied by whistles and foot stomping. George Garzone was in town and no one was in any doubt.
The Garzone phenomenon is hard to pin down, there are so many facets to it. While incredibly famous in Jazz education circles, revered by elite saxophonists; loved by club audiences and improvising musicians, he is under-mentioned in the Jazz press. The reason for this apparent contradiction cuts right to the heart of the man himself. Garzone has always plotted his own course and his playing reflects this. He travels less than most musicians of his stature, but he has never the less carved out a unique space; that of the underground hero, the musician to have on your tenor player bucket list, the artist that is talked of in hushed whispers, ‘the guy’. While a monster player, he is always happy to share his knowledge and to share the bandstand. Most of the tunes were in long form and most were Garzone originals. All were perfect for the occasion. As you might expect, the Garzone tunes were springboards for deep improvisation; the heads, however, were memorable and so well-arranged that they stood out. I failed to catch all of the titles because the applause often drowned out the announcements. There was a catchy tune referencing Bourbon Street, A moving tribute to his friend Michael Brecker and a tune titled ‘The Mingus that I know’. They all had pithy stories attached. The two standards were Billy Eckstine’s ‘I want to talk about you’ and a wonderful earthy take on John Coltrane’s ‘Impressions’. I read somewhere that Garzone plays like he talks, in a Bostonian/Calabrian dialect. The cadences and rhythms of speech are part of who we are, it is, therefore, logical that they encompass how musicians express themselves and especially on a vocal instrument like the saxophone.His pick up band were Kevin Field, Ron Samsom, Mostyn Cole and Roger Manins. Like every international who passes through, he heaped praise on the local musicians. Coming from Garzone this really counts. He and Manins go back a way and the synergies between them are evident (the Garzone influence is worldwide and Manins is no exception). Whether playing in unison or in counterpoint, they sounded right together – tenors who knew just how to compliment or when to keep clear. This was a very big sound and when trading fours they cajoled each other as friends might. The rhythm section was energised as well; Cole, Samsom and Field providing rhythmic and harmonic trickery. And at one point, ‘Hey great, I heard some Salsa in that solo’, said Garzone looking in Fields direction.
The tour was put together by Roger Manins on behalf of the CJC Jazz Club and other clubs throughout the New Zealand Jazz touring circuit. Those who attended the two master classes at the Backbeat Bar and the two sold out Thirsty Dog gigs certainly knew how lucky they were. This was the night that Boston’s best; one of Americas finest tenor-men, came to town and blew like crazy. You had to be there to fully comprehend it, but this was a night to tell our grandchildren about.
George Garzone (tenor saxophone, compositions, arrangements), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Kevin Field (piano), Mostyn Cole (upright bass), Ron Samsom (drums). CJC Creative Jazz Club at the Thirsty Dog, Auckland, K’Rd 16th August 2017.
Last week brought us another emerging artist’s gig and this time it featured a Wellington band followed by an Auckland band. Each brought different aspects of improvised music to the bandstand and in a very nice touch, jammed together at the end; a happy meeting place between approaches. With so many international acts scheduled over coming months, it was great to see these young emerging bands given a shot: Again, this was good programming by the CJC.The Leo Coghini Quartet from Wellington took a straight ahead approach and it was obvious from the first number by Coghini, a solo rendering of ‘It Could Happen To You’ (Van Heusen/Burke), that he was an interesting pianist. He is classically trained, but with a good feel for swing oriented tunes. There were some nice originals in the set, but they were most comfortable on standards. I particularly liked the way they played Parker’s latin infused classic ‘My Little Suede Shoes’, also Kenny Garrett’s ‘Wayne’s Thang’. Both were approached in interesting ways (especially the nicely phrased Parker tune). The last number the quartet played was Stevie Wonders swinging groove classic ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ (which I have posted). In relation to ethnicity and gender, the modern New Zealand Jazz scene is increasingly reflective of the wider population; It is, therefore, good to see women picking up instruments that were once regarded as being exclusively in the male domain. Louisa Williamson was up front on tenor. She overcame some initial nervousness and played well. The other band members were electric bassist Zane Hawkins and Jeremy Richardson drums (both accomplished players).
The second group, a quintet, had a very different approach. Their set list was entirely originals; they also took a loose no prisoners route. The set was clearly owned by the leader, altoist Daniel Cho. During his introduction, he placed a firm marker down; I am on a lifelong spiritual journey and this informs my music. While some ballads were played, he clearly favoured the ecstatic; that mood was reinforced throughout as he embarked on a very Coltrane fueled journey; and late Coltrane at that. His modal approach on some numbers would often move outside, at times leaning toward microtonality. In listening to him, one thing cut through above everything else, the deeper intent of the music; something beyond melody or harmony. This is a brave path for a young musician to take and one that requires enormous self-belief. He certainly possessed that attribute and he communicated it with a confidence beyond his years. Communicating intent is a hard thing to do; it’s selling an impression; it also requires audience deep listening.The tune ‘Within Hymn’ had clear references to Coltrane, but it was also interestingly modern. Although there were distinct parts to it, the piece made more sense as an entirety. It began with a bold statement on the horn, then unwound as it momentarily descended into chaos; next came the body of the piece, a building story, a probing at an idea, then changing again and ending with a climax. None of this would have been possible without the right support. Crystal Choi’s percussive chromaticism as she stabbed at the keyboard, the fourths, dissonant flurries; sometimes swinging as if to provide a counterbalance. Her solo was immaculate and each time I hear her now I’m amazed. Watching her musical journey encompass the avant-garde end of town and everywhere on the way is a treat. It was not just Choi who made this work, but Denholm Orr and Dean Rodrigues as well. Watch the clip through and judge for your self – these guys are amazing. Now a few bars of arco bass, now free or walking bass, and all the while, edgy polyrhythms dancing underneath. I was also pleased to see Kathleen Tomacruz on guitar – a very credible first gig for her.
The stylistic divergence was fused in the last two numbers when the bands became one on the bandstand. The way they achieved such unity in an impromptu jam says a lot about them all. Big ups to the musicians.
Leo Coghini Quartet: Leo Coghini (piano), Louisa Williamson (tenor saxophone), Zane Hawkins (electric bass), Jeremy Richardson (drums).
Daniel Cho Quintet: Daniel Cho (alto saxophone), Crystal Choi (piano), Kathleen Tomacruz (guitar), Denholm Orr (bass), Dean Rodrigues (drums).
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.
