Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Reed Packaging Blues

Saxophone reed packaging
This is a follow on from a post from over a year ago (forgive me for repetition). Over the past year and a half or so (probably longer… rust never sleeps), I’ve been making efforts to minimize waste. I’m not hardcore about it, just little steps here and there, and I feel I’ve made some good steps (here's a thank you and plug for Be Free and Hopper). One thing that has bugged me for a long time is the excessive plastic used in packaging saxophone reeds.  

I would describe myself as a long term Vandoren user. Over the 26 years or so I’ve been playing saxophone, I’ve used Vandoren more than any other brand. Of all the Vandoren models, V16 tend to work best for me – although I used Traditional a lot too and had a bit of luck with Java as well. I never really understood why reeds come with the plastic reed holders/sleeves. Once you take the reed out of the box and start playing it, the plastic sleeve is never used again. The ‘new’ packaging didn’t do anything for me (I forget when it was introduced… it’s been several years now). Vandoren started individually wrapping the reeds in plastic (I think they claimed it kept reeds at a better humidity level). All it seemed to do was make the box larger and add another layer of plastic. I still have a few boxes of reeds in the old packaging and I’m not sure if I have noticed any improvement with the newer packaging. 

Vandoren Soprano Reed Comparison
So, even though I have a few boxes of Vandoren left, during December I made the move to Gonzalez. I had expected to go with Marca, but they are harder to get here and more expensive. Compared to Vandoren, Gonzalez have WAY less plastic (only the outer wrapping on the box) and the price is better too (downside being I can’t buy them from my preferred retailer). I had played them on alto for a bit back in the day but never settled into them. And back when I was hunting for soprano reeds I tried a couple of boxes and then moved on - and now I'm back. I got a box of each model and I’ve gravitated towards the RC (regular cut). Early days yet, but it’s working out okay (I'm still on my first box). I would like to try a quarter strength softer, but my plan is to stick with them and see how it develops.

I'm not much of one for new year resolutions ("I'm gonna play as well as Steve Lacy by the end of the month!"), but perhaps 2021 will be my year of Gonzalez.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Jazz | Pint | One Down One Up

North End Brewery Waikanae
I'll happily admit that John Coltrane isn't my favourite saxophone player. Unless I'm looking at something specific, I need to pick the right moment to kick back and dig it. And tonight was the night, with One Down, One Up - Live at the Half Note taking care of the Coltrane fix. It's not really music that I strive to emulate, but I get why people love it so much. Intensity is the first word that comes mind. An outward intensity. Maybe if I binged on it and really spent time working it, some of that may bleed into my playing. Who knows. It's not really where I am at the moment, but you never know.

The hook up with Elvin Jones is something else, and there are long periods of Trane and Elvin in duo. The only downside to this is the lack of Jimmy Garrison! (never fear, he's always present during McCoy Tyner's solos). The more I listen to him, the more I enjoy his playing. Is he underrated? Underappreciated? Maybe - I don't know. Not in my book. In the accompanying notes (he barely gets a mention!) there's a great photo of him on the bandstand at the Half Note. The lucky few in the front row could have reached out and touched his bass. I can only image being so close to that sound and feeling. Physically that would have been an interesting experience.

Usually when I tune it to Coltrane I'm focused on his soprano work. And considering it's a live recording, his soprano tone is pretty well captured here. I know a lot of people rave about My Favorite Things, but I prefer his soprano from a bit later on. One Down, One Up is a fine example (on "Afro Blue" and "My Favorite Things") as is The John Coltrane Quartet Plays (check out "Chim Chim Cheree"). Both were recorded in 1965, once he'd spent more time on the straight horn.

So my spur of the moment pick worked out well tonight, and two discs of live Trane made for a nice Christmas Eve Eve. In the words of Alan Grant, the announcer on these broadcasts, "Stay beautiful".

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Jazz | Pint | Monk Plays Ellington

Houblon Chouffe

I was listening to Pablo Held's interview with Ben Street earlier today (be sure check out Held's other interview too - great series), and had bass players on my mind when it came to tonight's listening. I didn't have anything in mind, but when I spotted the Monk set in the pile, the Oscar Pettiford/Kenny Clarke pairing was the first thing that came to mind. And here were are. Of Monk's discs on Riverside, it was be a toss up between Monk Plays Ellington and Brilliant Corners as to the album I've listened to the most. It just so happens that Pettiford is on both. (Thelonious Himself would more than likely be third if you're wondering). Pettiford and Clarke have such a great flow - it sounds effortless. As the bass was on my mind, I tended to focus in that direction tonight. Such clarity in his lines and his tone. Tonight, the brief moments when his walking lines moved into the higher register seemed to pop out at me. And the buoyancy of "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good" really appeals to me. And the 3.57-4.10 mark during O.P's solo on "Caravan" always sticks out to me. Kenny Clarke is very understated throughout - in the best way possible. Economy of swing at its finest. Fantastic brush playing. Actually, he spends the vast majority of the album on brushes. The sticks aren't missed at all (they make a brief appearance on "Caravan"). Super tasty. Of course it's not just O.P and Klook grooving - Monk plays his part too!

The Houblon is not by favourite of the Chouffe beers, but it made a change and I hadn't had one in ages (actually it was my first Chouffe since moving home). Maybe not a great match with the music, but it really didn't matter.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Jazz | Pint | Tethered Moon

Another weekend comes to a close, so it's time to kick back and relax with music and a beer. Early on in 2020 I "discovered" Masabumi Kikuchi. I'm pretty sure I had heard him previously on a Paul Motian recording, but for whatever reason, it didn't stick with me. I'm not sure what led me to him this year, but I picked up Black Orpheus (solo), Sunrise (trio), and a few of the Tethered Moon albums. And I'm glad I did. Actually, the Tethered Moon recordings led me listening to a lot of Gary Peacock this year - with Jarrett, some other sideman work, and as a leader too - a rediscovery of sorts. 

Morte Subite
Tonight, I gave First Meeting another spin. The trio's first recording... but not their first to be released. The music is unhurried, with opening track slowly unfolding and setting the mood for things to come. I enjoy the sense of space throughout the album. The sense of balance between the trio is also particularly notable. The last month or so I've been playing in a trio (albeit with different instrumentation) and balance is something that is becoming more and more apparent to me. How are the three of us interaction? Not to overplay. When to contribute sound and when to contribute silence. Can the use of silence turn the trio into a quartet? It playing a part as vital as the sounds we make. Just a few of the thoughts that popped into mind during tonight's listen. And how about the groove of Motian and Peacock on the title track? I'm also enjoying the recorded sound. Of the three Tethered Moon albums in my collection, I've listened to First Meeting the most. Does that mean it's my favourite? I don't know, it's early days yet. Still, it's a very nice album.

