18 August 2012


Jamie Oehlers and his band were like Olympians in many ways: strength, training, poise with ecstatic release. This music was muscular and intense and played at the extremes and an incredible opportunity to see what best can be done. But comparisons with Olympics end here when we talk of jazz. $12m per medal says it all. Sport has bread and circuses enough. CJ acclaims the classic measures: beautiful, useful and true. But will the centre hold when the worst / Are full of passionate intensity? An informed and enthralled coterie attends the Loft for a gold-medal performance while billions watch their equivalent in sport and attendant spacey girls and fireworks. It’s two worlds out there and intellect is running for silver and only if its luck holds out. WAAPA under review and our own school given the treatment. But it’s much bigger, too. Not just culture, but climate and more. I’m currently reading an update to Limits to growth. The lion body with head of man is moving, but it’s we who slouch to nowhere. At least our Loft Olympians were naked in their purpose and expression.

Muscular it was. From the first notes, the volume and power of it floored me. Phil working the strings. It’s hard to tell on stage, but I noticed later he was a tall man. It fits. Tall men fit the acoustic bass. He’s strong. He works the strings. The fluency is there, but also the great tone, from a pristine looking bass with just a discrete Realist pickup. Truth in the timber. Jamie writhing with busy lines and some terrorising tempos. Jacob engaging skins with spurts of exact fills and rolls with jagged jazz responsiveness and fusion-toned punchiness. For some time, Tal seemed quieter, bent over keyboard searching for comping chords and denser, more dissonant harmonies, but then he’d lean back and watch the others, particularly Jacob, to match hits, or launch into another solo of perpendicular tonality and take on the tune head on. Several of the tunes were Jamie’s. Smoke and mirrors was the fast and furious opener. One new and as yet unnamed tune had the simplest call and response melody supporting rabid solos. A ballad called Open door was a workout in long intervals, 7ths, octaves and others, with the most delicate piano. Innocent dreamer was in 13/16, which Jamie helpingly described as ¾ with a stumble on the end. It’s the description of an experienced teacher and quite easy to follow with that hint. I tried to count Fun police but with less success; was there 5/4, maybe 15/8 counting as 4-3-4-4; probably other tempi. The borrowed tunes were Jobim’s Portrait in black and white, which was slow and sparse and punctuated by insistent, plucky bass. They played Little Willie leaps from the Charlie Parker bop songbook and it was suitably breakneck-fast and with touches of bop lines but mostly harmonised with a more modern ear. There was a Cedar Walton tune and a rabidly effective and fast take on Ornette’s Blues connotation. I thought I grasped something new by listening to his Polkadots and moonbeams. Now, this is a standard with chords and turnarounds and slow swing rhythm, at least how I’d play it. But Jamie’s take was distilled to a floating drone and Bb bass pedal with constantly mutating chords of varying dissonant colours rolling over. Closer to late Coltrane than Cole Porter and a lesson in contemporary reimagining of the standards. Suffice to say I found the whole gig thrilling with Jamie’s big and hard tone and fevered lines, Tal’s obtuse, disjointed, anarchic and (to borrow from Andrew Ford) illegal harmonies and sprays of notes and atonal chord sequence, Phil’s hard-edged tone and rapid-fire pizz and rock sensibility and Jacob’s rock/fusion attack and mix of openness and decaying rolls. This was muscular, ecstatic, gold-medal jazz from the first notes. But who’s to know? Everyone else is at the stadium for the circuses. Not much bread at this end of performance spectrum.

Jamie Oehlers (tenor) was touring with Tal Cohen (piano), Phil Stack (bass) and Jacob Evans (drums) and performed at the Loft.

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