Hearing people talk about the Chris Mason-Battley Group reminds me of the Hindu parable – the blind man and the Elephant. “Oh yeah, that guy has a smooth sweet sound’ one said as if that settled the matter. Well yes, he has got a smooth sound when playing a ballad, but anyone who thinks that defines his music has simply not been paying attention. This band has enormous depth; playing anything from a melodic ballad to music that is way off the grid. What we experienced on Wednesday was music with integrity; at times raw and inventive, drawing us into its heart, emotionally engaging and above all satisfying. The first number was ‘Mountain Song’ (by CMB); then they moved to a series of pieces from the CMB John Psathas project ‘Dialogos’ (progressing through excerpts from ‘Song for Simon’ and ‘Demonic Thesis’). As that set progressed we heard a new composition or two and lastly ‘Tahuna Caravan Park’ from his ‘Two Tides’ album. This gave us a broad sweep of his past projects and the Psathas album in particular. Dialogos was widely acclaimed as an exciting and bold step forward for the band – I can highly recommend the album (out on Rattle). Before the band left the stage for a break, Mason-Battley said; “That was the nice half – the second set is nasty half” (quoting from an album titled ‘The Jaberwocky comes to Town’ which had a ‘nice side’ and a ‘nasty side’.) As pleasing as the band were in the first set, they reached much deeper for the second; pulling out an utterly engaging and masterful performance. It began with several of the blacker pieces from ‘Dialogos’, ‘The Calenture Suite’. The drummer Stephen Thomas must be mentioned at this point – His work was integral to the overall performance and it underlined his maturity as a musician. At times subtle, at others incredibly complex – and all made to look easy in his hands. Thomas was extraordinary throughout and although a relative newcomer to this long-established band, his searing flames licked at their underbelly, an indispensible presence. In perfect contrast to the complex drum flurries was Sam Giles on electric bass. Giles is a master of the ostinato – repeated motifs, perfect time feel and the voodoo factor writ large. He is also an influence on the bands direction; favouring Zorn like explorations and paths less trodden. The CMB Group keyboardest is David Lines, an intersting and in my view under-rated musician. On this gig he played a Roland RD-700. What a beautiful piano and Rhodes sound. A machine hardly heard these days, replaced by the Nord Stage or modern Korgs. While the newer keyboards have more bells and whistles, I am unconvinced that their piano sound is an improvement. Perhaps it sounded so good because of Lines touch? He is not a busy pianist and every note counts, in this gig his often voice leading role was perfect for the project (his solos were stunning). I only wish we saw him more often.
As good as the rest were, Mason Battley stood out; especially on soprano and alto. He has a real stage presence and his luminous lines are always well conceived. It is great to hear him reaching ever deeper as time goes by. The number I have posted is a tune of his titled ‘Drum Dance 4 (Psathas)’; a Coltrane-esk exploration that exemplifies a way-point on their interesting journey. On that tune, everything is in perfect balance, Thomas taking a leading role while the others work off that, each bar taking us deeper, highly charged and sparse. The last tune of the evening was free and political. It was titled ‘The Emperor Has No Clothes’; an obvious reference to the greedy authoritarian amoral elites that hold sway in the world; particularly the Trump administration. It was free and it was raw emotion – in the background a loop recited ‘billions and billions’ – then, faintly at first, we heard the strains of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’. The band read the mood of the audience well with that one – people stomped and cheered afterwards as if someone had taken the words right out of their mouths and rendered them into abstract musical form.
CMB Group: Chris Mason-Battley (soprano, alto, tenor saxophones, compositions arrangements, electronics), David Lines (keyboards), Sam Giles (electric bass), Stephen Thomas (drums) @ CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K’Rd, Auckland, July 26, 2017
There have been two bass-player led groups at the CJC in as many months and both have been excellent. Last weeks featured group was a trio led by Rubim de Toledo: a Canadian from Alberta, of Brazilian origin and a well-established musician. Like many modern improvisers, his influences are diverse; that said his music fits squarely into the Jazz mainstream. The first thing to grab me was his big rounded tone, gifting the tunes with a richness and beauty that captivated from start to finish. While most bass sits deep within the mix, de Toledo’s voice spoke clearly; not by overcrowding his band-mates nor by punching through the others as an electric bassist might, but because every musical utterance sounded right. His melodicism and clarity of ideas were enhanced by devices which I found appealing; his occasional and appropriate use of vibrato at the end of a line, sometimes, rarely, he combined this with a slight bending of the note. He is definitely a successor to the Evans trio model; a bassist who communicates as an equal.In a live setting and with unfamiliar sidemen, the best plan is to loosen the reigns. This he did and with Kevin Field on Rhodes and fellow Canadian and long time friend Ron Samsom on drums the gig gelled. Much of the gig showcased his compositions, some from his 2014 album ‘The Bridge”. The three standards he played were a killing version of Maiden Voyage (Herbie Hancock), Work Song (Nat Adderly) and a rendering of ‘Recordeme’ (Joe Henderson). His own compositions ranged from the thoughtful ‘Autumn Celeste’ to evocative panoramic tunes like ‘The Gap’ (about the Rockies) and ‘Red Eye’ (about a Brazilian train known locally as the train of death). The gig was a pleasure from start to finish and the enthusiastic audience response said it all.As I was leaving de Toledo handed me a copy of his recent album ‘The Bridge’ and it wasn’t until yesterday that I found time to play it. What a truly beautiful album this is; beautifully crafted arrangements and tunes which burn with a quiet intensity at any tempo. On ‘The Bridge’, he is surrounded by an ensemble of talented Albertans and a guest artist from the USA. The lineup of bass, trumpet, saxophone, trombone, keyboards, drums (and on track 8 a vocal) is well conceived – balancing airiness with textural richness. The musicianship throughout is noteworthy; particularly Sean Jones on trumpet, a well respected musician from the USA: the keyboardist and everyone making this album memorable. As you would expect with an ensemble and with an album as skillfully recorded as this, de Toledo is less dominant. Here he lets his charts tell the story and they certainly do.
. The audio clip is ‘Winters Here’ from the album.
Rubim de Toledo Trio: Rubim de Toledo (upright bass, leader), Kevin Field (Rhodes), Ron Samsom (drums), The trio played the CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K’Rd Auckland, July 19, 2017.
The Bridge (Album): Rubim de Toledo (bass), Guest artist: Sean Jones (trumpet), Jim Brenan (saxophone), Carsten Rubeling (trombone), Chris Andrew (keyboard), Jon McCaslin (drums), Allison Lynch (vocals).
In spite of his relative youth, Stephen Thomas is counted as one of New Zealand's better Jazz drummers. He approaches his craft with care and intelligence and it shows in his playing. While his technical skills are superb, he can also communicate on a human level and this is important as it speaks of character. Thomas is a regular on the scene, but like many sidemen and most drummers, he prefers to remain in the shadows. On Wednesday he changed that focus and convincingly staked his claim as band leader.The ingredients that contribute to a successful gig are often intangible, but this gig ticked a number of those boxes. While tailored to suit a Jazz audience, it did so without being remote or elitist. Another reason the gig worked was because Thomas used humour to good effect; not just his on stage banter but in the music as well. In a live setting this is important – interacting with the listeners on some level, bringing them inside the circle.Thomas has an abiding interest in the Ellington/Mingus/Roach, 'Money Jungle' recording and Wednesday provided him with a further opportunity to explore that project. While unusual as a source of standards material, it is a great album to focus on – the perfect vehicle for deconstruction. At the time it was recorded, it stood out for a number of reasons. In fact it shouldn't have worked at all, as the trio members reputedly disliked each other. Each had marked stylistic differences and Ellington was of an earlier generation. Ellington told the others that what they would play on the record should be a collective decision; then he turned up with a set list of his own tunes. The one tune which was not Ellington's was by Juan Tizol – a man who Mingus had once been in a knife fight with and because of whom, he was sacked by Ellington. What should have been a disaster for many reasons was a success. A brave post-bop recording by artists firmly rooted in other eras.
Chosen from the Money Jungle material were 'Wig Wise and 'African Flower' (Ellington). Both of these tunes were given interesting treatment. The latter rendered into a dreamy fusion like vibe and the former, given a wonderful vaudevillian twist; the head melody line played on an analogue Prophet 08 synth. Reverence and open exploration in equal parts.Thomas's own tunes were interesting as well. 'No Hawkers' was a cleverly constructed solo piece; his engaging beats triggering pre-recorded samples, which he played over. 'Rat Race' was another great tune, this time with the full ensemble.
