Here we go! The first jazz Sunday of the year 2023 brought not only warmer weather (although, as we know, there’s no guarantee of that), but also expat Kiwi musicians back for a short period of family visits. This time, the seasonal migration winds blew from the States and Australia at once, creating a jazz whirlwind in Wellington.

Two Hutt boys, Dexter Stanley-Tauvao, who resides in New York City these days, on drums, and Matt Steele, now a denizen of Melbourne, on piano, together with Oscar Lavën on reed instruments and Umar Zakaria on the upright bass, met on stage to give a hot holiday performance on a cool Wellington summer day.

Oscar’s opening clarinet solo set the temperature for both sets to oven hot. The rolling solos from the rest of the band kept the fire going. Sets were compiled from Dexter’s original compositions plus a few standards. They provided plentiful opportunities for spicy drum solos.

One tune in particular by Dexter—“There is one on the road”—resonated in many hearts that summer’s eve. The story of a small group of people in search of a decent coffee joint open on the holiday was heartfelt… and not by the performers alone.

The contrasting steaming pot screams and heavy ship haul lows of the saxophone; the grumpy bass keys of the piano; the nervous plucking of the bass; and the impatient ticking of the drums combined to create a sonic image any frustrated coffee lover would recognize.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, a touching, slow, nostalgic piece called “Away” was sad and soothing with bass bow play, pulling and tugging your soul back to your home, to your family.

It was an intense, colourful kaleidoscope of emotions, rhythms, pitches. That was the big city mood that materialized in Aro village.

When I asked Dexter what life in New York was like—was it different? He told me “Hell yes. It’s more demanding, intense, and rich. A lot of music happening, a lot of talent fighting for a place under the sun. That brings a lot of cool jazz to life. That’s what I wanted to showcase tonight”. And he did.

The jazz was right there, at the Rogue, and it was alive as never before. And now a high bar has been set to start the year. If this is only the first, then I dare not to imagine what comes next.

By Charlie Queen