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).

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Thoughts from lockdown etc (aka The torture never stops)

Okay, the title is a bit heavy, Zappa’s Zoot Allures popped up on my YouTube feed the other night and I couldn’t resist adding that little ditty to the title. A little black humour to lift my mood. But I guess it could be torture for someone reading these disjointed ramblings I scribbled down during the lockdown period.

In many ways lockdown hasn’t been that much of a change for me since returning home (and the few months leading up to my return to NZ). At times it’s a lonely existence. The last couple of years has been a blur as the dust settles. Living in the countryside and having a social life don’t always sync up. It takes more effort than I have been willing to put in at times. And clearly, it’s an effort for people to come to me (and I’m talking pre-covid here), but that’s nothing new. Probably time for a change.

There’s been plenty of time for reflection. What I like about my life. What I don’t like. What can I change? I’m lucky to be able to spend this amount of time in close quarters with the folks and not drive each other up the wall completely. I enjoy helping them around the property and would like to do more than I do. Often, I struggle getting the balance right – work/horn/social activities/helping the folks etc. That’s something I need to work on.

I haven’t felt compelled to get hell bent on being super productive during lockdown. Hence me taking forever to move my computer speakers into my workspace (and then not liking the set up and moving them straight back). And I could have sorted through the remaining stuff I want to get rid sell/donate. But I haven’t yet. However, I did finally get some better lighting in my bedroom (there’s bit more of a mellow vibe now). And it wasn’t until I was back at work that I switched the room around to fit in my desk. Some new recipes were tested; flourless cake with pinto beans was interesting, needs a tweak but I’ll make it again. And a couple of older ones were resurrected - Hayden’s Fibonacci split pea soup hit the spot, and it was nice to bust out chicken liver curry again.... I left the recipe in the US and made this one up.

I was fun resurrecting the blog after a break of a few months. I’ve still got some posts I need to finish and publish (they’re well and truly overdue now). Posts will become less frequent as things kick back into gear but I’ll try and make the effort to get something up here and there.

The radio show is a lot oJazz Compositionf fun to put together (self-promotion isn’t my strong suit; hence this is the first mention of the radio show... 6 months in). Although I miss heading into the studio as it’s such a nice scene, recording programmes at home as been fun - even it can send me down a rabbit hole. Maybe the playlists will be posted here at some stage. I need to get some guests into the studio too. In these “on demand” times in which we live, radio puts the choice in someone else’s hands, and that’s refreshing. Let’s hope this lockdown period makes people realize that the “anything you want, any time you want” thing, isn’t the be all and end all. Maybe we can realize how meaningless some priorities are.

Some nice videos popped up along the way too. Arts for Art posted a great interview with Connie Crothers from 2015 and Hayden Chisholm made a presentation of some of his musical research. Another pleasant upshot of the global pandemic was Tom Bukovac’s Homeskoolin’. It’s a breath of fresh air in the world of youtube/online lessons. The only downside is that there’s no saxophone equivalent out there doing this. No frills production, high quality content, and not the same old same old (Tom’s vids did prompt me to have another browse around the online lesson scene and nothing really popped out….but I’ve got enough on my plate as it is).

Working from home has been pretty good and something I would like to do more, and I don’t miss commuting. It has been great having music on at work. It was possible at my previous job, but it’s a little tricky at the current one. Sometimes it’s a distraction, but I can see it being a useful means of subconscious absorption. More please.

I miss getting out to hear music - even if I don’t do it as much as I once did (nor as much as I could). I’m just far enough away that I don’t really feel part of the Wellington scene. Putting together a trio is on the cards. I have a small set of tunes in a working state and it’s time to play them with people. I need to make that happen once things cool down (on the lookout of for keen bass players and drummers in the coming weeks/months). That might bring me closer to feeling part the scene. And I’m looking forward to getting to a Swagman gig once things open up, it will likely be quite a party. But I think the return to the live scene under current social distancing practices will be an odd experience.

Sometimes I feel like jazz music and the saxophone is just escapism for me. And it has been that way for a while now. I want to continue to simplify my approach to the horn and music making. Keep developing the connection. Let the escapism evolve. I enjoy it. It made me think, how do you do less without slacking effort? Actually; doing less likely requires more intense focus. While I’ve been keeping my lip in, I don’t feel like I’m getting work done the way I would like. Again, it comes down to balancing life. As always, it’s a work in progress.

