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

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