Passells/Howell/Deck

This trio has been around for a while, but the musicians are all active with a variety of other projects. They frequently appear as sidemen and they first teamed up during their Auckland University Jazz School years. Passells has been teaching, composing, appearing as an altoist (and a drummer), and adding his skills to some adventurous and diverse projects. Howell is a member of various bands, such as the Jazz Tui nominated Alchemy and the Jazz Tui Award winning GRG67 who launched their second album recently. It was reviewed on this site. Deck is a gifted and versatile drummer and his work as a member of the much lauded Indie Pop group The Beths is as noteworthy as his Jazz offerings.  He is also a member of GRG67.

 As a composer and a performer,  Passells takes a path less followed. He’s a melodicist and often appears in units where the arc is not reliant on chordal harmonies.  This moves the attention to melody, and most of all, it reveals his lovely tone. The alto is an unusual instrument in this regard, as its tonal qualities can alter markedly, depending on who plays it. Perhaps, because it is aligned so closely to the human voice? It has also been suggested that the airway of an alto player can exert a stronger influence than with other horns. While a tenor can also be individualised, it is more inclined to speak on its own terms. Passells alto voice is distinctive,

There was no bass with this unit and without such anchoring, the melody lines seemed to float unencumbered. When the alto was playing the guitar would either play unison lines, lay out or provide timely interjections. The reverse occurred when Howell played. The drums however, were a solid presence and provided continuity and momentum. As a result, the tunes felt conversational and at times, thoughtful. And the ears followed the musical dialogue easily, in spite of the elided grammar. Passells introduced the tunes as he usually does and his trade-mark humour was evident. He has an easy going banter, often self-deprecating, and laden with random references.

The band played in near darkness which provided atmosphere, but made filming a difficult proposition. By the second set, the lighting had improved slightly and I have posted a tune from that set. The tune I posted is interesting, as there are frequent unison lines played, with guitar and alto speaking as one. It is reminiscent of Marsh with Konitz, but the drums pull the music in a different direction. Out of that confluence come interesting tensions. This is ripe territory for a group of this configuration and the seasoned listeners picked up on the various references. 

Callum Passells (alto sax), Michael Howell (guitar), Tristan Deck (drums)

The gig took place at Anthology K’Road, for the CJC, Auckland 22 July, 2020

GRG67 ~ Happy Place

The first gig after lockdown restrictions brought a record audience to the Creative Jazz Club.  Now, a week later, with a second gig achieving similar results, it is obvious that the thirst for quality live-improvised music in Auckland has not been dented. And what better way to whet the appetite than with the 2019 Tui Award-winning band, Roger Manins  GRG67. This is a truly magnificent quartet and it occupies a special place in the lexicon of Kiwi improvised music. Sitting at the juncture between free and inside, and doing so with an ease that pleases everyone.

Roger Manins is a drawcard and the highest level of playing is always expected of him. His long years of playing on the bandstand, and often in challenging situations, has honed his craft to a fine point. To burnish his already impeccable credentials he has now added a Doctorate of the Musical Arts to his resumé. Most of the compositions and arrangements on the album are Manins, but as with the previous GRG67 album, there is also a tune by Mostyn Cole featured. 

The GRG67 album The Thing won a Jazz Tui, but the band has not rested on its laurels. Happy Place is not just more of the same. On this album, the writing and playing have taken on an additional edge. It explores form in many oblique ways and then roams into freer air. They sounded cohesive before, but now they sound even more so. There is new confidence to their playing and it is nowhere more evident than with guitarist Michael Howell. 

Howell has long shown such promise and it is pleasing to see it realised. He took obvious delight in sparring with Manins and his solos were masterful. Tristan Deck on drums likewise. His role here was to stretch the ensemble, to urge them on when the moment called for it. He achieved that while never losing sight of his interactive role. Deck has many irons in the fire, but I wish we saw him playing here more often. On electric bass was Mostyn Cole, a regular bass player at CJC gigs. He is reliable and experienced and one of an elite group of first-call bass players when an overseas artist is in town. In this band, he was liberated from that role and his obvious delight in the music shone through. 

I have posted a clip titled ‘Frizz’ which is deliciously melodic. Listen to more tracks on Rattle Bandcamp, and if you do, purchase a copy. The tight unison lines on MayWayDay will blow you away and the free-spirited Shoint 67 will groove you to your soul. 

There were no weak links in this chain. They wove in and around each other and fired off crazy lines over urging pulses, and from the safety of our chairs, those present swayed along. This was also our happy place. So this is where Jazz sits in 2020. Forward-looking, but bringing the old into bright fresh spaces, and doing so without contrivance.  

