CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Straight ahead, vocal

Trudy Lile @ CJC 2014

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Trudy Lile is always in demand whether it’s cruise liner gigs, winery gigs or bar and club gigs.  Last night she was at the CJC with Kevin Field on piano, Cameron McArthur on bass and Ron Samsom drums.   This particular quartet is a regular lineup for Lile and it is hardly surprising.  Musicians like this are a gift to a leader, as each of them has pulling power, but they operate as a high functioning unit when together.   Lile is also an energetic and engaging performer and the enthusiasm she radiates is always evident in her music.

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As a singer/flutist Lile often favours standards or latin material, as these suit voice and flute so well.   She still surprises though with appealing lessor known tunes or sometimes popular tunes which lend themselves to wider explorations under her coaxing.  She is keen on finding new standards from the latter and we often hear material from sources not usually tapped by improvising musicians.   This use of popular material is becoming more commonplace and another recent example of this was Benny Lackner opening with a number from the latest Bowie album.   Lile also brought some interesting new compositions to the gig.    IMG_3140 - Version 2

The clubs audience numbers could have been better during the last month, perhaps they were saving for the festival,  but Lile being a true professional worked the room and fed off the interaction.   She has an abundance of charm, humorous banter and above all musicality.   The band responded to her lead with enthusiasm, amping up their performances to match hers.   Kevin Field is the sort of pianist who understands the accompanists role, comping sparingly at times and launching into heart stopping solos at others with McArthur and Samsom responding to each nuance.   I have posted a clip from the gig which is a favourite of Lile’s.  An Eliane Alias number titled ‘An Up Dawn’ from the album ‘The Three Americas’.

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Footnote: My ability to comprehend the softly spoken human voice with any accuracy has declined in recent years; probably due to the endless procession of loud gigs in intimate spaces that I attend.   What I heard Lile announce was a tune called “An Up Storm’ and so I labeled the You Tube clip accordingly.  When I saw Lile a few days later she laughingly told me what the actual title was.  Unfortunately I misheard that as well, as ‘An Up Swarm’.  The clip now correctly refers to ‘An Up Dawn’, but I do like my rogue re-titling.   Perhaps Trudy Lile could reharm the tune, utilising my imaginative and thought-provoking title(s)?  I am sure Eliane wouldn’t mind.  There is more than a hint of Chaos Theory in what I had originally settled on;  An up swarm of bees in Brazil causing a storm in Auckland.

Who: Trudy Lile (leader, flute, vocals), Kevin Field (piano), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samsom (drums)

Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Britomart 1885 basement, Auckland New Zealand 15th October 2014

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Post Bop, Straight ahead, vocal

Trudy Lile Quartet @ CJC

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Trudy Lile has unerring radar when it comes to locating tunes from the lessor known jazz lexicon.  Tunes that she skilfully transforms into glowing vibrant flute friendly arrangements. Her choice of ‘Steppin Out’ is a good example.  Kurt Elling recently sung this wonderful (but difficult) Joe Jackson tune on his ‘At The Gate’ album.  Not only was it a great choice and well executed but her new lineup rose to the occasion; giving her all the support she needed and more.

Trudy Lile last performed at the CJC about 8 months ago and she had a different line-up then.  Last Wednesday she had assembled a particularly solid rhythm section in Alan Brown (piano), Cameron McArthur (bass) and Ron Samsom (drums).  Trudy is often adventurous in her choice of material, mixing reworked standards, originals and virtually unknown tunes scavenged from interesting nooks and crannies.  On Wednesday she held to this course and it paid off.  IMG_8013 - Version 2

Among the other numbers performed was a beautiful rendition of ‘Niama’ (Coltrane), ‘Flute Salad’ (Lile) – I love this tune with its swinging happy vibe and another Lile original ‘Domestic Bliss’.   Trudy explained that this number was somewhat tongue in cheek, as her own experiences of domestic bliss at times resembled the TV character Miranda’s.

Trudy Lile is well-known about New Zealand as a gifted flutist.   While the flute is her prime instrument she also demonstrates impressive vocal skills.  We saw both on Wednesday.  I have always sensed a pied-piper quality to her work and as she dances and sways during the flute solos it is impossible not to be captivated.  Dedicated Jazz-flute players have been rare over the years and some critics have been disparaging about the lack of expression in that horn.   If they listened to Trudy they would shut up, sit down and recant.   In her hands the flute has all of the expression you could ever want

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I must zero in on Alan Brown here as he was just superb.  OK, Alan always puts on a great performance but this facet of his playing is not seen as often.  Alan is rightly famous for his soul infused Jazz funk.  He was a power house of inventiveness on Wednesday,but more importantly he established beyond a shred of doubt that he is a stellar straight-ahead Jazz pianist.   His playing is always strongly rhythmic and that is what we expect from Alan, but to see him as an accompanist in this context was revealing.  Anyone hearing a Kurt Elling number such as ‘Steppin out’, notices his arranger and pianist Laurence Hobgood.   Hobgood is a dedicated accompanist of the highest order.   Alan communicated a special quality also.  He supported vocals (and flute) in the way Hobgood does and it was pure gold.  After seeing him in this context I would really like to hear him do a piano trio gig sometime, complete with a few straight-ahead standards.

