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.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Jazz on Sunday in Wellington

I kept myself busy on Sunday by getting along to two gigs. If I had been organized, I could have got along to a third - maybe next time.

New Zealand JazzFirst up, it was off to Cafe L’affare for The Dry Horrors - Anthony Donaldson (d) Tom Callwood (b) Lucien Johnson (ss/ts). I didn’t realize that L’affare had music and I stumbled upon this while making a last minute check of the gig guide.

It was interesting to hear these guys playing a cafe gig - some tunes by Monk, Ornette, Bird, Ellington and David Murray, and some standards and blues. The acoustics had everyone pulling back. I was expecting it to get really washy but it actually wasn’t too bad. I hadn’t really heard Anthony in this context before (maybe ages ago) but I really enjoyed his playing. In some ways his beat has an old feel but it ends up sounding modern (which brings to mind Han Bennink). It was a chilled out afternoon - even when things were moving along - and it was nice to see parents with their young kids listening to the band (even if just for a moment).

The Donaldson and Callwood pairing is quite longstanding. Will it attain the stature of the Sellers/Dyne, Gibson/Brown, Hopkins/Haynes pairings? Maybe it is already there? I’m glad to have caught Lucien again before he heads to NYC this week. I’m looking forward to hearing what he gets up to.

Next up it was off to Rogue and Vagabond for the Jasmine Lovell-Smith Quintet - Jasmine (ss) Mike Taylor (trpt) Anita Schwabe (p) Phoebe Johnson (b) Hikarangi Schaverian-Kaa (d). What started out as a sunny day had now clouded over, and the music seemed seasonly appropriate and continued the Sunday vibe - intimate, warm and pretty chilled out.
New Zealand Jazz

I was expecting Callum Allardice on guitar, but he was subbed out by Anita. And while I was keen to hear a guitarist playing Jasmine’s music, it was a bonus having Anita there as I hadn’t managed to catch her live since I’ve been home.

It was my first time hearing Phoebe Johnson and I was particularly impressed by her creative accomplishment, nice sense of space and unhurried approach. She fits in with Jasmine’s approach really well. She locked in nicely with Hikarangi too. He doesn’t overdo it, but gives things a kick, often unexpectedly, when needed. At times the sound guy didn’t do the bass any favors - quit turning up the volume during the bass solos. It really threw out the balance of her tone and make the bottom end overly boomy.

I enjoyed listening to the contrast between the sax and trumpet. Between the more notey playing, Mike hints at a melodic side too. The notey-ness has been part of his playing as long as I’ve known him, so it might be a bit odd if he edited it out, but sometimes the strength of a melodic line is lost when bookended with superfluous notes (and, in this case at least, the contrast with Jasmine would diminish). I would like to hear them together more to see what develops, especially as far as collective improvising goes. And while the performance may not have been as cohesive as the album but I enjoyed hearing some pieces from Fortune Songs live. 

After the gig we were talking about Sunday in Wellington becoming quite the scene - Third Eye’s regular afternoon session, L’affare in the arvo (not sure how regular it is), Rogue at 5pm, and the odd Sunday night gig (JB3 were at The Library that evening). So if you’re a jazz fan and in the city on a Sunday, there’s something happening somewhere - check it out.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Music for Commuting: Ornette in the 80s

Virgin Beauty, In All LanguagesI first heard Virgin Beauty at the Wellington Public Library. Right around the same time I got Tone Dialing shortly after it was released, but I think Virgin Beauty was my introduction to Prime Time. I was well aware of Ornette at the time, but Prime Time was a different beast.

In All Languages is fascinating as you get to hear the acoustic quartet and Prime Time exploring the same songs. You can hear the influence of Prime Time on the production on quartet sides… they’re a little heavy on reverb. It’s not enough to stop me considering it essential listening for Ornette fans.

This time round my ear seemed to be drawn to the ballads - “Mothers In Veil”, “Today, Yesterday and Tomorrow” and “Virgin Beauty” - nice accompaniment while driving through the fog.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Music for Commuting: Trio = Piano + Sax + Bass

Slow FoxThe commuting continues but the posts have slowed down. Long weekend procrastination was not particularly obliging with blog updates but a couple of train rides helped scraping together something. I’m slowly catching up on things.

I played the title track from Time Will Tell to some friends earlier in the month. I’m not sure it really resonated with them, but that won’t stop me from trying to expose them to some different stuff. The follow-up, Sankt Gerold, is on my “to get” list. I'm pretty keen to hear Barre Phillips new solo album too.

