One of New Zealand's musical greats is on the verge of releasing an album from beyond the grave.
Murray McNabb, who was 66 when he died of cancer last June, was behind the music of hundreds of New Zealand's TV commercials, including the iconic Mainland cheese ads, and co-composed the soundtracks to Once Were Warriors and the TV bodice-ripper Greenstone.
He was also one of New Zealand's pre-eminent jazz keyboardists.
An independent label now plans to release a series of vinyl records culled from the huge archive of McNabb's unreleased jazz recordings stretching to the 1960s.
The first album, slated for release early this year, was recorded in the months before McNabb's death and features McNabb on piano and keyboards, alongside drummer Frank Gibson and guitarist Neil Watson.
Sarang Bang Records founder Gianmarco Liguori said the final recording session for the album, entitled Every Day Is a Beautiful Day, was only days before McNabb's death.
"Frank picked Murray up from the hospice to record the last track, and he had all the IV equipment and his morphine pump and everything - he was almost gone. But once he got behind the keyboard, he was alive.
"He knew he had a few days to live. You can hear it in the music."
Liguori wasn't present for the sessions but says the result is a "very spiritual-sounding record".
The album's seven tracks, totalling 61 minutes, are mastered and ready for publication, as is the cover artwork - a painting by McNabb. But rather than "dumping" the tracks online, Liguori is determined to do the music justice by giving it the full deluxe packaging of a vinyl release, complete with "large-format photos, liner notes - the works". He is seeking funding assistance from Creative New Zealand, but was turned down in their latest grants round. "These things will come out, but it will just be a bit slower if the funding doesn't come through."
After Every Day Is a Beautiful Day , Liguori has another five albums of McNabb's music lined up, recorded as far back as the mid-1960s with a range of collaborators, including Australian saxophonist Bernie McGann, trumpeter Kim Paterson, guitarist Martin Winch and Liguori himself, who played guitar alongside McNabb in the instrumental ensemble Salon Kingsadore.
Sales of New Zealand-made jazz records are typically small, but Liguori said there are international markets to be tapped in Europe and Asia.
"Unusually, Murray had quite a fan base in Japan. That's where he used to sell most of his CDs."
Liguori said McNabb "probably didn't make a cent out of his jazz albums" while alive, but had made good money with his commercial and soundtrack work.
McNabb's TV and film work was mainly in collaboration with composer Murray Grindlay, either as arranger or co-composer.
Last week Grindlay said although jazz was McNabb's first love, and his sensibilities were "as far to the left as possible", he had an "incredible pop music sensibility".
Grindlay said McNabb broke new ground in particular with the soundtrack to the TV series Greenstone when he arranged traditional Maori instruments alongside a full orchestra.
"That was one of his finest moments."
Liguori said he felt proud to be in a position to ensure McNabb's final recordings were given a fitting release.
"He must have known that it was an album worth making otherwise he wouldn't have dragged himself off his deathbed to record it. So it has to be released."
- Sunday Star Times
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