There are many ways to navigate troubled times. You can deny reality, scream into the void, surf the waves of absurdity, bitterly declaim, or seek quiet while you gather your thoughts. Many prefer the latter, although the other responses are also valid. The last few years have felt particularly untethered as a growing flock of anxieties encircle us. In this space, I reach for artisan teas from China and the type of music that invites reflection. All the albums I review here slow the world’s orbit to a sensible pace and invite reflection.
The albums reviewed here were all released recently, on Aotearoa New Zealand’s premier alternative music recording label, Rattle. Rattle Records is revered in New Zealand for its aesthetic, its sublime artwork and the quality of the recordings.
Inverted ~ Auckland Jazz Orchestra
We lost Jazz Pianist Phil Broadhurst back in 2020, but his legacy is enduring, and unsurprisingly, he is constantly in the thoughts of the musicians he worked with. Here, we have a loving tribute to the man and his music, appropriately performed by the AJO jazz orchestra, which is peopled with musicians who knew him well. It is the AJO’s fourth album and arguably their finest to date. Tribute albums may be commonplace, but tribute albums like this, born out of fondly remembered connections with the subject artist, stand out from the rest.
Phil Broadhurst was a quiet person but a colossus on the local music scene. He was a musician with many musical talents, all informed by his passions. This was particularly evident in his post-millennium Rattle albums, with their Francophile influence. As a composer, he was particularly gifted, so it is fitting that the compositions on the album were all drawn from that period. Mike Booth, Tim Atkinson and Andrew Hall crafted the arrangements and what an extraordinary job they have done. The arrangements are ‘voiced’ beautifully and thanks to the skill of the musicians, perfectly realised. The album has significantly raised the bar for local jazz orchestras and it places Tāmaki Makaurau firmly on the jazz orchestra map.
Fortunately, Phil was able to guest on some of these tracks before he passed and it is moving to hear him. We know that he was delighted with what he heard. It is also moving that his beloved partner, Julie Mason, appears on piano on the remaining tracks. I won’t name all the personnel or soloists here because the list is long, but check out the album on Bandcamp.
I like all the tracks, but my favourite is ‘Pat’, with Phil teasing wistful magic out of his lovely tune. On that particular track, McNichol is on tenor, Booth on trumpet, both rising to the occasion (Booth is also the arranger). The album is available at Rattle Jazz on Bandcamp.
Volume Two ~ Daren Pickering
Deep listeners will appreciate this album for its subtle interplay and warm embrace. It is a fine example of today’s forward-looking improvised music, drawing as it does on the sounds we can all too easily overlook as we drown in the endless iterations of soulless commercialism. Cinematic phrases, slow textural electronic grooves teasing out rich soundscapes, the kind you might hear fleetingly emanating from a softly lit apartment on a summer’s night, wanting to hear more.
It is an album that will reward repeated listening as the subtle minimalism if examined with open ears, will reveal an expansiveness. Pickering has previously demonstrated other musical sides, but I am glad he has chosen to further this one. The band were perfect for what he has created here, understanding that space serves sound.
There is balance and variety. The opener ‘Oneroa Bay’ sets the tone nicely for what follows. For those who crave something more traditional, there is ‘Blue Mind’, a blend of the crystalline ECM aesthetic and the warm embracing Impulse grooves. Or ‘Mazawati Tea’, an update on the swinging groove trio/quartets we love.
Abstraction sits alongside form, sometimes floating under a slow-wending evocative melody line as in ‘Reverse’ or pushing at the outer edges of form as in ‘La Perla (for Benjamin)’. The production is of the highest quality thanks to the deft curation of Pickering, Rapaki Studios and the Rattle crew.
Released by Rattle Records and available on Bandcamp; Darren Pickering, piano, Modular, iPad, composition; Mitch Dwyar, guitar; Pete Fleming, Bass; Mitch Thomas, drums.
‘Ondulation’ ~ Alan Brown
Alan Brown’s ‘Ondulation’ album epitomises the sentiment expressed in the post’s header: a quieter place in times of turmoil. It explores quieter regions, but differently, radiating all-encompassing warmth and conjuring a world of sensory imagery. It is not the first of Brown’s albums to explore ambient improvised electronically enhanced music, but this album opens a portal into something new. It expands on earlier work by adding new digital voices. The resulting textures are rich and nicely contrasted by gently probing piano lines.
Brown has been exploring this genre for quite a few years. The deeper he dives, the richer the rewards for the listener. The first track, ‘Decider’ is particularly appealing, especially when a young woman’s voice emerges like a beckoning siren. The voice is faint but compelling. The harder we strain to catch the words, the deeper we fall inside the music.
The rest of the album flows like an otherworldly, beguiling narrative, and the journey should be enjoyed for itself, not over-analyzed. These are worlds crafted for our senses to interact with. We may hear them differently according to mood or disposition. Jazz experimentalism is common in northern Europe. Here, we have a way to go to catch up. Albums like this help us on that journey, and in my view, what Brown has achieved here compares favourably with the works of Aaset, Molvaer and Bang.
Humans have been shaping sound since the beginning of time by bending notes, creating new textures, creating new chords and playing with harmonics. But while the circuit board and its predecessors extend the sonic possibilities, it is due to the creativity of musicians like Brown that something uniquely human results. You can purchase and check out the album at Rattle Records.
Alan Brown, Piano, Ondomo, electronics
Rattle improvised music catalogue is located at Rattle Records Bandcamp or under the labels imprints, Rattle Jazz and Seventh House.
About John Fenton
John Fenton blogs at JazzLocal32.com which was rated as one of the 50 best Jazz Blogs in the world by Feedspot. The author is a professional member of the Jazz Journalists Association, a Judge in the 7VJC International Jazz Competition, and a poet & writer. Some of these posts appear on other sites with the author’s permission.
(Excerpted and expanded from the author’s blog – for the full post visit JazzLocal32.com)