Graham Reid | | 1 min read
In 1995 Auckland saxophonist Nathan Haines' debut album Shift Left opened a door between jazz and hip-hop, delivering sophisticated soul-jazz with beats and scratching from turntablist Manuel Bundy and vocals by Sonny Sagala (aka Dei Hamo) and Pauly (OMC) Fuemana.
Shift Left bridged genres, linked South and Central Auckland, won the 22-year old Haines the Jazz Album of the Year award and, almost 30 years on, remains our biggest selling jazz album.
Yet the possibilities of this genre between established styles remained largely unexplored. Until Avantdale Bowling Club's 2018 self-titled debut album explored a very different area between jazz and hip-hop.
A dark, neo-realist collection with lyrics ripped from rapper Tom Scott's raw-edged life, the album amalgamated disillusionment and social comment with a terrific jazz backdrop. It picked up the Taite Music Prize, and won album of the year and hip-hop categories at the Aotearoa Music Awards.
By coincidence both Haines and Scott's fathers are jazz bassists so that music has been available in their aural orbit to be convincingly tapped into.
Scott – whose sometimes vehement political opinions were evident in his previous outfits Home Brew and @peace – could be bratty, satirical and witty as much as blunt, self-lacerating and observant. However Avantdale pieces like Years Gone By and Home came from a man not denying his past but facing responsibilities of adulthood.
It set a high bar but Trees – with many of the same collaborators – proves he hasn't exhausted his colourful history nor a deep well of social observation.
Scott is an intuitive and skilled storyteller in the lineage from Gil Scott-Heron and The Last Poets to Scribe and David Dallas. His urgent, inventive, locked'n'loaded rhymes and stockpiled images – which fly past but reward decoding – largely avoid swagger and braggadocio in favour of real life stuff like bringing up kids and getting a bank loan. And again set against a backdrop of horns, vibes and backing vocalists (among them Mara T.K., Troy Kingi and Hollie Smith).
Here are Rent 2 High and Still Feel Broke, an appreciation of his mother's support with unblinking honesty, a celebration and defense of blazing weed (the beautifully woozy, increasingly uneasy Going Through It) and Friday Night @ The Liquor Store which is a cinematic one-act play. The sensitive, aching Without You sits between nightclub jazz, soul-pop, turntable scratching and unvarnished rap poetry.
Trees is dense, crafted and thought-provoking, and – for its late 50s/early 60s jazz – an instrumental version deserves release also.
With that remarkable debut and now Trees, Scott/Avantdale Bowling Club are redefining this genre on their own terms so – as with Shift Left – don't anticipate others exploring this space.
But expect Trees in “album of the year” lists.
You can hear and buy Trees at bandcamp here.
ABC tour dates: November 11, Totara Street, Tauranga; November 12, The Factory, Hamilton; November 18, Glenroy Auditorium, Dunedin; November 19, James Hay Theatre, Christchurch; November 25, Auckland Town Hall, Auckland; December 2, St. James Theatre, Wellington