Thursday, April 30, 2020

COVID-19 Level 3: Day 3

solo jazz saxophoneThe Loft were streaming live from Cologne this morning. Today’s concert was divided into three short sets. First up was the solo alto saxophone of Leonhard Huhn. I have only heard few things online here and there, and he was part of the alto saxophone ensemble for Hayden Chisholm’s album Auto Poetica. I dig his warm sound and melodic approach, even the multiphonic playing retained some of the melodicism. I like to listen to more for him (add it to the list!)

solo jazz saxophoneThe second set was Frank Gratkowski solo. It was a contrast to Huhn set. Starting off quite intense and jagged before moving onto very quiet sounds and then onto short blasts and smears (almost like someone had randomly edited someone playing lines on sax). There’s so much presence in his tone – an edge but still full-toned. Listening to Frank I always wonder how he does it - like when he mixed up playing and singing notes will maintaining the integrity of line. Towards the end of the set I thought he was doing his thing and creating an illusion that the sound was cutting out.... and then he spoke... and the mic was cutting out. The fixed the audio and he finished off with another improvisation. It was a nice contrast between the two solo approaches. Introspected then extroverted.

jazz saxophone duoThen Huhn joined Frank for a duo – the first time they have played in a duo setting. I really enjoyed the blend of two altos. Although their sounds are different they came together nicely. And their individual approaches came together nicely when combined. Frank even played a little bit of sopranino too. And I’m certain the finished on Charlie Haden’s “Silence” (I was working so attention was 100% - sorry guys!). Aside from some technical issues towards the end of Frank’s set, as with yesterday the live sound and production was great .... not sure about the blue/neon though.

Third Stream MusicIt was a day of contrasts, as after the headphones came off, Dizzy Gillespie’s Perceptions came on (by the time I set up the computer speakers I won’t be working from home any more!). I picked this up a few years ago when I was checking out some ‘third stream’ recordings. Recorded in 1961, Dizzy is the featured soloist playing six pieces by J.J. Johnson for brass orchestra and rhythm section (21 pieces plus Dizzy). I’ll have to bust out the liner notes to see if it mentions how this session came about as it’s a really interesting recording showcasing a different side of Diz . I’d be curious to read some reviews of the album from back in the day to see what was thought about it at the time. Perceptions could be the ticket if you fancy something a bit different from his ‘usual’ output.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

COVID-19 Level 3: Day 2

Loft CologneThere have been many live streamed concerts since the lockdown began, but the first I’ve tuned into was this morning’s duo concert by Frank Gratkowski (alto sax) and Simon Seidl (piano) at The Loft in Cologne. The concert was titled “Mainstream & Beyond: in memoriam Lee Konitz”, and while the tribute concert is not really my thing, I wasn’t going to pass by a chance to hear Frank playing on the Konitz and Tristano lines and standard tunes (a rarity). 

Of course the wifi decided to cut out right as they were about to start! I got back online during “Stella by Starlight” - other tunes included the likes of “Subconscious-Lee”, “Body & Soul”, “Dreams”, Albert Mangelsdorf’s “Hot Hut”, “Ice Cream Konitz”, “Prelude to a Kiss”, “Just Friends” and “Ablution”. I noticed the audience peaked around 95... 85 was about average (based on the comments it was largely a German audience). Really nicely recorded too. The Loft is streaming Frank live again tomorrow – 7am NZ time – solo and duo.
James Wylie
Last week I mentioned that I need to address my lack of James Wylie recordings, so until I do, Benjamin Schaefer’s Quiet Fire will fill the void. As the name suggests it may be a little on the quiet side, but it doesn’t lack spark. It has a certain warmth, even during some of the more abstract moments, that I find very appealing. It’s not an album that’s going to smack you over the head, and I like that. The quintet has a different weight to it - the drums have a (mostly) textural role and the presence of harp brings a lightness. If you’re looking for deep swing, look elsewhere. But I wasn’t, so I didn’t.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

COVID-19 Lockdown: what day is it?

New Zealand JazzIs it Day 34 of lockdown or day 1 at level 3?..... Either way, much remains the same for me at least. However, there was the sad news over the weekend that Phil Broadhurst lost his battle with cancer. Phil was an integral part of the New Zealand jazz scene as a pianist, composer, educator and broadcaster. Personally, I have limited knowledge of his recorded output (and I think I only heard him live once or twice), so I spent the morning listening to his 2015 recording Panacea. I was feeling a bit jaded this morning, not sure exactly why, but starting off the work day with frustrating errors, doesn’t help the mood. And it didn’t help set the tone to listen to some contemporary jazz, most of which just floated by.... in one ear out the other. I’ll hit it again later once I’ve perked up a bit.

