Opera House, Wellington (7pm)
Sunday, June 10
Chris “Daddy” Dave and his Drumhedz closed out the Wellington Jazz Festival’s main events for 2018. And it was a celebration – at least for the most part.
Look, first up, I’ll say that this – mostly – was an incredible show. Or at least an incredible display of virtuoso playing. Chris Dave is one of the go-to guys, has been across much of the last decade. His concept of rhythm and time, his placement and the way he conceptualises displacement, it’s mesmerising, utterly spellbinding; it’s like watching a close-up magician most of the time – you see him aiming for a fill, or planning to drop a bomb on one of the toms and you can’t quite imagine it working…you then hear it before you see it, or see it and marvel at how he was able to disrupt the flow of the groove and then fall straight back into the flow.
The songs were break-neck be-bop but had a deep R’n’B pocket. It was never quite jazz, or certainly never only jazz and guitarist Isaiah Sharkey (Dave’s team-mate in D’Angelo’s band) and bassist Nick McNack kept the pocket open, keyboardist Bobby Sparks was mostly in the wash of music with soulful vamps, occasionally breaking out – there were playful moments when Sparks and Dave would be having one conversation, Sharkey and McNack another, or it was Sharkey and Dave in the one corner, McNack and Sparks in the other. They talked over each other but it was playful, soulful, magical.
Until it wasn’t.
In the middle of the show – a laborious segment of riding a rudimentary groove made it feel like we were spying in on the practice room, watching a rehearsal. Well, for the jazz-heads and gear-heads and drum-heads watching it was possibly still revelatory, but there’s no other way to describe it but a snooze; indulgent, almost lazy.
But as part of the process it was understandable, and certainly forgivable.
This was a gig where the good moments were great, the great transcendent. And even the couple of plodding/indulgent zones could be brushed off, chuckled at, forgotten. For the most part.
Singer Gene Moore was largely unnecessary, though he was little more than a cameo-player, the new kid on the block and looking a little green – though sounding good-enough, particularly as the night went on. His closing medley/interpolation of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come and Bill Withers’ Lovely Day was his highlight.
Chris Dave’s ability to throw everything at it, to defy the laws of beat-placement, to soar above the groove whilst still supplying so much of it, is jaw-dropping. That he can, in an instant, flick a switch and drop to a whisper, strip everything away but the essential components, is also a never-gets-tired party-trick. And something so deeply musical too, never a gimmick.
But as with the best studio players, the session whiz-types, there’s a question of taste. There’s an absence of true direction, or at least never the belief that full heart is involved. It is – again – in that sense a bit like watching a magic trick.
A bloody good one while it was happening too. I was among the first up to offer a standing ovation.
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