Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Steve Coleman & 5 Elements at Fulton Street Collective

On Monday night I got down to Fulton Street Collective for Steve Coleman and 5 Elements [Coleman (as) Jonathan Findlayson (trpt) Kokayi (v) Anthony Tidd (b) Sean Rickman (d)]. It's somewhere I've been meaning to check out for a while now and it's a nice space. It was good to be close to the action and acoustically the room was ok - the horns sounded great but the electric bass lacked a bit of clarity... but my ears adjusted to it. This was the second time I had heard this lineup (last time was at Constellation) and like then, it was an enjoyable evening. Actually, I may have enjoyed last night a bit more. They played one long set - almost 2 hours in length mostly consisting of pieces strung together without rest. At times the music drifted a little (or maybe it was my mind drifting) but I didn't really mind, possibly due to the trance/ritualistic/cyclic vibe they generated. Kokayi is a great fit for the group and it seems Coleman's tone gets richer each time I've heard him (four times now). He's been in town for most of April, and had I been more organized I could have got along to a lot more than this one night. Hopefully Coleman fans made the most of it.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

And so it continues

Now that digitizing the CDs has almost wrapped up, I decided it was about time to restore a little order. Maybe one day they'll be in strict alphabetical order, but for now they are clumped together in varying ways - a pile of soprano players, a stack of solo sax albums, NZ jazz albums, and grouping artists' albums together (Paul Bley, Lee Konitz, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Yusef Lateef and Sonny Rollins form a pile, Ran Blake, Monk and David Liebman form another etc.). My progress was thwarted when I ran out of space saver sleeves, so things will change as I continue to rehouse discs in jewel cases and multi-disc folders (the latter made it easier when moving but I find I don't listen to the discs as much as the ones on the shelf).

Accompanying me while I sorted out the mess was Some Time (Wout Gooris Trio plus Hayden Chisholm & Erwin Vann), Dream Flight (Liz Gorrill ..aka Kazzrie Jaxen), Arnold Schoenberg's "Pierrot Lunaire" (Christine Schafer & Solistes De L'ensemble Intercontemporain) Bela Bartok's "Concert for Orchestra (Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Fritz Reiner) and Mingus Plays Piano.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Some pics from NYC

Downtown Music Gallery
A fruitful visit to Downtown Music Gallery
Zurcher Gallery
Evan Parker & Ned Rothenberg at Zürcher Gallery, April 5 2018
Punjabi Deli strikes again
Troost bar
TJ Maiani (d) Michael Brownell (b) Nick Lyons (as) at Troost, Greenpoint, April 8 2018
Yonkers Brown Ale

Saturday, March 31, 2018

NZ Jazz: Chris Mason-Battley Group - Dialogos

Chris Mason-Battley Group - Dialogos (Rattle)
New Zealand Jazz Rattle Records
Chris Mason-Battley (ts/ss/ewi) David Lines (piano) Sam Giles (bass) Stephen Thomas (drums/loops)

I had no idea what to expect from this album. Many years ago I heard Two Tides from the CMB Group (also on Rattle) but it didn't make much of an impression on me. This time around there are exploring compositions by John Psathas. And although I'm not familiar with the compositions, this was the kicker for me to pick up Dialogos – contemporary jazz group interpreting contemporary classical compositions. I can't say my unfamiliarity with the compositions lessened the listening experience for me - just take the music at face value and away you go. Similarly, I'm not really familiar with the musicians involved, so once again the (almost) clean slate ruled the day (or month in this case).

There is a nice sense of space across the album. This contrasts/compliments the (at times) busy drums, which are featured throughout. The chops-heavy, busy playing, while creative, didn't appeal to me. Along with Mason-Battley, Thomas is the dominant solo voice, but I felt that he could have backed of a little without sacrificing his contribution. Rhythm is a unifying force across the album. As Mason-Battley stretches out on “Calenture Reprise: Dialogos,” the underlying rhythm from the rest of the band keeps things grounded.

Although my preference is for acoustic, the electric bass fits in to the group sound well. Occasionally I thought things got a little muddy, but then I'd listen again and didn't notice it. If anything, the sum is greater than the parts. There is a definite band sound that I find stronger or more appealing than the individuals. Dynamics are often neglected in jazz performance, but the CMB Group harness them across the album to great effect (and not just in that “building to a climax” kind of way). Likewise, there is plenty of textural variety throughout the album. These two elements added plenty of strength to the performance and kept my ears primed.

