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Trombonist/bandleader Rodger Fox, until recently one of New Zealand’s best–kept secrets, has for many years helped keep the flame of Jazz burning brightly in that faraway land Down Under. Fox’s impressive 19–piece ensemble surfaced in 1997 at the annual Conference of the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) in Chicago, performed that same year in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and made a well–received second appearance in January at the IAJE Conference in Anaheim, California. The ensemble gets right down to business on its most recent CD, Xtra Juicy, romping at full throttle through Fox’s gritty original, “Where’s What,” with its boogie–like rhythms punctuated by Brian Henderson’s growling baritone, the leader’s muted wah–wah trombone, Angus Ramsey’s nonchalant alto and Vince Jones’s skyscraping trumpet. This is but the opening salvo in a superlative program of new compositions/arrangements by Fox, Dave MacRae, New Zealand expatriate Alan Broadbent, Martin Win ch, Gordon Brisker, Bill Cunliffe, John Key, Bruce Johnstone, Ron McClure, Steve Sherriff and Godfrey DeGrut. All are straight–ahead and give the band ample opportunity to swing, which it does consistently and with no coaching needed. While I haven’t compared personnel, this ensemble sounds even tighter and more persuasive to me than the one Fox brought to Chicago in ’97 — and that one was admirable on its own terms. Fox, who sounds at times like a cross between Carl Fontana and (name any other first–rank contemporary player), takes a number of impressive solos, but he’s by no means alone in that area, with Baker, Ramsey, trumpeter Mike Lewis, DeGrut (alto or soprano), tenors Chris White and David Edmundson, guitarist Aaron Nevezie, bassist Neil Hannan and drummer Graham Cope making the most of every chance. White is featured all the way on Broadbent’s “The Long White Cloud” and DeGrut’s “Prince Lucy,” Fox on Broadbent’s ballad “Love in Silent Amber.” There is one vocal, by di! minutive Mary Yandall on Brisker’s easygoing arrangement of Key’s “One Step Ahead of the Blues.” Johnstone’s bossa, “Back to Being One,” one among many highlights, doubles as the title of Fox’s recent quartet date, also on his T–Bone label (and also reviewed this month). The charts are colorful and provocative, the ensemble strong and responsive, the rhythm section alert and industrious, the running time (76:28) uncommonly generous. What more could one want?
Track listing: Where’s What; Waitemata Blues & Greens; Song for Claudio; The Long White Cloud; One Step Ahead of the Blues; Xtra Juicy; Scream; Love in Silent Amber; Back to Being One; Belle; Prince Lucy; Sugar Loaf Mountain; Bebop and Roses (76:28).
Rodger Fox, leader, trombone; Vince Jones, Mike Lewis, Jo Spiers, Scott Whineray, Andrew Daley, trumpets; Mark Spiers, Mike Young, Brian Biddick, Aldas Palubinskas, trombones; Godfrey De Grut, alto and soprano saxes; Angus Ramsey, alto sax; Chris White, David Edmundson, tenor sax; Andrew Baker, baritone sax; Brian Henderson, keyboards; Aaron Nevezie, guitar; Neil Hannan, bass; Graham Cope, drums; Mary Yandall, vocals.