13 March 2008

From Melbourne & Montreux

Jamie Oehlers was back in Canberra last night with his Quartet. It’s the same band that played so impressively at Hippos a year or so back. And the music was similarly passionate and committed, which suited an audience of mainly appreciative students.

Jamie is renowned as one of our best tenor players, having won a prize at Montreux Festival, and more recently, the 2007 Australian jazz artist of the year. I don’t much like prizes in art, but you have to be good to win and Jamie is. He’s fluid both in sound and body; mobile, complex, fast. His responses to harmonies are challenging and varying; his melodies are fleeting and embellished; his commitment intense. This is not music for the tame. Sam K seems more musically approachable and immediate at first sight. His solos articulate in a way that seems more obvious, and yet they too delve into constantly-changing dissonance, so perhaps the initial impression is just that: an impression. He was also blissful on solo piano at various times, with a Yamaha grand to confirm the tonal richness. Sam A and Ben are masters. I’ve heard them several times at Hippo. More recently, I was overwhelmed by their performances at Wangaratta as the support players for the guitar competition. They played all range of styles at the highest level, with aptness and capability, for both consistently impressive solos and reliable, propulsive support. They didn’t need to suffer contestants’ nerves and they were always warmed up, but this was challenging in other ways: constant variation, long playing, and great responsibility to the contestants, and they did them proud. Sam told me he’d been totally exhausted after the festival; I can imagine. On the night, they each played superbly. Comfortable walks and solid rhythms from Sam. He soloed on a Paul Williamson lullaby as the leader of a collective improvisation; expressive and integral rather than individual and out front. And my impression of Ben was similar. It was as if he just released solos and rhythms from the music, as if they were already there and just needed a cage door to be opened for freedom.

The Quartet played two sets, each of 5 tunes and each lasting about 60 minutes with no wasted time for chatter. Tunes included several from Jamie himself, as well as one each from Tomas Stanko, Sam Rivers (Beatrice), Paul Williamson, Coltrane (Dear Lord), and Ellington (Caravan). Caravan was mightily re-visioned with new time structures. The students were all discussing it in the break. Dave Rodrugues’s count of 17/4 as 7-7-3 was accepted; the timing on the bridge was deceptive and not straight but noone had a count for that. Beatrice was malleable, flowing, smooth, and somewhat veiled in performance: not veiled by arrangement, but by rich modern substitutions and harmonic flights obscuring the underlying chords. The other tunes were as rich. The Paul Williamson tune and Coltrane’s Dear Lord were ethereal and beauteous. The Tomas Stanko piece, and Jamie’s final original, Replicator, were hot and alive with energy. And I guess a final impression is of dynamics; from delicate piano to stomping swing, it was there and under control.

So, this was a challenging and rewarding performance for those who got there. Keep an eye out for more concerts at the ANU Band Room.

The Quartet comprised Jamie Oehlers (tenor sax), Sam Keevers (piano), Sam Anning (bass) and Ben Vanderwal (drums).

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