Over the weekend I got a hankering to listen to some Dizzy Gillespie. Who knows why, but here we are. There was a time when I listened to a lot of Diz. It has been a while and most of the Diz I’ve listened to since has been with recordings of Charlie Parker. That’s where I kicked off today... Bird and Diz – not my favourite session of the pairing but somewhere to start nonetheless. It always raises the question... why Buddy Rich and not Max Roach? Anyway, I feel more Diz is on the cards – with and without Bird - and I’m looking forward to it.

Friday, April 24, 2020

COVID-19 Lockdown: Day 30

Lee KonitzThis morning I tuned into James Wylie’s podcast featuring music from Iran. I know next to nothing about Iranian music and found it a fascinating listen. I’m looking forward to catching any follow-up episodes he puts together.

Then the headphones came off and Lee Konitz came on for a couple of spins. Lee really was on form at this session recorded while he was on tour with Stan Kenton’s band in 1953. It features multiple takes of “I’ll Remember April”, “All The Things You Are” and “These Foolish Things” and a single take of “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To”. Relaxed intensity, swinging, melodic, inventive – it’s a gem of a recording (I think it has released under various names) that might not be as well known as some of his other work, but definitely worth checking out if you haven’t heard it. His phrasing and articulation really stood out today. Expect more Lee next week and Quiet Fire is on the cards too.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

COVID-19 Lockdown: Day 29

Isaac SmithBit of a change of pace today. James Wylie posted a link to his podcast on Iranian music, and while my plan was to listen to that, I ended up listening to the other music he had posted. I know some of this was from his time at New England Conservatory, which must be going back about 10 years or so, but I’m sure some of it I hadn’t heard before. Outside of Benjamin Schaefer’s Quiet Fire, my collection lacks music from James. I need to work on this!

Usually I don the headphones for computer listening in the morning and then move over onto the stereo, but I finally moved by computer speakers into my workspace as the headphones had been bugging me for a while. But I forgot, it’s wired for the U.S so that put the brakes on the plan. That means James’ Iranian music podcast will have to wait for another day. Instead I threw on Baliphonics which, incidentally, features someone who used to collaborate with James, bassist Issac Smith. It’s a fascinating recording (that I picked up courtesy of Jeff Henderson – cheers Jeff!) recorded in Sri Lanka. I know nothing about Sri Lankan music but I guess this album fuses elements of jazz with Sri Lankan music. Whatever it is, I’m enjoying it. It has developed a couple of glitches so I need to make sure I have a digital copy.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

COVID-19 Lockdown: Day 27

New Zealand Jazz This morning had me listening the self-titled, and as far as I’m aware.. only, release from Boat – Steve Cournane (drums/keys/voice), Simon Bowden (guitar) and Nils Olsen (saxes/clarinets/voice). Although I heard each of the members of the trio many times in a variety of settings, I never heard Boat live. The last time I heard this album was about 20 years ago when my friend John lent it to me. Not sure why I didn’t buy it from the guys back then, and I’ve never seen the physical disc for sale since. but thanks to Bandcamp we’re back in action. 

The album is comprised of live and studio (I’ll use that term loosely) recordings dating from 1996-1998. Only a couple of the 14 pieces clock in at over 5 minutes... which is pretty refreshing. I like the vibe and it’s still sounding pretty fresh. I’m probably digging it more now than I did back then (not that I have much memory my feelings of it back then). It’s kind of a little like C.L.Bob if half the band didn’t show up - from wild improvisations to quirky fun, it’s a 48 minute ride of eclectic mix of jazz and music that knows about jazz. Fairly recently Simon and Steve have resurrected Boat as a duo and they were booked to play at CubaDupa but alas, the pandemic put a stop to that. But hopefully they'll be back when this is all said and done. Until then, Boat will be getting a few spins.

Monday, April 20, 2020

COVID-19 Lockdown: Day 26

New Zealand JazzSolo jazz piano There was a little Sal listening over the weekend. Friday night, the duo tracks from Lee Konitz’ 1971 album Spirits had a spin and on Sunday night Jimmy Halperin’s Pslam had a run too. This morning I returned to Ruckus: Live at CJC (Creative Jazz Club Aotearoa) and my mood was such that I could focus in more that last week. I hadn’t heard any of DavidWard’s music in a long time and I really enjoyed re-connecting with it. He brings a slight quirky, fun approach to his music which went down well during the early start on Monday morning. Dave never was one for playing millions of notes, and this still seems to be the case. Not afraid of letting lines breathe is something that I’m aware of but that doesn’t mean it always happens! Nice band too – anything with John Bell (vibes) and Chris O’Connor (drums) is going to interest me. Rui Inaba (bass) was new to me and he slots in well. Nice sounding live recording too.