I hadn’t listened to Slow Fox’s second album, Gentle Giants, all that much and I was happy reacquainting myself it on the way to work last week. It led me back to the trio’s first album, The Wood, when heading into Wellington for a couple of gigs. I was going to try and play favorites, but in the end.... why bother when you can sit back and enjoy them both. For NZ Music Month I’ll be sending a bunch of friends a playlist which will include a track from Gentle Giants.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Antipodes + Hannah Griffin

Tonight it was back into the city to catch a concert at St Peter's Church. Two gigs in two nights..... not bad! This time around it was Antipodes - Luke Sweeting (p) Jake Baxendale (as) Callum Allardice (g) Max Alduca (b) and Tim Geldens (d). It was quite a different scene from last night (in terms of the setting, vibe and music). For this Easter concert, vocalist Hannah Griffin was added to the group for a set comprised of arrangements of hymns. I hadn't heard Hannah live for many many years, and she was the kicker to get me along. I don't consider Antipodes to be a "less is more" kinda group, so I was keen to hear how they handled playing hymns with a vocalist in a church. For the most part they did it pretty well. It was only when they hit a certain dynamic level that the vocals would lose clarity. It was nice hearing them take a more measured approach, although the last couple of pieces got a little closer to the "epic-ness" I associate with them. I'm not sure I'll make it 'three in three', but if I'm up for it, Antipodes are at Third Eye on Wednesday night.
Jazz Hymns

Shuffle on tour at Rogue and Vagabond

Easter weekend didn’t really pan out as I would have liked. The first plan went pretty much as expected (I made an effort to be slightly more social and enjoyed the night that ended listening to slightly drunken renditions country tunes). The second fell through and its replacement never got off the ground. By the time I remembered that Shuffle were playing in Whanganui on Sunday night, it was too late for me to make the gig. Thankfully they were playing the following night in Wellington, so I braved the end of Easter traffic as far as the train station and bookended the weekend with brief trips to the city.

Shuffle - Roger Manins (saxophone) Ron Samsom (drums) Michel Bénébig (organ) and Neil Watson in place of Carl Lockett(guitar) - were touring in support of the newly released, self-titled album on Rattle Records.
Roger Manins; New Zealand Jazz

“B.B. Gun” was a  nice slinky opener for an Easter Monday. Perhaps it was a little too relaxed, but the high energy “Beep” kicked the crowd into action. Feet were tapping, heads bobbing, some swaying, and plenty of smiles. It remained that way for the rest of the night. There was plenty of swank during “Big Leg Shuffle” as everyone hit their stride. Bénébig found the deep pocket as he opened his solo. And through this solo he kept tapping back into it. It fed the band and Watson really dug in too for a fine solo. I thought Roger was perhaps a little tame earlier in the set but became increasingly unhinged (in a good way!) throughout.

Roger’s between tune banter can be a little off the wall, and his mid-solo-cadenza shout out to Rogue sound man (and all-round nice guy) Chris was a classic. A compilation of these with the context removed would be bizarrely entertaining (hidden track on your next album Rog?).

“Gout Foot Shuffle” kicked off the second set with Bénébig playing another fine solo with a really happy feel to it. Throughout the night I’d catch myself getting drawn in to his hypnotic feet working the pedal board. Watson hit the deep pocket in “Dog Funk Walking” while Roger moved from laid back and sub-toning into some classic blues honking and wailing. They rounded out the night with the mellower (in comparison) “Hungry Pig Shuffle”. 

Two sets of shuffles is about all I can take but the infectious feel, good grooves and high energy end to the long weekend could make returning to the grind tough going. It’s an extra short week so I guess I’ll manage.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

What was meant to be 'The Woods' at Rogue and Vagabond

New Zealand Jazz
 James Illingworth (p) Tom Callwood (b) Blair Latham (ts) Rick Cranson (d) 

Tonight I was geared up to hear The Woods but it didn't quite pan out that way. Joe called in sick, and as I hadn’t heard this group before, and I was in the mood for a Joe Callwood fix, it was a little disappointing that he was stuck at home with the flu. However, I got over it pretty quickly and enjoyed the night.

I hadn’t heard James play for ages so that was a bonus. He brought plenty of intensity throughout the night (“Lonnie’s Lament” being a highlight early on), although sometimes the chops are a bit much for me (but he can sit in the pocket too). He doesn’t lack energy!! After a long dry spell, its nice to have heard Blair a few times lately. For whatever reason his articulation stood out tonight (great energy as always) maybe a bit notey-er than usual but it fit the vibe of the night. I dug Tom’s arco tone (it wasn’t too ampy) and his lines on "Chasin’ the Trane" leapt our at me. I hadn’t heard Rick for a long while either and they make a good rhythm section pairing. 

