After a delightful but short teaser in April, bassist Umar Zakaria, pianist Duncan Haynes, and drummer Shaun Anderson returned with the full, unredacted programme at St. Andrew’s church on the Terrace.
The spacious hall was a shelter on a stormy Wellington night. Raging elements outside were sated to near silence by the tall, solemn arches and the vast emptiness of the hall. Instruments waited patiently on the stage. The audience caught their breath, shook off raindrops, removed coats. Finally, the musicians appeared.

Umar likes to start his shows without introductions: he tips the audience straight into the deep end of the ocean. We plunge into the vague solo intro, fighting for the meaning, grasping at the other instruments for support as if drowning, as the deep bass sound pulls us down, down. But there is way up! Relax, reorient, and follow the flow. Then suddenly we realise that we are not drowning after all, and that this sea is just another world, full of beauty and sound. Each composition offered its own undersea experience, surfacing now and then subtley to reveal recognisable jazz standards. There were “You’re My Everything“, “Everything Happens to Me“, “I Fall In Love Too Easily“, “I Should Care“, “Insensatez” just to mention a few.

What occurred in the cavernous St. Andrew’s hall that night was neither improvisation, nor age old standards. It was not even simply jazz. It was Music, an enchanting experience of deeper dimension.

Piano jazz trios with double bass and drums were not a popular format in the early years, and all three instruments more often played the role of a rhythm section in a group with wind instruments such as the saxophone or the trumpet with occasional solos here and there. Without “loud” cats this type of trio is usually quiet, reflective, even intimate. Bill Evans’ first trio, recorded live at the Village Vanguard in 1961, is a good example of equitable conversation betwixt these three instruments. The Umar Zakaria Trio continued this tradition in their own, indisputably original way.

Each piece followed the same structure, as does a good story. A thought seed is introduced, the thought is processed, it evolves, it culminates, and then it concludes with deliverance. The sensual form of the music, combined like a caress with a fusion of double bass overtones and piano strings, accompanied by heartbeat drums, provides a deeply emotional experience for any aesthete of heavenly music.
Umar explained to us once again that jazz music is an equal player on the city stage:

I decided to perform here because I believe that jazz musicians in New Zealand deserve to play regularly at these types of venues.I believe they deserve to have their music performed on the best instruments available, such as the beautiful grand piano at St. Andrew’s.

Let me also mention an amazing sound work by Michael Duffy. Although the cavernous and live St. Andrew’s was hardly the right sonic environment for such a piece, Duffy persevered and made it work.

I’m looking forward to seeing more events of this quality in Wellington, both from Umar’s trio and from other musicians. As Umar says, “the best way to lead is by example”. I hope many will follow him.

By Charlie Queen