Review: The Dunedin City Jazz Orchestra

In a city not especially renowned for its hard-core jazz following, it is wonderful to see such a finely tuned unit as the Dunedin City Jazz Orchestra consistently hit its straps at every outing. So it was in St. Pauls Cathedral to an audience of 200 or so that musical director and founder Calder Prescott MNZM delivered a programme of big band standards, along with more contemporary works, that at times rattled the stained glass windows.

By: Mike Moroney 

Kicking in with Nestico's Basie Straight Ahead, the 16-piece band settled in to a sunny afternoon groove that built in intensity through to the finale, Skin Deep (Buddy Guy) with an energetic drum solo from Kevin Finnegan. The concert seemed to pivot around the seminal Miller classic American Patrol - in the words of Prescott himself, "This needs no introduction. If you don't know what it is, you shouldn't be here!" Given the average age of the audience it was probably a non-sequitur. It is notable that the musicians themselves were two and three generations removed from that of their Maestro and of most of the audience.

Standout moments were some inspired solos from Nick Cornish on a range of saxophones and Ralph Miller's sterling trumpet work on No More (unattributed). One of Calder Prescott's hallmarks is his attention to dynamic detail: the pianos were soft and the fortes were very loud indeed, and all used to great effect.

There is probably a reason that big band jazz is not a natural suitor to church music and it is this: the music fills every portal of the Cathedral and comes back at you twice. Some of the playing precision was lost to all but those up front and centre. Faster, louder passages formed a sonic cloud in the nave and were somewhat robbed of definition. This should have been mitigated by the distributed PA speakers in evidence but without a delay line it just seemed to make matters worse. Conversely though, the quieter ballads sounded quite ethereal in the reverberant space. All in all there were a lot worse things to be doing on a Monday afternoon than listening to one of Dunedin's great musical treasures.


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