CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Fusion & World, USA and Beyond

James Wylie & Friends@CJC

James Wylie is a respected saxophonist, clarinetist and composer who has played, studied and taught all over the world. He initially studied in Wellington where he attended the New Zealand School of Music. One and a half years ago he moved to Berlin and soon after that to Thessaloniki in Greece.

Those reading the CJC webpages eagerly look out for returning expats, as they very often bring new ideas back with them while still retaining a core of that ‘New Zealand sound’. James played alto saxophone on this gig and he demonstrated why the alto is rapidly becoming a popular instrument again. For years the popularity of the alto waned but happily that is no longer the case. Improvised music often gives the impression of being a ‘blue skies’ horizon where no boundaries exist. All freedom comes from discipline and it is the knowledge of what works best in a given situation that marks players apart. Chops count but musical taste counts too. James showed an intuitive understanding of this.

Tonal and textural contrasts add considerable depth to a performance and in this we were well served. We not only heard the multiple facets of James Wylie’s tasteful alto playing, but we benefited from the addition of Roger Manins tenor. This was a double dose of saxophone magic. The quartet was completed by two Christchurch expats, Richie Pickard on upright bass and Andrew Keegan on drums.

While their first number ‘The Mooche’ (Ellington) got our attention, the second number ‘Just in Time Contrafact’ (Wylie) simply demanded it. It was an outright cooker. Roger Manins particularly shines in these situations and as he and James worked the changes and stretched out, there were enthusiastic cheers from the audience. The sets contained a couple of originals, some well-known standards and seldom played tunes by Jazz greats like Monk. Best of all were the tunes we have never heard in a Jazz setting. ‘Wichita Lineman’ (Campbell-Webb) – [It is a little known fact but Glenn Campbell was one of the original Beach Boys], ‘I can’t help falling in Love With You’ (Elvis) , and a memorable version of the standard ‘For All We Know’.

Nat Cole and Billie Holliday sung this so memorably (and hauntingly) that post 50’s bands often shied away from it. That is a pity because it can still evoke all of the emotions that made it a popular classic. The band approached it in the way that the late 50’s piano-less quartets did. Playing contrapuntally while extracting the maximum beauty from the melody. In this style of playing the bass is pivotal and Richie Pickard was perfect.

While the horns naturally took centre stage I never-the-less had my attention drawn to drummer Andrew Keegan again and again. The quality of New Zealand drummers often amaze and Andrew is a traps player I will keep an eye on. He is not overly busy but he has an in-the-pocket propulsive style. He listens carefully to what the others are doing and reacts in kind.

The last portion of the second set featured James interpretations of traditional Greek songs. My love of Mediterranean infused Jazz is constant and hearing Greek music was a treat. James interpreted the lovely melodic tunes (in crazy time signatures) with an ease that can only signify his deep interest in this music. In this portion he accompanied Greek singer Egli Katsiki. Her voice while a little soft at times resonated perfectly with the keening alto and between them they reached deep into the hearts of the spellbound listeners.

It was nice to have James here and I am keen to see where his musical journey takes him next (back here soon I hope).

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Beyond category, Concerts - visiting Musicians, Fusion & World, Interview

