Reviewed by Gavin Franklin, March 2nd, 2014
The quartet on this recording consists of Tal Cohen (piano), Jamie Oehlers (tenor saxophone), Pete Jeavons (double bass) and Chris Tarr (drums). Since its release in 2011 it has received acclaim from reputable sources in the jazz community. Cohen has also distinguished himself as a young pianist whose services are much sought after. His set in the National Jazz Awards at this year’s Wangaratta Festival was electrifying. He approaches the instrument with at times excessive energy but always with undeniable originality. He seems to have succeeded in forging a piano style that is distinctively his own. The result is that a serious listener is never distracted by imitation of other performers who might have been models for aspects of this style. Certainly, his style can be compared with other contemporary pianists such as Jason Moran, Robert Glasper, Vijay Iyer and Jacky Terasson, all of whom have also put their own stamp on their music, but he cannot be accused of imitating them.
The tracks on Yellow Sticker consist of five compositions by Cohen and two idiosyncratic versions of standards. In the case of the first standard, Tadd Dameron’s On a Misty Night, I needed to check with a lead sheet of the tune to reassure myself that it was a performance of the piece that I thought I knew quite well. Then, around the eight-minute mark, Oehlers played phrases from the Dameron tune as part of the out chorus and the truth was confirmed. The deconstruction of the referent here is impressive as the performers fashion a new work out of familiar material. The other ‘cover’ is a more conventional version of the Matt Dennis classic ballad entitled Everything Happens to Me. In this selection, Cohen shows a sentimental side of his personality that might have been beneficial to him at Wangaratta, where he must have only narrowly missed out on the final cut. I admired his work very much.
Roessle, the album’s second track, consists of a saxophone melody played over a progression of descending chords. Its centre-piece is a tenor solo of the kind that has placed Jamie Oehlers in the top rank of performers on his instrument. Beginning in undertones, he builds intensity over an extended period without resorting to repetition. This is a fabulous piece of improvisation. Cohen follows with a piano solo that again starts thoughtfully then builds. He explores a range of improvisational ideas including some attractive side-slipping and finally arrives at some repeated chord work that sounds a bit fraught. Thankfully, this segment is brief and forms the transition back to Oehlers’s out chorus.
There’s More Fish in the Sea is a post-bop medium tempo composition performed by the rhythm section. It features good solos by Cohen on piano and Jeavons on double bass. Tziporet is a tune with its roots in Cohen’s Israeli folk heritage. It almost demands dancing and has an attractive rhythmic organisation featuring a repeating figure over which both the pianist and the saxophonist play terrific modal solos. The final track, a Latin tune entitled Hachlata, begins contemplatively but develops as we progress through solos by piano, bass and saxophone in that order.
Overall, this is a wonderfully original album resulting from collaboration by some outstanding contemporary Australian performers. I heartily recommend it.