The Capitol Sessions

The Capitol Sessions

Rodger Fox Jazz Orchestra

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Under the artistic and musical direction of Rodger Fox, the Wellington Jazz Orchestra is arguably the tightest, brightest, most musically literate exponent of big band jazz this country has seen. Their debut recording, Journey Home (featuring compositions and arrangements by ex-pat jazz-giant, Alan Broadbent), won Best Jazz Album at the 2012 NZ Music Awards, but this second album raises the bar even higher.

The Capitol Sessions marks Rodger’s 40 years of unwavering commitment to big band jazz, and it’s only fitting that it should have been recorded in one of the world’s great studios. As John Fenton so aptly put it in his liner notes, Capitol Studios is an iconic studio, where the ghosts of Les Paul, Nat Cole and Frank Sinatra hover over every note.

The track list features equally iconic tunes from the big band standard repertoire alongside lesser-known gems and a couple of very fine New Zealand compositions. Those who enjoy the punch and virtuosity of classic big band jazz are sure to agree that The Capitol Sessions is one of the fullest and most joyful expressions of the genre.

“Yeah, It’s been great. [Rodger’s band] set it up well. They played real tight, it felt good. I’ve always thought that big band and rock and roll belong together in a certain way. Jimi Hendrix, especially with his drummer, Mitch Mitchell, [had] a real jazz sensibility that works really well with this kind of music. Jimi is kind of like Mingus. The technical thing is important, but the energy has got to be there. [The band] had a [strong] concept of what [it had] to be, and of course I knew they would have. I have written previously for Rodger, when he was in Auckland, but his Wellington Jazz Orchestra is something else.” – Bill Cunliffe, composer and arranger of Jimi


Rodger Fox (Musical Director, trombone)
Erna Ferry (vocals)
Anita Schwabe (piano)
Nick Granville (guitar)
Nick Tipping (bass)
Lance Philip (drums)

Alex Nyman (lead alto, soprano, flute)
Hayden Hockly (alto, flute)
Colin Hemmingsen (tenor, clarinet)
Mike Isaacs (tenor)
Andre Paris (baritone, bass clarinet)

Alexis French (lead on tracks 3, 6, 7, 10, 12)
Sebastian Soldrzynski (lead on tracks 2, 5, 9)
Jon Papenbrook (lead on tracks 1, 4, 8, 11)
Ben Hunt
Chris Selley

Christopher Fox (lead)
Dean Scott
Damian Forlong
Kurt Gibson (bass)


IA-1005 (March, 2013)

This project was made possible with funding from Victoria University of Wellington and the New Zealand School of Music

Produced by Rodger Fox and Talley Sherwood
Recorded, mixed and mastered by Talley Sherwood
Assistant engineer – Jake Gorsky
Senior setup engineer – Bruce Monical
Recorded at Capitol Studios, Los Angeles, July 9-10, 2012
Additional recording at Tritone Studios, Los Angeles, July 11-13 2012
Mixed at Tritone Studios, Los Angeles, August-September 2012
Recording and mixing assistance by Bill Cunliffe
Design by UnkleFranc
Session photography by David Hyams, Anita Schwabe, Nick Granville, Nick Tipping & Kurt Gibson

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  The Capitol Sessions
   Rodger Fox & the Wellington Jazz Orchestra

    Brazilian Fantasy (7:23) (composer: John Fedchock)
    One O'clock Jump (8:26) (composer: Count Basie)
    Top Daddy (6:27) (composer: Matt Harris)
    Just Squeeze Me (5:49) (composer: Duke Ellington)
    Song for Louise (5:33) (composer: Colin Hemmingsen)
    Rockin' in Rhythm (6:37) (composer: Duke Ellington)
    Honeysuckle Rose (3:23) (composer: Fats Waller)
    Maxine (4:17) (composer: Sharon O’Neill)
    Love of My Life (4:33) (composer: Bruce Brown)
    Ain't Got Nothing But the Blues (4:40) (composer: Duke Ellington)
    Roger With a D (7:05) (composer: Christopher Fox)
    Left Bank Express (11:58) (composer: Pete Jackson)
    Jimi (12:41) (composer: Bill Cunliffe)

Click here to view and download the album booklet




LINER NOTES by John Fenton

Jazz has a habit of flying in the face of market logic. Its dogged endurance alone testifies to that, despite an increasing output of crass commercial offerings. It is however in the DNA of modern music and popular culture. Acknowledged or not it is here to stay in its various and evolving forms.

New Zealand is a country of four million people, so it is perhaps surprising that it has a number of Jazz Orchestras, many owing their inception to the influence of Rodger Fox. The WJO’s previous album (Journey Home, featuring the music of Alan Broadbent) won Best Album at the 2012 Tui Jazz Awards. It was their first award, but Fox has picked up a heap of them over his long career.

In late 2012, Rodger took his Wellington Jazz Orchestra (WJO) to Los Angeles to record at Capitol Studios. The word ‘iconic’ has become hackneyed in modern reportage but this is a legitimate description of these studios: an echo chamber designed by Les Paul, with the ghosts of Frank Sinatra and Nat Cole hovering over every note – a fitting place to record a big band at the peak of its powers.