The other two standards were Giant Steps (Coltrane) and 'Fascinatin' Rhythm' (Gershwin). His quintet featured Crystal Choi, Michael Howell, Tom Dennison and J Y Lee and what a great band they were. Choi was especially wonderful; she's comfortable in a variety of settings and she just keeps growing as a musician – she really digs in and the sky's the limit for her. Howell was also decisive in his playing and it really suited him. Lee and Dennison are seasoned professionals and we are never disappointed by either. I was still buzzing from Dennison's previous weeks gig on electric bass – that boy can do no wrong.
No Hawkers: Stephen Thomas (arrangements, drums, samples), Crystal Choi (keyboards), Michael Howell (guitar), J Y Lee (alto saxophone), Tom Dennison (upright bass) – CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K' Road, Auckland, July 12, 2017
Dennison is a first class musician and someone we don’t hear nearly enough of on the Jazz circuit. He rarely gets to the CJC but when he does it is always a treat. These days he is mostly found doing session work or backing visiting artists and it is hardly surprising that he is a bass player of choice. Whether on upright bass or electric bass he is equally proficient; always an engaging presence, always demonstrating a deep musicality. He has one more string to his bow which can’t be overlooked and that is composition. His tunes are often whimsical, but whatever the mood, a deftly crafted structure sits beneath every phrase. Never over done, bass driven and just right. There is also a thread of melancholia and wistfulness in his ballad writing: these are difficult emotions to evoke and anyone with knowledge of poetry will know, that only the most skilful poets do the moods justice. Dennison can.Passels playing was another high point of the evening for me. He just gets better every time we hear him. He is also exactly the right person to interpret mood. I liked the way he approached the tunes, working his way inside them methodically. Sometimes angular, at other times teasing at the melody. During the ballads, he often began with sparse phrasing, establishing mood without overstatement; then, slowly telling his story as if looking at the theme from differing viewpoints. Although he plays decisively, he carefully modulates; generally without flourish or vibrato – pushing at a note until subtle multiphonic textures form – his paper-thin Konitz-like tone saying more than any honk. His versatility is also an asset. Any player who can comfortably move outside and inside while still maintaining a theme is a person worth listening to.McAneny, who initially faced a cable problem, overcame it quickly and delivered a fine performance. Having a Rhodes and a guitar together can be problematical, but the charts and McAneny’s nimbleness enabled him to avoid crowding the space. Howell gave a nice performance and his lines are terrific; He knows what he’s doing but I’d like to hear him bite into his solos a bit more. Drummer Adam Tobeck was on solid ground with this group, he obviously enjoyed the company and reacted well to whatever was thrown his way. After not playing here for a few years, he is now a regular on the bandstand. I like his drum work very much.
Dennisons post-Zoo material is terrific. Fresh, adventurous and deeply appealing. I hope this gig presages a ‘Zoo Two’ album (or ‘Zoo Two by Two’?). From Zoo we heard ‘The Cat’ – of the newer material there were many great pieces – I loved ‘Unkindness’, also the punkish take on the Beatles ‘Day Tripper’ and ‘J Y Lee’ (a contrafact of ‘Donna Lee’ which in turn is a contrafact of ‘Indiana’).
Tom Dennison Quintet: Tom Dennison (5 string electric bass, compositions), Callum Passels (alto saxophone), Connor McAneny (Rhodes), Michael Howell (guitar), Adam Tobeck (drums). CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, July 5th 2017.
The last time Nick Granville played in Auckland was 2014. A year prior to that he released his Rattle Jazz album ‘Refractions’ here At that time the CJC was located in an old downtown basement venue and that feels like a lifetime ago. Wellington is his home base and Wellington keeps Granville busy. He teaches, he gigs about town, he backs visiting artists, he plays in shows, he records, he tours and he is the featured guitarist in the Rodger Fox Big Band. The last time I saw him play was in Wellington, but that was a few years ago. Much water has passed under the bridge since then and his reputation has meantime grown apace. I have also kept an eye on his teaching clips, and his ongoing evolution as a musician is evident in these. Almost everything Granville plays is coloured by the blues in some way; that is his thing. On a mid-winter night, it is my thing as well.With the exception of ‘Alone Together’ by Schwartz/Dietz, all compositions were Grenville’s. Some were from his Rattle Album, such as Tossed Salad & Scrambled Eggs or Blues For Les, while others were much newer. The compositions were all ear-grabbing and most appeared to reference geographical locations or old TV programs. ‘Funky New Orleans Groove Thing’ was certainly true to label; a rhythm-driven groove piece that generated white heat. With Stephen Thomas on the job, the New Orleans beat never sounded better. Thomas is an exceptional drummer.A tune that I have heard Granville play previously is ‘Somewhere You’ve Been’. The title is a clever play on Wayne Shorter’s ‘Footprints’. The tune, although not a contrafact of Footprints is close enough to bring it to mind, It is nicely constructed and a good vehicle for a band to play off. For this gig Granville had wisely engaged old friends; Roger Manins, Oli Holland and Steven Thomas. Together on the bandstand, they represented genuine firepower and everyone dug deep when it came to delivering solos
Footnote: If things go according to plan, Granville will soon be off to the Monterey Jazz Festival with the Rodger Fox Big Band, followed by a recording session in a famous LA recording studio.
Nick Granville (guitar, compositions), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Olivier Holland (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums). The gig took place at the Thirsty Dog K’Road for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, 28th June 2017.
This was trippy stuff. A band that gnawed at the bones of form while the music swept us along; taking us ever deeper, forcing us to loosen our grip, as the waterfalls of sound consumed us. This was most definitely filmic music; throwing up subliminal specters like a Burroughs cut-up montage: an indie soundtrack, Voodoo but with four Papa Docs urging us toward trance.Attempts to confine improvised music within historic boundaries is plain foolishness. Never has this been more obvious to me than at last week’s ‘Monsters of The Deep’ gig. Superficially it sounded like, looked like classic fusion; but it was and it wasn’t. The keyboard instruments were classic analog, the lighting otherworldly; various delays, distortions or effects echoed across the room. While the overall vibe nodded in the direction of Jazz/Rock, the musical language was that of deep improvisation. The accessibility hiding worlds of complexity and there’s the wonder of it. Few local musicians could pull this off as well as Crayford and Haines did.The collaboration between Crayford and Haines is certainly not their first; that took place in New York a long time ago. Since then they have both gained international reputations, recording in the UK or in New York. Both have separately won the Best New Zealand Jazz album of the year during the last decade, both attract sizable audiences. These artists are generally offshore but we caught a break this year – they are domiciled in Auckland at the moment. While the project draws on various inspirational sources like Alice Coltrane and Igor Stravinsky it is also brimming with originality. This is ‘spiritual music’ of the highest order and it uses the devices of the Shaman: long intensifying vamps and hypnotic beats which slip deftly into the consciousness. Throughout the night, it was Haines who took the melodic path while Crayford provided magnificent architectural structures. If even one element was removed, the edifice could fail; this was a music built from layers, each balancing delicately on the one beneath; only exposed incrementally, like a nested Russian doll. Marika Hodgson was the perfect choice for running those long ostinato bass lines. Her time feel is impeccable and she creates a gut punch while blending seamlessly into the mix. Not many know it, but Crayford is also a gifted bass player – he knows exactly what is needed and he trusts Hodgson to deliver. The one musician that I had not seen before was Mickey Ututaonga. He has a long history with Haines and again he was a good choice. Because the music was so carefully balanced, the last thing it needed was a busy splashy drummer. Ututaonga synced with the others, his every beat enhancing the overall hypnotic effect. The other stars of the show were the instruments and pedals. For Crayford a Fender Rhodes and an equally vintage Clavinet; for Haines, his beautiful horns fed through a vintage SM7 Shure Microphone, then into a preamp and guitar FX board.
