Drummer Frank Gibson Jr has been a feature of the New Zealand Jazz scene for over 40 years. He has accompanied and recorded with many of the greats and was one of a small cadre of Jazz musicians who remained visible at a time when Jazz was going through some very lean years. These days we are most likely to hear him performing with his own unit the ‘HardBopMobile’ or with long time friends like keyboardist Murray McNabb or Neil Watson.
I have seen this line up quite a few times and they offer up a solid programme of Hard Bop as the name suggests. While they sometimes play perennial favourites, they generally prefer to dig into the overlooked tunes by the likes of Joe Henderson, Horace Silver or Monk. With this material the band is on very firm ground. Because of their familiarity with the genre and the material, they are able to bring fresh interpretations to the tunes. Their approach is often surprisingly oblique.
Neil Watson is always adventurous on guitar and he has a joyfully quirky approach to tunes, while Cameron Allen (who is a well-respected saxophonist about town) approaches them from a more angular perspective. The remaining band member is the popular Ben Turua (bass) and this turned out to be his last CJC (Creative Jazz Club) gig as he left for Australia soon after.
The gig was heavy on Monk compositions which were explored and probed from every angle. It is not often that Monk’s ‘Hackensack’ is played; by a guitarist even less so. To take it further out they loosened up the vibe and gave it a New Orleans feel. This worked particularly well. Other Monk tunes such as ‘Brilliant Corners’ (why this is not done more is beyond me) and ‘Ask Me Now’ occupied much of the set material. They played Wes Montgomery’s ‘Jingles’, Ge Gee Gryce’s ‘Minority’ and a Sonny Sharrock tune ‘Little Rock’. The free guitarist Sonny Sharrock is seldom heard these days and more is the pity. Perhaps his hard edge and free fusion infused lines have faded with his passing? I detect Neil’s deft hand in this last choice as he has a great liking for Sharrock. Neil Watson also contributed a composition of his own and this probably confirms the rumour that he has been writing some new material of late.
Lets face it, no one will be disappointed by a Brian Smith Band and this particular lineup was an all-star affair. Man did they deliver.
You expect Brian to deliver royally as he has had such a successful output as evidenced by his 2006 (Taupo’ album). This also goes for Kevin Field (‘Field of Dreams’ album), Kevin Haines (‘Oxide’ album) and Frank Gibson Jnr (‘Rainbow Bridge‘ album), but a question mark may have lingered in some minds over Pete Barwick’s inclusion as he was the lessor known band member. He is a veteran sideman and widely respected among musicians; Brian knew exactly what he was doing. Pete was amazing on the night and he more than earned his place in this star studied lineup.
In spite of their respective pedigree’s this was a band of equals and out of that amalgam came a night of exceptional Jazz. A Hard Bop devotee in the audience said after the show, “I have been to Jazz clubs and concerts all over the world, but this may have been the best I have seen”.
The band played a number of Hard Bop standards as expected, but there were a few new originals as well. An original number featured at the end of the first set titled ‘CJC’ delighted everyone. Brian had penned this composition in the weeks preceding the gig and he dedicated it to Roger & Caroline Manins. Before playing the number Brian paid tribute to them and to the CJC club. The crowd loved this and applauded wildly.
In fact the audience was enthusiastic throughout the night and as tunes by Horace Silver, Heyman/Green, Brian Smith and others filled the club they could not have been happier.
The Creative Jazz Club (CJC) came into being for the express purpose of enabling such interactions and on nights like this both musicians and audiences are especially thankful for the clubs existence.
If any of you haven’t yet obtained a copy of Brian Smiths 2006 album ‘Taupo’ (Ode label) you need to remedy that situation immediately. This last gig may begin a buying frenzy and as the world has recently learned to its cost regarding in demand commodities – scarcity drives prices up. It is truly a marvelous album. If you can’t find a copy in Marbecks or JB HiFi then try Real Groovy Records or Trade Me – just buy it.