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This Dream of You | Regional News

This Dream of You

Diana Krall

Universal Music Group

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

If there is one thing that I have noticed in this COVID-19 pandemic, it is the number of artists not being able to tour, or in some cases even record. To remedy that, the creatives within the industry have taken to reissuing many older albums with bonus tracks and remastering. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Fleetwood Mac are just some artists benefiting by having a higher profile during this quiet period. In the jazz field, it seems barely a couple of weeks go by without some lost recording being discovered in the vaults. Recently we had Miles Davis with Rubberband, John Coltrane’s Blue World, Stan Getz’s Live at the Village Gate, and Ella Fitzgerald’s Ella: The Lost Berlin Tapes. All make for great listening.

But then there are the artists who record plenty of material and discard it for one reason or another: it didn’t suit the artist’s mood in playback, it was the wrong material for the album at the time, or lengthwise, it just didn’t fit in.

Diana Krall lost her mentor and producer Tommy Li Puma (1936-2017), but her last recording with him has resulted in some leftover tracks for the album This Dream of You. And, if Krall continues with the soft, light jazz approach, then many fans will be happy. In fact, it is the perfect bookend to the Turn Up the Quiet album. But it might not suit others, myself included, who think that it’s time for a serious jazz album.

I’ve played one track over and over again from this disc: Just You, Just Me, which features a fiddle and is an absolute gas. Stuart Duncan has featured on dozens of country albums, yet here he plays with the ghost of Joe Venuti sitting on his shoulder. Duncan reappears on the album’s namesake, Krall’s interpretation of Bob Dylan’s This Dream of You. It’s a sensitive reading with the inclusion of an accordion.

New Zealander Alan Broadbent, never far away from a Krall album, resurfaces here playing the piano on the track More Than You Know, and has a hand in arranging several other tracks. Music for a summer’s night then.

Chasing the Sun | Regional News

Chasing the Sun

Sola Rosa

Way Up Records

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

Knowing that I was into old school soul, a friend gave me a copy of Sola Rosa’s 2005 album Moves On. To say that I have devoured all their albums since would be an understatement. This wildly eclectic group, led by Aucklander Andrew Spraggon, has continued to redefine soul as we know it by incorporating electronics, jazz beats, neo-soul, dub, loops, and reggae, so much so that Sola Rosa’s mantlepiece is chock full of nominations for Best Electronica Album, Best Independent Release, Best Producer, and Best Dance/Electronic Album.

Best not to call this an Andrew Spraggon album, but rather a cumulation of like-minded artists intent on getting a groove on from track one and never taking the foot off the pedal. Included are regular collaborator and Streets singer Kevin Mark Trail, Basement Jaxx’ Sharlene Hector, and UK reggae star Kiko Bun. Others include Londoners singer-songwriter Josh Barry and eclectic neo-soul singer Jerome Thomas. British reggae and dub MC vocalist Eva Lazarus, plus up-and-coming Australian artist Thandi Phoenix are in the mix also. Closer to home, expat Kiwi vocalist Wallace Gollan and Aotearoa’s Troy Kingi add their talents to the mix.

No wonder then it took five years to make this album. Mind you, it doesn’t surprise me as Spraggon, in an interview with NZ Musician, reveals an artist not content to rest on his laurels. Many tracks started off in one direction but changed midstream. For example, on the track For the Mighty Dollar, Julien Dyne’s drums replace Spraggon’s programmed beats and, by a twist of fate one day when a singer couldn’t make the London session, Spraggon was given the name of Josh Barry. The magic happened and he can be heard on You Don’t Know.

If your tastes run from Earth, Wind and Fire meets Snap, or Mtume’s Juicy Fruit to M People, you will fall in love with this disc. It takes all of these elements and adds a fresh take with layer upon layer of hip-hop and dub beats.

Rachmaninoff 2: Triumph  | Regional News

Rachmaninoff 2: Triumph

Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 5th Dec 2020

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

I imagine this concert was christened Triumph because of the positive critical and public reception of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 in contrast to the debacle of his first symphony some years previously, which nearly destroyed his confidence as a composer.

