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Sunday, May 28, 2017

2017 Wellington Jazz Festival 7-11 June (various locations)

The Capital is set to hum next month when its largest ever jazz festival kicks off.  With over 150 gigs spanning 45 venues, involving nearly 250 jazz musicians and thousands of live music fans who will descend on Wellington for a five-day mid-winter jam-fest between 7-11 June.  Artistic Director Shelagh Magadza is quoted as saying “With a programme this huge it’s impossible to make all my recommendations here, but there is so much great music on offer, quite aside from our awesome Opera House headliners Bill Frisell and Dianne Reeves.  Whether it’s former One O’Clock Lab drummer from the US, Ari Hoenig at Pyramid Club, Nathan Haines performing at Thistle Inn, ex pats Lex French and Jasmine Lovell-Smith collaborating at Havana Bar, or the Jelly Rolls’ album release party at Caroline, there’s such an exciting, eclectic mix.”

With all this variety on offer it’s easy to get overwhelmed, so we thought we’d help you out by giving you a quick snapshot of what should be on you FOMO list (Of course there’s plenty more at the festival’s official site:  This is only a wallet-sized bucket list.   

The free Classic Albums Live series returns to the Rogue & Vagabond, featuring live sessions of Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage (presented by Pianist Dan Hayles); The Breker Brothers (Saxoman Oscar Laven); Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil (Saxophonist Jake Baxendale); Trumpeter Lex French is back from Canada to do Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way; Jimmy Smith’s Prayer Meetin’ (Twinset’s Organmeister Chris Yeabsley); Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five (Trumpeter Michael Costeloe) ; Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch; Alda Rezende and her band do Getz/Gilberto. 

Over at St Peters on Willis church you can check out two free shows featuring Brad Kang (9 June, 6pm), The Secret Island Quintet (10 June, 6pm) ; and Mark Donlan and Alex Sipiagan (7 June, 6pm).  Brad Kang does modern, New York-influenced jazz originals.  His new ep Farewell For Now is a culmination of the five years Brad spent in Denton, Texas. The compositions draw from the modern jazz music of New York City as well as music of Sky Window, a jazz-rock-electronic fusion band Brad has been a part of for three years. 

Secret Islands Quintet are an exquisite, uniquely New Zealand take on the North American jazz tradition. This is an artistic ensemble, performing a suite of original jazz pieces from their upcoming album Secret Islands. Their unique and soulful sound, originated by Jim Langabeer and developed by the ensemble over the past two years, is an assimilation of traditional North American jazz and Kiwi flavours as they mix haunting multi-phonic saxophone duets, Taonga Puoro, luscious grooves, sonically daring antics.  Finally, Mark Donlan and Alex Sipiagana will perform a duo concert to launch their newly released albums Between Moons and Tales from the Diaspora.

Families and foodies are in for a treat with the return of the jazz-themed Night Market on lower Cuba Street on Saturday 10 June, and the Festival’s ‘Jazz Bites’ partnerships with top restaurants and bars mean plenty of specials on food and drink throughout the Festival, such as ‘A Kind of Blue’ pizza at The Third Eye and the ‘French Seoul’ cocktail at Foxglove.  Yum!

Now that’s some local stuff.  What about the big names?
One of the international headliners not to be missed is Bill Frisell (7 June, 8pm).  SPIN Magazine called him a “guitar genius”.  He's worked with everyone, including Elvis Costello, Brian Eno, Bono and Marianne Faithfull. and most recently Paul Simon.  This is first-ever New Zealand show.  With Frisell joined by vocalist Petra Haden (The Decemberists, Beck, Foo Fighters), Thomas Morgan (double bass) and Rudy Royston (drums), you’ll revel in a sweetly dark and dreamy evening of re-imagined cinema and TV soundtrack music from his 2017 Grammy Award-nominated album When You Wish Upon a Star.

Conjuring favourite memories alongside less-familiar moments of magic – from a brush with Bond to the drama of The Godfather and a love-laced Moon River – Frisell imbues these screen gems with a new sense of wonder and joy.  Should be an awesome night.
Another highlight for me are these guys: Seoul Jazz: The Jac and Black String.  This is a team up project between locals The Jac and South Korea’s Black String.  The night's efforts will be the re-culmination of a year-long collaboration- q night of in-the-moment magic melds Black String’s electrifying and explosive play on Korean musical traditions with the cinematic sound of these award-winning New Zealand talents.