Following that, I wrapped up Sal Mosca’s Too Marvelous for Words with disc 5, containing the remainder of the Rotterdam concert and the Maastricht concert June 24 1981. In addition to some lines by Sal and Lennie Tristano, unsurprisingly, the repertoire across the five discs is drawn from the great American songbook (“Donna Lee” and “Hot House” get a couple of runs each too). He doesn’t really favour a particular tune “A Family Song” and “You Go To My Head” appear three times each, and plenty appear twice, but the set list stays pretty fresh concert to concert. Do I have a favourite concert? Well, I need to spent more time with the recordings and eventually one may stick with me a bit more than the others. Over the past several years I’ve moved away from playing standards. I still enjoying listening to them though and there’s no guarantee I won’t return to them at some stage. This set of discs serves as a lovely reminder of how much music can be extracted from these gems (and just how great Sal was).

Friday, April 17, 2020

COVID-19 Lockdown: Day 23

solo jazz pianoI will admit to being a little zoned-out as David Ward’s Ruckus: Live at CJC was playing this morning. End of the week tiredness or hangover from yesterdays kick in the guts? I’m not sure.... perhaps a bit of both? Anyway, it deserves more attention than I gave it, so I will return to it next week.

Along with a very welcome cup of tea, I followed up Ruckus with my daily fix of Too Marvelous For Words - Disc 4: De Doelen Hall, Rotterdam 20 June, 1981. This concert is notable as it features Sal’s own pieces more than the other concerts of the tour. In fact, the first ten pieces are Sal’s lines/compositions. It’s a treat getting to hear them back to back, and it brings a different vibe to the disc. It lifted my spirits somewhat, but it has been a long day.
Something about listening to all these pieces by Sal made me want to bust out Psalm – Jimmy Halperin’s duo album with Sal. It might get a run later tonight unless it is bumped by Sal's duo with Lee - Spirits. We'll see, but I'm sure both will get a run shortly.

Of Sal’s solo recordings (probably my favourite setting for Sal), I have listened to A Concert and Trickle the most. For You and Sal Mosca Music are off limits until I deal with my lack of a turntable situation.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

COVID-19 Lockdown: Day 22

Birth of the CoolAfter another early morning round of Steve Cournane’s Dancing Queen kicked off week 3 of the pandemic lockdown. Then it was onto disc 3 of Too Marvelous For Words – Sal Mosca at Utrecht, 21 June, 1981. How about the chord solos on “Prelude to a Kiss” and “There Will Never Be Another You”? Sal had a sense of harmony second to none. He can be quite the romantic too, perhaps more so than others associated with Lennie Tristano. On studying with Sal Mosca, Larry Bluth wrote in the liner notes “The most basic material began to take on aspects I never knew existed.” I had a similar experience during my studies with Richard Tabnik and Connie Crothers. If fact, when people asked me what I worked on in my lessons, they often gave a puzzled look when I answered.... a kind of, “is that it?” look. Yeah, that’s it.

Then came the sad news of Lee Konitz’ passing. I clearly remember hearing Lee for the first time. It was Birth of the Cool. A pivotal moment in my life. Things would be very different had I not heard that when I did. I'll leave it there for now while I listen to Birth of the Cool.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

COVID-19 Lockdown: Day 21

New Zealand Jazz
Solo Jazz PianoThe morning kicked off with Steve Cournane’s Dancing Queen. The album is comprised of three trio sessions from September 2006, with Cournane joined by Roger Manins (ts) & Tom Callwood (b), Jonathan Crayford (keys) & Patrick Bleakly (b), and Joe Callwood (g) & Tom Callwood. Plenty of variety helped the morning cruise along - reggae grooves (“Plesmograph”), standards (“Alone Together”, “Evidence”) some calypso-type tunes of Steve’s (“There Will Always Be Rain”, “Toot & Repollo”), dark ballad (“John Karaitiana”) and even some ABBA (“Dancing Queen”.... and it actually works). Looking forward to giving this more air time.

