Tag Archives: Lost and Found

SURF’S UP, BUT I’M NOT

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

Robert Hurst

Robert Hurst

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.

Jamie Oehlers

Jamie Oehlers

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.

Jacob Evans

Jacob Evans

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.

Hurst & Oehlers

Hurst & Oehlers

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.

Jamie Oehlers

Jamie Oehlers

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.

Tal Cohen

Tal Cohen

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.

ROGER MITCHELL

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IT’S MOVING MUSIC AND IT’S CREATED LIVE

Ausjazz blog reviews the most memorable performances on day two of the Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival 2011

Grabowsky and Evans

Moving partnership: Paul Grabowsky and Sandy Evans

Radio DJs used to spruik their wares with the words “recorded live”, which always seemed an oxymoron. If I say music grips me most if it’s “created live” that is similarly nonsensical in one sense, so to speak, but nevertheless has meaning. Imagine being with a band as a song is born and you may get my drift. It would be exciting.

The prospect of more than 12 hours of almost non-stop music performed by local and international musicians on day two of the 2011 Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival was exciting. But which gigs would be memorable highlights?

Of course it’s subjective. For example, I walked into St Patrick’s Hall to sample Thirsty Merc singer, guitarist and keyboard player Rai Thistlewayte in a rare solo concert, waited for far too few minutes to be fair to him before departing. It wasn’t my cup of tea. Those who stayed, I’m told, were absolutely wowed by Thistlewayte’s talent as vocalist, pianist and entertainer. They loved him.

Earlier, when Barre Phillips performed a solo bass set in the magnificent setting of the Holy Trinity Cathedral, I was surprised to see members of the audience streaming towards the door each time there was a break in his playing. It was not their cup of tea.

Three concerts emerged as highlights for me on Saturday — two completely composed on the run and two bringing together duos in noteworthy collaborations. One fitted both categories.

In 2008, when the festival had to erect elaborate marquees to replace venues lost to make way for the new Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre, Lost and Found — pianist/composer Paul Grabowsky, saxophonist Jamie Oehlers and drummer Dave Beck — treated us to an hour of spontaneous composition that was riveting and inspired. The trio did it again on Saturday at 11am in the WPAC Theatre, in an expressive, captivating and creative outpouring that made me realise how much I love being able to watch truly live music. This was thrilling. We were seeing, and hearing, a work evolve in real time.

I am fascinated by how these three achieve the structure, coherence and degree of assurance in their work, which never seems to waver. The piece was alternately building and waning in intensity as Grabowsky, Oehlers and Beck at times each appeared to do their own thing, but were each always in a state of alertness, listening and responding. Grabowsky would contribute a quick chord that spiked into the narrative, starting something that took the players in a new direction. Later, the piano evoked bell chimes as the intensity subsided, leaving only fluid, liquid sax.

There was suspense in this thriller, the trio keeping us waiting and creating a sense of expectation that kept us engrossed. Grabowsky’s playing created the space to feed this audience anticipation. Beck’s contributions were always in tune with the changing moods. I had another concert to get to, but could not leave. I had to wait until the end.

At 5pm Saturday, also in the WPAC Theatre, bassist Barre Phillips reunited with pianist Mike Nock, with whom he had played years ago in New York, for another engrossing concert of music created in the moment. Their encounter began as a light-hearted competition to see who could be more minimalist, then grew more serious.

To me, this — as did Lost and Found — captured the essence of jazz’s essential appeal: the excitement of what might happen next, always present in any improvisation, but more purely expressed in these totally unscripted encounters. Between Phillips and Nock there was tension. There was also delicacy, space and patience, exceptional clarity, sparseness and an artist’s palette of dynamics and timbre. There was rhythmic warfare, or at least a skirmish or two, before glorious congruence. It was a symphony, if at times an agitated one, with the players prompting the audience to wonder “What will each intervention produce?” and “Will it completely change the mood?”

At one point Phillips was clawing his fingers up the strings, his double bass weeping. Nock’s response was a grumbling and growling piano. And until the end of this engrossing encounter, both were ever attentive, ever watchful.

Before waxing lyrical on the third of the day’s highlights, I will mention Barre Phillips’ solo bass concert in Holy Trinity Cathedral at noon. I had hoped to hear lots of bowed bass from the maestro, but after his first piece he delivered a cornucopia of techniques — all we ever imagined could be done with an upright bass, but were afraid to ask.

He strummed close to the neck and down beside the bridge, he slapped the wood, he played pizzicato on the upper strings, he cut the heel of his hand into the strings and slid it down, he tapped strings with the bow handle and slid it down a little (delicacy) and a lot (drama), he rubbed the bow handle against the edges of the f-hole, in circles over the bass body and strings, he tapped the bow stick against the bridge and the end of its handle on the strings and he rattled the bow against the back of the stem and top of the instrument’s body.

In the penultimate piece, Phillips produced peaceful, calming sounds, letting the sound of strummed strings reverberate in the vaulted cathedral space. In the last, his moth-like fluttering hand gave way to fast strumming as the piece built and subsided.

