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.

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