I have put up a clip titled ‘Stravinsky Thing‘ (Crayford). The piece is inspired by Igor Stravinsky; first an intro, then building slowly over a vamp, ratcheting up the tension on keyboards as an ostinato theme builds – the insistent bass line, the hypnotic drums, these freeing up the horns – soprano and tenor saxophones exploring; weaving in threads of vibrant colour. If only Stravinsky had been there – he was never afraid of modernity. These musicians are real monsters and their music is deep. I hope that they hang around in Auckland long enough to do it again.
Monsters of the Deep: Jonathan Crayford/Nathan Haines. Crayford (Clavinet, Rhodes, effects, compositions), Haines (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, effects, compositions), Marika Hodgson (electric bass), Mickey Ututaonga (drums). CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K’Road, Auckland, June 21, 2017.
When Vivian Sessoms sings, she takes you deep inside the music. Whether singing the American Songbook, or her own compositions, her storytelling resonates. She sings of American life with all its contradictions; joy and pain both laid bare. Her rendering of Herbie Hancock’s ‘Butterfly‘ tender: the rendering of her own composition, ‘I Can’t Breathe‘, a song referencing the ‘black lives matter’ struggle – raw. As she sang ‘I Can’t Breathe‘, people brushed tears away; feeling the loss, the injustice; sharing in the incomprehension. She sang it for the families of the young lives so senselessly snuffed out; dying at the hands of those sent to protect them – she sang it for us, a people located an ocean away. We listened and understood the message. Art is at its best when it is fearless and truth-telling – Sessoms gets this.Sessoms is Harlem born and bred; an activist, the niece of Nancy Wilson, the daughter of musicians and a gifted performer with a long string of credits to her name. She was raised in the Jazz world but found early acclaim as a soul singer. Now she is returning to her Jazz roots with her ‘Life‘ album. The tour reviews have been overwhelmingly positive and no wonder; At age 9 she opened for Marvin Gaye, later working with Michael Jackson, Cher and Stevie Wonder. As a performer she is simply riveting; her voice a miracle – to have her here in an intimate Jazz club setting, a rare treat.What we were hearing was counter-intuitive. A voice of incredible power, but a voice filled with subtlety: A voice that dominated a room, but never at the expense of nuance. Although powerful, her instrument never strained, a voice which flowed as naturally as breathing. These are rare qualities when considered together in one package. Her material was also well thought out; The standards timeless but each one interestingly reinterpreted: ‘Tenderly’, ‘Love for Sale’, ‘Round Midnight’, ‘Never Let Me Go’, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ and others.
Sessoms New Zealand pick-up band was assembled at short notice and credit must go to Caro Manins for organising this. She chose well, but with Jonathan Crayford on keyboards, it was always going to work out fine. Just days after winning the New Zealand Jazz Tui album of the year, he stepped in as an accompanist, giving us a truly magical performance. His solos often stunning us with their brilliance, especially so the extended solo on Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good‘. The others in the rhythm section were Mostyn Cole (electric and upright bass) and Adam Tobeck (drums). They were every bit the professionals an artist like this deserves. Sessoms looked about her at one point and asked the audience; “Just what do you put in the water here – your musicians are amazing”?Sessoms is a generous entertainer, happy to mingle with the audience, comfortable enough to tease them a little; posing for endless selfies and promising faithfully to return. She even shared the microphone with several first-year students. That is the common touch – a thing Kiwis love; she read our love of informality well. For details about her ‘Life‘ album go to the website link below. If we support the album, it might just hasten her return.She departed New Zealand the next morning on an early flight; arriving in the USA to be greeted by the news, that yet another jury had acquitted a police officer of killing an unarmed black youth. In these troubled times, more power to her.
Vivian Sessoms (vocals, composition), Jonathan Crayford (keyboards), Mostyn Cole (electric bass), Adam Tobeck (drums). CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, Auckland, June 14th, 2017 – viviansessoms.com
While some of us didn’t make it to the Wellington Jazz Festival, we had no need to cry into our beer. What Auckland had on offer was the Alan Brown Trio, returning to the Creative Jazz Club after a long hiatus, and in very good form. I have long thought that an organ trio is the best dish to serve up on a wet winter’s night. This trio proved the pudding with its down-home goodness, tasty grooves, and with all the trimmings. While Brown is across many genres, this is the one most music lovers associate him with. His deft touch calling down the good times and bathing us in a warm orb of sound.We heard mostly new material with a few well-chosen standards thrown in; all of it sounding fresh, the arrangements for the standards updated and interesting. Brown is a prolific composer – he always writes interesting tunes. His Between the Spaces album came out years ago, but I can still remember the tunes note for note. He is never afraid of melody either, balancing it nicely with his rich harmonies and all the while providing a solid improvisational vehicle. His final strength, and perhaps his greatest, is his feel for a groove. Although rooted firmly in the organ groove tradition, much of the new material felt evolutionary – taking us in a similar direction to that of Lonnie Smith. There is a lot to like about this direction.
This was essentially the original Grand Central band; Dixon Nacey on Guitar, Josh Sorenson on drums and for some of the gig, vocalist Chris Melville. Even though many of tunes were new to the rest of the band, they got down to business quickly. Nacey, as ever, the consummate professional – at times reading the chart before him, but always diving deep inside the groove as he internalised the music. Sorenson is a groove drummer from way back and although he works with his own rock group these days, he had no trouble doing what an organ trio drummer should; laying down a steady rhythmic cushion. It was good to see Melville perform again. I had not seen him on the bandstand since the Grand Central days. He’s an in-demand vocalist these days and deservedly so. I think that it was on his insistence that ‘I didn’t know what time it was’ was included (the Cecile McLauren-Salvant treatment). I have always loved his wonderful ”Come what may’ (Melville/Nacey) – surprisingly it is seldom heard. Although my battery died half way through, I have uploaded a clip from the gig – one of Alan Brown’s newer compositions. The trio’s incredibly warm vibe is well captured on this clip – a sound enhanced by the use of a Leslie Unit and of course by Nacey’s Godin guitar. This was the place to be; as the woody tones and warmth enveloped us, Winter was dispelled from our lives.
Alan Brown Trio: Alan Brown (B3 organ with Leslie Unit), Dixon Nacey (Guitar), Josh Sorenson (drums), – Guest Chris Melville (vocals). The gig took place at the Thirsty Dog Tavern for the CJC Creative Jazz Club, 7th June 2017.
Two years have passed since Mukhlisa was last in Auckland and locals jumped at the chance to see them again. They are not your usual improvising group, fusing an exotic blend of middle eastern music, folk, and Jazz in a way that sounds totally authentic. While far from being mere novelty entertainment, the music is still fun, and because of its integrity and musicianship, other musicians flock to hear them play. It is rare to see such complex music communicated so convincingly and that is the key to their longevity and success.
With rhythmically complex music like this, it is easy to misstep. With Mukhlisa there is no evidence of that; years of playing together has allowed them to play as if one entity. While faithful to the old melodies and rhythms, a newer genre resides here. This is hopeful music for the new millennium; in these times of willful ignorance and political tomfoolery, the best way to understand our fellow humans is through the universality of art. When political systems fail us, the arts always come to our rescue.
Tim Sellars is the group’s leader and he has kept Mukhlisa together for many years. That the music at this gig sounded so fresh, is a tribute to him. Sellars is a master of middle eastern percussion instruments, and on Wednesday he had four hand drums with him; a frame drum, Darabuka, Riq, and Cajon. The Riq while the smallest of his percussion instruments, is the most fascinating. In the right hands, it is astonishingly versatile and Sellars takes full advantage of its possibilities. The soundscape created, often polyrhythmic, is impressive enough, but when Sellars plays his hands dance as if choreographed.
