Mike Nock: Making Music Flow from the River Within
The 1990s saw Nock working as musical director of Naxos Jazz and creating his own sound as a producer. While he was with the label, he was responsible for releasing a host of exciting releases with the likes of organist Sam Yahel and pianist Florian Ross that, to this day, remain highly collectable.
The real pearls of the Naxos Jazz catalog, however, are a string of releases that Nock did himself while he was associated with the label. Working with the label gave him artistic freedom and the opportunity to explore a wide range of musical formations, and he did so with decided success.
Not We But One (Naxos Jazz, 1997) is an empathic trio session with bassist Anthony Cox and drummer Tony Reedus, where the virtues of interplay are on full display. Compositions like "Threeplay" and "Antarctic Ice" are perfect examples of Nock's interest in using space and silence as part of his compositions, an interest which has become more prevalent with time. The key to the album is a kind of poetic restraint where sound images are painted impressionistically without any egos getting in the way of the music.
An even more intimate Naxos session is Nock's meeting with reed multi-instrumentalist Marty Ehrlich on The Waiting Game (Naxos Jazz, 2000). Throughout his career, Nock has played with drummer Frank Gibsonon Open Door (ODE Records, 1987) and with saxophonist Dave Liebman on Duologue (Birdland Records, 2007). With Ehrlich, he engages in an intense dialog covering the whole scope of jazz history, from ragtime and swing to contemplative and modern jazz music. As supreme makers of melody, Nock and Ehrlich fit perfectly together and their tight communication really shines through in the music.
Ozboppin' (Naxos Jazz, 1998) is Nock cutting his teeth with a group of fiery young Australian lions, who are eager to impress the master. At times, there are touches of avant-garde madness, as in the title track where Nock almost approaches Cecil Taylor, but overall it is fairly straight-ahead session with superb playing throughout. It's a record that shows how the hectic pulse of New York sometimes finds its way into his music.
The new millennium has found Nock creating some of his strongest material. A particular highlight is Meeting of the Waters (Jazzhead, 2008) where Nock plays his compositions with a large ensemble, "a small big band" that combines lush textures and polyphonic complexity with the transparent and light sound cultivated aesthetically by Gerry Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band in the 1960s.
It is fascinating to hear how through-composed pieces like "Cyboreal" and "Sho's Cradle Song" which can also be heard in versions for solo piano on In the Time of Sakura: The Piano Music of Mike Nock (Move, 2007)are given extra shades and hues in these ensemble versions, from the subtle scratches of percussion in "Sho's Craddle Song" to the dancing vibraphone and breezy brass charts in "Cyboreal."
Besides working with larger ensembles, the 2000s have also seen Nock forming one of his most significant musical partnerships in a long time: his collaboration with the Waples brothers Ben (bass) and James (drums). Their work together is documented superbly on the two releasesAn Accumulation of Subtleties (FWM Records, 2010) and Hear and Know (FWM Records, 2011)where all the different aspects of Nock's work so far seem to come together.
Nock plays both inside and outside, composed and improvised, in a bold transcendence of genres where fiery neo-bop meets impressionistic modern jazz and neoclassical compositions, all held together by a tight group which knows how to sail into unknown waters.
Speaking of water, the blue liquid could easily be seen as metaphor for a special kind of musicality embodied in Nock. He grew up in Christchurch, where the river Avon flows through the center of the city, and has never lost the touch of nature.
Nock's musicin spite of its references to all that's modern and hecticis, in its essence, pastoral. His music connects to feelings as ancient as nature itself, it's deep and emotional: a language of the heart. It's from that inner river of emotions that his music flows, reaching into foreign shores to create a vocabulary for that which cannot be said or seen.
Norman Meehan: Serious Fun. The Life and Music of Mike Nock (Victoria University Press, 2010)
Wade Gregory: In His Own Sweet Way: A Study of Mike Nock's Contribution to Australian Jazz (Dissertation, Queensland Conservatory of Music, Griffith University, October, 2007)
Mike Nock Trio Plus, Hear and Know (FWM Records, 2011)
Mike Nock Trio, An Accumulation of Subtleties (FWM Records, 2010)
Mike Nock Project, Meeting of the Waters (Jazzhead, 2008)
Michael Kieran Harvey, In the Time of Sakura: The Piano Music of Mike Nock (Move Records, 2007)
Mike Nock/Dave Liebman, Duologue (Birdland Records, 2007)
Mike Nock/Marty Ehrlich, The Waiting Game (Naxos Jazz, 2000)
Mike Nock Quintet, Ozboppin' (Naxos Jazz, 1998)
New York Jazz Collective, I Don't Know This World Without Don Cherry (Naxos Jazz, 1997)
Mike Nock Trio, Not We But One (Naxos Jazz, 1997)
Mike Nock, Touch (Birdland Records, 1994)
Mike Nock, Ondas (ECM, 1982)
Mike Nock, Climbing (Tomato, 1979)
The Fourth Way, The Sun and Moon Have Come Together (Harvest, 1969)
John Handy, Projections (Columbia, 1968)
Yusef Lateef, Live at Pep's (Impulse, 1964)
The 3-Out Trio, Move (Columbia, 1960)
All Photos: Courtesy of Mike Nock