The overall mood is dark, brooding and perhaps, at times, introspective. With all that is going on here at the moment maybe it wasn't the right month to pick this album, and as a result I probably haven't listened to Dialogos as much as some of the other albums in this listening project to date.

If you are after a swinging jazz album, you'd be best to look elsewhere, but the exploratory playing provided plenty of surprises and resulted in stimulating listening this month. I wouldn't hesitate recommending Dialogos for those looking for something a little different in the New Zealand jazz discography. Plus, fans of John Psathas would be well advised to hear where his compositions can go in the hands of improvisers. Perhaps it's time to cast fresh ears on Two Tides

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Digitizing the CD Collection

I'm not sure why it has taken me this long, but I'm finally getting around to digitizing my CDs. A work in progress, but well on the way. I'm using Fre:ac which seems to be doing the job, although plenty of discs don't register in the database so there is the slightly painful process of adding artist, album and song info. If anything it has been a nice way to survey the library and listen to a few things that caught my eye or haven't had airtime for a while.

Some of last week's listening featured tracks from John Surman - Westering Home (mostly the soprano tracks), Gil Evans - Complete Pacific Jazz Sessions (for the Steve Lacy tracks, but there's plenty for Cannonball fans too), Sonny Rollins - Complete Live at the Village Gate 1963 (I still feel his 60s work is overlooked), and Frank Gratkowski - Artikulationen (although known for his use of "extended" techniques, I really enjoy his clean tone and line playing).

On Saturday I had these three keeping me company - the youthful exuberance of Nils Wogram's Root 70, Max Roach's ever-relevant  We Insist! and Ornette Coleman's Virgin Beauty, which I hadn't listened to in about a year when I was considering playing the title-track in a solo performance (I went with "Beauty is a Rare Thing" instead).

I'm not sure how many I have left to go (nor how many I have done... or how many I have in total) but the end is now in sight.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

NZ Jazz: Mark de Clive-Lowe – First Thoughts

My search for replacing my long-lost copy of Mark de Clive-Lowe's Vision is ongoing, but along the way I have managed to pick up a couple of albums from the short-lived Tap Records - most recently Kiwi Jazz Tracks (via England), and prior to that, First Thoughts (via China), which has been accompanying me this past month.
NZ Jazz Tap Records
Perhaps I'm a stick-in-the-mud, but I'm not much of a fan of the groove/dance/nu-jazz/hip hop/house/jazz thing. That's what de Clive-Lowe is best known for and as result I really haven't kept that close an ear on his career. But I am keen to acquaint myself with his acoustic work.

Recorded in 1997, I guess you could place First Thoughts somewhere in the post-Herbie/Bill/McCoy etc. contemporary piano trio tradition. Not music I listen to all that often, so the ears have had a re-fresh this month (and in many ways that one of the things I wanted to get from this listening project). The trio of Mark de Clive-Lowe (p) Cameron Undy (b) Nicholas McBride (d) have a really well-balanced, unified sound.

His arrangement of the Japanese traditional song “Sakura Sakura” bookends the album – opening with solo piano and closing with the trio. It's a nice touch that rounds outs the album. There's also an arrangement of “O-Edo Nihonbashi” which features a particularly enjoyable dialogue between the bass and piano. The two combine melody and drama quite nicely.

The slinky swing of “Dialogue” almost acts as a mid-album interlude. It's attributed to all three performers and brought to mind Herbie Hancock's album Inventions and Dimensions (I'm not sure why!). It's a short piece that left me wanting more.

A couple of things always seemed to catch my ear. The “hook” played in unison by the bass and piano in the melody of the title-tune - I caught myself humming this phrase on more than one occasion this past month. Another was the use of octaves at the end of Sting's “When Angels Fall.” I'm not that familiar with Sting's work so I listened to his recording to give me a little more perspective. I can see the appeal of taking this tune and improvising on it. The trio raise the tempo a little but it works.

If I had to single out a favourite track, I'd probably go with “The Walking.” Collective improvisation leads into the melody with plenty of energy and interaction throughout.

First Thoughts is nicely put together with enough variety to things keeps the 45 minutes moving along. I haven't picked an album for March just yet, but stay tuned for more.

You can read more on Tap Records over at Audio Culture.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Miles Davis Quintet Prestige Sessions

Miles Davis – The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions

Maybe inspired by giving the Jimmy Giuffre 3 a or three spin a couple of weekends ago, last week I decided to revisit more music I hadn't listened to for a long time.