On amplified acoustic guitar was Glen Wagstaff, a leader in his own right, his softer acoustic sound enhancing the ensemble. His unison lines and counterpoint, adding just the right touch – balancing out the brighter sound of the flute, augmenting the bass and percussion. Few local bass players could pull this music off as well as Michael Story, his lines requiring the utmost precision. Lastly, there was Tamara Smith on flute. What a joy to see her back in town. A wonderful musician who breathes fire and magic into her instrument and who delivers tight ensemble playing and marvelous solos. I wish we saw her more often.
The set list drew on three Sellars originals (all terrific tunes – especially his ‘Strategic Point’), a number of middle eastern tunes, a Bulgarian and a Korean tune. Mukhlisa has an album out titled ‘The Puzzle’.
I always look forward to emerging artists nights at the CJC. They don’t happen often but when they do, they’re fun, full of surprise and most importantly they are hopeful events. It is usual for emerging artists to salt the mine with seasoned players. Both of the bands did well in that regard. The first band up was Misha Kourkov’s ‘Equitable Grooves’, a six-piece unit playing multi-genre Jazz focused music. The material was well written and at times ambitious. Aiming high on the bandstand is good because that is where real learning occurs. If you wish to extend your reach, then having Alan Brown on the piano is exactly what you need. With that sort of experience and groove behind you, you have a fail-safe mechanism. The set opened a little tentatively, but they quickly found their groove; the last two numbers were especially enjoyable.
Misha Kourkov is a strong tenor player. I like his playing in Oli Hollands ‘Jazz Attack’ and as a leader, he has real potential. Most younger players have discernible influences and with Kourkov it is Roger Manins. As he grows as a musician he is increasingly finding his own voice. The track that particularly took my fancy was ‘Friday night at the Cadillac Club’. Early rock and roll stole licks from Jazz. Now the tide has turned. On that number, the group mined the Happy Days vibe while sneaking in snaking bebop lines. The pairing of tenor and soprano worked well, suiting the material they played; the guitar completing the front line by adding a bluesy feel, nice solos, and textural richness. The soprano player, in particular, is one to watch, nice bass and drums also. A popular practice among emerging players is to create cryptic and often unpronounceable tune titles – if that was their aim, then both groups succeeded. The second set featured the ‘Exploding Rainbow Orchestra‘. This was a very different type of ensemble. Freer ranging, a bigger sound palette and an electric bass with the heavyweight punch of Bona. The bass player Joshua Worthington-Church who led the ensemble is accurately described as a maverick. His set list contained genuinely diverse material; gripping vamp-driven originals plus tunes from ‘Radiohead’ and ‘The Mint Chicks’. Under the leader’s guidance, the band took the material to a place close to my heart; a fusion of Jazz and psychedelia. I am happy to see this done, as the genre is all but forgotten. During the mid-seventies, that style of music was sacrificed on the altar of Jazz purism, a pompous battleground that tried to stifle genre exploration.
I have always loved the Belgium Jazz guitarist Philip Catherine. Today he is regarded as an elder statesman; admired for his work with Chet Baker, Mingus, Carla Bley, Dexter Gordon, Lagrene etc. His work with the psychedelic Jazz Fusion group ‘Focus’, or the amazingly tripped out violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, overlooked completely. This material is worthy of re-evaluation. With the Exploding Rainbows Orchestra, we moved closer to that. The band worked well as a unit but there was no doubt where the greatest strengths lay; Callum Passells and Chelsea Prastiti. A pair combining musical maturity with an inbuilt urge to push boundaries.
Music that lays down a vamp, has a locked-in drum groove, can free up the rest of the band. When there is less rigidity in the harmonic structure, and if the musicians are brave enough, they interact organically: that’s what this ensemble took advantage of. Passells on alto is a wonderful musician and he knows how to use space. When paired with Prastiti on vocals, otherworldly magic happens. In the background, almost hidden from sight, Crystal Choi layered moody fills and passages on a compact keyboard. The guitarist Michael Gianan took few risks, but his comping and his unison lines added another rich textural layer. I hope that this project continues – there are a few sound balance wrinkles to iron out, but hey, it really was a buzz.
Equitable Grooves: Misha Kourkov (leader, tenor saxophone) Alan Brown (piano), Nathan James (Guitar), Edwin Dolbel (bass), Daniel Reshtan (soprano ), Daniel Waterson (drums).
Exploding Rainbow Orchestra: Joshua Worthington-Church (Leader, electric bass), Callum Passells (alto saxophone), Sean Martin-Buss (tenor saxophone), Chelsea Prastiti (vocals), Crystal Choi (keyboards), Michael Gianan (guitar), David Harris (drums),
The event was at the CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, 03 May 2017
There is never a guarantee that two good acts blended into one will work. This one did. DOG and the various iterations of the Peter Koopman trio are each in their way self-contained; exuding a confidence born out of time spent with familiar musicians. Bands that play together over long periods anticipate and react instinctively. Stepping outside of that circle can be a risk, but that is a large part of what improvised music is about. DOG are a tight unit with quick-fire lines and nimble moves. By adding a guitar, DOG risked crowding their musical space; with Koopman, this did not happen. He is an aware and thoughtful musician. The pairing aided by some well-written charts, a pinch of crazy and good humour. The result was a looser sound, but the joy and respect provided all the glue it needed for the gig to work well.
The first number up was Roger Manins ‘Peter the Magnificent’, a tune featured on the award-winning DOG album. Manins penned it years ago, but this is the first time we have seen he and Koopman play it together (the Peter referred to in the tune is Koopman). Next up was Koopman’s ‘Judas Boogie’, a terrific catchy tune and a great vehicle for improvisation. It has memorable hooks and a feel good factor about it. It’s the third time that I have heard the tune and it is always mesmerising – weaving in and around a dominant bass note, a relentless pulse drawing you ever deeper into the theme. I like tunes like that, they are a gift to good interpreters.The unison lines and exchanges between guitar, tenor saxophone and Rhodes were just lovely. Kevin Field is always on form and the Rhodes with its chiming clarity was the perfect foil for Koopman and Manins. Field is the complete musician, tasteful, original and with impeccable time feel; Koopman’s guitar benefitting from the well-voiced chords, gently and sparsely comping beneath. Manins also gave a nice solo, and as we have come to expect, he reached for a place beyond the known world. Olivier Holland had a slightly different approach to Koopman’s regular bassist Alduca. Both approaches worked well on Judas Boogie. The interplay between Holland and Samsom was also instructive. As is often the case with good Jazz; the complicated was made to sound easy.
The craziest tune of the night was Manins ‘Chook 40’ – a crazy humour filled romp which swerved close to the avant-garde. A Zappa moment filled with joy, and above all abandon. The last tune was titled ‘Home Schooled’. This is a newer Field composition, one that regular CJC attendees will recall hearing during his last quartet gig. In this expanded context it sounded truly amazing – the tune was too long to post as a clip today, but I will try to do so later. The unison lines in that are particularly striking and the changes in mood and tempo revealed hidden delights.
DOG: Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Kevin Field (Rhodes), Olivier Holland (bass), Ron Samsom (drums) – with Peter Koopman (guitar).
Around Christmas, I discovered that I could not upload video to ‘YouTube’. I spent a few weeks trying to figure out what was causing the problem and then I made a fatal error – I consulted grown-up experts and that only delayed the problem. I should have asked a 12-year-old because none of the experts had the faintest idea what was occurring. After three months I finally nutted it out for myself, old as I am. FYI – when you upgrade your operating system, the default setting on power-saver puts the machine to sleep half an hour after the last keystroke.
