Review: Fiveways by the Jex Saarelaht Quartet

Fiveways cover

Fiveways by Jex Saarelaht Quartet
Released by Jazzhead
Review by Phil Sandford

There is a calmness and beauty on much of this CD, typified by Saarelaht’s impressionistic solo introductions to three of the tracks, which testifies to the maturity and skill of all four musicians. At the same time they are more than able to generate plenty of rhythmic drive, as evidenced on ‘Five-Nineteen’ and the aptly-titled ‘Pepperman’.

Recorded live at the 2009 Stonnington Jazz festival in Melbourne it features five excellent Saarelaht compositions, with extended solo space for all band members.

Although Zwartz is based in Sydney and rest of the band in Melbourne, they achieve the cohesive sound of a touring group, something they also demonstrated at the 2010 Wangaratta Festival of Jazz.

In part this is because Saarelaht and Schäuble have collaborated on many occasions such as the 1991 performance of the drummer’s piece ‘Fug’, but Wilson and Zwartz fit in perfectly.

Saarelaht’s band members are all composers and band leaders in their own right. Wilson’s recent outings include Live and Kaleidoscopic, while Zwartz’s haunting The Sea won two 2010 Australian Jazz Bell Awards.

Schäuble has appeared on more than 50 recordings and his credits include leading the innovative Tibetan Dixie and holding down the drum chair with the Australian Art Orchestra. He is in fine form throughout and his interaction with Zwartz is a particular highlight.

‘Three Ways’ is a gentle theme with a rhythmic tag that inspires melodic solos from Saarelaht, Wilson and Zwartz.

‘Thirteen/Two Minds’ is a beautiful theme over a bass pattern which serves as a vehicle for an extended solo by Wilson, whose range and control of dynamics is on display throughout the CD.

‘Five-Nineteen’, dedicated to the late bassist Stuart Speed, opens with a masterful Zwartz solo which leads into the driving theme, followed by fine solos from Saarelaht, Wilson and Schäuble.

‘Poorly’ is a beautiful ballad featuring Zwartz, Saarelaht and Wilson.

An intriguing Schäuble drum solo introduces the rhythmic, up-tempo ‘Pepperman’ and Wilson stretches out, pushed and prodded at every point by the rhythm section.

This CD is an excellent example of how Australian jazz is increasingly developing its own voice and Saarelaht has confirmed his place as an innovative composer and pianist.

The Jex Saarelaht Quartet is: Jex Saarelaht (piano), Niko Schäuble (drums), Julien Wilson (tenor saxophone), Jonathan Zwartz (double bass).

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