Equally, though, the second work on the programme, View from Olympus by New Zealand composer John Psathas was a triumph in terms of audience response: the crowd went wild! The work is a double concerto for pianist and a percussionist playing a wide variety of instruments. The soloists were Michael Houstoun and percussionist Jeremy Fitzsimons. The first and third movements, drawn from Psathas’ Greek heritage, conveyed the avenging spirit of the Furies and the wine-possessed frenzy of the Maenads of Greek mythology, both fierce and powerful groups of women. The second movement, The Smiling Child, is a tribute to his two children and, by contrast, is delicate, tender, and playful. The range of sounds and timbre achieved by the soloists was simply staggering, with the piano part integral to the overall effect. While Houstoun worked overtime with his fingers, Fitzsimons added to the visual interest of the performance as he moved across the stage between instrument stations. And let’s not forget the orchestra: ubiquitous strings, powerful interjections from brass instruments, and yet more percussion. It was all stunning and magical.

One can see why Rachmaninoff’s second symphony has sometimes in the past been shortened in performance. It is a vast, tumultuous work. Wonderful, but it does go on! Marc Taddei and the orchestra delivered an energetic, driving, and colourful performance that honoured the composer’s intent to express emotions. It has it all: agitated then sweet, sombre then tender, passionate then nostalgic, exuberant and festive, melody after melody, and climax after climax. I think the orchestra had a ball, a fitting climax to their subscription concert year.

Splosh! A Food P*rn Drag Show  | Regional News

Splosh! A Food P*rn Drag Show

Presented by: Hugo Grrrl’s Gigs

Produced by: Willy SmacknTush

Ivy Bar & Cabaret, 5th Dec 2020

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

The Ivy Bar stage is covered in absorbent sheets, and the front row are equipped with waterproof ponchos; if you aren’t prepared to get messy, you’re in the wrong place.

Splosh: to cover one’s self in food in order to achieve sexual stimulation or arousal. As a show title, it’s enough of a content warning. Willy SmacknTush, the “hoist with the moist,” makes a powerful entrance to open the show, and assures us that by the end of it we’ll be “begging for second helpings.”

First up, Robin Yablind treats us to his specialty ‘draglesque’ style, revealing several thoughtfully positioned citrus squeezers; they say he’s sexually confusing, but with fresh orange juice dripping down his chest, I’m not confused at all. Jezebel, head to toe in cow print, bathes in a pool of about 10 litres of milk. Soaking up the audiences’ squeals, this truly messy queen does not hold back. Braiden Butter is an audience favourite, and with his signature combination of comedy and dance, his beet cannot be beat. Harlie Lux, while nailing a lip-sync, invites us to eat an ice cream sundae off her chest. This queen is always a treat, but tonight she takes it to the next level. Amy Thurst, Wellington’s favourite bogan mum, genuinely makes me thursty as she guzzles a couple bottles of red. My shirt may now be wine-stained, but it’s worth it. The Bombay Bombshell’s dedication should be commended, but she has me literally gagging as she makes out with a fish. It does not smell good. It’s fantastic.

The finale act, no matter how many times I see it, is mind-blowing. Ju Majin and Brenda? Areyouintheaudience are back with their human PB&J sandwich, and food porn has never been better.

I often find myself describing drag shows as delicious, mouth-watering, gag-worthy queer magic. In Splosh! A Food P*rn Drag Show, these adjectives became literal, leaving me covered in sparkling wine, and wondering if I’d just experienced my favourite drag show of all time.

The Slutcracker | Regional News

The Slutcracker

Story by Jean Sergent and Salesi Le’ota

Directed by: Jean Sergent

Running at BATS Theatre until 12th Dec

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

It’s Christmas Eve, and Clyde (Jake Brown) is busy swiping left when his toy soldier (Dryw McArthur) comes to life for a night out on the town. Through the seedy streets of Courtenay Place to the vom-filled buckets of Cuba Street they waltz, hitting gay clubs and espresso joints along the way. This 45-minute high-energy queer ballet celebrates the magic of a Christmas spent with chosen family.

