Jamie Oehlers by night

22 August 2019

Review: Jamie Oehlers, ‘Night Music’ ⋅
Album released May 2019 ⋅
Review by Ron Banks ⋅

Tenor saxophonist Jamie Oehlers is one of the busiest and most creative jazz musicians to come out of Perth. His latest album Night Music is his tenth to date in a two-decade career that now combines performance and recording with his duties as an academic in the jazz studies course at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts.

Like many of his colleagues in WAAPA’s jazz course, Oehlers is a product of that same course, adding a recent PhD to his long list of achievements. In fact his album Night Music is based on the theory of his PhD, which bears the title “Developing a Chromatic –Intervallic Approach to the Jazz Improvisation through Reflexive Practice.”

It’s the kind of title to cause apoplexy in the die-hard jazz fan who does not put much faith in academic approaches to music-making. But in layman’s terms it means Oehlers has developed a technique for improving a young musician’s skills at improvisation, the bedrock of any jazz musician’s creativity.

Tenor saxophonist and composer Jamie Oehlers. Photo supplied

What such a project does reveal is that musicians such as Oehlers are testing their creativity, coming up with new ideas, or developing ways to improve old ideas.

What matters in the end is the kind of music that comes out of the end of the saxophone and in Night Music, Oehlers’ instrument is full of ideas that he explores with the help of Ricki Malet on trumpet, Harry Mitchell on piano, Zac Grafton on bass and Ben Vanderwal on drums. The album was recorded in Crank Studios in Perth, with Oehlers writing all the compositions.

As the title suggests, Night Music was inspired by the sounds of the night, more specifically by the sounds of New York in the hours between sunset and dawn when the city is not so much sleeping as alive to the restlessness and energy of a major megalopolis refusing to accept the need for slumber.

The album is filled with spiky sounds, urgent rhythms,  splashes of colour and bouts of lyricism that are not so much designed to smooth the soul as keep it awake. It is not one of those albums you turn to ease your way to sleep just past midnight.

The opening track’s title Sleep Thief is suggestive of the whole enterprise because Oehlers aims not to put you to sleep to sleep but rob you of sleep by coming up with ideas that will reinvigorate you. The compositions are demanding in the sense that there are often dissonances in the music and sometimes unsettling sounds that take some getting used to. But it is an album whose qualities improve with repeated listening.

Night Music is available as a download or on CD.

Picture top: Jamie Oehlers. Photo supplied.

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Author —
Ron Banks

Ron Banks has reviewed the arts in WA for more years than he cares to remember. A former arts editor of The West Australian, he has reviewed performances in spaces from a dozen seats to super-stadiums. His only time on stage was as a spear-carrier in the opera Aida at Singapore’s sports stadium. His favourite playground equipment is the flying fox.

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