To list all of the famous artists that Brian Smith has accompanied in the Jazz/Soul/Pop world would make this a very long post. To name a few (Soul) Gladys Knight & the Pips, Dusty Springfield, (Jazz) Jon Hendricks, Annie Ross, Nat Adderly, Mark Murphy. Brian was also a founder member of ‘Nucleus’ with Ian Carr. He was for many years one of our most successful Jazz/Soul exports but in 1980 he returned to New Zealand. His ‘Moonlight Sax’ (1990) went platinum, was the album of the year and sold over 40,000 copies which is astounding for a Kiwi Album.
Last night this Jazz icon played at the CJC and with him were a number of well-known New Zealand Jazz musicians. The band was; Brian Smith (tenor sax, soprano sax), Kevin Field (piano), Kevin Haines (double bass), Frank Gibson Jnr (drums). They started with one of Brian’s own compositions titled ‘Blues for Teo‘ and the band got down to serious business immediately. They are a hard swinging unit and as they unpicked the tunes they wove a collective magic.
Brian was a commanding presence in the mix (which was hardly surprising) but his band-mates could not be faulted either for their ability to shine beside him. It struck me (and not for the first time) just how strong a presence Kevin Haines is. He and Frank were obviously on comfortable ground and they pushed boundaries because they could, and because they found new and interesting things to say. I have seldom heard Frank play better. Kevin Field is a very popular and talented local pianist and to have him in any band is simply to have the best. His crisp chord work and soaring solos are never less than perfect.
Jazz Musicians are often natural comedians and Brian is no exception. When introducing the second tune he said, “the band will practice for four bars and by then we should have a hang of it”. The tune was a George Chisholm original and in spite of the intro we heard no missteps. The tune ‘Seriously flawed (floored?)‘ was the first of a number of new charts by George Chisholm. These were great vehicles for the band and when they played the lovely Chisholm ballad ‘One for Martin‘ they struck the mother-lode. This piece was penned in remembrance of the much-loved Kiwi Jazz guitarist Martin Winch who died in May of this year. It was suggested to me recently that we only have the sudden influx of very promising Jazz guitarists around Auckland because of Martin’s influence and example.
This and other Chisholm tunes deserve to be played often (plea to local musicians). * George is a well-known trumpeter from the local scene having recorded in his own right and as a sideman with locals like Phil Broadhurst.
We heard fresh versions of standards like ‘My Funny Valentine‘ and best of all a few Wayne Shorter tunes. The darkly brooding and deep Shorter compositions are favourites of mine and any group who attempts them and executes them well has my appreciation. The groups rendition of ‘Black Nile‘. ‘Lester Leaves Town‘ and ‘Speak no Evil‘ were well done and as these are difficult tunes to get inside of, they must be commended.