Concert Review: Nathan Haines Live at Ponsonby Social Club, 13 June 2020

Saturday June 13th held space for a beautiful marriage between eastern and western improvisational worlds with Nathan Haines Live at Ponsonby Social Club featuring the eclectic Jonathan Crayford on keyboards and Tabla exponent Manjit Singh.

This collaboration is prefaced by Nathan’s role in 2019 as the Musical Director of the Silver Scrolls, where he worked with the Takadimi Ensemble. From this collaboration has come a beautiful marriage of Indian Classical Music & Jazz. But even this description is simplistic in nature as the evening brought a fusion of many musical worlds. Kudos to Bobby Brazuka for the new table format in the space, allowing for a cabaret-like setting to settle the space conducive to music appreciation.

Haines & Crayford set the first tones down magically with Nathan’s Sign Wave, creating a soundscape on Rhodes & Soprano Sax for Singh to sink into with his tabla grooves. The tune provided a great opportunity for both the musicians and the audience to relax into the vibe with some atmospheric yet virtuosic music.

Following this, a cover of the Beatles’ Norwegian Wood featuring Nathan on flute. This was the first of Nathan’s explorations on the flute for the evening, and this sound-world proved complimentary to the transcendental tones of the tabla and the rhodes. In the middle of the tune, Singh stepped into the light with a Takadimi solo. Takadimi is a vocal percussion and rhythm technique from Indian Classical Music styles, now championed in the western world as an educational tool for rhythm learning.

Crayford’s composition was next with Mistral. I have never heard anything like it. Warped augmented harmonies fused with spiritual tabla & melodic yet pocketed improvisations from Nathan on the soprano sax made for a nucleus of music that expanded in every direction. Magical!

It was unfortunate at this point of the gig that there were people in the audience treating the stage like background music and talking throughout the performance. Nathan took no quarms in telling these people that “if you want to talk you can go out in the fucking street, thank you” much to the admiration of the rest of the crowd.

Having bought Manjit’s sound into Nathan and Jonathan’s world, they reciprocated with the traditional Indian tune Samvaad. Certainly hypnotic yet with a strong sense of clarity and focus. And definitely groovy. Special. Crayford’s forays into both the brighter and darker colours of the prophet synthesiser suited his tendencies to swim between classical, eastern & jazz hats, Singh the ever-constant, and eventually soloistic and improvisational, both to great applause.

Crayford announced the final piece of the set, Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras, which confirmed something I had suspected for a couple of years having heard him at various gigs. Crayford “plays J.S Bach every day.” This certainly shows in the clarity of his musical ideas and the dexterity of his attack. In a lineage of interpretation, the trio played what was a homage to the CTI record label’s jazz recording of Villa Lobos’ homage to Bach. In Crayford’s words “3rd degree bach”. So sexy to hear Brazilian flavours on the tabla in all it’s sensuousness, topped with the charm of Haines’ flute, the descending melody of which had an extraordinary likeness to his Lady Lywa.

Crane of Good Omen a minimalistic and lyrical fusion of Indian & Jazz palettes and Crayford’s East West a 20 minute submersion into a meditative tampura drone with other worldly colour calls from the melodic instruments, the second half opened the audience up to an even more spiritual experience than the first. The next piece, Khoj, a compositional collaboration between Haines and Singh, took us deeper into this realm still with lots of space around the melodies, less improvisation, more breath. Beautiful.

Pu Po pulled us out of the meditation and back into the grooves. Funky and fresh, head-bobbing, this gave Nathan a chance to stretch back out and capture the semi-conscious room from the hypnotic realm. Just what we needed to be ready for the final number, Zawinul Groove, dank, gospel, bluesy, cool, jazz… Jonathan pulled out his jazz chops and rhode-funked the room into oblivion.

If you haven’t seen Nathan Haines Live, you absolutely have to. Constantly re-inventing, constantly fresh, constantly hip. 10/10. Must see.

Josh Clark

Photos by Kyria Warren