There is a slightly dark quality to Tethered Moon (and Kikuchi in general) - but I like that in their music, and it seemed that Morte Subite would be an appropriate accompaniment - in name mostly, but it's mix of sweet and sour (more of the former than the latter), and effervescence seems to tie in with the sounds bouncing around the apartment.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Hatnohahat - Henderson/Dyne/Cranson

New Zealand Jazz
This was the last night out for the Wellington Jazz Cooperative before the Third Eye shut up shop on Sunday night. Hatnohathat - Jeff Henderson, Paul Dyne, and Rick Cranson - made it an evening to remember. Jeff doesn't get down here all too often, so this was a gig I didn't want to miss.

Free interpretations of standards/jazz tunes was the modus operandi. "Bye Ya", "You Don't Know What Love Is", "Impressions", "Blues Connotation", "Friday the 13th", "Holy Family" (Ayler) and "Red Car" (David Murray) were the ones I noted down. I think they opened with a tune of Jeff's. Often the pieces were link by, or emerged from collective free improvisations. At times it was full throttle stuff - Rick being an excellent choice - from the first beat you knew he wasn't messing around. P.D was particularly fleet fingered on this evening. "Relaxed intensity" is what I scribbled in the notebook. Perched on his stood, eyes closed, fingers flying.

Probably my favourite pieces of the evening were "You Don't Know What Love Is" (with Jeff on baritone) and "Blues Connotation". The former being a well placed ballad and the latter serving a reminder that, as much as I enjoy him on baritone and soprano (he has a fantastic soprano tone), Jeff is an alto player through and through. His alto playing has that bubbly, buoyant thing going on, and a singing tone. It swings too. As swinging as any alto player I'm aware of in New Zealand. This side of his playing doesn't always reveal itself, but when it does, it's a real treat. Maybe at times on "Blues" his phrasing reminded me a bit of Ornette, but melodically it was quite different.

Wellington Jazz Cooperative

At first it seemed like it was going to be a small turn (I was suspecting a case of jazz festival fatigue), but it there was a late turn out and in the end a pretty decent crowd fronted. Hopefully some of the university students were there (I've lost touch with who's at school these days) as it would have provided them with a different perspective on how to approach these tunes.

The only thing I'll mark it down for was the live sound. Seems to be a common theme of late (I'm getting fussy in my old age). Things seemed to settle down by the second set, but the first set was way over-amplified (and loud). Paul's bass tone suffered the most - especially when the dynamic level did drop. I'm not sure why they even used the PA. In that size room Rick and Jeff aren't going to have problems being heard! And it's not like they are battling a noisy room (like at Rogue and Vagabond). Anyway, I won't harp on. I'll survive. It will be interesting to see where the Wellington Jazz Cooperative finds a home in the new year.

New Zealand Jazz

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Jazz | Pint | Transitioning Alpha Theta

North End Brewery
A quiet Sunday evening at home called for a beer and some listening. The album that has lulled me off to sleep the last couple of nights is Hayden Chisholm's Transitioning Alpha Theta from his box set Cusp of Oblivion. If you hadn't picked up on it, I'm definitely a fan of Hayden's work, and I particularly enjoy his saxophone ensemble recordings. Whereas Kaum Quartet and Auto Poetica feature four and eight alto players respectively, Transitioning Alpha Theta, features Hayden alone, multi-tracked.

Nothing is abrupt. Dynamics are at the quieter end with subtle variations as particular notes are emphasized and the sounds ease in and out with breath. Ebb and flow. Sublime saxophone playing. The Breath. Space. A sense of calm prevails. After 42 minutes the piece ends but feels like it could just keep going. Infinity. 

The breath. Calm. Space. Areas that warrant further exploration in my own work and a record such as this (and others from Hayden), are a handy resource.... and an enjoyable listening experience. This past week or so I've been consciously trying to slow down while practicing. Leaving more space etc. Putting the horn down helps - you can't play if it's not in your hands.

One of my regrets is not getting back to Greece for another of his workshops. Maybe in the future it will happen. For now, I can relax, listen, get lost in the sound, and slow down.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Some thoughts on the 2020 Wellington Jazz Festival

Wellington Jazz Festival

COVID-19 prevent the festival from proceeding as usual but the silver lining was that homegrown artists featured throughout. In addition, the festival commissioned works by four local artists and featured them as the headline acts.

Some might remember back when the Wellington Jazz Collective was directing the festival, they would commission a work to open proceedings. It's a great idea and moving forward, this should be part of the festival each year - a commissioned work by an New Zealand artist in a headline slot.

Here are some scribbles from the note book.
Wednesday 18 November

The Noveltones at St Peter’s Church

Since my return home, I’ve tried to catch The Noveltones whenever I could. I may not have got to them all, but enough to be pretty familiar with the group and the tunes. When I heard that Blair had been commissioned to write a piece for the festival and he was going to use The Noveltones to execute it – I added it to the calendar immediately. The quartet – Jasmine Lovell-Smith (soprano sax) Blair Latham (bass clarinet) Tristan Carter (violin) Tom Callwood (bass) – sounded great in the church.

The commissioned work was “Karla and the Divide” and for it Blair expanded the quartet to include Dan Beban (live electronics) and Andy (video art). The video definitely added to the vibe and ambience of the night, and I was particularly keen to hear how Beban slotted into proceedings. I was a little concerned how the added amplification would play out in St Peter’s, but I needn’t have, as the group sound with the electronics was great. Dan contribution to “Karla and the Divide” really set it apart from the rest of the set – adding subtle manipulations and gradually increasing them before eventually taking over responsibility for the ensemble sound altogether. Yet it was so well integrated, that somehow he managed to maintain the band’s sound – we were always listening to The Noveltones – not The Noveltones plus live electronics. Wonderful and a brilliant concert to kick off the festival.

Wellington Jazz Festival
Devil’s Gate Outfit at Meow

AnthonyDonaldson (drums) Tom Callwood (bass) Dan Beban (guitar) Cory Champion (vibes/percussion) Steve Roche (trumpet/Electronics) David Donaldson (various stringed and percussive stuff) Blair Latham (saxes/b clarinet). This ensemble had a residency at Meow following the lockdown but I never managed to get along. And although it was going to make for a very long day, I didn’t want to miss out. The residency had paid off as the group was sound very together (and the lack of sheet music was refreshing). Blair, straight off the back of the Noveltones gig (Tom and Dan too) was in fine form – he even busted out the alto, in addition to his usual tenor and bass clarinet. I really didn’t have too much of an idea of what I was going to hear, and following what I’d heard early in the evening, I easily could have been disappointed. I wasn’t. It was fun gig with great energy and just the right amount of zaniness.

Thursday 19 November

Kevin Field at St Peter’s Church

When it was announced that St Peter’s on Willis Street was going to be the venue for the Wellington Jazz Festival, I was suspicious of its suitability as a venue for jazz. And on Thursday night those suspicions unfourtunately became reality. Usually, I try to stay pretty positive on the blog but here’s bit of a rant.

