Various Artists – Jazz Concert 1950 (Ode/Rhythmethod) CD REVIEW

October 9, 2014
2 mins read

IT’S HARD TO know quite how to process this piece of NZ music history, which has been dusted off, sonically enhanced and issued on two CDs sixty two years after it was recorded “by a landline feed to Noel Peach’s Astor Recording Studio in Shortland Street.”
The gig took place at the Auckland Town Hall’s Concert Chamber on August 7, 1950, and the whole thing seems to have been predicated on the idea that jazz – obviously considered a heathen sex cult ritual to conservative Kiwis – should be presented as something artful and respectable in a setting usually reserved for classical performance.
It’s about as tame as you would expect: pretty much a bunch of standards by the likes of Gershwin, Basie, Ellington and more Gershwin, rendered in the most dignified dinner-and-dance style. They’re mostly all smoochy show tunes and gentle swing with set arrangements that allow one instrumentalist the chance to improvise, a fact that the MC (whose between-song banter is fascinating the first time, irritating thereafter) rams home to the ignorant listeners over and over. Occasionally there’s an uptempo tune, or a novelty – the undoubted low point being Hughie Gordon’s interminable tin whistle.
That tin whistle isn’t the only cultural cringe. Get this introduction to ‘I Can’t Get Started’:
“I never thought I’d live to see the day when I was happy to introduce a female vocalist – there are only two that don’t give me a pain in the ear. One is Jo Stafford, but the other’s Mavis Rivers.”
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
It’s hard to tell whether these performances are any good, because the fidelity is such that the ensemble sound blurs. It’s a very pleasant blur, but it’s almost always the main instrument that’s pushed right to the front, and the drums are barely audible most of the time. To my ears, it all sounds okay, if rather perfunctory. I’m pretty sure that fans of the music of the period will be astonished, however, at how well these musicians translate a sound and style that wouldn’t have been easy to ape, there being no internet back in 1950.
This first proper Auckland jazz concert undoubtedly is historically important, but the music on the resultant CD all these years hence is less than essential. Obviously, it was one of those “you had to be there” nights.
I don’t know what Ode’s motivation was in releasing this as a double CD set. Our popular music history is important, but I would have preferred to see this concert made available on a national audio archive, free to play if not to download, along with historical essays to give the whole thing context.
The CD package is just sad: no liner notes whatsoever, and inexcusable typographical errors (“Marvis” Rivers, “The Musican” instead of The Musicians.) If there’s any value to releasing this rather tepid music on CD, it’s to give the listener an insight into the times in which it was recorded. Those keen to learn more about the event should check out Graham Reid’s coverage here. GARY STEEL
Music = 3/5
Sound = 3/5

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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