Friday, October 19, 2018

Music for Commuting: Miles Davis Quintet box set

Music for CommutingLets face it, the rumble of the road isn’t exactly the ideal listening environment, but it provided an interesting listening experience this past week or so as the Miles Davis Quintet box set accompanied the daily commute. Tony’s cymbals and snare on my right and Miles and Wayne to the left. Herbie made appearances mostly in the form of solo lines with some comping popping out here and there. While Ron’s presence was felt at times, there was very little in the way of clarity. Not exactly what I had in mind but it was great to be able to focus on the horn/drum pairings. Maybe I need to round things out and have a session or two to zone in on Ron and Herbie.

Call me old fashioned, but it's the first three discs that really appeal to me - before the introduction of the electric piano and bass. E.S.P and Miles Smiles are two of Miles’ albums I've listened to the most alongside the likes of Birth of the Cool, Kind of Blue and The Plugged Nickel recordings. Nefertiti isn’t too far behind either. The addition of guitar to the group has never really appealed to me. And although I hadn’t listened to those recordings for ages, I still haven’t warmed up to them - it just seems extraneous.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

“Hey Babe!” Remembering Roger Sellers

Following a long illness, the one and only Roger Sellers passed away on 14 June. Over the past 37 years (plus he had an earlier stint here during the 60s too), Roger was a integral part of the New Zealand jazz scene. And during that time he must have made his way to the top of the list of “most loved Australians living in New Zealand” (a short list perhaps (wink), but he’s up there nonetheless!).

Fortunately I was back home, and had the pleasure of taking my good mate John out to the burial in Makara. Not surprisingly there was a great turnout. And after reading the tributes that filled social media feeds since his passing, I decided to add some memories of my own. I delayed this post somewhat as I tried, so far unsuccessfully, to track down some concert posters I had hoped to upload. But somewhere on the way they seem to have disappeared along with a number of gig posters from the early 2000s I thought I had stashed at my parents’ place. 

During my fist year at music school, I lived a very short walk from The Lido and pretty much every Sunday night I went there to hear Roger and Paul Dyne with various incarnations on The Boptet - my favorite being the edition that included any or all of Scott Towers, John Bell, Nick van Dijk and Noel Clayton. But it was a couple of performances with saxophonist Jeff Henderson that immediately came to mind when I started writing this post. Jeff revealed a side to Roger’s playing that wasn’t always on show - relentless, burning intensity.

John Street Grill, circa 2000: Roger Sellers and Jeff Henderson Duo. I was expecting the typical crowd from jazz school to be there out-numbering a few punters grabbing dinner and a drink. But it was quite the opposite, and I may have been the only one from school there - I know I was sitting by myself at a table right next to Jeff and Roger. And once the music started it felt like I was the only one in the room and they were talking directly to me. My bowl of fries got cold as I soaked it in. There was no warming up on the bandstand. Once they were set up and ready, Roger smiled and nodded and then Jeff called, “blues, 1–2–1-2-3-4,” and they were into it. Full steam ahead. This was an eye opening gig for me. The duo’s intensity caught some/most/all(!) of the audience by surprise, with one couple ("oh, there's a band playing tonight") heading for the door by the time the first IV chord came around! I don’t really remember the specifics - I think they also played Rhythm Changes and maybe a ballad… “You Don’t Know What Love Is” perhaps -  but the energy, intent and feeling has stuck with me. I was somewhere between exhaustion and elation as I floated home alone. What a night!

I think it was not too long after the duo gig that he played a couple of trio gigs at The Space with Jeff and Paul Dyne (one was advertised as “Two Jazz Legends, One Imposter”!). The first featured standards, the second was original compositions. I ran into Jeff the day following the standards gig, and the first thing he said was along the lines of, “How great did Roger sound?!” Back at school the following Monday, Roger said he had to ice his wrists and have a couple of days recovery.  

My music library doesn't contain many recordings featuring Roger, and certainly nothing along the lines of these live concerts (at least as I remember them!). But I and planning to work through the Sustenance albums once I get a turntable.

I got to hear Roger with Mike Nock a couple of times too. And Mike’s description of jazz seems apt when talking about Roger: “serious fun.” Roger was one hell of a musician and one of the sweetest guys I’ve known. Roger’s nodding, smiling, gum-chewing, happy, swinging beat will be missed. So too will his humour, encouragement and wisdom, which he would gladly share with up and coming musicians. He was (and still is) the only person I’ve heard refer to everyone as “Babe” - this greeting always came with his trademark grin, and once he followed it up by asking if I was still modeling! Roger was the real deal.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Lex French Quartet at Rogue and Vagabond

New Zealand Jazz
Nice to see a packed crowd checking out the Lex French Quartet at Rogue and Vagabond on Sunday night.
Lex French (trpt) Tyson Smith (g) Johnny Lawrence (b) Cory Champion (d)

Saturday, September 29, 2018

NZ Jazz: Mike Nock - Beginning and End of Knowing

Mike Nock: Beginning and End of Knowing (Fourth Way Records)

