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.