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. 

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Stroma and The Jac

New Zealand Jazz

Jasmine Lovell-Smith's "Cerulean Haze" was premiered by Stroma and The Jac as part of the Vox Fem concert that featured women composers whilst celebrating 125 years of women's suffrage in New Zealand. It was a long day, but I'm glad I got along. It had me thinking on the trip home... how about a Stroma concert featuring works composed by New Zealand jazz musicians/improvisors? I'm sure the likes of Jasmine, Rosie Langabeer, Jeff Henderson, Hayden Chisholm, Lucien Johnson etc, would come up with some worthy music. Plus it could make an interesting addition to the Wellington Jazz Festival.
Women's Suffrage


Friday, October 19, 2018

Music for Commuting: Miles Davis Quintet box set


Music for CommutingLets face it, the rumble of the road isn’t exactly the ideal listening environment, but it provided an interesting listening experience this past week or so as the Miles Davis Quintet box set accompanied the daily commute. Tony’s cymbals and snare on my right and Miles and Wayne to the left. Herbie made appearances mostly in the form of solo lines with some comping popping out here and there. While Ron’s presence was felt at times, there was very little in the way of clarity. Not exactly what I had in mind but it was great to be able to focus on the horn/drum pairings. Maybe I need to round things out and have a session or two to zone in on Ron and Herbie.

Call me old fashioned, but it's the first three discs that really appeal to me - before the introduction of the electric piano and bass. E.S.P and Miles Smiles are two of Miles’ albums I've listened to the most alongside the likes of Birth of the Cool, Kind of Blue and The Plugged Nickel recordings. Nefertiti isn’t too far behind either. The addition of guitar to the group has never really appealed to me. And although I hadn’t listened to those recordings for ages, I still haven’t warmed up to them - it just seems extraneous.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

“Hey Babe!” Remembering Roger Sellers

Following a long illness, the one and only Roger Sellers passed away on 14 June. Over the past 37 years (plus he had an earlier stint here during the 60s too), Roger was a integral part of the New Zealand jazz scene. And during that time he must have made his way to the top of the list of “most loved Australians living in New Zealand” (a short list perhaps (wink), but he’s up there nonetheless!).

Fortunately I was back home, and had the pleasure of taking my good mate John out to the burial in Makara. Not surprisingly there was a great turnout. And after reading the tributes that filled social media feeds since his passing, I decided to add some memories of my own. I delayed this post somewhat as I tried, so far unsuccessfully, to track down some concert posters I had hoped to upload. But somewhere on the way they seem to have disappeared along with a number of gig posters from the early 2000s I thought I had stashed at my parents’ place. 

During my fist year at music school, I lived a very short walk from The Lido and pretty much every Sunday night I went there to hear Roger and Paul Dyne with various incarnations on The Boptet - my favorite being the edition that included any or all of Scott Towers, John Bell, Nick van Dijk and Noel Clayton. But it was a couple of performances with saxophonist Jeff Henderson that immediately came to mind when I started writing this post. Jeff revealed a side to Roger’s playing that wasn’t always on show - relentless, burning intensity.

John Street Grill, circa 2000: Roger Sellers and Jeff Henderson Duo. I was expecting the typical crowd from jazz school to be there out-numbering a few punters grabbing dinner and a drink. But it was quite the opposite, and I may have been the only one from school there - I know I was sitting by myself at a table right next to Jeff and Roger. And once the music started it felt like I was the only one in the room and they were talking directly to me. My bowl of fries got cold as I soaked it in. There was no warming up on the bandstand. Once they were set up and ready, Roger smiled and nodded and then Jeff called, “blues, 1–2–1-2-3-4,” and they were into it. Full steam ahead. This was an eye opening gig for me. The duo’s intensity caught some/most/all(!) of the audience by surprise, with one couple ("oh, there's a band playing tonight") heading for the door by the time the first IV chord came around! I don’t really remember the specifics - I think they also played Rhythm Changes and maybe a ballad… “You Don’t Know What Love Is” perhaps -  but the energy, intent and feeling has stuck with me. I was somewhere between exhaustion and elation as I floated home alone. What a night!

I think it was not too long after the duo gig that he played a couple of trio gigs at The Space with Jeff and Paul Dyne (one was advertised as “Two Jazz Legends, One Imposter”!). The first featured standards, the second was original compositions. I ran into Jeff the day following the standards gig, and the first thing he said was along the lines of, “How great did Roger sound?!” Back at school the following Monday, Roger said he had to ice his wrists and have a couple of days recovery.  

My music library doesn't contain many recordings featuring Roger, and certainly nothing along the lines of these live concerts (at least as I remember them!). But I and planning to work through the Sustenance albums once I get a turntable.

