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.

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