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. 

No comments: