VARIOUS : TRANS TASMAN COMPILATION: EYE 022
The past twenty years has seen an amazing flowering of creative musical talent on both sides of the Tasman, ample evidence of which is heard throughout this CD. Although the main focus on this recording is on Kiwi music and musicians, celebrating the creative music community is really at the heart of this CD, no matter where the musicians heard here may choose to live and work.
Take for example the wonderfully iconoclastic and passionate Roger Manins who spent considerable time in New York, paying his dues in that mother of all dues-paying cities. Since his return he has become widely recognised as one of our most outstanding saxophonists, winning the Wangaratta national saxophone competition in 2002. Roger is heard here with his Project Shoint, a quartet featuring the unusual combination of piano and organ, played by two hugely gifted musicians pianist Adam Ponting and organist Stu Hunter who show their outstanding abilities on this track.
And talking of saxophonists, listen to Rick Robertson's evocative soprano playing with his group Baecastuff. The group's sound is as unique as their name and gives a glimpse of their wide multi-cultural influences. Of particular interest on this track is the sensitive interplay between Rick and the wonderfully piano playing of Matt McMahon, one of Australia's top pianists.
Next we hear from the prodigiously talented Aaron Ottignon with his equally talented trio. Attitude, originality and groove, this group has it all ! Aaron was voted Young Australian Jazz Artist of the Year at the 2003 Australian Jazz Awards with drummer Felix Bloxsom being awarded the honour in 2004. Bassist Lloyd Swanton has long been recognised as one of Australia's leading modern musicians and his solo on this track shows why.
Guitarist Cameron Deyell, an integral member of many cutting-edge Australian groups, contributes his solo composition The Knife Fighter to this collection. An evocative tone poem that uses both acoustic and electronic sounds to paint it's very descriptive story, this shows some of the possibilities when improvisation and electronics are sensitively and creatively handled.
The next track begins with Jeff Henderson's solo baritone sax evolving to a duo with bassist Paul Dyne, eventually becoming a full-on free group improvisation with drummer Roger Sellers stoking the fires to take us on an exhilarating roller coaster ride. Taped before an enthusiastic audience, this track is notable both for Jeff's use of seldom heard sonic possibilities offered by the large saxophone and for the energetically creative contributions from Roger and Paul.
The unmistakable sound of Brett Hirst begins the next track before he is joined by drummer Toby Hall and myself in a trio performance of STRATA, a piece originally written for the N.Z. feature film. Brett and Toby are among the very best rhythm section players in Australasia and I feel extremely fortunate in sharing a long history of music making with these two wonderfully supportive musicians.
Following this we visit the enigmatic world of CL BOB. This band sounds like it could have stepped straight off the streets of New York. Their music transcends stylistic category with elements of so many eras and styles of improvised music to be heard in this engaging performance. A highlight of this track is the dueling guitars of Chris Willliamson and composer Simon Bowden.
Pianist Gerard Masters' trio is heard next in his sophisticated composition "The Fall of No. 19." A beautifully played performance with a great solo from bassist Brett Hirst , sensitively underpinned throughout by drummer Nick McBride's subtle use of polyrhythms. Brett and Nick are a big inspiration to many young Kiwi musicians and must qualify as honorary Kiwis as they have worked with so many NZ bands both here and overseas.
Bad Babysitter, a provocative title if I've ever heard one, reveals Matt Ottignon's sextet in a live performance. This track grooves from beginning to end and features a great tenor solo from Matt, with his imaginative use of space and rhythmic motives building the solo to a peak of excitement. A very contemporary approach built on the tradition of the great jazz masters.
Saxophonist Lucien Johnson is featured on this next track in an evocative and laid-back composition from the pen of pianist-leader Norman Meehan. Lucien's big tenor sound, so reminiscent of another era, really helps capture the spirit of this piece, as does the supportive and tasteful playing of the entire group.
Pianist Jann Rutherford follows in an all too brief performance, recorded not long before her very depressing death in March 2003. Here she is heard in a free conversation with two long time associates, multi-instrumentalist Paul Cutlan and drummer/percussionist Dave Goodman, giving us a glimpse of her deep musical feeling. Jann was much loved and respected throughout the Australasian music community, recorded two wonderful CDs and won the Wangarratta national piano competition in 1992. She is sadly missed.
A sensitive duo offering from Gerard Masters and the exceptionally talented Rueben Derrick on soprano sax is the last track on the recording. This heartfelt performance gives me the feeling of precious gifts being handed on - a totally fitting and apt way of bringing this CD to a close.
Congratulations are due to all involved with the making of this outstanding and significant CD but very special thanks must be given to Gerard Masters, as without his input, direction and generally tireless efforts, this project would never have happened.
A true labour of love, this CD should be in every modern creative music lover's collection.
Mike Nock , Sydney Australia, Sept 2004.
COMPILATION CD's work primarily as surveys: listening maps of a defined musical territory. Even better if the music selections are sufficiently integrated to make an enjoyable whole.
Such is the case here with this collection of Kiwi-Aussie jazz, compiled with great care for pacing and placement by pianist Gerard Masters. As the terrain in question is jazz, it's the personality snapshots of the players that provide the contrasting grain from track to track. For example, Masters' use of colour in his piece The Fall of Number 19 is more formal and sparse than Mike Nock's spiral inventions on Strata.
Norman Meehan's a similarly understated player but with a stronger leaning towards blues and classic jazz. The cast of musicians is a useful trainspotter's guide to antipodean jazz and includes the more adventurous end of the spectrum with CL Bob, Jeff Henderson and a spiky free improvisation steered by the late Jann Rutherford.
Master's seems less concerned with playing it safe than with making a representative document. In the process he's also created a very fine CD that will surely pique curiosity in several rewarding directions.
- John Kennedy
As the full title to this compilation suggests this "journey into New Zealand Jazz" draws on the talents of musicians whose personal journeys have taken them, in several cases, across the ditch.
Respected Sydney-based pianist Mike Nock, who performs the beautifully moody Strata with his trio comprising drummer Toby Hall and bassist Brett Hirst, provides the liner notes, describing the efforts in collating this eclectic mix of tracks as "a true labour of love" - an appropriate tag, given the sacrifices most will have made to establish their reputations.
As with most compilations , the changing moods and styles make it difficult for the listener to settle into the album. Groovy opener Norwegian Bush from tenor sax player/composer Roger Manin's Project Shoint blends well enough into Baecastuff's The Essence, featuring the soprano sax of Rick Robertson, and on into highlight The Ambo, from the dexterous Aron Ottigon Trio, but the transition through guitarist Cameron Deyell's solo piece The Knife Fighter leads to more experimental territory. The free-form improvisation of Jeff Henderson's baritone sax in Head on the Tracks and skittering interplay of CL Bob's Shallop, followed later by the similarly improvisational but much darker And a Good Time Was Had by All from the Jann Rutherford Trio, will challenge those who prefer a more traditional approach.
But a return to smoother sounds can be found on tracks such as the funky Bad Babysitter from the Matthew Ottignon Sextet and Good Friday, a laid-back treasure from The Norman Meehan Quartet. This tasteful pick 'n' mix is capped off by the delicate sax/piano duet West Coast Ballad from Gerard Masters Reuben Derrick.
- Jeff Harford