Roger Manins (tenor saxophone)

Michael Howell (guitar)

Mostyn Cole (electric bass)

Tristan Deck (drums)

https://rattle-records.bandcamp.com/album/happy-place

Leda’s Dream 2018 – Chelsea Prastiti

Prastiti (1)Chelsea Prastiti was not long back from Cyprus when her band Leda’s Dream appeared at the Backbeat Bar. Prastiti is well known in the Auckland improvised music scene and especially so at the avant-garde end of town. She’s a compelling vocalist and composer who approaches her craft as a free spirit, unfettered by others expectations. When she sings she dives deep and puts herself out there fearlessly but her risk-taking is not a mere academic exercise; it cuts to the very heart of what it means to be a thinking, feeling human. Her compositions are therefore always interesting and out of that a raw beauty and an honesty arise.  Prastiti (2)Although the ensemble played material that we have heard before, they sounded incredibly fresh – even different. Crystal Choi confined herself to accompanying vocals (no keys), Michael Howell stepped further into a measured chordal role and Callum Passells on alto and voice effects was the archetypal minimalist (saying a lot more with less). This felt very right and the re-configuration gave the ensemble a lot more freedom. They stretched out as the spirit took them and the first two tunes filled the entire first set. The voices, in particular, were liberated by the change and this gave wings to the melodic lines and mood. The harmonies were there in spades but that was not what drew you in. It was ‘mood’ and the pictures that those moods created.  PrastitiPrastiti’s is a brave path and I would expect no less from her. This is a musical space that is sparsely populated and more’s the pity. Think Sera Serpa (duos or trios), Think Norma Winstone (Azimuth 85) or perhaps the brilliant Nordic vocalist Sidsel Endresen (Endresen live with Jan Bang). In this ensemble, she has the musicians to give her the freedom she deserves. Passells, who is unafraid of soft trailing notes or of minimalism, Howell who can follow a vamp to eternity and make it sing, Choi who instinctively makes the right moves, and Eamon Edmundson-Wells and Tristen Deck who know when to lay out and when to add colour or texture. The music drew from free improvisation, standard Jazz and deep Folkloric wells. It did so without undue introspection. The band brought the audience along with them and the bouts of enthusiastic applause proved it. For some reason, and it was partly their attire, the gig felt like a postmodern version of a Pre-Raphaelite tableau. Oh yes indeed, that always works for me.

Leda’s Dream: Chelsea Prastiti (vocals, compositions), Crystal Choi (vocals), Michael Howell (guitar), Callum Passells (alto sax, sound effects), Eamon Edmundson-Wells (upright bass), Tristan Deck (drums), Backbeat Bar, 8 August 2018

Martin Kay & ‘Forage’

Kay (3)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).Kay (2) 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

 

Leda’s Dream

Chelsea‘Leda’s Dream’ has been around for some time, but this is the ensemble’s first appearance at the CJC. When vocalist Chelsea Prastiti first conceived of the project, she saw it as a vehicle for unfettered collective improvisation. Her writing cleverly expands on that concept, encompassing real places, the past, abstract ideas, and opening the listener to endless possibility. There is a structure to her vision, but to grasp it you must let go of what you think you know. The pieces are mirage-like; if you look too closely they will disappear.  As you listen, fragments of the familiar appear, then dissolve. These are seamless journeys; cleverly fusing reality with dreamscapes. Leda’s Dream is to be experienced and enjoyed, not pigeonholed.Chelsea (1)

This is avant-garde music, perhaps the bravest we have heard at the CJC this year. The traditional Jazz references were there, but the freedom to expand or contract themes characterised the tunes. During ‘Faster down ice’ I heard echoes of Mingus; driving, pulsating rhythms over which freedom was explored. Tristan Deck and Eamon Edmundson-Wells at the heart of this pulse (on drums and bass respectively). With a human voice in the mix, the ideas became multi-dimensional. The human voice is the oldest of instruments and when it moves beyond words, the forms which anchor it – a rawer emotion is exposed. Sometimes it is pretty or melodic, at other times a primal scream. Listening to this music is to experience sound on its own terms.Chelsea (5)Prastiti’s ‘Time Lapse Photography’ was filmic. Revealing the essence of unfolding plants – magical realism – biology expressed as music. In a similar vein was her piece,’Rain Flood’. As she sang, you experienced the droplets of water – falling slowly at first, then faster until they became a deluge. Communicating in this way is a gift few possess, the images seeming to emerge from nature or from experience, not from the musical form. I immediately thought of my favourite Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray and his mystical Monsoon scene from ‘Pather Panchali’. The effect created by Ray there, also swept us to the heart of a poignant interaction between man & nature (musically assisted in that case by Ravi Shankar and Mingus alumni Charlie Mariano).Chelsea (3)The Leda’s Dream ensemble are alumni from the UoA Jazz School. A lot of talent emerged during the years they attended and during this particular gig it coalesced. It was a pleasant surprise to see Crystal Choi playing this innovative abstract music. Choi is a musician who is fast evolving and growing in interesting ways. At Jazz school she stayed closer to traditional forms, or those referencing the folk infused ECM albums. Later I saw her giving a concert on solo piano, Jarrett like in its scope and quite wonderful. On Wednesday she embraced freedom. She was innovative, interactive and confident.