Then it was onto disc 2 of Too Marvelous for Words – Sal at Concertgebouw, Amsterdam 21 June, 1981. I like that Sal’s friends/associates write the liner notes - Dick Hyman, Jimmy Halperin, Connie Crothers, Larry Bluth and Kazzrie Jaxen take one disc each. And Don Messina’s passion for the project comes through in the introduction (great work putting this together Don – thanks!). As usual, I listen to the disc at least once before reading the notes. At lunch I read Kazzrie’s notes and the first thing she mentions is Sal’s opening line on “I Never Knew” (which opens the disc) – something that leapt out at me too (and I'm sure it would grab anyone's attention). Of course there’s the influence of Tristano and the Sal’s early influence, Art Tatum, but I also hear some of the quirky, surprising twists and turners of Earl Hines’ solo work. That said, Sal is his own man and Too Marvelous for Words is distinctly Sal Mosca.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

COVID-19 Lockdown: Day 20

Sal Mosca pianoRoot 70 kept me company as I toured their discography during the start of the lockdown. Now I’m on tour with Sal Mosca, a disc a day from Too Marvelous for Words – a 5-CD set documenting solo concerts in the Netherlands during June, 1981. This was spurred on by our listening group. Unable to meet this month due to the pandemic lockdown, we are exchanging emails. One of the topics was artists born in April. I picked Sal (27 April, 1927-28 July, 2007) and as I hadn’t listened to his work in a little while.... here we are. 

Box sets can pose a problem, as you can easily overload or skim over things. I tried to stretch it out to a disc a week when I first got hold of the set back in 2016. And I think that helps. This week is the condensed version, and as I’m working these recordings definitely won’t receive the attention they deserve but I’m enjoying having Sal in the room nonetheless. Anyway, I kicked things off with disc 1: The Hague, 19 June, 1981.

COVID-19 Lockdown: Day 16

Mike NockI’m making the most of waking up early by getting stuck into work straight away and last week I found it nice having a bit of kick musically to get me going (Root 70 fit the bill). The last few work mornings I’ve been listening to the latest offering from Mike Nock – This World - a co-led group with drummer Hamish Stuart, saxophonist Julien Wilson and bassist Jonathan Zwartz. 

While it didn’t grab me right from beat one, it is growing on me. But I think it’s when I’ve been listening to it more than anything. Moody, dark, sombre - but there’s also a warmth too....relevant to the current scene, but it’s not exactly “caffeine music” (an exception is the gospel-shuffle “Riverside”). 

It can be quite chilled out (“Home”) and at this time, that’s not a bad thing at all. But there seems to be something holding back pieces that you’d expect to ramp up. Like on “The Dirge”....I kept waiting to hear this take off with some straight up swing. But maybe it’s a hangover from listening to the energy of Root 70 lately. Wilson uses the electronics sparingly. Necessary... no, but he uses them tastefully, and on “Any Heart” they add a nice texture and colour. The opening of “We Shall Rise Again” really shows the influence Mike has had on Norman Meehan’s playing.

I feel I’m going to dig This World more once some semblance of normality returns and fancy listening something to mellow out with – sunny afternoon or late at night might be better than early morning.

Monday, April 06, 2020

COVID-19 Lockdown: Day 12

Nils Wogram Root 70
This afternoon I wrapped up the tour of Root 70’s discography with the self-titled debut album released in 2000. Plenty of youthful exuberance here. Will the lads don the drag if the 20th Anniversary Tour takes place later in the year once this shitshow is over? A couple or three quick takeaways from the discography tour. The albums are nicely recorded. Jochen and Matt are one of my favourite rhythm section pairings. The blend – in separate sections (the horns and rhythm) and together as a whole. The overall ensemble sound is one of balance. They bring some old-school sensibilities (group sound, recording techniques) into a contemporary setting. 

A keen eye would have noticed that I skipped the vinyl version of Fahvergnugen (with Wolff Parkinson White remixes and an alternate take) as I still don’t have a turntable.... maybe I’ll take it off the shelf and stare at for a bit. Meanwhile, I wait for the box to arrive and throw the "Root 70 Plays Root 70" idea out there once again.

Friday, April 03, 2020

COVID-19 Lockdown: Day 9

Lennie Tristano
Nils WogramA frustrating day of work was alleviated by some very enjoyable sounds. Kicking off the day was the new disc featuring unreleased recordings by Lennie Tristano - The Duo Sessions. It features Tristano is duo with Lenny Popkin, Connie Crothers, and Roger Mancuso. I’m a huge fan of all involved so this is going to get a lot more listening time. Due to the pandemic Dot Time Records were unable to post the physical disc but gladly sent me a digital copy.

Then I continued with my tour of the Root 70 discography with Getting Rooted. I hadn’t listened to this one for a while and was a little surprised how well I remembered it. Then I recalled just how much I used to listen to this album and I was somewhat less surprised. In turn, I started recalling the time I first heard this album - New York City, 2004 (ahh nostalgia). And realized that these two albums are linked, as NYC 2004 also happened to be when I met Connie. Time Flies. Kind of. In some respects in seems like yesterday, and then suddenly it feels like another lifetime.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

COVID-19 Lockdown: Day 8

New Zealand Jazz
Burnt FriedmanThis morning kicked off with the latest from The Melancholy Babes – The Rat of the Riot. While the music is intense, it’s not all just crash and bash... as I don’t think I could handle that so early in the morning (it’s a very “room-sounding” recording and I think that takes a little of the edge off too). I don’t have all of their recordings, but it would be worth while working through the trio’s discography at some stage.

