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(jazz for listening rather than dancing), this live recording from the Auckland Town Hall on August 7, 1950, is a great historical document.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 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!