Callum Passells was the lead-horn on alto saxophone. Beside him in the front line for part of the gig was Liz Stokes on trumpet.  Passells is especially comfortable in this space. Playing sparingly and never playing a note for the sake of it, each note meaning something. Michael Howel came on stage for the second set as the full Leda’s Dream experience emerged. First as a quintet then sextet and finally as a septet.

Leda’s Dream: Chelsea Prsatiti (voice, compositions), Chrystal Choi (piano, voice), Callum Passells (alto saxophone, voice), Liz Stokes (trumpet), Michael Howell (guitar), Eamon Edmudson-Wells (upright bass), Tristan Deck (drums), 16th May 2017, CJC Creative Jazz Club, Thirsty Dog, K’Rd Auckland.

Marc Osterer (NY/Austria)

Marc Osterer 254Improvised 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.Marc Osterer 256 (1)

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.Marc Osterer 255We 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. Marc Osterer 255These 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 Marc Osterer 254 (1)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.

 

GRG67 cries ‘fowl’

GRG67 127.jpgAgainst a background of complacency in regard to the ever declining biodiversity on the planet, one band is determined to raise our awareness. Those who have encountered the quartet on prior occasions will know the back story, connect the dots. GRG67 arose out of an impulse of crustacean empathy, an emotion usually confined to marine biologists and not Jazz musicians. However, once you grasp the fact that the band’s founder is Roger Manins, the rest falls into place. A sustainable fisher and co-manager of a small menagerie, Manins could best be described as the David Attenborough of the tenor saxophone. His world is strewn with animals and that’s the way he prefers it.GRG67 131.jpg

GRG67 the band, was inspired by a sea crab named Greg (as there are evidently  no vowels in the crab language, the name was rendered as GRG – but still pronounced Greg by etymological purists). At the bands inception the improvisational possibilities of the crustacean kingdom were examined, then the net was widened. Wednesday nights gig set sail for chook territory, relentlessly braving the ‘fowl’ winds of the wild west coast. With one or two exceptions, chooks (Gallus gallus domesticus) were eulogised in composition. They were plucked at by Michael Howell and Mostyn Cole, given a thunderous improvisational makeover by Tristan Deck and vocalised in all their glory by Manins.GRG67 128.jpgEach tune title was accompanied by a personal story or zoological insight; each bird was treated with deep respect. With titles like ‘chook empathy’, ‘chook 40’, ‘ginger chook’, ‘dark chook sin’ we were afforded some rare insights into the avian world. ‘Chook 40’ was not about the 40th chook as you might suppose. It opened our eyes to the fact that chooks have one more chromosome than humans. During that particular tune you could really sense that extra chromosome. ‘Dark chook sin’ was an invitation to anthropomorphism. What would a chook sin look like? Manins felt that Mallard ducks were more likely to sin than a chook (anyone living near ducks who has a deck will have a view on this).GRG67 129.jpg The quartet played with wild enthusiasm in both sets and the good humour of the evening was infectious. Given the subject matter it was only fitting that the gig took place at the Thirsty Dog (dogs are also a recurring theme with Manins). The venue was congenial and the acoustics good. What more could you want on the last night of Spring. This band is a rallying cry, reminding us that in this troubled world we shouldn’t take the good things for granted. At a time when we are buffeted by the ill winds of international politics, the arts matter more than ever. New Zealand Jazz rewards us in so many ways and the diversity of improvised music in our city is a treasure. You get good musicianship and fun combined – and if you’re lucky a musical insight into the natural world around us.GRG67 133.jpg I have posted the bands signature tune GRG67 as it simply crackled (cackled) with life (and it broke a previous speed record). These guys are fine musicians and GRG67 was never better than on this night. These guys sizzle.

GRG67: Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Michael Howell (guitar), Mostyn Cole (electric bass), Tristan Deck (drums). Playing at the Thirsty Dog, CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Auckland November 30th 2016.

