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

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