The Chris Mason-Battley Group




Interpretations of the music of John Psathas

“Diálogos is a revelation. I don’t know what the language is that properly describes what the guys are doing, but they’re somehow creating new works. This isn’t ‘arranging’ or ‘adapting’ – I feel it’s better described as continuing the composing process.” – John Psathas


Diálogos is a conversation between the very precise complexities of the original compositions of John Psathas and the intuitive impulse of collaborative improvisation and re-composition. With influences as diverse as classical, world, drum’n’bass, jazz, and the avant-garde, this music pushes the boundaries and expectations of generic idioms to create entirely contemporary, yet wholly accessible new music, rich in colour, texture, and space, and with wide dynamic and emotional ranges.

The album opens with the plaintive beauty of Fragment, from John’s acclaimed masterwork, View From Olympus (RAT-D015), which provides the harmonic and gestural inspiration for a piece of great delicacy. The Songs For Simon suite from Helix (RAT-D022) is here performed in reverse order, starting with the visceral propulsion of drummer Stephen Thomas’ gripping arrangement of Demonic Thesis. This is followed by Minos, which effortlessly transitions into the melodic balance and emotional release of His Second Time.

After a dramatic and rhythmically expressive version of Drum Dances Pt4 (from Rhythm Spike, RAT-D008), the album moves into an impressive 30-minute tour-de-force with the Calenture Suite (also from Rhythm Spike), before concluding on a very satisfying and poignant note with Inferno.




RAT-J-1030 (October, 2015)
This album was made with support from Victoria University of Wellington, Creative New Zealand, and the Auckland University School of Music

Produced by The Chris Mason-Battley Group and Steve Garden 
Engineered by Steve Garden at the Kenneth Myer Centre, University of Auckland
Photography by Eudald Rota
Design by Carolyn van Hoeve of UnkleFranc
Printing by Dave Trotter of Studio Q, Auckland


The Chris Mason-Battley Group


01  Fragment: Dialogos (4:18)
      from View From Olympus, 2006, RAT-D015
This beautifully plaintive, haunting miniature from one of John’s most acclaimed masterworks provides the harmonic and gestural inspiration for a piece that opens with solo saxophone before gradually incorporating the full ensemble.

      Songs For Simon Suite
      from Helix, 2011, RAT-D022
02  Demonic Thesis: Dialogos (4:55)
03  Minos: Dialogos (3:28)
04  His Second Time: Dialogos  (6:17)
Here the band explores different elements from each of the movements of Songs For Simon, starting with drummer Stephen Thomas’ vibrant interpretation of Demonic Thesis. An effortless transition into Minos gradually introduces a reinterpretation of the ambient and modal touches of His Second Time. By reversing the original order of the three movements, the band has created a unique and satisfying emotional dynamic that while very different to John’s original conception is no less rewarding.

05  Drum Dances, Pt. 4: Dialogos (7:02)
      from Rhythm Spike, 1998, RAT-D008
The rhythmical layering of Drum Dances is reworked in this piece by the use of tension and release in the interactive interplay of the ensemble.

      Calenture Suite
      from Rhythm Spike, 1998, RAT-D008
06  Calenture, Pt. 1: Dialogos (6:36)
07  Calenture, Pt. 2: Dialogos (3:55)
08  Calenture, Pt. 3: Dialogos (6:26)
09  Calenture, Pt. 4: Dialogos (5:00)
10  Calenture Reprise: Dialogos (7:43)
Calenture is a disease afflicting sailors in the tropics with a delirium that, it is said, causes them to imagine the sea as green fields into which they desire to leap. The Calenture Suite is an improvisation in five movements in which the musicians respond to each section through explorations of harmonic and rhythmic tension, musical and emotional complexity, groove, space, mood, texture, and an impressive use of contrasting dynamics.

11  Inferno: Dialogos (5:59)
      from View From Olympus, 2006, RAT-D015
The second movement from Three Psalms was inspired by photo journalist James Nachtwey’s book, Inferno. This improvisation is a response to both John’s composition and Mr Nachtwey’s powerful imagery. For more than twenty years, James Nachtwey has confronted war, famine and the gravest geopolitical issues of our time. With a fiercely compassionate stance, he bears witness to tragedies that could otherwise be buried and forgotten. His pictures are inspired by an overwhelming belief in the human capacity for change, despite seemingly overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Total duration: 61:27

All compositions © 2015 by John Psathas, Chris Mason-Battley, David Lines, Sam Giles, and Stephen Thomas, except Demonic Thesis: Dialogos by John Psathas and Stephen Thomas

The Chris Mason-Battley Group thank Creative New Zealand, Victoria University of Wellington, Victoria University Press, Auckland University School of Music, New Zealand School of Music, Auckland Fringe, Radio New Zealand, Rattle Records, John Psathas, Jono Sawyer, Eudald Rota (, Csaba Shepherd (, and our families.



