Thursday, December 05, 2019

Music for Commuting: Fred Farell - Distant Song

Fred Farell: Distant Song (Whaling City Sound)
Farell (vocals/lyrics) Richie Beirach (p/comp) David Liebman (ss/ts/comp) June 2015

David Liebman; Richie Beirach

I ran into Distant Song by chance while browsing Liebman’s discography online. I’ve been enjoying listening to Liebman lately, and his pairing with Beirach is of particular interest - add in a vocalist singing their pieces and it was bit of a no-brainer for me to grab it.

There's a pretty good story behind the recording. Farell comes in contact with Beirach in the early 1970s and begins studying with him. He starts singing the compositions of Liebman and Beirach, has religious awakening, drops out of music, 40 years later he reconnects with Liebman and Beirach to record an album of those songs. And the results are really solid.
As I don't have much from earlier in the careers of Lieb or Beirach,  I’m not familiar with the pieces (although I just heard “Places” on the first Open Sky album), so I need to get around to sourcing some of the instrumental versions. It will be interesting to see how knowing these vocal versions first affects my take on the originals.

Distant Song is an album of ballads. The 10 pieces (five each from Lieb and Beirach) are relatively brief which keeps things moving along, but I wouldn’t have mind something a little more up tempo for variety (a minor complaint). The two instrumental pieces - "Forgotten Fantasies" and "Zal" - break things up a bit.
 It must be a challenge for the composers to hear their work with some other meaning attached to it. So often you end up with these corny lyrics just so a vocalist has something to sing (just sing the melody!). But in this case, Farrel does a great job capturing the mood of Beirach's and Liebman's pieces.


“Countrysides and Towns go by,
Like passing dreams,
Reality to me becomes the Pain of Leaving You.”

Lonnie’s Song

“But, I see Your Loss was meant to help

Us to grow and show The Way.”

With one exception, Farell 
doesn't improvise, he sings the straight melody with feeling, a nice tone and phrasing

. I don't mind that at all, and in many ways prefer it than listening to a singer that feels compelled to scat in order to be a jazz singer. Beirach takes on the more dominant role (mostly due to accompanying and soloing throughout ), while Lieb contributes short solos with nice melodic touches, along with the odd obbligato or two. Sometimes I get a little bugged with the way Lieb was recorded (is he in a booth?... you can almost hear the separation) and then other times it doesn't bother me at all! So Distant Song turned out to be a really nice surprise. Maybe not a disc with widespread appeal, definitely one for fans of Liebman/Beirach and those interested in lyrics. But he's a nice singer so perhaps your mainstream jazz vocalist fan would enjoy it too. 

I would like to delve a bit deeper into the Liebman/Beirach duo recordings.... add it to the list.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Arthur Street Loft Orchestra: Jeff Henderson

While I tend to pick and choose the gigs I attend (and sometimes work dictates what I can get to), I like the variety that the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra series has produced over the past year or so. What other series features Jeff Henderson's group one week and then follows up with the Rodger Fox Big Band seven days later?
New Zealand Jazz

The Wellington jazz scene is lucky to have Jake organizing this series - without which a lot of music would not have been created and heard. I know it took a while to draw in consistent crowds, but attendance is consistently strong now. And on Monday (18 Nov), a full house was in attendance to hear Jeff's work tackled by a 20-piece ensemble comprised of (including doubles) 4 basses, 2 tubas, 2 bass clarinets, 2 trumpets, euphonium, cello, 2 violins, drums, percussion, soprano sax, vibraphone, a couple of stringed instruments that I don't know the name of, plus Jeff conducting and blowing some clarinet too (the largest group of the series so far?). At the end of the set Jeff took an auctioneer-like approach to rattle off the all the names.
It was a night for something completely different (but not entirely unexpected from Jeff) and it was thoroughly enjoyable. The highlight for me was a section (probably about half way through the set) that featured Bridget Kelly blowing some melodic bass clarinet over the top of the four basses. As additional instruments joined in (starting with Cory's vibes and then Blair's bass clarinet) Bridget's bass clarinet was gradually consumed by the ensemble with the section wrapping up as Jeff wailed over the dirge-ish full ensemble.

It's always a treat to have a roomful of people come out to listen to improvised music and it was nice not having to rush off at the end of the gig, giving me the chance to catch up with both Jake and Jeff - keep up the good work chaps.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Music for Commuting: Lewis Porter Phil Scarff Group

Lewis Porter (p) Phil Scarff (ss/ts/sopranino/tamboura) John Funkhouser (b) Bertram Lehmann (d)

I’ve been meaning to check out Three Minutes to Four by the Lewis Porter/Phil Scarff Group for a while now and last month I finally got around to it. This week it was back on again getting a fresh listen along with the rumble of the road and an ever increasingly loud muffler. I remember Lewis mentioning this group several years ago, so they had been together at least a few years when the album - the group's first - was recorded (2015). And the resulting sound is that of a very cohesive unit.
I'm always keen to hear different soprano players and, outside of a few YouTube videos, Scarff is new to me. He has a classic, focused soprano tone with a bubbly, buoyancy (particularly on uptempo pieces). But he can draw out a round, woodiness too (part 1 of "Bageshri-Bageshwari" and "Raga Shree" being but two examples). He reserves this for the Indian pieces but it would be great to hear him apply this tone colour to the some other material too. He sticks to soprano on the Indian pieces but I wouldn’t mind hearing some tenor on these pieces.

Porter's contrafact ("Long Ago") is based "Long Ago and Far Away." Porter writes in the liner notes it's a song he associates with Art Pepper. Funnily enough, I do too. And I ending up listening to versions by Pepper on The Art of Pepper Vol.2 and Intensity - I hadn't listened to either for quite some time.