“There are many levels of mastery, the practice of the art is valuable all the way along” (some zen thing I heard along the way somewhere).

From Lacy’s notes of Monkisms.... “Don’t play everything (or every time); let some things go by. Some music just imagined. What you don’t play can be more important that what you do.”

Was it Jim Hall who said, “Don’t just do something, stand there!”?

“It’s easy to be enlightened in a remote cave”

Over the last few months teaching has been popping into my mind on occasions. I would need to find a teaching space in Wellington and if I can get a few people back-to-back maybe it would be viable. I’m not sure about the online thing, I spend enough time looking at a computer as it is. But face-to-face is a commitment I would make under the right circumstances.

This probably isn’t the time to make any drastic decisions and I think I’ll just chip away at a few smaller things and see how it pans out. I’m definitely due a holiday (the pandemic put a stop to trips I was planning to NYC and Europe). Not sure where I’ll go just yet. Maybe a road trip to somewhere out of the way.

Full points to all those who made through to the end.

Sunday, June 07, 2020

Time to Unwind

Okay… this post iHayden Chisholms way overdue. Like last year, I took a little time off in February to catch Hayden while he was back on tour in support of Saffron, latest release by Unwind.

To kicks things off, I headed up to New Plymouth for the opening gig of the tour. I had pre-gig pint at Shining Peaks (recommended) before walking down to the Fourth Wall Theatre. It's a nice sized venue with pretty decent sound to boot. It’s always nice to hear him in front of the hometown crowd (my third time now) as it adds a different flavour to proceedings. Although it was first gig of the tour, the trio (Julien wasn’t due to join them until Napier) hit their stride pretty quickly.
New Zealand Jazz

The night kicked off with “Going Home” and they capped the night off with a medley of “How Great Thou Are/Amazing Grace/Pokarekare Ana”. In between there was "Nearness of You", "Mendoza", "S.T.B", "Morning and Evening Calm", a Serbian song about yellow quinces, and some others from Saffron

The quartet tweaked the set list a little to appeal to the (mostly) Whanganui Jazz Club audience at Lucky Bar by including a couple of numbers from Hayden’s big band album, Ace of My Heart - “Rhythm Got Me” and “For Ever More and a Day” (based on Rhythm Changes and Shine on Harvest Moon respectively). Jaco Pastorius’ “Three Views of a Secret” was a surprise addition (they played it in Wellington too).

New Zealand JazzIn Wellington, the quartet appeared at The Third Eye for the Wellington Jazz Cooperative’s fortnightly concert series. There was a solid crowd – but it was not as packed as I was expecting. It seems like it can be hard to draw an audience in Wellington at times (and it seems to have gotten worse while I was living overseas - the creative capital?). I was expecting to see a bunch of saxophonists there - but where were they? (Maybe they had gigs!). I noted the clarity of Paul's bass tone. I have noticed a lot of players end up with heaps of boomy bottom end or a very electric/ampy sound when playing at Third Eye (maybe it's due to the extra volume of the large ensemble gigs... as the couple of examples I can think of where the bass sounded good were trio and quartet gigs). It’s nice to hear the contrast of Unwind with and without drums – Julien brings an energy and adds colours that work really well for me. And he’s an improvisor (and listener), with tunes getting treated quite differently night to night. Sometimes he can be quite busy, yet not get in the way.

Solo SaxophoneLike last year, Hayden played a solo set at St Paul’s Cathedral as part of the TGIF lunchtime concert series. Hayden’s tone in this space is something to behold. It was interesting to hear how the “Well Tempered Shurti Box” is evolving. This time around there was a bit more overtone singing than I recall him doing last year and Pokarekare Ana made an appearance too.

That evening it was off to Raumati South. The house concert is a great setting for this group – Hayden and Norm with vocalist Hannah Griffin. The vibe in the room was fantastic and the trio was on form – the dialogue between Hayden and Norm was on point and Hannah’s singing was as real as I’ve heard. It was great catching up with her after the gig. Hard to put into words really - a beautiful concert, and the highlight from the tour for me.