Cameron McArthur has become the first choice bass player for Auckland gigs and every time he appears (which is often) he impresses afresh.   He is gaining a substantial group of supporters about town and his solos always elicit enthusiastic calls and strong applause.

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Ron Samsom is quite simply the best there is on traps and his tasteful underpinning of any band is inspiring.  On this gig he alternated between quieter brush or mallets work and power house grooves which lifted the others to greater heights.   Sometimes when I hear Ron’s drumming I can discern a pulse that goes way beyond the room.  Perhaps it is the pulse of the Jazz tradition itself, the history and the future rolled together in a beat.

This band was the perfect foil for Trudy and she took full advantage of it.

Who: The Trudy Lile Quartet – Trudy Lile (leader, vocals, flute).  Alan Brown (piano), Cameron McArthur (bass), Ron Samsom (drums).

Where: The CJC (Creative Jazz Club) Brittomart 1885, Wednesday 7th August 2013.

CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs

Trudy Lile Quartet @ CJC

Jazz Flute is sometimes relegated to a place of lessor importance in the scheme of things and a few say that the instrument lacks the expression of the more ubiquitous reeds.   As with all things in Jazz it depends entirely on who is playing the instrument and how they apply themselves to the task.  If such naysayers had witnessed Trudy Lile on Wednesday the 10th of October 2012 at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) they’d have swallowed their words.   This was expressive and extremely lively flute playing and no one with half a brain could doubt Lile’s supremacy on the instrument.  She is a master of extended flute technique but the effects are always applied tastefully.  

As well as being a premier Jazz flutist, Trudy Lile is also a composer and vocalist .  These three skills were all evident at the CJC gig as she showcased many of her own compositions.   The numbers were engaging and tended toward the melodic (as you would expect of flute compositions).

I have selected one of these compositions as a typical example (see You Tube clip).   Her ‘Kingston 787’ has a well-arranged head, which as it develops, becomes the perfect springboard for extended improvisation. With the vague promise of summer in the offing I was in the mood for this type of number.  Swinging and soaring like a skylark – a tune that pleased the ear and invited you along for the journey without losing you before the end.

‘Kingston 787’ is a great composition, referring to the famous South Island steam engine of that name.  There is ample precedent in Jazz for writing charts about steam trains and two of the most notable examples are Gerry Mulligan’s ‘The Age of Steam’ (who could forget ‘K-9 Pacific) and Oscar Peterson’s memorable ‘Night Train’.   Trains and jazz have always been linked as musicians rushed between gigs; writing charts to the clickity-clack.  

While there were a few numbers by other people there were seven Trudy Lile originals.   First up was a feisty tune named ‘Flute Salad’ (Lile), followed by ‘Winter Wind’ (Parlato), ‘Night Bird’ (Enrico Pieranunzi), ‘Emily’ (Lile), ‘If I Fell’ (Lennon/McCartney), ‘Kingston 787’ (Lile), ‘Hammond Sandwich’ (Lile), ‘The Laughing Song’ (Lile), ‘Smile Like That’ (E.Spaulding), ‘Frodo’s Mojo’ (Lile), ‘Gone By Lunchtime’ (Lile).  The choice of lessor known tunes by well-known musicians worked well as a contrast.  It offered comparisons and her own compositions stood up well against the likes of Pieranunzi.  For ‘If I Fell’ Trudy played piano and sang, accompanied only by a first year student Sam Swindells on guitar.  

Her regular band is Mark Baynes (piano), Jo Shum (upright bass) and Jason Orme (drums).   This unit has been together for some time and it shows.   I have caught Jo and Jason many times at gigs but this was the first time that I had heard Mark.   It proved a good introduction to his playing and the musical rapport between he and Trudy worked well.  Mark’s touch and voicings are different from the pianists we see regularly at the club and it is encouraging to see such stylistic diversity in our city.   Mark is a keen student of Brad Mehldau and this focus has undoubtedly shaped his approach to the instrument.