Sam Weeks & Sean Martin-Buss @ CJC

Sam & Sean 094This year has seen a lot of international acts through the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), compelling musicians with interesting stories to tell and often with serious gig miles under their belt. As exciting as it is to see the high-end performers of the scene, it is just as important to recognise and evaluate those who might one day take their place. Not all will last the course, but the persistent and the passionate can make that journey. Standing in front of a discerning club audience tests young musicians in ways not easily replicated. Unlike the Jazz School environment, the musicians technical prowess is subservient to the authenticity they bring to the bandstand. Fluffing a line is more likely forgiven than delivering a technically perfect but lifeless performance. Sam Weeks and Sean Martin-Buss tested themselves and came through the fire relatively unscathed.Sam & Sean 095The gig was part of the emerging artists series and the musicians first time at the CJC as leaders. Both have previously played as sidemen at the club, but standing anonymously in a horn line is a different thing entirely. I am happy to give this gig the thumbs up as they performed well. It took the first few numbers for them to warm up properly, but warm up they did. The rest of the first set and the one after that delivered crackling performances. All of the material was their own and their writing skills were favourably displayed (especially those of Weeks). A piece titled ‘Missing Together’ by Weeks was a gem – opening with some tricky unison lines, followed by a few bars of counterpoint. They made it sound easy, but clearly, many of these compositions were not. The act of embracing the difficult is how a musician grows. I am glad they took some risks, as Jazz functions best in the absence of complacency.Sam & Sean 093Sean Martin-Buss was on alto saxophone with Sam Weeks on tenor saxophone. Each gave the other ample room and the contrast between the horns was therefore amplified. They also differed stylistically and this gave an added piquancy to the gig. They made good use of interactive Banter, musician to audience and to each other. Off the wall comments came out of nowhere, and the audience included in the joke. The humour was not in the lines but in the offhand delivery. A very Kiwi type of onstage banter – self-effacing, mumblingly casual.Sam & Sean 098Emerging musicians are often tempted to rely heavily on musicians from their own graduate class. There is nothing wrong with that per se, but the first question is always, which musicians will serve the gig best? Again the co-leaders made good choices in Tristan Deck (drums) and Eamon Edmundson-Wells (upright bass). The remaining band member was Crystal Choi on piano. Deck and Edmundson-Wells perform in public regularly and both have earned considerable respect. They personify good musical taste. They have talent and better yet, they work extraordinarily well together. It was this combination that tightened up the performance – real assets. Choi was extremely interesting on this gig. I have sometimes noticed a tiny hesitancy in her delivery. On this night, her performance exuded confidence and several of her solos were stunning. The enthusiastic audience responded throughout the night.Sam & Sean 103Although the leaders possess perfect vision and are clearly not Venetian, the project was ‘The Blind Venetians’. This was also the name of the final number of the last set; a roistering finale bringing down the cantilevered shutters at gigs end.

The Blind Venetians: Sam Weeks (tenor saxophone, compositions), Sean Martin-Buss (alto saxophone, compositions), Crystal Choi (piano), Eamon Edmundson-Wells (upright bass), Tristan Deck (drums). Performed at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, Auckland, New Zealand, 04 May 2016

 

‘Grg67’ & Manins Crustacean Empathy

Grg67 (9)There are a lot of interesting stories on the Jazz circuit and some of them more improbable than others. None more so than a gig dedicated to the Manukau Harbour mud crab Grg67 (Varunidae:Helice). This ten legged estuarine creature has inspired Roger Manins to name a band after him and to compose a significant number of tunesGrg67 (15) in his honour. I could say that environmental activism fuelled the gig (and in part it was), but the affection and respect Manins exhibits towards these crustaceans is more complex than that. It is the respect of a dedicated Flounder fisherman; coloured by the quirkiness of an improvising musician. To quote: “When we play these compositions there are sharp claws and a soft underbelly; at times we can move unpredictably sideways at great speed”.  Manins demonstrated this to great effect as he swiftly shuffled in alternate directions. You couldn’t make this stuff up. As the gig unfolded he delighted the audience with his antics and with the subsequent ‘crab’ influenced compositions.Grg67 (14) Underneath the crusty carapace were a bunch of good tunes and as Manins inferred, they were tangentially tricky and replete with interesting musical twists. Good improvisers are always on the look out for new challenges, new ways to interpret the world about them. In putting together ‘Grg67’ a fresh vehicle for improvisation is born. By bringing in several less experienced musicians Manins has fulfilled an older imperative. To challenge and encourage those beginning the improvising journey. This is how it should work, but many older musicians forget that and remain in their comfort zones. Everyone stepped up here under Manins watchful eye.Grg67 (7)The crab which is the central focus of these sets is Greg, but as Manins so eloquently explains “Crabs don’t use the letter ‘E’. It something to do with their waste not want not utilitarianism”. Other tunes had titles like ‘Crab Empathy’. These tunes and the stories that surrounded them evoked powerful mental images. As the music washed over us you could sense the ebb and flow of the tides. You could easily imagine a predatory Flounder sending the ever watchful crabs scuttling into their burrows (Flounder are none too bright according to net fisherman).Grg67 (6)Michael Howell and Tristan Deck are the youngest members of the ensemble. Howell is a Jazz student and with each month his guitar work grows more impressive. As his confidence grows he stretches himself and playing with Manins is exactly what he needs. He is ready for the deep end of the crab pool. On this gig he played a borrowed Fender and it sat well with him. That Tristan Deck played so well did not surprise me at all; his career trajectory assured as he increasingly takes his place among the better Jazz drummers of the city. He was good when I saw him two years ago; now he is very good. For the second time this month Mostyn Cole appears at the CJC. This time he held the groove with electric bass. He is reliable and multi faceted. Again Manins showed how seamlessly he slots into very different situations. He presented a complex set of tunes to good effect, navigating break-neck tempos and fusing complexities with an inexhaustible supply of good humour.

