FRANCES CHAN – one of 95bFM’s longstanding jazz show hosts – reviews an eight-piece guitar ensemble whose music is really something else.
Being serenaded by a virtuoso on acoustic guitar is like a warm hug. But eight guitarists? It’s a veritable embrace of angels; a visceral and enthralling thrum that deeply resonates your insides.
I’ve been in awe of Gitbox Rebellion since their inception in the late 1980s but never managed to see them live. Founded by stringed-instrument maestro and everyone’s favourite Long Islander-turned-local Nigel Gavin, they released two albums in the ’90s before disbanding to pursue multiple other projects, then reformed in 2017 with four original members and four newbies.
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To the audience’s delight, Nigel announced the release of their new album Curveball on stage at the Civic. Its title track is aptly named: the composition plays out like a game of catch, each musician throwing notes in a cleverly orchestrated sequence. This hocketing technique is complex, captivating and a great workout for the ears.
Visually too, it’s a sight to behold 16 hands dexterously strumming, fretting, fingerpicking, trading eights and having a bundle of fun doing it, communicating with the slightest of smiles, nods and raised eyebrows.
Many of their originals build to a melodic (and sometimes dissonant) crescendo and a beautiful crash of chords. There are elements of jazz, avant-garde, classical and folk – safe to say Gitbox have carved their own niche in the modern musicology of Aotearoa, albeit inspired by Nigel’s involvement in Robert Fripp’s League of Crafty Guitarists of the late ’80s, which spawned other iterations of Guitar Craft ensembles and teachings worldwide using Fripp’s unique alternative tuning.
Like Griffin’s Assorted Sampler, Gitbox covered various styles in their repertoire, from bluesy guitar boogie to the Charlie Brown theme tune of the ’60s, from the gypsy jazz swing of Nigel’s ‘Sacred Hill’, which he used to perform in the Nairobi Trio, to the jazz fusion of Jeff Beck and John McLaughlin. Plus the encore we were all hoping for: Morricone’s ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’.
Even though we could have enjoyed another hour of expertly articulated arpeggiating, the presentation was perfectly formed and left you wanting to explore more. Conveniently, Curveball is available now and comes with a live concert disc.
- The Gitbox Rebellion concert was part of the Auckland Arts Festival.