Melbourne Jazz Festival 2007
Oehlers, who at his best occasionally emulated a young Dewey Redman in tone, was additionally presented as leader of his own very cohesive Small World Ensemble which performed at The Palms, a venue that offered awkward and unrelated double-bills on several occasions in probable effort to attract as wide an array of interested concert-goers as possible in mini jazz festival-like bookings (if such a thing can be accomplished in a mere two group presentation), what turned out to actually be a successful strategy by Artistic Director Albert Dadon. Opening for the Cuban pianist Ramón Valle, Oehlers brought his impressive group that consisted of several active names on the Aussie scene: Andrea Keller (piano), Eugene Ball (trumpet), Sam Anning (bass), Geoff Hughes (guitar) and Dave Beck (drums). One of course has to realize that if this same band had been presented at The Edge let alone a club, there would be a very different audience complexion and turnout, so Oehlers did his best under the circumstances to turn some heads. His double drummer group concept (which received this year's Best Contemporary Jazz Album for You R Here at the Bells) arguably may have been more appropriate, however, as a much more challenging project that offers a bit more musical punch. The Small World Ensemble has a certain but casual flow, but because of the enormity of the room, the group's dynamics were more than likely sucked up and lost to great extent, with colors melded into a solid but overall pleasant grey.
Other saxophonists included Americans Dave Liebman (with McCoy Tyner's trio) and Pharoah Sanders. Liebman performed with abandon and purpose, saving what otherwise may have been a disastrous first of two night sets by the legendary onetime Coltrane pianist at Hamer Hall. But he really just helped slow down the bleeding, as the turnout was noticeably poor with many empty sections (perhaps due to opening act French guitarist Bireli Lagrene's very last minute cancellation ostensibly "due to injury ; he was, however, quickly replaced by an exciting and though musically unrelated set by Yamandu Costa who had already played the festival the last two days). Unfortunately, much of the turnout noticeably and rudely scattered for the exits as the concert progressed.
Tyner has not been looking and playing as strong as one would expect, especially given the Coltrane-heavy material traversing some of the saxophone legend's most glorious themes: "India," "Impressions and "Moment's Notice," the latter which became a bit of a presumably unrehearsed train wreck of a performance. Tyner's un-dynamic performance was further muddied by his tendency to rarely let up from the sustain pedal, a fact that certainly didn't help matters with regards to any semblance of the group's musical clarity. Bassist Gerald Cannon was barely audible, an oversight that eventually became rectified by the Hall's sound folks whose board mix was simply off from note one as if no sound check occurred previous to concert time. To further confound things, the high-crashing cymbal-heavy approach of drummer/ percussionist Eric Kamau Gravatt's (Weather Report, Joe Henderson) came off as rhythmically inappropriate. The hallnot too dissimilar from Carnegie Hall in this respectwas simply and obviously not created for jazz drums. Liebmanon tenor, soprano and particularly his biting sopranoplayed such inspiring solos, though, that if one focused on him, a savory if not consolatory buzz was left in listeners' ears by set's end.
Reportedly thank goodness, the group coalesced much better the following night, perhaps in part because Pharoah Sanders' group (with didgeridoo player Joe Geia on opening and closing numbers) was on the same bill, though the two (Tyner and Sanders) never shared the same stage at the same time like Herbie and Chick did earlier in the fest at the same venue.