Posts Tagged ‘Sonny Rollins’

New Zealand drummer Mark Lockett‘s remarkable trio with Joey Johnson and Jakob Dreyer grew almost organically out of the earth. Saxophonist Johnson met Lockett while he was playing in NYC’s Central Park; bassist Dreyer joined after a subway jam; a passing café owner offered them a residency which grew into five days a week for several years – with people yelling requests, and the band playing them, often learning new tunes on the hop. Voilà! – a three headed improv machine was born, in the most human way.

And it shows.

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On the trio’s recent album, Any Last Requests?, the trio span well-loved standards as well as hardcore jazz tunes – all with the variety, dexterity and telepathy that only a group forged in the NYC fire can. Each of the three brings everything necessary for three to become one, in aspiration and in execution.

Opening standard, Irving Berlin‘s bittersweet ‘Remember’ is taken at a loose swing, with Johnson’s horn setting up its unique voice, with some particularly lovely phrase ending and surprising timbral effects.

But it is on the next two tunes – Herbie Hancock‘s ‘Drifting’ and Wayne Shorter‘s ‘Deluge’ – that the three open up wide. The joyous bounce of ‘Drifting’ is smattered with a beautiful rhythm section conversation under the tenor – improvised hits, off-beats and flurries of double-time, which always connect to the improvised line above and, through that, back to the original head. All connects, all breathes together. As it should be. 77e9ad_16a2f5b0c9494318b5f531a0a3629ab3~mv2

Shorter’s Arabic-tinged ‘Deluge’ has bassist Dreyer suggesting the harmony while never setting it in aspic. The flow is the more important aesthetic, with the result being that, at times, the harmony seems to fly off in more than one direction at once. Like Charlie Haden with Ornette Coleman‘s group – an obvious touchstone for this piano-less trio – Dreyer’s taste and drive ensures a ground, but never a solid, bogged one.

The triple-time take on the Jules Styne standard ‘Just in Time’ wraps a blazing performance around a Lockett solo that encapsulates all that is good about his playing. The invention, dynamic sensitivity and – of ultimate importance in a sax-bass-drums trio – the melodic approach, is stunning. Lockett is a rare drummer – I could try to explain all the nuance, but you need to hear him to grok it all.

The lack of a chord instrument is one of the most exciting things about this particular combo format  –  as with Ornette, the freedom can often make one gasp for breath. But it can also have its challenges, such as the Ballad. Here the performance of the lovely ‘My One and Only Love’ is taken at such a slow pace, without the glue of chords – both horizontally and vertically – that at times it threatens to stretch itself to snapping. But it doesb’t – the trio holds it right to where it should be. Quite something.

Any Last Requests? serves up a palette of many colours, considering the limited timbal range of horn-bass-drums. Sam Rivers’ ‘Beatrice’ is driven by Dreyer’s funky bass; ‘Shiny Stockings’ is taken at a lovely hazy lazy lope; album closer Sonny Rollins‘ ‘Valse Hot’ plays with the 3/4 time signature in very which way.

The title of the album is taken from Lockett’s question to the audience at the end of one the trio’s café hits where they played any shouted standards – “Any last requests?”. I, for one, am a little sad this particulate hit is over.

 

Any Last Requests? is available from https://marklockettmusic.wixsite.com/johnsondreyerlockett 

Mark Lockett’s website is http://www.marklockett.com.au

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The music of Thelonious Sphere Monk is a world of its own. So unique in jazz is Monk’s conception – both in composition and in improvisation  – that it has pretty much carved out a sub-genre of its own.

Because of its unique language, it has proven down the years a notoriously difficult book to play. Some of the greats have struggled with its quirks and almost Zen-like mind-games: the staggered rhythms, the displaced phrases, the lines that seemingly go nowhere, only to bob up from rabbit-hole a few bars later. John Coltrane and Monk’s long-time foil, Charlie Rouse come to mind, but not too many others.

