By now we have established that Jamie Oehlers is a national treasure, one of our most important jazz saxophonists, soloists, composers, improvisers and educators. Anyone needing further proof of that should look no further than his latest album, Night Music.
Leading a well-oiled machine of an ensemble, featuring Ricki Malet on trumpet, Harry Mitchell on the keys, Zac Grafton on bass and Ben Vanderwal on drums, Oehlers presents yet another collection of memorable tunes, delivered with passion, urgency and vigour.
The album’s opener, ‘Sleep Thief,’ is a perfect vehicle for him to show his musicianship, his saxophone spurting fire tongues and guiding the ensemble to an adventurous path designed to keep the listener on the edge of their seats. A series of uptempo numbers presented over a multitude of rhythms make for an intense listening experience. The frantically paced ‘Alter Ego’, for instance, is an exhilarating roller-coaster of a tune that will have you pause for breath.
The track list offers many such safe spaces, in the form of mid-to-low tempo compositions, which allow for Oehlers and his crew to slow down and let the listener relax and take everything in.
A perfect example of this type of laid back tracks, ‘Soma’ is a tune that simmers slowly and creeps under your skin only to build up to a magnificent mass of sound, Oehler’s saxophone in dialogue with Harry Mitchell’s Rhodes.
Mitchell deserves a special mention here. That is not to say that the other members of this superb ensemble are not equally superb – Ricki Malet’s trumpet, for instance is sizzling. But there is something about Harry Mitchell’s playing that adds many layers to the overall sound. The idea to have him play an electric piano was brilliant. Could these tunes be equally beautiful, had the orchestration been different? Certainly. It is easy to imagine them played with a band featuring an acoustic piano. But add a Rhodes to the mix, on top of the fiery sax and trumpet interplay and you get something spectacular. You get fireworks putting colour on the night sky.