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by Natalie Pease

Kevin Field: Taking a Wider View

by Natalie Pease

Kevin Field: Taking a Wider View

With the late February release of ‘Field Of Vision’ keyboardist Kevin Field now has three albums to his name – as well as a healthy slice of several others, including Whirimako Black’s ‘Sings’ which won the Best Jazz Album Award at the 2008 NZ Music Awards. A lecturer in jazz piano and composition, he joined with a couple of his Auckland University contemporaries as The FSH Trio, on the 2010 Rattle Jazz Series release ‘Irony’. Outside of the academic or strictly jazz circles however he is possibly best known for his playing on several of Nathan Haines’ albums, including his latest, which also features in this issue. Natalie Pease talked with this extremely talented, self-taught jazz pianist.

Kevin Field is an Auckland pianist who has quietly yet assuredly gained a reputation as one of the country’s finest jazz musicians. ‘Field Of Vision’ is the second album under his own name. Recorded at Revolver and Roundhead Studios, it is a collection of Field’s own compositions created in collaboration with a host of celebrated jazz colleagues. Amongst others, the album features Joel Haines on guitar and his brother Nathan on saxophone, Karika Turua (bass), Mickey Ututaonga (drums) and the percussion of Miguel Fuentes. Released on Nathan Haines’ own Haven label, it was also produced by Haines and mixed by Steve Roberts.

“Nathan was a big part of getting the right sound for the album. We know each other really well and I think we trust each other. It’s good to have someone producing in the studio, so you can more or less do your thing. I could sit down and play piano and I knew there was someone in the control room checking that the bass drum sound was good, that the band was grooving. You can just play your instrument.

“We’ve collaborated on stuff in the past and it’s quite a natural process to write together. On his new album there are a couple of tracks that I wrote as well. We have complimentary skills. I’m often a little bit more on the harmonic side, and he might have some very specific ideas about a bass line. We collaborate in that way. He’s very good when you’ve got a maybe half-finished idea, coming up with some good solutions to finish it off. Similarly he’s bought along ideas to me and I’ve said it needs something else. It’s a nice relationship.””

The process of bringing this album to fruition was by necessity lengthy. Field teaches jazz piano and composition at Auckland University as well as playing and collaborating widely with others.

“Tunes are always been written, some of the tunes on this album had been floating around for quite a while. At a certain point you think, ‘Yes this does look like an album, or the beginnings of an album.’ I didn’t think it was going to take quite so long, but I’m pleased it has, because there were about three new pieces that ended being on the album that were recorded nearly a year after the initial session, and I can’t imagine the album without those extra tracks. I’m quite pleased it sat there and I didn’t rush to release it. There were a few things that ended up on the cutting room floor though. A few tunes were euthanised, put to sleep gently!””

Field composed all of the tracks, either solo or in collaboration with Haines and the guest vocalists. He sees both writing his own and performing the works of others as fuelling important creative functions for him.

“The compositional side of things I get a lot of satisfaction out of. It’s hard to separate the two [composition and playing], because often when you write something one of your thoughts might be, ‘Okay, how will I solo/improvise over this?’ Often the two go together. Also, I’m really open to the idea of other people playing my compositions, I’m not really precious about different interpretations.”” 

‘Field Of Vision’ is a departure for Field, an exploration of novel music territory. His two previous releases, ‘Dangerous Curves’ (2003) and Rattle Records’ ‘Irony’ (2010 – more a piano trio outing) were stellar examples of elegant acoustic swing jazz, whereas ‘Field Of Vision’ is heavily influenced by ’70s and ’80s soul and electric jazz.

“The compositions on this lend themselves more to the style that the album is, a groove, away from acoustic swing jazz. I just wanted a different flavour, a different variety.””

He was keen to keep the process fluid and collaborative, trusting the improvisational skills of his colleagues and encouraging their melodic and lyrical contributions.

“I didn’t feel that the piano had to be the dominant instrument in there all the time, the melodies could come through some other medium. There’s deliberately not piano solos on every track. The basic structures were there, music charts were written, but it’s nice to leave a little bit of room for what might happen in the studio. The one thing with this entire album that I never did was rehearse before we went in for the recording. Even the string players [Ashley Brown, Justine Cormack, Miranda Adams and Robert Ashworth with arrangements by Wayne Senior], they saw the music for the first time in the studio. It worked out fine, because you trust the musicians.”

Marking new territory for him were collaborations with vocalists Bex Nabouta, Marjan Gorgani and Kevin Mark Trail who provide soulful vocals on tracks Need You and Dangerous To Know.

“There’s nothing like playing behind a fantastic vocalist. It’s something that I really enjoy. I enjoy that collaboration anyway. It was always in my mind, I wanted to have vocal tracks. I really like the mix of Marjan’s vocals and Chris Cox’s beats. Dangerous To Know started life as an instrumental but a friend commented, it could use another vocal track.””

Field admits the album will be difficult to recreate live, given the large number of personnel involved. A Creative Jazz Club gig planned to support the album’s release in late April, will have a smaller, pared down version of the ‘Field Of Vision’ band.

“It doesn’t matter because the music evolves, it’s part of the evolving of the tunes.”

Painting of Kevin Field by Wayne Senior