Category Archives: CD REVIEWS

Reviews of Australian albums published in the Sunday Herald Sun liftout, Play

The Burden of Memory: Oehlers, Grabowsky, Rogers, Harland

The Burden of Memory


The Burden of Memory: Jamie Oehlers, Paul Grabowsky, Reuben Rogers, Eric Harland

How much do we need to analyse music and how much to just listen? To what extent can we escape our expectations of music from musicians who we’ve heard many times and yet not nearly enough?

To the first question, the answer is probably that to listen is sufficient, and that by listening more we gain more — appreciation, understanding and enjoyment. To the second, the answer is that we can easily be surprised. That is one of the joys of jazz or improvised music.

With this line-up of WA saxophonist Oehlers, Melbourne pianist Grabowsky and, from the US, bassist Rogers and drummer Harland, an album of strong, driving jazz was on the cards. But the original Oehlers compositions recorded in March this year (2015) in Brooklyn are full of subtleties and gentle expression. In a reworking of the standard Polkadots and Moonbeams, Oehlers pays tribute to his first saxophone teacher, Roger Garrood, “for instilling in me the importance of expression through music” and the whole mood of the album echoes and amplifies that commitment.

Evident in these pieces — and well complemented by Oehlers’ liner notes — is a thoughtfulness and introspection, a willingness to reflect on our changes (Revolutions), our world (Armistice), our minds (the title track), our fears (The Deep Freeze), our empathetic relationships (Helix) and our losses (Goodbye).

There’s plenty of grit here, even in And Moonbeams and especially in The Deep Freeze, but the lightness and floating beauty is frequently there so these compositions are anything but the burden that the title suggests. We are invited to luxuriate in and be captivated by the understated finesse of these players who can and do, in other contexts, produce so much power and driving force.

Three brief “duet moments” capture fleeting improvisations. The final Goodbye is also brief, a beautiful lament at the passing of saxophonists David Ades, Bernie McGann and Mike Stewart.

The Burden of Memory is an album to let wash over us, so that we may feel our minds have been gently cleansed and refreshed — but only after some pensiveness and soul-searching.

For star lovers: 4 out of 5


The Burden of Memory is available via Bandcamp

CD launch details




4 stars


Liminal opens with a closing. Saarelaht sums up Closing, written for a surgeon to whom he sent the piece, but from whom he never heard back, with the succinct subtitle “having dealt with a point infarct”. I had to look that up, but this piece feels more substantial than the eradication of “a small localised area of dead tissue resulting from failure of blood supply”.

Strength comes to mind. Its engrossing, compelling nature is fitting to open an album of Saarelaht originals that is often robust and — even in its understated parts — retains a certain directness and brawn. The composer regards it as a snapshot of the trio, formed 20 years earlier, in transition.

As in his 2010 quartet album Fiveways, with Niko Schauble on drums, Jonathan Zwartz on bass and Julien Wilson on sax, Saarelaht honours the departed. Five-nineteen is revisited for bassist Stuart Speed, Liminal is for drummer Peter Jones and Ivory Cutlery is for Scottish poet, comic author and songwriter Ivor Cutler. The album notes also mention Gil Askey, who died in April.

Liminal was also a live recording, this time at Bennetts Lane in October 2013 at the Esto-Cubist Jazz Festival and this time with Philip Rex on double bass joining Schauble and Saarelaht, the trio responsible for Fridays, Late.

This is a superb line-up. Rex’s inventive excellence is on display especially in the title track and alone in the opening of Five-nineteen, which develops swing powerful enough to qualify as a form of renewable energy. Trio members demonstrate empathy, yet preserve their independence, but the result is always cohesive.

Then Again, inspired by Andrea Keller‘s take on a Bela Bartok composition, allows Saarelaht room for expansive, yet intricate and light reflections. Splendidly laid back Ivory Cutlery again exhibits delicate finery on the keyboard followed by spacious, strong bass.

The final, and longest, track on an album that seems to end too soon, is Fiveways. It gathers intensity on a slow burn before exemplary stick work by Schauble that understandably draws applause, fades back and then gathers force again as this trio grabs and holds us in thrall until the end.

During a couple of long drives recently in remote Western Australia, Liminal was played repeatedly on the rental car stereo. It was sustaining and kept me from succumbing to sleep on the long, straight roads.


Jex Saarelaht

Jex Saarelaht at the Bennetts Lane launch of Liminal in July 2014



Tonight (6 June) at Merlyn Theatre in The Malthouse at 9pm, the Alister Spence Trio will perform in an Australian premiere with Dawn of Midi. It seems appropriate for Ausjazz to dust off an album review before we have the chance to hear the trio live:

Far Flung cover


Rufus Records

3.5 stars

Occasionally I like to ask a friend or family member to give an opinion on a track from a new album, often a track that I imagine may be a little challenging. The response is usually blunt, honest and immediate, whether positive or not: “Yes, I love that” or “No, turn it off”.

If the reaction is negative, I like to try another, radically different, track from the same album. Most often the response is, “Yes, that’s much better. You can leave that on.” When I point out that both tracks came from the same album, it comes as a surprise.

It can take a while to broaden our tastes, so there is often a lingering expectation that tracks on an album will be be fairly consistent in style and approach, so that we’ll know quickly whether we like what’s on offer. Some albums provide that, but many take us to a gamut of musical places, including some that assail our senses and strain our tolerances. Far Flung is one of those.

Far Flung (2012) is the fifth release from the Alister Spence Trio after Three Is A Circle (2000), Flux (2003), Mercury (2006) and fit (2009). The double CD provides 19 tracks described as an “interweaving of jazz compositions, open improvisations, and re-composed post-production pieces” featuring Alister Spence on piano/trio samples/music box, Lloyd Swanton on double bass and Toby Hall on drums/glockenspiel.

I’d recommend approaching this eclectic feast of sound via the sixth track on Disc One, Sleep Under Water, as opposed to via the opening textures of Tumbler or faster Flight Plan. Why? Because, like so many tracks on this album, it takes us on a journey that can serve to acclimatise us to the rich, submersive experience that awaits.

Track four, Felt, begins with vigorous piano chords and percussive chatter, ushers in contemplative tinklings before expansive and then emphatic piano, ending back at the chordal pattern.

That’s enough description to whet the appetite. I find that once we are stretched a little we become more flexible and open to new possibilities.

These days (as opposed to back in the day), it is easy to download individual tracks rather than whole albums, or to pick out the tracks we like using a playlist. But that may mean we don’t challenge ourselves quite so much, which is a pity.

Far Flung is a journey with many twists and turns, but it will reward the traveller prepared to savour new experiences.


Alister Spence’s notes on Far Flung are available on his website.

Rufus Records