Natalia Mann interview

Hi Natalia,

I would like to thank you for agreeing to this written interview as I know how busy you are.   This will serve as an addenda to the post on your album ‘Pacif.ist‘ and give context to the Pacifica/Turkish connection.  Above all it will provide an insight into the charts and your choice of ancient and modern instruments. (read in conjunction with previous blog)
Q. Can you tell me a little about the harp you played at the launch?     It seemed smaller like the Celtic harp and wonderfully ornate.  Was that the one that you played on the recording?
Hi John.
 The harp I played at the launch is a nylon strung harp made by Andrew Thom in Tasmania.  It is a standard size for larger celtic harps – 36 strings –  though they can come in any size.  The ornamentation is actually quite industrial – a silver aluminium frame with black dots, and some subtle functional wooden detail. It has a carbon fiber soundboard and an aluminium soundbox covered with leather. But the shape of the arch and column itself is amazingly organic, comparable to dripping glass, with a koru curl.  The “Holden Red” colour makes it quite sexy, like a stiletto.
I played this harp on one piece on the album – Time.  Although most of the pieces were written on lever harp, when it came to recording I preferred to use the concert harp – the sound is richer and deeper.  I used the lever harp on Time because the composition includes string bends that are a sounds you get particularly with levers.  For the rest of the recordings I used my Lyon & Healy Style 23 Concert Grand (a big classic ornate wooden harp like those you see in the orchestra).
Q. Is some of that music improvised or were you following a score (or Jazz chart)?
There is improvisation in all of the pieces except for Interlude for Grozda, which I wrote out very quickly one day and I played that from the notes because I really liked them.  Usually I make a kind of jazz chart with melody, and we go from there.  Generally my aim is to improvise, so we’ll play the first round from the sheet and then expand on the ideas after that.  I love the way Aksam Duasiturned out because there’s so much improvisation in it.  It had one of the most minimal charts.   Greenstones is a piece that is usually ‘set’, ie, I usually play pretty much the same thing every time. In this version on the album, there was an extra melody chasing me all the way to the studio that day.  It wanted to be included in the recording. So when I got there, I tried to make room for the extra phrase.  It resulted in an improvised introduction of 2 or 3 minutes which I think worked very nicely with Richard NunnsTaonga Puoro.
I love improvising, and if I’m not improvising, I don’t mind making mistakes so that I have to improvise my way out of them.  Even if I’m playing the set tune, it’s still got to feel like an improvisation.  That’s the good music.  That’s what I’m chasing.
Q. Were those compositions originals or created out of traditional motifs?
That begs the question ‘Is there such a thing as a completely original work’?  I try to keep things as original as possible.  I try to let the music tell me how it goes rather than the other way around.
The only piece in which I really used a particular template is the first part of Akşam Duasi (Evening Prayer).  That melody came about one day when Izzet and I were looking at a traditional Turkish rhythm called Hafif which is a single bar of 32 counts.  You say “Dum tek tek, Dum tek tek, Du-um te-ka du-um tek tek-a…”  like this.  I made up a melody to help me remember the rhythm, we liked it and it became one of our tunes.  The second half of that piece came about when we were having a lukewarm jam one afternoon and the ezan (call to prayer) began. Suddenly the instruments got hot and took off as if on their own accord, jamming along with the ezan.  It’s simple and it feels good – familiar but from where?
Certainly in my early compositions, I used things that were ‘evocative’ for me, colours and feels from genres I’m familiar with. Greenstones has obvious Celtic influences, but begins with what for me is a bassy Polynesian rowing rhythm.  I recall now that it’s melody was influenced by speech and the motivic nature of the Kanun (Turkish zither).  As I got more comfortable with composing, I became more excited by melodic or harmonic movements that would surprise me.  These days I spend more time trying to figure out what it is that I wrote.
Q. The quality of the percussion work was extraordinary and I gather that your husband is the drummer.   How many percussion instruments were used apart from a normal drum kit.
