Jazz is alive and well in New Zealand. By no means an exotic American import, the music has planted sturdy roots in the country's culture and lifestyle: the major cities all have at least one club dedicated to jazz, there are jazz education programs in various universities and schools, and the country boasts many excellent native musicians. Two of the finest are multi-instrumentalist Colin Hemmingsen and pianist/vocalist Julie Mason, both whom have recently released excellent CDs.
Estate (Summer), which was a finalist in the Jazz Album of the Year category in the New Zealand Music Awards, is an absolute delight. Mason is one of those musicians with a timeless appeal: she has a buoyant quality that works particularly well with up-tempo songs, and she also has a gentle strength that shines through her ballad work. The thirteen songs showcase all aspects of her talent as she moves easily through a variety of moods, including romantic, joyful, melancholic, and wistful.
Recorded live at the Sawmill Cafe, an established hub of New Zealand jazz, Mason is clearly at ease with the audience and venue, and she's fortunate to be backed up by first-rate musicians: Alberto Santarelli on bass and electric bass, Frank Gibson on drums, Bruce Smith on tenor, and Joseph Anderson on guitar, plus guest artists Phil Broadhurst on piano and Grant Mason on trumpet and flugelhorn. Highlights include Mason's two originals "Dizzy Blonde" and "Sandringham Samba." "Dizzy Blonde" is a playful song where Mason displays deft piano work on a fast, swinging rhythm, and "Sandringham Samba" is wonderfully upbeat, with a lively melody and light, fabulous swing. Hopefully Mason will release a CD of originals soon, for she's clearly a gifted composer.
Other standouts include the Clifford Brown composition "Joy Spring," a vocal number where Mason easily handles the fast-paced lyrics, with her scatting so sunny she sounds like a bird in flight. There's also "Love for Sale," another up-tempo number with inspired scatting and a shimmering piano solo by Broadhurst.
Altogether Estate (Summer) is a marvelously engaging CD by a female jazz artist in her prime. Mason has put in over two decades on the New Zealand music scene, including playing with the Auckland Philharmonic and performing for Bill Clinton and other heads of state. The CD is a generous offering of all her gifts and a must for anyone who loves jazz vocalists.
The Rite of Swing
Colin Hemmingsen is one of the original pioneers of New Zealand jazz. Educated at Berklee on a Downbeat scholarship, he went on to the New England Conservatory of Music where he completed a Master's in bassoon and jazz. After teaching and performing in the States, he returned to New Zealand where he established the country's first jazz school, and in 1983 he founded the New Zealand Jazz Foundation. In addition to his devotion to jazz, Hemmingsen is renowned for his work as a classical musician, and for many years he was the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's principal bassoonist. And if all that wasn't enough, he's also accomplished on tenor and soprano saxophone and is known as New Zealand's finest multi-instrumentalist.
Hemmingsen's new CD, The Rite of Swing, features him principally on bassoon, and it's a joy to hear such mastery on this unusual and often overlooked instrument. Hemmingsen plays with graceful swing, the effortless ease of a musician truly intimate with the music and his instrument. His excellent quartet includes Phil Broadhurst on piano, Tom Callwood on bass, and Lance Philip on drums. Another unique feature of this CD is that its songs are composed entirely by New Zealand musicians, including Hemmingsen, Broadhurst, Anita Schwabe, and Kirsten Mackenzie.
The ten songs create a particular mood, a lyrical swing with a deceptively light touch. The up-tempo songs have an appealing groove, while the ballads are mellow and thoughtful without ever drifting into despair. Schwabe's composition "Gilberto Getz A Samba"is a perfect example, an engaging melody with a relaxed, swinging groove. Schwabe's "Moonstone"is another highlight, a pensive ballad with Hemmingsen's bassoon rich and sonorous throughout. Broadhurst's "Higgins"is a beautiful ballad with a distinctive melody and a touch of poignancy, and another notable Broadhurst composition is "Santa Margherita,"which showcases the pianist's intuitive swing and twinkling, lyrical runs.
A guiding presence in the New Zealand jazz world, Hemmingsen continues to be a force in jazz education, and with his new CD he proves why he's had such an influence. A rich collection of native musicians and creativity, The Rite of Swing offers a tantalizing glimpse into jazz' presence throughout the world, and makes the listener eager for more New Zealand jazz.
Tracks: Estate; Dizzy Blonde; Out of Nowhere; Skylark; Joy Spring; Love for Sale; Herman Leonard; I'll Close My Eyes; Lullaby; You Go to My Head; Sandringham Samba; The Jody Grind; Round Midnight.
Personnel: Julie Mason: vocals/piano; Alberto Santarelli: bass; Frank Gibson: drums; Brian Smith: tenor sax; Joseph Anderson: guitar; Phil Broadhurst: piano; Grant Mason: trumpet, flugelhorn.
The Rite of Swing
Tracks: Gilberto Getz A Samba; Santa Margherita; Pohane; Oasis; Moonstone; Winter Sun; 3/4 Michael; Kindred Spirit; Roadworthy; Higgins.