Jo gets better and better every time I see her as she has the ability to provide a solid cushion beneath the piano and flute – freeing up both as she holds the centre.  By contrast her soloing was highly melodic and perhaps it is this which makes her so right for working with Trudy.  When her amp failed mid number her loss from the mix was noticeable although the rest of the band played on without faltering.

Jason Orme is the other regular and he and Trudy go back a long way.   Jason is a versatile drummer who knows exactly what his job is.   For this gig he shared the drum duties with first year student Michael Harray.  Michael played drums for one number and percussion for several more.   On ‘Kingston 787’ we heard both drums and percussion.   They worked extremely well together – I like gigs with a percussionist and a drummer and Michael was superb.

Another student Joel Griffin played alto on one number and a jazz choir joined Trudy on another.   None of these students let Trudy down.

There is a significant thing to appreciate about Trudy Lile and that is her role as an enabler.   She teaches Jazz studies at the NZSM Massey Campus and is on a perpetual quest to promote, challenge and push her students into playing in situations like this.  Sharing your prized gigs with beginning students has its risks but the rewards are far greater.   It is only through being tested against more experienced players that they learn.

Trudy gives a lot to the Jazz scene but I’m not sure that it is always acknowledged.  When it comes to the academic world such dedication is all too often overlooked.  I have pondered this and wonder if old fashioned misogyny is at play.

The leading Jazz flute players in the world are now predominately women (Nicole Mitchell and Jamie Baum just won the Down Beat critics poll).   The students understand this issue perfectly as many have voiced it to me.   Progression in teaching or on the bandstand must be merit based and gender blind.

The CJC and especially Roger Manins set a very good example in this regard.

Concerts - visiting Musicians, USA and Beyond

Bennie Maupin & Dick Oatts Massey University

Lovers of this music with a sense of its history will be aware that there have been markers of excellence laid down along the way. This is not about commercial success but a deeper and infinitely more subtle thing. A powerful vibe that seeps into the DNA of the music, acknowledged by all who have the ears to hear it. Bennie Maupin has laid down a number of such markers in his long career.

I have been listening to Bennie Maupin for most of my life but I suppose that it was Lee Morgan‘s ‘Live at the lighthouse’ album (Blue Note) that made me pay particular attention. The album had been cut at Hermosa Beach (Howard Rumsey’s ‘Lighthouse’) in July 1970. If I were to single out two tracks from that album they would be ‘Peyote’ which Bennie wrote and ‘Beehive’ by Harold Maybern. The former is a wonderful piece of lyrical writing with highly melodic hooks and subtle shifts in intensity which pull you ever deeper into the tune. The latter is a fiery burner that immediately tells you that Bennie is gazing at limitless improvisational horizons and flying free of known constraints.

Later that year he played so memorably on Miles ‘Bitches Brew’ (Columbia) and his bass clarinet on that album continued the groundbreaking work of Eric Dolphy. During the next decade he alternated between Herbie Hancock (‘Mwandishi’, ‘Headhunters’) and Miles (‘A Tribute to Jack Johnson’, ‘On The Corner’, ‘Big Fun’); while cutting his own first album as leader in 1974. ‘The Jewel in the Lotus’ (ECM) has been one of the most sought after albums in Jazz until its re-issue a few years ago. After that came ‘Slow Traffic to the Right’, ‘Moonscapes’, ‘Driving While Black on Intuition’, ‘Penumbra’ and ‘Early Reflections’. As a sideman he has played with the who’s who of the classic Jazz world including Horace Sliver and McCoy Tyner.

Immediately I heard about the Massey University concert featuring Dick Oatts and Bennie Maupin I asked the organisers if I could have a few words with the visitors. No Jazz writer would want to overlook an opportunity like this. I had been quite ill that week but no illness was going to stand in the way of this day.

Late Sunday morning on the day of the concert we met at a coffee bar near the Massey campus and while we ate I began a series of short conversations that ended up lasting until midnight. Dick is a friendly man with a big smile and a hint of the raconteur about him. Bennie is a little quieter, but you soon sense that he is taking everything in and he reveals an inner warmth as he gets to know you.

I had been burning to ask Bennie about his uncanny abilities as a multi reeds and winds player. “Why are there so few that master a range of horns” I asked? Like Dolphy before him Bennie has been extraordinarily proficient on all of his horns. When he was 18 years of age Eric Dolphy had handed him his flute saying, “show me how you play”. He then gave him an impromptu 40 minute flute lesson. What Bennie learned about technique in that short lesson was never forgotten.