As an aspiring jazz musician it's pretty hard to pass by these recordings, and I definitely spent a fair amount of time with Cookin', Relaxin', Workin' and Steamin' – and of those I'm probably most familiar with Relaxin.' Over the years there's been the odd track here and there, but it's been a while that I've sit down and listened to them from start to finish. This set also includes The New Miles Davis Quintet (that I'm less familiar with) and a disc of live material (that is new to me but I only gave it a single run this week).

Phrasing, time feel, space, economy, conciseness, continuity – Miles' playing has an immediacy I find hard to resist. The way he plays the melody on “Diane” (love the sound of Philly Joe 's cymbal behind Miles), his solo break on “Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” the bubbly feel of his longer lines on “Oleo” (PC is totally on here too), the swinging simplicity of “Trane's Blues” and this open horn tone on “Woody'n You.” Sometimes I feel Miles overdoes the harmon mute. Aside from his great tone on the open horn it would have been nice to hear him use other style mutes. But this could be one of the disadvantages of listening to a box set I guess.

As before, I'm not really struck by Coltrane's playing on these recordings. Dare I say that, on the earlier tracks at least, in comparison to Miles, he sounds labored (things pick up a bit on “Four” and “Salt Peanuts” “Airegin”). Although, as usually happens when I listen to Coltrane, I warm a little to his playing throughout the week. But for me, it still misses the mark. And how about his blend with Miles on the head of “Stablemates”?... the intonation gives the piece an interesting vibe. But Coltrane is the foil to Miles, and the contrast is part of what makes Miles' playing so effective. Would it work as well if it was a trio with P.C and Philly Joe? (Actually I think it would.... why didn't they do that?!)

Garland has his moments “Oleo” sounds like he's channeling Lennie Tristano (there are hints on “Well You Needn't” too). And his playing (comping and solo) on “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” is on point. I didn't remember Garland's chord solos - “There Is No Greater Love”, “Something I Dreamed Of Last Night” and “When Lights Are Low” - and in general, I preferred them to his line playing. So while he never really grabbed me as a soloist, his comping is an important component of the overall band sound and he locks in well with Chambers and Jones.

In general, during the piano and tenor solos I found my concentration moving towards the bass and drums. This week has been a reminder of how much I enjoy Philly Joe's playing (had I forgotten....?)
Philly Joe's tone enjoying it more than I remembered – the variety he gets from the cymbals and snare, and a nice deep brush sound too. And then there's the effortless flow and pop of Chambers' walking lines – they just go and go and go.

As with the Giuffre disc, I've enjoyed revisiting these recordings, and across the week it reinforced some of my earlier memories of this music. Much like before, my ear was drawn to the playing of Miles and the combination of Chambers and Philly Joe. For me, these recordings aren't ones I reach for to hear my favourite soloists (Miles being the exception), but it's the overall band sound of these recordings that hit the spot.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Nick Mazzarella Trio & Tom Rainey Trio

I thought I'd share a couple of photos from a couple of gigs I attended recently. On the 15th Nick Mazzarella's trio, with Patrick Mulcahy (bass) and Jeremy Cunningham (drums), were at Andy's. I had been up since some ridiculous hour so I only stayed for the first set (it was a long one.. almost 90 mins - a nice mix of originals and standards. I hadn't really heard Mazzarella play many standards so this made a nice change. And considering it was a freezing cold Monday night, the crowd wasn't too bad.

Last weekend Tom Rainey's trio, with Mary Halvorson (guitar) and Ingrid Laubrock (tenor/soprano), were at Constellation. I've heard both Rainey and Laubrock in the past but have managed to miss Halvorson when she's been in town, so I was keen not to miss this concert. It was the final engagement of a brief tour and the two sets of free improvised music had plenty of cohesion. There was a great turnout, with the smaller of the two rooms totally packed.

Andy's jazz club Chicago
Nick Mazzarella Trio at Andy's

Chicago Jazz Constellation
Tom Rainey Trio at Constellation

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

NZ Jazz: Jazz Concert 1950, Auckland Town Hall

The New Zealand Jazz Heritage Series: Jazz Concert 1950, Auckland Town Hall

This month's listening has been a lot of fun and deserves more than this hastily put together post. Billed as the 1st Auckland Jazz Concert (jazz for listening rather than dancing), this live recording from the Auckland Town Hall on August 7, 1950, is a great historical document. For a 1950 live recording (by way of a phone line) the fidelity is actually pretty decent. At times the balance is a bit out, but it's quite a clean sound. I have many recordings that sound far worse. From what I can tell it's the only recording in the “New Zealand Jazz Heritage Series”. If there are others, please let me know, as recordings from the 1950s (or the 60s and 70s for that matter) are like hens teeth.
Ode Records

It's great that they kept Peter Young's announcements on the release as they add some context to the events that night (and average jokes). One complaint – it would have been great to have included some liner notes providing a bit of background to the event. I've haven't had a chance to check things out yet, but I'm sure the info is out there somewhere.

