Monday, September 30, 2019

NZ Jazz: Thanks Mike!

Okay, so I'm wrapping up this series. It seemed fitting to end with Mike Nock as the series kicked off  with his then newly released Vicissitudes back in September, 2017. I decided to change things up a bit. Instead of focusing on a single album, this month I listened to all of Mike's recordings in my collection. There was no rhyme or reason, I just grabbed a the next disc on the pile. I started with Changing Seasons (trio with Brett Hirst and Toby Hall) - the groove felt right to kick off the month - and ended with Kindred (duo with Laurence Pike) - a recording with which I have mellowed out to many times since picking it up a few years ago. In between everything else got a spin or two. In comparison to some artists, Mike's discography is a manageable size (with plenty of variety too), although there are still plenty of holes I need to plug - Yusef Lateef's 1984 is the only thing I have with Mike as a sideman. I want to call particular attention to the duo works with the likes of Frank Gibson Jr., Marty Ehrlich, David Liebman, Roger Manins, and Laurence Pike - wonderful recordings.
New Zealand Jazz
As I mentioned last month, I'm pulling the plug on this series. I may return in the future (I still have a stack of albums waiting for me) - we'll see. Off the top of my head, some albums from the series that stood out included Jim Langabeer's Secret Islands, the two albums from Unwind - Unwind, and Orange (there's another on the way that I look forward to hearing), Mike Nock's Beginning and End of Knowing, Lucien Johnson's West of the Sun, and, more for the historical interest than the music, Jazz Concert 1950. Before I sign off the series, I just want to say "Thanks Mike!"

Monday, September 23, 2019

Arthur Street Loft Orchestra: The Big Troubles

New Zealand Jazz
Last Monday night saw the final installment of season seven of the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra. It was great to have a packed house with standing room only (get there early folks!). It has taken a while to build the following but they seem to get solid audiences on a pretty regular basis now. Hats off to Jake.

This week, John Rae was back with The Big Troubles, a group comprised of strings (2 each of violin, viola, cello and bass), brass (2 trumpet, 3 trombones), reeds (3 sax, 1 clarinet), vocal, guitar and drums. Unsurprisingly, it was a night of good vibes and plenty of energy. Maybe it's just the flow on effect of having 20 musicians on the bandstand, but there seemed to be a real buzz in the room before the music started.

That energy carried through into the performance, and it was more about the collective energy rather than listening for delicate inner moving parts (although they do exist). There were some nice solo moments too - Ben Hunt's plunger work and Al Campbell's blues solo - but it was Tristan Carter's violin solo was my pick for the evening (with bonus points applied for the scarcity of string soloist on the local jazz scene). Vocalist, Eugene (what's his last name?) had a couple of features (the same two tunes as the last time I heard the group). Once again, the blues was excellent. Last time I heard them I wasn't convinced by their take on “Crazy He Calls Me”, but it must be growing on me (the vocals and the arrangement) as I started getting into it this time around. The balance of the band seemed better, so maybe that helped.

After a short break, ASLO will be back for season eight. If you're in Wellington on a Monday night, they're well worth checking out.
Arthur Street Loft Orchestra

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Friday Night Swagman

New Zealand Jazz
It was nice to get down to Raumati Social Club on Friday night to catch Swagman play their monthly gig. Things were a little more chilled out than normal which suited me fine as I sat in the far corner and mellowed out. As usual, the second set ramped things up a notch (or three) and although the crowd had thinned by the end the music kept roaring. Swagman marks the return of Gabe following bit of a hiatus from performing, and I'm enjoying getting to hear him on a pretty regular basis. He seems increasingly at ease on the horn, exploring and pushing things out. Joe's uke-bass sound is a treat, as is his 12-string. Brent was his usual grooving powerhouse. I wasn't aware of his playing before moving home but I'm glad to finally be catching up with it. All washed down with a North End Abbey Single - pretty good night really.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

It's time to drop the plastic sleeves

Vandoren saxophone reeds
I'm a long-term Vandoren user. Over the 25 years I've been playing I've used Vandoren (various models... I've tried them all!) more than anything else (and I've tried most other brands/models at some stage). But surely I'm not the only one who's sick of all the plastic packaging used by reed companies. What's the point of the plastic reed holder? You open the box, remove the reed from the plastic sleeve and that's the end of it. Can't more companies use cardboard/paper sleeves? I can't recall opening a box and finding damaged reeds do to the being store in cardboard sleeves. Are sleeves even necessary? Remember the old Rico and La Voz that had tissue paper packing? 

Has anyone noticed performance improvements since Vandoren started individually wrapping reeds? I can't say I have – I even have some of the from the non-wrapped era and they seem pretty much the same. Is it worth the extra waste creation? And due to the wrapping, the Vandoren boxes are huge.

But it's not limited to Vandoren. Rico/D'Addario use plastic sleeves. Rigotti (and Roberto's) use a soft plastic sleeves. And I'm sure there are others too. Alexander use cardboard sleeves... albeit inside the metal tins (wouldn't a cardboard box keep the costs down?) Side note: other than storing old reeds in them - yes, I do keep least for a little while - has anyone found a use for Alexander tins?

Anyway, once my current stock of reeds run low (and I've got quite a stock pile), I will start the search for an alternative that uses less plastic. Marca, Ponzol and Gonzalez come to mind. In the past, I haven't had much luck with Gonzalez, and I'm not sure if Ponzol still make cane reeds, so I'll likely be starting with Marca.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Music for Commuting: More Soprano (I got a fever)

soprano saxophone
It was Wayne Shorter's 86th birthday last week so 1 + 1 was a fitting (although completely coincidental) choice. I don't hear too many people taking about this album, maybe it's bit of a sleeper in his discography, but I dig it. Bonus points as Wayne sticks to soprano throughout and I particularly like his tone on this album.

It took a bit of hunting to track it down, but I really wanted to find a copy of Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner after reading that David Liebman rates it as one of his finest outings. The album has grown on me over the years and not having listened to it for a while, I really enjoyed it this time around. It's an all-soprano outing - solo with multi-tracked soprano. Lieb signed the album for me following a masterclass at PM Woodwind - I don't know why I didn't ask him about the recording process and how he put the work together. It's a must listen for Liebman fans, those keen on the soprano saxophone, and solo sax recordings. For those interested in composition, it's worth checking out how much Liebman can extract from the brief main theme. And again, completely coincidental, I'm posting this on Lieb's 73rd birthday.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Music for Commuting: Voices and Communique

The car ride needed some soprano sax last week and Steve Lacy is always go-to source on that front. Communique is another chapter in the long line of Steve Lacy/Mal Waldron collaborations. I'm not sure I enjoy this one as much as Sempre Amore. I know I've listened to the latter a lot more, so maybe I just need to spend more time with this one. It dawned on me that I don't have any albums by Waldron as a leader and he's a player I want to explore further - I'm open to recommendations.

Voices is a reissue I picked up earlier this year - a trio date led by Masahiko Togashi with Lacy and Jean-Jacques Avenel. I have a couple of albums of Lacy and Togashi together and they make a nice pairing. Spiritual Moments was getting airplay earlier in the year but of late Voices has been in the rotation. For now, I'll take a break from the master while I await a few more discs that are heading my way.
Steve Lacy; Mal Waldron; Masahiko Togashi