Wednesday, August 01, 2018

NZ Jazz: Vibrant Tongues - The Shadow Out of Time

Vibrant Tongues: The Shadow Out of Time
Blair Latham (ts) Tom Callwood (b) Reuben Bradley (d) 2006

Up until now, this project has focussed on filling some gaps in my listening. So I why did I choose an album that wasn't new to me? Aside from it's nice to revisit albums once in a while, I don't really know. Somewhere along the way the CD developed a glitch on the last two tracks but thankfully it ripped onto the computer without a problem. I pulled a pile of NZ jazz albums off the shelf and for whatever reason, here we are, with The Shadow Out of Time.

New Zealand Jazz
I remember listening to this album quite a bit after picking it up at the CD release gig (at Happy) but it has been a long time between listens. I couldn't really remember any specifics, but the overall vibe – a dark quality, yet energetic – was still firmly in my mind. It was the more up tempo pieces that had left that impression. I hadn't remembered the ballads being as strong, but I gave them a closer listen this time around and they went down nicely. They offset the more outwardly energetic pieces and bring variety to the album that I had forgotten. Blair and Reuben share the composition duties (with five and three respectively) and there is plenty of continuity between the two, creating a nice flow to the album.

At times the Tom Callwood's bass is a little low in the mix or it's probably more of a case of the tenor being too high. It could lead a listener to miss some of the subtleties of the important role he plays in the trio. On the upside in did cause me to tune in to the bass more closely. Mixing broken time, walking and double stops provides a welcome disjointed feel to “Mad Uncle” with the drums joining in as the sax swings along energetically. Around the 2 minute mark on “I Dare Hear” there are some nice, somewhat unexpected bass interjections that popped out at me. Tom's solo on “3 4 5” sets up the transition back into the final melody statement (this time taking a rubato approach – nice touch). Much like his work on “Asturias” on West of the Sun (see the last post in the series), the solo bass intro on “Search In Progress” does a great job of establishing the tone of the piece. The ostinatos (with variations) are an important factor in “Shimmering Sunset” and “Wanna Get Happy?” Not one for flashy pyrotechnic displays, Callwood is a creative accompanist and soloist who gets to the essence of the compositions and I find that makes far more interesting and enjoyable listening.

Back in my alto days (daze?), I remember being a little disappointed when Blair made the switch from alto to tenor, but that seems a long time ago now (I guess it was in the early 2000s). The album opens with “Make It Quicker” and Blair comes straight out of the blocks full steam ahead (and Rueben latches on to Blair’s energy throughout).Blair's playing contains a certain quirkiness that I find very appealing (and the quirkiness doesn't become gimmicky). His tone is resonant (vibrant) with a bit of bark and well as a cry. At times a vocal quality comes to the fore. The growl is well integrated into the overall sound and doesn't really sound like it is just pasted on (“and now it's time to growl”). Instead, it's part of the natural development of the line and feeling (I feel even Coleman Hawkins fell into the trap and overdid it). There is an exuberance to his time feel (almost a bubblyness) which makes for an interesting contrast with the darker qualities of the music. On “Wanna Get Happy” his lines are scattered and energetic and his tone almost splits as he attacks notes on “I Dare Hear” whilemixing up a swinging swagger with darting double time lines to great affect. There's even a little atmospheric bass clarinet during the intro of “Shimmering Sunset” before he switches to tenor for a very well-paced solo to round out the album.
I haven't heard Blair live for quite some time and he hasn't recorded all that much (this is the only recording I have and I must seek out others). But listening to The Shadow Out of Time has made me want to hear more. He doesn't really sound like any other saxophonist that I can think of..... and if this music is about developing a personal sound and approach then Blair is ticking those boxes. It's definitely not your garden variety, clean, generic modern tenor playing.

Reuben has established himself as one of the top jazz drummers in the country but I'm afraid to say that I haven't had a close listen to much of his recorded work. I'm keen to listen to Shark Variations (with Roger Manins and Brett Hirst) to hear him in another sax/bass/drums setting some 10 years after The Shadow Out of Time. At times he can quite busy but without cluttering or dominating even as he builds intensity throughout a piece as on “Wanna Get Happy?” On “Shimmering Sunset” he draws out some different colors and there's airiness to his playing that remains present throughout, even if only hinted at, as the piece develops. These days Reuben is based in Australia but hopefully he gets back regularly as I've always found him to be a positive force in the NZ jazz community. In fact, he played (with Blair) while I was back but I was unable to get along. Next time!

While this series was originally about discovering new music, revisiting The Shadow Out of Time has been time well spent – I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed this album.

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