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Rodger Fox and Brian Smith: The LA-NZ Connection

Jack Bowers By

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Jazz truly is a universal language, a premise that is proven again on this spirited post bop studio date by two of New Zealand's most celebrated musicians, trombonist Rodger Fox and saxophonist Brian Smith, backed by a blue-chip West Coast rhythm section—pianist Bill Cunliffe, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Tom Warrington, and drummer Joe La Barbera (with Erna Ferry, another charismatic New Zealander, adding seductive vocals on two tracks).

Fox, who leads New Zealand's foremost big band, and Smith, who honed his chops in Maynard Ferguson's orchestra, among others, are splendid soloists, and they have to be to keep pace with Cunliffe and Koonse, neither of whom ever strikes a false note. Warrington has his auspicious moments too, while he and La Barbera push the group incessantly forward with their sharp and aggressive timekeeping. Ferry, who is heard on "For All Colours and "Party Time, has a pleasant midrange voice and a great feeling for swing, and scats with assurance. After listening closely, I could actually understand about half the lyrics to each song, which is about par for the course these days.

Smith, a Joe Lovano/Don Menza-style groover with a full-bodied sound, is at his best on his own torrid composition, "This Time, but not bad elsewhere, especially on the fast-paced finale, Cedar Walton's "Firm Roots, an agile group exercise that includes stalwart blowing by all hands capped by La Barbera's fiery solo. Fox is a model of consistency, framing a number of eloquent statements and adding a mute for variety on Jimmy McGriff's soulful "Ain't That the Funk. Koonse gets down to business on the fast-paced opening number, "Hard bop and the Fox, and comps and solos superbly throughout. Cunliffe is especially entrancing on Joe Henderson's lyrical "Serenity, on which Warrington and Smith also solo smartly.

If every alliance worked as well as this one, the world would be a far more harmonious place, and not only musically speaking. This is the way things should be, with artists from opposite ends of the earth coming together to make music for the sheer pleasure of doing so. Their euphoria soon becomes contagious, and the listener derives almost as much happiness from the endeavor as they do. The LA-NZ Connection is an excellent idea, and thanks to the expertise of those involved, a rewarding one as well.

Visit Rodger Fox on the web.


Track Listing: Hard Bop & the Fox; Jackson

Personnel: Rodger Fox, trombone; Brian Smith, tenor saxophone; Bill Cunliffe, piano; Larry Koonse, guitar; Tom Warrington, bass; Joe La Barbera, drums; Erna Ferry (5,8), vocals.

Title: The LA-NZ Connection | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: T-Bones Records

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