The 21 tracks over two CDs feature plenty of well known swing era standards (“How High the Moon”, “I Got Rhythm”, “Lady Be Good”, “Perdido” etc), and while there are hints that some players are starting to adopt some of modern developments, it's fair to say that the music is very much in the swing-era small group vein (a couple of times Jazz at the Philharmonic came to mind).

There were a lot of players that I wasn't familiar with but in general, the more known names (to me) were the standouts - Crombie Murdoch (p), Julian Lee (as) and Mavis Rivers (v). Having said that, Mark Kahl provides some nice guitar solos - “How High the Moon”, “Out of Nowhere” and “Boogie Blues” come to mind. Colin Martin (tenor) sounds ok on the slower numbers such as his ballad feature on “Don't Blame Me.” George Cambell's bass lines fly along on the rhythm section feature, “Lover.” And Murray Tanner (trumpet) is very solid throughout – nice tone and he doesn't over-do things.

Julian Lee gets plenty of space on alto. At times he's somewhat restrained (“Out of Nowhere”) but he can get pretty excitable (“Perdido”). He's not afraid of throwing some quotes in (“Laura” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb” make appearances) or hamming it up (the bridge on “Perdido”). Sometimes his sound in the upper register gets a little choked. On “Messin' Around” I think he takes all the horn solos (alto, tenor, trumpet, trombone). It's bit of guess as the liner notes only state him on alto with no other soloists listed, but it doesn't sound like the other plays and Lee was known to play a bunch of instruments. Plus Peter Young only acknowledges Lee when back announcing the piece.

Crombie Murdoch has plenty of nice touches across the evening. He's a pretty busy accompanist when backing Mavis Rivers (who features on four pieces) but doesn't seem to get in the way, perhaps a little “cocktaily,” although it's pretty effective on “Dedicated to You.” He gets a nice blend behind Kahl on “Caravan” and along the rhythm section features of “Lover”, “Somebody Loves Me” and “I Know That You Know” his playing is well showcased. I have a trio album of his from almost 40 years later that I will get to.... eventually!

By way of applause, Hughie Gordon was the crowd favourite. Although bit of a novelty, his four short features on tin whistle are actually pretty swinging.

I can't believe it's taken me this long to hear this recording, and if you're interested in jazz in New Zealand be sure to check it out.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Saturday Afternoon with The Jimmy Giuffre 3

Around 20 years ago, my introduction to Jimmy Giuffre came by the way of The Jimmy Giuffre 3. I used to listen to the LP at the Wellington City Library. The sound of this group was so different to what I was used – maybe it was the lack of drums – but whatever it was, I found it refreshing. Eventually I got the CD and use to listen to it quite a bit and, naturally, it led to other recordings by Giuffre – most notably his 60s trio with Steve Swallow and Paul Bley which became one of my favorite groups....it still is. I return to 60s trio's recordings quite regularly, most recently Emanem's 2CD reissue of the live recordings from Europe (and I highly recommend checking them out if you haven't), but I can't remember the last time I listened to The Jimmy Giuffre 3 from start to end. Today it got an appropriate number of spins - three.

I surprised how well I remembered the album, in particular “Gotta Dance,” “Two Kinds of Blues,” “The Song Is You” and “The Train & The River” still seemed quite fresh in my mind. I really enjoy the balance and rapport of this trio – the weight of contributions from Giuffre, Peña and Hall and how the individual tones blend are key to the ensemble sound. It's more “organized” than I remember and probably more so than I like these days (maybe that was one of the qualities that appealed to me initially... who knows), but it does give a focus/direction to each piece. I definitely remember enjoying the tone Giuffre got from the baritone, tenor and clarinet (especially the clarinet). A lot of saxophonists and clarinetists frown upon it, but enjoy hearing the breath in the tone.

I'm not sure what had me reaching for The Jimmy Giuffre 3 this afternoon, but it's been fun.

Friday, January 05, 2018

NZ Jazz: Jim Langabeer - Secret Islands

Okay, so I'm running a little late.... maybe not the best start for 2018 but here it is.

