Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Arthur Street Loft Orchestra: The Big Troubles

Okay, I've been a little slack with the updates during NZ Music Month, but I've finally got this post together albeit a week late. It was The Troubles a couple of weeks ago and then I followed that up a couple of nights later with The Big Troubles at Third Eye for the latest installment of the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra.

You could never accuse John of not having fun. High energy, raucous, nostelgic, and funny. In some ways reminds me of ICP, but less edgy. The expanded ensemble included an extra cello, guitar, and a stack of brass bringing the grand total to 3 bones, 3 trumpets, 3 saxes, 3 rhythm, and 4 strings. The addition of vocalist Eugene Wolfe on a couple of pieces was a surprise. He handled the set-opening blues prety well, but his take on “Crazy she calls me” didn’t convince me (the arrangement was interesting though).

It was great to have near to a full house in attendance, but I did wonder, where were the dancers?
New Zealand Jazz

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Troubles at Rogue and Vagabond

The Troubles at Rogue and Vagabond

John Rae (d) Hannah Fraser (v) Megan Ward (vi) Charley Davenport (c) Patrick Bleakley (b) Jake Baxendale (ts) Eilish Wilson (as) Bridgette Kelly (ts/cl)

9.30pm kick-off meant it was long day on Thursday, but I wanted to catch The Troubles as I may not be able to hear them during the jazz festival (I still need to sit down and work out what I can actually get to).
New Zealand Jazz

Two of my pet peeves didn't put me in the best mood. First; starting late for no apparent reason other than being late. After working all day, then travel well over an hour to listen to a gig, and they start over 20 minutes late.....this pisses you off somewhat. I guess no one gives a shit because the bar is busy, so what difference does it make? Second; practicing on the band stand. Okay... so things are running late, but does that mean you need to practice music on the bandstand while set up continues (in fairness to those noodling around... at least they were ready to play on time... which may have led to the noodling!). 

There was a different crowd than the Sunday arvo gigs I’ve attended at Rogue and Vagabond. Not as many musicians and bit more of a party vibe than the more laid-back Sunday feel. The crowd really dug the energy of the group. When was the last time you had people dancing at a jazz gig in a bar? There may have been some planning involved as all the tables that usually crowd the front of the stage were conveniently absent. In addition to his fine drumming (I like his hook up with Bleakley), John's an entertainer too. And the show-biz elements appeal to many too.

This edition of The Troubles seems to have it's strength in the ensemble playing rather than really powerful soloists. Often the solos dragged on a bit, although Jake blew strong and Bridgette’s clarinet feature was enjoyable. But it was the ensemble sound that really drove things throughout the night. But from memory, that’s the impression I had of The Troubles' self-titled album too (only Davenport, Rae and Bleakley remain from the 2012 recording – which I'll get to at some stage).

An expanded verion, The Big Troubles, are playing at the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra night at Third Eye on Monday. I'm hoping to get along. Will there be dancing?

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

NZ Jazz: Roger Manins - Trio

Roger Manins: Trio (Rattle)
Manins (ts) Mostyn Cole (b) Reuben Bradley (d)

I surprised myself when I realized that the series really hadn’t featured Roger Manins (Secret Islands being the only album I can recall). For a while it seemed that every other jazz album Rattle released featured Rog, yet I don't have many of his albums. During the early 2000s, Roger spent a little bit of time bouncing between Auckland and Wellington. And when I he was down here, I'd catch him when I could. I was trying to remember if I ever heard this trio live? If I did, it was at a Welington Jazz Club gig, but I can't remember who the rhythm section was that night. And hearing him with Shuffle last week broke a long drought.
New Zealand Jazz

I assume that the six tunes were all compositions of Roger's (it doesn't say... come on Rattle!). Roger has chops to burn but keeps things real with his fat expressive tone. He achieves a nice mix of old and new - muscular hard bop, burning Post-Coltrane complexities, a blues swagger to keep things rooted, and throw in a touch of tenderness too (less on show here). Some players take one of those elements and run with it. Roger takes it all and gives back his own thing.

