REVIEW: Jamie Oehlers Quartet featuring Robert Hurst — Jamie Oehlers saxophone, Robert Hurst bass, Tal Cohen piano, Jacob Evans drums — at Bennetts Lane, Melbourne, Friday, June 1 at 11pm for Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2012
For reasons I don’t need to go into here I have been attending some career transition courses at work. One tip the instructor gave — and this has nothing whatsoever to do with this MIJF gig — is that before looking for a job it is vital to remove all images of yourself from social media such as Facebook, because prospective employers may check your profile, take one look and decide “he’s too old” or “I can’t stand bald people” or some such. Interesting. But I digress. What is slightly connected to this review is that the instructor also warned that in job interviews it is important to avoid waffle. Well, I can feel some waffle coming on. Be warned.
To be honest, I suspect I’m tempted to indulge in palaver because I don’t have that much to say. How can that be, with players such as Jamie Oehlers and US bassist Robert Hurst performing in an intimate venue such as Bennetts Lane? I love Oehlers’ work and have waxed lyrical about it, especially with Paul Grabowsky and Dave Beck in the exciting and totally improvised playing of Lost and Found.
Well, the mundane realities were that this was my third gig for the night, that I’d just been blown away by Bernie McGann‘s two sets and that I had to miss the second set by the Oehlers quartet in order to make the last train home. Also, I was not really in the mood for the onslaught of sax power that Oehlers unleashed. My bad. Somehow, like a wave that you don’t quite catch, it came at me but failed to pick me up and carry me in.
Others loved this outing. I can quote respected jazz writer Andra Jackson, herself a saxophonist, who commented on this gig via social media in these words: “PHEN-omenal unofficial opening gig for the Melbourne International Jazz Festival last night from saxophonist Jamie Oehlers. Can it get much better than that! Such seamless playing on Aisha. And in one extended passage he even sounded like he was playing two instruments, playing an insistent riff and bringing in a melody over it.”
And, according to Andra, saxophonist George Garzone was at Bennetts and said he’d never heard Oehlers in better form.
I was not familiar with Hurst, but his website mentions that he featured on 12 tracks from Paul McCartney‘s Kisses on the Bottom and on Chris Botti‘s Impressions, and toured the US with Diana Krall this year. His
Unrehurst Vol 2 and Bob Ya Head were critics’ picks for best albums of 2011.
In the first set at Bennetts, the quartet began with the energetic Hurst original Tiger’s on Venus, which was hard-driving stuff throughout. I felt Hurst’s work was exemplary and virtuosic, but lacked the warmth of a player like Charlie Hayden.
Next up was McCoy Tyner‘s Ballad for Aisha. Oehlers was doubly impressive in this, playing two very different solos during the piece — one intense and the other relatively laid back. Jacob Evans used his hands effectively on the skins. Hurst’s solo had space and dignity.
The final piece for the set was Hurst’s original Aycrigg, I think named for a street in which he once lived. This was a return to the faster pace and vigour of the opening and certainly gave us a chance to see Hurst’s nimble fingers at work at an incredible speed. If Tim Davies impressed with his drumming speed at Stonnington Jazz, Hurst certainly demonstrated his skill at speed on the bass.
I suspect that the second set delighted those in the audience who were up for a hard-driving quartet in the mood to take no prisoners.
On the last train home, my strongest memories were of Bernie McGann standing almost unmoving on stage as his playing moved us.