Estuarine crabs like Grg67 are highly skilled marine engineers. Purifying and oxygenating their environment in innovative ways. They are unafraid to identify as gender non specific. If you see one amongst the Mangroves, spare a thought for it (or its 80 Kiwi cousins). They are a hard-working cog in the indigenous ecosystem and as deserving of a Jazz quartet as any animal. The crab you see might even be ‘Grg67’ or one of his offspring, so say hi while you’re at it.

The Clip is ‘Bennetts Radio Blues’ (Manins).

Grg67 : Roger Manins (leader, compositions, tenor sax), Michael Howell (Fender guitar), Mostyn Cole (electric bass), Tristan Deck (drums)

CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 1885 Britomart, Auckland 29th July 2015

 

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Crystal Choi ‘Skogkatt’ @ CJC

Crystal Choi Skogkatt 098I looked forward to the ‘Skogkatt’ gig because Crystal Choi is a young musician with plenty of interesting ideas. She recently graduated from the UoA Jazz school and this project is largely drawn from her output as a student. Her arrangements and musical ideas show an evolving musician and her performance skills speak of energy and a growing confidence. When you speak to her there is a hint of shyness, but this evaporates the minute her hands touch the keyboard. At the piano her touch is decisive and the thinking behind the pieces is strongly communicated. She has grasped an important truth, how to play with space. One minute she is playing boldly with both hands raining down on the keys, the next dropping back to a gentle whisper or laying out. Her choice of project was a brave one as it tackled areas well beyond the usual Jazz orbit. Writing for strings and an unusually configured horn section an indicator of where she could be headed.Crystal Choi Skogkatt 101Her compositions and charts were of particular interest as they evoked more of a Northern European, or South American ethos than a North American one. While all Jazz arises from American roots, there are other forces at work in a globalised jazz world. As musicians from different ethnic backgrounds embrace improvised music something fresh is added. It is right that New Zealanders, Northern Europeans or people from other regions bring something of their own life experiences to the music. Jazz from the outer rim is particularly interesting at present.Crystal Choi Skogkatt 090There were solo, trio, sextet, septet and tenet pieces. Her writing for the ten piece band was notable. Although an uncommon configuration of instruments these oddly configured, medium-sized ensembles have been a feature in modern classical music since Saint-Saens ‘Carnival of the Animals’ (that was an eleven piece). In Jazz since the late 40’s. Having a front line with two violins and cello alongside trumpet/flugel, bass-clarinet, clarinet and flute/alto saxophone worked well. The unusual textures gave depth and interest to the composition. The slightly tart voicings of the Bartok like string section contrasting nicely with the woody richness of the woodwind horns. These sort of excursions are not embarked upon lightly but I feel Choi pulled it off. My only quibble, and it is a small one is that the ensemble needed to tighten up somewhat in places.Crystal Choi Skogkatt 087Another side of Choi is her singing. While certainly not a big voice it has charm and originality. Like many improvisers she sings while digging into a solo. These are wordless songs of the sort that you would hear on a Norma Winstone album. At times there is a Debussy feel to her solo and trio compositions.Crystal Choi Skogkatt 096This project while far-ranging begs developing further and perhaps recorded at some future point. It had a Kiwi ECM feel to it. I hope that she works with the material and refines it further. It is well worth doing.  Note: The Skogkatt is native to the forests of Scandinavia and the original Maine Coon cat.Crystal Choi Skogkatt 094

Crystal Choi – ‘Skogkatt Project‘ : Crystal Choi (piano, compositions, arrangements), Eamon Edmunsen-Wells (bass), Tristen Deck (drums), J Y Lee (alto sax & flute), Eizabeth Stokes (trumpet & flugel), Asher Truppman Lattie (clarinet, tenor saxophone), Sean Martin-Buss (Bass clarinet & tenor sax), Charmian Keay (violin), Milena Parobczy (violin), Yotam Levy (cello).

CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland 24th June 2015

Michael Howell & Kenji Holdaway @ CJC

Howell Holdaway 075 This was ’emerging artists’ night and you wouldn’t have thought so. The club had packed to capacity and the performances were far beyond what you’d expect from students. The artists approached their sets differently, but the end results were equally satisfying. Both study at the Auckland University Jazz School and if that institution is turning out students of this quality it certainly reflects well on the faculty. Howell Holdaway 077Michael Howell is from West Auckland and for some reason a number of excellent guitarists emerge from that quadrant. Growing up in the Waitakere ranges seems to have gifted his playing with an expansiveness and it is not hard to imagine big vistas and tree-clad hills during his ballad numbers. Howells set opened with a ballad and edged into the faster tempos later. His thoughtful opening took us deep inside the music and this was a good way to start a set. As well as his own tunes he featured compositions by Ben Monder, Sam Rivers and John Scofield. When a guitar trio doesn’t use an organ or piano there is more space to work in. This was well utilised by Howell although he is also adept in larger group situations. I heard him a few days later when he sat in with a number of very experienced musicians and he stepped into that space effortlessly. There were two numbers with piano and fellow student Crystal Choi sat in for these (also adding a vocal line). The other musicians were Eamon Edmundson-Wells on Bass (who also played bass in the second set) and Tristan Deck on drums. These former UoA students have already made their mark on the scene.  Howell Holdaway 081Kenji Holdaway led the second set and his approach was quite different. Most of the tunes he chose favoured collective improvisation and they draw upon diverse genres. His bandstand presence and the way he approached tunes oozed confidence. He had also chosen some former UoA students to accompany him and his choice was right on the money. J Y Lee is a gifted alto player and he can work the spectrum from avant-garde through to the lyrical ballads that give sentiment a good name. His musicality shone through during this gig and he just gets better and better. On Rhodes and piano was Conner Mcaneny and he often pushed the group into a freewheeling fusion space. Once again It impressed me how well his playing served the music as it was far from formulaic. When the others were playing his comping chords acted as clever punctuation; urging them to reach further and deeper. Another surprise was Tom Legget on drums and perhaps I have not been paying proper attention. I recall him sitting in during the CJC Jam Sessions of 2012.  Now he is a fully formed drummer. His contributions tasteful and decisive. Eamon Edmundson-Wells was on bass once again and he showed what a tasteful player he is.  While the band was good it was Holdaway who dominated. It was not that he injected himself into others solos for he would regularly lay out respectfully. It was his impressive command of the guitar, that and the sense that he was really across this gig. Howell Holdaway 078

Asher Truppman Lattie / J Y Lee emerging artist series

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Thirty years ago Jazz students kept close to the safer standards for a first time club gig.  Post millennium Students reference a variety of genres; even during a single number.  That may sound like a recipe for disaster and if handled ineptly it would be.  What I heard on this gig was at times clever and perhaps even cheeky.  It bodes well for the adventures ahead.  It is important that Jazz retains a sense of adventure and joy.  There is certainly room for serious explorations, but music that takes itself too seriously is a downer.

The programming of CJC gigs ensures that a variety of acts.  This is a particular strength.  I have remarked upon this before and it is this practice that enables the Jazz club to hold ’emerging artists’ gigs every so often.   It is far from being a weak commercial proposition as these nights usually draw significant crowds.  Everyone who follows this music knows that artists don’t emerge from their studies fully formed.  They develop incrementally; as they practice, play beside better musicians and as they perform in front of discriminating audiences.  Having a project in hand like the ’emerging artists’ series is an important step.  There are a number of Jazz schools in New Zealand (and some very good teachers in the private sector).  It is therefore important that we evaluate the students.  So far the quality of emerging artists has been impressive.  IMG_1957 - Version 2

There was a double billing on the 6th August.  First up was the Asher Tuppman Lattie quintet, followed by the J Y Lee Sextet.  Following tradition the band members were all fellow students or recently graduated students and the reasoning behind this practice is sound.  If they appeared with well established and highly competent musicians, a lingering doubt could remain.  Would they have sounded as good without the latter?  Choosing from fellow students gives context and synergy.  Everyone needs to step up in unison.   IMG_1953 - Version 2

I have posted a number titled ‘Tango’ which provides a context for my initial comments.  At first it appears to be traditional Jazz Tango fare as it briefly utilises the raspy sounds made famous by Gato Barbieri.  Then you get a sense of fun, as it playfully takes the genre apart.  We get bebop and the merest hint of free in what follows.   The vaudevillian feel of the piece worked well.  It is similar to the sounds I heard during my explorations of Italian Jazz, a country where the blurring of Jazz, folk and free is often elevated to high art.  Jazz Tango is something that I love and I’m not sure Kiwi’s get this.  Listen to Gerry Mulligan with Aster Piazzolla or Gary Burton or even Carla Bley and you will find Tango gold.  The Jazz Tango master who appeared to acclaim at the recent Wellington Jazz Festival was probably ignored by most Jazz fans.  Their loss.  The pianist Connor McAneny  played the first set.  He is an imposing presence; not because he is dominant, but because his assuredness when comping and his tasteful solos grow ever more confident.

Second up was J Y Lee, a young alto player who is often seen around town.   He is heard in many lineups and his taste for the avant garde has added a piquancy to his sound.  His played a  varied set, giving him the ability to demonstrate a range of his writing and playing skills.   Utilising Chelsea Prastiti on vocal lines was a masterstroke as the colour she adds to an ensemble is unique.   As in the Asher Tuppman Lattie set the second horn player was Sam Weeks.   Sam had played Alto in first set but took up tenor duties for the second set with J Y Lee.  I have put up a piece which shows Weeks and Lee playing together.   The arranged head is tight and melodic and as the piece opens out, everyone is given a chance to stretch a little.  IMG_1950 - Version 2

The pianist for the second set was Chrystal Choi.  She is a gifted pianist and it is a real shame that we don’t see her more often.  In spite of having well-developed chops she never over-plays.  Every note counts and she is definitely one to watch.   Bass player Djordje Nikolic and drummer Tristan Deck played both sets.   I have only heard Nikolic a few times but he acquitted himself well.   Tristan Deck is increasingly seen about town and it is no wonder that he is employed more often.  His time feel and confidence mark him out.

