Tuesday, October 30, 2018

NZ Jazz: The Triplets Book

The Triplets Book (iiii Records)
Jeff Henderson (alto/bari/C-Melody/C-Soprano Saxes) Eamon Edmundsen-Wells (b) Joseph McCallum (d) November 2016

Sometimes deciding what album to delve into proves to be problematic. I've tried making lists but invariably I don't stick to them (but I continue making them anyway!). This month the plan was to listen to the newly released Good Winter from the Antipodes, but that fell by the wayside when October rolled around and I still hadn't bought it (I have since taken care of that). So instead I went for another release from earlier this year, The Triplet Book, which I picked up from Slow Boat records at the end of September. 

It's nice to feature the freer end of the jazz spectrum - something I need to do more - and also, this post marks the overdue appearance of Jeff in this series (if you exclude a NZ Music Month post on Syzygy from a few years back). Maybe Jeff was on my mind after I wrote the post on Roger Sellers? Whatever it was, it's nice to include him here and I have another couple of albums on the pile to get to down the track.

Jeff Henderson New Zealand JazzI can remember when Jeff added the baritone and clarinet to his arsenal, the soprano too but from memory, I haven't heard him play the latter until now. He's got a sound I dig on the straight horn – fat and resonant (there is also something I think of as sweetness). And it's the soprano that kicks off the album with “Triplets”. It's a good example of improvising within a limitation – in this case the whole tone scale.

Stones” flows on from the opening track and features more a pointillistic approach to Jeff's phrasing (still on soprano) and space plays a more prominent role, as does a lower dynamic level – nice contrast to both the proceeding piece and the track that follows. Following a solo introduction from Jeff, “Wabi-Sabi” takes shape with full-throttle blowing throughout – something I don't remember hearing on a C-melody before. The tubbiness in the core sound actually works pretty well with Jeff's rasp and bark around the edges. Although it doesn't fully surface, I get the feeling that there's a march feel underlying things here.

Considering the time of year, it seems appropriate to have a piece titled “Swarm Warning” (there were two swarms last week). It's full of pops, clicks, squeaks, slaps, blasts, multiphonics, air sounds, wailing, scrapes, prods, and stabs. Everything in moderation. First and foremost I think of Jeff as an alto saxophonist - it's the horn I have heard him on the most. On "New Folk" he passes a classic alto bubbly-ness through his own filter. In this case it's a little more Ornette-y than I expected (at least towards the beginning). There's plenty of energy and the buoyancy makes for a nice contrast to the previous piece and the upbeat feeling makes for a satisfying way to round out the album.

Jeff is the driving force out front but the rhythm section hold their own. While I'm aware of their names, I've heard very little from Edmundsen-Wells (some videos posted by John Fenton and Jim Langabeer's excellent album, Secret Islands) and even less from McCallum. But that's exactly what this listening series is about. It's quite a raw sounding recording, which I don't mind, but with the drums and saxes more prominent in the mix, I deliberately spent some time concentrating on the bass to make sure I digested Edmundsen-Wells' contributions without them slipping by – which could happen with more casual listening. There's a really nice blend between the bowed bass and throaty baritone sax on the contemplative, even tender, “Old Friends.” Plus he gets some solo room to stretch out, in which he contrasts the rich low register with whispering in the upper reaches. Although I found the polyrhythmic playing (along with the limited tonal field) on “Triplets” created a nice meditative quality, often I found McCallum's playing a little too dense for my liking. Not that the density was really out of place, but maybe it wouldn't have bothered me as much if the bass popped out a bit more - I'll survive. The more spacious “Stones” worked better for me, as did the mallet work on “Old Friends.” I welcomed whenever the dynamics dropped welcome, as it gave the bass a chance to reveal itself. 

Often I prefer to hear this sort of thing live (volume can be an issue for me... but I can control that here), and often I treat free jazz recordings like a concert and sit down and absorb things in one sitting via headphones (my stereo is in a box somewhere floating home). But not all that often do I make repeated listens over the course of a month, and it has been refreshing to do so. And I have to say the composed melodies are pretty catchy. There's a curiosity factor at play too (not a bad thing at all), as one thing I find a bit fascinating with music along these lines - particularly the “scratchy” and/or full-throttle playing - is that I don't envision myself ever playing this way. I'm not sure I'd know where to start, but maybe I should have a crack. 

