Bombay Express rattles of the hits

22:28, Feb 23 2013

There could be no doubting the musicianship of Bombay Express. 

Playing to a crowd which looked modest for the size of the Rhododendron Lawn at the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival on Saturday night the Auckland/Hamilton combination were thoroughly entertaining, impressing with the shear versatility of a repertoire which ranged from 1930s standards to the contemporary hits of Dave Dobbyn.

Front man Bryan Bevege might bear a passing resemblance to a clean shaven Michael Cullen but he has a huge vocal range and was a charismatic stage presence, dancing and otherwise gyrating and cajoling an at times lethargic audience into singing along.

Indeed, it was a measure of his and the band's success that a few rhythmic souls did finally take to their feet and start dancing on the grass, never more so than in the Latinesque number Hot, Hot, Hot.

It would be churlish to complain that Bombay Express were sometimes too much of a good thing.  

However, if, like myself, your tastes are not quite as catholic as the band's, it was frustrating that they never settled on a particular musical style or era.  

My appetite was whetted early in set for some Sinatra numbers with a superb version of "All of Me" which seemed to employ the Count Basie/Quincy Jones arrangement.  Thereafter we got "Route 66", Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered", Aretha Franklin's "A Natural Woman" and Dobbyn's "Outlook for Thursday", amongst many others.

All of this music was performed enthusiastically and with a great deal of skill but it was like listening to a radio station with a schizophrenic programme director: there was no discernible pattern or rationale behind the order of songs.

If you had an unlimited budget Bombay Express would be a perfect wedding band, such was their ability to please at least one section of the audience at any given time.  

They truly had cross-generational appeal, a rare thing which should not easily be discounted.

Personally, I would have preferred it if instead of mixing classics from the early part of the 20th century with rock and Latin numbers that the band had dedicated their first set to early material and their second set to contemporary work.  

If this had been the case the gig would have seemed less like a variety review and more like a showcase for some truly excellent musicians.

In a band of solid professionals two instrumentalists stood out: trumpeter Mike Booth and guitarist Dave Maybee.  The moments when these gentleman took centre stage were the high points of the night, with Booth's original composition suggesting that Bombay Express has a future as a genuine jazz band and Maybee's spirited guitar solos indicating other, harder possibilities.