As you move through the tracks your attention is drawn by the vibrancy of the sound. It’s hardly surprising that a Capitol Studios recording should be so good, but let’s not take anything away from the band. This is an orchestra with the punch of the WDR and a finely tuned sense swing. Achieving this requires hyper-awareness of what others are doing, impeccable time keeping, and a lot of very hard work.

The track list is balanced between standards (Basie, Waller, Ellington), lesser known but well-established Big Band numbers, and some very welcome New Zealand compositions. While the perennially popular provides a yardstick to measure a band by, it is the originals and explorative tunes that prove character.

The first track, Brazilian Fantasy, was composed and arranged by John Fedchock. Fox has previously worked and recorded with Fedchock, so he’s familiar with his work. This is an especially good opener as it confidently draws you in from the first bar, the kind of tune that stops you in your tracks and tells you that you are in for an enjoyable journey. Big Band music is at its best when it says something new while referencing its origins. Swing is about dance and this track dances like crazy.

There are compositions and arrangements by Bill Cunliffe, whose recent album, The Blues and the Abstract Truth - Take Two (released on the Resonance label), elevated him to the pantheon of first class modern arrangers. In addition there are arrangements by Jeff Driskill, Matt Harris, Frank Foster, Rodger Fox and Pete Jackson. Cunliffe’s Jimi is particularly impressive, a composition that dives straight into the psychedelic painted world of Jimi Hendrix. The blare of horns tracks along the jagged edges of discord, until we find ourselves happily buffeted by the vamp of Let me Stand Next To Your Fire. This pattern repeats as the band recalibrates their viewpoint after each section.

Drummer Lance Philip supports the orchestra in the best tradition of big-band drummers. It’s a specialised skill, and here he shows his true class. Guitarist Nick Granville carries the lion’s share of the soloing with ease, soaring like a guitar-god. It’s a great track, reminiscent of the edge that Gil Evans attained but without attempting to ride upon his coat tails. Jimi’s fire still burns fearsome hot.

Pianist Anita Schwabe is a solid presence throughout, and her take on Basie in One O’clock Jump is confident and thoroughly enjoyable. There have been many attempts at approximating the bouncy minimalist hard swinging lines of Basie, and this sits comfortably with the best of them. Nick Tipping is one of New Zealand’s most highly regarded bass players and his propulsive bass lines manage to cushion and move the band without domination – exactly what’s required from a big-band bass player. Nick Granville, Dean Scott (trombone), Andre Paris (baritone), Ben Hunt and Alexis French (trumpets) deliver superb solo performances as well.

Song For Louise features its composer, tenor sax maestro Colin Hemmingsen. Colin has a gorgeous tone and solos with effortless skill. His attractive ballad approximates a Jobim-like vibe, offering the orchestra a chance to show that it can swing just as hard in a gentler mode.

There are four tracks featuring singer Erna Ferry, including her signature take on Maxine (by New Zealand singer/song writer Sharon O’Neil). Jazz arrangers and performers are no longer afraid to tackle material outside of the genre. The awkwardness of the past is long-gone, and music by the likes of Hendrix and O’Neil now offers valid and vital material for exploration by jazz orchestras – long may it continue.

The Capitol Sessions stands confidently alongside the great Jazz Orchestra albums coming out of America and Europe at this moment. Ultimately, the recording is a testimony to the leadership of Rodger Fox, who, with so many gifted soloists at his disposal, never loses sight of the collective.

John Fenton
Member Jazz Journalists Assn.



Review by Simon Sweetman, Off the Tracks

Celebrating 40 years of working hard/hardly working – Rodger Fox took the crew to record in one of the world’s most famous studios, the result this showcase for sassy, brassy big-band workouts. There’s lots to like here – and though it possibly runs a little too long (the two final tracks both over ten minutes makes the album feel like a big hill to climb) – the best of what’s on display here should make Fox and the band members feel very proud. Listeners should enjoy hearing Erna Ferry navigate through Fats Waller’s Honeysuckle Rose to arrive at a sharp reimagining of Sharon O’Neil’s Maxine and then on to the sultry, smooth-groove of Bruce Brown’s Love Of My Life.

Whether dishing out ol’ standards – Count Basie’s One O’Clock Jump, Duke Ellington’s Rockin’ In Rhythm – or dealing to compositions from players associated with the group (Colin Hemmingsen’s Song For Louise, John Fedchock’s Brazilian Fantasy, the closing Jimi from Rodger Foxthe pen of Bill Cunliffe) The Wellington Jazz Orchestra steers smoothly, sounds lively, gives its all.

Lance Philip (drums), Nick Tipping (bass) and Nick Granville (guitar) are such safe hands, the wicketkeepers of the groove, letting nothing stray. It’s a great set of horns too – with Alexis French (trumpet) really wailing on Left Bank Express and Jon Papenbrook a highlight of Roger With A D and Just Squeeze Me.

It’s a band-as-unit, the pistons charged, the machinery firing. Having seen this group – or versions of it – in action several times over the years it’s been nice soaking up the efforts here on this recording. A fine summation and the suggestion that there’s plenty of music left for them.