Auckland Jazz Orchestra: Bloom (SDL)

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Auckland Jazz Orchestra: Bloom (SDL)

For many decades, many New Zealand jazz musicians have done what the league players call “the hard yards” . . . jazz players were in high school bands (Grammaphone), navy bands, Rodger Fox's invaluable training ground and flexible working ensembles (Tom Ludvigson's Inner City Jazz Workshop).

These rarely-acknowledged training grounds – often hard sprints under the lights and a demanding coach – don't have the glamour of nightclub sets or much to do with the musicians' cooler-than-thou peers who might have discovered a Blue Note album cover they want to be seen with.

But this is where jazz is learned and made.

The AJO is one such ensemble and it has been two years since its well-produced and professionally presented Darkly Dreaming (take a bow Neil Hannan) appeared, probably to great indifference.

But once more they offer a classy programme of originals from band members (compositions by music director Tim Atkinson, principal altoist Andrew Hall and lead trumpeter Mike Booth) with guest saxophonist Roger Manins, whom we might guess wouldn't be here if this wasn't smart and enjoyable stuff.

And it is.

If the Fox big bands have sometimes been too brash for some, the AJO deliver as their name suggests: A proper old-school 17-piece jazz orchestra which is also smart enough to include subtle suggestions of the best of the cool Seventies (Hall's slippery Snake Pit with Connor McAneny's electric piano and the composer's alto getting deftly funky).

Manins brings punchy bop-swing to On Track written by Booth; the cleverly arranged and constantly evolving Insistence by Atkinson has a lovely exotic feel, and Those Nights (again by Hall) is within a hair's breadth of getting totally boogie nights in its header part . . . but then goes somewhere else in the hands of altoist Hall and trumpeter Oliver Furneaux who play off each other (the latter suggesting a trip south of the Border).

The Auckland Jazz Orchestra – with guitarist Kenji Iwamatsu Holdaway getting little solo space but possessing it every time, check his assured work on Bloom – isn't just the Thursday night practice session for amateurs but here again proves it is a serious contender in any State of Origin final.

This album is available from SDL Music here. It has a large catalogue worth exploring.

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