On an album with pieces featuring tone rows, dedications to Olivier Messiaen and adaptations of works from Southern India, “Strode Rode” seems a little out of place. But it's still a fine album and I'm going to keep my ear out for more from Scarff.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Straight Horning: Steve Lacy - Hooky

Steve Lacy Solo SaxophoneI had a fun at the monthly hang with friends listening to jazz records. This month the focus was vocalist. My selections were "The Things You See in New York City" from Tranceformation's In Concert and "Places" from Fred Farell's Distant Song (and interesting disc on which he sings pieces by David Liebman and Richie Beirach). Others played tracks from the likes of Cecile McLorin Salvant, Lizz Wright, Mark Murphy, Roberta Gambarini, and Bessie Smith. We finished the evening with part of a DVD of Manhattan Transfer that was pretty cringe-worthy. It really isn't my bag so to end the evening the car ride home featured something with a bit more intensity of purpose (I came prepared!). I first heard Steve Lacy's Hooky when my mate Craig lent me his copy. It was right around the time I was getting into Lacy.... almost 20 years ago (ouch!), and that week I gave it plenty of spins. I really dig his tone on this one. Tonight, "No Baby" and the Tao Suite kept me company once again. The CD player in my car is coming to the end of it's life and it wouldn't eject the disc tonight so maybe I'll be hearing a bit more Hooky tomorrow! I've been holding out, but I made need to invest in a bluetooth speaker if the CD player dies on me.

Monday, September 30, 2019

NZ Jazz: Thanks Mike!

Okay, so I'm wrapping up this series. It seemed fitting to end with Mike Nock as the series kicked off  with his then newly released Vicissitudes back in September, 2017. I decided to change things up a bit. Instead of focusing on a single album, this month I listened to all of Mike's recordings in my collection. There was no rhyme or reason, I just grabbed a the next disc on the pile. I started with Changing Seasons (trio with Brett Hirst and Toby Hall) - the groove felt right to kick off the month - and ended with Kindred (duo with Laurence Pike) - a recording with which I have mellowed out to many times since picking it up a few years ago. In between everything else got a spin or two. In comparison to some artists, Mike's discography is a manageable size (with plenty of variety too), although there are still plenty of holes I need to plug - Yusef Lateef's 1984 is the only thing I have with Mike as a sideman. I want to call particular attention to the duo works with the likes of Frank Gibson Jr., Marty Ehrlich, David Liebman, Roger Manins, and Laurence Pike - wonderful recordings.
New Zealand Jazz
As I mentioned last month, I'm pulling the plug on this series. I may return in the future (I still have a stack of albums waiting for me) - we'll see. Off the top of my head, some albums from the series that stood out included Jim Langabeer's Secret Islands, the two albums from Unwind - Unwind, and Orange (there's another on the way that I look forward to hearing), Mike Nock's Beginning and End of Knowing, Lucien Johnson's West of the Sun, and, more for the historical interest than the music, Jazz Concert 1950. Before I sign off the series, I just want to say "Thanks Mike!"

Monday, September 23, 2019

Arthur Street Loft Orchestra: The Big Troubles

New Zealand Jazz
Last Monday night saw the final installment of season seven of the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra. It was great to have a packed house with standing room only (get there early folks!). It has taken a while to build the following but they seem to get solid audiences on a pretty regular basis now. Hats off to Jake.

This week, John Rae was back with The Big Troubles, a group comprised of strings (2 each of violin, viola, cello and bass), brass (2 trumpet, 3 trombones), reeds (3 sax, 1 clarinet), vocal, guitar and drums. Unsurprisingly, it was a night of good vibes and plenty of energy. Maybe it's just the flow on effect of having 20 musicians on the bandstand, but there seemed to be a real buzz in the room before the music started.

That energy carried through into the performance, and it was more about the collective energy rather than listening for delicate inner moving parts (although they do exist). There were some nice solo moments too - Ben Hunt's plunger work and Al Campbell's blues solo - but it was Tristan Carter's violin solo was my pick for the evening (with bonus points applied for the scarcity of string soloist on the local jazz scene). Vocalist, Eugene (what's his last name?) had a couple of features (the same two tunes as the last time I heard the group). Once again, the blues was excellent. Last time I heard them I wasn't convinced by their take on “Crazy He Calls Me”, but it must be growing on me (the vocals and the arrangement) as I started getting into it this time around. The balance of the band seemed better, so maybe that helped.

After a short break, ASLO will be back for season eight. If you're in Wellington on a Monday night, they're well worth checking out.
Arthur Street Loft Orchestra

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Friday Night Swagman

New Zealand Jazz
It was nice to get down to Raumati Social Club on Friday night to catch Swagman play their monthly gig. Things were a little more chilled out than normal which suited me fine as I sat in the far corner and mellowed out. As usual, the second set ramped things up a notch (or three) and although the crowd had thinned by the end the music kept roaring. Swagman marks the return of Gabe following bit of a hiatus from performing, and I'm enjoying getting to hear him on a pretty regular basis. He seems increasingly at ease on the horn, exploring and pushing things out. Joe's uke-bass sound is a treat, as is his 12-string. Brent was his usual grooving powerhouse. I wasn't aware of his playing before moving home but I'm glad to finally be catching up with it. All washed down with a North End Abbey Single - pretty good night really.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

It's time to drop the plastic sleeves

Vandoren saxophone reeds
I'm a long-term Vandoren user. Over the 25 years I've been playing I've used Vandoren (various models... I've tried them all!) more than anything else (and I've tried most other brands/models at some stage). But surely I'm not the only one who's sick of all the plastic packaging used by reed companies. What's the point of the plastic reed holder? You open the box, remove the reed from the plastic sleeve and that's the end of it. Can't more companies use cardboard/paper sleeves? I can't recall opening a box and finding damaged reeds do to the being store in cardboard sleeves. Are sleeves even necessary? Remember the old Rico and La Voz that had tissue paper packing? 

Has anyone noticed performance improvements since Vandoren started individually wrapping reeds? I can't say I have – I even have some of the from the non-wrapped era and they seem pretty much the same. Is it worth the extra waste creation? And due to the wrapping, the Vandoren boxes are huge.

