Thursday, November 30, 2017

NZ Jazz: Jason Jones – Subspace

Jason Jones – Subspace (Scoop de Loop)
This month I've been catching up for lost time. Jason Jones' Subspace was the winner of NZ jazz album of the year in 2000, but I'm sorry to say that when this album was released I was completely unaware of its existence. I've mentioned this before (and likely will again...sorry) that around the time this album was released I wasn't very aware of the NZ jazz scene outside my immediate vicinity. When I got to music school you would hear some names of people from the Auckland or Christchurch scenes (let alone anywhere else) but hearing their music was another matter. During my time at school there was little emphasis on NZ jazz or NZ saxophonists (but perhaps that was my responsibility to seek it/them out). Good news is that lack of awareness seems to have changed (although my understanding is NZ jazz still doesn't feature much at school). My first exposure to Jones' playing was probably 6 or 7 years after the release of Subspace via the 1994 album Urbanism.

New Zealand Jazz
Aside from Subspace and Urbanism plus his sideman work on Kim Paterson's Impending Journey, I haven't heard his name mentioned much over the years. Oh... and I think he's on Jazz in the Present Tense but it's almost impossible tracking down those albums on Tap Records. A quick search led me to the Jazzlocal32 blog where you can watch a video of Jones playing “Everything Happens to Me” with Dixon Nacey from a 2013 gig (keep up the good work John!).

All seven tunes come from Jones and the stylistic/feel variety keeps things moving - uptempo swing, laid back pieces, funk(ish), waltz, and straight 8ths. There is some nice textural variety too – electric and acoustic bass, the addition of flugel horn for two tracks and percussion (with Kojo Owusu added to the ensemble) on two others. Just a few little things that help keep the ears fresh. Another nice touch is the solo tenor intro on “Banyan Tree” and then changing it up to have percussion and sax take the out head. But I can't say I'm a fan of the fade-outs on three of the tracks.

Although the he's leader, Jones leaves plenty of room for his bandmates. Piano duties are split between Kevin Field and Aron Ottignon. Field sounds more confident and rhythmically more assured of the two pianist - not all that surprising considering Ottignon must have only been 16 or 17 when the album was recorded. These days Ottignon is based in Europe and this recording was a nice reminder of someone I had completely forgotten about. The piano tuning in the upper register is a bit off and it grated on me during the initial few listens but then subsided. However every now and then it really sticks out (I've been listening to a bit of Monk lately and a piano with questionable tuning in that context doesn't bother me nearly as much as it does here).

McBride and Gruebner are very solid throughout. “Reflections” features the only bass solo on the album while McBride gets some solo space with bass/piano accompaniment on “Crystal Cave” and “Subspace.” The latter features subtle shifts and variations from McBride and Gruebner during the horn/piano solos that keep things interesting without overplaying. Although the solos and accompaniment on this track largely follow the same arc with the building up and dropping back down (not uncommon by any means) becoming a little predictable.

Kim Paterson makes a welcome appearance on “Mandela” and the title track. I do enjoy the sound of flugel horn (particularly in the upper register), and there is a nice blend between the tenor and flugel horn when they come together for the melody statements. His playing didn't strike me at first but as the month progressed I got into it. There's plenty of spark on “Mandela.”  The hard bop(ish) intro to the title track had me thinking  there was going to be more of the same, but the tunes turns into a light funk thing that isn't really my thing, even if his playing (and the others) is solid throughout. However, the tune just bring variety to the set. I have some more from Kim Paterson lined up for this series and I'm looking forward to it.

Jones' tone is warm throughout the range with some brightness in the upper register and there's a pinched quality to the tone in the upper register (more so than I remember from Urbanism). There are some “Brecker-isms” - mostly in the upper register and a mandatory false fingering lick. But at his core Jones seems to have melodic concept with lyrical/melodic phrases dispersed throughout his solos.The opening of his solo on “Dolphin Girl” keeps in the vein of the melody without really stating or paraphrasing it. He doesn't rely solely on strings of notes and isn't afraid of a little space to let his lines breath. “Mandala” is a nicely paced solo and at times, like on “Crystal Cave,” he can generate quite an up beat feeling.

A little digging around on Sounz led me to leadsheets for three tunes featured on Subspace available for free download - “Reflections,” Cloud Nine” and Dolphin Girl” (I caught myself humming the latter a number of times lately).

I was happy giving Subspace some airtime this month and as this series continues I hope to lay my ears on plenty more music that I missed along the way or is not really music I would normally reach for all that often. Up next there's a new release lined up for my December listening.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Paul Bley: Being Together

Here we have Michael Cuscuna's profile of Paul Bley for the October 17, 1968 issue of Down Beat. Do yourself a favor and be sure to check out his trio recordings from this era (Footloose, Closer, Touching, Ramblin'). Most recently I have been listening to Plays Carla Bley, a 1991 trio recording for Steeplechase with Marc Johnson and Jeff Williams. 

