Tal Cohen & Jamie Oehlers: “We give each other a lot of space to play”

The core of any artistic – or, in fact, human – collaboration, the duet formation is a testing ground for interaction, conversation, empathy. Tal Cohen and Jamie Oehlers know this well. Their latest venture, ‘Innocent Dreamer’ is a work of art of deceiptful simplicity, one achieved after a lot of work and only if you put aside your ego in effort of unity. Listening to it, almost feels like eavesdropping into a very intimate conversation between a piano and a saxophone. As they set for a tour around Australia and New Zealand, they describe this ongoing – and fruitful – relationship.
How did ‘Innocent Dreamer’ come to be?

Tal Cohen: We pretty much went into the studio and came up with our favorite standards and a few originals that we thought would work in this setting. Nothing was planned and that’s what I love about this album, it’s a real insight to a spontaneous day in the studio.

When you think of the words ‘Innocent Dreamer’, what is the first thing that comes to your mind?

Jamie Oehlers: Many things come to mind – peacefulness, intent, a desire to dream of greater things without the weight of the world squashing it down. I wrote this tune after seeing my step daughter sleeping. Seeing a child sleeping is one of the most peaceful vistas and I wanted to capture that, something with a dreamscape quality to it.

TC:Innocent dreamer‘ is one of my favorite tunes of Jamie’s that I always wanted to play in a duo setting.

How would you describe your collaboration?

TC: I love collaborating with Jamie, I’ve known him for a very long time and I owe a lot of my musical growth to him. Jamie is constantly searching to get better, he’s probably the most inspired person I’ve ever met and he’s constantly trying to better himself as a player, always checking out new music and always practicing. We’ve played countless times together in so many different settings. I would say that we feel very comfortable with each other and that we give each other a lot of space to play. Jamie sometimes interjects in my solos and I love it, it’s an uncommon thing to do during piano solos but I think it adds a lot. We have come up with natural ways of interacting with each other… I suppose you need to buy the album to discover those!

JO: Tal is one of the hardest working and most talented people I know. Put those two traits together and it makes for a fine musician and artist. From a playing perspective, he knows my playing so well and knows what I do and don’t like to hear under me! There are only a handful of people on this planet that I can play with where I can honestly say that.

What is the greatest challenge, when you put out an album combining well-known standards and originals?

The greatest challenge is doing something different with standards that still feels natural. I think we achieved it on this album. We were very open and just tried to play like ourselves with no judgment.

How did you come up with the version of ‘Giant Steps’ featured on the album?

JO: This is something I have been working on for a while, trying to make the song less jagged and a little more melodic. It’s obviously a saxophonist’s tune, we all work on it as it’s one of those landmark pieces in the repertoire.

What is it about the duo setting that you find most interesting?

JO: I love the duo setting, as it lends itself to embracing the space! We don’t try and fill the void of a bass and drums, leaving the music open and free flowing. I love supporting other soloists, playing an accompaniment role… Sonny Rollins influenced me in this sphere and it’s one of my favourite roles to playing this setting.

TC: As a piano player, needless to say, it’s hard to make it sound full without bass and drums. However, I am learning that it doesn’t need to sound full to be meaningful and instead of trying to fill the role of other instruments, I’m trying to just stay true to my artistry. I find myself focusing way more on communicating with Jamie then actually concentrating on what I play. Its more textural and bare that way.

Which is your favourite duet recording?

TC: ‘Undercurrent‘*, by Bill Evans and Jim Hall; ‘1+1′* by Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock , and many more.

JO: ‘1+1‘ for me too, also also ‘People Time‘* by Stan Getz and Kenny Barron.

What should anyone expect from your live performances of this material?

TC: I think it’s going to sound totally different live. We are planning some new material but even with the recorded material it’s going to sound very fresh. The tunes are very open and we are not going to put any boundaries on any of this music. Come down to the live shows and see for yourself.

Tal Cohen and Jamie Oehlers are on a tour around Australia and New Zealand

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