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NZMM bonus post! Artists on Wellington Music – Norman Meehan

We’ve been checking in with some local artists, writers & critics to get their thoughts on what makes the Wellington Music scene unique, and to get their take on some of their favourite Wellington sounds. You can check out some older posts from critics Nick Bollinger, & Grant Smithies, Blue Smoke writer Chris Bourke, and musicians Samuel Flynn Scott & Alistair Fraser, but since it is New Zealand Music Month we thought we would check in with some more people over the course of May.

This one arrived late in our in-box, but we thought we’d post it even though New Zealand Music Month officially ended on Sunday. This is the last one of these posts (for now anyway), so we’d like to thank Norman and all the other musicians/writers etc. who took time out of their busy schedules to share with us some of their thoughts on Wellington music & some of their favourite artists and albums. We hope you enjoyed this series of posts & found some new music to explore…

This last post is from Jazz pianist Norman Meehan who is currently an Associate Professor at the New Zealand School of Music where he teaches historical and critical jazz and popular music papers. Norman has studied under acclaimed pianist Paul Bley and performed original music at festivals and in concerts around New Zealand and in Europe, and on radio for Radio New Zealand Concert.

Something that I love about the music scene in Wellington is that it’s populated with musicians from all over New Zealand, musicians who for various reasons have chosen to make their home in the capital. I think this jumbling up of people from all over, leads musicians to be quite open to collaborating with whomever they come across. I know of quite a few groups comprised of musicians from a bunch of different places. I guess we’re a little like Manhattan in that regard?

Some of my favourite groups in Wellington include musicians who originally came from different places and met up when they arrived here. There’s something about the mix that these groups achieve that gives their music an edge, and maybe a unique quality. Trinity Roots and CL Bob are two groups that I think exemplify this musical trait.

There are lots of ‘Wellington’ albums that I like, and from among those made by groups of musicians who came here from all over, one of my favourites is CL Bob’s second record Stereoscope. It was recorded in the city while the band was living here and to my ear is a genuine sonic combination of that unique group of individuals. Steve Cournane’s drum sound and approach (slinky, economical, grounded) is married impeccably to Tim Jaray’s earthy bass. It’s a bit of a dream team rhythm section for me, and provides a perfect foundation upon which the rest of the band can play, and with whom they also freely interact.

Trumpet player Toby Laing performed with CL Bob on the album and his plangent lines sound joined at the hip to Nils Olsen’s saxophone and bass clarinet parts. The guitarists – Chris Williamson and Simon Bowden – are immaculate together: no easy feat for two guitarists in jazz contexts. The album comprises original compositions by members of the band and they’re all good. It’s nicely recorded, too.

High points? The guitars (both of them) on ‘Easy Tiger’ – lovely simpatico playing; Toby’s solo on Titicaca for sure; Nils’s melodicism, everywhere, although his abstractions during ‘The Beginning of the End’ are gorgeously beguiling; Steve and Tim’s listening (‘Sacred’ is a great example) and their grooves, especially during ‘Voices’ and the quirky ‘Shallop’ – Bill Frisell’s music refracted through an antipodean lens; and Chris’s composition ‘Voices’, which opens the album, and is probably my favourite NZ jazz composition. It’s a terrific record and was the worthy recipient of a Tui Award for ‘Jazz album of the year’ in 2002. Do yourself a favour and buy a copy. Better yet, write to these guys and suggest they put the band back together…

CL Bob ‘Smiles’ & ‘My Bass case’ from Trees: Yellow Eye Jazz Sampler

Ellie’s review of Norman’s 2009 album ‘Sun Moon Stars Rain’…
Cover imageSun moon stars rain.
I love, and am still loving the latest from Wellington’s own jazz pianist extraordinaire, Norman Meehan. The name of the album is ‘Sun Moon Stars Rain’ and it is just wonderful. Here’s what Attar Media said: “…In 2007 Norman started composing music for poems by E.E. Cummings that he felt drawn to. This album is the result. Working with three of his favorite musicians – trumpet player Nick van Dijk, vocalist Hannah Griffin, and reed player Colin Hemmingsen – Norman has written a series of compositions that reflect the quiet, playful and transcendent aspects of Cummings’ work. Six of the pieces are songs; the other six are instrumental variations inspired by Cummings’ words. Because there is no rhythm section, the music is very open and spacious, leaving room for the individual voices to stretch out and explore – and for the listener to enter into the performances. This is a case of music and poems coming together perfectly. It is music – pure and simple. Just the way we at Attar like it…(Ellie)

You can read a brief interview with Norman on the Rattle web site here, where he talks about the making of ‘Sun Moon Stars Rain’, and you can buy a copy from Attar Media here and his previous albums on Amplifier here.

‘Who are you, little i?’ – Words by E.E. Cummings, music composed by Norman. Performed by Norman with Hannah Griffin (vocals) and Colin Hemmingsen (reeds).

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