The Roger Fox Wellington Big Band is an in-the-pocket unit and sitting in front of that band is to experience a blast from the Jazz slip stream. Listening to their hard swinging and tightly focused delivery it was difficult to believe that this was a home-grown band and that they had only been together for around 18 months. There were of course some veterans in the line up (Colin Hemmingsen – tenor) and above all there was Roger Fox, the man in firm control. Like all good leaders he teased the very best out of his band.
First up was San Francisco based Denise Perrier who was a very pleasant surprise. It was as if Carmen McCrae had been conjured into our midst. Denise is very talented and a real crowd pleaser in the best possible way. Her powerful smokey bluesy voice and sassy manner were the perfect foils for well executed tunes; enhanced by a killer band. Starting with ‘easy street’ she moved on to a lovely version of Tom Jobims ‘Wave‘ (it is impossible to praise this tune highly enough). Her version of ‘stormy weather’ was original and tasteful, followed by ‘every day (I have the blues)‘ which was so evocative of Count Basie that I kept expecting Sweets Edison and Pres to do walk-ons. The other stand-out tracks were Harold Arlens ‘Oh what a beautiful morning‘ – (a brave but good choice) and ‘God Bless the Child‘ – Billie Holiday/Arthur Herzog.
Wellington Jazz pianist Anita Schwabe appeared undaunted by the presence of Alan Broadbent standing a mere few feet away and this does her credit. Anita showed her skill that night and to say that her parents (who sat just in front of us) were proud would be a gross understatement. Nick Tipping (Charmaine Ford trio) was on upright bass and Lance Philip drums. This is a band which works hard to keep a tight sound and the payoff was the magic that we all experienced. The nuances of colour that the band members were able to elicit was down to three things; the perfect charts, the leader and the fact that the band members all doubled on other instruments. This created a wonderfully rich sound-palette to draw from.
While great credit should go to Roger and his band the night also belonged to Alan’s unbelievably well crafted charts. As Alan said when he addressed the capacity crowd at the start of the second half, “tonight covers a 40 year journey in music – thank you for sharing it with me’. Roger had been trying to get together with Alan for many years and had often suggested that they work together. A while ago, out of the blue, he started receiving ‘charts’ from Alan and he quipped, “I became worried about what it would cost me because there is a lot of money to be made in Jazz and especially big-band Jazz”. Woody Herman and Basie may have been the sub-text but Alan Broadbent was the heart and soul of the evening.
Kiwi jazz fans love Alan’s work and we boast about his Kiwi beginnings at every opportunity. Alan has written some of the nicest tunes in jazz, but hearing his arrangements played by gifted Kiwi musicians added a new dimension. Alan, played a few trio numbers and ‘alone together‘ by Schwartz/Dietz was one of the few standards played. Among Alan’s compositions we heard ‘Bebop & Roses’ ,’Journey Home’, ‘Don’t ask why’, ‘The long white cloud’, ‘Sugar Loaf mountain’, ‘Far in (74)’, and more.
The second half had opened with ‘Journey Home‘, which is the tile track on the new Roger Fox Big Band CD featuring this nights music. I urge you to grab a copy now; not only because you will enjoy it, but because you will be supporting the best of Kiwi Music. Better yet, go and see this band as well and tell your friends to come with you. See ‘event-finder‘ for gigs.