Simon O’Neill & Rodger Fox
MFC, Wellington (3pm)
Sunday, June 9
Every year, in the Sunday 3pm slot at the Jazz Festival, Rodger Fox (and his Big Band) offers up an innovative collaboration. We’ve had Rodger and band with classical pianist Michael Houstoun – they even made a record together as a result. We’ve had Fox reuniting with blues singer/guitarist Midge Marsden (they’ve collaborated many times throughout the years) and this time it was Fox and band with opera singer Simon O’Neill.
O’Neill, a Wagnerian tenor who grew up in Ashburton but now sings concerts and appears on recordings all around the world, told the audience he had seven connecting flights to return for this show – on the back of recent concerts and recording dates in both America and Europe.
His voice is a force – but it was put to the ultimate test, competing with the full brass blasts and extra swing of The Rodger Fox Big Band.
They laughed as they explained that the approach to melding jazz and classical was merely to smoosh them together.
It worked because of the talent on stage. And the belief in it.
Fox’s right leg never stops until the song does. His shoulder dictating the groove for his band. The back of his head nodding with all of the secrets it knows. And O’Neill was in awe of the might of this music and the way that his repertoire was being reworked right in front of his face; he was not only willing participant he was the band’s biggest cheerleader.
Before and after O’Neill’s appearances we got to hear original compositions from band members. So often when the Rodger Fox Big Band plays a concert it’s with a special guest and it’s a program of covers. This show was a chance, also, to really showcase the band, not just the playing chops but compositional abilities as well.
Biggest applause of the night went to drummer Lauren Ellis. She has been one of the stars of the band across the last half-decade. And news of her composing for the group too drew special attention. Then Rodger mentioned that she would be leaving the group soon to study in America under one of the living legends of jazz-drumming, Mr Peter Erskine. (Fox was keen to let us know that she’ll compete this without assistance from Creative NZ, despite asking).
So there was much to celebrate. Not just the Wagnerian might of the excerpts from the Ring Cycle.
But when O’Neill returned to perform Nessun Dorma to close the show there really was a watershed moment. Actually in some literal sense beside me. The old guy in the seat next to me blubbing like a bubba. Shouting “Bravo”.
I reckon he summed it up better than I ever could.
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