I’m not a huge fan of this type of jazz (slick mainstream contemporary is I guess could be the pigeon hole), but I was keen to check out what Kevin had to offer – and he had assembled an interesting line up: Kevin Field (piano/Rhodes), Nathan Haines (tenor/soprano/flute) Keith Price (guitar) Lewis McCallum (bass clarinet) Cameron McArthur (bass) and Stephen Thomas (drums).

Good live sound would have gone a long way to get me on board. But sadly, it was a mess - bottom end boom and lack of clarity, combined with a bright and thin top end (guitar in particular suffered on this front... my first chance to hear.... and it didn’t leave a positive impression). The soprano sax and flute of Nathan Haines fared pretty well in the mix and it was nice to hear him live again. The bass was less fortunate – a muddy mess. Early on, Kevin’s piano was lost in the wash to the point where someone asked me if the piano was even going through the PA (it got better as the concert progressed). The woodiness of the bass clarinet had pretty much been stripped (but who knows, maybe that’s not part of Lewis’ sound). The drums were a total mess and Stephen Thomas’s super-busy playing style really didn’t help the cause at all. The bass drum sounded like a neighbour pounding on the wall to get you to stop practicing (you ignore them, and the pounding continues.... and continues). In general the band sounded over amplified. Maybe on the bandstand things sounded okay (I’d be keen to know) but out front it sucked (I was sitting one seat behind where I was the previous night - good seats). At lower volumes things were okay I guess, but those moments were few and far between.

For me, it was a distraction from the music, and any chance of subtly was lost. It’s a room issue really (Church acoustics 1 – Jazz band 0), and I felt for whoever was handling sound, they had an up hill battle and probably would have been better off turning the PA off and letting the band sort it out for themselves!

At the end I turned to me old mate JJ and said, “Well... that dead horse is well and truly flogged.” In some ways I feel I shouldn’t complain, as we’re the lucky few who can attend live music, but this was a disappointing evening. For the people I was with, this was there introduction to Kevin’s music, and they left pretty deflated. Hopefully it won’t turn them off his music. I briefly entertained the thought of catching a late night set somewhere... but didn’t. I talked to someone else the following day, and they made no mention of any live sound deficiencies and were quite full of praise – mentioning Field, Haines and McArthur’s in particular.

To be fair to Kevin Field, he received the commission before the venue was announced. Whereas The Noveltones suited in that acoustic space, Kevin Field’s group didn’t. And it left me wondering how Riki Gooch’s group would sound the following night.

Also, the crowd was a noticeably different demographic than Wednesday – an older crowd for sure and a lot less familiar faces.

Friday 20 November

Riki Gooch at St Peter’s Church
Wellington Jazz Festival

I couldn’t get along to Riki’s Arthur Street Loft Orchestra gig, so I made a point of committing to this one early on. It was fantastic to have a sell out for something pretty adventurous and far from mainstream (Riki is a known entity beyond jazz so that probably helped). His piece “Ngā Tuone” was a conduction for a 12 piece ensemble.

The programme notes put a smile on my face and hinted at things to come it terms of mood. “We have no music notation, scores, charts or predetermined musical ideas as such. But, before you start thinking ‘did I just blow 39 bucks and my Friday night out on this s**t, I have taught the players a series of hand gestures and signs that symbolise music notation”... Gold. So there was an aspect of fun involved, even some audience participation (cued rustling of the programme... it actually worked too). Riki has a great stage presence, and his conduction gestures took on a dance-like quality at times (or maybe a martial arts vibe) that made for a nice visual element. At times the gestures were subtle (a quick cue to a particular musician), other times they flowed (full body movements directing shifts in dynamics). And then there were the table tennis balls... bounced, tossed, and flung high into the air. The visual element was certainly entertaining but, importantly, it did serve the music.

There was plenty of variety – dynamics, density, textures, time etc – that kept things engaging and moving along. In fact, I couldn’t believe how quickly time passed. For me, that means things worked. Riki’s choice of musicians was one of the keys to the success – flexible, imaginative, open. I had high hopes for this concert and I didn’t leave disappointed. Quite the opposite.

Wellington Jazz FestivalFollowing that, I didn’t feel like listening to another gig that night. Meanwhile the weather had turned to crap, if I had my horn with me I would found a dry spot and had a toot. Instead, I mellowed out at home.

Saturday 21 November

I gave the headline series a miss on Saturday. The downside of festivals is you can’t get to everything. I heard very good things about Anita Schwabe’s Sextet (and it sounds like they sorted out the sound issues). I haven’t heard how the Avantdale Bowling Club gig was yet. But I did manage to get to a few things.

Tom Botting at Third Eye

Started off the day with some solo bass. Tom was talking about and demonstrating various techniques on bass (multiphonics/harmonics etc etc). It was really interesting, and nice to hear someone using ‘extended’ techniques to play “pretty” music (although a little grit wouldn’t have hurt!). The only thing I found disappointing was he only played some prepared etudes he developed as a means of learning the various techniques, and I would have liked to hear him improvise with them.

Royal New Zealand Air Force Jazz Orchestra at Te Papa Wellington Jazz Festival

I got along to the second of two sets they played. And while it was nice to hear Duke Ellington’s “Black, Brown and Beige”, I always get a weird feeling listening to a military band playing jazz. I just doesn’t sit well with me. But the band sounded pretty good and there was a really decent crowd there. Quote of the day went to some random teenager I overheard saying, “I liked that. It was really jazzy.”

Wellington Jazz FestivalHot Ostrich at The Library

Ed Zuccollo (keys/synth) Blair Latham (tenor sax) Peter Elliott (drums) These guys play here on a pretty regular basis but I haven’t managed to get a long until this earlier than usual set. The bar was packed and I wasn’t really in the mood for that Saturday evening, packed bar, cocktails thing. But I hung out and had a listen nevertheless. Definitely a group I want to hear again, maybe when the scene is a little more low key.

GRG67 at Third Eye

Roger Manins (tenor) Michael Howell (guitar) Mostyn Cole (electric bass) Tristan Deck (drums). I came knowing what to expect and didn’t leave disappointed. If you’re looking for some contemporary tenor saxophone shreddin’ in New Zealand, nobody does it better than Roger Manins (but he’s much more than just a shredder). I got along to the first set and they were sounding on form playing tunes from their latest recording, Happy Place. It’s pretty rare that I enjoy electric bass, but Mostyn really takes care of things in this group. Really solid gig, but the crowd was on the small side – no more than 30. I was expected more, but that can be the downside of festivals with clashing timeslots. I wonder what the turn out was for the second set?

Wellington Jazz FestivalI was planning to go to Clear Path Ensemble but due to sleeping like crap from the last few night and my allergies kicking during the afternoon, I got down to the Meow and then decided to bail.

Sunday 22 November

Jazz Kōrero at Rogue and Vagabond

This year the topic for the discussion was “Jazz and Accessibility”. I felt it was pretty flat and just couldn’t really get into it. I’ll leave it there.

