Vicissitudes CD review

Vicissitudes is the new set of pieces by composer/performer Mike Nock. It is the recording of a work commissioned and then premiered at 2013’s Christchurch Arts Festival. That title is clever, its two meanings both valid here – first off the aim of the piece as a whole was to provide something of solace to Christchurch residents following the earthquakes. So that accounts for the first definition (“a change of circumstances or fortune, typically one that is unwelcome or unpleasant”). Nock has said that he had that in mind. But the second definition speaks to the “alternation between opposite or contrasting things” – and the setting for these pieces is the contrast in styles between Nock and his regular trio (Brett Hirst on bass, James Waples on drums, Nock on piano) and NZTrio (Justine Cormack on violin, Sarah Watkins on piano, Ashley Brown on cello).

That simple idea – create a piece of music and have both trios, one from the jazz world, one from the classical have at the same tunes – sustains the album.

It sets up the, pardon the near-pun, nocturnal world of tinkering Mike Nock works in (Information Horizon), he’s adept as composer for both jazz and classical and in his now fairly frequent collaborations with Michael Houstoun he’s been best able to explore that.

The playing of NZTrio is light and lovely across Free Radicals – joining the set-up from Nock’s trio as the strings merely provide waft, floating over the bass and drums, while Nock and Watkins hammer down at the keys. Elsewhere, we have the classical trio answering the call of the jazz. Nock and crew set up Musica Solar and the response comes from NZTrio via Catalytic Converter.

These first four pieces are short and playful and showcase what the two trios can offer – very simply juxtaposing the jazz and classical; it’s Nock’s great composing skill alongside the talent of all players involved that makes it so seamless.

Then we are plunged into the six-part title piece. A short drift of piano prologue sets up the conversation between the violin/cello dance on one side and the bass/drums shuffle and swing the other. Both teams guided by their captain at the piano if you like.

There are some stunning moments where NZTrio is essentially playing jazz (Vicissitudes Pt. II) – the melodies of Ellington recalled, the shapes and tones of Quincy Jones, the arrangements of Mel Lewis and Max Roach. And then, on the same piece, the stately way that Nock’s trio enters the fray has as much to do with classical and chamber music’s rules as to jazz’s freedom.

This contrasting dance constantly made to seem so effortless.

Nock has so brilliantly straddled the worlds of jazz and classical as composer and here as both composer and performer he’s at the helm but the work of all six musicians is frequently stunning, so joyous, so bold. This is a masterwork from one of our greatest composers, a man who works in musical colours and shapes and sounds rather than worrying about the rigidity of a genre and rules as such. It’s a constant marvel listening as Vicissitudes unfolds, then curls back in on itself only to unfurl once again.


Simon Sweetman, Off the Tracks, online review – 22 November 2016

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