This second album by Ben Wilcock and the Jelly Rolls (Jon Rae on drums, Dan Yeabsley bass and bass saxophone), is a fascinating project.
Recorded by Michael Barker (who also guests as vibraphonist on the title track) at Twisty Pole studios in Hamurana, and released on Thick Records, ‘The Phantom Canoe’ delves into the Māori history surrounding the lakes of Te Arawa.
Pianist Wilcock worked in association with local kaumatua and Māori advisors to learn about the history and legends surrounding the lakes including the legends of Hinemoa, Ihenga’s discovery of Rotoiti, and of course the eruption of Tarawera, creating an intriguing jazz album from them.
It sits entirely within the Jelly Rolls’ oeuvre of swing era jazz and doesn’t make a play at being ‘New Zealand’ by the inclusion of sonic tropes (such as using taonga pūoro), but rather it takes the essence of each of the stories that are covered and interprets them through the language of jazz.
Even without knowing the background to the album’s conception it’s a great listen, one that harks back to the time when jazz was for dancing, with great driving rhythms and phrase constructions that make you want to move.
Knowing the background of the album puts it into another realm, and that knowledge is aided and abetted by a short ‘making of’ documentary that accompanies the album on the nifty USB presentation.
‘The Phantom Canoe’ is the type of album that will appeal to a wide range of audiences from absolute jazz novices to jazz sophisticates.