HSK III at Southern Cross

I only stopped in here for about 20 mins as I made my way to Jasmine’s gig. I wouldn’t mind hearing this trio again - Hikurangi Schaverien-Kaa (drums) Callum Allardice (guitar) Tom Botting (bass). This gig definitely had a chilled out Sunday afternoon feel about it, and while they sounded good, I’d like to hear them in a more high energy setting. But I was probably hoping to hear Tom employ (deploy?) some of the techniques he demonstrated on Saturday. It didn’t happen while I was there, but I dug his bass lines.

Jasmine Lovell-Smith Quartet at Whistling Sisters

During the festival, Whistling Sisters presented the series Wellington Women of Jazz. Whenever possible, I try to get out to hear my friend Jasmine – gotta support a fellow soprano player! Plus I was curious to see how this space worked for jazz. I was pleasantly surprised – the balance was really good (the band deserves plenty of credit). As with last time I heard Jasmine, Emma Hattaway was on bass. She’s a really good fit for Jasmine’s musics. Ayrton Foote was on keys (the downside of a lack of pianos in venues... maybe the festival could sponsor getting pianos into venues?), I’ve heard him a couple of times recently and want to hear a bit more. Jasmine’s music seemed new to him, but he handled it okay. I hadn’t heard James Feekes before and he demonstrated tasteful restraint that was very venue appropriate (wisely, he didn’t push the volume levels). Very nice to hear Jasmine un-mic’ed and the room brought out the singing quality in her tone.

Wellington Jazz FestivalNow! at the Third Eye

An afternoon of pretty chilled out melodic jazz gave way to an evening of free jazz (there may have been some composition involved). Now! Was under the leadership of Eamon Edmundson-Wells (bass).... well, I think it was. Alongside him were J Y Lee (alto sax/synth) Callum Passells (alto sax/ b. clar/synth) Crystal Choi (piano) and Steve Cournane (drums). I was keen to check out this group as – outside of some videos from John Fenton documenting of the Auckland scene - I wasn’t all that familiar with any of them (Steve Courname being the exception, I don’t think I’d head any of the others live). It was an interesting set, very enjoyable and not like anything else I heard at the festival. Time flew by and that’s always a good sign. The improvisation fluctuated between some pretty full on playing and more spacious, dreamy sections. During the latter (my favourite parts of the gig), Choi’s piano was the stand out, and the more stripped back Edmundson-Wells’ playing become, the stronger it sounded. It would have been nice to have had a larger crowd (I didn’t do a head count, but it wasn’t packed), but I’m glad this group made the effort to come down from Auckland.

A few final thoughts.

The headline concerts provided plenty of variety (they were recorded by RNZ so keep an ear out for them)

Moving forward: keep commissioning local artists. Give them headline spots AND time to rehearse. It will really help develop the scene. Drop the church (unless the music suits that acoustic environment). I get that the festival was thrown into chaos with the pandemic and there were probably limited options, but the headline venue needs to be acoustically suitable.

Low points: live sound at Kevin Field and the usual festival time clashes.

High points (lets end on a high): The Noveltones and Riki Gooch. Not having to rely on 'big' name internationals to fill venues or give the festival credibility.

And remember..... there's jazz happening all year round - not just during the jazz festival - get out and support it! ...cue Fred Dagg.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

John Rae trio at Wellington Jazz Club

Wellington Jazz Club
It's (very) rare that I get along to a Wellington Jazz Club gig, now that I'm in the city I might get to more, but often the programing just  doesn't run with my taste. This past Sunday was an exception so I popped down to Meow to check out the John Rae trio - John Rae (drums) Lucien Johnson (tenor/soprano sax) and Patrick Bleakley (bass). A pretty decent crowd turned out - probably about 50 - and I had the impression that the vast majority were club members.

There was a great mix of tunes across the two sets from Scott Joplin through to Steve Lacy plus a couple of originals - Lucien's "Les Oiseaux d'Amour" (from The Troubles first album) and John's "Eastern Promises" (part of The Troubles current repertoire). And even with all that variety the two sets had plenty of continuity. Perhaps my favourites were the ballads "Chelsea Bridge" and "My Ship" - for whatever reason they seemed to hit the spot on a Sunday evening. It was nice hearing "Eastern Promises" outside of the larger set up of The Troubles, Lucien's tone on soprano is crisp and focused (and he's pretty fleet-fingered on it too). John was his usual high energy self and Patrick underpinned everything with some very nice lines. Rae and Bleakley are a fine rhythm section pairing. They've been playing together for over a decade (since the formation of The Troubles) and it comes through in their playing. And it was nice too hear them in a trio setting, which I can't recall having heard before. If I did it was a long time ago and hopefully it won't be so long until the next time.

new zealand jazz

Thursday, November 12, 2020

The return of Swagman

Last Friday night it was off to Raumati Social Club for the first gig by Swagman for quite a while (prior to lockdown sometime). The crowd was small to start but it picked up and was pretty much a full house by the end of the first set. As usual they started out mellow - even mellow-er than usual - and then ramped it up during the second set. It wasn't the dancing/party crowd this week (perhaps everyone was electioned out?) but they were digging it nonetheless. Gabe played a lot of vibraphone during the first set - more than usual, it seemed. He fired up the alto during the second set, playing a couple of solos that were as good as I've heard from him. I always enjoy making the effort to hear Swagman whenever I can. It's a fun gig - fine musicians, sweet guys, and good vibes. There's been plenty of good vibes at gigs I've attended recently. Maybe people have worked out how lucky we are to have live music soothing our souls. Long may it continue.

Brent McFarlane drums
Usually I only catch glimpses of Brent McFarlane as he's tucked away in the corner somewhat obscured by Joe and Gabe, so this time around I made a point to grab a shot of the Swagman engine room.

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Arthur Street Loft Orchestra - Rosie Langabeer & Zirkus

After a 13 year hiatus, last Monday the Third Eye was the scene of the revival of the Rosie Langabeer's large ensemble, Zirkus. It was part of the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra series, which continues providing plenty of variety for those interested in hearing original large ensemble music (although they may be looking for a new home in 2021). The group included some of the original members plus some new faces (19 musicians in total). And with people in from out-of-town to play and listen along with fond memories of the group "back in the day", there was a great vibe in the room even before things got started. Those good vibes are something I have always associated with Zirkus. That, and a little but of quirkiness/zaniness. I'm pretty certain most (all?) of the tunes came from the Sirius Music recording and hopefully more gigs might expand on that repertoire. At times the band teeters on the brink of chaos - just long enough to keep things interesting - and I was impressed by how well they navigated it considering that lack of rehearsal time leading into ASLO gigs (try getting the same 19 musician's in the same room at the same time on more than one occasion). I think of it more of a collective effort than as a band for soloists, although there were some nice solo contributions - Blair Latham (tenor sax) Mike Taylor (trumpet) and Nick Van Dijk (tuba) come to mind. Fun is the glue, it kept things moving and engaged the audience, but not at the expense of the music. Instead it is an integral part of the music. It was a really enjoyable evening, and hopefully we don't have to wait another 13 years to hear Zirkus fire up again.