And now for something completely different... later in the day it was Root 70’s Heaps Dub getting a spin. This album marked a departure for them, the previous outings (I can never remember if this was their 3rd or 4th release... out around the time of Fahvergnugen) featured all original compositions, but on Heaps Dub they tackle the work of Burnt Friedman. Surely then, this must be considered the first of the conceptual series that followed? Something to mellow out to.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

NZ Jazz: Dixon Nacey - The Edge of Chaos

New Zealand JazzDixon Nacey - The Edge of Chaos (Rattle)
Dixon Nacey (guitar) Roger Manins (tenor sax) Kevin Field (piano/keys) Olivier Holland (bass) Andy Keegan (drums)

Although Dixon Nacey has recorded a number of albums, from memory I’ve only heard him on Tim Hopkin’s Seven (which I wrote a bit about here).

I picked up The Edge of Chaos on the spare of the moment from Slowboat Records the last time I was in the city. I wasn’t planning on reviving the series, it just happened to be the start of the month and I threw it in the car one morning on the way to work.... and here we are. And let’s face it... the title is quite apt for the current climate (hang in there everyone, isolate, take care!).

In the liner notes, Nacey mentions the problems practicing and developing the pieces with the aid of computer playback vs the realities of working with people. I’ve started getting into composition recently, but it’s an issue I’ve avoided as I don’t compose on a computer. I can see how it could be a real danger for many though.

One of the strengths of this listening project is it has me delving into things outside of my norm – and that’s the case here as The Edge of Chaos is not really the type of music I reach for on a regular basis.
The playing is first-rate – not surprising considering the personnel involved. I don’t recall having heard Andy Keegan before this, but his playing is on point throughout. And the remainder of the band – Kevin Field, Roger Manins, and Olivier Holland – are ever-present, heavy-hitters on the jazz scene in New Zealand.

At times the density, particularly the over-excited thing, gets a little too much for me – maybe this is my edge of chaos? Higher, faster, more notes. At times it’s fine, but it is often the “go-to” option – not only on this album, but a lot of contemporary jazz recordings/performances/aesthetic suffer from it too. Or maybe it’s just me ranting and raving as a result the current lockdown situation. I’m still not sure about the chaos though.... the music is not uncontrolled or disordered – actually I feel it is quite the opposite. Something bugs me though. Maybe it’s the lack of chaos? What exactly is chaotic jazz? Is The Edge of Chaos at the edge of chaos? Cluttered maybe? Not that I’m a minimalist, but things here seem constantly busy. But the arrangements manage to contrast things too – the solo passages of melody on “Bench Wrecker”, the way they brings things down for the piano solo on “Sketchy” brings some welcome relief (though it didn’t take them long to ramp things up again). “Ballad 2” offers some respite, but I feel it could have been stripped back further (chaos via silence?). The added vocals of Jonathan Leung and Chelsea Prastiti on “Taupo” bring a nice textural change. Once the vocals enter the piece has bit of a sound-tracky vibe - not a bad thing - I hear it as some kind of dark, rainy, murder mystery thing (not that I can think of many soundtracks with bass solos). Again, I prefer it when the vocals are less busy, particularly with the piano playing lines at the same time.... that just seems to be the mood I’m in at the moment.

It’s been a lot of fun returning to the NZ Jazz series. There’s every chance I’ll be back next month with another round. Let’s see how things pan out.

COVID-19 Lockdown: Day 7

New Zealand
Last the couple of mornings have seen early starts, and this time round I had Kim Paterson’s The Duende giving me a hand (along with a cuppa oolong). And the opening track, Coltrane’s “5th House” was a great wake up call. I enjoy hearing Mike Nock and Kim Paterson together, and it made wonder why that hasn’t been a more regular occurrence. A duo album or something with a lot of percussion would be interesting....but I would happily settle for a regular ol’ quartet outing.

Later in the day it was Root 70’s Fahvergnugen to keep me company. I’m a fan of the alto saxophone/trombone front line. We hear a lot of tenor/trumpet combos but it makes a nice change.
The album title translates to something along the lines of “The pleasure of driving”, but for today I’ll pretend it’s the “pleasure of not driving” - it’s made a nice change not having to hit the road each day.