There are good gigs, bad gigs, predictable gigs and everything in between. Mostly we appreciate what is before us but just occasionally, we attend a gig that is every kind of wonderful. This was it.
Jamie Oehlers has the sort of reputation that scares aspiring tenor players and creates life-long fans. This man is a monster on the tenor saxophone and no amount of scrambling for adjectives on my part is ever going to capture the intensity of his performance. Luckily I filmed much of the gig and so I will put up a number of cuts on You Tube over the coming weeks. This gig won’t be forgotten as it fizzed and washed over us like a blissful tsunami of sound.
Typical of many Australasian musicians Jamie Oehlers is self-effacing, and quietly humorous, but his down to earth persona remains intact only until he puts the horn in his mouth. Then we see confidence, elegance, fire-breathing and effortless virtuosity of a sort that almost defies belief. He is one of those musicians who reaches beyond the known, bringing the rhythm section and the audience along with him. His solos have an almost mystical coherence; as if guided by a universal logic that he is able to share with the audience.
Those who saw the performance at the CJC on the 19th September 2012 will understand exactly what I am saying.
As marvellous as Jamie was, his local rhythm section was there for him every inch of the way. Not for the first time I marvelled as Kevin Field (piano) responded to every challenge, managing to inject a sense of originality and invention into a number of almost unassailable standards. Kevin stands out as a pianist as he understands perfectly which chords to accent, when to lay out and when to work harder behind the soloist. He is exactly the right pianist to play behind a talented visitor.
Oli Holland was so good during this gig that I embarrassed him with a bear hug afterwards. He could have been Reggie Garrison at one point as the urgent stabbing notes from his bass propelled the others on. Listen to the first clip below and particularly where Kevin is soloing. This unit was never less than in perfect lockstep.
Frank Gibson on drums was equally marvellous. You never know how drummers will respond to high-octane material like this but he responded by reaching deep within and capturing every nuance of the set. I have never heard him perform better.
The first set began with the standard ‘On a Clear Day’ (Lane), ‘Alina’ AKA ‘Variation 11 from Suspended Night’ (Tomasz Stanko) [one of my favourite tunes], ‘Aisha’ (John Coltrane), ‘Take the Coltrane'( Ellington-Coltrane) , Portrait in Black and White ( Jobim) and more.
Near the end of the second set the band decided to play John Coltrane’s ‘Resolution’ from ‘A Love Supreme’ (1962). ‘A Love Supreme’ is hardly ever played and more is the pity. This avoidance relates to the holy grail status of ‘A Love Supreme’ among post Coltrane saxophonists. My view is that we should honour it and especially in this week. John Coltrane was born on September 23rd. It is a shame not to have all four movements performed together though; ‘Resolution’ is after all only a part of a mystical four piece puzzle which makes perfect sense when heard in its entirety.
Jamie stated the theme over and again, but each time working in subtle re-harmonisations and embarking upon brief angular explorations. We knew intuitively that we would end up in a place of almost unbearable intensity and we were on the edges of our seats in expectation. This was not a gate to be rushed and although we understood that, the anticipation was palpable. Tension and release is at the very essence of Jazz and Jamie achieve this end by stalking his prey in measured steps like a confident hunter.
‘Resolution’ is an Everest of a tune utilising Coltrane’s new-found ideas which were somewhere between hard bop and free. Jamie interpreted intelligently without trying to out do Coltrane. He made it his ‘Resolution’ as well. Kevin field was the same, as he took a more oblique approach than McCoy Tyner. This was a perfect homage without being a slavish imitation.
At the end of the gig we received an additional treat when Jamie asked Roger Manins to play. The best moment was when they played ‘On Green Dolphin Street‘ (Washington). With these two masters working the changes and probing every hidden corner of the melody, it reminded us that standards interpreted with integrity can sound as fresh as at first hearing.
Jamie Oehlers lives in Australia where he runs a Jazz School. He has so many awards that storage must be problem (including being judged winner of the ‘World Saxophone Competition’ in Montreux by Charles Lloyd and Bruce Lundvall of Blue Note). He has put out 10 albums as leader as well as being sideman for the whose who of the Jazz world.
I ran into Jazz guitarist Dixon Nacey as I was leaving and he summed it up nicely. “Man I have just received a series of Jazz upper-cuts”.