But it's not limited to Vandoren. Rico/D'Addario use plastic sleeves. Rigotti (and Roberto's) use a soft plastic sleeves. And I'm sure there are others too. Alexander use cardboard sleeves... albeit inside the metal tins (wouldn't a cardboard box keep the costs down?) Side note: other than storing old reeds in them - yes, I do keep least for a little while - has anyone found a use for Alexander tins?

Anyway, once my current stock of reeds run low (and I've got quite a stock pile), I will start the search for an alternative that uses less plastic. Marca, Ponzol and Gonzalez come to mind. In the past, I haven't had much luck with Gonzalez, and I'm not sure if Ponzol still make cane reeds, so I'll likely be starting with Marca.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Music for Commuting: More Soprano (I got a fever)

soprano saxophone
It was Wayne Shorter's 86th birthday last week so 1 + 1 was a fitting (although completely coincidental) choice. I don't hear too many people taking about this album, maybe it's bit of a sleeper in his discography, but I dig it. Bonus points as Wayne sticks to soprano throughout and I particularly like his tone on this album.

It took a bit of hunting to track it down, but I really wanted to find a copy of Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner after reading that David Liebman rates it as one of his finest outings. The album has grown on me over the years and not having listened to it for a while, I really enjoyed it this time around. It's an all-soprano outing - solo with multi-tracked soprano. Lieb signed the album for me following a masterclass at PM Woodwind - I don't know why I didn't ask him about the recording process and how he put the work together. It's a must listen for Liebman fans, those keen on the soprano saxophone, and solo sax recordings. For those interested in composition, it's worth checking out how much Liebman can extract from the brief main theme. And again, completely coincidental, I'm posting this on Lieb's 73rd birthday.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Music for Commuting: Voices and Communique

The car ride needed some soprano sax last week and Steve Lacy is always go-to source on that front. Communique is another chapter in the long line of Steve Lacy/Mal Waldron collaborations. I'm not sure I enjoy this one as much as Sempre Amore. I know I've listened to the latter a lot more, so maybe I just need to spend more time with this one. It dawned on me that I don't have any albums by Waldron as a leader and he's a player I want to explore further - I'm open to recommendations.

Voices is a reissue I picked up earlier this year - a trio date led by Masahiko Togashi with Lacy and Jean-Jacques Avenel. I have a couple of albums of Lacy and Togashi together and they make a nice pairing. Spiritual Moments was getting airplay earlier in the year but of late Voices has been in the rotation. For now, I'll take a break from the master while I await a few more discs that are heading my way.
Steve Lacy; Mal Waldron; Masahiko Togashi

Saturday, August 31, 2019

NZ Jazz: Jann Rutherford - Discovery

Jann Rutherford: Discovery (Tall Poppies) 1998

I picked this out of the pile on the spare of the moment as I was about to head out the door on the first of the month. Sometimes the fit is just right for a particular moment. And having this keep me company whilst driving through the Horowhenua fog.... it just felt right.
New Zealand Jazz

The album contains 14 solo piano pieces – original compositions and some improvised pieces too. Overall it's warm and intimate with nice amount of introspection (with a sombre edge). Some pieces are quite joyful (yet slightly restrained), while others are searching deep. There are some shades of Mike Nock on the more up beat tunes (“Expectations” “Eve” "Weird Blue Lady”), but rhythmically Rutherford is different. Forceful is not the right word, but Mike is more rhythmically pronounced or percussive. As a bonus, listening to Discovery led me to giving both Talisman and Piano Solos a spin too.

Although the more introspective pieces may have led to some naval gazing, they are my favourite parts of the album – particularly those that I'm assuming are free improvisations such as the 2-part “Flights of Fancy” and 3-part “Adventure” (I finally checked the liner notes... they are free improvisations).

I noticed that this album would often lead my mind wander off and ponder things beyond the music at hand. Was it the music or just my general state of mind in this month? It seemed to happen often enough that I feel the music was setting the wheels in motion - just zoning out with it but not in it. I may have felt a bit zoned-out at times, but the music was going in. And as the month passed I was catching myself singing along with bits and pieces across the album – no doubt due to the lyrical, melodically memorable aspects of her playing.

Some music can change your mood, other (or at other times) music can reinforce it. But in this case I feel I’m projecting my own feelings into the music (we always do that though, don't we). Had recent times not been what they were, how differently would I hear this music? Would I be projecting something else entirely on this music? Would listening to this album in a years time change my perception of it - or perhaps my impression is now ingrained in me. Revisiting this album down the track could be an interesting experience.

Why is this on my mind this month and what is it about this recording that made me think about it? Would I have thought about it had I been listening to something else? Further, why am I doing this series on New Zealand jazz recordings? Why not just listen to music I really love? Two years in and I’ve found it interesting and quite rewarding at times. But how much of the music has touched me on a truly deep level? Not much really. I started this series at a time when things were getting tough, and probably more than anything else it was a way to reconnect with home. The struggle continues but for now, at least, I feel like things have run their course. Maybe it’s time for a break and step back from this before it becomes a drag.

Across the month moments change but none quite fit like that first listen. It’s funny, you sit down to write about an album and something else comes out.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Arthur Street Loft Orchestra: Blair Latham & Anton Wuts

Blair Latham ( Anton Wuts (as/ts/bs) Jake Baxendale (as/ Bent Hunt (trpt) Jasmine Lovell-Smith (ss) Alistair Isdale (b) Thomas Friggens (d)

I had been well overdue getting along to another Arthur Street Loft Orchestra concert, but I really didn't want to miss out on this week which featured Little Symphony Sax Quartet and Noveltones (with Ben's trumpet in place of Tristan's violin) and joining forces to play music written by Anton and Blair. There's always plenty of energy from these two and a bit of humour too. Plus their music works well together too with the set moving seamlessly between works from both composers. So often you hear original compositions just once, but I'm glad that Blair's “Message in a Bottle” has reappeared at a few gigs - I must have heard three versions for different instrumentation so far. It's nice when artists have a chance to only present original music, but also the oppourtunity to develop works over time. Week to week there's plenty of variety at the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra gigs both in terms of instrumentation and content. There's three weeks left in Season 7 – Louisa Williamson, Daniel Hayles and John Rae – I'll need to check my work schedule but I hope to get to at least one of these.

