Thursday, December 06, 2018

Swagman at Raumati Social Club

Brent McFarlane (drums/perc) Joe Callwood (guitars/congas) Gabe Davidson (alto & bari sax/vibes/perc) form the trio Swagman. For sometime now they have been playing on the last Friday of the month at Raumati Social Club. After missing out last month due to clashing schedules, I finally got along last week. It made a nice change to hear two sets of original music without a piece of sheet music in site. I hadn’t heard Gabe play in many years, so it was great to hear him and have a catch up after the gig - it had been way too long. Joe might not be quite as visible as some guitarists on the NZ jazz scene but he's right up there nonetheless. I need to seek out more from him (add it to the list!). It was an enjoyable gig of groove heavy, textural music in the jazz/world music sphere, played to a packed house. Maybe it's not the best space for listening, as it gets pretty chatty and loud, but that didn't detract from me having a good night. I'm looking forward to catching them again soon.
Swagman - New Zealand Jazz

Sunday, December 02, 2018

NZ Jazz: Antipodes - Good Winter

Antipodes: Good Winter (Rattle)
Jake Baxendale (as) Callum Allardice (g) Luke Sweeting (p), Ken Allars (trpt), Max Alduca (b) and Aidan Lowe (d) 

Well, I finally got my hands on Good Winter (along with a couple of other new releases from Rattle). It was of particular interest to me as I've known Jake since the first week he moved to Wellington - that must be over 10 years now....rust never sleeps. Back then he was just a fresh-faced lad moving to the big city. It was while I was abroad that he developed into one of the movers and shakers on the scene here. Not only as a player but also an organizer, seeking out playing oppourtunities not only for himself, but the wider jazz community in New Zealand too. One of his main collaborators is guitarist Callum Allardice, who joins him here to form the Kiwi contingency of the trans-Tasman collaboration that is Antipodes. 

Antipodes - New Zealand Jazz
Compositional duties are evenly split between Jake, Callum and Luke Sweeting, with Alduca contributing one.  And it should be noted that Callum has been the recipient of the APRA Best Jazz Composition award on two occasions, and the 2017 winner, “Deep Thought,” appears on Good Winter.

I'm not sure why as I haven't listened to them in a long time, but two artists/recordings came to mind almost immediately during the first spin. There's an uplifting kind of vibe that made me think of David Binny and the other was Reid Anderson’s The Vastness of Space. But I wouldn't say that Good Winter sounds like either (but it did lead me to giving a listen to both just to check in with my initial reaction). 

It's the ensemble sound and collective effort rather than soloists that stands out to me. It is quite a busy and dense sound that features throughout with multiple soloist weaving lines together or soloists improvising lines as written melodies are stated. There are hints of ECM vibe too, but for the most part, things are a little over-the-top for the ECM thing. And that's probably my main criticism – there's just a bit much of everything (yet something is missing). There's no shortage of youthful exuberance but that seems to lend itself to an overblown “epicness” (think jazz power ballads). At times I almost caught myself laughing (definitely chuckling). I'm not sure why I do, but it's probably not what they were going for!

Perhaps the “diametrically opposite” component of the definition of Antipodes is reflected in the contrast between the mellow and the grandiose that is a feature of many (all?) of the tracks. It's not just a band name, but part of the aesthetic of the group. For me it’s a bit overstated and at times somewhat predictable(and in that regard, it reminded me of hearing The Bad Plus live). For example, you just know that the phrase at 0.55 on “Deep Thought” will reappear later coated in full-blown epicness (and it does at 3.20). “Sympathetic Resonance” provides some respite, as does “Haritomeni,” until things get cranked for the last minute or so.

Listening to the album has a whole had me wanting a change of pace. I was better off just listening to a couple of tracks in a sitting. I do like that they have a conception even if it's one that's not really for me. However, I'm still curious to hear where they would take things on a follow-up album.

