Friday, June 15, 2018

Straight Horning: Bruce Ackley Trio - The Hearing

Bruce Ackley Trio: The Hearing (Avant)

Ackley (ss) Greg Cohen (b) Joey Baron (d) 

Bruce Ackley has very much flown under my radar. Outside of the little I've heard from ROVA, this is the first album I've heard from Ackley. And after a little digging around this appears to be his only release as a leader (are there others?). I may be late to the party, but thankfully The Hearing has been getting plenty of airtime since picking it up back in May. 

Soprano Saxophone Jazz
The album was produced by John Zorn who, not for the first time, enlisted Greg Cohen (b) and Joey Baron (d) – a Zorn house rhythm section of sorts perhaps. A couple of other Zorn produced discs in my library featuring this pairing include Misha Mengelberg's No Idea and Lee Konitz's Some New Stuff and then there's Masada (I'm sure there are others too). It's a really solid pairing – swinging, creative, supportive, interactive and flexible. You can't ask for too much more really. It's a testament to their ability that the album locks right into place – I wouldn't have picked that they hadn't played with Ackley before.
Soloistically sometimes Baron is a little bombastic for me... but it's only a minor complaint and in some ways it matches Ackley's spark - and it's not out of place on pieces like “Serf Music.” Cohen's double stops on “Clear Blue Sky” grabbed my attention. He doesn't overdo it - a couple times during melody and one phrase during his solo – plus he plays very nice walking lines and melodic solo too.

The exuberance of “Out of the Box” brought Monk to mind - when I read then liner notes (I always give the album a listen first) it mentioned Herbie Nichols was the inspiration. “1, 2 and Radical 3” has a mysterious vibe. Baron shows he is much more than bombastic with lots of subtle changes behind the more dominant bass and soprano. Solo following the melody features lots of shorts phrases, pecking and jabs and some flurries, register leaps, and melodic variation. The head of the energetic blues, “Juggernaut,” has pointed feel due to Ackley's clipped articulation. But things smooth out a bit during the blowing but the energy remains throughout. I liked Baron's shift in sound/texture as he accompanies Cohen's solo before employing some trademark Baron power during the trades. Mr Mood” is a bit more reflective/introspective. There's almost a stream of conscience type thing going on, with ideas, direction and colors changing phrase to phrase yet somehow it all ties together and is very much in fitting with the melody. I couldn't help thinking of Wayne Shorter. There's plenty of interaction between the trio and at a push it could be my favourite track on the album. On the full-throttle, busy, up-tempo burn of “JT”, Ackley moves into the outer regions via the upper range. There two sides to “Syndrome”, a buoyant march that opens the work and then a more outwardly reflective (yet still inwardly driving) for the rest of the piece. I expected that they would reprise the march at the end but they don't and it really wasn't necessary. “Serf Music” features Ackley utilizing a chanter-like effect over arco bass and drums (playing a quasi-surf feel at times... Or is that the tunes title playing on my mind?). The chanter effect contorts and distorts with the addition of multiphonics and altissimo as the piece progresses. Cohen's intense arco playing really sets up the vibe of “Actual Size”, and locks in with Baron's dry cymbal for some swinging bass lines while Ackley generates an exploratory feel while still maintaining the swing. Rounding out the album is the mid-tempo “Ivan's Bell” features an angular melody that is still somewhat lyrical, and the melodicism remains for Ackley's solo. 

Ackley is definitely coming from the Lacy realm but expresses his own personality from within that sphere. He has a full-bodied, solid, robust, flexible, bold, pure soprano sound. There's evenness across the range and a he finds a nice combination of darkness/spread and focus. Ackley plays with plenty of energy and spark (slightly manic quality at times, but appealingly so). There is a probing quality to his playing that really enjoy. I think some of it is due to his time feel and busyness of his playing - he can be quite notey at times. One word that always came to mind as I listened to this was “exploratory” - like Lacy, Ackley is an explorer. 

Fellow soprano saxophone enthusiasts/fanatics, do yourself a favor and dig into The Hearing.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Recent listening: Some Ornette and Bley

Experiencing Ornette ColemanNew Zealand Music Month had me listening to a lot of jazz from back home, although towards the end of the month I started listening to selected tracks from a bunch of Ornette Coleman albums. I've been working on the melodies of "Jayne" from Something Else!!!! and "Humpty Dumpty" from This is Our Music. "What Reason" from both of the Sound Museum albums has been getting airtime (both of these albums deserve more of my attention). Ornette on Tenor is the Atlantic album that I have listened to the least, so that has been played a few times over the past week. The hook-up between Jimmy Garrison and Ed Blackwell is superb and it made me want to hear more Garrison with Ornette - coming in the form of New York is Now! (I don't have Love Call...yet). Also tickling my fancy of late has been some Paul Bley - a player never out of rotation for very long. This time round it's been a smattering of tracks from Paul Plays Carla and the Complete Savoy Sessions 1962-63. Not pictured are Song X and Tone Dialing which is where this little blast of Ornette began after I caught myself singing "Kathleen Gray" couple of times and decided to learn it. Accompanying on the train ride to work has been Michael Stephan's Experiencing Ornette Coleman. It's a pretty easy read, not a lot of new information, but it's interesting to read another take on Ornette. I'd be interested in reading Stephen Rush's Free Jazz, Harmolodics and Ornette Coleman. And as it turns out, it's at the public library too, so that will likely be next on the list.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