It can be bit of a rush to get in straight from work. Or at least it feels like a rush, but I always seem to get in with time to spare (great... now I've just hexed it for next time!). Although, I have to remember to stand next time... too much time sitting (in the car, at the gig, in the car again). It makes for a long day – about 7am-11pm - but it's worth the effort.
New Zealand Jazz

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Everyday Life

Connie CrothersNot unexpectedly, I had a great hang with my old mate JJ tonight. As usual we started with jazz (the methodologies of Coltrane and Rollins, radio, live performance, the magic of Lester Young etc) and then branched out (life, death, the vastness of space, cosmic expansion, and living in the moment). Music from Everyday Life hit the spot on the ride home. Of Connie's album, this is the one I have listened the most over the past three years. Vital.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Swagman at Raumati Social Club

New Zealand Jazz

I'm trying to keep up the tradition of catching the monthly Swagman gig. This time around I convinced my sister to bring along my nephew - his first gig - and I enjoyed watching him take in everything. He hung in there for the first set and then they bailed before he melted down.

Swagman draw a regular, local crowd. By the end of the evening it's 85% (at least) regulars who are there every time I'm there. It makes for good vibes, and this time round it was a night of enjoyable hangs - first with the family, the band between sets (Swagman groupie alert!), and meeting some new people at the end of the night. The band was sounding really together, and perhaps as a result, the soloists stretched out a little more (especially in the second set). Until next time.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Thursday Night Listening

It's been nice mellow night at home alone. Things slowly ramped up as the evening progressed towards The Ashes. The stereo has keep things interesting as I cooked and ate dinner along with Frank Sinatra's Best of the Columbia Years 1943-1952, did the dishes as the Takacs Quartet played Bartok's second String Quartet, and as I waited for the Ashes to start, I picked up the horn and played along with Yoruba Drums from Benin, West Africa. Now that I've got my stuff together for tomorrow, I can kick back and tune into the game and watch the first session.  Busy day tomorrow - plenty to look forward to, but I won't be able to watch the game so I'll make the most of it tonight.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

NZ Jazz: C.L. Bob - The Great Flash

CL Bob: The Great Flash (Yellow Eye) 2005

Simon Bowden (guitar/banjo/keyboard) Steve Cournane (drums) Tim Jaray (bass) Toby Lang (trumpet/Synth) Nils Olsen (saxes/clarinets) Chris Williamson (guitar) and guests Nick Van Dijk (trombone) Blair Latham (clarinet) David Chickering, Donald Maurice, Rupa Maurice, Greg Squire (strings)

New Zealand JazzThere has been a little nostalgia floating around at times this month. I can't remember if I heard the line-up before the addition on Toby and Chris... maybe... but I heard the latter version of CL Bob fairly regularly during the time I was at music school and a little less frequently after graduation. But giving them a spin again this month has definitely taken me back to that time. Not just thinking of CL Bob gigs, but some of the off-shoots – who remembers Bertha? (Nils, Chris and Steve) - a group that focused on Mingus and Monk tunes. And then there was the scene in general, particularly the vast array of happenings at The Space. There must be something about this band that does it - I just took a glance at the NZ Music Month post from 2017 on their self-titled debut.... that too had me in a nostalgic mood.

Of the three albums from CL Bob, The Great Flash, is the one I have listened to the least. Or it's the one that I'm least familiar with the material. I heard the band a lot during the Stereoscope period and as a result I probably didn't listen to that album as I could have at the time, and I didn't pick this album up when it was released and heard them live playing this material only once or twice.

As with all their work, CL Bob pull in a wide range music and make it their own thing. Quite dense and dramatic (“Raewyn”), at times dark and angular (“Greed”), plaintive (“Unheard Voice”), sombre (“Hira”), groove driven yet slightly of-the-wall (“Craters on the Moon”), quirky and fun (“Old Bob”), even a little tongue in cheek (“Ted and Sylvia”) and epic (“Carpet Master is Vanquished”[brilliant title!]) - they provide plenty of variety for listeners.

This is another album were I don't feel it's about soloists – there's plenty of collective playing, and a lot of focus on textures rather that soloists out front. Yeah, Nils has a bass clarinet feature on “Unheard Voice” and both the horns have some room to stretch out on “Psyion” (with some minor hints at Ornette's Quartet) but these are exceptions rather than the rule. You could hear “Raewyn” as a feature for Tim Jaray but it's really a three-way dialogue between Jaray, Bowden and Cournane.

Texture and colour are key and the big change between this and their previous recordings is the addition of keyboards and synth. The groove on “Craters on the Moon” does a nice job at making the keyboards and synth not seem all that odd. And it's pretty fun how they are deployed on “Old Bob”.

Nils spends much more time on alto here than I remember him playing and Toby Lang's tone is perfectly suited to the sound of “Ted and Sylvia”. And then there's the addition personnel. The string quartet works really well on “Greed” and Nick's trombone slots in fine on “Old Bob”. I remember hearing them live with additional personnel and it really didn't do it for me, and at the time, I remember feeling that it seemed like the right move to call it quits as things may have run their course. Listening here I do feel that the extra personnel distracts from the group sound which had taken on quite a different weight with the synth and keyboards in the mix. But I still enjoy the album, and it still sounds like CL Bob... so what am I saying? I'm not too sure!

One thing I noticed this month that hadn't occurred to me before – the CL Bob albums are pretty much the only examples of the individuals I have on record (John Bell is an exception, and Steve and Tim are on one of Norm Meehan's albums). I see Steve has a few recordings up on BandCamp ( including Boat (with Simon and Nils) an album I've been on the lookout for quite some time.