The New Zealand leg of the album release tour kicks off in mid-December (next week!).
Dec 12 - Auckland, Backbeat Bar, 8pm
Dec 13 - Hamilton, Nivara Lounge, 8pm
Dec 14 – Rotorua, Princes Hotel, 8pm
Dec 15 – Whanganui, Musician's Club, 8pm
Dec 16 - Wellington, The Rogue and Vagabond, 5pm
Dec 18 - Christchurch, Space Academy, 8pm
Dec 19 - Nelson, Fairfield House, 8pm 
Dec 20 - Golden Bay, The Mussel Inn, 8pm
Dec 21 - Blenheim, Dharma Bums, 8pm

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Music for Commuting: Jonathan Crayford and Jean-Paul Celea

Ornette Coleman; Jonathan Crayford
A couple of albums keeping me company as I roll through the farmland each morning and evening. Jonathan Crayford’s Dark Light will eventually get the NZ Jazz post treatment, as it deserves more than a passing mention. As does Yes Ornette!, from the trio led by bassist Jean-Paul Celea. This one was of interest on a few fronts: I’m into Ornette and this album features his compositions including many he did’t record. Plus, featured throughout is the soprano sax of Emile Parisien, a player I hadn’t heard before. I’ve been listening to a bit of Ornette played by others lately so expect to see more Ornette-oriented albums getting a mention here soon.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Arthur Street Loft Orchestra - Mark Lockett

Monday night at The Third Eye is big band night with the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra. The band shifts personnel each week and features the music of a local composer. This past Monday, drummer Mark Lockett provided the tunes (mostly from his trio album Sneaking Out After Midnight) which were arranged by Lucien Johnson for the pretty standard lineup of 5 saxes, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones and rhythm. I was surprised to learn that this was Mark's first ever big band gig. And maybe that's what I liked most about his playing... he didn't seem like a big band drummer (that chops-driven, bombastic, big band drumming cliche has never really appealed to me). Due the pick-up nature of the band, things tend to be a little underrehearsed, but it really didn't matter at all, as the feeling projected by the band overpowered any inefficiencies. In fact, it was the most fun I've seen and felt exuding from the bandstand in quite some time. It's catchy too, as the crowd really got on board with the good vibes. Jake Baxendale is doing a great job putting together this series, get along and check it out.
New Zealand Jazz
Mark Lockett featured with the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra

Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Melancholy Babes at Snails

I forgot to post a photo of The Melancholy Babes gig. Snails in Palmerston North was the third stop (of five) on the trio’s North Island tour supporting the release of their fourth album, Shingles.  It was nice timing to hear Jeff live, having just spent the previous month digging into The Triplets Book. I picked up a copy of Shingles, so eventually I might get around to adding that to the NZ Jazz posts.
New Zealand Jazz; The Melancholy Babes
The Melancholy Babes (L-R) Jeff Henderson, Anthony Donaldson, Tom Callwood

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Music for Commuting: C.L Bob and Steve Lacy

A couple of discs doing the rounds recently -  C. L. Bob’s Stereoscope and Steve Lacy’s Wordless. After many years apart I’m reacquainting myself with the former, which will eventually make its way into a NZ Jazz post. The latter is the earliest example I have of Lacy’s "Tao Suite" (and it features an early incarnation of the quintet) which makes for fascinating listening. I need to check his discography to find out if an earlier version of the complete suite exists. And a listening session last night, I spun the opening of the suite, "Existence," from his solo album Remains (highly recommended) and it opened up some very good discussion.
C L Bob Steve Lacy

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

NZ Jazz: The Triplets Book

The Triplets Book (iiii Records)
Jeff Henderson (alto/bari/C-Melody/C-Soprano Saxes) Eamon Edmundsen-Wells (b) Joseph McCallum (d) November 2016

Sometimes deciding what album to delve into proves to be problematic. I've tried making lists but invariably I don't stick to them (but I continue making them anyway!). This month the plan was to listen to the newly released Good Winter from the Antipodes, but that fell by the wayside when October rolled around and I still hadn't bought it (I have since taken care of that). So instead I went for another release from earlier this year, The Triplet Book, which I picked up from Slow Boat records at the end of September. 

