Monday, October 26, 2015

Fresh Cuts for NZ Musician October/November 2015

I had a couple of album reviews included in the latest edition of NZ Musician magazine (see below). I’m pretty certain the Yoko-Zuna album is among the very best things – local or international – I’ve heard all year, and I’ll be very surprised if we don’t end up hearing a lot more from these super-talented young Aucklanders.
Yoko-Zuna: This Place Here

One of the best things about the jazz and hip hop genres is the capacity each has for embracing the concept of collaboration. The nature of hip hop in particular – with its emphasis on sampling and production – makes it ripe for a cross pollination of musical ideas, and many of the genre’s seminal moments have been born from this pick and mix approach. And so it is with ‘This Place Here’, the debut release from Auckland four-piece Yoko-Zuna. It’s an album which features lyrical/vocal star turns from local luminaries such as David Dallas, Spycc, Team Dynamite, Bailey Wiley, Melodownz from Third3ye and Goodshirt’s Rodney Fisher. Throw in a variety of instrumentation from the group’s core members – keys/synth, sax, flute – plus terrific recording and mastering from Cam Duncan, and the result is a wonderfully eclectic mix across the album’s nine tracks. So much so, it feels plain wrong to file this hybrid concoction exclusively under the hip hop banner. The album’s roots are deeply embedded in the genre, there’s no question about that, but above ground, given the air and room to breathe, these soul and jazz-infused tunes take on a life of their own; boundaries are breached, horizons are expanded and ultimately ‘This Place Here’ is guaranteed a much wider reach than might have been expected. One or two tracks appeal as glorious half-formed ideas that could perhaps be developed further, but there are no duds. The RnB-styled One’s Cycle, topped with a delicious soul-drenched Bailey Wiley vocal, is a sumptuous stand out.

Greg Fleming And The Working Poor: Stranger In My Own Hometown

Fleming’s second outing with The Working Poor, and alongside the evident irony, the road-worn Auckland songsmith has perfected the art of what might be called working man’s blues rock. An edgy country-tinged blues rock, with a gruff lived-in vocal to both die for and rally behind. The sort of voice you might get if you crossed Dylan with Knopfler, or Petty, or Waits, or any combination thereof. Produced by the band’s drummer Wayne Bell, Fleming’s vocals sit atop beautifully crafted compositions and songs about things that matter. Songs about important things like bad politics, cruel cities, and matters of the heart – not necessarily in that order. Songs like Corporate Hill, Night Country Blues, the lovely piano ballad Autumn Auckland, and the intimate Heart’s a Wreck. But more than that, more than the voice, more than those lyrics, what really makes ‘Stranger in My Own Hometown’ work is the sense that each member of the six-piece band knows exactly what their job is, and as a unit they execute it to perfection. And you can’t really ask for much more than that.

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