NZ Music Month: The 3-Out – Move

The 3-Out: Move 
Mike Nock (p) Freddy Logan (b) Chris Karan (d)

New Zealand Jazz
Years before I heard Move, a friend (hi John!) played me a single track (possibly from a radio broadcast) blindfold test style. It was the 3-Out, and I picked Mike as the pianist. I'll put that down to an educated guess. I don't know if there are qualities on this recording that I recognize in Nock's present-day work. Perhaps I hear similarities in the energy and time feel... perhaps. The simple fact that I know it's Mike Nock makes it a bit tricky and easy to suggest things that are not really there. But something clued me in during that first listen.

Does his music conjure up images or feelings of New Zealand? Not so on Move, but on later recordings I do get that feeling. But again, the power of suggestion is at play (“Land of the Long White Cloud” from Ondas for example). Knowing he's a Kiwi leads me to making connections between his music and my own feelings/memories/impressions of New Zealand – whether it be landscapes, space, the light or the weather etc. If these connections exist only in my mind are they real? What I hear as reflecting New Zealand could easily be heard as something entirely differently by someone else (including fellow New Zealanders).

I don't get that feeling from other overseas based players such as Alan Broadbent or Matt Penman – so why do I get it with Mike? (sometimes I make that connection with Hayden Chisholm's music too) Maybe it's because Nock was the first jazz musician from New Zealand with whom I was aware, I latched onto that and projected it onto his music.

How about local jazz players invoking a New Zealand quality? The textual component of much of Norman Meehan's recent work helps, but you could debate how “jazzy” some of those recordings are. Jim Langabeer maybe (again with the power of suggestion re: song titles). And then there's the use of Taonga puoro. From the little I have heard of Jonathan Crayford's trio albums (they're on the list more a closer listen), they bring to mind some New Zealandness. But can it be NZ Jazz when two-thirds of the groups aren't Kiwis? I know that some entires for Jazz Album of the Year have been not seriously considered because they were recorded overseas with only one Kiwi. Thankfully Jonathan Crayford's win in 2017 for East West Moon seems to have put an end to that.

What is New Zealand Jazz? Does it invoke a particular feeling or imagery? Is it all just in my head? Is it even a thing? I lean towards no, and what I've heard from others on the subject, this is likely the consensus view at the moment - New Zealand Jazz isn't a thing, but jazz from New Zealand is. Perhaps, on some level, that's what this listening project is really about. 

Move might sound pretty tame these days, but it pays to put things in context. From all reports this trio was at the fore of Australasian jazz. I stumbled on a couple of pretty interesting articles discussing that period of jazz in Australia, particularly the El Rocco – here and here

I haven’t heard (m)any recordings from around this time to make comparisons. With the ease of recordings these days (not always a good thing!) sometimes you forget that once upon a time, musicians had to have someone willing to invest in them. That resulted in a lot of music not getting recorded. There is an interview with Mike where he talks about playing in saxophonist Bob Gillet’s band which was incorporating works by Kenneth Patchen - that’s something I’d like to hear! [Side note: Gillet, an American, was an important force on the jazz scenes in both NZ and Australia but I’m yet to hear a recording of him - is anything available?]

Anyway, it's great that the two albums from the trio have been reissued. Also reissued around the same time was Judy Bailey's 1964 trio album – lets hope for more. With these being Nock's first recordings of note, it's definitely one for Mike Nock fans or those interested in jazz in New Zealand and/or Australia in the late 50 and early 60s.

Well, this post took a somewhat unexpected turn. Thanks for hanging in there.
New Zealand Jazz

Thursday, May 24, 2018

NZ Music Month: The Three Out Trio - Hot and Swinging

The 3-Out were featured in the March 16, 1962 issue of the NZ Listener. I remember hearing Mike mention that this was the group everyone asked him about. I put it down to the records being scarce (and expensive). Since then, both Move and Sittin’ In have been reissued and I wonder if the Three Out questions have subsided? Anyone keen to try and track down the six shows they recorded for NZBS?

Click on the image to view the full article. More vintage magazine articles can be found here.
NZ Music Month New Zealand Jazz
New Zealand Jazz

Friday, May 18, 2018

NZ Music Month: Nathan Haines - The Poet's Embrace

Nathan Haines – The Poet's Embrace (Haven Music)
Haines (ts) Kevin Field (p) Thomas Botting (b) Alain Koetsier (d) 

Shift Left was released around the timeI started playing saxophone  (there was even a music video for the single) and, aside from my saxophone teacher (hi Phil!), Haines was the first New Zealand saxophonist I was really aware of. It took a while, but in 2012 Haines finally recorded a set of all-acoustic music - The Poet's Embrace.
NZ Music Month - New Zealand Jazz

Haines has talked about the ever-present influence of John Coltrane, especially when he plays tenor. The opening notes of “Realisation” had me wondering if this would be a “clone-trane” all-tenor outing, but that thought soon diminished. 

