THE NORMAN MEEHAN QUINTET: THE BELLS EYE021
THE NORMAN MEEHAN QUINTET
New Zealand's Premier Piano Jazz Quartet
A debut from this Wellington-based quintet formed around pianist Norman Meehan (head of the Massey University School of Jazz in Wellington). A first for the label with piano to the fore. Featuring the C L BOB rhythm section of Tim Jaray on Double Bass and Steve Cournane drums, along with Lucien Johnson sax and flute, Nick Van Dijk trumpet and trombone. Keep an eye out for more releases from Norm in the future.
"A highly satisfying set of original, homegrown acoustic jazz. The playing is soulful, swinging and spacious and the whole thing beautifully recorded, capturing the atmosphere and frisson of a live performance." Nick Bollinger
"The future of New Zealand jazz is in good hands, on the evidence of this outstanding CD of original music. A well played collection of seductive original material with a subversive edge. A thoroughly enjoyable listen." Mike Nock
Recorded during the winter months of 2002, the sessions for this CD were relaxed and reasonably smooth affairs. Most of the tracks were recorded in a single afternoon although an extra session was required a few weeks later for the trio tune. Other than one edit (which is not easy to find - send you answers to Simon at Yellow Eye) the CD is all 'live' to ADAT and shows these musicians in a very positive light.
Most of the band left New Zealand for overseas experience not long after these sessions. Tim Jaray and Steve Cournane moved to the Caribbean to work in a trio with New Zealand pianist Pieter Bos. Lucien left for France late in 2002, where he has begun to establish himself on the Parisian jazz scene. Nick and Norman are both still in Wellington, and Norman has continued to work in the quintet format.
The group was and remains committed to original music. Occasionally a 'standard' will appear during our sets, but usually bent well out of shape. For the most part the group is a vehicle for Norman's writing but Steve, a very accomplished composer as well as a stunning musician, also contributed to the band book. Nick's tunes also feature from time to time. The group has performed (in its various incarnations) at jazz clubs, bars and Festivals in the lower North Island of New Zealand and will be touring this new CD in both islands during 2005.
The tunes represent the sum of our influences but hopefully with an emerging identity. We al listen widely but some common influences might include Edward Vesala, Tomasz Stanko, Kenny Wheeler, John Scofield and Charles Mingus.
The songs themselves and how they came about :
Most of the songs were written between 2000 and 2002, some while I was resident in Boston. Biscuithead is named for a record store on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston - they mainly sold vinyl and most of it was hip hop so they did pretty good business. The melody itself grew out of a lie I heard someone playing as a warm up in a practice room - just a few notes that caught me ear, so I played a round with them and sure enough a tune popped out.
Rattledog and Fishgirl were written shortly after our daughter was born - I guess that's why they are happy little things. Rattledog reminds me a bit of Herbie Hancock's 'Driftin' - similar chords and structure - Herbie is such a great writer I would be happy if anything I did sounded half as good as his tunes.
Good Friday is part of a longer suite that I have been writing for a few years and that uses music to capture the feelings of the various holidays in the Christian calendar. I have written Ascension Thursday, Shrove Tuesday (a religious holiday that is build around pancakes just had to be celebrated in song...) and Easter Monday - along with this one - Good Friday. The melody is (I can say with the benefit of hindsight) very like the beginning of 'Reincarnation of a lovebird' by Mingus. I didn't notice as I was writing it, but the next time I put that tack on (its on 'The Clown' on Atlantic) the resemblance was striking. I hope his estate doesn't find out..
The Bells was written for John Bell in the late '90s. Bassist Paul Dyne had told me that his New Zealand 'dream band' at the time was Roger Sellers on drums, Neil Becker on guitar and John Bell on vibes. That would make it an all rhythm section affair - I thought 'The Rhythm Method' might be a good name for it but he never put that particular group together. Anyway, thinking that Paul just might assemble such a band, I wrote this tune with John and Neil's sounds in mind. I have played it with Neil and it worked really well, but I am even happier with the version we have here. Lucien had suggested having the free section for bass and flute in the middle section, which was an inspired idea. Tim's solo in front is glorious and Steve excels himself in the feature spot for drums.
This is one of the tracks on the album recorded 'live' - we did a friday lunchtime concert at Massey University, then two sessions - one a week or two later on a Saturday and a final one a month or so later to add the trio track. Two other tracks on the disc come from that concert - Fishgirl and Biscuithead. I guess the groovy stuff is just going to sound better played live.
It was great working and gigging with these musicians - they are fun to be around and wonderful players. Nick is one of my favorite soloists and one of the country's best kept musical secrets - watch for albums from him - he is a fabulous composer. Tim and Steve are a beautiful rhythm section, and Wellington band (and Yellow Eye label mates) CL Bob were very strong when they were in the country and both in the band. I can't say enough about Lucien's playing - he really
Are there signs here that New Zealand jazz has a distinctive voice? No doubt.
Pianist Norman Meehan's quintet has made a very polished set of original music. A well-knit rhythmic energy, courtesy of the CL Bob rhythm section, drives tracks like the Latin groove of The Desert and The Parched Land. The writing is strong, with several degrees more character than the current crop of local lounge jazz units.
Mo'Socious is an especially telling tune, beautifully voiced and Meehan's spare and delicate style takes the music into some affecting, reflective moments. Elsewhere though, there's a shade too much playing it safe. The theme for The Bells, set up by Tim Jaray's bass solo, establishes a strong Mingus-like mood and builds to a certain tension then dissipates into a wandering swing excursion - intensity undone by an underlying coolness. Still, Meehan and his group have made one of the most assured local jazz releases you'll hear this year.
Wellington based Norman Meehan - pianist, composer and head of jazz studies at Massey University - has assembled a highly competent and compact quintet for this pleasing set of original tracks recorded both live and in the studio. The CL Bob rhythm section of Tim Jaray (bass) and Steve Cournane (drums) is joined by Nick van Dijk (trumpet and trombone) and Lucien Johnson (saxophone and flute), and each approaches Meehan's compositions with the kind of restrained assurance needed to establish a mood of cool sophistication.
The best example of Meehan's ability to create down-filled duvets of sound comes on Good Friday, where Johnson's sax breathes huskily over the down-tempo skeletal frame established by Meehan's Piano and a rhythm section obviously comfortable and familiar.
Cournane (hasn't he come a long way since pounding the skins for Dunedin alt-rock legends the Alpaca Brothers, among others in the '80s) contributes the highest to this mellow mood with his composition The Desert and the Parched Land, which introduces Latin rhythms and a more snappy dialogue between the horns.
Things return to a more Miles-like vein with van Dijk's soft trumpet featuring in Mo'Scocious, though Meehan's short interlude is tantalising - this band leader should perhaps be prepared to spend more time in the spotlight.
The title track, which gives Jaray his turn to shine and where Johnson casts a distinctively Eastern spell with his flute, closes a short but satisfying album of quality New Zealand jazz.
- Jeff Harford