I got to hear Roger with Mike Nock a couple of times too. And Mike’s description of jazz seems apt when talking about Roger: “serious fun.” Roger was one hell of a musician and one of the sweetest guys I’ve known. Roger’s nodding, smiling, gum-chewing, happy, swinging beat will be missed. So too will his humour, encouragement and wisdom, which he would gladly share with up and coming musicians. He was (and still is) the only person I’ve heard refer to everyone as “Babe” - this greeting always came with his trademark grin, and once he followed it up by asking if I was still modeling! Roger was the real deal.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Lex French Quartet at Rogue and Vagabond

New Zealand Jazz
Nice to see a packed crowd checking out the Lex French Quartet at Rogue and Vagabond on Sunday night.
Lex French (trpt) Tyson Smith (g) Johnny Lawrence (b) Cory Champion (d)

Saturday, September 29, 2018

NZ Jazz: Mike Nock - Beginning and End of Knowing

Mike Nock: Beginning and End of Knowing (Fourth Way Records)

Nock (piano) Laurence Pike (drums/sampler) 2015

I started this series last September with Nock's Vicissitudes, so it seems rather appropriate to feature another from Mike one year on....plus it was his birthday a couple of days ago. While I did give Beginning and End of Knowing a listen when I first picked it up last year, it is well overdue for some quality time (in fact, Vicissitudes bumped it from opening the series, solely because it was his most recent album). As with last months selection, we have another slightly ominous title – yet fitting for this stage in my life. A follow-up to the duo's 2012 recording, KindredBeginning and End of Knowing features 12 wonderfully recorded free improvisations, none of which extend beyond six minutes, keeping things nice and concise. The album art and booklet nods in the direction of ECM and, as the duo recorded the album in Norway at the same studio and piano as on Ondas, it seems appropriate (and once again makes me wonder why Ondas was his sole outing for ECM).
New Zealand Jazz Mike Nock

Mike's playing here (or anywhere really) is not about hip licks and chops, but in this case, more focussed on texture and colour. Even on pieces in which single-line playing is featured those lines still seem to serve as mean of creating different textures and colors. Pike doesn't play much in the way of “ding ding ga ding”/“spang spang ah lang” (or the phonetic swing of your choosing), but he still generates a sense of forward motion and while the groove may reveal itself in an unexpected way, it's there. His playing is pretty understated but it really suits the feeling of the album. And across the album there is a nice balance between piano and drums. 

The title track sets the tone of album superbly. At times the piano is dramatic (without being overly so) while the drums remain constantly on the move. The bass drum popped out at me on “Cloudless”, while the sense of space and openness in Mike's voicings and approach contain quality that I can't really describe - “realization” comes to mind. “Akerslva” seems dark a first but a playfulness emerges and a hint of the blues is present throughout the tinkles and splashes. “1000 Colours” features more line playing by Nock than on the preceding tracks. Space is aptly filled by Pike, who plays with a subtle groove that really works. You could be mistaken in thinking that the opening of “The Mirror” is composed, such is the clarity. That clarity remains as a left hand ostinato takes hold and directs the piece. Mike's playing is melodic with a tenderness at times. “Hydrangea” features a Pike groove of relaxed propulsion while rich piano chords sit on top, and as the piece progress the piano and percussion become increasingly interlocked. The electronics are more obvious on “Glittering Age” than on some of the other tracks but they slot in seamlessly nevertheless. The piano repeats, varies and develops phrases throughout and Pike's use of the samples at the end of Mike's lines is very effective. Again, Pike's groove is unexpected yet highly effective (and the electronics fit into that groove well too) - he's a creative player. “Zerospeak” is more up-tempo than most of the album with its single line piano runs over the top of rumbling toms. Mike's lines had me thinking of some of his late 70s works such as “Casablanca” & “Break Time” or even later on with “Ozboppin'” (and I did take those tracks for a spin too), but here the feel is a bit different.. perhaps more introspective and rhythmically softer. Mike's single line melody over the drums and samples on “Ocean Back to Sky” (particularly during the opening of the piece) is a lesson in economy. He extracts a lot from a little and that is something that appeals to me more and more. The stacatto percussion and the wide spread between the two hands at the piano on “Prospero” grabbed my attention. It brings a welcome textural addition to the album. “Southerly” features some more contrasts – the fluttering cymbals paired with bass drum pulses, with strong, slow moving chordal melodies over the faster moving drums. I dig the way Mike's chordal phrases early on have a breathing quality to them. The album rounds out with “In Closing,” another improvisation with composition-like clarity.