Maybe the one thing that is missing from The Great Flash is a version of “Endings” that's heavy on bass clarinet, synth and banjo. But maybe that was would have been too obvious

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Music for Commuting: A Bunch of Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome Soprano Saxophone
For the last couple of weeks solo recordings from Sam Newsome have been accompanying the ride. I regularly read Sam's blog and follow him on social media, but it was about time I started catching up with his discography and these four are all new to me. I don't particularly like having to drive to work, but the music helps ease the pain - even if it is far from an ideal listening situation.

Sam often uses "extended" techniques in a way that those unfamiliar with them may find quite approachable. Over the last couple of years he's been working with "prepared" soprano saxophone
and while I dig the results of "Chaos Theory", I do miss the tone of his "unprepared" straight horn (although there are a couple of tracks where it appears).

There’s plenty here to keep me out of trouble (as there are with the other 4 discs I have of Sam’s), and I'm going to give each of these some dedicated time in the near future. And eventually I’ll get around to hearing his earlier work on Steeplechase... and his more recent ensemble recordings too (keen to hear him with Fay Victor).

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Swagman, Norm and The Woods

New Zealand Jazz
Swagman at Raumati Social Club (June 2019)
I’ve been totally slack keeping up to date with things here... time to catch up!

I'm trying to make a habit of catching Swagman's monthly gig at Raumati Social Club (the last Friday of the month). I really enjoy hearing a group working with a set of tunes over a period of time. This time around they included one or two news tunes too. It's been a while, so I'll be brief.... but a couple of memories are that the balance was a bit off - louder than usual and lack of clarity. And, Brent quoting Max Roach's "For Big Sid" during one of his solos over an ostinato from Joe and Gabe (I think Brent was surprised that someone picked up on it). 

New Zealand Jazz
Norman Meehan's farewell concert (June 2019)
The following night it was off to St Paul's Lutheran Church for Norman Meehan’s farewell concert (Norm is now based in NYC). The two sets featured pieces (old and new) from varying line-ups comprised of Norman (p) Hannah Griffin (vocal) Blair Latham (ts/b.clarinet/g) Lance Philip (d) Martin Riseley (v) Andrew Laking (b). Hannah seems to get better each time I hear her (admittedly only twice since I've been home) - I particularly enjoyed her duo with Martin Riseley. And when was the last time you heard someone double on tenor sax, bass clarinet and guitar? Blair managed it well (even playing all three on one tune). There was almost a house concert feel about the evening (maybe it was the cuppa tea and ginger nuts?).

New Zealand Jazz
The Woods at Raumati Social Club (July 2019)
The Woods play that dreaded mixture of jazz, world music and rock. It was the first time hearing this group (aside from a sneak peak on bandcamp a while back.... begs the question, “Why don’t I have their album yet?”) and once again, hearing original compositions being performed without sheet music is refreshing!

Hearing Blair twice in a week playing the unlikely combo of instruments, I couldn’t help giving Blair a little shit that he now has to lug around a guitar, pedals and an amp (he said that wasn’t lost on his bandmates either - after years of him hassling them for all their equipment). I have to give him credit for doubling on guitar in the same band as Joe! And his raspy tenor tone is the perfect fit sonically for this group.

I'm really glad to have caught Joe as much as I have since I’ve been home. I've probably mentioned it before, but I dig his relaxed intensity, and it makes it look easy. And and much as I enjoyed Tom’s playing on upright earlier in the evening, the electric pulled out a different quality in the group sound that really worked. By the second set the volume started getting a little out of balance with the room (I was sitting somewhere different too), with the bass getting a bit too buzzy but it seemed to settle down eventually. I haven't heard Rick Cranson all that much since I've been home. He knows when to turn up the power but didn’t overdo it. He did unleash over the vamp on final tune and the dynamic shift at the end was nailed by the entire band. The two sets flew by, and that's always a good sign.

Monday, July 01, 2019

NZ Jazz: Jonathan Crayford - Dark Light

Jonathan Crayford: Dark Light (Rattle)
Crayford (p) Ben Street (b) Dan Weiss (d) 2014

After a couple of saxophone heavy recordings, I headed back to the piano trio for June edition of the NZ Jazz series. Dark Light provided some great accompaniment when driving at night pondering the mysteries of life. For some reason, putting this post together was a hard slog. I'm not sure why as I've really enjoyed spending time with the album this past month.
New Zealand Jazz

The overall feeling is one of introspection with a focused intensity that keeps things moving along and draws you in. Dark Light is more of a long simmer than a rapid boil. And for me, it's more about the mood generated by the compositions and the group sound rather than individual solos.

I like the tension that Weiss creates and the way he moves between tension and release. If he sounded more conventional, sticking to the groove of the piano and bass, it would be a far less exciting recording. Throughout, Weiss' accompaniment is often not what you'd normally expect - but it works. The are countless examples: 2.25-3.35, 5.45 on the title track; 1.30 on “Rita Finds the Light” (and the release at 1.53 into the light, skipping is tasty); the snare on “Galois' Candle”; and how do the fills at 1.45 and 3.40 on “Panties” work? Plus, I dig the tone he gets from his kit.

Taking care of business, often with the minimum amount of fuss, Ben Street's playing is nicely understated. That might be shortchanging him though... I don’t want to give the impression that he is phoning it in - but his tasty use of space on “Impetus”, lets you know he's not. Weiss is much more in the background here and the bass comes to the fore. The opening section of “Bikes in Space” caught my ear too.

I wouldn't describe Crayford's playing on this album as flashy (and he's definitely not trying to impress the first-call rhythm section), but he has a vitality that I dig much more than showy pyrotechnics. I particularly enjoy his sparse, melodic moments: 2.09-2.17 and 5.25 on “Rita Finds the Light”;3.50 “Impetus” (there's a welcome touch of blues here too). And the teaser at 3.55 on “Bikes in Space” is a nice touch (and the band feel on the out head is really on point).  All the tunes are by Crayford, and in a couple of spots, there were moments with a Herbie Nichols vibe (the second section of “Skyscraper Scaffold” and maybe the opening of “Bikes in Space” too).

