Monday, January 30, 2023

Mark Lockett: Swings and Roundabouts

An album I’ve been enjoying in recent times is drummer Mark Lockett’s ‘Swings and Roundabouts’, due to be released on 1 February 2023 (Mark hooked me up with a preview copy). The album was recorded in New York City in July 2022, and features the stellar lineup of Matt Penman (bass) Duane Eubanks (trumpet) David Binney (alto saxophone) tearing it up on nine of Mark’s compositions.

I hadn’t listened to alto saxophonist David Binney in quite some time, and it served as a reminder of what serious chops he has at his disposal. It's not my favourite type of playing, but the contrast between Binney and trumpeter Duane Eubanks’ stripped back, less notey approach is something that appeals to me. 

There are some hints at the music of Ornette Coleman (and one tune is dedicated to him). Some of Mark’s compositions have a playfulness akin to Ornette (see "The Crib" and "Rhubarb Crumble"), but ‘Swings and Roundabouts’ isn’t overtly Ornette-y.  “Virtual Reality” with its Witch Hunt-esque phrase had me chuckle as I was anticipating Elvin’s fill that didn’t eventuate.  

Duane Eubanks' ‘bubbly/spluttery’ sound (for lack of better words... but I’m using that descriptor as a positive!) hints a little bit at Don Cherry, and his approach as an improviser really suits the feel of the album. I really haven't listened to much of Eubanks, and this album serves as a reminder that I need to seek out more of his work (the only other album I have featuring Eubanks is Bill McHenry's 'Sonic Pressure', which also has Matt on bass, it's about time I dusted that one off).

Matt’s woody tone and melodicism is a great fit for the album. I particularly have been enjoying his unaccompanied solo on “Rhubarb Crumble”, and “Here’s to Ornette” with Mark on brushes is fine too. Actually all his is playing hits the spot, and as I write I'm digging his up tempo walking lines on "Level 4". Side note on bass tones (disclaimer: I don’t play bass so what do I know): One thing that is a bit too common out here in NZ at times are bass players with ‘ampy’ sounds. It’s a pet peeve of mine. Listen to Matt.... great sound.

In many ways, Mark takes bit of a back seat. I’m not sure I would have picked it was a drummer led session - and that’s kind of refreshing – the focus is on the music and taking care of business rather than showy, bloated drums. More often than not Mark's playing is understated (especially by contemporary jazz standards). And even when he is featured blowing over the vamp on "G T" or the trades on "Happy Go Lucky" things never get carried away. It’s bit of an old school, tasty approach that I appreciate, but don’t always hear that much.

So if you fancy treating yourself, head over to Thick Records and dine out on ‘Swings and Roundabouts’. And to support the release, Mark will be touring in New Zealand during February, so be sure to get and support him. Joining Mark will be Roger Manins  (sax) James Guilford (trpt) and Dan Yeabsley (bass). I'm keen to hear how the different personnel tackle Mark's music.

2 February, New Plymouth, 4th Wall

3 February, Whanganui, Savage Club

4 February, Hamilton, Nivara Lounge

8 February, Auckland, Anthology Lounge

9 February, Wellington, Moon1

10 February, Nelson, Fairfield House

11 February, Picton, Le Cafe

16 February, Christchurch, Space Academy

17 February, Dunedin, Playhouse Theatre

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Joe Lovano: Trio Tapestry

I used to keep listening journals and on a raining Sunday afternoon I resurrected it. And while the blog has been asleep for a while, I decided to post it here.

Joe Lovano: Trio Tapestry & Garden of Expression (ECM)
Joe Lovano (tenor sax/soprano sax/taragato/gongs) Marilyn Crispell (piano) Carmine Castaldi (drums/percussion)

Garden of Expression

I've kept an ear on Joe Lovano over years and I usually check out his work when the other personnel are of interest. And it was the presence of Marilyn Crispell that drew my attention to Trio Tapestry as over the last few years I have been increasingly enjoying her music.

Recorded in 2019 and released this year, Garden of Expression is the second album from Trio Tapestry. I was excited when the first (Trio Tapestry) was released but it didn’t strike me at the time… something must have stuck with me though, as I didn’t hesitate grabbing the second release.

The album touches on some areas that have been of interest to me for a while that I want to explore in my music - especially space, and silence - these are some of the same qualities that struck me when hearing Evan Parker’s 2016 release As The Wind (PSI) as well as some of Hayden Chisholm's work.

