The Masonic Tavern in Devonport overlooks the Waitemata Harbour in Auckland and the view from there is always easy on the eye. Last night it was also easy on the ear; in fact as the evening progressed the music developed a distinctly Western drawl. On Friday night the Tavern hosted two Jazz groups from the USA; the Tom Warrington Trio and the Bruce Forman CowBop band. These bands exemplified Jazz-infused Americana from differing prospectives and in that variance lay a world of fun.
It is always a pleasure to see the Warrington Band in town and I always seek them out when they pass through (this is their 4th trip to New Zealand as a trio – Tom Warrington, Larry Koonse, Joe La Barbera). As soon I arrived I spotted Larry the trio’s guitarist (an old friend) and we were able to spend a good few hours catching up and laughing at the outrageous humour of the CowBop quintet (who played the second set).
The Warrington trio opened their set with one of my favourite tunes ‘you must believe in Spring’ by Michelle Legrand’. For a guitar trio (minus piano) to do justice to this type of highly melodic tune they must keep out of each others way while the guitar and bass execute the right voicings and establish the melody line (implied or otherwise). This is what good jazz bands do and this band is extremely good. Joe laid down a solid beat and his brush work is equal to the best in the business. We heard Evan’s tunes and originals from the ‘Back Nine’ album and it was never less than swinging, intelligent, well executed music. All of these guys are stars in their own right having worked alongside the greats of Jazz and their intuitive feel for getting the best out of the music was communicated to their audience.
Like all Jazz fans I could not resist asking Larry later about the various people he has recently worked with and he singled out Alan Broadbent as someone he just loved working with. I hopefully suggested that they should think about recording a duo or quartet album together. My one regret was not asking Joe about the Pieranunzi/Philip Catherine date – next time.
When F. Scott Fitzgerald said that there were no second acts in American life he had not foreseen the second act on Friday night. This was cheeky, sassy, swinging, bop-infused countrified music and against all odds it was seriously hip. American life was re-branded that night and as we witnessed it in disbelief, we participated in the fun. Bruce Forman is a Jazz legend, as he has been a fixture on the Jazz circuit for three decades now. Like Larry he has also been at the forefront of Jazz education and has accompanied some of the musics icons. Bruce is a natural comedian and he really pushed the envelope with his in-your-face CowBop humour. It is hard to describe adequately in words, as the context was everything, but suffice to say it worked. There were musical jokes of the highest order and some home grown corn; both delivered from under a stetson hat with a twinkling eye. The CowBop bands treatment Besame Mucho sat somewhere between ‘Cheech & Chong‘ and ‘Diana Krall‘ and I loved it. As Bruce said when he began the set: ‘If you try this music at home I urge you to do so responsibly’. Packs containing the bands CD ‘Too Hick for the Room‘ were supplied with a bottle-opener connected to a memory-stick – pre loaded ready for illegal downloads. The sly BeBop quotes were everywhere and they slid in between the cow-licks with ease. Bruce added as I was leaving “The good thing is, if you hate this music you just give it to your enemies“.
This was a great night out and the intimate setting added to the enjoyment – thanks to Roger Fox for bringing them.