King Street Live Masterton March 2014
By David Famularo
I guess you can’t pay the John Rae Trio a bigger compliment than saying that listening to a night of them playing live, reconnected me with the spirit of jazz again.
Jazz, like Country, is one of those musical forms that is the foundation of all contemporary music. However, its moments in the sun are few and far between.
What I loved about the John Rae Trio was that they felt and sounded totally fresh but their roots in the history of the music were unmistakable from beginning to end, without being a self conscious revival of past jazz forms.
One moment you were hearing the “jungle” rhythms so beloved of big band era drummers like Gene Krupa. Next it was the smooth mature flavours of the 1960s Blue Note sound, then some Johnny Hodges-style late night sax, all driven by the virtuosity of John Rae’s drumming.
It’s quite remarkable that the three musicians have rarely played together, most of the preparation being the sharing of chord charts.
You would never have known that from the cohesion with which they played together, the rich cornucopia of notes spilling out of their instruments intermingling in the most natural way, and never feeling formulaic.
With just the three musicians on stage, everyone has to bring their share of the required ingredients to the mix for the music to work, and they achieved this successfully.
While tenor saxophonist Lucien Johnson’s tone could have been a bit fuller for my taste (the simple act of practicing long notes would help there), his improvisations never felt like simply a series of practised scale runs which is so often the case.
Patrick Bleakley was all over his double bass and brought out its lyrical qualities, as well as keeping time.
There was a real energy in the music from the get go that fitted my theory that any music, even the most intellectual should still make you want to dance.
The John Rae Trio felt danceable from the very first with a relentless forward driving energy that never let up.
There was a wonderful sensitivity to the music both in the improvisational compositions and acoustics of the instruments as the performance made its way through genres as diverse as ragtime, hard bop and the edges of freeform.
It should be noted that the two original compositions by Rae and Johnson were equal in interest to the more familiar jazz standards.
There was no encore as such, although I think the band underestimated how much the audience was in the mood for one.
My only real criticism is that the three musicians could try a bit harder with their stage appearance, having the look of three musos having a jam on a Saturday morning.
About the band
John Rae is one of New Zealand’s top composers, musician and band leader. Since finishing the Creative New Zealand/Jack C. Richards Composer-in-Residence at the New Zealand School of Music in July 2010, John continues to live and work in Wellington, New Zealand. Leader and composer for ‘The Troubles’ (www.thetroubles.co.nz), New Zealand’s premier contemporary jazz group, he has also been working and recording with the great Kiwi pianist Mike Nock and the New Zealand String Quartet.
Lucien Johnson is a saxophonist and composer from Wellington. He originally studied jazz at NZSM and went on to do a Masters degree in composition under Prof John Psathas. Lucien lived in Paris for six years from 2003 where he formed a trio with veteran American free jazz bass player Alan Silva and Japanese drummer Makoto Sato. He also made music for plays and short films, and his experiences included touring India with a clown troop and making music for a theatre show in Haiti.
Patrick Bleakley has been one of the most sought after bass players in New Zealand since the 1970s. His baptism of fire came through meeting iconic musician and actor Bruno Lawrence who soon inducted Bleakley into his band Blerta. During the 1970s he also played with several other well known groups such as Mammal, Rough Justice and Spatz and was for a time in the quartet of leading Australian saxophonist Bernie McGann.
After a spell away from music due to family commitments, Bleakley came back to playing bass in the 1990s, touring with Lawrence and pianist Jonathan Crayford in the band Jazzmin. Subsequently he played in the Jonathan Crayford Trio for many years, as well as the Razorblades, Sanctus and Village of the Idiots.