Sunday, October 25, 2020

Arthur Street Loft Orchestra - Elliot Vaughan and Tristan Carter

Arthur Street Loft OrchestraAfter many moons away, I’ve moved back to Wellington. The last time I lived here was 2009, in some ways things haven’t changed much... in some ways. It would be nice to document some of the gigs I attend to try and kick start getting back to a somewhat semi regular blog schedule. It has been taking of a sideline to the radio show (which hasn’t had much of a mention here... I need to work on that). It’s not the first gig attended since the move (a couple of weeks ago), just the first I’ve written about. In fact, following my first day at the new job, the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra (ASLO) was just the ticket.

This week the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra featured works by Elliot Vaughan and Tristan Carter. Having heard Tristan with The Troubles and The Noveltones, I was keen to hear what he came up with for a large ensemble. I hadn't heard any of Elliot's music before. This time around the ensemble was a ten-piece - 2x violin, 2x bass, viola/voice, cello, drums, bass clarinet, trombone and baritone sax. I wasn’t too keen on the music playing as everyone was milling about... not hitting the mood of what was to come. It would have bugged me if I was about to play. But the opening blast put an end to that! And it was a very enjoyable night of music with a bit of, if not everything, then plenty - raucousness, shuffle, swing, abstraction, fun, even some more tender moments. At times there was bit of a 'The Troubles' vibe, not surprising as 6 or 7 of this incarnation of ASLO are regulars with John Rae's group. A couple of things popped out when I looked at my (very messy) notes the next day. The first piece, "Surreal Multiverse", paired sections of the ensemble - horns/strings, strings/rhythm, and rhythm/horns - for a long time before the entire unit played together. Subtle yet very effective as I waited for the full group sound to be revealed. The penultimate piece was a three-part suite. The last movement wound down the evening beautifully and harnessed cellphones in an unexpectedly enjoyable way. For me, that could have been it for the night, but they played one more piece. It made for a much more energetic end to the night. The only thing wrong with the piece was its placement in the programme.... I minor complaint. It sounds like there are a couple of interesting shows coming up, so I'll try and keep up a bit of blog momentum.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Arthur Street Loft Orchestra: Daniel Beban

It’s always bit of a rush to get into Wellington straight from work but I made it nevertheless. I was keen to get along this week as a Daniel Beban led large ensemble is hard to resist, plus I missed him last time I was part of the ASLO series. This was the first time I’ve managed to get along to season 10(?). Also, it was first gig I have attended during level two restrictions. Social distancing was in place (as best it could be) and ticket sales were limited to 40 in order to help facilitate this. It was nice to see a decent crowd in – I guess it was sold out.

The evening started with Beban’s composition for two tubas and percussion. Joe Lindsay and Dan Yeabsley were droning on the tubas and Cory Anderson and Daniel Beban filled bowls, placed inside the tuba bells, with various bits and pieces to rattle around (balls, beads, chain, tambourines etc). The constant drone with the ever-changing shimmer and rattling made for a nice way to relax following the drive into the city. The piece ended somewhat abruptly, to applause and laughter, as Dan ran out of steam and the tuba won.
The main event was “Daily Deaths” - sonic interpretations of COVID--19 daily death counts from eight countries (I recall Italy and Afghanistan getting a mention, and saw Brazil was on the conductors music stand). The 16-piece ensemble comprised of pairs of Trumpet, Trombone, Tuba, Alto Sax, Bass Clarinet, Flute, Violin, and Bass. And each pair was assigned a country to play. It might seem a pretty opportunistic approach to music making (much like all those streaming playlists that take advantage of words like COVID or isolation). But, unlike those playlists, the results were worthwhile. Early on, breathe sounds were prominent and the droning vibe continued. At times there was a disorientating feeling as I couldn’t always tell what instruments were producing what sounds. Beban was conducting the work, and while the hands signals meant nothing to me (and sometimes I didn’t notice a marked difference when he signalled something), when he took control of the dynamics the piece took on some welcome variety. Up until then, dynamic shifts had been less abrupt, but this section had various parts of the of the ensemble swelling and falling bring a completely different energy to the piece. Jake Baxendale used the term “beautifully tragic” to describe the music - he was on point.
Once again, solid programming from the Jake - this season has had plenty of variety, and hopefully I can get to more. 

