Nock/Stuart/Wilson/Zwartz: This World

This World brings together a new quartet of seasoned players. Recorded after a string of shows given in 2019 by Mike Nock (New Zealand, piano, who turns 80 this month), Hamish Stuart (Scotland, drums), Julien Wilson (Australia, tenor saxophone and effects) and Jonathan Zwartz (New Zealand, double bass)—all four of whom are based in Australia—the album glistens with music written especially for this studio session around a core of unmistakable experience. Said experience translates not into mountaintop pontificating for the fortunate few but rather into a grounded message that all can understand. The album’s title, like the Zwartz tune after which it is named, is therefore more than an anthem; it’s a mission statement from a group of musicians content in forgoing the flaunt in favor of the flavor.

Other examples of the bassist’s writing are “And in the Night Comes Rain” and “Home.” Where the latter comes across as being less about being home than about returning to it after a long time away, the former is a highlight of the set for its collective pause in anticipation of a storm. Instead of thunder, we get the gentle kiss of autumn as prelude to a soulful dance that goes from solid to liquid and back again.

These scenes highlight the evocative abilities of Wilson, who adds two parts blues (“Riverside”) and one part groove (“We Shall Rise Again”) to the compositional brew. As performer, the saxophonist renders a painterly wisdom that is fully integrated into its surroundings and is enhanced ever so subtly by an application of electronic effects. Whether lending sparkle and shine to “Any Heart” (a cinematic montage by Stuart in which the drummer’s vacillation between skating and dancing is equally wonderful to behold) or tempering the edges of Nock’s swinging “Old’s Cool,” he excels at unpacking vivid dreams beneath the surface of things.

The pianist, for his part, wields the most multicolored pen of them all, delivering the persistence of “The Dirge” with just as much conviction as he does the blush of “Aftermath” with gentle persuasion. Regardless of mode, he and his cohorts prove that at a time in history when division is the order of the day, four souls crafting melody together can abide by a deeper principle of love and listening.

(This article originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

Mike Nock: Ondas (ECM 1220)

ECM 1220

Mike Nock

Mike Nock piano
Eddie Gomez bass
Jon Christensen drums
Recorded November 1981, Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

How can one not marvel at Mike Nock’s Ondas? Drawing as much from Keith Jarrett as Bill Evans, and in the enviable company of Eddie Gomez and Jon Christensen no less, the sadly overlooked New Zealander left us with one of ECM’s most enduring documents at a time when the label was really getting its bearings. Nock’s pianism gives the illusion of distance, even when up close and personal, as if it were some long shadow, the feet of which are obscured by the horizon. It is also a magnifying glass of vast insight.

Central to this circumscribed detail is the 16-minute opener, “Forgotten Love.” Before a lacy ostinato it unfolds a sheet of paper as landscape, sketching fleeting affections and unrequited maybes. This sets Gomez up for a moth-like solo, as earthbound as it is winged, which then blends into the piano’s left hand. The right, meanwhile, stumbles off and returns with recollections of its travels, each framed by the thinnest of photographic borders. Christensen’s characteristic cymbals patter like rainfall across the title track and on through “Visionary,” in which he also foregrounds a touch-and-go snare. Yet against such a sweeping backdrop, these gestures forget their search for a groove and look more ponderously at where their feet are already planted. Plaintiveness thrives in “Land Of The Long White Cloud” and reveals the set’s most cinematic moments. Nock’s turns of phrase gnarl into a lichen-covered network of roots through which an insectile bass crawls, leaving a melodic honey trail for us to follow in its wake. With such a solemn road behind us, we open ecstatic “Doors” to our final destination.

While Nock may not carry the weight of some of ECM’s more widely recorded movers and shakers, one can hardly begin to quantify the wealth of impressions he leaves behind. This is not music to get lost in, but music that gets lost in you.

Another essential date from the 80s.

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