New Zealand Jazz
none of the pics I took that night really captured the mood

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Jasmine Lovell-Smith Quartet at Third Eye

Last Thursday, it was off to the Third Eye for the Wellington Jazz Cooperative gig featuring the Jasmine Lovell-Smith Quartet - Jasmine (soprano sax), Daniel Hayles (piano), Emma Hattaway (bass), and Hikurangi Schaverien-Kaa (drums). This was the first outing of this line-up. I'd heard Hikurangi a few times with Jasmine and he is well-suited to her music - a sensitive and creative accompanist who isn't afraid to interject and kick things along as needed. I hadn't heard Emma before, and she slotted in nicely. At times her tone was a bit lost in the mix but it got better as the gig went along. Her melodic conception works well with Jasmine's compositions. I was most curious to hear how Dan fit into the group as I thought it was bit of an odd choice. It seemed to take him a while to settle, and for me there was a marked difference between his playing in the second set as he found his groove in the music. Overall they created a nice band sound that filled the room without being loud. There was nice mix of material from Jasmine's output - older pieces, new pieces, and adaptations of larger works - and her melodic, lyrical vibe hit the spot for someone who's brain needed to relax.

Wellington Jazz Cooperative

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Little Symphony Sax Trio + Blair and Anton at Rogue

New Zealand Jazz
Still playing catch up with the blog. Here's a couple of shots from gigs back on the 23 and 25th of October. First up was the Little Symphony Sax Trio (l-r: Blair Latham, Jake Baxendale and Oscar Laven) at Photspace Gallery. I heard The Noveltones there earlier in the year (or was it longer ago than that?) and it's a nice venue for this type of thing. The quartet was minus one (Anton Wutts) but that didn't stop them as they played through a recently written suite - 6 short pieces based on colours (Purple, Green, White, Red, Black and Pink) and some other older and newer material.

New Zealand Jazz
 When Anton made it to town on the Sunday, he was at the Rogue & Vagabond along with Blair, Paul Mouncy (electric bass) and Peter Elliot (d). The group had a fun name but I forget what it was now.... (that'll teach me for not taking my notebook). It was great hearing Anton and Blair join forces again - the pairing goes back over 20 years and the spark remains.

New Zealand Jazz
Anton stuck mostly to alto sax (and some synth too), with the tenor only a making an appearance towards the end of the evening. In addition to the usual tenor sax and bass clarinet, Blair also busted out the guitar too (a rare doubling combo). It was a fun gig, high energy and a little quirky - not unexpected with these guys.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Arthur Street Loft Orchestra - Elliot Vaughan and Tristan Carter

Arthur Street Loft OrchestraAfter many moons away, I’ve moved back to Wellington. The last time I lived here was 2009, in some ways things haven’t changed much... in some ways. It would be nice to document some of the gigs I attend to try and kick start getting back to a somewhat semi regular blog schedule. It has been taking of a sideline to the radio show (which hasn’t had much of a mention here... I need to work on that). It’s not the first gig attended since the move (a couple of weeks ago), just the first I’ve written about. In fact, following my first day at the new job, the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra (ASLO) was just the ticket.

This week the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra featured works by Elliot Vaughan and Tristan Carter. Having heard Tristan with The Troubles and The Noveltones, I was keen to hear what he came up with for a large ensemble. I hadn't heard any of Elliot's music before. This time around the ensemble was a ten-piece - 2x violin, 2x bass, viola/voice, cello, drums, bass clarinet, trombone and baritone sax. I wasn’t too keen on the music playing as everyone was milling about... not hitting the mood of what was to come. It would have bugged me if I was about to play. But the opening blast put an end to that! And it was a very enjoyable night of music with a bit of, if not everything, then plenty - raucousness, shuffle, swing, abstraction, fun, even some more tender moments. At times there was bit of a 'The Troubles' vibe, not surprising as 6 or 7 of this incarnation of ASLO are regulars with John Rae's group. A couple of things popped out when I looked at my (very messy) notes the next day. The first piece, "Surreal Multiverse", paired sections of the ensemble - horns/strings, strings/rhythm, and rhythm/horns - for a long time before the entire unit played together. Subtle yet very effective as I waited for the full group sound to be revealed. The penultimate piece was a three-part suite. The last movement wound down the evening beautifully and harnessed cellphones in an unexpectedly enjoyable way. For me, that could have been it for the night, but they played one more piece. It made for a much more energetic end to the night. The only thing wrong with the piece was its placement in the programme.... I minor complaint. It sounds like there are a couple of interesting shows coming up, so I'll try and keep up a bit of blog momentum.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Arthur Street Loft Orchestra: Daniel Beban

It’s always bit of a rush to get into Wellington straight from work but I made it nevertheless. I was keen to get along this week as a Daniel Beban led large ensemble is hard to resist, plus I missed him last time I was part of the ASLO series. This was the first time I’ve managed to get along to season 10(?). Also, it was first gig I have attended during level two restrictions. Social distancing was in place (as best it could be) and ticket sales were limited to 40 in order to help facilitate this. It was nice to see a decent crowd in – I guess it was sold out.

The evening started with Beban’s composition for two tubas and percussion. Joe Lindsay and Dan Yeabsley were droning on the tubas and Cory Anderson and Daniel Beban filled bowls, placed inside the tuba bells, with various bits and pieces to rattle around (balls, beads, chain, tambourines etc). The constant drone with the ever-changing shimmer and rattling made for a nice way to relax following the drive into the city. The piece ended somewhat abruptly, to applause and laughter, as Dan ran out of steam and the tuba won.
The main event was “Daily Deaths” - sonic interpretations of COVID--19 daily death counts from eight countries (I recall Italy and Afghanistan getting a mention, and saw Brazil was on the conductors music stand). The 16-piece ensemble comprised of pairs of Trumpet, Trombone, Tuba, Alto Sax, Bass Clarinet, Flute, Violin, and Bass. And each pair was assigned a country to play. It might seem a pretty opportunistic approach to music making (much like all those streaming playlists that take advantage of words like COVID or isolation). But, unlike those playlists, the results were worthwhile. Early on, breathe sounds were prominent and the droning vibe continued. At times there was a disorientating feeling as I couldn’t always tell what instruments were producing what sounds. Beban was conducting the work, and while the hands signals meant nothing to me (and sometimes I didn’t notice a marked difference when he signalled something), when he took control of the dynamics the piece took on some welcome variety. Up until then, dynamic shifts had been less abrupt, but this section had various parts of the of the ensemble swelling and falling bring a completely different energy to the piece. Jake Baxendale used the term “beautifully tragic” to describe the music - he was on point.
Once again, solid programming from the Jake - this season has had plenty of variety, and hopefully I can get to more. 