The way the title track shifts mood so naturally is highlight. Dark Light couldn't be more apt name for the album. The mix of dark and light throughout the album brings plenty of mystery that I find very appealing. It's dark, yet uplifting.

I was surprised that this didn’t win jazz album of the year (not taking anything away from Dog). Maybe it was a victim of not being New Zealand enough (only 1/3 Kiwi) - I know of other nominations that were marked down for that reason. It seems that that line of thinking has subsided with the trio’s follow-up, East West Moon, winning in 2017 - I’m looking forward to giving that a spin too... eventually. 

Monday, June 17, 2019

Notes from the Wellington Jazz Festival

I didn't get to nearly enough at the 2019 Wellington Jazz Festival, but I was really happy with the gigs I managed to attend.
Wellington Jazz Festival
Saturday was a full-on evening. I kicked things off at the Third Eye with a first time meeting between pianist Jobic Le Masson and his rhythm section for the evening – Tom Callwood (b) and Anthony Donaldson (d). I would have liked to get to Jobic's quartet gig, but I just couldn't make it happen. But was really I glad I caught this set of improvised music (a 45 minute piece and a shorter one). It speaks volumes of the musicianship of each involved, that they can come together as a unit, and create such an engaging set of music. The piano was percussive and angular, and I really enjoyed how he utilized space (and this was picked up by the rest of the trio). Being the overseas guest, it could easily have been a piano show, but it wasn't. There was plenty of interaction and each of trio had room to move on their own. A couple of standouts from Tom was his use of harmonics (both plucked and bowed) and his solo stretch about half way through the first piece. He and Anthony together are sounding better and better (I've been listening to them as a pairing for 20 years), and I can't recall hearing Anthony play better – power, subtlity, space, swing, interaction – wonderful drumming. It was great to have a standing-room only crowd digging a set of improvised music. You couldn't beat it for $10 – that's value!
Wellington Jazz Festival
After a bite to eat it was over to the National War Memorial Carillon for Ponguru – Al Fraser and Phil Boniface. Again, it was great to see a good crowd present (standing room only). The acousitcs really suited the music and it was nice hearing a bass played sans amplification. I picked up their album, Ponguru, some months ago but I have only given it a cursory listen. 
The natural variation of the taonga pūoro is a plus but wanted to hear more variation from the bass (both tonal and approach).

Wellington Jazz FestivalA group I've been wanting to hear for a while now are The Noveltones. It's an interesting line-up comprised of soprano saxophone (Jasmine Lovell-Smith), bass clarinet (Blair Latham), violin (Tristan Carter) and bass (Alistair Isdale) playing original works by the band members. Pyramid Club was good spot for them – intimate and suitable acoustics – and they played to a full house. I really enjoyed the two tunes I did hear and was dissapointed to leave, but due to the crowded program, I had to bail to get down to Meow for John Pål Inderberg's trio.

When I ran into Jeff Henderson a couple of month's ago, he mentioned Inderberg's tour and recommended I check him out. When I arrived at Meow I was pleased to see another solid audience. As is often the case at jazz festival gigs there were a lot of unfamiliar faces in the crowd (great! But I do wonder how much of a flow on effect the festival has on the scene the other 51 weeks of the year). I was pleasantly surprised when the set opened with “My Melancholy Baby” and there were a couple from Konitz - “Kary's Trance”/”Play Fiddle Play”, “It's You” and I think “Dream Stepper”. Jeff hand mentioned the influence of Tristano et al, and it was present. You don't hear that influence too much in these parts you it made a very welcome change (likewise it was great to hear a baritone sax specialist). The shtick between tunes was a bit much at times (the crowd seemed to enjoy it) but the music was all business. Håkon Mjåset Johansen (d) Trygve Waldemar Fiske (b) were rounded out the trio and while I was focussing most closley on the baritone, I enjoyed their playing. I picked up the trio's album, Linjedalsleiken,but haven't had a chance to give it a spin just yet – I'll hone in a bit more on the rhythm section then.
Wellington Jazz Festival

As I was leaving I ran into Jobic and mentioned that I had picked up his album (Song) and was intrigued to hear Steve Potts in a setting other than with Steve Lacy. It was great chatting to him and he said how much he enjoyed being in town for the entire festival. I would like to see the festival bring out more players along these lines. Not the star-power, big names, but high calibre players to spend the week (or more) in an artist-in-residence capacity, playing gigs, recording, teaching, and interacting with local players. I think this would be far more productive for the scene than “music of” and “classic album” gigs that plague the festival (there was well over a dozen).

It was back into town on Sunday for the Jazz Kōrero – Talking about Jazz and New Zealand Indentity. The panel was headed by Aleisha Ward and she was joined by Dave Wilson, Jasmine Lovell-Smith, Nick Tipping, Ron Samsom, and four students of Dave's from the New Zealand School of Music. While the conversation didn't contain too much revelatory information, it's nice having the discussion and it's an excellent addition to the festival program. I would have liked at little more room for Q&A and it would be really worthwhile videoing or live streaming future talks. By the time it had wrapped up, the Wellington Jazz Co-Op Sunday Sessions was well under way - it's a regular Sunday afternoon gig that I need to get to. I hung out listening for about 20 minutes and then hit the road.

Wellington Jazz Festival
On the train ride home I wrote these notes on my phone:
If a scene is active, robust and diverse it’s true nature will reveal itself as a byproduct of the activity from those involved. That may be a New Zealand jazz “identity” or it could be could be a number of separate or interconnected, individual identities. Either way, if gaining a New Zealand jazz identity is the goal, the result may be something that is forced, rather than a natural progression. Tokenism is a risk, as is an identity becoming a characterture of itself. If a New Zealand jazz identity does develop, we may very well be unaware that it is happening in the moment. 
It doesn’t mean that there aren't things that may help develop identity. Featuring compositions by New Zealanders, awareness of the history, supporting local artists (live concerts, buying recordings, commissions) etc, but again, this can be seen as developing a robust scene rather than developing an identity.
There was a lot of talk about composition - but what about free improvisation? If composition is the only means to an identity, does that mean it is off limits to improvisers?