Clocking in at 19 minutes, the album opener, “Marty White”, is the longest single track of the NZ Jazz series to date. It may be long, but the ebb and flow keep things interesting. I enjoy the way they take a relatively basic vehicle, dive and and extract the most of out they can (in that way it reminds me of Sonny Rollins). Following a long rubato opening, the bass and drums take over and Mostyn builds into the main riff. Roger takes off after the melody and the piece comes to a boil as the time breaks up and then things drop right down for a bass solo with spacious accompaniment from Reuben. When Roger returns the trio is simmering along. It's a different kind of intensity the earlier – laid back but with purpose, before the drums ramp things up into the out head. 

“Missing Wes” allows for a touch of tenderness in Roger's playing. For a ballad, the playing is quite busy at times (particularly drums and sax), but I think they make it work. The mallets provide a welcome change of texture. 

I've long enjoyed Reuben's playing and I'm sure more of his albums will appear in this series. He takes care of business with plenty of energy whilst remaining interactive and hooks-up well with Mostyn. Sometimes it's the little things that pop out – like the single tom hit from Reuben at 2.10 on “Blues Form”. The tune features simple yet effective arrangement. Mostyn plays fills during the opening head and Reuben plays them on the repeat. While the out head features no fills, just space. Reuben's solo to open “Hip Flask” really captures the essence of the tune. I like that they don't feel the need to repeat the full melody to end the tune – instead they just play the hits (in somewhat understated manner in comparission to the first time round). I'll have to track down the Hip Flask albums to see how it compares with this trio verstion.

This is the only recording I have featuring Mostyn (edit: since writing this I've picked up Reuben's Resonator.... I'll get to that eventually). And outside of some videos from CJC gigs posted by Jon Fenton, I haven't heard him in ages (I think the last time was at Happy many moons ago – maybe a project of James Wylie's). It's been nice to reaquaint myself with his playing. “Silo” has a lovely solo bass intro featuring a rich tone and melodic playing. The way he develops the solo into the melody is a nice touch.

Maybe the odd track out is “Filled Rolls”, which has Mostyn playing electric bass. I don't think the change was necessary, but it does give the chance to hear compare his approach on the two instruments (not surprisingly he's more notey on the electric). Had he been on electric for the entire album, the end result probably wouldn't be as much to my liking. But one track keeps things interesting.

Exuberance is something I missed from last month's listening, but Trio more than makes up for it. If you like the sax/bass/drums trio format and/or robust, swinging tenor sax, Trio will likely sit pretty well with you.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Jazz on Sunday in Wellington

I kept myself busy on Sunday by getting along to two gigs. If I had been organized, I could have got along to a third - maybe next time.

New Zealand JazzFirst up, it was off to Cafe L’affare for The Dry Horrors - Anthony Donaldson (d) Tom Callwood (b) Lucien Johnson (ss/ts). I didn’t realize that L’affare had music and I stumbled upon this while making a last minute check of the gig guide.

It was interesting to hear these guys playing a cafe gig - some tunes by Monk, Ornette, Bird, Ellington and David Murray, and some standards and blues. The acoustics had everyone pulling back. I was expecting it to get really washy but it actually wasn’t too bad. I hadn’t really heard Anthony in this context before (maybe ages ago) but I really enjoyed his playing. In some ways his beat has an old feel but it ends up sounding modern (which brings to mind Han Bennink). It was a chilled out afternoon - even when things were moving along - and it was nice to see parents with their young kids listening to the band (even if just for a moment).

The Donaldson and Callwood pairing is quite longstanding. Will it attain the stature of the Sellers/Dyne, Gibson/Brown, Hopkins/Haynes pairings? Maybe it is already there? I’m glad to have caught Lucien again before he heads to NYC this week. I’m looking forward to hearing what he gets up to.

Next up it was off to Rogue and Vagabond for the Jasmine Lovell-Smith Quintet - Jasmine (ss) Mike Taylor (trpt) Anita Schwabe (p) Phoebe Johnson (b) Hikarangi Schaverian-Kaa (d). What started out as a sunny day had now clouded over, and the music seemed seasonly appropriate and continued the Sunday vibe - intimate, warm and pretty chilled out.
New Zealand Jazz

I was expecting Callum Allardice on guitar, but he was subbed out by Anita. And while I was keen to hear a guitarist playing Jasmine’s music, it was a bonus having Anita there as I hadn’t managed to catch her live since I’ve been home.