New Zealand Jazz

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Times Flies with Jazz Escapism

Where does the time go? Sometimes (most times, actually), the weekend just flies by. Today, that was the case. Jazz just let the time drift by with its usual effortlessness as I listened to potential tracks for the radio shows. Some recent releases (2019/2020) from tenor players - Jimmy Heath, Eric Alexander, Houston Person, Jerry Bergonzi, James Carter, a couple from Joshua Redman. Bit of a mixed bag really. Part of me really doesn't want to showcase a bunch of music I'm not really into. Not that all my programmes only feature music I dig.... but an entire (or majority) show of stuff that doesn't hit the spot for me might be pushing it. We'll see. I'm not afraid of spending some time with things that aren't my cuppa tea. At the urging of a friend, I spent a bit of time listening to Joey Alexander. His latest release, Warna, got a spin but I found my concentration fading in and out. Hype and media buzz often puts me off listening to artists/albums. And Alexander fits into the that category for me. I've always found that the music that sticks with me is stuff I "discover" for myself. But I'm willing to hang in there and give him some more time. Then there was a bunch of Miles Davis live recordings from 1960-64. Thought it could be good to put something together from the final Miles/Coltrane tour through to Wayne Shorter joining the group. Some of these are pretty familiar to me (Four & More/My Funny Valentine, the Plugged Nickel recordings), but it was nice to revisit the Blackhawk recordings which I hadn't heard in years (probably since music school) and the 1960 Tour "Bootleg" box set is new to me. I definitely want to spent a bit more time with the latter. It's the final tour Coltrane made with Miles, and you can hear he's ready (overdue?) to go his own way. From the little I heard today, Miles seems a little up and down (first impression) and the rhythm section sounded on form throughout. The fidelity of these sides are nice too... not essential, but an added bonus for sure. But as much as I enjoyed hanging with the jazz today, I still didn't manage to finish off the next two radio shows... and that was the plan.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Music for Commuting: A Bunch of Broadhurst

For the last couple of weeks the I've shared the ride to work with a handful of Phil Broadhurst albums. It's nice hearing the same (almost) personnel across the four albums. Roger Manins (ts) and Olivier Holland (b) are there all the way and following Delayed Reaction, drummer Alain Koetsier is replaced by Cameron Sangster. When not listening at 100% it's interesting to hear what pops out and sticks with you... and that forms the basis of this post.

Delayed Reaction might be the odd one out (solo disc aside) or at least the one I haven't dug as much. It splits Broadhurst's tunes with those of Michel Petrucciani (whereas the other albums feature Broadhurst compositions). There's a latin-type thing and general cleanliness (?) running through the album that I'm not much of a fan of, but Roger brings plenty of energy that gets things moving (although sometimes it almost feels out of place).
New Zealand Jazz

Flaubert's Dance has quite a warm, mellow vibe. Usually I listened to these albums on the way to work but this one hit the spot when I wanted to mellow out at the end of the day during the ride home (rather than caffeine music to kick off the day). Roger's tone has some added smoothness to it here which works nicely. The trumpet of Mike Booth eases into the group on three tracks (he made a single appearance on Delayed Reaction) and here, and on the albums that follow, his melodic approach compliments the busier Manins.

Of the five albums Panacea was the only one with which I was familiar. Roger is on form throughout and it’s no fluke that his discography has grown rapidly over the last 10 years or so (yet surprisingly, I don’t have a lot of his work as a leader yet). He is the go-to player if you’re looking for some contemporary tenor in this part of the world. He’s not all rip, shit or bust though – the opening of “Inverted” is one example of his lyrical side. Another thing that really pops out on “Inverted” is the pedal steel of Neil Watson. And it’s a nice touch (and an ear grabber) that he emerges about half way through the track (Watson also makes an appearance on “Knee Lever”). And then there's "Japanese Shadows", the sole trio track. Once again, it breaks things up nicely.

Positif opens up with some great energy (perhaps a flow-on from having an audience present) and the album really grew on me with each listen. You can hear the development over the span of the recordings and with the latter two, the quintet comes together and sounds like a really solid group. The horns and piano only on "Sorrento Sunset" was nice way to break things up.

Solo jazz records are not a common thing on the New Zealand jazz scene, so I was keen to hear the new release, Soliloquy. I recognized "Sambal" immediately, although I hadn't listened to Sustenance's Food for Thought in a long time - it's funny how some things stick in your brain. And another track that popped out was "You Stepped Out of a Dream", as it's the only standard across the discs. With a few exceptions, I tend to prefer hearing Kiwi's playing original material as it's pretty rare that I'm really taken by standards. And why so few solo records?