The Slutcracker features very little dialogue, with some lines drowned out by Maxwell Apse’s fantastic arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s original The Nutcracker score. Because of this, I crave more precision from some of the cast. Brigid Costello’s slick yet simplified choreography allows for the fact that not everyone onstage is a professional ballet dancer. Not all the performances are exceptional when it comes to dance alone, which would be a drawback if The Slutcracker was just a ballet – but it’s so much more than that. It’s joyful, sincere storytelling brought to life by passionate performers who put their all into elevating queer voices.

Brown gives 110 percent, delivering frenzied footwork with a Cheshire cat grin planted ear to ear. He’s an immensely loveable protagonist. As his boy toy for the eve, McArthur cuts a striking figure with graceful leaps and pirouettes that make me wonder if he has a dance background. Andrew Paterson takes sass to the max with a tap dance drag routine for the ages. With stellar facials and electric energy throughout, Georgia Kellett reigns over Midnight Espresso as the Sugar Plum Fairy, while Felix Crossley-Pritchard makes a fabulously evil Rat King. Shay Tanirau and Phase flesh out the storyline and help the choreography shine in the ensemble.

Accentuated by the soft, colourful hues of Hāmi Hawkins’ lighting design, Lucas Neal’s festive set lets us know what we’re in for from the get-go: a night of love, laughter, and unbridled joy – just what Christmas should be.   

Mank | Regional News

Mank

(M)

131 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Right from the word go, when tilted opening titles loft over a black-and-white California sky – almost ironically reading “Netflix International Pictures Presents” – Mank feels as though it was pulled from the rubble of a time capsule planted in the 1930s, grime and gashes intact.

Herman J. Mankiewicz, or Mank (Gary Oldman), is an alcoholic screenwriter with a wit renowned by the top brass of 30s Hollywood, including press tycoon William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and his mistress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried). Following a car crash, a bedridden Mank is asked to pen a script for the debut film of a “young genius from New York”, Orson Welles (Tom Burke).

Of course, the film in question is Citizen Kane, still regarded by many to be the greatest and most influential film ever made. Cited as an early example of auteurism, Welles is often considered the sole mind behind its creation. Mank tells a different story.

Though its narrative doesn’t reach the heights of suspense achieved in other David Fincher films, Mank feels like the cinematic gift we deserve this Christmas. Between the imposing sets, regal costumes, and boisterous personalities on display, it captures the dingy atmosphere of an early noir classic. It shines in black-and-white, photographed by Erik Messerschmidt with plenty of canted callbacks to Citizen Kane.

Mank is about the conflict behind creativity; the contentious debate for authorship between Mank and Welles, Hearst’s fear of public humiliation when it becomes clear that Mank’s script about power, greed, and corruption is based on him. It may not sound fun per se, but Jack Fincher’s endlessly witty script makes the story sing. Mank is a talker, and Oldman places each word perfectly – some slurred beyond comprehension, others overtly articulated to offend that rich prick at the other end of the dining table.

Mank is a lesson in craft and polish. While its narrative is catnip to any movie fan, I can’t help but wonder if casual viewers will find it as fascinating. Its physical beauty is bound to make anyone suspect there is more beneath the surface, and those intrigued by its plot will find new details every time they put it on.

Think Like a Monk | Regional News

Think Like a Monk

Written by: Jay Shetty

HarperCollins

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Think Like a Monk is so much more than the title suggests. Author Jay Shetty’s words feel authentic and spoken by someone who is walking the talk. He’s lived the regular nine-to-five lifestyle and found it wanting. Think Like a Monk made me sit up and pause, reflect and reimagine life; so much so, I had to read this book chapter by chapter with ample breaks in between, days even, to wholeheartedly digest and ruminate on all the profound things he was saying.

Shetty regales us with tales of becoming a monk, a process where he became gracefully and mindfully aware of anything and everything in his life and the lives of others. I never once felt like this was a clichéd, fanciful, or indulgent plunge into self-help book territory.

He talks of existing in career quadrants where ideally passion and skill collide; the other quadrants are a mixture of when the two don’t collide. I am suddenly acutely aware I have one foot firmly planted in one career quadrant while holding on for dear life to another. Shetty makes you feel as if anyone can live a life less ordinary, simply by being you and tapping into infinite wisdom in a purposeful and achievable way.