Nock (piano) Laurence Pike (drums/sampler) 2015

I started this series last September with Nock's Vicissitudes, so it seems rather appropriate to feature another from Mike one year it was his birthday a couple of days ago. While I did give Beginning and End of Knowing a listen when I first picked it up last year, it is well overdue for some quality time (in fact, Vicissitudes bumped it from opening the series, solely because it was his most recent album). As with last months selection, we have another slightly ominous title – yet fitting for this stage in my life. A follow-up to the duo's 2012 recording, KindredBeginning and End of Knowing features 12 wonderfully recorded free improvisations, none of which extend beyond six minutes, keeping things nice and concise. The album art and booklet nods in the direction of ECM and, as the duo recorded the album in Norway at the same studio and piano as on Ondas, it seems appropriate (and once again makes me wonder why Ondas was his sole outing for ECM).
New Zealand Jazz

Mike's playing here (or anywhere really) is not about hip licks and chops, but in this case, more focussed on texture and colour. Even on pieces in which single-line playing is featured those lines still seem to serve as mean of creating different textures and colors. Pike doesn't play much in the way of “ding ding ga ding”/“spang spang ah lang” (or the phonetic swing of your choosing), but he still generates a sense of forward motion and while the groove may reveal itself in an unexpected way, it's there. His playing is pretty understated but it really suits the feeling of the album. And across the album there is a nice balance between piano and drums. 

The title track sets the tone of album superbly. At times the piano is dramatic (without being overly so) while the drums remain constantly on the move. The bass drum popped out at me on “Cloudless”, while the sense of space and openness in Mike's voicings and approach contain quality that I can't really describe - “realization” comes to mind. “Akerslva” seems dark a first but a playfulness emerges and a hint of the blues is present throughout the tinkles and splashes. “1000 Colours” features more line playing by Nock than on the preceding tracks. Space is aptly filled by Pike, who plays with a subtle groove that really works. You could be mistaken in thinking that the opening of “The Mirror” is composed, such is the clarity. That clarity remains as a left hand ostinato takes hold and directs the piece. Mike's playing is melodic with a tenderness at times. “Hydrangea” features a Pike groove of relaxed propulsion while rich piano chords sit on top, and as the piece progress the piano and percussion become increasingly interlocked. The electronics are more obvious on “Glittering Age” than on some of the other tracks but they slot in seamlessly nevertheless. The piano repeats, varies and develops phrases throughout and Pike's use of the samples at the end of Mike's lines is very effective. Again, Pike's groove is unexpected yet highly effective (and the electronics fit into that groove well too) - he's a creative player. “Zerospeak” is more up-tempo than most of the album with its single line piano runs over the top of rumbling toms. Mike's lines had me thinking of some of his late 70s works such as “Casablanca” & “Break Time” or even later on with “Ozboppin'” (and I did take those tracks for a spin too), but here the feel is a bit different.. perhaps more introspective and rhythmically softer. Mike's single line melody over the drums and samples on “Ocean Back to Sky” (particularly during the opening of the piece) is a lesson in economy. He extracts a lot from a little and that is something that appeals to me more and more. The stacatto percussion and the wide spread between the two hands at the piano on “Prospero” grabbed my attention. It brings a welcome textural addition to the album. “Southerly” features some more contrasts – the fluttering cymbals paired with bass drum pulses, with strong, slow moving chordal melodies over the faster moving drums. I dig the way Mike's chordal phrases early on have a breathing quality to them. The album rounds out with “In Closing,” another improvisation with composition-like clarity.

While overall the album is quite introspective, there is still plenty of variety in terms of feel, mood and colour. There is a meditative quality that draws me in (and in that sense it reminded my of Evan Parker's As the Wind and the work of Hayden Chisholm). This could be the ideal music to calm the mind during the busy time in which we live. The album's strength lies in the collective approach to the duo - very much a case of “everybody solos and nobody solos.” The dialogue between the two is warm, unhurried, not afraid of space, and projects clarity and an openness (the only word I could think of) that really hits the spot. Beginning and End of Knowing served as the perfect welcome home. Tu meke!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Music for Commuting: Lacy, Garrett, Nock, The Melody Four

This week's drive(s) featured a nice bit of variety. I hadn't listened to Kenny Garrett's Triology in years, but as I was boxing up my CDs for the move, I decided to keep this one out and it has been nice to revisit it. The two Lacy albums, Stamps and Wordless, didn't get packed as they were on my list for a listen. I'm particularly interested in the latter as I think it's the earliest recording of the Tao suite (at least the earliest I have). I'd given each bit of a cursory blast when I picked them up but they deserve more airtime. Mike Nock's Beginning and End of Knowing is still hitting the spot and I've enjoy kicking off the morning with a smile on my face courtesy of The Melody Four - fun stuff.
music for commuting

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Music for Commuting: Mike Nock Duos with Pike and Liebman

Jazz Duo New Zealand Jazz
Accompanying the drive today: Beginning and End of Knowing and Duologue. I'll write more on the former later this month. And eventually I'll probably get around to writing something on the Liebman disc too. Both are highly recommended.