Sumo: Shiko (Rattle)

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Smoking Gun
Sumo: Shiko (Rattle)

While it has been common enough for the graduates in, and tutors of, jazz from the universities in Wellington and Auckland to be acknowledged on albums here at Elsewhere, this one – which features a large revolving door ensemble – is of musicians drawn mostly from the Ara Institute in Christchurch, many of whom have made (or are making) names for themselves overseas.

And in a very interesting departure from whatever norms there might be in jazz, the depth of the players' compositional skills are on display here as each member of the group calls in players to essay one of their own compositions.

Each composer is also profiled in the liner notes and has their say about the work they have written.

If that sounds a little like a show reel it doesn't come off that way, although it would be fair to observe that sometimes the pieces are at a remove from their surroundings, for example flautist Tamara Smith's gently swinging and warm Bewildering Case of Doxy Ford follows the smoky and slippery bop of Manfred by keyboard player Darren Pickering (with guitarist Brad Kang and the sax duo of Gwyn Reynolds and Jimmy Rainey to the fore) and arrives before the similarly grounded Continental Drift by Reynolds.

And guitarist Heather Webb's evocatively atmospheric Replay after Continental Drift glides between her and keyboards with a leisurely confidence which is both gentle but often on the precipice of unresolved tension. It's a standout.

The closing piece The Mire by guitarist Glen Wagstaff is, as the name suggests, something much more discomforting with deep bass and a brooding sensibility akin to some slightly off-kilter soundtrack for an emotionally dark Italian arthouse movie – with Smith's flute offering filagrees of light – which takes place mostly during the unnerving hours between midnight and dawn.

Bassist Michael Story's Smoking Gun is equally uneasy (the repeated and ominous piano note by Pickering is chilly) as a lonely saxophone coils into the alley late at night and a shadowy figure steps briefly into the muted yellow smudge from a streetlamp.

Guitarist Kang's composition Running Through My Mind – with solos by Pickering and drummer Joseph McCallum – is the warm and reassuring bath at the centre of this collection and follows drummer McCallum's neatly quirky streetwise blues on That.

So yes, in some senses this may seem like a showreel for these players but the unifying thread is the empathy they bring to each other's work, and how this diversity finds a centre in jazz which doesn't move too far from accessibility for the intelligent listener and rewards with brightness . . . and just enough penumbra to keep you alert.

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