New Zealand Jazz

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Times Flies with Jazz Escapism

Where does the time go? Sometimes (most times, actually), the weekend just flies by. Today, that was the case. Jazz just let the time drift by with its usual effortlessness as I listened to potential tracks for the radio shows. Some recent releases (2019/2020) from tenor players - Jimmy Heath, Eric Alexander, Houston Person, Jerry Bergonzi, James Carter, a couple from Joshua Redman. Bit of a mixed bag really. Part of me really doesn't want to showcase a bunch of music I'm not really into. Not that all my programmes only feature music I dig.... but an entire (or majority) show of stuff that doesn't hit the spot for me might be pushing it. We'll see. I'm not afraid of spending some time with things that aren't my cuppa tea. At the urging of a friend, I spent a bit of time listening to Joey Alexander. His latest release, Warna, got a spin but I found my concentration fading in and out. Hype and media buzz often puts me off listening to artists/albums. And Alexander fits into the that category for me. I've always found that the music that sticks with me is stuff I "discover" for myself. But I'm willing to hang in there and give him some more time. Then there was a bunch of Miles Davis live recordings from 1960-64. Thought it could be good to put something together from the final Miles/Coltrane tour through to Wayne Shorter joining the group. Some of these are pretty familiar to me (Four & More/My Funny Valentine, the Plugged Nickel recordings), but it was nice to revisit the Blackhawk recordings which I hadn't heard in years (probably since music school) and the 1960 Tour "Bootleg" box set is new to me. I definitely want to spent a bit more time with the latter. It's the final tour Coltrane made with Miles, and you can hear he's ready (overdue?) to go his own way. From the little I heard today, Miles seems a little up and down (first impression) and the rhythm section sounded on form throughout. The fidelity of these sides are nice too... not essential, but an added bonus for sure. But as much as I enjoyed hanging with the jazz today, I still didn't manage to finish off the next two radio shows... and that was the plan.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Music for Commuting: A Bunch of Broadhurst

For the last couple of weeks the I've shared the ride to work with a handful of Phil Broadhurst albums. It's nice hearing the same (almost) personnel across the four albums. Roger Manins (ts) and Olivier Holland (b) are there all the way and following Delayed Reaction, drummer Alain Koetsier is replaced by Cameron Sangster. When not listening at 100% it's interesting to hear what pops out and sticks with you... and that forms the basis of this post.

Delayed Reaction might be the odd one out (solo disc aside) or at least the one I haven't dug as much. It splits Broadhurst's tunes with those of Michel Petrucciani (whereas the other albums feature Broadhurst compositions). There's a latin-type thing and general cleanliness (?) running through the album that I'm not much of a fan of, but Roger brings plenty of energy that gets things moving (although sometimes it almost feels out of place).
New Zealand Jazz

Flaubert's Dance has quite a warm, mellow vibe. Usually I listened to these albums on the way to work but this one hit the spot when I wanted to mellow out at the end of the day during the ride home (rather than caffeine music to kick off the day). Roger's tone has some added smoothness to it here which works nicely. The trumpet of Mike Booth eases into the group on three tracks (he made a single appearance on Delayed Reaction) and here, and on the albums that follow, his melodic approach compliments the busier Manins.

Of the five albums Panacea was the only one with which I was familiar. Roger is on form throughout and it’s no fluke that his discography has grown rapidly over the last 10 years or so (yet surprisingly, I don’t have a lot of his work as a leader yet). He is the go-to player if you’re looking for some contemporary tenor in this part of the world. He’s not all rip, shit or bust though – the opening of “Inverted” is one example of his lyrical side. Another thing that really pops out on “Inverted” is the pedal steel of Neil Watson. And it’s a nice touch (and an ear grabber) that he emerges about half way through the track (Watson also makes an appearance on “Knee Lever”). And then there's "Japanese Shadows", the sole trio track. Once again, it breaks things up nicely.

Positif opens up with some great energy (perhaps a flow-on from having an audience present) and the album really grew on me with each listen. You can hear the development over the span of the recordings and with the latter two, the quintet comes together and sounds like a really solid group. The horns and piano only on "Sorrento Sunset" was nice way to break things up.

Solo jazz records are not a common thing on the New Zealand jazz scene, so I was keen to hear the new release, Soliloquy. I recognized "Sambal" immediately, although I hadn't listened to Sustenance's Food for Thought in a long time - it's funny how some things stick in your brain. And another track that popped out was "You Stepped Out of a Dream", as it's the only standard across the discs. With a few exceptions, I tend to prefer hearing Kiwi's playing original material as it's pretty rare that I'm really taken by standards. And why so few solo records?

Each of these albums are worth more attention than I have afforded them, and no doubt I will return to them again. If I had to recommend any, I'd go with Panacea or Positif for the ensemble records and Soliloquy if you're after something a little more introspective.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Live music is back - Lucien Johnson Quartet

New Zealand Jazz
Well, we're pretty lucky here in New Zealand - live music is back. And when I heard Lucien Johnson had a couple of gigs scheduled with the stellar band of Jonathan Crayford (p), Tom Callwood (b) and Cory  Champion (d), it was a no-brainer to get along. Lucien has been in the studio working on a new album (with vibes and harp in place of piano) and it was those tunes that were featured at both concerts. There was no time for a break on Friday as it was straight from work and into Meow....I'm surprised I made it in on time. There was definitely a sense of anticipation and excitement in the room and the band didn't let them down. Many of the pieces had an atmospheric quality to them, but it wasn't all wishy-washy (not a term I associate with Lucien) with plenty of variety to keep things moving along. One particularly memorable moment was the bass and piano re-entry following the drum solo on "Jungle Rendezvous" was magic and you wouldn't pick it was their first gig playing this material. Tight. Butch Morris' "Spooning" and David Murray's "Morning Song" wrapped up the evening - a welcome return to live music.

Unsurprisingly, things were more a little more formal at the Whanganui Opera House on Saturday night. The concert was produced by Chamber Music Wanganui, and they pulled in a pretty decent crowd (I couldn't tell if there people on the upper deck) - great to see them supporting jazz. It was my first time at the opera house, and I was keen to check it out as a venue for jazz.  It was fantastic to hear the quartet playing without amplification (bass aside. In that room, bass and drums could be problematic, but overall the sound was nice without a lot more room for subtleties that can be lost in amplified and noisier setting. Sometimes the front of the bass was lost a little, but Cory did a great job balancing the drum levels. It was a chilly evening in Whanganui, but I don't think that was responsible for the shiver I got when Cory entered with double time against Tom's ostinato on one of the pieces (I forget the name of it, but its a nice tune). He seems to be getting better each time I hear him. It was great hearing Lucien's tone in that room, especially on soprano (which is tricky to mic up). I can't remember the last time I caught Jonathan Crayford live, and it was a treat hearing him on the concert grand in that acoustic space - his solo intro on "West of The Sun" was a highlight. Jonathan mentioned he really dug the room and is keen to return, and I would recommend others to investigate playing there. 