Yesterday was Tito Puente’s birthday and so this is an appropriate time to post the first of the missing videos. First up is the Neil Watson Quartet playing a medley. The latter part of which is Tito Puente’s magnificent samba ‘Picadillo’. What a fabulous tune and what a hard-swinging rendition. It is all the more amazing due to the first two segments of the medley; An eye-popping version of the Erroll Garner classic ‘Misty, which swings between tradition and something akin to a Marc Ribot Ceramic Dog version. This Avant Jazz -Punk rendition gives us new ears on an old tune. Part two of the medley is ‘Moonlight in Vermont’ (Blackburn/Suessdorf). This particularly references the famous Johnny Smith/Stan Getz version but again inviting us to reconsider it from an altered vantage point. A brief and deliberately clichéd quote from ‘Stairway to Heaven’ caused hoots of laughter.
The second video is from the DOG Live concert December 15th, 2016. This was a great gig and the performances were of the highest order. What a bad week for my videos to become unavailable! Posting the clip now makes amends and I have more to follow. We can expect a new DOG album sometime this year – I can’t wait. The tune in the video clip is titled ‘Push Biker’ by drummer Ron Samsom. Roger Manins and the other DOG members are playing out of their skins here. The intensity of this performance is astonishing, even by DOG standards. The group is by now well seasoned and it shows – in dog years they are well and truly veterans.
Guitarist Peter Koopman has long been established on the Australian Jazz scene. He returns once or twice a year and when he does he brings interesting projects with him. This tour was no exception; with new compositions, some refocused standards, and a re-jigged trio lineup he hit the mark. Some musicians reach a permanent plateau, and then make only incremental advances from there on. To date, Koopman has been on a steady upwards trajectory; and with little sign of slowing. It’s noticeable in the detail, but also in the overall impression. He is matter of fact on the bandstand, there’s even a hint of diffidence about him, but this only reinforces the impression that he is all about the music. From the first few notes, band and audience are subsumed in the performance. One of the subtleties that I noticed between visits is in his tone. It is cleaner but broader, conveying more information, allowing listeners to hear nuance and micro changes in modulation. And on some numbers gentle harmonics, rising off the upper end of a rapid run. His newer compositions also enhanced the project; nicely paced, making room for the whole trio and very appealing to the ear. I was not alone in observing this trajectory. One of our best New Zealand guitarists was later heard to mutter, only half-jokingly, “Damn, I’m off home to burn my guitar”. Australia has a number of excellent guitarists and some are equal to the best in the world. The challenges and opportunities of working in such an environment, have obviously suited Koopman. Judas Boogie, Meth Blue, Dog Annoyance, and Hypochondria were Koopman’s tunes. The band also played a sizzling version of ‘Airegin’ (Sonny Rollins). ‘Airegin’ (Nigeria spelled backward) is a relentlessly upbeat tune and often tackled by guitarists – at least those brave enough. Another Rollins tune was ‘Paradox’. The others ranged from the familiar ‘The best things in life are free’ (De Silva), and ‘The things we did last summer’ (Styne/Cahn) – to the less familiar – ‘The big push’ (by Shorter from his little known ‘Soothsayer’ album) and ‘Montara’ by Bobby Hutcherson (from his amazing latin album of the same name). Why we do not hear more Hutcherson is quite beyond me (thanks for this one PJK).
Max Alduca was on upright bass and he came with Koopman last time he visited. He has also been active on the avant-garde circuit with NZ musicians. A thoughtful melodic player, leaving space where appropriate and always where he should be during a tune; an active and equal trio member. Tim Gelden was new to the CJC audience, instantly catching our attention, adding excitement with his crisp tasteful stick work; during moments of interplay with Koopman and Alduca, heart-stopping action.
Peter Koopman Trio: Koopman (Guitar, compositions), Max Alduca (upright bass), Tim Gelden (drums), performed at the CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K’Rd, Auckland, 12th April 20117.
Australia produces some distinctive, muscular tenor players and Andy Sugg is an example of that phenomena. The first thing that grabs a listener is an awareness of the raw power that fills a room when he blows. I am not just referring to volume or his fat rounded sound, but to the way he communicates an innate sense of musical purpose. This comes across as something beyond mere confidence. Deftly progressing through each tune; no over thinking, just a flow of connected ideas – and all carried on that delicious sound.It is always tempting to look for comparisons or patterns, it is what listeners do (and probably what many players wish they didn’t do). It is part of how music works, our subconscious looking for a framework, for some reference point – a launching pad, a place of departure where the known departs for the unknown. In Sugg’s playing you could could hear them all. Name a great tenor player and that player was in there, listen harder and suddenly they were gone. Perhaps this is the hall mark of truly innovative players; they channel the essence of others and then dismiss them just as easily.One of the joys of improvised music is the eternal conflict between the tangible and the intangible. You hear a phrase or a voicing that is maddeningly familiar, you feel a tingle of anticipation, you are on the verge of naming it – but before it takes form it is gone; dissolved into the intangible. Listening to Sugg is to catch a piece of Brecker, but listening to Sugg is also to hear an original. Tradition and innovation co-existing but ultimately spoken in his own dialect.
The tour was put together by Wellington based drummer Mark Lockett. Not long back from years of working in the USA, Locket has wasted no time since in stamping his hallmark on the Wellington scene. The WJC is a Wellington equivalent of Auckland’s CJC and between the two clubs (and affiliated venues) we are ensured a more viable touring circuit. Lockett simply oozes character (on kit and in conversation). As drummers go he is authentically original and a delight to hear. His atypical posture on the kit produces astonishingly good results. Like Sugg he is never hesitant, each gentle tap, pressed roll or flurry a moment of pure musicality. Like Sugg, he is an unusually decisive player – these two were made to be musically aligned.Kevin Field was on piano, this time well miked and able to do what he is renowned for. Mostyn Cole was on upright bass (also perfectly miked for the room). The band sounded terrific and although some of the charts were complex, they played like they had been together for years. It never ceases to amaze me, how well-rounded musicians can achieve such results after one quick rehearsal. Most of the tunes were Sugg originals and all were distinctive. Among them were ‘Rollins’, (a tribute to Sonny), ‘Tran’, ‘Columbia’, ‘Manhattan Beach’, ‘Juna’ and segment from his ‘Hemispheric Suite’.
The one standard he played was Johnny Green’s ‘Body & Soul’. I don’t know why, but this warhorse is another in the ‘often avoided’ category. At one point it was the tune with the most recorded versions (perhaps that is why?). Following in the vapour trails laid by Bean, Dex or Trane could be another reason. Sugg however had the confidence to take it head on and he just killed it. After a stunning introduction the band swung through the changes, each revealing new wonders without being obtuse, reverently evoking joy and making us hear the tune – truly hear it – as if we were hearing it for the first time (version posted).
The “Hemispheric Suite’ in three parts is simply magnificent. We only heard a segment or two on Wednesday but the full suite and many of the compositions mentioned above are on his recent album ‘Wednesday’s at M’s’. In these hands the Hemispheric Suite took us close to Coltrane Territory. That open skies brand of Jazz that moves ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ seamlessly, and which can only be described as spiritual.