As a saxophonist myself, tone is the thing I dial in on first and it is probably his tone that I have been most closely listening to. Initially it drew me in as it was different than what I had heard from him on tenor previously. Round, woody, spread, dark, a certain amount of tubbiness and a lot of color. There is also something that I struggle to describe – a hollowness maybe. This is by no means a negative, I like it. Sometimes I feel there's a little too much room sound in general (the drums on “Universal Man”) but more so on the sax in particular which at times seems like he's a little off mic (“Realisation”). But my ears always adjust and I soon forget about it. I like the way he shifts tonal colour between (and sometimes during) phrases on “Ancestral Dance.” He doesn't overdo the high notes, when he does move into the upper register it makes for a nice contrast.

I would have appreciated some soprano too, but hey, you can't win them all. Instead I put on Haines' 1994 debut as a leader, Shift Left, for my soprano fix. It had been ages since I gave it a listen. A nice throwback to my teens and it made me realize that Shift Left was the first new(ish) jazz release that I purchased (if it can be considered a jazz release. [Side note: I'm pretty sure the next new release I purchased was Ornette Coleman's Tone Dialing

Shift Left was also a reminder as to just how long Kevin Field has been on the scene. And a reminder that there is a gaping hole in my listening when it comes to Field. His playing is classy throughout. The title track contains a very tasty solo introduction (the solo isn't bad either) and he provides plenty of energy of “Universal Man.” 

And then there's Botting and Koetsier, two players I am really unfamiliar with. They generate a really well balanced rhythm section sound in support of Haines and Field but don't get too much room to stretch out themselves as far as soloing goes.

Haines wrote 5 of the 7 tunes. And the other two slide into the program seamlessly. I've spent some time this past week playing along with Field's “Offering.” And Roy Brooks' “Eboness” is a real ear worm. I can't tell you how times it's been accompanying me in my mind's ear. There's plenty of variety – lyrical ballads (the title track and “Offering”), fire (“Consequence”), mellow groove (“Eboness”) and upbeat vibes (“Universal Man”). 

Ending the album is Kevin Field's “Offering.” The piece leaves you hanging as if waiting for a response to the musical offering conjured up by the quartet over the past 45 minutes. I find the LP length recording refreshing. It's a nice amount of time to listen in one sitting. I feel you get in more repeated listens and can dig into the album without realizing.

I am yet to check out follow-up, Vermillion Skies, recorded a year later by an expanded ensemble. I'll add it to the list! Apparently there are plans for a third album in this series of acoustic works.

New Zealand Jazz

Thursday, May 17, 2018

2018 NZ Jazz Award Finalists Announced

The finalists for the Recorded Music NZ Best Jazz Artist and APRA Best Jazz Composition have been announced. 

Does anyone know why change Jazz Album of the Year is now Best Jazz Artist? To me they are different things and the award is still based on the album. Anyway....

It's great to see a number of friends in the running. Of the albums, Fearless Music, is the only one I haven't heard, but Unwind has had plenty of airtime since I picked it up last year (and I woke up at 3am this morning with "View of the Moon" floating through my minds ear) and I'm listening to West of the Sun as I write this post. I've been listening to it sporadically since picking it up at the start of the year - Really enjoyable and recommended (I'll get around to blogging about it eventually). I'm a little surprised that Jim Langabeer's Secret Islands didn't make the final three. The composition award is a different matter – I'm not familiar with any of them! However, the works by Callum and Jake were recorded by Radio New Zealand and you can listen to the The Jac & Black String there (part of my plan today). Anita's tune is on her soon to be released album, Eat You Greens – her first as a leader (I think) and I'm looking forward to hearing it. 

Best Jazz Artist 
Lucien Johnson: West of the Sun
Hayden Chisholm/Norman Meehan/Paul Dyne: Unwind
Umar Zakaria: Fearless Music

APRA Best Jazz Composition 
Callum Allardice: "A Gathering"
Anita Schwabe: "Springtide"
Jake Baxendale: "Beyond the Palace"

APRA Best Jazz Composition NZ Music Month

Saturday, May 12, 2018

NZ Music Month: Nathan Haines - Growing up in NYC

Next up in the NZ Music Month articles is the April 1992 issue of NZ Musician. This issue featured Nathan Haines following his first sojourn in the United States. Nathan is currently recovering from surgery and treatments to remove a cancerous tumor from his throat - be sure to send him some good vibes.
Click on the image to view the full article. More vintage magazine articles can be found here.
NZ Music Month
New Zealand Jazz