While overall the album is quite introspective, there is still plenty of variety in terms of feel, mood and colour. There is a meditative quality that draws me in (and in that sense it reminded my of Evan Parker's As the Wind and the work of Hayden Chisholm). This could be the ideal music to calm the mind during the busy time in which we live. The album's strength lies in the collective approach to the duo - very much a case of “everybody solos and nobody solos.” The dialogue between the two is warm, unhurried, not afraid of space, and projects clarity and an openness (the only word I could think of) that really hits the spot. Beginning and End of Knowing served as the perfect welcome home. Tu meke!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Music for Commuting: Lacy, Garrett, Nock, The Melody Four

This week's drive(s) featured a nice bit of variety. I hadn't listened to Kenny Garrett's Triology in years, but as I was boxing up my CDs for the move, I decided to keep this one out and it has been nice to revisit it. The two Lacy albums, Stamps and Wordless, didn't get packed as they were on my list for a listen. I'm particularly interested in the latter as I think it's the earliest recording of the Tao suite (at least the earliest I have). I'd given each bit of a cursory blast when I picked them up but they deserve more airtime. Mike Nock's Beginning and End of Knowing is still hitting the spot and I've enjoy kicking off the morning with a smile on my face courtesy of The Melody Four - fun stuff.
music for commuting

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Music for Commuting: Mike Nock Duos with Pike and Liebman


Jazz Duo New Zealand Jazz
Accompanying the drive today: Beginning and End of Knowing and Duologue. I'll write more on the former later this month. And eventually I'll probably get around to writing something on the Liebman disc too. Both are highly recommended.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The soothing sounds of Prez

The Kansas City Sessions (Commodore)
I could ramble on passionately about this recording till the cows come home. But in the meantime, I’ll just add that the 1938 session with Prez, Buck Clayton, Eddie Durham, Freddie Green, Walter Page and Jo Jones is some of my all-time favourite music. The ensemble passages, counterpoint, solos, accompaniment, balance, swing, sound, feeling... incredible music. There’s the added bonus of having two takes of each piece and Prez plays plenty of clarinet too. In addition to singing Prez' solos, I had a blast singing along with Freddie Green’s vocals on “Them There Eyes” - something I did back-to-back with versions by Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday’s during my lessons with Connie Crothers.

Connie Crothers

Monday, August 27, 2018

NZ Jazz: Kim Paterson - Impending Journey

Kim Paterson: Impending Journey (Tap Records)

Kim Paterson (trpt/flugel), Jason Jones (ts) Kevin Field and Mark de Clive-Lowe (p) Greg Tuohey (g) Cameron Undy and Kevin Haines (b) Nicholas McBride (d) Miguel Fuentes (percussion) 1997

New Zealand Jazz Kim Paterson
As a new stage of my life begins, this month I have been checking out the very aptly named Impending Journey. A veteran of the NZ scene, Kim Paterson is somewhat under represented on record. In fact, Impending Journey was Paterson's first album as a leader. And outside of his work with Space Case and a couple of tracks on Jason Jones' Subspace, I have heard very little of Paterson’s playing, making this album a very welcome addition to the collection. Am I surprised that I can't recall him getting mentioned during my time in school?

This listening series must be starting to sink in as I immediately picked when Mark de Clive-Lowe was on piano. It's his rhythmic feel that stands out – more percussive than Kevin Field. Also, I thought “Tariqat” sounded like a piece Mike Nock would write – turns out he's the co-author along with Paterson, but I can't really put my finger on what the giveaway was though, just a gut reaction.

Back in 2001, Paterson talked about his love for latin music during and interview on Radio NZ's “Musical Chairs," and the presence of a number of Latin pieces here made a change for me. It's definitely a gap in my listening, and considering that I enjoy percussion it's a little odd that I still haven't delved into it that much at all. I think the bravado that often pops up in some of the music has put me off (although there is not much of that here). But I need to make more of an effort and I will probably get there eventually (recommendations appreciated!), but for now it remains on the back burner.

Although they bring a different mood to the album, the standard tunes almost seem out of place. I'm not sure if it's due the nature of playing as a duo, but I for me, I would have liked to hear more space on “Old Folks.” Both Paterson and Kevin Haines play in a pretty busy manner. On Horace Silver's “Peace” the group is stripped down to the trio of Paterson (on flugel) Tuohey and Undy. The lack of percussion leaps out and the guitar brings it's own color and texture into the mix, providing plenty of contrast to the four numbers that preceded it. The track grew on me a bit, but I found it lacked the forward momentum of the my favourite playing on the album. On more than one occasion, I ended up focusing on Undy's economical playing. The trio returns on “How Insensitive” and features some bold playing from Paterson (who is pretty busy here too), but I still feel things get a bit bogged down.

