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Reviewed by Pedro Santos

Stephen Galvin: Modal Behaviour

Reviewed by Pedro Santos

Stephen Galvin: Modal Behaviour

Had I stumbled across this album by Stephen Galvin with its vaguely academic title while scanning Spotify I’m not sure that I would know what to make of it. The 10 tracks here cover so much musical ground, and while not evidently covers as such, mostly imbue a comfortable familiarity that might encourage such an assumption.

Possibly the blame lies in the choice of Django to open the album? Not that it’s a wrong move, actually as the album’s most lively track it makes the best entrée, but because the music is so convincingly in the free-wheeling style of gypsy-jazz that M. Reinhardt, who died back in the early ‘50s, is renowned for.

From that song Stephen Galvin’s mostly instrumental album cosies up to a delicate jazz guitar ballad, followed by bebop, some electric blues (with vocals), Latin rock, ’70s funk, Cuban pop – you get the picture. If that makes it sound confused and perhaps tiring, it’s not, but learning that Galvin is a long-time music teacher helps in the making sense of all that diversity. It also helps explain why he has chosen to ignore the global distributors like Spotify or Bandcamp (as per the intro above) in favour of releasing this work exclusively on his own abcstudioz.com site. That private platform choice allows him to briefly explain each track – whether the musical, social or historical origins – as well as acknowledge the input of his fellow musicians.

Auckland-based Galvin headed to Wellington’s Matrix Studio to record, with David Feehan producing and Feehan’s own band playing (though Galvin himself gets credits for guitar, bass and vocals on the two songs). There’s brass and woodwind, Latin percussion and endless motifs, with each instrument/artist afforded the opportunity to solo in the way you might expect of a live jazz recording.

Galvin describes ‘Modal Behaviour’ as ‘an album of original New Zealand jazz and contemporary music’, by which I gather he is saying that in their playing of familiar genres and evident styles, these Kiwi musicians can match those high international standards, yet somehow have their own intrinsic feel. It’s a commendable contention, and if the more esoteric local releases really aren’t your kind of jazz there’s bound to be some tracks here that are. Overall the mood is one of restraint, making for an album that could be an ideal conversational backdrop, or as a relaxed mood soundtrack that rewards focus, but entertains and gently stimulates without demanding it.