“Monks understand that routine frees your mind but the biggest threat to freedom is monotony,” says Shetty. He encourages you to change your lens, to find new things in old routines.

“Plant trees under whose shade you do not plan to sit” – live your life with intent and service.
Shetty concludes his final chapter with a hope that his book will have inspired and perhaps encouraged a fresh start. He has certainly done that.

Think Like a Monk challenged all I thought I knew about the life and purpose of a monk. I had only ever seen what I wanted to see – the robes, the shaven heads, the seemingly purposeless chants, and the celibate solitary lifestyle. Changing your lens to think more like a monk is just the start.

This Farming Life: Five Generations on a New Zealand Farm  | Regional News

This Farming Life: Five Generations on a New Zealand Farm

Written by: Tim Saunders

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Ayla Akin

This Farming Life speaks the warm truth about family, connection, and heritage on a New Zealand farm. Tim Saunders begins by describing his early years where he resisted farm life, preferring instead to pursue adventures throughout NZ and abroad. His explorations fail to keep him away as he returns home, finally accepting his commitment to the land.

Whilst the work described on the farm is tough and relentless, Saunders’ words feel effortless. The stories of Saunders’ mother and father are beautiful. I felt like I could see Saunders smiling as he relives his fondest memories. More importantly (as someone obsessed with comedy), the book is bound together by humour. As I progressed through the chapters, I realised that Saunders’ manner of describing events is likely a product of his charming and quirky father. A slight shift in font and you are suddenly transported to a childhood memory; one being a hilarious account of Saunders at his first sheep auction. I cracked up loudly – lucky I was reading at home!

Interestingly, the book addresses well-known farming issues, and the chapters are lightly laced with politics. Many of these situations leave you frustrated and are necessary for an authentic understanding of agriculture. Somehow, Saunders avoids a deep dive into his feelings, which I believe could have further enhanced the emotive dimensions of the book. There are deliberate mentions of climate change throughout that are accompanied with his desire, along with his vegetarian wife’s desire, to do what is best for the planet. Despite these ‘soft’ offerings, he does not skirt the gory realities of farm life.

The chapters are divided conveniently into seasons. As someone who picked up the book knowing zero about farming, it made the read even more educational. You do not need to be a farming nut to enjoy this book. This Farming Life is an honest, loving, and easy read that will leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy by the end!

Scorpions in Stilettos | Regional News

Scorpions in Stilettos

Written by: Hinemura Ellison & Ted Hughes

Bach Doctor Press

Reviewed by: Anne Taylor

This is the third book in a trilogy by Waikanae-based publishing duo Darin Dance and Virginia Innes-Jones, writing here under pseudonyms. It follows Clara James, an impulsive go-getter piecing together how past traumatic events have derailed her life and escaping corporate life in Wellington – a life she’s just exploded by having an affair with a married judge.

I was looking forward to some light relief at this point in the year but my read got off to a bad start with a missing comma in the dedication – the serious kind that messes with meaning. Unfortunately, glaring typos and grammar glitches are frequent, and this was a major barrier for me. The dialogue is at times stilted as it tells the reader key information. I only have a sketchy mental picture of Clara and none of her friends (strange in the romance genre?), but I know she carries a “hobo bag” because the authors told me multiple times. Clara’s mother and boss are simplistic villains, paper cut outs for Clara to sling off at. There were some funny moments but probably not in the way the authors hoped, as with the poems lifted straight out of Clara’s journal or when she hears the news of the possibly fatal (for her friends) earthquake, then a few pages later is shooting the breeze over bubbles with a dishy flight attendant. At one point it looks as if Clara is going to bust open a shady property deal and/or solve a murder, but these subplots trail off into oblivion.

On the positive side, the Wellington setting, complete with Astoria Café, Ministry offices, and train commutes to the coast is refreshing, and Clara’s challenges are relatable and passionately portrayed. On balance, the raw, ‘heart-on-sleeve’ style is one of the strengths. Like its main character, this book has pace and chutzpah, and the authors have storytelling talent, zipping us from Wellington to Kathmandu and Sweden, but the standards of crafting I’d hope to find in any genre, including romance, are not there.