Jason Jones makes a welcome appearance on four tracks, and my initial impression was that he plays stronger here than on his own release, Subspace (but I probably need to go back and give it another listen). He never overplays his hand, paces himself well and plays some nice bold lines. I particularly enjoyed his well constructed solo on the title tune that features alternating swing and latin sections.

Paterson plays with plenty of energy, has a nice melodic sense and there’s some fire too, without overdoing it - around the 2 min mark on “Lost and Found.” Or on “Tariqat,” which features a nice mellow approach on flugelhorn but he adds some zip when he moves into the upper register. The muted trumpet lines stood out on “Miguel” – I think it was the urgency to his time feel that did it (and in general, I liked his time feel throughout the album). I really enjoyed Kevin Field's comping behind the trumpet too (and his brief solo is perhaps the most harmonically varied of the soloists) and the alternating grooves on the piece “Miguel” brought the piece to life. Not surprisingly Miguel Fuentes got a bit of room to stretch out too [side note: while I felt the trio tracks interrupted the flow of the album, it would have been great to hear a track featuring Paterson and Fuentes as a duo]. “Vision” is full of spark, energy, swagger and ebb and flow. It comes with bit of a mid-60s Miles vibe and it stood out to me. Mark de Clive-Lowe's spacious approach to comping behind Paterson really hits the spot. He builds into the piece, creating a nice dialogue between piano and horn. The album wraps up with Paterson playing solo muted trumpet. It's his take on "Gujarati Arti" and the intimate performance makes for a nice coda.

I think all that remains for me to pick up in the Tap Records catalog is Mark de Clive-Lowe’s Vision, which features many of the same personnel. But as far as Paterson goes, I want to get the live recording from the late 60s with Bernie McGann and the more recent, The Duenede

The one year mark for this series is just around the corner so stay tuned for more as I try and keep it going. In the meantime, if you want to see Paterson in action, John Fenton uploaded a video from a gig from earlier in 2018. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The soothing sounds of Connie Crothers and Hayden Chisholm

On select nights over the past couple of weeks, Hadyen Chisholm's Circe (Jazz Haus Musik) and Connie Crothers' Music from Everyday Life (New Artists) have been doing the late night rounds as I drift off to sleep. Both are albums I return to often, particularly when the mind needs calming.
New Artists Records Jazz Haus Musik

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

NZ Jazz: Vibrant Tongues - The Shadow Out of Time

Vibrant Tongues: The Shadow Out of Time
Blair Latham (ts) Tom Callwood (b) Reuben Bradley (d) 2006


Up until now, this project has focussed on filling some gaps in my listening. So I why did I choose an album that wasn't new to me? Aside from it's nice to revisit albums once in a while, I don't really know. Somewhere along the way the CD developed a glitch on the last two tracks but thankfully it ripped onto the computer without a problem. I pulled a pile of NZ jazz albums off the shelf and for whatever reason, here we are, with The Shadow Out of Time.

New Zealand Jazz
I remember listening to this album quite a bit after picking it up at the CD release gig (at Happy) but it has been a long time between listens. I couldn't really remember any specifics, but the overall vibe – a dark quality, yet energetic – was still firmly in my mind. It was the more up tempo pieces that had left that impression. I hadn't remembered the ballads being as strong, but I gave them a closer listen this time around and they went down nicely. They offset the more outwardly energetic pieces and bring variety to the album that I had forgotten. Blair and Reuben share the composition duties (with five and three respectively) and there is plenty of continuity between the two, creating a nice flow to the album.

At times the Tom Callwood's bass is a little low in the mix or it's probably more of a case of the tenor being too high. It could lead a listener to miss some of the subtleties of the important role he plays in the trio. On the upside in did cause me to tune in to the bass more closely. Mixing broken time, walking and double stops provides a welcome disjointed feel to “Mad Uncle” with the drums joining in as the sax swings along energetically. Around the 2 minute mark on “I Dare Hear” there are some nice, somewhat unexpected bass interjections that popped out at me. Tom's solo on “3 4 5” sets up the transition back into the final melody statement (this time taking a rubato approach – nice touch). Much like his work on “Asturias” on West of the Sun (see the last post in the series), the solo bass intro on “Search In Progress” does a great job of establishing the tone of the piece. The ostinatos (with variations) are an important factor in “Shimmering Sunset” and “Wanna Get Happy?” Not one for flashy pyrotechnic displays, Callwood is a creative accompanist and soloist who gets to the essence of the compositions and I find that makes far more interesting and enjoyable listening.

