Wednesday, January 02, 2019

NZ Jazz: Unwind - Orange

Unwind: Orange (Rattle)
Hayden Chisholm (as/shruti box) Norman Meehan (p) Paul Dyne (b)

This month I've been listening to another new release from Rattle. Orange is the follow up to the trio's 2017 debut, Unwind. The added bonus here is the inclusion of a DVD featuring the trio in concert at Orange Studios in Christchurch. 

As was the case when I wrote about Unwind, Orange is quite different from the previous month's featured recording (Antipodes' Good Winter). While both groups have a definite ensemble sound the means in which they attain it are very different. The velvety quality of Hayden's phrasing, Norm's hints of churchiness (without overdoing it) and P.D's counterpoint come together as one to form a distinct trio sound.

New Zealand Jazz; Hayden ChisholmThe album opens with Norman's “The Chickenfoot Tango” with an alto solo introducing what becomes a duo between Hayden and Paul. One thing I noticed immediately is that the bass sounds a little more “ampy” than on Unwind. Not that it stopped from enjoying Paul's playing. In fact, I really enjoyed the dialogue between P.D and Norm across the album. There's a really thoughtful quality and delicate placement of notes to Paul's work on “Mendoza”. And the collective soloing of piano and bass. 

This conversation playing also stood out on “Grolnick” - particularly Paul's playing during Norm's solo. The trio attain a very rich sound. Warm, and at times, there is a bittersweet element to sneaks in (not only on this tune). I know Norm is a big fan of Don Grolnick's compositions. He's someone I've never really checked out but perhaps it's time I got around to it.

The tracks are fairly short mostly in the 3-4 minute range with three tracks over 6 minutes. It keeps things rolling along which isn't a bad thing with a program heavy on ballads and slower pieces. “Placeholder” and “Ms Mulgan” are well placed to and provide a little lift. The former is upbeat, and while it is quite busy and even dense at times, somehow it remains light. I dig Hayden's phrasing as he opens up the latter unaccompanied. Norm hides his left hand for the entirety of the piece and it makes for a welcome change in color.

The title track is a brief collective improvisation that had me imagining how a set of free improvised music could sound coming from this trio.

The bulk of the tunes come from Norm. Two are by Hayden and the lone tune from Paul is “Miracle.” It fits well into the mix and next time around I'd like to hear them tackle some more of P.D's tunes. At 3.55 Norm hints that things are going to rev up a little and Paul joins him for 10 seconds of walking before the unwind a little more.

The colors Hayden can draw out of his never fails to please my ears. Often it's subtle, but that just draws me in closer and closer. There's an intensity to his attention to detail with tone that really appeals to me. Listening to “Star Shepherd” always had me focusing on his tone. Does this tune showcase something different (tonally) than the other tracks? I don't think so, but I definitely caught myself zoning in on tone here. 

It wasn't immediately apparent what was pulling me in “Star.” But with repeated listens, I realized it was the way the phrases swell and pulsate that caught my ear – music that breathes.

Orange was very much a case of knowing what you're going to get and not being disappointed. I was expecting and unhurried, warm, intimate album featuring lyrical playing, and it checked all those boxes. But Orange is much more than that. Often in jazz, we fall into the trap of being wowed by chops, the fanciness of hip chords, fancy licks, and weird time signatures. But there's something seriously underrated about presenting a melody, taking your time and not having to shout. And that's the wow factor for me that Hayden, Paul and Norm express so well on Orange. Not a bad way to round out what has been a hell of a year.

Unwind are on tour in February (with Julien Dyne added) with details over at Norm's website. See you there!

PS. I love that the watch beep made the final cut. 

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