Sunday, November 24, 2019

Arthur Street Loft Orchestra: Jeff Henderson

While I tend to pick and choose the gigs I attend (and sometimes work dictates what I can get to), I like the variety that the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra series has produced over the past year or so. What other series features Jeff Henderson's group one week and then follows up with the Rodger Fox Big Band seven days later?
New Zealand Jazz

The Wellington jazz scene is lucky to have Jake organizing this series - without which a lot of music would not have been created and heard. I know it took a while to draw in consistent crowds, but attendance is consistently strong now. And on Monday (18 Nov), a full house was in attendance to hear Jeff's work tackled by a 20-piece ensemble comprised of (including doubles) 4 basses, 2 tubas, 2 bass clarinets, 2 trumpets, euphonium, cello, 2 violins, drums, percussion, soprano sax, vibraphone, a couple of stringed instruments that I don't know the name of, plus Jeff conducting and blowing some clarinet too (the largest group of the series so far?). At the end of the set Jeff took an auctioneer-like approach to rattle off the all the names.
It was a night for something completely different (but not entirely unexpected from Jeff) and it was thoroughly enjoyable. The highlight for me was a section (probably about half way through the set) that featured Bridget Kelly blowing some melodic bass clarinet over the top of the four basses. As additional instruments joined in (starting with Cory's vibes and then Blair's bass clarinet) Bridget's bass clarinet was gradually consumed by the ensemble with the section wrapping up as Jeff wailed over the dirge-ish full ensemble.

It's always a treat to have a roomful of people come out to listen to improvised music and it was nice not having to rush off at the end of the gig, giving me the chance to catch up with both Jake and Jeff - keep up the good work chaps.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Music for Commuting: Lewis Porter Phil Scarff Group

Lewis Porter (p) Phil Scarff (ss/ts/sopranino/tamboura) John Funkhouser (b) Bertram Lehmann (d)

I’ve been meaning to check out Three Minutes to Four by the Lewis Porter/Phil Scarff Group for a while now and last month I finally got around to it. This week it was back on again getting a fresh listen along with the rumble of the road and an ever increasingly loud muffler. I remember Lewis mentioning this group several years ago, so they had been together at least a few years when the album - the group's first - was recorded (2015). And the resulting sound is that of a very cohesive unit.
I'm always keen to hear different soprano players and, outside of a few YouTube videos, Scarff is new to me. He has a classic, focused soprano tone with a bubbly, buoyancy (particularly on uptempo pieces). But he can draw out a round, woodiness too (part 1 of "Bageshri-Bageshwari" and "Raga Shree" being but two examples). He reserves this for the Indian pieces but it would be great to hear him apply this tone colour to the some other material too. He sticks to soprano on the Indian pieces but I wouldn’t mind hearing some tenor on these pieces.

Porter's contrafact ("Long Ago") is based "Long Ago and Far Away." Porter writes in the liner notes it's a song he associates with Art Pepper. Funnily enough, I do too. And I ending up listening to versions by Pepper on The Art of Pepper Vol.2 and Intensity - I hadn't listened to either for quite some time.

On an album with pieces featuring tone rows, dedications to Olivier Messiaen and adaptations of works from Southern India, “Strode Rode” seems a little out of place. But it's still a fine album and I'm going to keep my ear out for more from Scarff.