“Chapel Song” opens the album with a light, crystal, brightness that becomes increasingly warm while retaining the lightness. A delicate piano intro sets the tone for “Night Creatures”. It is interesting to hear what a prominent role the cymbals have on the sound and feel of both of these albums. Overall the drum texture really works for me. Often understated and unafraid of space or backing off. The piano gets busy under some melodic works though. Ending is somewhat abrupt. The tracks are longer on this album than the first - not overly so (between 3- 7 1.2 mins with one sitting at almost 11), although there are 3 fewer pieces. “West of the Moon” has a nice flow to it – gentle swells. I like the change in “Garden of Expression” following the opening as it shifts into being momentary more rhythmically unsettled before returning to the warm melody. The piano and drums really lock in through the piano “solo”... really more of a piano/drum dialogue (with some nicely time gong hits from Lovano). The piece moves through many moods before returning home. My ears immediately pricked up as Lovano entered “Treasured Moments”, the vibrato and intonation bring a strangely wonderful tension – settled and unsettled at the same time. Economy is key here. It leads wonderfully into “Sacred Chant” which has a relaxed, joyous sound. The piece ends and feels unfinished. Piano and drums lead off on “Dream on That”, before the piano makes way for the tenor, and then then trio all together. Although this tune features a couple of duets, there’s more of everyone playing together on this album. Something I enjoyed with Trio Tapestry is the way the trio is broken up - solos, duos and trio. On Garden of Expression the sound of the trio is more present. Whereas Trio Tapestry ends with one of the more outwardly intense pieces, Garden of Expression comes back to space with “Zen Like”. It’s my favourite track on the album. Unhurried. Space. A weightless quality. Dig it.

Listening to Garden of Expression led me to revisit Trio Tapestry, and I’m enjoying it a lot more this time around. It still doesn’t quite hit the spot the way Garden of Expression does, but it has grown on me a lot since my last listen (although I'm still not sure what ECM were thinking with that cover art!).

Opening with gongs and cymbals before the tenor enters - I’m struck by the blend between the gongs and the tenor. “One Time In” acts as a spacious prelude. The trio are there from beat one of “Seeds of Change”. Unsurprisingly the sound is denser. The playing remains economical but the sense of space has changed. The piece feels longer. It is, but remains concise. “Razzle Dazzle” opens with solo piano with both hands in unison as drums creep in. The difference in space between one, two, and three active players is evident. Crispell’s piano lines behind the tenor bring to mind the opening phrase. “Sparkle Lights” opens with tenor and piano together before giving way to traded phrases that merge in places while the drums remains sparse. The longest track is “Mystic” (pieces range between 2 and 8 1/2 mins). A quiet rumble of drums is greeted by Lovano on tarogato. Space is at the fore. The rumbling swells but the space and sparse tarogato lines remain, eventually replaced by gong sounds. Eventually the piece builds into a more tradition duo between drums and tarogato. This may be my favourite piece on the album (which is mildly amusing as Crispell lays out). “Piano/Drum Episode” is as it suggests. Piano notes ring out and decay. The drumming is subtle with a warm cushioning quality that is perhaps interrupted by the bass drum. The cymbal hit at the end is all about timing and finding just the right spot. “Gong Episode” is just that – two minutes of gongs. It is well placed in the album flow. “Rare Beauty” opens with full trio, the dynamics are raised and there is a sense of urgency – perhaps heightened following the nature of the gong piece. Lovely interplay between the lines in each hand of the piano. Some of the busier playing on the album... but everyone else drops out to maintain balance. Lovano enters on tenor with Castaldi swinging quietly mid-tempo. The return of piano to take the tune out feels a bit abrupt. “Spirit Lake” opens with drums and tenor. I’m enjoying Castaldi’s stick work at low volume. The piano entry here works much better than the previous track. More dense playing than previously hear - rippling piano, tenor flurries with some growls and altissimo, and busier playing from the drums. “Tarrassa” opens with solo piano. The tenor enters with the drums – and the drum phrasing is standing out to me during this three-way dialogue. Creative playing without overdoing it. The album had been building in density and I was expected the closing piece - “The Smiling Dog” - might see a return to the quiet spaces present in the first half of the album. But it doesn’t and it leaves things feeling somewhat unresolved.

So these two albums have been getting a decent amount of airtime and I feel listening to Garden of Expression opened up Trio Tapestry for me. Lovano has selected the personnel wisely and I hope this group stays together.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Jasmine Lovell-Smith Quintet at Rogue and Vagabond

Jasmine Lovell-Smith (ss) Jake Baxendale (as/ Daniel Hayles (p) Emma Hattaway (b) Cory Champion (d) 

It seemed like it had been quite a while since I had heard Jasmine play (Noveltones aside), I think the last time was a quartet gig during the festival last year... or maybe a gig at the Southern Cross. I forget, but it had been a while. I wasn't too sure if Jake would be the right fit, but the more notey contrast grew on me. He’s more melodic/lyrical on bass clarinet (less chops!) and that made for a change in pace too. Sonically, I find the pairing of bass clarinet and soprano really works (Jasmine used this on her album Yellow Red Blue). It's not a line up you encounter often, and I'd be happy to hear more (recommendations welcome!). I was looking forward to hearing Cory with this group as I hadn't heard him playing Jasmine’s music before - he was a great fit. Should I be surprised?.... not really, as Cory always brings something to the music. The live sound was more amplified than when Chris is on the desk, but the balance was pretty good if a bit bright sounding (especially piano and bass clarinet). 