Sugg’s albums are available from his website www.andysugg.com. The Auckland band was Andy Sugg (tenor sax, compositions), Kevin Field (piano), Mostyn Cole (bass), Mark Lockett (drums) – CJC (Creative Jazz Cub), Thirsty Dog Tavern, Auckland, 5th April 2017
It was appropriate that Warners ‘A List’ recording artist Kevin Field brought with him local A listers Dixon Nacey, Cam McArthur, Roger Manins and Stephen Thomas. Field has a substantial following in New Zealand and his innovative music attracts musicians and fans alike. Since his last ‘A List’ gig he’d clearly been busy – writing new material and rendering the familiar into something altogether different. Zoot Sims once quipped, “Jazz is a music where you never play the same thing once’. Field certainly exemplifies that tongue in cheek descriptor. Commentators and visiting musicians often remark on his innovative approach to harmony and rhythm. It is as if he has invented a new musical language out of the old. In truth, there are strong elements of related genres like R & B, latin and even disco funk there; under his fingers they become unique vehicles for improvisation.Unlike Janet Jackson, Field never suffers from wardrobe malfunctions. He does however occasionally suffer from equipment malfunctions. I mention it only because his Rhodes had failed him during a previous weeks CJC gig. No one listening comprehended that he had lost some of the middle-register. No one noticed because he re-voiced mid improvisation to work around the problem. I have heard of old timers doing this but seldom modern pianists. Field can effortlessly jump over obstacles and find a sweet spot.
On Wednesday he used the Thirsty Dog’s upright piano as well as his Rhodes. Miking an upright presents challenges that don’t arise when miking a grand, consequently the piano was a little quieter in the mix than the Rhodes (and Nacey’s guitar). It didn’t matter in the end because the music was wonderful and the others modulated their sound when necessary.There were old favourites reworked like ‘Game Changer’, ‘Good Friday’ and ‘Left Field’, but the rest were recent compositions. Among the newer numbers were ‘Rain check’ and ‘Acme Music Corporation’ (the latter featuring Manins on soprano – a rare event). Another new number ‘Unconditional love’ was introduced by Field with the following story. ‘There are many types of love in the world and today an unusual example came up in my twitter feed, – ‘Trumps deportation threats make my in-laws fearful. They live at 2b/34 Main St, Phoenix. My Mother in law arrives home from work at 4:30’ “.The last tune ‘Home Schooled’ was the best possible number to finish the evening with. Far from being a wind-down number, the musicians reached inside themselves, each giving magnificent performances. Manins back for a second number was on tenor, and he sounded happy to be back on his favourite horn. Nacey was at his best, making his guitar soar, as if he had found an ancient alchemy, a way to condense sunlight into music; the epitome of sonic clarity, invention and virtuosity. McArthur and Thomas each in step and reacting to the challenges. With material like this good musicians can achieve wonders.
Kevin Field: (Rhodes, piano, compositions), Dixon Nacey (guitar), Roger Manins (tenor and soprano saxes), Cam McArthur (bass), Stephen Thomas (drums). CJC (Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog Tavern, 29th March 2017.
Improvised music is a never-ending contest between the familiar and the unexpected. Everything is valid on the journey, but sometimes we forget that tradition can be a springboard and not a straightjacket. We had a good example of that on Wednesday. Because he lives far from here, few if any locals had previously encountered Marc Osterer, but few who heard him will forget his exuberant CJC gig. Born in New York, Osterer has led an interesting musical life. Broadway Shows, New York clubs, principal trumpet (Mexico City Philharmonic) and the Salzburg Festival Austria. While he attended prestigious musical conservatories in New York, there is something else in his sound – something that can’t be learnt purely from academic institutions. Osterer’s Jazz has a firm foothold in the tradition. Louis Armstrong and the great swing-to-bop trumpeters like Sweets Edison. It made perfect sense therefore that the standards he played were from the Songbook and that his own compositions reached deep inside that era.
There was something of the old time back streets and jazz alleys in his sound. The way he phrased and that tasty lip-shake vibrato coming straight after a ‘hot’ clean-toned blast. Sure he is a formidable technician, but there was more than that in his sound. Trumpeters not raised on his streets, not bottle fed on Armstrong, Eldridge, Stewart, Allen or Edison hesitate before diving into that particular sound. Swing-to-bop as played in the 50’s still contained the mellow soulful echoes of its New Orleans beginnings. This period is often overlooked today – perhaps it’s even seen as hokey by some? That’s a shame because the era is a gift that keeps on giving (watch a clip of Roy Eldridge or Henry Red Allen sometime – ‘whomp whomp’). What Osterer showed us were modern interpretations which were credible and which shone fresh light on an oft neglected golden age of trumpet.We also witnessed good chemistry between the visiter and his pick up band. It was not the band advertised but what we got was terrific. Matt Steele was flown up from Wellington and locals (fellow UoA Jazz School alumni) Eamon Edmundson-Wells and Tristan Deck completed the rhythm section. Pianist Steele has been gone from Auckland for over a year and is seldom heard here these days. We do hear Edmundson-Wells (bass) and Deck (drums), but to the best of my knowledge, none of them have performed in this context. Absent were the complex time signatures and post bop harmonies. The tunes stayed closer to the melody and the rhythmic requirements were often two-beat or even something closer to second line. As they played through the sets the joy of discovery showed on their faces and we felt it too. These musicians were still students three years ago but their skills are now well honed. They met the challenge and more. Locals who had not seen Steele play for a while, were buzzing; especially after the blistering Cole Porter standard , ‘It’s alright by me’. Steele’s fleet fingered solo was terrific, and matched by Deck’s bop drumming (complete with appropriately placed bombs and fluid accents). Edmundson-Wells dropped right in behind, pumping out his lines, and it was obvious they were enjoying themselves. Osterer’s compositions tell us how comfortable he is with this style of music. His ‘What’s that smell’ (Jazz should be ‘stinky’ he explained) – a New Orleans referencing tune, then ‘Tune for today’ and ‘Bite her back’ based on a Bix Beiderbecke tune. Among the standards was Chet Baker’s version of the little known ‘This is always’, a steamrolling syncopated version of ‘Limehouse Blues’ (Braham) [Note: I have only seen one Kiwi attempt that, Neil Watson on fender] and a version of Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘New Orleans’.
My favourite tune of the night was the bands version of the Mencher/Moll 1930’s standard,’I want a little girl (of my own)’. This slow burner is another that has dropped from fashion, perhaps due to the slightly creepy title (and the lyrics are definitely pre feminist). What a tune this is though. This was less Armstrong’s version than the Cootie Williams/Eddie Cleanhead Vinson take or even Brother Jack McDuff’s. A low down dark-alley speak-easy version with growls, stutters and smears; giving us the full dose of ‘stinky’ jazz and we loved every second of it. A commentator once stated; “When they find out which part of the human brain holds the love gene, this tune, ‘I want a little girl’ will be present in the DNA”.
Putin recently opined that tolerance and the Western world’s fetish for embracing diversity are signs of weakness. Hermann Goering said something similar, “when I hear the word culture I reach for my gun”. This myopic world view is the domain of strutting fools. The improvised music circuit is our connection to innovation, tolerance and expanded consciousness. On Wednesday nights we forget Trump and Le Pen. For that short window in time we live in a world of exciting ideas and discover the hidden corners of human consciousness. Keep them coming CJC, you enrich our lives.
I have put up two sound clips: ‘I want a little girl (of my own)’ and ‘It’s all right by me’ – enjoy.
Mark Osterer (trumpet, arrangements, compositions), Matt Steele (piano), Eamon Edmundson-Wells (bass), Tristan Deck (drums). 22nd March 2017, CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Thirsty Dog, K’Road, Auckland.
