Gig Review: The Slick Sounding Fox Band Makes Music Jump And There Are No Lazy Rhymes
I used to review every gig I could. Now I just do the ones that matter. Because gig reviews matter. A record of the time. Lost to time somewhat now. But I'm doing my best to bring them back, yo.
The Brotherman Project: The Rodger Fox Big Band ft. King Kapisi and Erna Ferry - Wellington Jazz Festival
Friday, October 27
Seeming like the very epitome of an audacious project, Rodger Fox and King Kapisi’s Brotherman Project combined the big band jazz of Fox with the hip-hop of Kapisi, and if you though that might be an uneasy fit, you were way off. It almost instantly made sense - and though there were always going to be a few on the fence, by the end of the night almost everyone in the place was up on their feet, either learning to dance to big band jazz, or to appreciate the funk and soul of hip-hop - or both. This hybrid-lesson was almost always thrilling, and was filled with fun, charm, and musical hooks.
King Kapisi (born Bill Urale) burst onto the local hip-hop scene in the early 2000s with his classic debut album, Savage Thoughts. He was a huge part of the Aoteroa Hip-Hop scene of the time, and has continued with music, business, charity and activism.
Rodger Fox has been leading his big band for 50 years, working in jazz as a performer, conductor and educator, as well as tirelessly communicating with music as a promoter and all-around conduit: recording artist, collaboration seeker, eternal showman.
But it’s unlikely anyone saw this collaboration coming. It is however some kind of cosmic perfect match. Both are making music in the margins - both are strong, charismatic leaders committed to their craft regardless of the season, the turning of trends means nothing in the pursuit of either Kiwi hip-hop or big band jazz.
The show opened with Fox leading his orchestra through an instrumental, a warm-up of sorts. Kapisi was out immediately and hit the ground running with a couple of his big singles, including the Che Fu double-act, U Can’t Resist Us from the early 2000s (captured on his sophomore album, 2nd Round Testament). The King’s music is feel-good, his message is positive, and if there was one slight criticism of this collaboration, it wasn’t always easy to hear every word. Sometimes a rhyme was lost as the line was drowned slightly by a horn hit or sharp parp. But the spirit was always there, always captured.
And if there was a feeling, at first, of ‘what exactly are we seeing/hearing’ from some in the audience, this fell away song by song, Kapisi sharing his love of music, his love for Fox and for the project, and Rodger’s band cooking away nicely behind every song.
Mid-set, Kapisi took a break, and the talented Erna Ferry - on stage the whole night, and working as Kapisi’s hook-singer, hype backing vocalist, adding colour - took the band through a really nice version of Tom Waits’ A New Coat of Paint, and really let rip on a cover of The Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction.
I think this is where the show really came alive, and made full sense to almost any of the doubters. Here was something to grab on to fully, as Kapisi returned to the stage and used the mic to give shouts to Ferry and Fox, including coaxing Rodger into an extended scat session, where the Dr of Jazz played a vocal trombone solo - no instrument in hand, but all of the music in his mind and mouth and heart.
After that, the show’s energy really lifted, and as Kapisi dug deep for the hits, everything from 2011’s non-album single, Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop (with Ferry nailing the Teremona Rapley bit) to his breakthrough hit from Savage Thoughts, the banger, Screems From Da Old Plantation, it became an infectious stew of sound.
The big bass and brass sound of the baritone sax was a great feature throughout, Lance Philip on drums was an absolute powerhouse, and saxophonist Bryn van Vliet had a couple of showstopping solos too. Everyone in this band is always ‘on’ though. It’s such a well-oiled engine.
A thoroughly great night - showing that music is never about what is written on paper, nor listed in the programme. This set came alive and lifted most of the spirits in the auditorium.
After, there was a queue of many, lining up for a signed CD or a photo op. Which was great to see.
Someone outside, was bemoaning the lack of jazz - it wasn’t what he had signed up for, what was that man doing talking fast over every song? You have to laugh, when you buy the tickets there is a poster, a blurb, and plenty of information around what you are buying into. But I like to think, from what I saw and heard, Fox and Kapisi converted more new followers than than did create any detractors.
And rightly so. This was soulful, fun, and funky. It was one out of the box. A slightly odd idea to see written down - a huge success to hear and feel and vibe with; an utter celebration of music!
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