The following evening Hayden, Norman and Hannah were at Futuna Chapel in Wellington. It’s a great space…. They just need a decent piano! While similar repertoire was used for both evenings, there was definitely a different vibe the previous evening – more formal and more mellow too. Jazz Poetry

Some of the works feature across the two evenings were: Hinemoana Baker: “Matariki, e”, “I Forget You” (a slow version used for the encore), “Liver”, “Urupā”, “Poi Dances”. One piece Norm announced as being played at “stripper tempo” (it was less raunchy when played in the chapel). Janet Frame: “Before I Get Into Sleep With You” and another I missed the title. David Mitchell: “Aesthetics”. Bill Manhire: “Little Prayers”, “Einstein” and “The Occupation Against Time”. Hone Tuwhare: “Rain” and “Life’s Eternal River”. And probably some others I missed.

I am really keen to hear the quartet plus Hannah (maybe next year) – it sounds like the Auckland gig was a gem. John Fenton wrote a bit about it on his blog.

New Zealand Jazz

That weekend I set a personal record for church attendance... three days in a row. On Sunday Hayden was featured with the choir at St Paul’s Cathedral. Sitting through a church service isn’t really my thing…. The things you do for a bit of music!

Following the tour, the quartet went back into the studio so expect another album in the not so distance future… and I hear 2021 tour plans are underway. I’ll have to book some leave.

Friday, June 05, 2020

Music for Commuting: Some Horace Silver

Horace Silver
It seems like an age since I listened to some Horace Silver. I like revisiting things every so often, and for whatever reason prompted it, the morning ride during the first couple of weeks back commuting has been with the company of Horace Silver.

Since the passing of Lee Konitz, I’ve been listening to a few of my favourite recordings of his, and while these Horace Silver albums make for a contrast, they don’t nearly strike me the way Lee does - but Silver never really hit the spot for me.

My pick of the three is Blowin’ the Blues Away followed by the tracks on Song for My Father featuring Joe Henderson. They also happen to be the recordings I was most familiar with before this revisit. A coincidence? I’m least familiar with Six Pieces of Silver… in fact, I can’t recall listening to this album before. If I had, it left little impression. But this time around I was pretty keen to hear some Hank Mobley (like Silver, the last time I really listened to Mobley was back in the music school days - Roll Call, Soul Station, Workout and some Jazz Messengers stuff). But his playing really didn’t hit the spot. It was his time feel that was bugging me (wasn’t that why Miles ditched him?) and I couldn’t remember that grating on me before. But it was nice to have some trumpeters on that I seldom listen to – Donald Byrd, Blue Mitchell and Carmell Jones.

Maybe it’s time for a revisit of Hank Mobley (it did prompt me to briefly with check in with a couple of his albums one night and they didn't bug me like Six Pieces). Eventually I might get around to a more concentrated effort... But it’s likely to be Joe Henderson before Mobley. I’ve periodically dipped into Henderson’s discography over the years, but a more focused look would be worth it.

So, it made for an interesting 10 mornings or so in the car. It definitely made a change, but I’ve probably had my fill of Silver for now.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

COVID-19 Level 3: Day 16

Billie Holiday I might have one more day of Billie accompanying me at work before the commute kicks back in. Disc 7 marks the start of the alternate takes and the air-checks. These are super valuable for anyone undertaking study of these works. When I work with these, if multiple takes available, they get plenty of attention too. It can be interesting to compare recordings from different eras too. “All of Me” was the first piece I worked on during my studies with Richard Tabnik. At the same time I was also working with the Frank Sinatra version from the 1940s. Whenever I hear them I can’t help being taken back to that space and time. It wasn’t until I picked up this set and got back home that I worked on the alternate takes of “All of Me” (and others). For many years it was a regular part, and a large focus, of my practice, but these days I’m more likely to check back in with a particular recording or two here and there. Perhaps it’s time to ramp things but up again. 

I forget how young Billie was one the first couple of discs (the recordings start in 1933, aged 18). Quite remarkable. I was pretty lucky to have stumbled upon some of these recordings early on in my exploration of jazz. I’ve been listening to many of these recordings for 25 years (some closer to 30). I haven’t tired of them yet, and I doubt I will as I still get so much from them. They’re always there to turn to when you need them.