Back in my alto days (daze?), I remember being a little disappointed when Blair made the switch from alto to tenor, but that seems a long time ago now (I guess it was in the early 2000s). The album opens with “Make It Quicker” and Blair comes straight out of the blocks full steam ahead (and Rueben latches on to Blair’s energy throughout).Blair's playing contains a certain quirkiness that I find very appealing (and the quirkiness doesn't become gimmicky). His tone is resonant (vibrant) with a bit of bark and well as a cry. At times a vocal quality comes to the fore. The growl is well integrated into the overall sound and doesn't really sound like it is just pasted on (“and now it's time to growl”). Instead, it's part of the natural development of the line and feeling (I feel even Coleman Hawkins fell into the trap and overdid it). There is an exuberance to his time feel (almost a bubblyness) which makes for an interesting contrast with the darker qualities of the music. On “Wanna Get Happy” his lines are scattered and energetic and his tone almost splits as he attacks notes on “I Dare Hear” whilemixing up a swinging swagger with darting double time lines to great affect. There's even a little atmospheric bass clarinet during the intro of “Shimmering Sunset” before he switches to tenor for a very well-paced solo to round out the album.
I haven't heard Blair live for quite some time and he hasn't recorded all that much (this is the only recording I have and I must seek out others). But listening to The Shadow Out of Time has made me want to hear more. He doesn't really sound like any other saxophonist that I can think of..... and if this music is about developing a personal sound and approach then Blair is ticking those boxes. It's definitely not your garden variety, clean, generic modern tenor playing.

Reuben has established himself as one of the top jazz drummers in the country but I'm afraid to say that I haven't had a close listen to much of his recorded work. I'm keen to listen to Shark Variations (with Roger Manins and Brett Hirst) to hear him in another sax/bass/drums setting some 10 years after The Shadow Out of Time. At times he can quite busy but without cluttering or dominating even as he builds intensity throughout a piece as on “Wanna Get Happy?” On “Shimmering Sunset” he draws out some different colors and there's airiness to his playing that remains present throughout, even if only hinted at, as the piece develops. These days Reuben is based in Australia but hopefully he gets back regularly as I've always found him to be a positive force in the NZ jazz community. In fact, he played (with Blair) while I was back but I was unable to get along. Next time!

While this series was originally about discovering new music, revisiting The Shadow Out of Time has been time well spent – I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed this album.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Arthur Street Loft Orchestra

New Zealand Jazz
Lucien Johnson
While I was back home I wanted to check out some live music. On the short list was the series organized by my friend Jake Baxendale - The Arthur Street Loft Orchestra. And it just so happened that my visit coincided with the series featuring the music of my friends Jasmine, Lucien and Jake. While the name implies a single unit, the series actually features various large ensembles utilizing a rotating cast of players, showcasing the works of local composers. This Monday night series has been going 12 weeks and so far he was the series booked through the end of September, but is confident he can keep it running until the end of the year. The Arthur Street Loft Orchestra is a welcome addition as it fills a gap in the Wellington scene, which hasn't had much room for regular performances by large ensembles - especially ones presenting original music.

It was nice to hear people writing music for large ensembles outside of the standard 16(ish)-piece big band line up in terms of both instrumentation and conception. First up was a large ensemble led by Lucien Johnson - five saxophones, two trumpets, two trombones, and rhythm plus Lucien on synth (and he played some soprano too). Unsurprisingly, Lucien came up with something a little different – a synth and bass driven big band sound. Normally I wouldn't like the bass as prominent in the mix for a big band but for this music it really worked. And it was nice to hear “Light Shaft” and “Asturias” from West of the Sun arranged for a larger group. The playing was enthusiastic, even if they were a little underprepared (yet delightfully so!).
New Zealand Jazz
Jasmine Lovell-Smith and Jake Baxendale

The following week I got along to an evening of music written by Jasmine Lovell-Smith & Jake Baxendale played by a ten-piece lineup consisting of rhythm section and six horns (2 brass and 4 saxes with a couple of doubles). It was advertised as a “chamber jazz” group, I'm not really sure I would have picked that descriptor. But based on that, I was it expecting something more on the quiet side – largely acoustic, light, subtle, brushes, weaving lines, etc. (although perhaps the acoustics at The Third Eye may not be suitable to such an approach). And while it didn't really check all of those boxes, it didn't stop me from enjoying the music. 

I was not surprised to see plenty of new (younger) faces on the bandstand, but I was surprised that I didn't really know anyone in the audience (both gigs we pretty well attended) - compare this to when I was home last year I knew about 75% of the crowd at a gig of Jasmine's. This time round the average age was older too. I'm not sure what to put it down to - Monday night perhaps... or maybe because it's more expensive than most gigs around town. But it's a nice atmosphere, so if you're in Wellington on a Monday night check out the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra at The Third Eye. To quote Jake, “the only other gig in town on Monday is the folk jam at the Welsh Dragon, and that used to be a public toilet.”