The volume got louder in the second set and I wasn’t digging the sound as much. Then I noticed he had moved from nearer the stage back to the desk.  Surprise surprise... it was much better near the desk. And then when he moved nearer the front the levels dropped a bit. The downside of a sound guy roaming with an iPad (set them and leave them!). I minor complaint. On the upside, there was a decent crowd in and they were listening.

New Zealand Music Month


Saturday, April 17, 2021

Greg Malcolm & Lucien Johnson at Pyramid Club

Pyramid Club
 Nice to get out two nights in a row and hear some quality music., albeit very different. Pyramid Club was the scene for Friday night for two sets by guitarist Greg Malcolm - joined by Lucien Johnson's soprano saxophone for the second set. There was a healthy crowd without it being totally packed. It would have been nice to see a few more of the jazz crowd there, but I wasn't surprised that they weren't (benefit of the doubt.... maybe they all had gigs). I was particularly keen to hear the second set as it featured pieces by Steve Lacy (Greg's album Leather and Lacy is worth hunting down). Greg has a unique take on Lacy - a slowed down, drone-y type thing - and it really works. Lucien has a deep understanding of Lacy's music and he easily slotted into Greg's approach. Plus, it was great hearing Lucien sticking just to soprano - I can't remember the last time I heard that.... if ever, and I really enjoy his soprano playing. His tone has great clarity without getting bright or thin. He also created some sounds on a mystery box that I don't really know what it was!

Steve Lacy

New Zealand Jazz

Steve Lacy


Friday, April 16, 2021

The Woods at Lovebite

On Thursday night the Wellington Jazz Co-operative presented The Woods at Lovebite. The room was full and the band was on form. Sometimes you can just tell things are going to click, and right from the start Rick Cranson had a spark in his playing that lit the fire that burned all evening (well, the two sets…who know, maybe there’ll still on fire). Sometimes it got a little loud, but I’ll let that slide on this occasion. I haven’t heard The Woods sound better. I’ve been pretty selective as to the Wellington Jazz Co-operative gigs I attend. This was my first since Third Eye closed and they started presenting concerts at Lovebite. It’s a small space, but a good vibe.

Wellington Jazz Cooperative


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Devil's Gate Outfit at Meow

Devil's Gate Outfit

 Okay, I’ve been dragging the chain with this post… but here we are……. finally. Devil’s Gate Outfit played at Meow every Wednesday in March. I got along 4 weeks out of 5. Anthony Donaldson (d) Tom Callwood (bass) Dan Beban (g) Cory Champion (vibes/percussion), Steve Roche (trumpet/euphonium/electronics) David Donaldson (percussion/stringed instruments (not sure what they are!) Blair Latham (as/ts/ And Johnny Marks (vocals/percussion) subbed for Dan one night (and did a great job). It was great to hear how things developed and shifted over those weeks, particularly as I became more familiar with the tunes. The live sound was some of the best I had heard at Meow (it can be pretty hit and miss there… usually everything is over-amplified). The most disappointing thing was the audience. Some weeks it was pretty quiet in there, but the final night had a pretty decent crowd. Meow doesn’t seem to have the same built in crowd the way Rogue and Vagabond does.


Devil's Gate Outfit

Devil's Gate Outfit

Devil's Gate Outfit

Monday, April 12, 2021

Sunday at Rogue and Newtown Festival

Sunday evening began at Rogue and Vagabond to hear the Aleister James Campbell Quartet with Lucien Johnson (ts/ss) Paul Dyne (b) John Rae (d). There was a smaller crowd (but attentive) than a typical Sunday (no doubt due to Newtown Festival). I'm looking forward to catching Lucien again later in the week.

New Zealand Jazz
I couldn’t really be bothered dealing with the Newtown Festival crowds during the day so I was glad that Cory Champion’s ‘Clear Path Ensemble’ was performing later in the night. It was nice to get down to the old ‘hood again – I haven’t spent much time down there since moving into the city. It seemed that technical issues had delayed the previous band and the Clear Path Ensemble set seemed pretty short as a result (30 mins max). I was a little disappointed that they were sans horns but I’m sure festival budgets was a factor in stripping things back a bit. People still dug it though.

Newtown Festival