Thursday, February 28, 2019

Unwind on tour

It was time to take an overdue break from work and catch a few of Unwind's gigs as they toured New Zealand.

First stop was the 4th Wall Theatre in New Plymouth. It meant missing out on Matt Penman in Wellington, but I hadn't heard Hayden since 2012, so I wanted to make the most of him being home (sorry Matt! What are the chances?). It's a nice sized venue and was pretty much at capacity (100 or so). The trio have added a couple of gospel tunes to their repertoire - “Nearer to Thee” and “Precious Lord” - both of which proved to be popular choices. A Serbian folk tune about a son who leaves and never returns seemed like a fitting choice to play (and sing.... as promised to his Serbian friends) to his hometown crowd.

While I was in town I made sure to get to the Govett-Brewsster Gallery/Len Lye Centre. The Group Therapy exhibition featured three of Lye's sculptures, “Rotating Harmonic,” “Zebra” and “Watusi” (I'm pretty sure they said it was the first time since the 60s it had been exhibited). They were also playing “Free Radicals” and “Tusulava.” It's a great space in which to calm your mind. Do check it out. 
Hayden Chisholm, New Zealand Jazz

Following work on Wednesday, I jumped out to Lucky Bar + Kitchen in Whanganui for round two. There was bit of a different vibe, compared to the more hometown-casual feel of New Plymouth, it was more “gig-like.” The night was bit more high energy, the spiritual pieces got bluesy-er and there was even a little wailing altissimo. I enjoyed the venue - friendly staff and surprisingly decent acoustics (they just need a piano!). A crowd of about 40, not bad for mid-week I guess, tended to stay away from the stage. Paul's “The Last Desperate Hoot”, was a stand out for me. I loved the joyous swing and interaction between P.D and Hayden's weaving lines (Norm laid out, only comping during the head – a recurring pattern for each performance).

I didn't catch the titles of all the new tunes, but I hope “Tumble” (?) makes the new recording. Having heard them debut a number of tunes on this tour I'm keen to hear any that make the next album. One tune I dubbed “Norm's Groove” eventually I discovered was titled “Gabriel.” Norm's “Morning and Evening Calm” to open each concert.

Considering Unwind were touring in support of the release of Orange, they didn't play much from the album - “Miracle” made a regular appearance in the set list. And “Fly” was the only piece from the trio's debut album. But that really didn't bother me, as I enjoyed the chance to hear them working through tunes that will feature on their upcoming album (to be recorded while they were in Christchurch). After four gigs I was starting the new tunes were starting to sink in.

St. Paul's Lutheran Church was the scene on Thursday night in Wellington. I know some people had gigs that night (credit to Jake for making the first set!), but I was expecting a much larger crowd – at least one that was heavy on sax players. We need to work on this! 

For some of the tour Unwind expanded to a quartet with the addition of Julien Dyne on drums. I was really keen to hear how Julien slotted into the group. Particularly on the older material that may not have been written with drums in mind. He had already played a few dates with them earlier in the tour but this was my first chance to hear the new line up. It seemed like the first set he was still coming to terms with the acoustics (there's a reason why Bach didn't have drums in his church band!) but I enjoyed his approach. Unsurprisingly, it did change the fundamental sound of the trio. There was less room for the music to breathe (one of the strengths of the albums). At times he plays the energy that is implied on the trio recordings. Did that space need filling? Sure, Unwind could keep operating as a trio, but the addition of drums definitely brings a new feel to the group. But why change? I guess it may freshen things a little to avoid the third recording being samey. I don't really have a problem with samey... as in stable line-ups working creatively in samey settings (Root 70, Connie Crothers Quartet, Steve Lacy Quintet/Sextet come to mind). But regardless of the reason, the addition of drums has plenty to offer and build on.
Hayden Chisholm The Well Tempered Shruti Box
One change that did stand out was P.D's approach with the addition of drums. I felt he was more interactive and broke up the time more in the trio setting. This was one of the elements I really enjoyed on the recordings, Unwind and Orange. It came to the fore in Whanganui and on a couple of trio tunes in Raumati. But it was nice hearing him settle into a groove with his son.

One of Norm's strengths is knowing when not to play (a seriously underrated quality!). He can be happy digging the sounds around him without the need to be constantly stabbing at the piano. And when he does play – he means it. It's definitely not a chops-heavy approach, and it suits this group to a tee. 

Friday lunchtime and St. Paul's Cathedral was the setting for a condensed version of “The Well-Tempered Shruti Box.” It's a recording of Hayden's I have listened to a lot, so it was fantastic to hear it live in a acoustic space that really showcased his alto tone to the max. Understated virtuosity – he makes it seem so easy and sound so good, without having to wow people with pyrotechnics. The 35 minutes floated by in no time.

It was great to hear the trio for a couple of nights and then the quartet for a couple of nights. Again, it was very interesting hearing Julien with the group the following evening at the house concert in Raumati South. He's an improviser, as his approach to the same tunes two nights running varied quite a lot - and this time round the acoustics were in his favour. Everything seemed to dovetail together on Friday night – the coziness of New Plymouth, the energy of Whanganui, not having to battle acoustics as they did in Wellington. The crowd (full house) really got into it, and I chatted with a bloke attending his first ever jazz concert and he was blown away.

If they played a better concert than this house concert, and if you managed to catch it, consider yourself extremely fortunate. The walk back to my sister's place was too short to contemplate the mystery and magic I'd heard that night. A great evening.

The week came with mixed emotions – great getting to hear and hang with one of my favourite musicians who I haven't seen in a number of years, but it also was a reminder of times passed, when getting out to four gigs in a week was standard fare, when music was more prominent in my life, and when everyday life was far more fulfilling. Coming down from such such a high isn't easy. In some ways, it served as a stark reminder of just how ordinary parts of my life have become – but I'll try to focus on the positives. During my lessons, Connie Crothers would often talk about momentum. I want to talk this week's energy, move with it and build on it. 
Hayden Chisholm New Zealand Jazz

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