In July 2012, trombonist Rodger Fox brought his Wellington Jazz Orchestra all the way from New Zealand to Los Angeles to record at the famed Capitol Studios, thus confirming Fox's confidence in the ensembleone doesn't undertake a trip like that accompanied by musicians whose talents are less than exemplarywhile producing an album that is superlative from start to finish, underlining the fact that splendid big bands can be found these days in every corner of the world.
Those who haven't heard the WJO are in for a pleasant surprise, beginning with John Fedchock's buoyant "Brazilian Fantasy" and continuing through the expansive finale, Bill Cunliffe's picturesque "Jimi." Besides writing "Jimi," Cunliffe arranged Count Basie's venerable "One O'Clock Jump," Duke Ellington's irrepressible "Rockin' in Rhythm" and Fox's brother (and lead trombonist) Christopher Fox's "Roger with a 'D.'" Fedchock, meanwhile, arranged Ellington's "Just Squeeze Me" (on which Rodger Fox is featured). Matt Harris composed and arranged the funky "Top Daddy," Pete Jackson the scampering "Left Bank Express." Colin Hemmingsen's lyrical "Song for Louise" (nicely arranged by Jeff Driskill) is a showcase for the author's expressive tenor saxophone.
Fox also brought his longtime vocalist, Erna Ferry, who is heard on four numbers: "Honeysuckle Rose," "Maxine," "Love of My Life" and Ellington's "Ain't Got Nothin' But the Blues," the last three arranged by Driskill. The blues is clearly Ferry's bag, and she uses her strong mid-range voice to emphasize the point, meanwhile faring equally well on her lone ballad, "Love of My Life." There's one other woman in the ensemble, pianist Anita Schwabe, who solos brightly on "One O'Clock Jump" and "Top Daddy." Other soloists of note include soprano / alto saxophonist Alex Nyman, tenor Mike Isaacs, baritone Andre Paris, trumpeter Alexis French and guitarist Nick Granville. Drummer Lance Philip anchors the band's efficient and hard-working rhythm section (Schwabe, Granville, bassist Nick Tipping).
As any decent stand-up comic might say, the New Zealand-to-Los Angeles excursion was "a long way to go for the punch line"but in this case, at least, it was well worth the trip. A smashing session, admirably recorded at the Capitol Studios. Two thumbs way up.
Track Listing: Brazilian Fantasy; One O’Clock Jump; Top Daddy; Just Squeeze Me; Song for Louise; Rockin’ in Rhythm; Honeysuckle Rose; Maxine; Love of My Life; Ain’t Got Nothin’ But the Blues; Roger with a “D”; Left Bank Express; Jimi.
Personnel: Rodger Fox: leader, music director, trombone; Alexis French: trumpet, flugelhorn; Sebastian Soldrzynski: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jon Papenbrook: trumpet, flugelhorn; Ben Hunt: trumpet, flugelhorn; Chris Selley: trumpet, flugelhorn; Alex Nyman: alto, soprano sax, flute; Hayden Hockly: alto sax, flute; Colin Hemmingsen: tenor sax, clarinet; Mike Isaacs: tenor sax; Andre Paris: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Christopher Fox: trombone; Dean Scott: trombone; Damian Forlong: trombone; Kurt Gibson: bass trombone; Andrea Schwabe: keyboards; Nick Granville: guitar; Nick Tipping: bass; Lance Philip: drums; Erna Ferry: vocals (7-10).