It's nice to feature the freer end of the jazz spectrum - something I need to do more - and also, this post marks the overdue appearance of Jeff in this series (if you exclude a NZ Music Month post on Syzygy from a few years back). Maybe Jeff was on my mind after I wrote the post on Roger Sellers? Whatever it was, it's nice to include him here and I have another couple of albums on the pile to get to down the track.

Jeff Henderson New Zealand JazzI can remember when Jeff added the baritone and clarinet to his arsenal, the soprano too but from memory, I haven't heard him play the latter until now. He's got a sound I dig on the straight horn – fat and resonant (there is also something I think of as sweetness). And it's the soprano that kicks off the album with “Triplets”. It's a good example of improvising within a limitation – in this case the whole tone scale.

Stones” flows on from the opening track and features more a pointillistic approach to Jeff's phrasing (still on soprano) and space plays a more prominent role, as does a lower dynamic level – nice contrast to both the proceeding piece and the track that follows. Following a solo introduction from Jeff, “Wabi-Sabi” takes shape with full-throttle blowing throughout – something I don't remember hearing on a C-melody before. The tubbiness in the core sound actually works pretty well with Jeff's rasp and bark around the edges. Although it doesn't fully surface, I get the feeling that there's a march feel underlying things here.

Considering the time of year, it seems appropriate to have a piece titled “Swarm Warning” (there were two swarms last week). It's full of pops, clicks, squeaks, slaps, blasts, multiphonics, air sounds, wailing, scrapes, prods, and stabs. Everything in moderation. First and foremost I think of Jeff as an alto saxophonist - it's the horn I have heard him on the most. On "New Folk" he passes a classic alto bubbly-ness through his own filter. In this case it's a little more Ornette-y than I expected (at least towards the beginning). There's plenty of energy and the buoyancy makes for a nice contrast to the previous piece and the upbeat feeling makes for a satisfying way to round out the album.

Jeff is the driving force out front but the rhythm section hold their own. While I'm aware of their names, I've heard very little from Edmundsen-Wells (some videos posted by John Fenton and Jim Langabeer's excellent album, Secret Islands) and even less from McCallum. But that's exactly what this listening series is about. It's quite a raw sounding recording, which I don't mind, but with the drums and saxes more prominent in the mix, I deliberately spent some time concentrating on the bass to make sure I digested Edmundsen-Wells' contributions without them slipping by – which could happen with more casual listening. There's a really nice blend between the bowed bass and throaty baritone sax on the contemplative, even tender, “Old Friends.” Plus he gets some solo room to stretch out, in which he contrasts the rich low register with whispering in the upper reaches. Although I found the polyrhythmic playing (along with the limited tonal field) on “Triplets” created a nice meditative quality, often I found McCallum's playing a little too dense for my liking. Not that the density was really out of place, but maybe it wouldn't have bothered me as much if the bass popped out a bit more - I'll survive. The more spacious “Stones” worked better for me, as did the mallet work on “Old Friends.” I welcomed whenever the dynamics dropped welcome, as it gave the bass a chance to reveal itself. 

Often I prefer to hear this sort of thing live (volume can be an issue for me... but I can control that here), and often I treat free jazz recordings like a concert and sit down and absorb things in one sitting via headphones (my stereo is in a box somewhere floating home). But not all that often do I make repeated listens over the course of a month, and it has been refreshing to do so. And I have to say the composed melodies are pretty catchy. There's a curiosity factor at play too (not a bad thing at all), as one thing I find a bit fascinating with music along these lines - particularly the “scratchy” and/or full-throttle playing - is that I don't envision myself ever playing this way. I'm not sure I'd know where to start, but maybe I should have a crack.