26 Feb 2024

Callum Allardice thinks big

From Three to Seven, 4:00 pm on 26 February 2024
Jazz musician Callum Allardice

Callum Allardice Photo: Supplied

Callum Allardice speaks softly, but when it comes to garnering resources he's not holding back.

The Wellington jazz composer and guitarist is squeezing 40 musicians on stage for his next gig, the release show for his latest album Cinematic Light Orchestra.

Not content just with the usual jazz big band combo, Allardice is adding a 20-strong string section to the mix.

The new album is one of the fruits of his residency at Victoria University of Wellington – its first for a jazz composer – in 2022.

Allardice told RNZ Concert host Bryan Crump the time and financial support the residency provided enabled him to tie together loose strands into a coherent body of work, without distractions or excuses to put that work off.

Jazz musician Callum Allardice

Callum Allardice Photo: Supplied

And once he'd tied those strands together, there was the challenge of putting the tracks down for the new album.

Luckily Allardice had persuaded some of the best Wellington sound engineers in the business to catch the magic in the recording studio – Mike Gibson, Robbie Pattinson and Graham Kennedy. Not to mention some of the names in the band itself: Louisa Williamson, Jake Baxendale and even a few members of the NZSO in the string section.

"All the personnel wrangling is my job, and I have to say that can be the hardest job, any form of logistics with that many people is so difficult."

As the name suggests, Cinematic Light Orchestra is an album that owes a lot to film music.

Allardice quotes a little bit of John Williams' music to Star Wars in one track, while another, "Phobos and Deimos", owes a little to Holst's Planets Suite. (The piece is indeed named after the two small moons that orbit Mars.)

"For me, it's highly emotional music, music that really makes you feel something."

When writing for big band, what comes first for Allardice: the chords or the melody?

"The thing that I tend to think about first is actually the mood, or the space that I kind of want the listener to occupy. So really it's a groove and like an underlying tonality, whether that's like a minor dark, or sad, so I tend to think about these things first."

If listeners want to acquaint themselves with Allardice's latest big band grooves up close, their best bet (if they can get there) is to be at the Hannah Playhouse in Wellington on Friday March 9th.

Failing that, once it's released, you can always get the album.