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Friday night at Raumati Social Club: Swagman

NZ Music Month
You gotta dig Joe’s relaxed focused intensity 
I couldn't think of a better place to be on a stormy Friday night. Although it had been a while since I last caught Swagman, getting to hear a group working the same tunes over a period of time is a treat. I’ll actually be pretty familiar with them by the time the album is released. I like they way they ease in to the evening. By the end of the first set things were driving along. Then they ramped it up, kicking off the second set with "Valley of the Dry Bones" and "Mr Ze Ze", and from there it continued. On this particular night they were getting bit more of a wall of sound vibe than I had picked up previously (some of it was due to the room sound). Deliberate or not, there was more emphasis on the whole sound rather than the individual parts - even the solos were quite textural. The crowd were packed in (especially for the first set) and those that didn't stay for the second provided dancing room for those who did. And then, at the end of the night, it hits.....I have to go to work tomorrow.
NZ Music Month
Joe, Gabe and Brent (somewhere in the back)

Friday, May 31, 2019

NZ Jazz: Tim Hopkins - Seven

Tim Hopkins: Seven (Rattle)
Hopkins (ts) Dixon Nacey (g) John Rae (d) Richard Nunns (taonga pūoro) 2011

Last month featured the longest single track of the series so far. This month we have the shortest album of the series to date. Clocking in at 33 minutes and 38 seconds, Seven is the shortest album I've heard in a some time. I'm sure people have written about this and I'm late to the party, but with the decline of the compact disc will we see (have we seen?) a change in recording lengths and approaches. Maybe the vinyl uptake will see a return to shorter albums (not that this album was released on vinyl). 
New Zealand Jazz

The trio executes Tim's vision well, and his own playing is on game. Any of the trio could have over-played their hand and filled in the space – but they don't. You can tell it's Tim's album as he's the most
prominent soloist throughout the album. But the brevity of Seven keeps things from being a saxophone show and puts a lot of emphasis on the trio and how they interact – something I've really enjoyed focussing on. Tim's choice of personnel was crucial. One change and the album would sound extremely different.

I think this is only the second time I've heard Rae outside of The Troubles – the other occasion being a performance with Paul Dyne and Tim at Victoria University (there was someone else too, but I forgot who). His use of dynamics are a great asset across the album, ramping things up when needed but not afraid to back off either. John's playing is less boisterous than with The Troubles, but highly effective. When he's busy, it's appropriate and never out of character for the piece. 

Guitar has hardly been featured in this series (I need to work on that)and it's underrepresented in my collection, so it's been nice spending some time with Dixon Nacey – he never overstates his case. And his comping, in particular, was a stand out. He provides just enough to maintain that push-and-pull between sound and space. I could be tempting to have the guitar hinting at the missing bass by playing lots of ostinatos of bass-like figures. There's a little of that, and it does help pull things together, but not enough of of it to grow weary.

I'm not sure the addition of Richard Nunns on a few tracks was entirely necessary. It provides a change in colour and texture, and I like the way his playing helped transition between tunes (“Road from Perdition” into “The Sleeping Giants”), but if he wasn't present I don't think the impact on the album overall would be that large [yeah... I'm contradicating myself here with what I said about personnel choices!].

Higher energy pieces bookend the album, the funky-ish “One Set to Rest” and uptempo swing of “Biting the Big Apple”. In between there's the stark blues of “All Blacks and Blues”, the ethereal “The Sleeping Giants”, the grooving “Road from Perdition” and a lilting “23rd Century Love Song.” The odd track out could be “Brown Frog”, a piece for unaccompanied saxophone. But it actually slots into the flow of the programme nicely. [Side note: I can't think of (m)any solo albums by NZ jazz artists]. 

The space aspect is something I kept coming back to. It's something I want to address in my own playing. How do you utilize space without sacrificing momentum? 

Seven has provided a refreshing set of music to listen to this month and it's the finest album I have heard from Tim. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Music for Commuting: Alan Broadbent

New Zealand Music Month
Alan Broadbent has been keeping me company on the roads this week. Of these three discs, my preference is for the trio outings - Better Days and Over The Fence. The additional personnel on Together Again doesn't really do it for me. I've heard Gary Foster play better, and Chuck Manning doesn't feel like the right fit for the group. I do like to hear Broadbent backing a vocalist (check out his superb work with Irene Kral), but my favorite moments were when it was just Broadbent with bass and drums. I've really enjoyed Frank Gibson Jr's playing across the albums. Perhaps a little more understated that some of his work - tasty and swinging and he pairs nicely with Broadbent. If you like some classy, piano-led, mainstream (with personality), swinging jazz, Alan Broadbent is worth checking out. Whenever I listen to him, I always wonder why I haven't listened to him more. In some ways he reminds me a bit of Harvey Diamond - coming out of the Tristano tradition with a mainstream twist and with repertoire that falls a little outside of tunes associated with Tristano and players associated with him. It has been refreshing.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Arthur Street Loft Orchestra: The Big Troubles

Okay, I've been a little slack with the updates during NZ Music Month, but I've finally got this post together albeit a week late. It was The Troubles a couple of weeks ago and then I followed that up a couple of nights later with The Big Troubles at Third Eye for the latest installment of the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra.

You could never accuse John of not having fun. High energy, raucous, nostelgic, and funny. In some ways reminds me of ICP, but less edgy. The expanded ensemble included an extra cello, guitar, and a stack of brass bringing the grand total to 3 bones, 3 trumpets, 3 saxes, 3 rhythm, and 4 strings. The addition of vocalist Eugene Wolfe on a couple of pieces was a surprise. He handled the set-opening blues prety well, but his take on “Crazy she calls me” didn’t convince me (the arrangement was interesting though).