Yes, Izzet Kizil is an extraordinary percussionist, and is my husband, and is a big influence on my work.  He has a very advanced, distinctive, intuitive personal style.  In fact he is not really a drummer, even though he played kit on these recordings.  He specialises in Middle Eastern hand percussions.  His main instrument is the Turkish Darbuka.  The other instruments he used were Turkish Bendir (a frame drum similar to the Irish Bodhran, which he plays with hands and brushes),  Daf, a Kurdish and Persian frame drum like the bendir but with dangling rings on the inside of the drum which makes the thunder sound that I love.  You can hear him play Kanjira (a small hand-held Indian drum with one zil) and Kup or Gattam (Indian clay pot) on Uc Adim.  He also plays a number of small effects percussions like clusters of seeds and bells.  He sets himself up a little kit made of the above instruments and a small snare and cymbals, which he plays with hands, brushes and sticks.  In Butterfly Effect he also plays percussion with his voice and fingers hitting his mouth and throat.
There is another drummer on the album and that is Riki Gooch.  Because Izzet isn’t a regular drummer, Riki noticed that some of the grooves could use some firmer ‘laying down’, (Gul Cayi, Sunshine Sister, Uc Adim), and he added in some very sensitive cymbal and highhat to complement what Izzet had already done.  Riki and Izzet met in Wellington, spent time and played together, so it was a nice vibe rhythm section even though the recordings happened on either side of the globe.
Q. Is there any connection between your music and the Sufi musical tradition.    Many Jazz groups in southern Europe now use an Oud (Italy especially) and some extraordinary Sufi trained musicians like Dhafer Youseff are having an impact.   I have seen him perform twice and it was a profound musical experience.
I have been very influenced by the sounds of Sufi music and musicians in Turkey, primarily the guitarist Erkan Ogur, and his albumsFuad and  Hiç, the title of which is a Sufi concept meaning ‘anything and nothing’.  In fact Mevlana or Rumi, the father of Sufism, was based in the town of Konya in southern Turkey during his enlightenment period with the philosopher Şemş.  Today Konya is called ‘the kitchen’ of pure Turkish classical music particularly because it is connected strongly with the study of Mevlana.  When I first came to Istanbul, I played mainly with Turkish classical musicians in Sufistic concerts. I will add here that the reason I was very attracted to Turkish music was not only for it’s beauty, but also the fact that it is an artform which melds improvisation with the written note. Recently I performed repertoire from the Sufi composer Yunus Emre with a singer at a Mystical Music Festival.  At that performance I was encouraged to improvise deeply and generously, because this is one of the expressions of union with the divine.
Izzet comes from a Sufistic tradition – his father played percussion for religious reasons. Sufism is a liberal and mystical branch of Islam. Living in an Islamic country with lots of philosophical artists around, Sufism is an underlying feeling.  I think it has been entwined in the development of Turkish music over the centuries, recognisable in the sense of expansive space and melodies of emotional longing for the divine.  I work towards deepening this kind of energy in my music.
Q. Is there a strong Jazz community in Turkey?
Yes there is. It’s relatively small but dedicated.  There’s a club in Istanbul called Nardis which is a dedicated seven night quality jazz place where lots of great Turkish musicians play.   Izzet plays for a group called “Ilhan Erşahin’s Istanbul Sessions” which is a New York-Istanbul jazz triphop outfit which is very popular.  A lot of international jazz artists tour through Istanbul. There are lots of great Jazz festivals going on, musicians coming over from Europe and the states.
Q. I understand that you were born in New Zealand and are of Samoan descent.  Is that correct?   Is there a Pacific influence in your music?
I was born and grew up in Wellington, witha seven stint in Los Angeles in my childhood. My mother is Samoan and my father is Australian – Scottish English descent.  The album is entitled Pasif.ist because I think of it as Istanbul through a Pasifikan’s experience.  The music is my response to the local environment as someone who is from ‘somewhere else’ and far away.  This is the manner of the Pacific influence in my music.  It is also in the concept of feeling the vibe of the environment and being in harmony with it.  Taonga Puoro is the ultimate example of this in my opinion.  If I’m in Aotearoa with a harp, I’m inclined to play clean air music with intervals inspired by tui calls. In the Pacific Islands I’m inspired by the warmth and rhythms of the water and trees.  In fact, these experiences are my references.  The antipodes are fierce with nature.  So moving into the densely populated, polluted, urban environment and foreign soundscape of Istanbul, I both absorbed the experience and reacted to it.