The pattern of alternating between newer and older releases continued in December with Jim Langabeer's Secret Islands, released in mid-2017.
New Zealand Jazz Rattle Records
All 11 pieces are by Langabeer. They stand alone really well and combine make a great album with a lot of variety yet there is a unified thread running through the work making for a superb album. The choice of personnel is crucial and Langabeer made great choices and the instrumentation provides plenty of textural/color variety too. 

Jim Langabeer (tenor sax/flute/alto flute/putorino) Roger Manins (alto sax) Rosie Langabeer (piano/fender rhodes, organ) Neil Watson (guitar/pedal steel) Eamon Edmundson-Welles (b) Chris O'Connor (d)

Rosie was one of the more creative musicians during my time at music school but I haven't heard too over the past several years so her inclusion is a welcome one for me. Roger is the foil to Langabeer's stripped bare approach – reminded me a bit of the contrast between Miles and his saxophonists. It's nice to hear him on alto too.

When he was based in Wellington I regularly heard Chris O'Connor and he's one of my favourite drummers on the NZ scene. His versatile and creative playing is somewhat understated here but integral to the overall sound of the album.

Neil Watson was in some ways the surprise package (most likely due to me not really keeping tabs on his work). He combining jazz/rock/blues/country to great affect. His pedal steel playing is an important part of the sonic make-up of the album.

Eamon Edmundson-Welles was the only player I wasn't familiar with. He slots in really well. Nice arco tone. Sometimes the bass is a little muddied in the mix but when it's not it pops. He hooks up well with Chris.

I never really heard much of Jim's music but I was aware of his position as a veteran of the New Zealand jazz scene. His recordings are few and far between - the Superbrew album is on the shelf waiting for a spin but I'm not aware of others (suggestions and recommendations welcome!).
His playing is unhurried, sparse and the importance of tone as an expressive device comes through.  It's not ego driven, leader centric music. He's not dominating in any way as an individual (and often takes a backseat to proceedings) but still his conception comes through clearly.

“Bad Call” eases the listener in and is nice introduction for the things to come. The piece simmers as the collective improvisation builds.

The lounge-y “Rata Flowers” features a dreamy padding of pedal steel and mellow fender rhodes with melodic tenor floating above.

The melody of “What If” features multiphonics from the saxophones over a slinky swing feel. Rosie digs into the blues with unexpected twists and turns. Her rhythmic strength holds things together. Watson opens with staccato playing before moving onto the slide with plenty of off-kilter blues swagger (much like Rosie but with different outcomes). And Roger gets slippery on alto before the out head. For whatever reason I couldn't help but think of film noir and Neil Young's Tonight's the Night.

The collective improvisation, shifting tempos and hits of “The Big Smoke” keeps your ears primed for surprises. Provides a nice example of contrast between the saxes – Roger follows Jim's lead but with busier approach. Roger may be a more slick or conventionally virtuosic, but he is not lacking in fire or feeling.

“Tangi” is well placed following the more hectic “Big Smoke.” No one overstates their case and it's a wonderfully paced piece. The droning guitar and arco bass lay the foundation. The two saxes have a cry to their tone (with Roger drawing on some influences from India). One of the highlights of the album is the Rosie's solo piano stretch that ends the piece.

“Out Of Harm's Way” gives Chris some room to solo with backing from the rest of the band. There'a nice angular and jagged dialogue between bass and piano and plenty of exuberant saxophonic wailing as Jim and Roger ride tandem on the way home.

The Unhurried and well placed “Hinemoa and Tutanekai” makes great use of minimalism. Featuring the saxes playing octaves, multiphonics, and sustained notes. There's very subtle background tinkling (what is that... organ/guitar/bass? - great texture) with percussion eventually added to the mix. Space is a key ingredient.

Alto sax, flute, and piano improvisations are underpinned with textural drums and sparse bass lines until an explosion of distorted guitar really starts ramping things up for just a moment on “Orakei Karoako.” “Freequency” flows in from the previous piece with dense distorted guitar and rolling percussion.

Again there's some Indian allusions on “Central Plateau” with lyrical flute, drone-ish guitar and mallet percussion opening the piece. It kicks into some solid swing for Rog and Watson to blow over. Rosie's comping behind the alto solo grabbed my ear. Things settle as the flute re-enters but the piece doesn't lose urgency.

“Waiata o te Taniwha,” a lullaby-like tenor feature, seems like the perfect way to sign off.

Secret Islands made great listening during December and feel it is an album I will keep returning to. For me, the two key ingredients are fun and mystery. Highly recommended.

Final words.... more Jim Langabeer please!