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