Saturday, June 30, 2018

NZ Jazz: Lucien Johnson + 5 - West of the Sun


Lucien Johnson + 5: West of the Sun 

Johnson (ts) Lex French (trpt) Nick Van Dijk (trb) Jonathan Crayford (p) Tom Callwood (b) Chris O'Connor (d) 2016
New Zealand Jazz
I still find it tricky writing about recordings when I know many of the individual's involved (whether they be teachers, colleagues, friends... or all of the above as is the case here). As a result, this post almost got put on hold - but here it is!

I've known Lucien almost 20 years. When I started music school it was immediately clear that he was one of the better musician's around (and he knew what that place was about). I remember being blown away hearing him play Warne Marsh's solo on “All The Things You Are” (from the Copenhagen trio recordings) and his and arrangements and compositions were always interesting. He spoke his mind (and ruffled some feathers) but I always found him approachable and a great source for listening suggestions (it was Lucien who encouraged me to check out Steve Lacy).

Although Lucien hasn't recorded a ton, there is plenty of variety in his output - The Night's Plutonian Shore, Stinging Nettles, Captain Blood (I haven't heard the latter in ages) are all very different. So was it a surprise to see his latest recording change things up again and feature three horns and rhythm section playing six original compositions? Not really, but it didn't disappoint either. The opening track, “Clarion Call,” set the mood for the album and grabbed my attention. West of the Sun appears upbeat on the surface, but a darkness also is present, a combination that drew me in from the beginning. 

As with Jim Langabeer's Secret Islands, I found Lucien's choice of personnel was really on point. The sextet is comprised of players that I've heard live quite a bit and they meld together here to form a very cohesive unit. Chris O'Connor has long been one of my favourite drummers on the NZ scene and he doesn't disappoint. He gets a little room to move on the closing track, “Zapata,” but other than that, he's quite understated. However, the taste and groove is always there. Supportive and creative – it's hard to ask for more than that. 

It would have been nice to hear a little more from Nick Van Dijk as his playing mines deep and captures the essence of “Asturias.” His solo features a reaching lyricism, not a quality I hear all that often but one that I find very appealing. There have been many occasions this past month when I have looped this solo. I'd love to hear Nick get oppourtunities to be able to stretch out in this manner more often.

Lex French's tone and playing during the obbligato over the tenor and trombone on “El Cid” fits the vibe of the piece to a tee. His solo work is strong across the album and I enjoy the contrast between the tenor and trumpet in terms of color and feel. Both play some slinky lines but Lucien tends to be a bit more laid back and perhaps Lex is a little more notey. 

Sometimes I find Tom Callwood's tone is a little ampy but I enjoy his playing. “Asturias” opens with Joe strumming solo bass and he does a fine job of setting the mood. His accompaniment during Jonathan Crayford's solo on the title track hits the spot. The piano solo itself is very tasty and a study in not overstating things. Fans of jazz in New Zealand need no introduction to Crayford and it will come as no surprise that his playing is top-notch. I know he was an important part in Lucien's development so it's nice hearing them recording together. His playing here was a reminder how much I need to give a listen to his two trio albums on Rattle (more to add to the list!).

Lucien's woody, dark tone with some buzz and ring to the edges really slots into the overall vibe of the album. His solos are strong throughout as he creates weaving lines with some nice bolder melodic interjections that grab your ear. The title track (with its stripped down line-up sans trumpet and trombone) features a very mature solo that flows on very nicely from Crayford's solo. It's expressive ballad playing with no need for lots of flash – he cuts things back to the bone. The “lazy” opening phrase of his solo on “El Cid” puts a smile on my face, and it leads into a well-paced solo. His writing is also very strong and he utilizes the instrumentation to bring a depth of sound to the ensemble passages without weighing things down. It's been refreshing listening to a three-horn front line. They get a nice blend and the shout chorus between the tenor and piano solos “Light Shaft” is a very nice touch.

I was pleased to see West of the Sun amongst the finalists for Jazz Album of the Year. In my book, the LP length is a bonus as it's a great length for listening and remaining focussed. So head over to Bandcamp and pick up a copy. If Lucien has any vinyl left I might have to grab one next time I see him.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Straight Horning: Bruce Ackley Trio - The Hearing

Bruce Ackley Trio: The Hearing (Avant)

Ackley (ss) Greg Cohen (b) Joey Baron (d) 

Bruce Ackley has very much flown under my radar. Outside of the little I've heard from ROVA, this is the first album I've heard from Ackley. And after a little digging around this appears to be his only release as a leader (are there others?). I may be late to the party, but thankfully The Hearing has been getting plenty of airtime since picking it up back in May. 