On the 24th I attended another Rattle Jazz album release. This time at the Auckland University Jazz School in the Kenneth Meyers Centre. The Chris Mason Battley Group were performing the album DIALOGOS; this arising from the music of celebrated New Zealand composer John Psathas. The project is exciting and while very much in the moment, a careful crafting is evident. If that sounds like a contradiction it is not. Improvised music is forever reaching beyond imposed structural limitations; the boundaries of convention. Without that restless outreach the music would wither on the vine. This is an example of the new music that you might find on ECM (or Rattle), it is minimalist and references the ethos of John Cage or perhaps even Zorn; it reaches the outer limits of the known.
In Psathas words, “it is not arranging or adapting…(rather) a continuing of the composing process”. There are works or arrangements which re-imagine and examine a work from an outside perspective. That is not the case here. This is part of a developing story and the Psathas vision remains at its heart. I recently read a trilogy by a famous and highly respected author. He had intended to write a fourth volume but died before he could proceed. A year later another author picked up where the original author left off and achieved something extremely rare. He added to the body of work seamlessly; continuing the narrative in ways that were his own and entirely consistent with the original. Although a more serious work, DIAGOLOS was an unmitigated triumph.
Mason-Battley is a thoughtful gifted musician, but we don’t see him perform about town very often. Any new project gets his undivided attention and that was the case here. Counter intuitively, it is his careful preparation which affords him the extraordinary freedom he demonstrates on the bandstand. During this performance he took us right to the edge; you gained the sense listening that he was pushing himself a little further with each phrase. It is at times like this that great music emerges. While adventurous with electronics, he evokes a classic Coltrane sound on his Soprano. There are a number of local musicians who double on soprano but few (if any) sound like Battley.
The Chris Mason-Battley Group has been around for some time and the original group set New Zealand records for the number of downloads and albums purchased. For this project core members David Lines, Sam Giles and Mason-Battley remain with the addition of drummer Stephen Thomas. Unlike earlier configurations, there is no guitar. Bringing Thomas into the mix has worked extremely well. The drummer of choice for many gigs and a gifted percussionist in the fullest sense. Psathas music calls for sensitive drum work and Thomas has exactly the right approach. His understanding of subtle dynamics, time awareness and overall sensitivity to the project were very much on display. I also appreciated David Lines piano. Lines early classical training was evident in places and again this made him a very good choice for the project. The work required a pianist with a particular chordal approach. At times he was minimalist and with a particular approach to voice leading. Lines like the other four were indispensable to the project. Lastly there was Sam Giles – an electric bass player I wish I heard more often. Giles often leans towards the avant-garde and innovative projects. That is where he shines.
John Fenton,

The Chris Mason-Battley Group have gone the distance with ‘Dialogos’. They have not just adapted some of John Psathas’ suites, but more re-imagined them, telling a new story. The quartet of Mason-Battley on saxophones and EWI, David Lines (piano), Sam Giles (bass) and Stephen Thomas (drums and loops), have, as Psathas describes it, continued ‘the composing process’.

Fragment: Dialogos takes inspiration from ‘View From Olympus’ being harmonically and dynamically quite similar, yet differing in terms of colour with a more mellow and soothing score. Psathas’ suite Songs For Simon, originally written for piano and tape, take more of percussive direction with Demonic Thesis: Dialogos beginning rhythmically frenetic and settling in a drum and bass-like pattern, and Drum Dances, Pt. 4: Dialogos ending in an intense, expressive climax. While also re-inventing the Calenture Suite and Inferno (also from ‘View from Olympus’), the Chris Mason-Battley Group have effectively re-composed some of Psathas’ defining works in a way that is fresh and inspiring.

Jesse Austin, NZ Musician

In 2000, Auckland composer/saxophonist Chris Mason-Battley did something so rare In New Zealand jazz as to be almost unique: for the album Karakia he incorporated and interpreted elements of Maori waiata/song into his music. You would think such local influences would be common enough in jazz, but even today they are seldom explored.

That album -- probably hard to find these days -- was an early signal that Mason-Battley and his group (pianist David Lines and bassist Same Giles still here, now with drummer Stephen Thomas for this album) was someone to watch. There have been two further albums by them (the last, Two Tides, a collaboration with taonga puoro expert Richard Nunns for the Rattle Jazz label in 2005).

Among the many who heaped praise on it was composer John Psathas who said, "Not genre-crossing or genre-making, this is unlike any other album I’ve heard. There’s a deep beauty here, haunting and dark. The group plays and listens with a rare sensitivity and concentration. Even when the mood is understated, there's no loss of passion. The dialogue between Richard Nunns and Chris Mason-Battley imbues the disc with a timelessness and restrained intensity not found elsewhere." That Psathas should now find his own music being interpreted on Dialogos -- with similar sensitivity, depth and energy -- could almost seem like Mason-Battley returning the compliment.

Although perhaps primarily known as a classical composer, Psathas' work reaches far beyond that into electronica experiments, jazz, percussion, world music and song. This album -- released late last year, hence "One We Missed" -- picks up a wide cross-section of Psathas' music. The source material comes from Rhythm Spike through Helix to his masterpiece View From Olympus and is reconstructed into two suites; Songs for Simon Suite (based on the Helix compositions) and Calenture Suite (from Psathas' '99 Rhythm Spike debut of mostly works for piano and percussion).