After years traveling the wider Jazz world, Jasmine Lovell-Smith came home; launching her latest album ‘Yellow Red Blue’ at the CJC last Wednesday. The Album features a quintet ‘Towering Poppies’; a group she formed in New York over five years ago. Her New Zealand gig featured locals Roger Manins, Kevin Field, Eamon Edmundson-Wells and Chris O’Connor. After her New York release she garnered a number of favourable reviews and no wonder. This is a lovely album, her compositions and arrangements outstanding, the recording immaculate.
Lovell-Smith spent the last seven years in the United States and Mexico. Along the way she studied with the experimentalist, saxophonist and composer Anthony Braxton. When you first listen to ‘Yellow Red Blue’, the wild raspy joyous alto of Braxton is not the first thing that comes to mind. Good musicians, and Lovell-Smith is one, learn from their teachers while transforming the information into something all their own. Lovell-Smith has clearly assimilated a multiplicity of interesting influences. Her beautifully crafted compositions teeming with ideas. Her soprano sound is warm and enveloping, the cleaner tone of her straight horn nicely counterbalancing with the woody earthiness of the bass clarinet, the well constructed charts coming into their own when these delightful interactions occur. The rich textures are never overwhelming, even when strings enter the mix. This is chamber Jazz at it’s best, engaging the listener without resorting to cliché.
The compositions also travelled well. Wednesday’s gig had a different lineup from the album. Replacing bass clarinet was a tenor saxophone (Manins) and in place of the piano was a Rhodes (Field). Manins is incredibly intuitive in these roles and a hint of that wild (Braxton-like) unconstrained joy was evident. On the head arrangements they were captivating, on the solo’s explorative. Field and Manins are so in tune after years of interaction, that they can push each other to greater heights effortlessly. In spite of such familiarity the two avoided falling into familiar groves, stimulated by the charts and aided by Eamon Edmundson-Wells intuitive bass lines. Edmundson-Wells is a multifaceted bassist and often seen with avant-gardests.
As a special treat we had the amazing Chris O’Connor on drums. I can never get enough of this guy. He can do anything on traps including hyper subtlety. On the last number of the first set he turned in a solo which was so coherent, so perfect, that the world moved into his orbit. This faster-paced tune ‘A nest to fly’, was from an earlier Lovell-Smith album.
The tunes were all by Lovell-Smith with the exception of Joni Mitchell’s ‘I had a king’. Her arrangement on that teased out fresh ideas. One particular version of that tune always sticks in my mind, the one from ‘The Joni Letters’ (with Shorter & Hancock). This version pleased me for its raw beauty and quiet intensity. The sound-clips posted here are ‘Moving mountains’ from the album and ‘A nest to fly’ from the live gig.
The title track ‘Yellow Red Blue’ is reflective and abstract. It is written in reaction to the Mark Rothko painting of the same name. I have recently been on a modernist painting viewing binge in Europe and America. The bold eerie magnetism of Rothko is still fixed in my mind’s eye, greatly refreshed after this homage. The title ‘Red Yellow Blue’ and the Rothko reference feels appropriate. Neither invite pigeon holing, both draw you deep into a borderless world.
Lowell-Smith is back in New Zealand to pursue a Doctorate in composition with John Psathas. Her albums are available from www.jasminelovellsmith.com
Towering Poppies: Jasmine Lovel-Smith (soprano, compositions, arrangements), Josh Sinton (bass clarinet), Cat Toren (piano), Adam Hopkins (bass), Kate Gentle (drums). A string quartet features on 3,5 & 7)
Towering Poppies live NZ: Jasmine Lovell-Smith (soprano), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Kevin Field (Rhodes, piano), Eamon Edmundson-Wells, Chris O’Connor (drums). March 15, 2017, CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Thirsty Dog, Auckland.
Callum Passells’ newest project was an exploration which took us to the outer edges of Bebop. The title ‘Flightless Birds’ a wordplay; a pebble tossed into the pond, suggesting many possibilities. The obvious Jazz reference is a comparison between flightless New Zealand birds and Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker – his musical descendants especially. A cohort that tried and often failed to catch his musical coattails. For a time after his death, alto saxophones were laid aside in favour of the tenor; only a brave few risked comparison with the troubled prodigy. As his legend grew he seemed unassailable. Attempts to demystify, to separate the legend from his musical legacy came later. In the post millennium era few such sensitivities remain. Parker is deeply admired for his genius, then deconstructed unselfconsciously. The gifted altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa immediately comes to mind.
As the Wednesday CJC gig progressed the flightless birds theme was teased out with self-deprecating humour and clever asides. If the aim was to challenge us to view Bebop in fresh ways, while stripping away some of the worshipful churchy reverence, then it succeeded. Passells is able to strike that rare balance between irreverence and devotion, and all the while delighting his audience. He makes the outlying and complex accessible and this is his gift. His music makes us think, it makes us laugh, but never at the expense of enjoyment.The two things that draw me to Passells are his tone and his communication of ideas. For a musician who leans toward the avant-garde he has a remarkably clean tone. This works well for him when he heads into uncharted choppy waters, cutting though the turbulent air incisively. There is obvious precedent for this in Albert Ayler (who strove to sound like Desmond or Konitz while tearing at the very fabric of harmony and form).
The quartet had no chordal instrument and adding one would have subtracted from, not enhanced the performance. Accompanying Passells were tenor player Ben Sinclair, Bassist Tom Dennison and drummer Adam Tobeck. As tempting as it is to compare this to the Marsh/Konitz quartets, or even the piano-less Mulligan quartets would be superficial. This project was firmly grounded in the Bebop tradition and interpreted in an honest Kiwi way. Sinclair was the ideal foil for Passells, also possessing a clean tone and delivering pleasing and inventive solos. The warm harmonies struck between the two horns and the bass were at times spine tingling – more bebop than cool and often bookended by edgy heart stopping unison lines. It’s been ages since I’ve seen Dennison on the bandstand and that was a treat in itself. He gets such a fat warm sound from his instrument and his time feel is great. This is the second week in a row that drummer Tobeck has played a CJC gig. He had different duties to perform on Wednesday and he obviously warmed to the challenge.The tunes were all ‘contrafacts’ and cleverly constructed. I am crap at working out the mother tunes – a job best suited to musicians fed a rich diet of standards’ changes. The pieces had titles like “The Punisher” (Sinclair), or ‘Buy a Car’ (Passells). The Punisher was written over the changes of ‘In a Mellow Tone’ (Ellington) and ‘Buy a Car’ over ‘Take the A Train’ (Strayhorn). After each tune the original was announced, then people got it immediately, cursing themselves for not getting the connection quicker. The tunes were close enough to hint at familiarity, but far enough away from the original to cause some head scratching. One tune needed no guesswork. “I’ve got it bad and so I’m obliged to notify all previous sexual partners” (Passells) – no prize for attributing that one.
My favourite contrafact of the night hands down, was ‘Parkers Dead'(Passells). This title was a double word play – referencing ‘Parkers Mood’ and the graffiti that arose in and around North American cities immediately after Bird’s death; ‘Bird Lives’. This tune was the purest Bebop, with a powerful unison line and hooks so strong they could snag a Great White. Because of a passing superficial similarity, I initially thought it to be based on Parkers ‘Bloomdido’ (my bad). As is always the case with Passells gigs, I came away musically satisfied and challenged to dive deeper into the music I thought I knew.
Flightless Birds: Callum Passells (alto saxophone, compositions), Ben Sinclair (tenor saxophone, compositions), Tom Dennison (upright bass, compositions), Adam Tobeck (drums). CJC (Creative Jazz Club) – Thirsty Dog, 08 March 2017