Ari Hoenig drums, Gilad Hekselman guitar, Jamie Oehlers tenor sax, Sam Anning bass

Ari Hoenig
Ari Hoenig

Ari Hoenig is a fantastic drummer. His skill and obvious delight in displaying his party trick of varying the pitch on his drums provided my first festival highlight during the quartet’s performance of Bobby Timmons’s Moanin’ (made famous by Art Blakey, Hoenig reminded us). He tuned the drums, then used his elbow pressure to make fine adjustments so that he could play notes from the chromatic scale. Unfortunately this feat, which brought a roar of approval after Hoenig had traded notes in a Q&A with the other instruments, became the main feature I took from this concert. I left wondering whether Hoenig would repeat it at each gig. (He did at the next one, at least).

That was a pity. I let myself focus on the style and the musician rather than the music. The performance was a real hit, so much so that the crowd outside was imitating the technique used in Hoenig’s trick. But in a way I wish Hoenig had been less the focus of this concert, because there was some great music played by the quartet.

They played The Painter, For Tracy (Hoenig’s wife), Ramilson’s Brew, Moanin’ and one more. In The Painter Hoenig commanded all the attention of the other players. The guitar seemed to offer cohesion whereas the drums were bringing change. I loved the expression in Oehlers’s solo in For Tracy, helped by Hoenig’s preparedness to back off, and Hekselman’s solo that was reminiscent of Stephen Magnusson. Guitar, sax and bass solos in Moanin’ were great. In the final rapid-fire piece, Hoenig’s delight showed like that of a mischievous child, and later his jaw was set in concentration. He is definitely totally focused and in the moment, but also a real showman.

This was a fun gig, displaying a virtuoso in action. My favourite pieces were The Painter and For Tracy.

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