He looked at me and said with deep reverence, “Dolphy was the greatest. Being a multi reeds and winds player is the path I was encouraged to take by those around me and in particular by my teacher Buddy Collette. There is no magic bullet, just very hard work. If you don’t maintain the maximum effort on each horn you quickly lose your edge”.

Because I loved ‘ Live at the Lighthouse ‘ so much I asked him about Harold Maybern’s ‘Beehive’. It is an incendiary tune bursting at the seams with raw energy. “Oh that tune was very hard the first time we played it”, said Bennie. “It was the velocity, but by the time we got to the ‘Lighthouse’, we were on top of it. That gig was recorded live and so we understood, no second takes. We could not even check the recording afterwards”. What Bennie, Jymie Merritt, Mickey Roker, Harold Maybern and Lee Morgan fused together was an energy infused miracle.

As we didn’t have much time before rehearsals we discussed his recordings as leader. ‘The Jewel in the Lotus’ (ECM 1974) is a gentle but profound masterpiece. The layering of instruments creates a soundscape that has space and incredible depth. In my mind this is not a fusion album but a manifesto of the spiritual mores of the 1970’s Jazz world. As with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, Bennie follows Nichiren Buddhism. An unpretentious spirituality quietly informs his work.

I learned that a Big Band version of the title track ‘The Jewel in the Lotus’ (Maupin), was to be played that night. They would also be playing ‘Water Torture’ (Maupin). This was transcribed and orchestrated by Mike Booth for the performance and Mike would be one of the few Kiwi musicians who could take on such a task in the limited timeframe. The result was praiseworthy and with Bennie on board it soared.

Dick Oatts (alto sax and other reeds) will be well-known to anyone who has followed the incarnations of the famous Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band (Village Vanguard Orchestra). He is a mainstay of that orchestra and as I was soon to learn, his writing skills were honed to perfection. He has been to Auckland before and his return engagement was received with great enthusiasm. His extensive recordings as leader culminated with ‘Two Hearts’ (2009). This man is really across his music and his phenomenal chops, his focus and his writing skills all revealed themselves as the day proceeded.

Phil Broadhurst and the musicians then asked if I would like to attend the rehearsal. No second invitation needed.

What I witnessed was a highly informative music lesson. It is commonplace in Jazz for musicians who have never collaborated before to be thrown together. This is what Jazz musicians do. In these situations a musicians reading skills, memory and concentration are tested. When backing an iconic figure like Bennie Maupin or a gifted altoist like Dick Oatts, the risks intensify. This is when less experienced band members have to step up and the stretch is often a big one. The local musicians met that challenge on Sunday. In Jazz all higher learning stems from such experiences.

The program had been split into two segments. The first half was a sextet featuring Phil Broadhurst (piano), Frank Gibson Jnr (drums), Alberto Santorelli (bass), Neil Watson (guitar) – Bennie Maupin and Dick Oatts (saxophones). The second half was the Auckland Jazz Orchestra; first on their own and then with the visitors. Trudy Lile was featuring on Jazz Flute in a beautiful piece titled ‘Sogur Fjord’; a flute and orchestra chart which Mike Booth had brought back from Scandinavia some years ago.

When Bennie heard Trudy play he informed her. You will play up front with us in the first half as well. He then sat down and proceeded to write some parts for her. This writing on the fly was a feature of the afternoon and Dick Oatts was forever adjusting and rewriting charts to suit the instrumentation. This is a valuable skill that experienced professionals possess. In rehearsing the band Bennie would quietly raise his hand and ask for a subtle change. This was music under constant revision and aiming for the best outcome – an ideal improvisational vehicle.

Trudy had looked stunned for the briefest second and then she had focussed. She gave it everything and performed brilliantly.

The concert began at 8pm and it all came together as planned. The sextet plus Trudy played ‘Water Torture’ (Maupin), a reharmonisation of ‘Just Friends’ (‘Just Us’ Oatts) and several more numbers culminating with an impromptu performance of ‘Straight No Chaser’ (Monk). The second segment began with the AJO and Trudy, who were soon joined by Bennie and Dick.

If someone asked me today to choose my ten Desert Island tracks I would reel off nine and then add….oh and give me that Massey Concert AJO/Maupin version of ‘The Jewel and the Lotus’. To say that I enjoyed the tune would be a gross understatement.

The last number was ‘Naima’ and Dick Oatts was superb. He wove in all of the elements of the tune and then took it to new places. This was a display of passion and chops second to none. The performances on the night were all great and the AJO had raised the bar yet again.

Later as I ran Bennie and Dick back to their hotel I could not help but think. This has been the best of days.

I dedicate this post to Dr Cranshaw and to Kay, who kicked my ass and convinced me that I would find the strength to go.