The quartet performed plenty of tunes by John Coltrane included "Lonnie’s Lament," "Crescent," "Wise One," and "Chasin’ the Trane" with a couple of others thrown in too - "I'm an Old Cow Hand" and Drew Menzies' "Oh Lord!" "Chasin' the Trane" closed out the night and was the highlight for me. Lots of great interaction and the band were clearly having a lot fun and the crowd was on the ride with them

There’s something to be said for the 5pm Sunday time-slot - it draws a crowd. Disappointed I can’t get in next week to hear Paul and Julien Dyne.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Arthur Street Loft Orchestra: Lucien Johnson's "Party Sax"

New Zealand Jazz
I’ve been a bit slack getting this post together. On Monday night (25 March) I made the trek in for the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra. This week featured the work of Lucien Johnson and an 8-piece group (trombone, 2 trumpets, sax, piano, bass, drums & percussion). Under the title of “Party Sax,” it was indeed a night of good vibes, groove, riffage and plenty of wailing saxophone (Lucien largely stuck to tenor but he also busted out a little baritone). It was a rarity in that the set wasn’t 100% original compositions (the emphasis on the series has been on writing original work). Lucien included pieces by David Murray and Butch Morris (“Morning Song” and “Spooning” respectively) and I think there was one from Art Blakey too. The choices were very much in fitting with the overall vibe of the night. Solo-wise the emphasis was on Lucien (no complaints there), but there some other nice contributions too. James (sorry, I don’t know you’re surname!) blew a nice muted trumpet solo on the final piece of the night and Dan Hayles stretched out early on in the set I haven’t heard him playing much in a context that I dig, but he was the right choice for the piano chair tonight. Cory Anderson took care of business from the drum throne. I think this was the groups pre-CubaDupa gig, and based on what I heard, I’m sure it would have gone down well the following weekend. A fun night.

Monday, April 01, 2019

NZ Jazz: Murray McNabb - Song for the Dream Weaver

Murray McNabb: Song for the Dream Weaver (Mod X Music)
McNabb (p) Ron McClure (b) Adam Nussbaum (d) 1990

On the recordings I've heard so far (Space Case, Dr Tree), McNabb has been largely in the background - aside from his contributions as a composer and arranger - so I was interested to hear in him in the foreground as a soloist and leader.

This is the first time since the series started that I've hung with an album that didn't spike my interest from the start or failed to grow on me much across the month. It's not as if I have given it a single spin, decided it wasn't for me and shelved it. Something about the album made me want to keep going (there have been others that didn't survive the first day or two... but I may return to them another time). As with all the albums in this series, it had multiple listens (most days I've listened to all or most of the album), in different settings (home, car, morning, night, day, headphones, stereo) - but something is missing and I can't put my finger on it.
New Zealand Jazz Murray McNabb

I don't really like making comparisons, but this month I've been listening to quite a bit of Paul Bley and Lennie Tristano (two of my favourite pianists) and McNabb just doesn't grab me like they do. It just doesn't hit that mystical spot, and in fact, seems a bit pedestrian in comparison. I think it might be a rhythm thing as I get the feeling that most of the energy is being generated by the rhythm section. The drums came to the fore as the piano alone didn't really strike me. While I've heard a bit of Adam Nassbaum, this is by far the most I've concentrated on his work. He adds plenty of color, energy, and swing. 

Overall, McNabb's playing is quite introverted, and that's not a bad thing in itself as the “Hey, look at me... look at what I can do” style is a bit overdone in jazz. It seems crazy, as I have other albums that are equally (or more) introverted that don't seem to bother me. Perhaps it's not an introverted quality, maybe it's that missing mystical quality I can't put my finger on – intensity of purpose?. Or it could just be the state of mind I've been in this month. 

I did go back to the Space Case recordings to check out a couple of tunes that reappear here - “Recurring Dream” and “Dark Windows” (known as “Number Two” during the Space Case days). The jury is still out as to which I preferred, the horns add something on Space Case but I like the intimacy of trio.

One of the big takeaways from this month is thinking about what quality(ies) a particular piece of music (or artist) has that grabs you. When that element(s) is missing, do you know it straight away? If you hang in there, does that element or another one in it's place reveal itself to you? I can't say that hanging with Song For The Dream Weaver during March has helped the album grow on me all that much. Yet strangely, it hasn't put me off McNabb either. I still have another trio album of his to listen to and I'm even more curious to hear his later work – although I'm sure I'll come with a bit of baggage when I listen to those discs.

So it has been bit of an odd month and I'm really looking forward to getting stuck into something else. Stay tuned for more (but probably not from McNabb for a little while at least).