Some things that are particularly Pacific to me are the introduction of Migration, inspired by bird calls and contemporary NZ classical music.  Greenstones is another one.  Seeing the social-political situation between Kurdish and Turkish communities here, it made me think about Maori and the other communities which have journeyed to Aotearoa.  In that piece I always imagine the West Coast of NZ, clear starry skies and cold air. Sunshine Sister (my homesick song) is a sunny island tune about laughing and joy, as is the second part of Aksam Duasi.  Like that, the influence weaves its way through the music.
One of the reasons I started writing tunes here was to find a middle ground where I could communicate better with my Turkish musician friends. One time at a first gig, I said to the band, “let’s just jam this one on a dub groove.”  Well, I started, the bass player came in with something slightly different, the drummer joined with something different again, the violinist changed it more and by the time it got to the second tabla player, I had no idea what we were playing, but it wasn’t any kind of dub that I recognised.  There were suddenly all these alien rhythms my ears were trying to process. It was pretty funny.  So I figured out that we all have different vocabularies according to our experiences. I wrote music that mixed my perspective with a local vibe – where there weren’t too many preset rules and everyone could bring their own interpretations.
Q How many strings on the violin like instrument?  It sounds similar to the Chinese Erhu.
The violin like instrument is the Classic Kemençe (keh-men-cheh) played by Sercan Halili.  It has a three string and a four string version, and in Time, Sercan plays an Alto Kemençe which he had designed for himself.  It is the first and only recording of that instrument.  I love it because it sounds like a raspy old man.  I love all the kemençes for their soulful vocal sound – so etheric.  The instrument is played with a bow, but balances between the knees rather than on the shoulder.  It has gut strings, and the tones are created by pressing against the strings with the backs of the fingernails. It is a very highly regarded Turkish instrument for its delicate and emotional nature. Mostly it is played in Turkish classical music settings; Sercan is quite adventurous.  He is a talented young player fluent in the Turkish classical world and working on a number of cross-over projects.
Q Have you considered doing an even more Jazz influenced album one day?   Your music on Pacif.ist swings.
Thanks man.  I like swinging. I love jazz.  I’m doing a Masters degree in Jazz at the moment, so I reckon there will be a few new tunes popping out that are more jazz influenced.
In fact the first piece of the next album is a jazz tune already.  We were going to put it on this album but felt it needed more time to mature.  That was a session with the great bass player Dine Doneff (aka Kostas Theodorou) from Thessaloniki.  I met him out in Skopje which is where I study jazz with the guitarist Toni Kitanovksi.  Dine later came to Istanbul to record on some pieces and it was such a great experience working with him.
Q.  Could you tell me your link with Rattle Records?   Steve is doing a fabulous job of recording NZ Music and a number of those albums are absolutely world-class (‘Zoo’ by Tom Dennison is my very favourite).
Steve Garden and Rattle Records have been fantastic.  I approached them with my demo a couple of years ago and asked if they’d be interested to release it on their label.  Happily, they said yes, and they’ve been really supportive throughout the process.  There are many artists for whom I have huge respect and admiration on the Rattle label, so I’m honoured to have my album in the same catalogue.  The recent output by Rattle of artists and new music is phenomenal and gorgeous.  Really a cool support for art music in NZ.  Many thanks to them.
Q. What is your connection to Bic – I gather that you have been recording with her?
I’ve been playing with Bic Runga since about 2006, when we did the Acoustic Winery Tour and I played in her band.  Since then we’ve worked together when we get the opportunity.  I recorded on Belle, the title track of her new album.  She invited me to play support for her recent national tour.  So I did the support performance, releasing Pasif.ist, and then I joined her and the band on stage for a couple of numbers.  We had a great tour, with Kody Neilsen and Michael Logie in the band.  I admire Bic’s stellar output and her musicality.  She’s always encouraged me to get my music out there.
I must thank you for the thought that you put into your answers Natalia.   I look forward to your next visit home and to any future albums.
Best wishes
John (Jazz Local 32)
Beyond category, Fusion & World, Review

