Wednesday, July 31, 2019

NZ Jazz: C.L. Bob - The Great Flash

CL Bob: The Great Flash (Yellow Eye) 2005

Simon Bowden (guitar/banjo/keyboard) Steve Cournane (drums) Tim Jaray (bass) Toby Lang (trumpet/Synth) Nils Olsen (saxes/clarinets) Chris Williamson (guitar) and guests Nick Van Dijk (trombone) Blair Latham (clarinet) David Chickering, Donald Maurice, Rupa Maurice, Greg Squire (strings)

New Zealand JazzThere has been a little nostalgia floating around at times this month. I can't remember if I heard the line-up before the addition on Toby and Chris... maybe... but I heard the latter version of CL Bob fairly regularly during the time I was at music school and a little less frequently after graduation. But giving them a spin again this month has definitely taken me back to that time. Not just thinking of CL Bob gigs, but some of the off-shoots – who remembers Bertha? (Nils, Chris and Steve) - a group that focused on Mingus and Monk tunes. And then there was the scene in general, particularly the vast array of happenings at The Space. There must be something about this band that does it - I just took a glance at the NZ Music Month post from 2017 on their self-titled debut.... that too had me in a nostalgic mood.

Of the three albums from CL Bob, The Great Flash, is the one I have listened to the least. Or it's the one that I'm least familiar with the material. I heard the band a lot during the Stereoscope period and as a result I probably didn't listen to that album as I could have at the time, and I didn't pick this album up when it was released and heard them live playing this material only once or twice.

As with all their work, CL Bob pull in a wide range music and make it their own thing. Quite dense and dramatic (“Raewyn”), at times dark and angular (“Greed”), plaintive (“Unheard Voice”), sombre (“Hira”), groove driven yet slightly of-the-wall (“Craters on the Moon”), quirky and fun (“Old Bob”), even a little tongue in cheek (“Ted and Sylvia”) and epic (“Carpet Master is Vanquished”[brilliant title!]) - they provide plenty of variety for listeners.

This is another album were I don't feel it's about soloists – there's plenty of collective playing, and a lot of focus on textures rather that soloists out front. Yeah, Nils has a bass clarinet feature on “Unheard Voice” and both the horns have some room to stretch out on “Psyion” (with some minor hints at Ornette's Quartet) but these are exceptions rather than the rule. You could hear “Raewyn” as a feature for Tim Jaray but it's really a three-way dialogue between Jaray, Bowden and Cournane.

Texture and colour are key and the big change between this and their previous recordings is the addition of keyboards and synth. The groove on “Craters on the Moon” does a nice job at making the keyboards and synth not seem all that odd. And it's pretty fun how they are deployed on “Old Bob”.

Nils spends much more time on alto here than I remember him playing and Toby Lang's tone is perfectly suited to the sound of “Ted and Sylvia”. And then there's the addition personnel. The string quartet works really well on “Greed” and Nick's trombone slots in fine on “Old Bob”. I remember hearing them live with additional personnel and it really didn't do it for me, and at the time, I remember feeling that it seemed like the right move to call it quits as things may have run their course. Listening here I do feel that the extra personnel distracts from the group sound which had taken on quite a different weight with the synth and keyboards in the mix. But I still enjoy the album, and it still sounds like CL Bob... so what am I saying? I'm not too sure!

One thing I noticed this month that hadn't occurred to me before – the CL Bob albums are pretty much the only examples of the individuals I have on record (John Bell is an exception, and Steve and Tim are on one of Norm Meehan's albums). I see Steve has a few recordings up on BandCamp ( including Boat (with Simon and Nils) an album I've been on the lookout for quite some time.

Maybe the one thing that is missing from The Great Flash is a version of “Endings” that's heavy on bass clarinet, synth and banjo. But maybe that was would have been too obvious

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Music for Commuting: A Bunch of Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome Soprano Saxophone
For the last couple of weeks solo recordings from Sam Newsome have been accompanying the ride. I regularly read Sam's blog and follow him on social media, but it was about time I started catching up with his discography and these four are all new to me. I don't particularly like having to drive to work, but the music helps ease the pain - even if it is far from an ideal listening situation.

Sam often uses "extended" techniques in a way that those unfamiliar with them may find quite approachable. Over the last couple of years he's been working with "prepared" soprano saxophone
and while I dig the results of "Chaos Theory", I do miss the tone of his "unprepared" straight horn (although there are a couple of tracks where it appears).

There’s plenty here to keep me out of trouble (as there are with the other 4 discs I have of Sam’s), and I'm going to give each of these some dedicated time in the near future. And eventually I’ll get around to hearing his earlier work on Steeplechase... and his more recent ensemble recordings too (keen to hear him with Fay Victor).

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Swagman, Norm and The Woods

New Zealand Jazz
Swagman at Raumati Social Club (June 2019)
I’ve been totally slack keeping up to date with things here... time to catch up!

I'm trying to make a habit of catching Swagman's monthly gig at Raumati Social Club (the last Friday of the month). I really enjoy hearing a group working with a set of tunes over a period of time. This time around they included one or two news tunes too. It's been a while, so I'll be brief.... but a couple of memories are that the balance was a bit off - louder than usual and lack of clarity. And, Brent quoting Max Roach's "For Big Sid" during one of his solos over an ostinato from Joe and Gabe (I think Brent was surprised that someone picked up on it). 