There was a good attendance for the gig and judging by the whoops and cheers everyone enjoyed it.

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club)  www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

Chelsea Prastiti 2014

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Chelsea Prastiti could be said to represent an intergenerational change in the direction Jazz Vocals are headed.  I have watched her grow in confidence since her time at the Auckland University Jazz School and she is always ready to try brave new experiments.   Because her default is the use of wordless vocal lines, she has better been able to explore the relationship between voice and the other instruments.   This integrated approach is possible for two main reasons.  Her keen awareness of what is happening around her and above all her compositional skills.

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Chelsea Prastiti is writing good material.  At times it feels brave and edgy, but it is always interesting.  Perhaps another factor is the musical familiarity with her band mates.   Her bands generally feature Matt Steele (piano), Callum Passells (alto saxophone), Liz Stokes (trumpet), Eamon Edmunson-Wells (bass) and Tristam deck (drums).   Because they were students together and because she has played with them often, I have gained the impression that she may even write material with them in mind.   One of her best recent performances was as guest artist on Callum Passells last CJC gig.   These two always work well together, but hearing them moving in lockstep as they traversed standards and amazingly innovative free numbers was a joy.

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There were a few newer compositions and some re-arranged takes on earlier compositions.  Everything in the sets was composed by Prastiti.   I like ‘Bells’ which begins with a simple peal of bells, but quickly evolves into an altogether more complex piece.  Steele was standout on this, never over-playing but making every note count.   His comping was at times minimalist but he conveyed a certain strength.  The rhythmic feel that he laid down was further enhanced by Deck and Edmunson-Wells.   This allowed Passells and Prastiti to explore the tune in a methodical manner.  Steles solo is worth a particular mention on ‘Bells’, as it underscores his growing maturity as a pianist.

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Prastiti is involved in a number of local projects including an ethnically influenced a capella group.  It is however her ability to edge toward the avant-garde that always interests me the most.

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What: Chelsea Prastiti (vocals, compositions), Matt Steele (piano), Cameron Passells (alto saxophone), Eamon Edmuson-Wells (bass), Tristan Deck (drums) – Guests; Liz Stokes (trumpet),   Cristal Choi (vocals)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885, Auckland, New Zealand.  9th July 2014. http://www.creativejazzclub.co.nz

 

Emerging Artists Matt Bray & Crystal Choi

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It’s an institution that the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) dedicates a handful of gig nights to emerging-artists.  This is often the musicians first public performance.  Performing in a club is a step up for any emerging artist, as audience expectations must be confronted.  In a Jazz club they’re expected to entertain; communicate something special.  It is not an exercise in ticking the ‘must demonstrate chops’ box.  Audiences have to like what you’re doing, rather than thinking how clever.

The sets attracted good crowds and that is important.  Supporting this music starts by supporting its emerging artists.

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The first set up was Matt Bray’s, who varied his pieces to reflect his many influences.   There were standards, original compositions and even a ‘Radiohead’ number.  Matt plays guitar and he has been keen explore the tonal and voicing possibilities of that instrument.  We saw him on the bandstand only the week before, as he plays in the AJO (Auckland Jazz Orchestra).  With the AJO he had tackled complex Cuban melodies and rhythms.  On this gig he was free to explore a wider vista; looking to modern guitarists like Kurt Rosenwinkel whose influence was evident.  He had chosen his band mates well and especially with the experienced and multi faceted drummer Cameron Sangster.  Cameron is the resident drummer with the AJO, but he is also featured to advantage in several well-known local bands.

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Conner McAneny was on piano (+keys) and he’s already performed several gigs at the CJC.  He’s a reliable performer and well able to keep out-of-the-way of the guitar, while shining in solo spots.   The last band member was Eamon Edmundson-Wells who recently graduated from the Auckland University Jazz School.   He was in both sets and is unfailingly impressive.   At the rate he is going he will soon be chasing Cameron McArthur and the fact that he is stepping into the gig slots normally taken up by Cameron (who is playing in the Chicago Musical pit band) tells its own story.

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The second set was Crystal Choi’s and it puzzled me that I had not met her until recently.   Crystal is a very fine pianist and she oozed confidence and style (she started her studies as a classical pianist but wanted more freedom to explore music).   She has emerged from the Auckland University Jazz school as a well formed and supremely confident pianist and to hear her perform it was hard to get my head around the fact that it was her first club performance.  I tracked her down later and put a few questions to her.   What year was she? (A third year graduate); had she performed with this trio/quintet outside of the Jazz School? (No).  She said that she had not felt ready before, but now she did.   Well she certainly showed us ‘ready’ that night.   The audience went wild after her set and kept yelling for an encore.  A superb first outing by any measure.

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The first number up was Bud Powell’s ‘Un Poco Loco’ and she skilfully moulded it to to her purpose.  This was a burner with plenty of flash, but a lot of soul besides.  I wondered if her handling of a ballad would be as assured, because ballads can reveal weaknesses quicker than any fast paced number.  I soon found out that ballads were no obstacle either and in addition her own compositions took interesting directions.   Her quintet was Peter Ruddell (tenor saxophone), Michael Howell (guitar), Eamon Edmundson-Wells (bass) and Tristan Deck (drums).

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The charts were textured and interesting; often augmented by Crystal singing unison lines.  I have chosen a clip of Crystals rendering of the standard, ‘In Your Own Sweet Way’ (Dave Brubeck).   I was impressed by this as it was slightly reharmonised and the implied notes spoke as clearly as the notes played.  When a musician knows what to leave out and what not to, they are well on the way.

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Michael Howell certainly caught my attention, as his clean soaring lines told me that he was a modernist but with a good sense of history.   Tristan Deck I have heard before and so I was not surprised to see how seamlessly he handled the changes in mood and texture.  A good drummer to have on board.   The remaining band member was Peter Ruddell on Tenor saxophone.   He only played briefly but he had a lovely tone and his lines were clean and imaginative.  This band played well together.   They we’re tight, but they never once strangled the music.

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I look forward to hearing Matt Bray and Crystal Choi as they develop further.

What & Where: Emerging Artists gig @ CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 1885 Britomart, Auckland 13th November 2013

Who first set: Matt Bray (leader, guitar), Connor McAneny (piano, keys), Eamon Edmundson-Wells (bass), Cameron Sangster (drums)

Who second set: Crystal Choi (leader, piano), Peter Ruddell (tenor saxophone), Michael Howell (guitar), Eamon Edmundson-Wells (bass), Tristan deck (drums).

Chelsea Prastiti band @ CJC

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Chelsea has only just graduated from the Auckland University Jazz School but she is already somewhat of a veteran performer about town.  I often spot her name in gig notifications and I have seen her in the role of leader at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) at least three times.   Chelsea is popular, original and able to assemble good lineups.

I have avoided using the correct descriptor for her most recent band after Chelsea ran into an unexpected problem with the name. The band is actually called the Chelsea Prastiti sextet, but Facebook abbreviated it to read; Chelsea Prastiti Sex…….   As she later bantered with the audience, “If your here for that go home”.  There is a sense of easy-going effervescence that permeates all Chelsea’s gigs and audiences quickly warm to her.  It is a credit to her that this is so, because her specialty is wordless singing (or a mix of wordless singing and lyrics).   Thus following in the not so well-worn path of Eddie Jefferson, Norma Winstone and others.  This adventurous exploration of vocal sounds is not all that she does, but it is a hallmark of her repertoire.

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Her style of singing moves the focus to the timbre of the human voice.  Using it as another instrument, adding colour, tight unison lines and performing solos much like a guitar or horn would do.   Like other young singers Chelsea often includes numbers from the likes of Sera Serpa, Gretchen Parlato or Esperanza Spalding.   At this last gig those influences were felt in different way, more as reference points.  Most of the material (if not all of it) was Chelsea’s own.  Her composition skills are developing fast as she reveals her own musical stories.  Modern in sound, touching on the history of Jazz singing, but above all communicating the intensely personal.

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As with previous gigs she has drawn upon musicians from her own generation.  Friends from the Auckland University Jazz School and especially those she had been most closely associated with.  Matt Steele (piano),  Callum Passells (alto), Liz Stokes (trumpet & flugal), Eamon Edmunson-Wells (bass).  Newer to the line up was drummer Tristan Deck – this was his first appearance at the CJC and on the basis of his performance this night I’m sure we will see him more often.  Liz Stokes, Matt Steele and Callum Passells were all in good form, each delivering some great audience pleasing solos.  It was also good to see Eamon Edmunson-Wells, who is a bass player we don’t see often enough.  As friends they feed off each others energies and the familiarity works well for them.  The ultimate test will come when they plunge in at the deep end beside highly experienced ultra challenging musicians.

It was particularly nice to hear Chelsea’s composition ‘Bells’ performed once again.   The interwoven melodic lines and the lovely harmonies are deeply compelling.  I like her compositions and the CJC crowd certainly shared that view.

What: Chelsea Prastiti sextet

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 5th June 2013

Who: Chelsea Prastiti (vocals) (leader) (compositions), Matt Steele (piano), Eamon Edmunson-Wells (bass), Tristan Deck (drums), Elizabeth Stokes (trumpet), Callum Passells (alto saxophone).