‘Pasif.ist’ Natalia Mann – an Oriental Dreamscape

The music I cover here may not be Jazz in the purest sense but it is music that transcends the limitations of musical boundaries.  It has its own pulses and rhythms and it is improvised around themes.    This is a delicious orientalist dreamscape of the sort painted by Lord Leighton, Alma Tadema, Edward Lear and Eugene Delacroix.  It is redolent of sultry afternoons in an Ottoman palace or of the winding streets of Istanbul.   In the unfolding subtleties, one can hear the merest snatches of older themes; Constantinople and even Byzantium are hinted at but never confined.   This is not traditional Turkish music but an exotic vision of a landscape just beyond our reach.  This achieves what all great music does – connects us with a world that we would want to explore further.

In early December I received an email from Rattle Records inviting me to the ‘Pacif.ist’ CD launch and at that point I had scant information on the event.    I had every intention of requesting more details but the workaday world drowned me in trivia and I soon forgot.    One week later I was sitting in a meeting when the reminder flashed up on my iPhone; the launch was starting in an hour.

The venue was the spectacular Iron Bank building.   An imposing piece of modernist architecture towering far above the rainy Auckland streets.   The launch was held in an intimate minimalist space and the invited guests were mainly musicians associated with Rattle.  To one side of the dimly lit room was a beautiful red lacquered harp and beside it the barest bones of a drum kit (snare and cymbals).   Soon, harpist, Natalia Mann sat down to conduct a brief sound check and when she had finished I spoke to her about the lovely voicings that she was creating as she plucked and stroked the strings.   They were pianistic Jazz chords, but with all of the extensions added.   In the conversation that followed, we spoke of BeBop harpist Dorothy Ashby and of the later avant-garde stylist Alice Coltrane.   At this point, I was intrigued to hear the music, as this was a gap in my musical knowledge that I was very happy to fill.

I have long been a fan of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern Jazz and its Jazz/World Music offshoots, but I can’t recall ever hearing Turkish Musicians.   The launch used only a duo but they captured the mood perfectly – Natalia Mann (harp) and the well-known local, multi-instrumentalist Kody Neilson on drums. The album could perhaps be described as improvised World-Music but with Jazz inflexions – the sort that ECM presents so convincingly.   With top rated musicians like Tigran Hamasyan and Dhafer Youssef bridging the World/Jazz continuum we will see a lot more of this music on offer.   If you open your ears Jazzers and listen carefully, this gentle melodic music with its rich percussion will get to you.

After Natalia had returned to her busy life in Istanbul I conducted an email interview with her and this will be posted as an addendum to this post in a few days.

The Album Pacif.ist is available in download or hard copy from Rattle Records.    I would strongly urge buying the CD, as the artwork and liner notes are so good that it would be a crime against art to circumvent them. http://www.rattle.co.nz

The musicians on the album are; Natalia Mann (harp, compositions), Izzet Kizil (percussion & drums), Sercan Halili (classic Kemence & Alto Kemence), Abdullah Shakar (fretless bass & electric bass), Dine Doneff (double bass), Richard Nunns (taonga puoro [6]), Lucien Johnson (soprano & tenor sax [3]), Riki Gooch (percussion [1,2,3]), Naomi Jean O’Sullivan (gongs [9], co- writer), Serdar Pazarcioglu (violon [5]), Deniz Gungor (aqua [5]).   The album was mainly recorded in Turkey but with some instruments recorded in New Zealand.  That rich-voiced exotic string instrument you hear is the ancient Kemence (see interview).

After I had written this, I saw an article in the latest Downbeat about the growing Jazz scene in Turkey titled ‘Emerging Turks’.  The New York times has also highlighted this in a recent article.     Natalia is New Zealand born and of Samoan/European descent.   She is at present doing a master’s degree in Jazz at Skopje and is in demand with various European orchestras.   She loves Jazz and has projects on the way which will lean more in that direction.     

Istanbul – Pacif.ist cover art
Beyond category, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Fusion & World

Afterword – ‘Mother Tongue live’

This was an amazing night of music and to those who missed it – shame on you. If you have a domestic air ticket lying about or are living in the lower North Island or South Island you can still catch the act (see previous post). Carolina is quite something on her ‘Mother Tongue’ recording but to see her perform live is to experience much more. She is a singer who should be experienced live because she is also a stellar performer. The intricate sinuous hand gestures as she sings, create an added texture to an already rich and evocative music.

This band is first class and what they brought to the music was simply wonderful. Having two of Auckland’s best drummer/percussionists in the one band did not hurt at all. They were similar in style to Manu Katche and Nano Vasconcelos who have often performed together in such Jazz/World music. It was the second time that I had caught Chris O’Connor at a gig and I can see why he is so in demand – especially for intricate drum work like this. Ron Samsom’s skill on the drum kit was already very familiar to me and it was fascinating to watch these two percussion masters swap roles throughout the performance.

Roger Manins did not play his usual tenor saxophone but showed his chops on the bass clarinet (Eric Dolphy and others used this axe to great effect). The deeper and woodier sounds were entirely appropriate for this ancient music and Roger still managed to stretch out convincingly. He also played the more traditional clarinet and the flute.

Nigel Gavin used a resonator guitar and a manouche guitar, and he stunned with his combination of lightening speed and middle eastern modal riffs. Although his guitars were amplified and had the usual array of pedals, his contributions were so well placed and appropriate to the music that it was hard to imagine the pieces without him. Kevin Field (piano), Matthias Erdrich (bass) and Jessica Hindin (violin) performed their parts with ease and this underscores their musicianship as none can have been that familiar with such diverse musical genres.