It was an amazing exhibition of technique. Yet it did not move or engage me in the way that Phillips’ encounter with Nock would do later that day. Perhaps it lacked a sense of tension and development or evolution.

The third highlight of the day was the pairing of Paul Grabowsky on piano with Sandy Evans on saxophones. These two consummate musicians had never performed together as a duo before.

It was fitting that they included three tracks from Grabowsky’s Love’s Calendar suite on his Hush Collection album (with the late Gary Costello on bass and Andrew Gander on drums) for the children’s hospitals — born out of the pianist’s wish to give something back after his son Guy’s treatment for a serious illness in 2004. Evans’ latest album, When the Sky Cries Rainbows, is a response to her musician husband Tony Gorman’s illness.

Their set opened and closed with April. In between they played September, Mountview (Evans), I Want to Talk About You (standard), Heartbeat (Evans) and March.

There was no sentimentality. To me this felt like a journey through life taken by longtime and very close friends who delight in each other’s company and still have plenty to say to each other, at times engaging in vigorous debate. It was also balm for the soul, because parts of this memorable exchange were so beautiful.

Just one notch down from these highlights of Saturday were performances by the Fabian Almazan Trio, Les Society Des Antipodes, Gian Slater and Linda Oh, and the Josh Roseman Unit. Perhaps it’s best to add another post about these.

ROGER MITCHELL

Note: Pictures will be added gradually.

BAND OF FIVE NAMES

MJFF/MJC Transitions Series, Tuesday, May 3, Bennetts Lane Jazz Club

Simon Barker drums, Carl Dewhurst guitar, Matt McMahon piano, Phil Slater trumpet

Megg Evans welcomes the Five foursome

Megg Evans welcomes the Five foursome to Bennetts Lane

Bringing the Band of Five Names to Melbourne was a coup for the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival and bound to be a highlight of a program that included the premiere local performance of Andrea Keller‘s Place and a commission work by Fran Swinn featuring aerialist Rockie Stone. But what is the attraction of this band? What is the nature of its appeal?

Carl Dewhurst

Carl Dewhurst

I welcome suggestions, because answers will differ depending on the listener. To me it has to do with an unfolding story, a sense of development, and the exciting prospect of not knowing what will emerge. That could be said of a lot of improvised music, but in the case of this band there is a real feeling of it being evolutionary in a gestational way. It’s not quite the same as listening to The Necks, perhaps because there is an absence of expectation of any climactic outcome. Audiences love that anticipation in a Necks gig that what may start slowly will heat up and provide that carthartic pleasure or relief that comes from tension slowly building and inviting release.

Simon Barker and Phil Slater

Simon Barker and Phil Slater

The Band of Five Names seems to put us right into the moment by taking away the “what if” factor and inviting acceptance of what will be. We care not whether it is planned or unplanned, whether there will be catharsis or not. The band draws us into what is happening, what is emerging, and keeps us there because it is so interesting. And that’s the key second factor in the appeal. Without any apparent stress, the musicians are watchful — not unusual at all, of course, in any improvised music — and responsive, but relaxed about that. Maybe they know where they are going because they’ve been there, or somewhere similar, a hundred times before; maybe they don’t know what is going to happen until a series of notes from one member of the band sets them on a new track. I don’t care. It’s interesting because you can watch that responsiveness at work. If it’s like anything it is maybe akin to hearing Lost and Found, with Paul Grabowsky, Jamie Ohelers and Dave Beck. Or GEST8.

Three of the Band of Five Names

Three of the Band of Five Names

So what sorts of musical moments made up the first set, which was titled Curtain? A fragmentary account would recall Dewhurst nursing or coaxing notes from his guitar, notes that evolve into a high, sustained ringing. Slater breathes through his horn into the mic, removing slides at times to adjust the air flow. McMahon is plucking at the piano strings, sending twangs into the room. Slater lets his note gradually develop intensity, force and penetration, with Barker gentle at the back. There is a trumpet break-out, a flaring up of trumpet. There is a guitar break-out, a fiery surge of strings. McMahon mumbles gently on the keys. The trumpet again exudes breaths. McMahon is so careful with his notes, as if he’s tiptoeing. Momentarily the drums and cymbals swell and die away. There is a period of what feels like reverie.

McMahon and Dewhurst

McMahon and Dewhurst

I was only able to stay for the first set, which I therefore believe was far too short — probably not much more than 30 minutes. That was a great pity, but I was sure the second set would be longer and most likely even more fulfilling that the first.

Carl Dewhurst

Carl Dewhurst

There was a reasonable crowd at Bennetts Lane in the big room, but the Band of Five Names deserves more. Let’s hear them in “Melbs” (scare quotes used courtesy of Tim Stevens) very soon. Well done MJFF, the Melbourne Jazz Cooperative and, to be fair, the band.

Matt McMahon

Matt McMahon

Barker and Slater

Barker and Slater