I couldn't have asked for a better return to live jazz with two very enjoyable evenings of music, and it made a nice change to have some company for the Whanganui leg. I'm looking forward to hearing the album.

New Zealand Jazz

Monday, June 29, 2020

Not a bad day off

Connie Crothers

A nice, chilled-out Monday got the week rolling along. Working on a couple of radio shows - solo drums is up next and following that, the music of Connie Crothers will be featured and I will definitely be including something of each of the albums here. But Solo serves as a reminder that I need to sort out my lack of turntable situation (but I managed to transfer it before the old turntable bit the dust... the other LPs missed out). I didn't spend as much time on the horn as I would have liked (and it was bugging me a little today), but the fish korma turned out well for a first crack. I'm hoping to get out to a couple of gigs later in the week, I can't remember the last one I got to. If I make it to them, I'll try and get a post up. But for now, it's time for a cuppa tea (that I let brew a little long).

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Between Waking and Sleeping: Lacy and Waldron - Hot House

Steve Lacy Hot House
Lacy and Waldron make a great pairing and with this album I've been revisiting an old favourite of mine - drifting off to sleep accompanied by some soothing sounds. I was something I did for a long time and then it faded and stopped. That's life, I guess. But now it's back and it's hitting the spot. The 1990 duo recording, Hot House, is one of my most recent additions to the Steve Lacy collection. It's a nice mix of tunes by the likes of Herbie Nichols, Monk, Bud Powell, Duke (the usual suspects) and a few pieces from Lacy and Waldron (including each having a solo feature). It hasn't quite hit me like their other duo works Sempre Amore or, especially, Live at Dreher (maybe that will be next for the lullaby listenings), but I'm still digging it. But lets face it... I'm probably going to enjoy the vast majority of Lacy's output. Some favourites from Hot House so far include "Snake Out" and "Retreat" (Lacy solo). Anyway, it's been keeping me company most nights for the last week or two (I need to give it some time in the waking hours too). Some nights I only last a tune or two and then I'm down for the count. Who knows if it does anything (neither Steve nor Mal have appeared in any dreams that I can recall), but it's better than just lying here and staring at the ceiling (waiting for a sleepy feeling).

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Thoughts from lockdown etc (aka The torture never stops)

Okay, the title is a bit heavy, Zappa’s Zoot Allures popped up on my YouTube feed the other night and I couldn’t resist adding that little ditty to the title. A little black humour to lift my mood. But I guess it could be torture for someone reading these disjointed ramblings I scribbled down during the lockdown period.

In many ways lockdown hasn’t been that much of a change for me since returning home (and the few months leading up to my return to NZ). At times it’s a lonely existence. The last couple of years has been a blur as the dust settles. Living in the countryside and having a social life don’t always sync up. It takes more effort than I have been willing to put in at times. And clearly, it’s an effort for people to come to me (and I’m talking pre-covid here), but that’s nothing new. Probably time for a change.

There’s been plenty of time for reflection. What I like about my life. What I don’t like. What can I change? I’m lucky to be able to spend this amount of time in close quarters with the folks and not drive each other up the wall completely. I enjoy helping them around the property and would like to do more than I do. Often, I struggle getting the balance right – work/horn/social activities/helping the folks etc. That’s something I need to work on.

I haven’t felt compelled to get hell bent on being super productive during lockdown. Hence me taking forever to move my computer speakers into my workspace (and then not liking the set up and moving them straight back). And I could have sorted through the remaining stuff I want to get rid sell/donate. But I haven’t yet. However, I did finally get some better lighting in my bedroom (there’s bit more of a mellow vibe now). And it wasn’t until I was back at work that I switched the room around to fit in my desk. Some new recipes were tested; flourless cake with pinto beans was interesting, needs a tweak but I’ll make it again. And a couple of older ones were resurrected - Hayden’s Fibonacci split pea soup hit the spot, and it was nice to bust out chicken liver curry again.... I left the recipe in the US and made this one up.

I was fun resurrecting the blog after a break of a few months. I’ve still got some posts I need to finish and publish (they’re well and truly overdue now). Posts will become less frequent as things kick back into gear but I’ll try and make the effort to get something up here and there.

The radio show is a lot oJazz Compositionf fun to put together (self-promotion isn’t my strong suit; hence this is the first mention of the radio show... 6 months in). Although I miss heading into the studio as it’s such a nice scene, recording programmes at home as been fun - even it can send me down a rabbit hole. Maybe the playlists will be posted here at some stage. I need to get some guests into the studio too. In these “on demand” times in which we live, radio puts the choice in someone else’s hands, and that’s refreshing. Let’s hope this lockdown period makes people realize that the “anything you want, any time you want” thing, isn’t the be all and end all. Maybe we can realize how meaningless some priorities are.

Some nice videos popped up along the way too. Arts for Art posted a great interview with Connie Crothers from 2015 and Hayden Chisholm made a presentation of some of his musical research. Another pleasant upshot of the global pandemic was Tom Bukovac’s Homeskoolin’. It’s a breath of fresh air in the world of youtube/online lessons. The only downside is that there’s no saxophone equivalent out there doing this. No frills production, high quality content, and not the same old same old (Tom’s vids did prompt me to have another browse around the online lesson scene and nothing really popped out….but I’ve got enough on my plate as it is).

Working from home has been pretty good and something I would like to do more, and I don’t miss commuting. It has been great having music on at work. It was possible at my previous job, but it’s a little tricky at the current one. Sometimes it’s a distraction, but I can see it being a useful means of subconscious absorption. More please.

I miss getting out to hear music - even if I don’t do it as much as I once did (nor as much as I could). I’m just far enough away that I don’t really feel part of the Wellington scene. Putting together a trio is on the cards. I have a small set of tunes in a working state and it’s time to play them with people. I need to make that happen once things cool down (on the lookout of for keen bass players and drummers in the coming weeks/months). That might bring me closer to feeling part the scene. And I’m looking forward to getting to a Swagman gig once things open up, it will likely be quite a party. But I think the return to the live scene under current social distancing practices will be an odd experience.

Sometimes I feel like jazz music and the saxophone is just escapism for me. And it has been that way for a while now. I want to continue to simplify my approach to the horn and music making. Keep developing the connection. Let the escapism evolve. I enjoy it. It made me think, how do you do less without slacking effort? Actually; doing less likely requires more intense focus. While I’ve been keeping my lip in, I don’t feel like I’m getting work done the way I would like. Again, it comes down to balancing life. As always, it’s a work in progress.

“There are many levels of mastery, the practice of the art is valuable all the way along” (some zen thing I heard along the way somewhere).

