Hardbopmobile has been around for some years and the longest collaboration is between leader drummer Frank Gibson and guitarist Neil Watson. This pair are particularly well matched and their ability to capture the mood and vibe of the hardbop era in a fresh way makes for a great night out out. The group had experienced two personnel changes since I last saw them and in spite of liking the old configuration, this one worked extremely well. Cameron Allen the regular tenor player was unavailable and so Frank decided to add a different horn. Replacing the tenor player with a trombonist might seem a little unusual, but when you look back at those iconic lineups from the hardbop era it makes perfect sense. There is no better drummer to underpin this music than Frank and he opened all the stops for this gig.
Haydyn Godfry was perfect for this role as his formidable chops and his engaging solo’s gave the band new dimensions to explore. The rich full sound of the trombone blended perfectly with guitar and bass and it brought back memories of J. J. Johnson and others. The other change was the replacement of Bassist Junior Turua with Tom Dennison. This in itself was a fortuitous choice as Tom is hugely respected about town. The stage was set for good music and happy memories and that is exactly what we got.
Frank had selected a great set list with mainly fast paced burners, but with a few ballads thrown in to balance things out. There was the expected favourites like Horace Silver’s ‘Filthy Mcnasty’ but also the unexpected, such as a soulful rendering of Danny Boy (trad). It also come as a pleasant surprise that of all the Monk tunes on offer he selected ‘Mysterioso’. I recall hearing piano trio and saxophone led versions of this marvellous classic but never one involving an interchange between drums, bass, guitar and trombone. The quirky nature of the composition with its delightfully quizzical asides, hung in the air as the tune unfolded, a joy to hear.
During the second set the quartet numbers were interspersed with a trio number and a duo. The trio (Neil Frank and Tom) played ‘Danny Boy’ and in Neil’s hands this traditional ballad was reinterpreted as Jazz Americana at its best. Neil showed us his versatility during this gig and he left us in no doubt that his hardbop-guitar credentials are second to none. Another treat was a duo between Hadyn Godfry and Tom Dennisson. They played the well loved standard ‘Softly as a morning sunrise’ and it was simply superb. So inventive were the solos and so skilful was the counterpoint that it immediately put me in mind of Bob Brookmeyer’s duo work with Jim Hall. They nailed it and gave us a killing performance.
The last two numbers were a tribute to Caroline Manins (Moon) and Roger Manins for their commitment to making the gigs happen. To my delight Caro sang one of my favourite tunes ‘Jeannine’ (Duke Pearson). A forgotten hardbop treasure often played by Cannonball and Nat Adderley. Roger played the last number ‘Weaver of Dreams’ (Young/Elliot) and his beautiful gently swinging rendering took me back to Cannonball Adderley and Kenny Burrell, who made this number their own so many years ago.
Frank has a winning formula here and long may it continue.
Who: ‘Hardbopmobile’ with Frank Gibson (leader, drums), Neil Watson (guitar), Tom Dennison (bass), Hadyn Godfry (trombone). + Caroline Manins (vocals) and Roger Manins (tenor saxophone).
Where: CJC (Creative Jazz Club) 1885 Britomart, Auckland