Soprano Saxophone Jazz
The album was produced by John Zorn who, not for the first time, enlisted Greg Cohen (b) and Joey Baron (d) – a Zorn house rhythm section of sorts perhaps. A couple of other Zorn produced discs in my library featuring this pairing include Misha Mengelberg's No Idea and Lee Konitz's Some New Stuff and then there's Masada (I'm sure there are others too). It's a really solid pairing – swinging, creative, supportive, interactive and flexible. You can't ask for too much more really. It's a testament to their ability that the album locks right into place – I wouldn't have picked that they hadn't played with Ackley before.
Soloistically sometimes Baron is a little bombastic for me... but it's only a minor complaint and in some ways it matches Ackley's spark - and it's not out of place on pieces like “Serf Music.” Cohen's double stops on “Clear Blue Sky” grabbed my attention. He doesn't overdo it - a couple times during melody and one phrase during his solo – plus he plays very nice walking lines and melodic solo too.

The exuberance of “Out of the Box” brought Monk to mind - when I read then liner notes (I always give the album a listen first) it mentioned Herbie Nichols was the inspiration. “1, 2 and Radical 3” has a mysterious vibe. Baron shows he is much more than bombastic with lots of subtle changes behind the more dominant bass and soprano. Solo following the melody features lots of shorts phrases, pecking and jabs and some flurries, register leaps, and melodic variation. The head of the energetic blues, “Juggernaut,” has pointed feel due to Ackley's clipped articulation. But things smooth out a bit during the blowing but the energy remains throughout. I liked Baron's shift in sound/texture as he accompanies Cohen's solo before employing some trademark Baron power during the trades. Mr Mood” is a bit more reflective/introspective. There's almost a stream of conscience type thing going on, with ideas, direction and colors changing phrase to phrase yet somehow it all ties together and is very much in fitting with the melody. I couldn't help thinking of Wayne Shorter. There's plenty of interaction between the trio and at a push it could be my favourite track on the album. On the full-throttle, busy, up-tempo burn of “JT”, Ackley moves into the outer regions via the upper range. There two sides to “Syndrome”, a buoyant march that opens the work and then a more outwardly reflective (yet still inwardly driving) for the rest of the piece. I expected that they would reprise the march at the end but they don't and it really wasn't necessary. “Serf Music” features Ackley utilizing a chanter-like effect over arco bass and drums (playing a quasi-surf feel at times... Or is that the tunes title playing on my mind?). The chanter effect contorts and distorts with the addition of multiphonics and altissimo as the piece progresses. Cohen's intense arco playing really sets up the vibe of “Actual Size”, and locks in with Baron's dry cymbal for some swinging bass lines while Ackley generates an exploratory feel while still maintaining the swing. Rounding out the album is the mid-tempo “Ivan's Bell” features an angular melody that is still somewhat lyrical, and the melodicism remains for Ackley's solo. 

Ackley is definitely coming from the Lacy realm but expresses his own personality from within that sphere. He has a full-bodied, solid, robust, flexible, bold, pure soprano sound. There's evenness across the range and a he finds a nice combination of darkness/spread and focus. Ackley plays with plenty of energy and spark (slightly manic quality at times, but appealingly so). There is a probing quality to his playing that really enjoy. I think some of it is due to his time feel and busyness of his playing - he can be quite notey at times. One word that always came to mind as I listened to this was “exploratory” - like Lacy, Ackley is an explorer. 

Fellow soprano saxophone enthusiasts/fanatics, do yourself a favor and dig into The Hearing.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Recent listening: Some Ornette and Bley

Experiencing Ornette ColemanNew Zealand Music Month had me listening to a lot of jazz from back home, although towards the end of the month I started listening to selected tracks from a bunch of Ornette Coleman albums. I've been working on the melodies of "Jayne" from Something Else!!!! and "Humpty Dumpty" from This is Our Music. "What Reason" from both of the Sound Museum albums has been getting airtime (both of these albums deserve more of my attention). Ornette on Tenor is the Atlantic album that I have listened to the least, so that has been played a few times over the past week. The hook-up between Jimmy Garrison and Ed Blackwell is superb and it made me want to hear more Garrison with Ornette - coming in the form of New York is Now! (I don't have Love Call...yet). Also tickling my fancy of late has been some Paul Bley - a player never out of rotation for very long. This time round it's been a smattering of tracks from Paul Plays Carla and the Complete Savoy Sessions 1962-63. Not pictured are Song X and Tone Dialing which is where this little blast of Ornette began after I caught myself singing "Kathleen Gray" couple of times and decided to learn it. Accompanying on the train ride to work has been Michael Stephan's Experiencing Ornette Coleman. It's a pretty easy read, not a lot of new information, but it's interesting to read another take on Ornette. I'd be interested in reading Stephen Rush's Free Jazz, Harmolodics and Ornette Coleman. And as it turns out, it's at the public library too, so that will likely be next on the list.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

