Friday, February 01, 2019

NZ Jazz: Dr Tree

Dr. Tree: Dr. Tree (EMI)
Frank Gibson Jr. (d/perc) Kim Paterson (trpt/perc) Martin Winch (g) John Banks (perc) Bob Jackson (e.bass) Murray McNabb (rhodes/synth) Colin Hemmingsen (ss)

After digging into a few new(er) releases, I felt it was time to get into something a little older. I can’t say I listen to much fusion (occasionally some early electric Miles, Fourth Way, and other bits and pieces here and there), so this month has been a change of pace curtesy some jazz-rock fusion by Dr. Tree. This self-titled disc was the sole release from the group featuring some of the heavy weights of the NZ scene. The group won the 1976 Recording Arts Talent Award for "Best New Artist" and "Recording Artist/Group of the Year."
New Zealand Jazz; Dr Tree

Dr. Tree is definitely at the rock end of the fusion spectrum (with touches of world music and some funkiness too). It’s pretty high energy throughout - not surprising when Frank Gibson Jr is at the helm. He's pretty busy, and some of the over-the-top fills aren't to my taste, but it's fitting for the music I guess. A little more variety would be nice as everything tends to tear along - a spacious ballad would have been a welcome addition. 

A bit more tonal variety from guitar and keys may have helped too. I found Martin Winch's guitar to be on the bright and trebley side and it became a bit tiring on my ears. And there is something about his phrasing/articulation that didn't sit with me - possibly it was something about the way the effects affected the phrasing. As a result (and probably partly due to my horn player bias rearing it’s head), I did prefer the times when Paterson (and Hemmingsen) were at the fore, as they provided a welcome bit of non-electricity. Paterson plays with plenty of energy and I want to hear more from him. I must get the live recording with Bernie McGann from the 60s as I have very little jazz by Kiwis from that decade (side note: Kim recently uploaded a video on Facebook playing solo in the bush – sounded great!).

During the 80s, Gibson, Paterson and McNabb would play together in Space Case and the intro to “Transition” brought to mind Murray McNabb's “Recurring Dream” from the first Space Case album (McNabb was the arranger for Dr Tree). McNabb takes bit of a back seat as far as soloing goes. But from the little I've heard from him that seems to be the case. I'm keen to check out his trio disc I have on the pile that awaits.

I got the feeling that the music is about the grooves, textures and energy rather than placing an emphasis on individual soloists. But everyone got some room to move with Bob Jackson getting featured on “Vulcan Worlds” and Frank stretching out on “One for Dianne” - which has an almost frenetic energy during the melody statements.

I couldn't help but think of 70s/80s TV themes as the melody kicked in on “Eugino D” (and to a lesser degree on “Vulcan Worlds”). The former is the track I listened to the most - likely due to the guest appearance of Colin Hemmingsen. It's a bonus for me as it's the earliest recording I have of Colin - plus he's on soprano. The playing may not have the continuity as his later work but there's plenty of energy and some nice twists and turns. 

Of course, I'm listening to Dr Tree with today's ears and the album sounds very much of its time. But what was this album like in the 70s for a jazz fan (or rock fan) from New Zealand? Were any other local groups recording jazz fusion in the 1970s? And while I’ve enjoyed giving this disc a spin, I think I’ve had my fill of jazz-rock fusion for now. Having said that, Dr Tree is an important record in New Zealand's jazz history so do check it out.

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