From Lacy’s notes of Monkisms.... “Don’t play everything (or every time); let some things go by. Some music just imagined. What you don’t play can be more important that what you do.”

Was it Jim Hall who said, “Don’t just do something, stand there!”?

“It’s easy to be enlightened in a remote cave”

Over the last few months teaching has been popping into my mind on occasions. I would need to find a teaching space in Wellington and if I can get a few people back-to-back maybe it would be viable. I’m not sure about the online thing, I spend enough time looking at a computer as it is. But face-to-face is a commitment I would make under the right circumstances.

This probably isn’t the time to make any drastic decisions and I think I’ll just chip away at a few smaller things and see how it pans out. I’m definitely due a holiday (the pandemic put a stop to trips I was planning to NYC and Europe). Not sure where I’ll go just yet. Maybe a road trip to somewhere out of the way.

Full points to all those who made through to the end.

Sunday, June 07, 2020

Time to Unwind

Okay… this post iHayden Chisholms way overdue. Like last year, I took a little time off in February to catch Hayden while he was back on tour in support of Saffron, latest release by Unwind.

To kicks things off, I headed up to New Plymouth for the opening gig of the tour. I had pre-gig pint at Shining Peaks (recommended) before walking down to the Fourth Wall Theatre. It's a nice sized venue with pretty decent sound to boot. It’s always nice to hear him in front of the hometown crowd (my third time now) as it adds a different flavour to proceedings. Although it was first gig of the tour, the trio (Julien wasn’t due to join them until Napier) hit their stride pretty quickly.
New Zealand Jazz

The night kicked off with “Going Home” and they capped the night off with a medley of “How Great Thou Are/Amazing Grace/Pokarekare Ana”. In between there was "Nearness of You", "Mendoza", "S.T.B", "Morning and Evening Calm", a Serbian song about yellow quinces, and some others from Saffron

The quartet tweaked the set list a little to appeal to the (mostly) Whanganui Jazz Club audience at Lucky Bar by including a couple of numbers from Hayden’s big band album, Ace of My Heart - “Rhythm Got Me” and “For Ever More and a Day” (based on Rhythm Changes and Shine on Harvest Moon respectively). Jaco Pastorius’ “Three Views of a Secret” was a surprise addition (they played it in Wellington too).

New Zealand JazzIn Wellington, the quartet appeared at The Third Eye for the Wellington Jazz Cooperative’s fortnightly concert series. There was a solid crowd – but it was not as packed as I was expecting. It seems like it can be hard to draw an audience in Wellington at times (and it seems to have gotten worse while I was living overseas - the creative capital?). I was expecting to see a bunch of saxophonists there - but where were they? (Maybe they had gigs!). I noted the clarity of Paul's bass tone. I have noticed a lot of players end up with heaps of boomy bottom end or a very electric/ampy sound when playing at Third Eye (maybe it's due to the extra volume of the large ensemble gigs... as the couple of examples I can think of where the bass sounded good were trio and quartet gigs). It’s nice to hear the contrast of Unwind with and without drums – Julien brings an energy and adds colours that work really well for me. And he’s an improvisor (and listener), with tunes getting treated quite differently night to night. Sometimes he can be quite busy, yet not get in the way.

Solo SaxophoneLike last year, Hayden played a solo set at St Paul’s Cathedral as part of the TGIF lunchtime concert series. Hayden’s tone in this space is something to behold. It was interesting to hear how the “Well Tempered Shurti Box” is evolving. This time around there was a bit more overtone singing than I recall him doing last year and Pokarekare Ana made an appearance too.

That evening it was off to Raumati South. The house concert is a great setting for this group – Hayden and Norm with vocalist Hannah Griffin. The vibe in the room was fantastic and the trio was on form – the dialogue between Hayden and Norm was on point and Hannah’s singing was as real as I’ve heard. It was great catching up with her after the gig. Hard to put into words really - a beautiful concert, and the highlight from the tour for me.

The following evening Hayden, Norman and Hannah were at Futuna Chapel in Wellington. It’s a great space…. They just need a decent piano! While similar repertoire was used for both evenings, there was definitely a different vibe the previous evening – more formal and more mellow too. Jazz Poetry

Some of the works feature across the two evenings were: Hinemoana Baker: “Matariki, e”, “I Forget You” (a slow version used for the encore), “Liver”, “Urupā”, “Poi Dances”. One piece Norm announced as being played at “stripper tempo” (it was less raunchy when played in the chapel). Janet Frame: “Before I Get Into Sleep With You” and another I missed the title. David Mitchell: “Aesthetics”. Bill Manhire: “Little Prayers”, “Einstein” and “The Occupation Against Time”. Hone Tuwhare: “Rain” and “Life’s Eternal River”. And probably some others I missed.

I am really keen to hear the quartet plus Hannah (maybe next year) – it sounds like the Auckland gig was a gem. John Fenton wrote a bit about it on his blog.

New Zealand Jazz

That weekend I set a personal record for church attendance... three days in a row. On Sunday Hayden was featured with the choir at St Paul’s Cathedral. Sitting through a church service isn’t really my thing…. The things you do for a bit of music!

Following the tour, the quartet went back into the studio so expect another album in the not so distance future… and I hear 2021 tour plans are underway. I’ll have to book some leave.

Friday, June 05, 2020

Music for Commuting: Some Horace Silver

Horace Silver
It seems like an age since I listened to some Horace Silver. I like revisiting things every so often, and for whatever reason prompted it, the morning ride during the first couple of weeks back commuting has been with the company of Horace Silver.

Since the passing of Lee Konitz, I’ve been listening to a few of my favourite recordings of his, and while these Horace Silver albums make for a contrast, they don’t nearly strike me the way Lee does - but Silver never really hit the spot for me.

My pick of the three is Blowin’ the Blues Away followed by the tracks on Song for My Father featuring Joe Henderson. They also happen to be the recordings I was most familiar with before this revisit. A coincidence? I’m least familiar with Six Pieces of Silver… in fact, I can’t recall listening to this album before. If I had, it left little impression. But this time around I was pretty keen to hear some Hank Mobley (like Silver, the last time I really listened to Mobley was back in the music school days - Roll Call, Soul Station, Workout and some Jazz Messengers stuff). But his playing really didn’t hit the spot. It was his time feel that was bugging me (wasn’t that why Miles ditched him?) and I couldn’t remember that grating on me before. But it was nice to have some trumpeters on that I seldom listen to – Donald Byrd, Blue Mitchell and Carmell Jones.

Maybe it’s time for a revisit of Hank Mobley (it did prompt me to briefly with check in with a couple of his albums one night and they didn't bug me like Six Pieces). Eventually I might get around to a more concentrated effort... But it’s likely to be Joe Henderson before Mobley. I’ve periodically dipped into Henderson’s discography over the years, but a more focused look would be worth it.

So, it made for an interesting 10 mornings or so in the car. It definitely made a change, but I’ve probably had my fill of Silver for now.