Reviewed by John Clare, October 1st, 2015
A perceived disjunction between the serious and sometimes even portentous titles of these brilliantly executed pieces and the often gentle feeling of the music held me at bay for a while. The title track must be excepted. This became airborne almost immediately. Racing passages, in which the bass flew lightly, intricately, at speed, on the horizon as it were of the rest of the band who alternated passages of drive and interludes of reflection, were most readily related in the listener’s mind with the title.
Here are some of the leader’s words: “Memory can hold us back. It can be a weight that cements us to a place in time, not allowing us the presence needed to progress.” Yet the breathless swing and the solid drive here are among my favourite devices in jazz.
Where is the angst? Where is the raw urge to break free? To disturb the surface? I was looking for the wrong thing. A subtle and faintly painful nostalgia imbued some of the music, giving me pause, yet pointing to an answer. It finally came to me that nostalgia is part of what we are dealing with. It is indeed part of the burden of memory. In the Crimean War it was first identified as a pathology. But it is also a dimension of being, unless we lose our memories.
This music is the sound of thought – less severe no doubt than the Melbourne school that assembles around Mark Hannaford, John Rogers, Scott Tinkler and company, whose severity I love. This is more melodic and even lyrical, but just as serious. Currently it is holding me in thrall. No one takes a step on this disc without it being acted on or met with the perfect measure of silence. Harlan’s drum patterns are sometime hard and brief, cracking rim shots and snare drum figures, and their hard brevity brings them abruptly to notice but also ensures that they exist discretely as well as functioning contrapuntally.
Sometimes there are solid, rising shelves of tenor sound one might lean on, sometimes the tenor spirals virtuosically on a rising surge and runs away at whisper level. It has me walking through my flat away from the music and back into its full presence. A soccer game across the road in Wentworth Park is an excellent visual extension.
Four of the tunes are by Oehlers, one by Grabowsky and two are by Jimmy Van Heuson and Jobim respectively. Another by Harland, and another by Richard Rogers.
Let us go back in time for a moment and hazard the burden of memory.
Oehlers spent periods last century – leaving Perth as a young man – in Melbourne and Sydney, and then made an international name for himself (his drummer and bassist here are highly regarded New Yorkers). He came here to Sydney with a handsomely finished yet powerfully aggressive tenor saxophone sound and the ability to pump a lot of musical pressure into a venue with multi-noted solos in the style known as hard bop. During this period I heard that he had decided to free himself of the conventions he had so assiduously mastered. I heard him in Melbourne with Paul Grabowsky now a long time collaborator, and noted his willingness to improvise “freely”. For those who do not often listen to jazz, the word free is used in this context to describe improvisations or even compositions that are not underpinned by a virtual map of chord changes, allowing the players to move if they so wish, into atonality.
The playing on this disc conforms to none of that, but is a synthesis. Oehlers has far more dynamic and tonal levels to his playing now. Having both hard and soft edged tones to choose from and various manipulations of same. In collaboration with the two Australians are two New York rising stars in bassist Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland.
This ultimately most satisfying disc will be launched overseas through September and, as listed, in Australia:
Oct 4, Ellington Jazz Club, Perth
Oct 5, The Wheatsheaf Hotel, Adelaide
Oct 6, The Grand Hotel Underground, Newcastle NSW
Oct 7, 505 Sydney
Oct 9 &10, Uptown Club Melbourne
Oct 11, Jazz Upstairs, Brisbane .