Thursday, February 01, 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(jazz for listening rather than dancing), this live recording from the Auckland Town Hall on August 7, 1950, is a great historical document.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.

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