Saturday, July 21, 2018

Arthur Street Loft Orchestra

New Zealand Jazz
Lucien Johnson
While I was back home I wanted to check out some live music. On the short list was the series organized by my friend Jake Baxendale - The Arthur Street Loft Orchestra. And it just so happened that my visit coincided with the series featuring the music of my friends Jasmine, Lucien and Jake. While the name implies a single unit, the series actually features various large ensembles utilizing a rotating cast of players, showcasing the works of local composers. This Monday night series has been going 12 weeks and so far he was the series booked through the end of September, but is confident he can keep it running until the end of the year. The Arthur Street Loft Orchestra is a welcome addition as it fills a gap in the Wellington scene, which hasn't had much room for regular performances by large ensembles - especially ones presenting original music.

It was nice to hear people writing music for large ensembles outside of the standard 16(ish)-piece big band line up in terms of both instrumentation and conception. First up was a large ensemble led by Lucien Johnson - five saxophones, two trumpets, two trombones, and rhythm plus Lucien on synth (and he played some soprano too). Unsurprisingly, Lucien came up with something a little different – a synth and bass driven big band sound. Normally I wouldn't like the bass as prominent in the mix for a big band but for this music it really worked. And it was nice to hear “Light Shaft” and “Asturias” from West of the Sun arranged for a larger group. The playing was enthusiastic, even if they were a little underprepared (yet delightfully so!).
New Zealand Jazz
Jasmine Lovell-Smith and Jake Baxendale

The following week I got along to an evening of music written by Jasmine Lovell-Smith & Jake Baxendale played by a ten-piece lineup consisting of rhythm section and six horns (2 brass and 4 saxes with a couple of doubles). It was advertised as a “chamber jazz” group, I'm not really sure I would have picked that descriptor. But based on that, I was it expecting something more on the quiet side – largely acoustic, light, subtle, brushes, weaving lines, etc. (although perhaps the acoustics at The Third Eye may not be suitable to such an approach). And while it didn't really check all of those boxes, it didn't stop me from enjoying the music. 

I was not surprised to see plenty of new (younger) faces on the bandstand, but I was surprised that I didn't really know anyone in the audience (both gigs we pretty well attended) - compare this to when I was home last year I knew about 75% of the crowd at a gig of Jasmine's. This time round the average age was older too. I'm not sure what to put it down to - Monday night perhaps... or maybe because it's more expensive than most gigs around town. But it's a nice atmosphere, so if you're in Wellington on a Monday night check out the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra at The Third Eye. To quote Jake, “the only other gig in town on Monday is the folk jam at the Welsh Dragon, and that used to be a public toilet.”

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