Michael Houstoun/The Rodger Fox Big Band: Concerti (Rattle Jazz)

 |   |  1 min read

Raff Riff
Michael Houstoun/The Rodger Fox Big Band: Concerti (Rattle Jazz)

Much as New Zealand's most accomplished classical pianist might have wanted, and indeed deserved, a less arduous project after his magisterial Complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas, this one with the country's premier big band does seem an odd fish which often seems to satisfy neither camp.

More correctly perhaps, each camp frequently seems to mining its own vein independent of the other. Or, in the case of the Bill Cunliffe-penned opener Jazz Rondo, a place where Mozart gets a hat-tip in Houstoun's passages but the Fox sections (and they really do feel that distinct) are like an Ellington-esque jazz band being shoe-horned into something approximating orchestral drama.

It is a piece of parts, and the sum comes up considerably less than the whole it should have been.

The same holds true for Cunliffe's other piece Warriors, although the band excel despite the jigsaw-puzzle nature of the piece and both keyboard players, Anita Schwabe and Houstoun, find discrete space to express themselves.

But even less engaging is Mike Nock's stupidly/cutely named Raff Riff (arranged by Dave Lisik) which comes off as mostly bluff and bluster designed to impress by scale rather than sensitivity.

Ironically then the Cunliffe-arranged opening movement of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No 3 comes off the best in this company.

It possesses an elegance familiar from the best of the Ellington bands, delicious sax parts, Houstoun slipping right in to the big band genre (despite the piece's origins) and the whole things swings along with vigour and verve, with Fox nailing in a slightly lascivious and woozy trombone solo which adds sex'n'steam to proceedings.

It also has an assured sense of dynamics (and a more than acceptable drum solo by Lauren Ellis) which you might frequently feel lacking in the other pieces here. And not once in its expansive 16 minutes do you get the feeling that, "Here comes the jazz bit" or "Here comes the classical guy again".

Houstoun sounds entirely at home with the band on this one in a way he doesn't elsewhere. And vice-versa.

Those who have fought the rock/classical or jazz/classical wars in the past -- from Deep Purple's pretentiously awful Concerto for Group and Orchestra through those damnable forced marriages of classical arrangements of jazz standards (some populist stuff by pianist Claude Bolling and flute player Jean-Pierre Rampal) -- will be rightly wary of this.

And over most of these proceedings their antennae are probably well attuned.

The award-winning Rattle Jazz label has become to go-to place for most of the exciting, well-grounded and innovative jazz expression in New Zealand this past decade.

Not this time though.

Surely they didn't feel that after that phenomenal Beethoven -- 14 CDs in total -- they owed Michael one? 

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Jazz articles index

Diana Krall: Quiet Nights (Verve/Universal)

Diana Krall: Quiet Nights (Verve/Universal)

Popular though she might be, Canadian Krall (interview here) has been considered something of a lightweight jazz chanteuse and it has perhaps only been live when her piano playing comes into its... > Read more

Kim Paterson: The Duende (Sarang Bang Records)

Kim Paterson: The Duende (Sarang Bang Records)

Auckland trumpeter Kim Paterson has been around for perhaps as long as most jazz listeners can recall but has been poorly represented on albums under his own name. In fact I'm scratching to think... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars:Rise and Shine (Cumbancha/Ode)

Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars:Rise and Shine (Cumbancha/Ode)

These guys certainly have a great back-story: in six years they went from languishing in a refugee camp, through being the subject of a doco (see clip below) to Oprah. They appeared on the Blood... > Read more

NEW ZEALAND TOP 20 SINGLES OF THE SIXTIES compiled by WARWICK FREEMAN

NEW ZEALAND TOP 20 SINGLES OF THE SIXTIES compiled by WARWICK FREEMAN

This may be the silliest, most obsessive but singularly important book on New Zealanders' music listening and buying habits in the Sixties ever written. And it is just lists. But what... > Read more