Saturday, May 19, 2018

NZ Music Month: Nathan Haines - The Poet's Embrace

Nathan Haines – The Poet's Embrace (Haven Music)
Haines (ts) Kevin Field (p) Thomas Botting (b) Alain Koetsier (d) 

Shift Left was released around the timeI started playing saxophone  (there was even a music video for the single) and, aside from my saxophone teacher (hi Phil!), Haines was the first New Zealand saxophonist I was really aware of. It took a while, but in 2012 Haines finally recorded a set of all-acoustic music - The Poet's Embrace.
NZ Music Month - New Zealand Jazz

Haines has talked about the ever-present influence of John Coltrane, especially when he plays tenor. The opening notes of “Realisation” had me wondering if this would be a “clone-trane” all-tenor outing, but that thought soon diminished. 

As a saxophonist myself, tone is the thing I dial in on first and it is probably his tone that I have been most closely listening to. Initially it drew me in as it was different than what I had heard from him on tenor previously. Round, woody, spread, dark, a certain amount of tubbiness and a lot of color. There is also something that I struggle to describe – a hollowness maybe. This is by no means a negative, I like it. Sometimes I feel there's a little too much room sound in general (the drums on “Universal Man”) but more so on the sax in particular which at times seems like he's a little off mic (“Realisation”). But my ears always adjust and I soon forget about it. I like the way he shifts tonal colour between (and sometimes during) phrases on “Ancestral Dance.” He doesn't overdo the high notes, when he does move into the upper register it makes for a nice contrast.

I would have appreciated some soprano too, but hey, you can't win them all. Instead I put on Haines' 1994 debut as a leader, Shift Left, for my soprano fix. It had been ages since I gave it a listen. A nice throwback to my teens and it made me realize that Shift Left was the first new(ish) jazz release that I purchased (if it can be considered a jazz release. [Side note: I'm pretty sure the next new release I purchased was Ornette Coleman's Tone Dialing

Shift Left was also a reminder as to just how long Kevin Field has been on the scene. And a reminder that there is a gaping hole in my listening when it comes to Field. His playing is classy throughout. The title track contains a very tasty solo introduction (the solo isn't bad either) and he provides plenty of energy of “Universal Man.” 

And then there's Botting and Koetsier, two players I am really unfamiliar with. They generate a really well balanced rhythm section sound in support of Haines and Field but don't get too much room to stretch out themselves as far as soloing goes.

Haines wrote 5 of the 7 tunes. And the other two slide into the program seamlessly. I've spent some time this past week playing along with Field's “Offering.” And Roy Brooks' “Eboness” is a real ear worm. I can't tell you how times it's been accompanying me in my mind's ear. There's plenty of variety – lyrical ballads (the title track and “Offering”), fire (“Consequence”), mellow groove (“Eboness”) and upbeat vibes (“Universal Man”). 

Ending the album is Kevin Field's “Offering.” The piece leaves you hanging as if waiting for a response to the musical offering conjured up by the quartet over the past 45 minutes. I find the LP length recording refreshing. It's a nice amount of time to listen in one sitting. I feel you get in more repeated listens and can dig into the album without realizing.

I am yet to check out follow-up, Vermillion Skies, recorded a year later by an expanded ensemble. I'll add it to the list! Apparently there are plans for a third album in this series of acoustic works.

New Zealand Jazz

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