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.