Graham Reid | | 3 min read
“It’s hard to say you’ve got a jazz background in New Zealand,” says Dan Sperber, guitarist and founder member of the New Loungehead, “because it’s very small and inbred.
“And the young people involved wear suits and are under pressure to conform to older guys’ notions of jazz, playing those old tunes again and again. That music has got its place, but it’s not music to turn people on. That’s what it’s lost, the ability to make people go, ‘wow! This is new crazy stuff!’”
The New Loungehead have certainly sidestepped expectation of a local jazz release, right from the colourful cover of debut album Came A Weird Way, which features an archetypal New Zealand sky and sea glimpsed as a blaze of light from inside a dark cave.
“We live in this place, but how often do you get cover art that reflects it? We had that idea to start off with, a dark space looking out, and in a way that’s what the New Zealand jazz scene is like too.
“And it was recorded in a little dark studio with blue skies outside. But the jazz scene is a bit dark and we’re all looking at the big world outside.”
From that big world the New Loungehead has assimilated elements of hiphop and light funk, spacious 60s jazz and even a smatter of faux-James Brown soul in Faker, which has Mark James (aka Slave) rapping about “rockin with yo bad self.” This is a sound with that rarest of jazz commodities: humour.
“It was tongue in cheek because the jazz hiphop thing has been murdered and so pointlessly done, so we wanted something that was not just some boring hiphop beat stolen and regurgitated.
“We felt we had to do something new and add a new perspective, which is a quality of all good New Zealand bands. It’s real difficult to do, but because it’s harder we come at a different way, because we’re forced to.”
Hence the album title – and the different way they come is reflected in Sperber’s confession of his early guitar-playing: he was “a Led Zep freak like most young hormonal teenagers and I think I did actually own a violin bow at the time.”
From there, he made the journey into jazz and regularly played with the flexible lineup of Slacker, which put him alongside players from diverse backgrounds.
All members of the New Loungehead have had some jazz experience (percussionist/drummer Matthias Sudholter played with the late Don Cherry and others in New York) but out of their disparate backgrounds – and the earlier Loungehead – emerged a distinctive New Loungehead sound.
“We got the confidence to do this [album] because our music has found an audience,” says Sperber, noting their album launch drew 400 people to the Leigh Sawmill a fortnight ago.
“People tend to compare our sound with jazz of the 70s but it’s got more in common with jazz of the 60s, Horace Silver and those kinds of things. There is not a huge amount of improvisation on the album but there’s a high level of musicianship – and how much higher do you need to communicate with people?
“It’s a bit of a beatnik approach to jazz. The longer we’ve been playing together the less we solo and I think that’s a good sign. It’s nice to have the energy for solos, but doing them less means when you do them people’s jaws drop sometimes – the rest of the time you can actually breathe.”
Came A Weird Way – which includes the Cloth single and video featuring Sulata – isn’t jazz as some would know it but it does possess a sense of exploration through various genres and some fine playing.
With an album that will realign how some hear new music in the late 90s, the New Loungehead are making their own future out of their own diverse influences and interests. How diverse?
Dan, the last music you bought?
“Bressa Creeting Cake”.