The Great Witchdoctor Q&A – Nathan Haines

Nathan Haines on Shift Left, his hi-fi, the Silver Scrolls and more…

 

Nathan Haines

Later this month legendary jazz chap Nathan Haines performs his classic Shift Left album in its entirety at Auckland’s The Civic (and in Nelson, too). With Haines also having been announced as the next director of the Silver Scrolls, we took the opportunity to ask him to partake of The Great Witchdoctor Q&A.

WITCHDOCTOR – I GATHER THAT YOU’LL BE PERFORMING SHIFT LEFT IN ITS ENTIRETY AT THE CIVIC AND NELSON GIGS. CAN WE EXPECT IT TO CLEAVE REALLY CLOSELY TO THE ORIGINAL RECORDING, OR WILL THERE BE SURPRISES?

NATHAN HAINES – For the Nelson show we have a slightly smaller band (no Manuel Bundy doing the turntable scratching and no vocals) but for both shows we have taken the original songs and added some new sections. Being something we were all involved with 25 years ago means we can now update and add some harmonic devices we have learned. Pianist Kevin Field has added his touch to some of the chords and arrangements but it’s still in keeping with the overall feel of the original album.

The Shift Left album cover

WITCHDOCTOR – ARE THE MUSICIANS THE SAME AND CAN YOU REVEAL THE EXACT LINEUP?

NATHAN – Well apart from ones who are no longer with us yes. Kevin Field keys, Joel Haines guitar, Richard Hammond bass (who is coming out from New York just for these two shows), Miguel Fuentes percussion (ex-Grover Washington/Patti Labelle band), Mickey Ututaonga drums and Manuel Bundy on turntables. We have added Alan Brown as a second keyboardist and Richard Cesan on percussion to fill out the sound. It’s a big band!

WITCHDOCTOR – YOU WERE VERY YOUNG WHEN SHIFT LEFT CAME OUT AND YOU’VE DEVELOPED ARTISTICALLY BETWEEN THEN AND NOW. IN REVISITING THE SEMINAL RECORDING AND MATERIAL, ARE YOU FINDING A NEW APPRECIATION FOR IT?

NATHAN – It was sort of like time travelling revisiting this record. I have a new appreciation for the musicianship for sure. My production, writing and playing has come a long way since then (hopefully!) but it worked for what it was at the time. I am very happy I was able to amend things sonically (as I was never happy with it originally) for the re-release.

Nathan with his wife Jaime and son Zoot

WITCHDOCTOR – AS MANY WITCHDOCTOR READERS WILL BE AWARE YOU’RE A HI-FI GUY PAR EXCELLENCE! WE KNOW YOU’RE FUSSY ABOUT GOOD SOUND AT HOME. CAN WE ALSO EXPECT SONIC ATTENTION TO DETAIL IN THESE UPCOMING GIGS?

NATHAN – Rikki Morris is doing our sound – I just had a meeting with him this weekend to go over in detail some of the finer points of live music re-production. Rikki is a master live engineer and as a band we are in the best hands possible.

WITCHDOCTOR – I GUESS IN NELSON THERE WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN A HUGE CHOICE IN VENUES, BUT IN AUCKLAND YOU’VE CHOSEN THE CIVIC. WHY IS THAT?

NATHAN – Well in Nelson we have just changed the venue to (smaller and nicer) Theatre Royal which will suit us much better. Campbell Smith my former manager and good friend suggested the Civic several months ago and I jumped at the chance to play there. I had supported Bryan Ferry there about 10 years ago (drum and bass legend Goldie actually introduced us on stage that night which was quite fun) and of course I’ve been going to see films there for over 30 years. I’m approaching the Auckland show with trepidation and excitement – walking out onto the stage to an audience of many of my friends in my home town will be very emotional – and that’s before we even play a note of music!

Nathan’s home hi-fi system

WITCHDOCTOR – WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE PIECES OF HI-FI GEAR, ANYWAY?

NATHAN – My Garrard 401 with SME 3012 tonearm (both 1968 from the original owner) and Miyajima Zero mono cartridge. Listening to my mono jazz records with combo is revelatory and I feel so much closer to the music now than ever before. I also run a couple of Ortofon SPU cartridges (SL15 and vintage GT) for stereo recordings and they suit the set-up great. This is my main vinyl rig in the lounge mated to a Perreaux phono stage, Sonic Frontiers SA-1 valve integrated and restored/rewired Spendor SP-1 speakers. For converting my vinyl to digital in my studio (for DJ sets mostly) I have an early 1970s Sony DD2250 direct drive turntable with a lot of mods running a very rare Grace F14 cart from the 1980s. This combo sounds amazing and I can play my vinyl rips up against digital on a large system in a club with no low end ‘rumble’ and with excellent sonics. It took me decades to be able to rip my vinyl to a level to where it translated perfectly onto a big DJ system.

Nathan’s home hi-fi system

WITCHDOCTOR – YOU’VE JUST BEEN APPOINTED MUSIC DIRECTOR FOR THE SILVER SCROLLS. CAN YOU EXPLAIN A LITTLE OF WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THAT ROLL?

NATHAN – Well I was asked and I said yes! It’s a chance to have fun and bring something different to the night which is very music focused and not about who sold the most records (like the Vodafone Music Awards which I don’t even attend anymore). I am working alongside my good friend pianist Jonathan Crayford to arrange several pieces of music – from the 5 Silver Scroll finalists, to some extra special pieces. It’s shaping up nicely!

Nathan Haines

WITCHDOCTOR – AND FINALLY, DO YOU EVER SEE YOURSELF MAKING A RECORD THAT’S A SEQUEL TO SHIFT LEFT?

NATHAN – Well all the records I have made since then are sequels to Shift Left. I think Sound Travels and Squire For Hire were the natural heirs as they continued my ideas of mating jazz harmony with elements of dance and urban musics. I think both those albums are far, far better and more realised albums, but for some reason people in New Zealand love Shift Left, maybe because at the time there was nothing like it. I guess it was a one-off and I’m happy to go back out there and play some of it live again, and mix it up with some of my favourite songs from subsequent albums. I’m most excited about the album I’m working on now and it will be like that for the rest of my life. I am happy to look back on this album but you have to keep moving and finding new ways to interact with the sounds in your head. I am buying more second hand vinyl now than in any other time in my life and that’s in the pursuit of the pure enjoyment of music. I then channel that love of other’s people’s music back into my own music. There is just so, so much good music out there to enjoy – it blows my mind.

* Nathan Haines and band performs Shift Left, Theatre Royal, Nelson, August 17 and Civic Theatre, Auckland, August 24.

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