To improvise over Monk’s compositions – even a deceptively traditional blues such as ‘Blue Monk’ – demands an understanding of his highly personal logic. To move within that successfully, while not losing your own voice, is the grail.

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Sydney altoist, Michael Griffin has put together a tribute to Monk’s music based around an octet Monk toured in 1968. Griffin’s octet (a very Monk word I think; as ‘quintet’ is a very Miles word) is made up of some of our best and brightest. I was fortunate to catch them at Sydney’s swish Foundry 616.

After the opener, the sweetly melancholic ‘Ruby, My Dear’ played by the quartet of Griffin, Aaron Blakey on piano and the rhythm section of Tim Geldens (drums) and Tom Botting (bass), Griffin brought out the horns. With ‘Epistrophy’ I knew Griffin has done his homework. He explained, mid-set, that he had voiced the horns based on transcriptions of Monk’s piano voicings. So all the harmonic quirks were there – the clashed seconds and flat-seconds, the clusters, the more open intervals such as sixths and ninths (Monk seemed to favour either very close or very open harmony) – and the effect was, like Monk himself, akin to nothing else in jazz.

The band swung through a nice mix of faves and obscurities – the gonzoid mis-steps of ‘Evidence’, the fractured bop of ‘We See’, a wonderfully driving ‘Off Minor’, the horns – Griffin plus Michael Gordon and Louis Gordon (2 tenors), with Paul Weber on trombone and Tom Avenicos on trumpet – sounding huge on ‘Oska T’ and almost Stravinsky-like on closer ‘Crepuscule with Nellie’.

The soloists all dug into the material with zest. Griffin’s smart selection of players afforded a range of approaches – Michael Gordon’s reflective tone and ideas, Louis (no relation) Gordon’s more biting attack, the sharp tone of Avenicos (a beautiful solo in ‘I Mean You’ where the piano laid out and the trumpet notes played contrapuntal tag with the rhythm section), Paul Weber’s blues-inflected voice-like lines.

Griffin’s Parker-classic alto flurries at times could seem at odds with the more open Monk ideas – serving as an illustration as to the immense differences between these two ‘architects’ of Bebop, Monk and Charlie Parker (as different as Frank Lloyd Wright and Gaudi, though I couldn’t say who was which). That said, his more lyrical side was the highpoint of ‘Blue Monk’, beautiful long blues lines and lovely phrase endings. But what the hell – he is one of our most exciting players whatever he does.

Someone who seemed to be having too much fun was pianist Aaron Blakey. And what jazz pianist wouldn’t with the Monk book? Resplendent in a wide Sonny Rollins hat, Blakely placed perfect ‘Monk bombs’ under the soloists and laid out for great gaps, shoring up the tension as Monk used to (though, I noted, without Monk’s sweet, abandoned dance movements around the piano). Blakey’s solos had an equal measure of his own sparkling ideas and some Zen-lunatic Monk humour. His solo-piano take on ‘Pannonica’ which opened the second set was another high-point in a night of highs.

If only to experience the wonderful, eternally-modern music of T S Monk you need to see this band. The fact that Michael Griffin has rendered such perfect arrangements, kept close and respectful to the spirit of Monk, and engaged such a killer ensemble makes it  an essential to any fan of Jazz.

I have come late to the amazing playing of Sydney’s Michael Griffin.

Walking into an Andrew Dickerson Quintet gig off the street I was floored by this pale young man utterly flying on that most nimble of the jazz horns – the alto.

It seems I am just one in a long line of admirers, many notable, of Griffin’s mastery. US jazz legend Jimmy Heath has said “Michael Griffin is a fine saxophonist who loves Charlie Parker’s style as I did when I did,” and none other than Vincent Herring sums it all up well when he says “Michael Griffin has his feet firmly rooted in tradition and his ear leaning towards the future.”

The judges at Washington DC’s 2103 Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition obviously agreed, voting Griffin through to the semifinals.

pic by Aaron Blakely

pic by Aaron Blakely

Griffin’s debut album – Unexpected Greeting – showcases his startling playing. It also expressed so much of what is good and eternal about jazz – swing, verve, colour and that jumping joy that be-bop encapsulated so well.

