The Rodger Fox Big Band
REIMAGINED! The Rodger Fox Big Band plays Sir Dave Dobbyn
I always call The Rodger Fox Big Band the hardest working group in New Zealand – with Rodger at the helm tirelessly pushing, as conductor, arranger, wrangler, promoter, deal-maker and overall advocate for the art of the big band; very nearly a lost art.
And if you’re at all concerned about a brass band arrangement of Loyal or Be Mine Tonight or Slice of Heaven…well, look, I understand the concern. But trust me, most of this works. And when it’s really cooking, it’s sublime. The band even reaches deep into the catalogue (A Bridge On Fire) and serves up some of its very best work on songs that, for me, aren’t personal highlights within Sir Dave’s canon. The version of Just Add Water, for instance, is like a New Orleans street party. Such a fiesta vibe.
Not everything works. But everything is given a very best shot. I remain on the fence about Bliss, particularly as an opener, though that’s mostly because it’s a silly drinking anthem rather than a song. Iconic in our country, given our binge-drinking culture, something DD has been slightly ashamed of at times, within his vast body of song.
But Love You Like I Should instantly rectifies that, and Be Mine Tonight and Magic (What She Do) keep the temperature raised. Of course, at every step, I commend the individual performances and the collective band sound. A big band chart can’t fix a broken song, but it can find a new way in, particularly when a song is already so well written. Here, we are dealing with beautiful, brilliant pop tunes. And some of the new ways in force you to squint to recognise the original – but never in a bad way. It shows the versatility of the songs and the great skills of the musicians. Welcome Home, is a towering achievement in that regard. A song that’s also – rightly, I believe – become more of a slogan than a tune. But here we get a whole new read on it, and it’s so warm and celebratory; tenets the original exudes.
Dobbyn’s comment on the album’s back cover, “I’m struck by he punch and enthusiasm of the band for these fun arrangements” sums this up in some way. These aren’t rewrites, it’s a case of rethinking, approaching anew. Finding angles the original writer and performer never knew existed, finding ways to sell this music to a new audience. There’s gold in these hills of course.
Alongside the band’s hardworking regular crew (Chris Fox, Kaito Walley, Famian Forlong and Kurt Gibson on trombones, Bryn van Vliet, Nicholas Baucke-Maunsell, Oscar Laven, Dylan Homes, Louisa Williamson and Frank Talbot on saxophones, Jack Harre, Cameron Robertson, Chris Selley and James Guilford on trumpets, with the rhythm section of Deane Hunter on guitar, Rorby Macartney on bass, Anita Schwabe on keyboards and Lance Philip on drums) Fox’s connections draw in a few special guests too. American drummer extraordinaire Greg Bissonette sits in for a song, and there’s also contributions from Larry Koonse and Josh Smith (guitar), Bill Reichenbach (bass trombone), Francisco Torres (trombone) and Wayne Bergeron (trumpet).
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