Apart from the Sephardic music we heard songs in Hebrew, English and Gaelic. There was also a standard, ‘Black is the colour’. This old english ballad was so beautifully executed that the audience seemed to hold their breath at each phrase. No one wanted to miss a single note.

I have long wondered why Jan Garbarek‘s compositions and arrangements are not used more by Jazz musicians and on Wednesday I had that view reinforced. A version of Garbarek’s arrangement of the traditional Nordic piece ‘Gula Gula‘ from ‘I took up the Runes‘ was played. It was the best version you could ever hope to hear and Carolina who is a gifted linguist had learned the Gaelic pronunciation of the song. During this piece the band stretched out and went crazy. It was one of those moments when you hoped that the music would never stop. If I have one plea it would be; perform more Garbarek compositions and arrangements please – perhaps with a bowed electric bass Eberhard Weber style.

Beyond category, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Fusion & World, New Zealand Jazz Gigs, Review

‘Mother Tongue’ – Carolina Moon (the Sephardic music of medieval Spain)

Carolina’s wonderful album ‘Mother Tongue’ is beguiling and all it takes is a single listen, for the mysterious beauty of this ancient music to stay with you forever.   This album speaks of medieval Spanish Sephardic culture with absolute authority and in partaking of the journey we are connected to a time and place most New Zealanders know little about.

The Moors ruled much of Southern Spain (Al Andalus) for nearly 700 years and what is little known is that they welcomed the Jewish diaspora to live among them.     This tolerance by Islamic Spain lasted until the Reconquista by the Catholic Christian armies of the north and after their arrival (15th century), the Judeo-Spanish faced the ultimatum of expulsion, conversion or death.  The songs of the Sepahardic Jewish are rich in imagery and the cadences of their unique language are evident in these sensual and often wistful songs.     Contained in this music are the rhythms of Arab, Hebrew and Spanish life.    A truelly blended music that has been deeply enriched by the streams that have fed it.    Ladino (Latin) is the term for this ancient language, which has also helped form the distinct Catalan variant of Spanish.

Carolina Moon (Mannins) is a fine Jazz singer but she is also a multi-lingual singer and well versed in other musical genres.  She is British by birth but has worked extensively as a musician and music teacher in the UK, Australia and for some time now New Zealand.   This is our gain.   The excellent arrangements on ‘Mother Tongue’ are Carolina’s and it is this factor, coupled with her unmistakably rich voice,  that gives the album that extra depth and authenticity.  It is obvious that she has invested everything in these performances.   This has never been just another gig for her

I would like to make mention of several songs that are on the album.  The first is the wonderful ‘Ondas’ (13th century Spanish).  The word in Spanish means wave or ripple and she could not have chosen a better track to open with.  The timbre of her voice is rich and filled with the passion and longing of the song.   At certain points the emotion is so visceral that it sends a shiver down the spine.     I have not reacted to a voice in that way since I last heard Sassy on ‘tenderly’.  The second and contrasting song is ‘Tres Hermanicas’ (track 8).    This is a traditional Sephardic song and the full band is used to very good effect.    Because of the arrangement and the rhythm it sounds closer to the Manouche traditions.

The accompanying musicians are all top rated and many are the cream of the Jazz world.   New Zealand’s finest acoustic guitarist Nigel Gavin is the only choice for this music, as his Manouche credentials and guitar chops are impeccable.    Kevin Field is on piano and once again he has managed to be the perfect accompanist. Caroline’s husband Roger Manins weaves his usual magic and his abilities as a multi reedist are manifest here.   Ron Samsom and Chris O’Connor (percussion and drums), Jessica Hindin (violin), Matthias Erdrich, Mostyn Cole, Steve Haines (acoustic bass).

Every music lover should purchase a copy of this, which is produced and mixed by Steve Garden for Ode records (with the assistance of Creative NZ).    To learn more about this gifted artist go to;  http://www.moonmusik.com – better yet come and hear her perform live during the tour – underway at present.   The next performance is at the CJC (Basement of 1885 Galway St) Wednesday 2nd November.

Footnote: The first merger of western music and African Music was always thought to be Jazz, but musico- ethnologists are now pointing to Moorish Spain (over a 1000 years before), as the first time this occurred.    The improvising traditions are deep streams within all good music.