It was my first time hearing Phoebe Johnson and I was particularly impressed by her creative accomplishment, nice sense of space and unhurried approach. She fits in with Jasmine’s approach really well. She locked in nicely with Hikarangi too. He doesn’t overdo it, but gives things a kick, often unexpectedly, when needed. At times the sound guy didn’t do the bass any favors - quit turning up the volume during the bass solos. It really threw out the balance of her tone and make the bottom end overly boomy.

I enjoyed listening to the contrast between the sax and trumpet. Between the more notey playing, Mike hints at a melodic side too. The notey-ness has been part of his playing as long as I’ve known him, so it might be a bit odd if he edited it out, but sometimes the strength of a melodic line is lost when bookended with superfluous notes (and, in this case at least, the contrast with Jasmine would diminish). I would like to hear them together more to see what develops, especially as far as collective improvising goes. And while the performance may not have been as cohesive as the album but I enjoyed hearing some pieces from Fortune Songs live. 

After the gig we were talking about Sunday in Wellington becoming quite the scene - Third Eye’s regular afternoon session, L’affare in the arvo (not sure how regular it is), Rogue at 5pm, and the odd Sunday night gig (JB3 were at The Library that evening). So if you’re a jazz fan and in the city on a Sunday, there’s something happening somewhere - check it out.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Music for Commuting: Ornette in the 80s

Virgin Beauty, In All LanguagesI first heard Virgin Beauty at the Wellington Public Library. Right around the same time I got Tone Dialing shortly after it was released, but I think Virgin Beauty was my introduction to Prime Time. I was well aware of Ornette at the time, but Prime Time was a different beast.

In All Languages is fascinating as you get to hear the acoustic quartet and Prime Time exploring the same songs. You can hear the influence of Prime Time on the production on quartet sides… they’re a little heavy on reverb. It’s not enough to stop me considering it essential listening for Ornette fans.

This time round my ear seemed to be drawn to the ballads - “Mothers In Veil”, “Today, Yesterday and Tomorrow” and “Virgin Beauty” - nice accompaniment while driving through the fog.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Music for Commuting: Trio = Piano + Sax + Bass

Slow FoxThe commuting continues but the posts have slowed down. Long weekend procrastination was not particularly obliging with blog updates but a couple of train rides helped scraping together something. I’m slowly catching up on things.

I played the title track from Time Will Tell to some friends earlier in the month. I’m not sure it really resonated with them, but that won’t stop me from trying to expose them to some different stuff. The follow-up, Sankt Gerold, is on my “to get” list. I'm pretty keen to hear Barre Phillips new solo album too.

I hadn’t listened to Slow Fox’s second album, Gentle Giants, all that much and I was happy reacquainting myself it on the way to work last week. It led me back to the trio’s first album, The Wood, when heading into Wellington for a couple of gigs. I was going to try and play favorites, but in the end.... why bother when you can sit back and enjoy them both. For NZ Music Month I’ll be sending a bunch of friends a playlist which will include a track from Gentle Giants.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Antipodes + Hannah Griffin

Tonight it was back into the city to catch a concert at St Peter's Church. Two gigs in two nights..... not bad! This time around it was Antipodes - Luke Sweeting (p) Jake Baxendale (as) Callum Allardice (g) Max Alduca (b) and Tim Geldens (d). It was quite a different scene from last night (in terms of the setting, vibe and music). For this Easter concert, vocalist Hannah Griffin was added to the group for a set comprised of arrangements of hymns. I hadn't heard Hannah live for many many years, and she was the kicker to get me along. I don't consider Antipodes to be a "less is more" kinda group, so I was keen to hear how they handled playing hymns with a vocalist in a church. For the most part they did it pretty well. It was only when they hit a certain dynamic level that the vocals would lose clarity. It was nice hearing them take a more measured approach, although the last couple of pieces got a little closer to the "epic-ness" I associate with them. I'm not sure I'll make it 'three in three', but if I'm up for it, Antipodes are at Third Eye on Wednesday night.
Jazz Hymns