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?