New Zealand Jazz
Norman Meehan's farewell concert (June 2019)
The following night it was off to St Paul's Lutheran Church for Norman Meehan’s farewell concert (Norm is now based in NYC). The two sets featured pieces (old and new) from varying line-ups comprised of Norman (p) Hannah Griffin (vocal) Blair Latham (ts/b.clarinet/g) Lance Philip (d) Martin Riseley (v) Andrew Laking (b). Hannah seems to get better each time I hear her (admittedly only twice since I've been home) - I particularly enjoyed her duo with Martin Riseley. And when was the last time you heard someone double on tenor sax, bass clarinet and guitar? Blair managed it well (even playing all three on one tune). There was almost a house concert feel about the evening (maybe it was the cuppa tea and ginger nuts?).

New Zealand Jazz
The Woods at Raumati Social Club (July 2019)
The Woods play that dreaded mixture of jazz, world music and rock. It was the first time hearing this group (aside from a sneak peak on bandcamp a while back.... begs the question, “Why don’t I have their album yet?”) and once again, hearing original compositions being performed without sheet music is refreshing!

Hearing Blair twice in a week playing the unlikely combo of instruments, I couldn’t help giving Blair a little shit that he now has to lug around a guitar, pedals and an amp (he said that wasn’t lost on his bandmates either - after years of him hassling them for all their equipment). I have to give him credit for doubling on guitar in the same band as Joe! And his raspy tenor tone is the perfect fit sonically for this group.

I'm really glad to have caught Joe as much as I have since I’ve been home. I've probably mentioned it before, but I dig his relaxed intensity, and it makes it look easy. And and much as I enjoyed Tom’s playing on upright earlier in the evening, the electric pulled out a different quality in the group sound that really worked. By the second set the volume started getting a little out of balance with the room (I was sitting somewhere different too), with the bass getting a bit too buzzy but it seemed to settle down eventually. I haven't heard Rick Cranson all that much since I've been home. He knows when to turn up the power but didn’t overdo it. He did unleash over the vamp on final tune and the dynamic shift at the end was nailed by the entire band. The two sets flew by, and that's always a good sign.

Monday, July 01, 2019

NZ Jazz: Jonathan Crayford - Dark Light

Jonathan Crayford: Dark Light (Rattle)
Crayford (p) Ben Street (b) Dan Weiss (d) 2014

After a couple of saxophone heavy recordings, I headed back to the piano trio for June edition of the NZ Jazz series. Dark Light provided some great accompaniment when driving at night pondering the mysteries of life. For some reason, putting this post together was a hard slog. I'm not sure why as I've really enjoyed spending time with the album this past month.
New Zealand Jazz

The overall feeling is one of introspection with a focused intensity that keeps things moving along and draws you in. Dark Light is more of a long simmer than a rapid boil. And for me, it's more about the mood generated by the compositions and the group sound rather than individual solos.

I like the tension that Weiss creates and the way he moves between tension and release. If he sounded more conventional, sticking to the groove of the piano and bass, it would be a far less exciting recording. Throughout, Weiss' accompaniment is often not what you'd normally expect - but it works. The are countless examples: 2.25-3.35, 5.45 on the title track; 1.30 on “Rita Finds the Light” (and the release at 1.53 into the light, skipping is tasty); the snare on “Galois' Candle”; and how do the fills at 1.45 and 3.40 on “Panties” work? Plus, I dig the tone he gets from his kit.

Taking care of business, often with the minimum amount of fuss, Ben Street's playing is nicely understated. That might be shortchanging him though... I don’t want to give the impression that he is phoning it in - but his tasty use of space on “Impetus”, lets you know he's not. Weiss is much more in the background here and the bass comes to the fore. The opening section of “Bikes in Space” caught my ear too.

I wouldn't describe Crayford's playing on this album as flashy (and he's definitely not trying to impress the first-call rhythm section), but he has a vitality that I dig much more than showy pyrotechnics. I particularly enjoy his sparse, melodic moments: 2.09-2.17 and 5.25 on “Rita Finds the Light”;3.50 “Impetus” (there's a welcome touch of blues here too). And the teaser at 3.55 on “Bikes in Space” is a nice touch (and the band feel on the out head is really on point).  All the tunes are by Crayford, and in a couple of spots, there were moments with a Herbie Nichols vibe (the second section of “Skyscraper Scaffold” and maybe the opening of “Bikes in Space” too).

The way the title track shifts mood so naturally is highlight. Dark Light couldn't be more apt name for the album. The mix of dark and light throughout the album brings plenty of mystery that I find very appealing. It's dark, yet uplifting.

I was surprised that this didn’t win jazz album of the year (not taking anything away from Dog). Maybe it was a victim of not being New Zealand enough (only 1/3 Kiwi) - I know of other nominations that were marked down for that reason. It seems that that line of thinking has subsided with the trio’s follow-up, East West Moon, winning in 2017 - I’m looking forward to giving that a spin too... eventually.