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. 

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