NZ Music Month: The 3-Out – Move

The 3-Out: Move 
Mike Nock (p) Freddy Logan (b) Chris Karan (d)

New Zealand Jazz
Years before I heard Move, a friend (hi John!) played me a single track (possibly from a radio broadcast) blindfold test style. It was the 3-Out, and I picked Mike as the pianist. I'll put that down to an educated guess. I don't know if there are qualities on this recording that I recognize in Nock's present-day work. Perhaps I hear similarities in the energy and time feel... perhaps. The simple fact that I know it's Mike Nock makes it a bit tricky and easy to suggest things that are not really there. But something clued me in during that first listen.

Does his music conjure up images or feelings of New Zealand? Not so on Move, but on later recordings I do get that feeling. But again, the power of suggestion is at play (“Land of the Long White Cloud” from Ondas for example). Knowing he's a Kiwi leads me to making connections between his music and my own feelings/memories/impressions of New Zealand – whether it be landscapes, space, the light or the weather etc. If these connections exist only in my mind are they real? What I hear as reflecting New Zealand could easily be heard as something entirely differently by someone else (including fellow New Zealanders).

I don't get that feeling from other overseas based players such as Alan Broadbent or Matt Penman – so why do I get it with Mike? (sometimes I make that connection with Hayden Chisholm's music too) Maybe it's because Nock was the first jazz musician from New Zealand with whom I was aware, I latched onto that and projected it onto his music.

How about local jazz players invoking a New Zealand quality? The textual component of much of Norman Meehan's recent work helps, but you could debate how “jazzy” some of those recordings are. Jim Langabeer maybe (again with the power of suggestion re: song titles). And then there's the use of Taonga puoro. From the little I have heard of Jonathan Crayford's trio albums (they're on the list more a closer listen), they bring to mind some New Zealandness. But can it be NZ Jazz when two-thirds of the groups aren't Kiwis? I know that some entires for Jazz Album of the Year have been not seriously considered because they were recorded overseas with only one Kiwi. Thankfully Jonathan Crayford's win in 2017 for East West Moon seems to have put an end to that.

What is New Zealand Jazz? Does it invoke a particular feeling or imagery? Is it all just in my head? Is it even a thing? I lean towards no, and what I've heard from others on the subject, this is likely the consensus view at the moment - New Zealand Jazz isn't a thing, but jazz from New Zealand is. Perhaps, on some level, that's what this listening project is really about. 

Move might sound pretty tame these days, but it pays to put things in context. From all reports this trio was at the fore of Australasian jazz. I stumbled on a couple of pretty interesting articles discussing that period of jazz in Australia, particularly the El Rocco – here and here

I haven’t heard (m)any recordings from around this time to make comparisons. With the ease of recordings these days (not always a good thing!) sometimes you forget that once upon a time, musicians had to have someone willing to invest in them. That resulted in a lot of music not getting recorded. There is an interview with Mike where he talks about playing in saxophonist Bob Gillet’s band which was incorporating works by Kenneth Patchen - that’s something I’d like to hear! [Side note: Gillet, an American, was an important force on the jazz scenes in both NZ and Australia but I’m yet to hear a recording of him - is anything available?]

Anyway, it's great that the two albums from the trio have been reissued. Also reissued around the same time was Judy Bailey's 1964 trio album – lets hope for more. With these being Nock's first recordings of note, it's definitely one for Mike Nock fans or those interested in jazz in New Zealand and/or Australia in the late 50 and early 60s.

Well, this post took a somewhat unexpected turn. Thanks for hanging in there.
New Zealand Jazz

Friday, May 25, 2018

NZ Music Month: The Three Out Trio - Hot and Swinging

The 3-Out were featured in the March 16, 1962 issue of the NZ Listener. I remember hearing Mike mention that this was the group everyone asked him about. I put it down to the records being scarce (and expensive). Since then, both Move and Sittin’ In have been reissued and I wonder if the Three Out questions have subsided? Anyone keen to try and track down the six shows they recorded for NZBS?

Click on the image to view the full article. More vintage magazine articles can be found here.
NZ Music Month New Zealand Jazz
New Zealand Jazz