I have some articles in the pipeline to post in March and May but for now, this brings to an end the regular postings. In the meantime you can browse the list of magazine article uploads here.
Michael Cuscuna Down Beat Magazine

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

NZ Jazz: Chisholm / Meehan / Dyne - Unwind

I first met Hayden when he toured NZ with Root 70 in 2007 and have been listening to his music since about 2003 (more on that later). Of all my friends I've written about his music the most - and I still feel a bit guarded in doing so. Going back to 1999, Norm and Paul were teachers of mine at jazz school and earlier this year while back in NZ, I got to hear them both - P.D with Jasmine Lovell-Smith, and Norm just happened to be playing a gig at the airport(!) when I was there to head back to the U.S. This series of posts is going to challenge me to write about my friends, teachers and associates more than I have in the past. 

New Zealand jazz
Unwind is quite the contrast to the Space Case discs from last month. Following the initial spin I played word association and scribbled down some words that came to mind: space; warmth; quiet; understated; open; cozy; subtle; intimate; sparingness; dark; unhurried; joy; communicative; and intense.

The three originals from Haden have been explored before in the alto/piano/bass setting. “Fly,” “Inebriate Waltz” and “Tinkerbell's Whim” all appeared on Breve with the latter named “Tinkerbell Swing”) and “Inebriate Waltz” is also on Star Shepherd. One thing I haven't done this month is give some comparative listening to the match-ups of Dyne/Meehan, Penman/Taylor and Kaufmann/Eldn alongside Hayden. Norm contributes seven pieces and “Nick Van Dijk” (Hi Nick!) seemed very familiar to me. I think it's from watching the video of the trio that John Fenton posted on his blog late last year as I don't recall hearing another recording of it. There are some strong melodies here and later in the month I started working on “Free Motian” and “S.T.B.”

It's always interesting what pops out as you listen passively - “Edward” and “Free Motian” were the two melodies that initially drew my ear. And there's phrase from Hayden's improvisation on “Nick Van Dijk” (at 1.54) always seemed on leap out at me and now I catch myself waiting for it. Parts of the melody (the bridge) of “View of the Moon” remind me a little of “Ballad of the Hurting Girl” from Norm's Small Holes In The Silence (also on Rattle).

One of the keys to the album is the nuanced playing and subtleties – Paul's upper register playing during the melody of “Beekeeper,” or the way Norm uses a pedal tone to generate some gentle propulsion during the out head of “Free Motian.” Hayden's Basie-esque riff behind Paul's bass solo on “S.T.B” (a live track to end the album) and Norm's intro to his solo on the same piece. Some of these examples last only a matter of seconds but are vital nonetheless. On a mostly ballad outing such as this, textural variety can make a big difference. The piano/alto duo of “Free Motian,” the brief solo sax opening up “Tinkerbell's Whim” the bass/alto duo on “View of the Moon,” and Hayden's comping behind Paul on “S.T.B” provide enough variety to keep the ears fresh. Oh, and the counter point on the out head of “S.T.B” is a nice touch too (the melody of this tune brought to mind Bernie McGann).

The trio brings some laid-back churchy blues to Hayden's arrangement of Robert Schumann's “Sei Gegrusst Viel Tausendmal.” I'm enjoying the way Paul's interactive lines breath with the soloists.
Following the melody, “Unwind” momentarily features the tangled lines of dueting alto and piano before the bass reenters. This tune has bit of a different vibe to the other pieces – maybe a bit darker or starker (again, a nice bit of variety). But that feeling is more apparent during the melody statements than in the improvisations. It's nice hearing the melody used as a tool for accompaniment. I could hear this tune reimagined as a wilder out-of-tempo free-jazz thing too.

A positive vibe prevails on “Edward” which features communicative collective playing and swell to the accompaniment thats builds throughout the song. 3.28 and 4.20 were another couple of phrases/sound bites that caught my ear.

On the mid-tempo pieces like “Tinkerbell's Whim” and “S.T.B” Norm's lines have a nice singing quality to them. His playing on the latter has some nice twists and turns and use of space/phrasing that I'm digging. Paul's sound really pops on “View of the Moon” and “S.T.B” as he digs in for some walking and he plays some lovely counter melodies on “Beekeeper” and the title track.

Hints of Hayden's Johnny Hodges roots come through in “Inebriate Waltz.” The breath is very much part of Hayden's sound and while some players try to hide air sounds (or it is taught out of them), Hayden embraces it. At the six-minute mark he links two phrases with air – not something I hear people doing.

Unwind, lets you do just that – highly recommended. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Straight Horning: Jan Garbarek - Folk Songs

Jan Garbarek (ss/ts) Charlie Haden (b) Egberto Gismonti (g/p)

Folk Songs (ECM) is the trio's follow-up to Magico (both recorded during 1979) and four of the six pieces feature Garbarek on soprano (albeit of the curved variety....I'm being a little flexible with the “Straight Horning” title today). A few years back I made an effort to check out a fair amount of Garbarek's work, and almost without exception I preferred his playing from the 70s. Garbarek's distinctive tone (perhaps even unique) was the thing that struck me when first listening to him many years ago. It's very easy to pick and that alone is worthy enough reason to give him a listen. Considering soprano is his second horn makes it all the more impressive. And judging from the more recent things I have heard (mostly via concert footage on Youtube), it's still fairly well intact.