Each of these albums are worth more attention than I have afforded them, and no doubt I will return to them again. If I had to recommend any, I'd go with Panacea or Positif for the ensemble records and Soliloquy if you're after something a little more introspective.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Live music is back - Lucien Johnson Quartet

New Zealand Jazz
Well, we're pretty lucky here in New Zealand - live music is back. And when I heard Lucien Johnson had a couple of gigs scheduled with the stellar band of Jonathan Crayford (p), Tom Callwood (b) and Cory  Champion (d), it was a no-brainer to get along. Lucien has been in the studio working on a new album (with vibes and harp in place of piano) and it was those tunes that were featured at both concerts. There was no time for a break on Friday as it was straight from work and into Meow....I'm surprised I made it in on time. There was definitely a sense of anticipation and excitement in the room and the band didn't let them down. Many of the pieces had an atmospheric quality to them, but it wasn't all wishy-washy (not a term I associate with Lucien) with plenty of variety to keep things moving along. One particularly memorable moment was the bass and piano re-entry following the drum solo on "Jungle Rendezvous" was magic and you wouldn't pick it was their first gig playing this material. Tight. Butch Morris' "Spooning" and David Murray's "Morning Song" wrapped up the evening - a welcome return to live music.

Unsurprisingly, things were more a little more formal at the Whanganui Opera House on Saturday night. The concert was produced by Chamber Music Wanganui, and they pulled in a pretty decent crowd (I couldn't tell if there people on the upper deck) - great to see them supporting jazz. It was my first time at the opera house, and I was keen to check it out as a venue for jazz.  It was fantastic to hear the quartet playing without amplification (bass aside. In that room, bass and drums could be problematic, but overall the sound was nice without a lot more room for subtleties that can be lost in amplified and noisier setting. Sometimes the front of the bass was lost a little, but Cory did a great job balancing the drum levels. It was a chilly evening in Whanganui, but I don't think that was responsible for the shiver I got when Cory entered with double time against Tom's ostinato on one of the pieces (I forget the name of it, but its a nice tune). He seems to be getting better each time I hear him. It was great hearing Lucien's tone in that room, especially on soprano (which is tricky to mic up). I can't remember the last time I caught Jonathan Crayford live, and it was a treat hearing him on the concert grand in that acoustic space - his solo intro on "West of The Sun" was a highlight. Jonathan mentioned he really dug the room and is keen to return, and I would recommend others to investigate playing there. 

I couldn't have asked for a better return to live jazz with two very enjoyable evenings of music, and it made a nice change to have some company for the Whanganui leg. I'm looking forward to hearing the album.

New Zealand Jazz

Monday, June 29, 2020

Not a bad day off

Connie Crothers

A nice, chilled-out Monday got the week rolling along. Working on a couple of radio shows - solo drums is up next and following that, the music of Connie Crothers will be featured and I will definitely be including something of each of the albums here. But Solo serves as a reminder that I need to sort out my lack of turntable situation (but I managed to transfer it before the old turntable bit the dust... the other LPs missed out). I didn't spend as much time on the horn as I would have liked (and it was bugging me a little today), but the fish korma turned out well for a first crack. I'm hoping to get out to a couple of gigs later in the week, I can't remember the last one I got to. If I make it to them, I'll try and get a post up. But for now, it's time for a cuppa tea (that I let brew a little long).

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Between Waking and Sleeping: Lacy and Waldron - Hot House

Steve Lacy Hot House
Lacy and Waldron make a great pairing and with this album I've been revisiting an old favourite of mine - drifting off to sleep accompanied by some soothing sounds. I was something I did for a long time and then it faded and stopped. That's life, I guess. But now it's back and it's hitting the spot. The 1990 duo recording, Hot House, is one of my most recent additions to the Steve Lacy collection. It's a nice mix of tunes by the likes of Herbie Nichols, Monk, Bud Powell, Duke (the usual suspects) and a few pieces from Lacy and Waldron (including each having a solo feature). It hasn't quite hit me like their other duo works Sempre Amore or, especially, Live at Dreher (maybe that will be next for the lullaby listenings), but I'm still digging it. But lets face it... I'm probably going to enjoy the vast majority of Lacy's output. Some favourites from Hot House so far include "Snake Out" and "Retreat" (Lacy solo). Anyway, it's been keeping me company most nights for the last week or two (I need to give it some time in the waking hours too). Some nights I only last a tune or two and then I'm down for the count. Who knows if it does anything (neither Steve nor Mal have appeared in any dreams that I can recall), but it's better than just lying here and staring at the ceiling (waiting for a sleepy feeling).