As well as six Griffin originals – standouts are the hard driving opener “Hotel Hollywood” and the fleet and blazing “Flair” (reminiscent of Art Pepper’s frantic “Surf Ride”) – the Quintet covers four standards, with guest vocalist Briana Cowlishaw giving a lovely rendering of “Almost Like Being In Love” and “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” getting deep inside the wit and the urbane poetry of the lyric on each.

In march, for AustralianJazz.net I asked Michael Griffin six questions about his art and his album. Here are his responses:

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 AustralianJazz.net: Are you happy with the way your debut album, Unexpected Greeting turned out?

Michael Griffin: Yes I am very happy with the way my album has turned out. I feel there is something in it for everyone which is really what I want. I want to do what I love and I will never compromise what I love and the way I play but at the same time I always have a desire for everyone to enjoy my music. Hardcore jazz fans and also someone who doesn’t know much about jazz. I always hope that I can somehow appeal to everyone.

AJ: Your playing and compositions obviously reflect the influence of Charlie Parker and the hard bop players like Cannonball Adderley. Who is of particularly influence in shaping your conception?

MG: As mentioned I clearly am greatly influenced by Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley, I also really love Sonny Rollins so much and of course Coltrane. So many, but those four are huge. I never get tired of learning from all of them. In more recent times I have also really enjoyed studying the work of Kenny Garrett and Vincent Herring. For me I love so much the modern bop players, especially Kenny and Vincent. One group I love is Vincent and Eric Alexander together, now those guys really cook. Hard swinging players which are constantly building and taking from previous influences to keep swinging hard and using the bop language as it develops.

AJ: What is it to you about hard-swinging, bop-flavoured jazz that you prefer over other forms of jazz?

MG: For me i enjoy virtually all jazz, however the jazz that speaks to me the most and gets me passionate is the hard swinging bop. So much in it. It’s an amazing language which to me is the absolute best part of jazz. Full of the blues, soul, the entire jazz language . When you have a band that’s cooking and really swinging and someone that is just locking in with that groove and burning full of ideas, to me nothing better. It’s the music I hear in my head all the time. To me I also I think there are so many great things in jazz however the best thing of all is that addictive swing feel. People lose sight of that and it’s the worst thing to lose. Out of all the things in jazz that is the most powerful thing in jazz which can hook in anybody. It’s never uncool to swing. But it has to be done well, When it’s done properly with energy and intensity and tight and full of passion it’s the most incredible ride that I always envisage myself being a part of.

AJ: Why did you choose to add the vocal tracks to the recording?

MG: Adding vocal tracks to the album was a decision I made, number one, because I thought it sounded good, it’s fun to mix things up. However also because people like vocals, they connect with them and I always want to give everyone something they can grab onto and get something out of what I’m doing. If I can give them something they can hold on to then they can stick with me for the rest of the journey, and are open to hearing other adventures i may introduce them to. I want to take everyone with me, not just the purists.

AJ: What are your thoughts on music in general and jazz in particular today?

MG: There is always good music being made, jazz will never die. Too many passionate people which always fall in love with this music and dedicate their lives to it. It’s not something which you just listen to every now and then. When you get bitten by the jazz bug it takes over your life. The only thing I will say is for people to try and make the same effort presenting jazz to audiences that other artists do presenting rock or pop etc. I love bands that make the effort to get people’s attention and keep them interested in jazz, There are a few out there, but I especially liked the Brassholes, Showing people that horn sections don’t just belong at band camp but could make today’s pop tunes sound awesome. It also makes jazz seem less foreign. A great idea and people loved what they were doing. We’re playing somewhat challenging music but let’s do all we can to invite people in and take them with us.

AJ: What is next for Michael Griffin?

MG: Next install for me is I’m looking to hopefully move to New York soon. I had an amazing time last time I was there and I want to live there, develop myself and get as good as I can and see how far up the world Jazz ladder I can climb.