SHORT CUTS: A round-up of recent New Zealand releases

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Jono Heyes: Le Printemps Arabe
SHORT CUTS: A round-up of recent New Zealand releases

Facing down an avalanche of releases, requests for coverage, the occasional demand that we be interested in their new album (sometimes with that absurd comment "but don't write about it if you don't like it") and so on, Elsewhere will every now and again do a quick sweep like this. 

Comments will be brief.

Sparrow Thieves: Lethargic Caffeine (sparrowthieves): There are a significant number of musicians out there beyond the age of pop music (which renders them of little interest to most media) for whom making music is a pleasure and not a career borne of desperation. Sparrow Thieves out of Southland are one such band. Their debut EP went into the top 20 on the charts of NZ music and this, their debut album packaged like an oldtime cinema programme, betrays a maturity in songs which nod towards the taut end of Pink Floyd and the Doors (the natty Manzarek-like keyboard solo in Black of the Night) but mostly aim towards power pop easing into radio-friendly rock (the title track). They are literate and you suspect they could easily slip into prog-pop -- witness the violin-enhanced closer Colour and the dreamy hidden End Credits -- but have disciplined themselves for economy over expansiveness. Good call. If you do order this from their website here I hope it comes as mine did, in a hand addressed envelope of beautful penmanship (ink!) and a proper wax seal. Classy all round.

Jono Heyes; Le Fisherboy (Monkey Records): This is certainly interesting because at a first glance and on a cursory listen to a couple of tracks you'd guess the artists was from West Africa because of the trilling, high vocal, trickling acoustic guitar and songs in French. There are even songs named for Mandela and Toumani (as in Toumani Diabate) but the flamenco on Wai Eh confuses the image, and something just doesn't quite feel right. World citizen Jono Heyes actually comes North Otago but has assimilated myriad influences (deeply too, this isn't superficial New Age/world music) and you can read about his travels and music career here. Astutely understated, a bridge between folk and world music, discreet touches of jazz piano and bass (Hungry Little Dog) and an important song in the first single The Arab Spring/Le Printemps Arabe with yearning trumpet. Well worth investigating.

Spiral; What's That Sound? (www.spiralofficial): A young, promising Auckland jazz ensemble with its ears on contemporary rock, funk and soul, Spiral also pull in Latin influences and sound like the kind of band you'd be very happy to hear at a Music in Parks concert because of their upbeat vibe. The stumbling point is the (many) lyrics which can be weighed down by worthiness (Whatcha Gonna Do?) or just overwritten (Songomantis is exactly that, a song about a praying mantis). There are times when you yearn to hear the band really stretch out (especially saxophonist Andrew Hall who is singer-songwriter, and Anthony Hunt on Rhodes) and shove the words to one side. But for a debut you'd have to admit they bristle with possibilities -- guitarist Joel Vinsen seems underutilised -- and know their way around these good, original tunes. (Andrew Hall answered our Famous Elsewhere Jazz Questionnaire here, and their website is here.)

Jyoshna and the Modhu Rasa; Dharma Cakra (jyoshna.com): The hypnotically spiritual voice of Jyoshna has been featured at Elsewhere previously because for many decades she has been exploring devotional songs of India and her albums have been reaching for the divine and the ecstatic. This album -- the title means The Circle of Dharma -- is both an expansion and deepening of her work as she sets a spiritual practice introduced to India by the Buddha to music with assistance from Richard Nunns (taonga puoro), various Western classical musicians (including soprano Elizabeth Mandeno) and of course traditional Indian instruments. Jyoshna's is a rare voice in that it is effortlessly high and elevating, soars to the sublime and yet retains an expressive quality. The final piece is the exceptional, 25 minute Creation Cycle, which gives an indication of the breadth of her vision. Once heard she is not forgotten. You can check her and this album out here. She launches it at the VoSe Festival in Albany (Kawai Purapura) on Saturday night, Feb 28th.

Tim Werry; Fly Time Fly (SDL Music): Singer-somgwriter Werry has considerable prior form (Auckland pub band Rank and File, the the cowpunk Waltons in Sydney) but it's been more than a decade since his debut album Evil Star. He's a "live" kinda guy. This album appeared before Christmas and at Elsewhere got lost in the shuffle . . . but we here acknowledge Werry's Dylan-meets-Mellencamp and thoughtful, country-influenced ballad style on eight crisp originals, Bo Ramsey's I Never Said and a couple of others, for which he calls upon a deep pool of talent: drummer Steve Garden, bassist Neil Hannan, guitarists Rob Galley, Mike Caen, Glen R Campbell, Derek Lind, Mike Farrell and Grant Wills, keyboard player Alan Brown (pulling out the wurlitzer) and pianist Stuart Pearce. If you don't recognise those names you obviously didn't go to bars like the Gluepot, Windsor Castle or the Java Jive in Auckland during the Eighties. As with Sparrow Thieves (above), Werry is one of those solid singer-songwriters whose work never falls below a high threshold and this will appeal to an older demographic for its assured lyricism (What's Done is Done)  and vaguely familiar sound (Guilty as Charged is Dylan/Amazing Rhythm Aces, and that's a good thing). You can get this album and others along the same axis here

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