ECM Folk Songs
It's a bold sound, resonant, full and the upper register can have a laser-like focus at times. While revisiting Folk Songs this week I started noticing how he uses tone to maintain energy (on both ballads and up tempo pieces). The attack, buzz, vibrato and dynamics have an urgency to them and gives him the freedom to use space and not overplay while still maintaining energy and momentum. “Cego Aderaldo” is a pretty good example or the held notes on “Equilibrista” or the title track.

The influence of Ornette Coleman comes through in his soprano playing but I don't hear it as much in his tenor playing (but that could be because my listening has focused on his soprano work). It is hinted at in his phrasing, melodic material and certain intervals. Maybe it is most apparent on “For Turiya” (side note: the opening of the piano solo on this track always seems to make me think of Mike Nock). “The Windup” from Belonging with Keith Jarrett is another example of the Ornette influence on Garbarek too.

I like the way the notes are almost smeared together on uptempo lines on “Equilibrista.” At times this track brought to mind David Liebman but I think it had to do the post-Coltrane type content of the lines rather than the articulation/smeared phrasing (or maybe it's just because Lieb is playing in town next weekend and he was on my mind).

Haden plays great and there are times when I listen to this album just to focus on his playing. As usual he makes a great study for using the minimum to the maximum.
I'm making an effort to keep up the weekly straight horning post. I'm yet to decide on what soprano album will be the next to get some attention, but stay tuned for more.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Straight Horning: Tony Malaby at Constellation

Anthony Cox JT Bates
Due to computer error we're running a little late this week...... a week late.
The trio of Tony Malaby (ts/ss), JT Bates (d) and Anthony Cox (d) were at Constellation on Saturday night (7th) and it was during the set break that I decided to scribble (well, type on the phone) some notes for a straight horning post.

While I've been to Constellation many times, this was the first time I've been in the smaller of the two rooms. It seats about half as many people and was about 3/4 full (maybe 45 or so for the first set ....  not bad considering that there were less than 10 not long before the scheduled kick off). Acoustically it was pretty good, but maybe not quite as nice as the larger space.

I heard Malaby live a couple of times several years ago (with mixed results), and although I've heard a little from him on soprano, I've always considered him a tenor player. Still, I was excited when saw the soprano set up last night. I didn't have to wait long for him to switch horns, and as it turned out, he pretty much split time evenly between the two horns over the two sets.

The soprano wasn't treated as "tenor up an octave" (as can be the case when soprano is the secondary horn). Malaby took advantage of the sonic differences he has on the two horns - the lighter, fleetness of soprano and the robust tenor with lush subtone. He has a well balanced soprano sound with plenty of depth and a nice crisp edge. Add to that the bends, growls, altissimo, multiphonics, dynamics, air sounds and a bit of "sax can moo" (as Lacy would say) - it's a very flexible approach to the horn.

Just as his sound had variety so too did the improvisations - melodic and lyrical, dense and rapid, and textual/sound oriented playing kept things from getting bogged down. There was plenty of ebb and flow throughout the sets and the textural and dynamic elements were important factors.

I haven't followed Malaby's work that closely, and maybe he's playing soprano more these days, but it's rare that soprano as a second horn hits me the way it did on Saturday night. I could have listened to Malaby on the straight horn all night .

Friday, October 13, 2017

Pharoah's Tale

Martin Williams profiles Pharaoh Sanders for the May 16, 1968 issue of Down Beat. Click on the image to view PDF of the full article. More vintage magazine articles are available here.
Down Beat Magazine

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

New Zealand Jazz Album of the Year

I recently updated the blog to include a couple of pages regarding New Zealand Jazz (see navigation bar towards the top left of the page). The first an index of my New Zealand jazz posts - the NZ Music Month posts, the NZ Jazz series I started a couple of months ago, and a few others from the blog.

The second page lists the New Zealand Jazz Album of the Year winners and finalists, and the more recent APRA Best Jazz Composition winners and finalists. I wasn't able to find all of the winners in a single list, and I thought it could be useful to have them in one place.

It's a work in progress, but things are pretty well covered going back to 1981. I only have the winners for 1981 and 1982 (and I'm not totally confident '81 is correct). I have not been able to find anything for 1989-1991 and I'm thinking that there was no jazz award during those years. Also, I find results listing the same winners for 2010 and 2011. So I could be missing a years' results or there were no awards for one of those years (or it was a combined 2010/11 award?).

I'll try and keep the pages updated and I'm always open to suggestions, corrections and additions, so please drop me line if you have any information to share.