The Jac (Lex French -trumpet; Jake Baxendale - alto sax; Chris Buckland - tenor sax; Matthew Allison - trombone; Callum Allardice -guitar; Nick Tipping - bass; Daniel Millward - piano;  and Shaun Anderson (drums).) are a freight train of pure musical energy, featuring members of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, The Troubles and the Richter City Rebels.

Dave Wreckl & Tony Lindsay. A regular performer with jazz great Chick Corea, Dave Weckl delivers every time, creating an “explosive” (All About Jazz) fusion of funk, rock and blues. He’s joined by Grammy Award-winning Santana vocalist Tony Lindsay, DownBeat rising sax star Adam Schroeder, Mingus Big Band trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, and concert openers the New Zealand School of Music Big Band – Aotearoa’s premier student ensemble.  You can also listen and learn from one of the world's greatest drummers at the Dave Weckl Drum Workshop earlier that day (check the festival website).

Covering off the vocal superstar section will be Dianne Reeves.  A sultry and soulful storyteller, her unique jazz stylings reflect a pure and heart-felt love of music. From R&B to pop, folk and rock – she owns them all with her lush, crystal-clear voice.  Experience the charisma, power and beauty of this five-time Grammy Award-winner, joined on stage by Peter Martin (piano), Romero Lubambo (guitar), Reginald Veal (double bass) and Terreon Gully (drums).  With collaborators ranging from all-time greats Harry Belafonte and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis to new guard Esperanza Spalding, Robert Glasper and Lalah Hathaway, Reeves is the true heir to Ella Fitzgerald’s queen of jazz throne.  Beg, borrow or steal to get a ticket, I reckon. 

If you like more experimental jazz, with major funk influences then get along to see The Comet is Coming (10 June, 8PM).  Fusing jazz, Afro-beat and electronica, The Comet is Coming are your Saturday night soundtrack to an imagined apocalypse, with members King Shabaka (Sons of Kemet, Melt Yourself Down), Danalogue and Betamax your cosmic guides.  These one-time Snarky Puppy openers are charting their own path in the spirit of legendary freestyle funksters Sun Ra, Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix, making last year’s prestigious Mercury Prize shortlist.  The Guardian raved calling them: “The In Sound From Far Out”.

And finally, back in town, Nathan Haines (10 June, 7pm).  From a live and large stage sound, to stripped back acoustic, and electronic beats, this genre bending musician has been making music for over two decades.  His first solo album was released in 1994, and the ensuing 20 years has seen him record and perform all over the world. With 10 solo albums to date (two of which have attained Gold status in his native New Zealand), many of which have been released internationally, Nathan is a musician who blends his love of jazz with modern production styles and a dancefloor sensibility.
I had the pleasure of interviewing him on numerous occasions and each time he was an education in jazz and vintage Verve recording techniques.  His love of vinyl goes way beyond simply playing it.  Nathan will be showcasing material from his forthcoming new eleventh solo album at the city’s iconic Thistle Inn (home of anarchy and arts for many years).  Featuring Wellington local legend keyboardist Jonathan Crayford and Joel Haines on guitar, alongside Karika Turua and Mickey Ututaonga.

Of course favs like Roger fox will be back along with Michael Houston (doing Bach, jazz style) and Anthony Donaldson (reinventing Zappa).  And closing the Festival is the Harold López-Nussa who will bring the heat! A classical piano prodigy and Cuba National Symphony Orchestra soloist, López-Nussa made a late switch to jazz and has never looked back. He’s since collaborated with musical legends Chucho Valdés and the Buena Vista Social Club, and been picked up by New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London and the world-famous Montreux Jazz Festival.  Come sway the night away, and feel the energetic rhythms and magical melodies of this next-big-thing performing with Ruy López-Nussa (drums) and Julio César Gonzalez (guitar). 

Well, that’s just Visit our website or follow us on Facebook or Twitter @welljazzfest

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