It was great to have near to a full house in attendance, but I did wonder, where were the dancers?
New Zealand Jazz

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Troubles at Rogue and Vagabond

The Troubles at Rogue and Vagabond

John Rae (d) Hannah Fraser (v) Megan Ward (vi) Charley Davenport (c) Patrick Bleakley (b) Jake Baxendale (ts) Eilish Wilson (as) Bridgette Kelly (ts/cl)

9.30pm kick-off meant it was long day on Thursday, but I wanted to catch The Troubles as I may not be able to hear them during the jazz festival (I still need to sit down and work out what I can actually get to).
New Zealand Jazz

Two of my pet peeves didn't put me in the best mood. First; starting late for no apparent reason other than being late. After working all day, then travel well over an hour to listen to a gig, and they start over 20 minutes late.....this pisses you off somewhat. I guess no one gives a shit because the bar is busy, so what difference does it make? Second; practicing on the band stand. Okay... so things are running late, but does that mean you need to practice music on the bandstand while set up continues (in fairness to those noodling around... at least they were ready to play on time... which may have led to the noodling!). 

There was a different crowd than the Sunday arvo gigs I’ve attended at Rogue and Vagabond. Not as many musicians and bit more of a party vibe than the more laid-back Sunday feel. The crowd really dug the energy of the group. When was the last time you had people dancing at a jazz gig in a bar? There may have been some planning involved as all the tables that usually crowd the front of the stage were conveniently absent. In addition to his fine drumming (I like his hook up with Bleakley), John's an entertainer too. And the show-biz elements appeal to many too.

This edition of The Troubles seems to have it's strength in the ensemble playing rather than really powerful soloists. Often the solos dragged on a bit, although Jake blew strong and Bridgette’s clarinet feature was enjoyable. But it was the ensemble sound that really drove things throughout the night. But from memory, that’s the impression I had of The Troubles' self-titled album too (only Davenport, Rae and Bleakley remain from the 2012 recording – which I'll get to at some stage).

An expanded verion, The Big Troubles, are playing at the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra night at Third Eye on Monday. I'm hoping to get along. Will there be dancing?

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

NZ Jazz: Roger Manins - Trio

Roger Manins: Trio (Rattle)
Manins (ts) Mostyn Cole (b) Reuben Bradley (d)

I surprised myself when I realized that the series really hadn’t featured Roger Manins (Secret Islands being the only album I can recall). For a while it seemed that every other jazz album Rattle released featured Rog, yet I don't have many of his albums. During the early 2000s, Roger spent a little bit of time bouncing between Auckland and Wellington. And when I he was down here, I'd catch him when I could. I was trying to remember if I ever heard this trio live? If I did, it was at a Welington Jazz Club gig, but I can't remember who the rhythm section was that night. And hearing him with Shuffle last week broke a long drought.
New Zealand Jazz

I assume that the six tunes were all compositions of Roger's (it doesn't say... come on Rattle!). Roger has chops to burn but keeps things real with his fat expressive tone. He achieves a nice mix of old and new - muscular hard bop, burning Post-Coltrane complexities, a blues swagger to keep things rooted, and throw in a touch of tenderness too (less on show here). Some players take one of those elements and run with it. Roger takes it all and gives back his own thing.

Clocking in at 19 minutes, the album opener, “Marty White”, is the longest single track of the NZ Jazz series to date. It may be long, but the ebb and flow keep things interesting. I enjoy the way they take a relatively basic vehicle, dive and and extract the most of out they can (in that way it reminds me of Sonny Rollins). Following a long rubato opening, the bass and drums take over and Mostyn builds into the main riff. Roger takes off after the melody and the piece comes to a boil as the time breaks up and then things drop right down for a bass solo with spacious accompaniment from Reuben. When Roger returns the trio is simmering along. It's a different kind of intensity the earlier – laid back but with purpose, before the drums ramp things up into the out head. 

“Missing Wes” allows for a touch of tenderness in Roger's playing. For a ballad, the playing is quite busy at times (particularly drums and sax), but I think they make it work. The mallets provide a welcome change of texture. 

I've long enjoyed Reuben's playing and I'm sure more of his albums will appear in this series. He takes care of business with plenty of energy whilst remaining interactive and hooks-up well with Mostyn. Sometimes it's the little things that pop out – like the single tom hit from Reuben at 2.10 on “Blues Form”. The tune features simple yet effective arrangement. Mostyn plays fills during the opening head and Reuben plays them on the repeat. While the out head features no fills, just space. Reuben's solo to open “Hip Flask” really captures the essence of the tune. I like that they don't feel the need to repeat the full melody to end the tune – instead they just play the hits (in somewhat understated manner in comparission to the first time round). I'll have to track down the Hip Flask albums to see how it compares with this trio verstion.

This is the only recording I have featuring Mostyn (edit: since writing this I've picked up Reuben's Resonator.... I'll get to that eventually). And outside of some videos from CJC gigs posted by Jon Fenton, I haven't heard him in ages (I think the last time was at Happy many moons ago – maybe a project of James Wylie's). It's been nice to reaquaint myself with his playing. “Silo” has a lovely solo bass intro featuring a rich tone and melodic playing. The way he develops the solo into the melody is a nice touch.

Maybe the odd track out is “Filled Rolls”, which has Mostyn playing electric bass. I don't think the change was necessary, but it does give the chance to hear compare his approach on the two instruments (not surprisingly he's more notey on the electric). Had he been on electric for the entire album, the end result probably wouldn't be as much to my liking. But one track keeps things interesting.

Exuberance is something I missed from last month's listening, but Trio more than makes up for it. If you like the sax/bass/drums trio format and/or robust, swinging tenor sax, Trio will likely sit pretty well with you.