What needs to acknowledged immediately is that this isn't jazz musicians in some jazz-classical crossover, and nor it is faithful adapatations of Psathas' work. The source is a vehicle for the ensemble to explore, extrapolate upon and to find their own interpretations of. So while there might be balladic investigations (the moody and delicately thoughtful pre-bop opener based on an Olympus theme, the similarly essays bookend of Inferno at the close) there is also furious free play (the crashing and turbulent intro to Calenture Pt 3 which resolves into an expressionistic piece for sparking sax, piano punctuations and busy, algebraic drum patterns).

Psathas' music has frequently had a powerful, rhythmic quality which is what drives the group's interpretation of Demonic Thesis (from Helix) which largely belongs to Thomas on drums and loops, and which sets an expected bar very high. The music then works in reverse order through the Songs for Simon on Helix with Minos rendered as pointillistic piano by Lines which then swells gently and segues into His Second Time where Mason-Battley picks up an airy, almost Scandinavian sound (familiar from ECM albums).

Between this suite and the following is the outstanding Drum Dances Pt 4 (based on a Rhythm Spike piece) which is again kicked off by Thomas' percussion (and Lines' percussive but melodically inventive rippling rhythms) before Mason-Battley briefly brings tough and soaring sax. This is a muscular reinvention of the original piano/drum piece which -- as with Demonic Thesis -- again sets up the following suite, especially in its final third when the mood is dialed down into something akin to astringent melancholy with Giles' singing bass keeping a powerful pulse as Mason-Battley winds the energy tight . . . before an abrupt halt.

The opening piano passages of Calenture come as the necessary release after the preceeding tension. This is an astutely constructed album as much as it is a re-invention of Psathas' music, and the journey touches on jazz familarity but also pushes the listener into new areas as the pieces ebb and flow.

And, if jazz is your favoured tipple, you need never have heard a note by Psathas to take this one just as you find it. It is very much worth finding. Even belatedly.  

Graham Reid, Elsewhere




The Chris Mason-Battley Group has a well-established reputation for pushing the borders of the jazz genre, both in their appetite for cross-genre collaboration and in their pursuit of new approaches to creating improvised jazz.

Formed in 1998, the band has recorded four albums and performed at numerous Jazz and Arts Festivals. Their first two albums, Karakia and Unspoken, achieved considerable success on the pioneer international music download site, CMB Group were the most downloaded NZ artist on the site and ranked #2 in the jazz genre for the whole of the site.

Their third album, Two Tides (2006), was a collaboration with taonga puoro master Richard Nunns, the groups first release for Rattle. The focus of the album, and many of their subsequent performances, was to explore the similarities and differences between taonga puoro and European jazz through a collaborative, improvisational approach to composition. The album was well received both critically and commercially, and remains a highly-regarded addition to the Rattle catalogue.

CMB Group and Richard Nunns successfully performed music from Two Tides at various events held at the University of Waikato (2005) and University of Auckland (2006), Wellington Fringe 2006, the 2006 Nelson Festival of the Arts, the 2006 Tauranga Jazz Festival, Te Papa Matariki 06, and Auckland Fringe 2009.

Dialogos – the music of John Psathas is conceptually (and in its delivery) the strongest work that the CMB Group has undertaken to date. Dialogos continues the collaborative approach undertaken on Two Tides by interpreting exceptional music of John Psathas through group improvisation. CMB Group has spent the two years developing this work before it was recorded, an often demanding process of finding effective ways to engage deeply with John's music in a way that both honoured the skilful compositional core of each work while creating space and opportunity for both creative freedom and artistic rigour.


the band

Chris Mason-Battley (BA, Dip Devt Stud, Dip Tchng)
Soprano, Alto + Tenor Saxophones, Akai Electric Wind Instrument, Sampling

Chris leads CMBG, was the cofounder with pianist Alan Brown of the successful Jazz-Funk group ‘Blue Train’ and has recorded and performed with a number of other artists including: Manos Achalinotopolous, New Zealand School of Music Big Band (Auckland), Dan Sperber, KINA.

David Lines (BMus - Piano Performance, Dip Tchng, MEd, PHD)
Piano, Keyboards

David Lines is a lecturer and researcher in Music Education at the School of Music, University of Auckland. David teaches in a range of contexts from undergraduate music students through to PhD and DMA. David has performed and recorded with a number of NZ artists such as Neon Quaver, Brendan Power, Spargo and the Pacific Jazz Arts Ensemble.

Sam Giles

Sam has performed and recorded with a number of NZ artists including Harry Himself, Spargo, Streetcar, New Pacific Music Ensemble, The Brassouls, Jim Langabeer and Trudy Lile.

Stephen Thomas (BMus 1st Class Honours – Jazz Performance)
Drums, Tuned + Untuned Percussion, Drum Sampling

Stephen has recorded and performed with a wide range of NZ artists, including: Nathan Haines, Avalanche City, Tama Waipara, Lisa Crawley, Bella Kalolo, Seth Haapu, Joel Haines, Caitlin Smith, Andy Smith, Black Sand Diva, Lewis McCallum, Spacifix and the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra.