The Jac

Best Jazz Album finalist - 2015 NZ Music Awards


Alexis French (trumpet)
Jake Baxendale (alto saxophone)
Richard Thai (tenor saxophone)
Matthew Allison (trombone)
Callum Allardice (guitar)
Daniel Millward (piano)
Nick Tipping (double bass)
Shaun Anderson (drums)

The Jac started out as a rehearsal band for students and tutors at the NZSM jazz school in Wellington, transcribing and performing charts by New York and San Francisco composers. Before long they began writing and performing their own music, and Nerve is the result, a suite of intelligent, dynamic compositions for jazz octet.
Describing themselves as a ‘small big band’, The Jac is a tight eight-piece ensemble that performs with attitude and intensity. “That’s one of the cool things about the group,” says Callum Allardice. “We sit halfway between a combo and a big band, which allows us to draw from both.”
The band tackle styles and grooves rarely associated with large ensembles. Improvisation is integral to each piece, written into the work rather than separated from it, and their sound encompasses a wide palette of colours and textures. It’s uncommon for jazz ensembles to play music as highly arranged as this, but smaller size allows for more intimacy and interaction.
“There’s tension and energy in our music, and an emotional element that seems to resonate with people,” says Jake Baxendale. “It’s technically difficult and requires lots of rehearsal, but we’re aiming for as much simplicity and directness as possible.”
The group plan to write and perform as much as possible in the coming months, to open up their sound more, expose it to more influences, and to record new material while it’s fresh and vibrant. Rattle plans to be there with them …
"New Zealand jazz has been increasingly delivering not just interesting but quite exceptional albums, and because they just keep coming -- many through the estimable Rattle Jazz imprint -- you get a feeling of continuity and growth. Rattle… [with its] unimpeachable track record in releasing beautifully produced, impressively packaged, award-winning contemporary classical and elsewhere albums, [has now made] a serious foray into jazz."
Graham Reid, Elsewhere


RAT-J-1018 (January, 2014)
This recording was made possible with financial assistance from the New Zealand School of Music, Wellington, New Zealand

Produced by The Jac
Recorded by Marcelo Hudson and Joseph Milsom at the NZSM Massey Concert Hall, Wellington
Mixed and mastered by Steve Garden at the Garden Shed, Auckland
Design by UnkleFranc

  The Jac

    New York Axel Man (7:38)
    Armada (7:00)
    Marik (6:26)
    Thieves in the Night (7:55)
    Major Major Major (8:24)

New York Axel Man, Marik, Major Major Major © Callum Allardice, 2013
Armada, Thieves in the Night © Jake Baxendale, 2013



With four horns up front, Wellington ensemble The Jac assault the senses in the best possible way; solidly augmented with two keyboards, bass and drums. The lineup used for their Rattle debut Nerve features piano and guitar, but with guitarist Callum Allardice overseas Rhodes has been added, giving their sound a character reminiscent of the San Francisco Jazz Collective.
There was an enthusiastic turnout at CJC for their Auckland album launch gig recently. As front-man and predominant soloist, Alto player Jake Baxendale (who together with Allardice wrote the material for the album) garners the lions share of attention. Trumpet players of the calibre of Alex French are rare in New Zealand. His articulation, clean lines, and ability to communicate an idea in a short space impressed greatly. Chris Buckland on tenor and Matthew Allison (a member of the NZSO) on trombone complete the horn section.
With music this highly arranged, the horns need to work together as a close-knit entity. Deftly negotiating the often complex charts, the ensemble showed just how tight they could be. They produce a big sound, but one with a world of implied space.
The juxtaposition between piano and Rhodes worked well, with the musicians complimenting each other while keeping out of each others way. Dan Milward on piano anchored the group with his subtle and understated approach, while Dan Hayles on Rhodes augmented the mix with well placed fills and providing added depth to the ensemble sound.
On bass is the talented Nick Tipping, a well-respected Wellington musician who, like Baxendale, regularly plays with the Rodger Fox Wellington Jazz Orchestra, often backing international artists when they come to town. Shaun Anderson is a supportive in-the-pocket drummer who can breathe fire into proceedings. He and Hayles who took the more organic approach, both regularly stepping free of the charts to great effect.
Excerpt from a review by John Fenton, Feb 2014
Starting out as a rehearsal band for both students and teachers at Wellington’s NZSM jazz school, The Jac soon took on a life of its own. This jazz octet manages to tilt perfectly between small combo energy and the expansive sound of a big band. Nerve is a sharp five-track album that bursts with colour and ideas.
New York Axel Man opens with a probing bass line as the horns dart in and around cymbal strikes. There’s a great tension to the rhythm of this track as Richard Thai (tenor saxophone) and Jake Baxendale (alto saxophone) take turns accentuating the melody. Callum Allardice (guitar) and Daniel Millward (piano) anchor the sway of dynamite rhythm section, Nick Tipping (double bass) and Shaun Anderson (drums). Armada is straight in: the horns happy, bright sounding, a slightly lounge-like rhythm playing underneath, with subverted bossa-vamps across the keys and bounce of the drums. <
Marik slows things down, a ballad that opens with a stark stretch of piano, a bob of bass underneath, and the very gentlest of brush curls across the snare. A waft of unison horns creates a sort of 'siren-song' before the pulse arrives. Calming, restorative after the opening brace, this track works as a hinge before we’re back into the attack of Thieves In The Night, where the drums provide an equivalent of horn stabs and the light dabs of a funk break-beat. The piano provides the vamp, then Anderson has a brief solo before the horns take the song towards a 'shuffle’n’dodge' that recalls Max Roach’s legendarily large combos.
The closing track, Major Major Major, is another stately ballad. It has something of a swell behind it, in the rhythm, reminiscent of Jeff Beck’s Diamond Dust, but which also references more straight-ahead post-bop jazz. A beautiful piano dance is perhaps the highlight of the track, until Allardice’s guitar solo steps up to share the spotlight.
Nerve not only offers wonderful playing, but two very talented composers. Callum Allardice and Jake Baxendale wrote this very smart set of tunes, and the complimentary production is spot on. This great slice of local jazz is well worth a listen – absolutely!
Review by Simon Sweetman, Off the Tracks
Hailing from Wellington, jazz octet The Jazz was formed in 2010 as a rehearsal band for students and tutors at the NZSM jazz school in Wellington, transcribing and performing charts by New York and San Francisco composers. In time they began writing and performing their own music, and Nerve is the brilliant result.
New York Axel Man begins the dynamic journey with a very pleasant double bass riff from Nick Tipping, which is well shadowed by trumpeter Alexis French. They are later joined and heralded by alto sax, tenor sax and trombone. With the brass working on the insistent melody and expanding on its top end, French brings it back to accentuate a more studied approach. All the while, Shaun Anderson’s drums accentuate depth and energy - welcome to the world of The Jac.
More fun is to be had in the question/answer arrangement of Armada. At times the saxophone hints at the style of 1970’s Dutch band Solution, particularly its remarkable album, Divergence). However, with Callum Allardice’s nifty guitar lines and Daniel Millward’s uptempo pianoforte, The Jac lay down their very own groove. Armada is certainly an early highlight, but Marik takes things further with an almost chiming piano line that is soon joined by warm-sounding brass and brushes. This track gives The Jac the chance to show how well they can deliver a tender and studied ballad - underpinned by Tipping’s lyrical bass.
The pace increases with Thieves In The Night, where the band make busy with a short, repetitive melody, fueling it with sudden bursts of brass followed by a change of pace to accentuate the feeling of late night creeping and searching. On Major Major Major the ensemble employ their considerable talent on another clever arrangement. Nerve is one dynamic album from one very exciting jazz octet. They are evidently educated, informed, and highly inventive. Let’s hope they undertake a national tour of New Zealand, I will be first in the queue.
Review by Steve Scott
And now for something completely different. Local record label Rattle has for 20 years been making exceptional audio art, and with it gained extraordinary kudos, while at the same time remaining somewhat under the general public’s consciousness-radar. If anything, the label can be likened to Germany’s much-awarded ECM, where each album is beautifully recorded and mastered and every detail down to the distinctive cover artwork is carefully rendered.
ECM’s jazz, world-influenced and modern classical recordings are instantly recognisable, and NZ label Rattle too, has an enviable reputation for the same reasons.
Since owner Steve Garden sold the label to Wellington’s Victoria University Press last year (he is still the boss), it has been churning out so many great new releases that they tend to get somewhat neglected by the media, possibly because none of their albums aspire to commercial popularity, or feature scantily-clad women on the front cover, or booty-beats.
But here’s just one great example of sublime Rattle product: The Jac is an eight-piece horn-dominated jazz ensemble, and Nerve (Rattle) is just lovely.
Alternating between compositions by guitarist Callum Allardice and alto saxist Jake Baxendale, the record has a beautiful smoky ambience, and it’s a rare opportunity to hear a well-recorded horn section, both in unison and solos.
There are elegiac ballads and tunes that could almost be 1970s TV cop show themes, and both are enhanced by a revealing recording where the grain in horns and the muscularity and dynamics of the bass and drums are both equally apparent.
It’s impressive, and I just wish there was a bigger audience for this kind of thing. Sometimes, it feels as if there’s no room to celebrate more than one thing at a time (currently, that’s Lorde), in the same way that the whole country seems to such down for a big rugby match.
Bottom line: Anything with the Rattle logo on it is worth checking, but Nerve is a standout for anyone who likes smoky jazz.
Review by Gary Steel