Last year was the thirtieth for trombonist Rodger Fox's world-class big band from faraway New Zealand, and the celebration was marked by the release of yet another mouth-watering banquet of swinging, straight-ahead jazz from Down Under. This is either the band's sixteenth or seventeenth album, depending on whether one includes Devil May Care, a session from four years ago on which the ensemble backs vocalist Erna Ferry. I've missed all but the last five but don't aim to make that mistake again.
As he has before, Jon Papenbrook braved the long trip from Los Angeles to Auckland to reclaim a seat in the trumpet section, playing lead on every track and soloing thrice (more about that anon). Pianist Bill Cunliffe, a guest on the band's previous album, Warriors, sits in for Brian Henderson on the last four numbers, all of which he wrote and arranged"A Rare Connection" and the colorful three-part London Suite.
The Fox is a bit more cagey this time, tacking on some funk and blues to complement such classic comestibles as Nat Pierce's "Mr. Wong's Bag" and Richard Carpenter's "Walkin'." The blues were tempered by a pair of masters, Frank Foster ("Tomorrow's Blues Today") and the late Bobby Troup ("The Meaning of the Blues"), while the funk comes to us courtesy of Alan Baylock ("Two Seconds to Midnight"), James Ellis ("The Chicken") and Cunliffe ("Queensway," the last movement of the London Suite ). The suite's opening section, "Oxford Street," is a carefree prancer that sounds much like something Bob Mintzer might have written, while the second, "Kensington Garden," frames a peaceful backdrop for Cunliffe's pensive solo.
Fox's growling, wah-wah trombone is especially persuasive on the shuffling "Two Seconds to Midnight," and he solos astutely on four other numbers including his feature, "The Meaning of the Blues." Papenbook's gossamer flugel is showcased on "A Rare Connection," and he adds incisive trumpet solos on "Tomorrow's Blues" (muted) and "Queensway." Also weighing in with absorbing commentary are alto saxophonists Godfrey De Grut and Jonathan Franklin, tenors Pete France and Cameron Allen, trombonist Haydn Godrey, guitarist Neil Watson, and drummer Graham Cope, whose vigilant timekeeping helps guard against any rhythmic lapses.
Best wishes to Rodger and the band on reaching the ripe old age of thirty; I hope they can at least double that number. While waiting for that to happen, lend an ear to their latest album, as beautiful and breathtaking as New Zealand itself.
Track Listing: Walkin
Personnel: Rodger Fox, leader, trombone; Jo Spiers, Scott Whineray, John Mawdsley, Paul Norman (1, 3-5), Greg McCallum (2, 6-10), trumpet; Godfrey de Grut, alto, soprano sax; Jonathan Franklin, alto sax; Pete France, Cameron Allen, tenor sax; Andrew Baker, baritone sax; Ben Sheat, Hadyn Godfrey, trombone; Riwai Hina (1, 3-5), Steve Packer (2, 6-10), bass trombone; Brian Henderson (1-6), piano; Jeremy Toy (1, 3-5), Neil Watson (2, 5-10), guitar; Vanessa McGowan, bass; Grahame Cope, drums. Special guests