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Stroma and The Jac

New Zealand Jazz

Jasmine Lovell-Smith's "Cerulean Haze" was premiered by Stroma and The Jac as part of the Vox Fem concert that featured women composers whilst celebrating 125 years of women's suffrage in New Zealand. It was a long day, but I'm glad I got along. It had me thinking on the trip home... how about a Stroma concert featuring works composed by New Zealand jazz musicians/improvisors? I'm sure the likes of Jasmine, Rosie Langabeer, Jeff Henderson, Hayden Chisholm, Lucien Johnson etc, would come up with some worthy music. Plus it could make an interesting addition to the Wellington Jazz Festival.
Women's Suffrage

Friday, October 19, 2018

Music for Commuting: Miles Davis Quintet box set

Music for CommutingLets face it, the rumble of the road isn’t exactly the ideal listening environment, but it provided an interesting listening experience this past week or so as the Miles Davis Quintet box set accompanied the daily commute. Tony’s cymbals and snare on my right and Miles and Wayne to the left. Herbie made appearances mostly in the form of solo lines with some comping popping out here and there. While Ron’s presence was felt at times, there was very little in the way of clarity. Not exactly what I had in mind but it was great to be able to focus on the horn/drum pairings. Maybe I need to round things out and have a session or two to zone in on Ron and Herbie.

Call me old fashioned, but it's the first three discs that really appeal to me - before the introduction of the electric piano and bass. E.S.P and Miles Smiles are two of Miles’ albums I've listened to the most alongside the likes of Birth of the Cool, Kind of Blue and The Plugged Nickel recordings. Nefertiti isn’t too far behind either. The addition of guitar to the group has never really appealed to me. And although I hadn’t listened to those recordings for ages, I still haven’t warmed up to them - it just seems extraneous.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

“Hey Babe!” Remembering Roger Sellers

Following a long illness, the one and only Roger Sellers passed away on 14 June. Over the past 37 years (plus he had an earlier stint here during the 60s too), Roger was a integral part of the New Zealand jazz scene. And during that time he must have made his way to the top of the list of “most loved Australians living in New Zealand” (a short list perhaps (wink), but he’s up there nonetheless!).

Fortunately I was back home, and had the pleasure of taking my good mate John out to the burial in Makara. Not surprisingly there was a great turnout. And after reading the tributes that filled social media feeds since his passing, I decided to add some memories of my own. I delayed this post somewhat as I tried, so far unsuccessfully, to track down some concert posters I had hoped to upload. But somewhere on the way they seem to have disappeared along with a number of gig posters from the early 2000s I thought I had stashed at my parents’ place. 

During my fist year at music school, I lived a very short walk from The Lido and pretty much every Sunday night I went there to hear Roger and Paul Dyne with various incarnations on The Boptet - my favorite being the edition that included any or all of Scott Towers, John Bell, Nick van Dijk and Noel Clayton. But it was a couple of performances with saxophonist Jeff Henderson that immediately came to mind when I started writing this post. Jeff revealed a side to Roger’s playing that wasn’t always on show - relentless, burning intensity.

John Street Grill, circa 2000: Roger Sellers and Jeff Henderson Duo. I was expecting the typical crowd from jazz school to be there out-numbering a few punters grabbing dinner and a drink. But it was quite the opposite, and I may have been the only one from school there - I know I was sitting by myself at a table right next to Jeff and Roger. And once the music started it felt like I was the only one in the room and they were talking directly to me. My bowl of fries got cold as I soaked it in. There was no warming up on the bandstand. Once they were set up and ready, Roger smiled and nodded and then Jeff called, “blues, 1–2–1-2-3-4,” and they were into it. Full steam ahead. This was an eye opening gig for me. The duo’s intensity caught some/most/all(!) of the audience by surprise, with one couple ("oh, there's a band playing tonight") heading for the door by the time the first IV chord came around! I don’t really remember the specifics - I think they also played Rhythm Changes and maybe a ballad… “You Don’t Know What Love Is” perhaps -  but the energy, intent and feeling has stuck with me. I was somewhere between exhaustion and elation as I floated home alone. What a night!

I think it was not too long after the duo gig that he played a couple of trio gigs at The Space with Jeff and Paul Dyne (one was advertised as “Two Jazz Legends, One Imposter”!). The first featured standards, the second was original compositions. I ran into Jeff the day following the standards gig, and the first thing he said was along the lines of, “How great did Roger sound?!” Back at school the following Monday, Roger said he had to ice his wrists and have a couple of days recovery.  

My music library doesn't contain many recordings featuring Roger, and certainly nothing along the lines of these live concerts (at least as I remember them!). But I and planning to work through the Sustenance albums once I get a turntable.

I got to hear Roger with Mike Nock a couple of times too. And Mike’s description of jazz seems apt when talking about Roger: “serious fun.” Roger was one hell of a musician and one of the sweetest guys I’ve known. Roger’s nodding, smiling, gum-chewing, happy, swinging beat will be missed. So too will his humour, encouragement and wisdom, which he would gladly share with up and coming musicians. He was (and still is) the only person I’ve heard refer to everyone as “Babe” - this greeting always came with his trademark grin, and once he followed it up by asking if I was still modeling! Roger was the real deal.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Lex French Quartet at Rogue and Vagabond

New Zealand Jazz
Nice to see a packed crowd checking out the Lex French Quartet at Rogue and Vagabond on Sunday night.
Lex French (trpt) Tyson Smith (g) Johnny Lawrence (b) Cory Champion (d)