The Big Drum Off – Rodger Fox Big Band 50th Anniversary
The Opera House, 8th Mar 2023
Reviewed by: Graeme King
There was a buzz of expectation in the Opera House foyer on Wednesday night. Many local musicians also made the pilgrimage to witness three top American drumming legends performing with the Rodger Fox Big Band as part of The Big Drum Off Concert Tour, celebrating the band’s 50th anniversary.
Rodger Fox CMNZ has led his band to become an institution in New Zealand and overseas over the last 50 years, and he has played with some of the world’s biggest names in jazz and blues. He is held in such high esteem that legendary musicians of the calibre of Gregg Bissonette, Peter Erskine, and Dennis Chambers are here to play with him and his band.
The drummers each had a 30-minute set in which to showcase their own style and taste, and this allowed the Big Band soloists to feature.
Bissonette, a jazz and rock drummer, was up first. Starting with a breathtaking version of Fireshaker, he moved on to the old jazz standard Just in Time. Stratus was followed by Time Check. During one of Bissonette’s spectacularly complex solos I actually lost the beat – but it only took a glance at Fox’s left trouser leg, which was steadfastly keeping time, to find it!
The second set featured Erskine, who has appeared on over 700 albums and film scores. At times his more delicate, nuanced classic jazz style was simply stunning. His open-mouthed smile was infectious. He started with Miles Davis’ Full Nelson followed by Still of the Night, Groove, and Sunday Morning and finished with his composition Hawaii Bathing Suit.
Last up was Chambers, who is known for his impeccable and funky timing and fast chops – not to mention his jazz fusion, funk, and Latin music playing. He didn’t disappoint. Cissy Strut, Soul Sacrifice, and Sister Sadie led to his final tune Some Skunk Funk, where the funk power didn’t let up.
The encore Ruth, with all three drummers on stage together, was a jazz masterclass by world-class musicians – including the homegrown ones. It was indeed a night to remember.