Tenor saxophonist Jamie Oehlers is arguably WA’s most successful jazz export. After winning the international saxophone competition at the 2003 Montreux Jazz Festival, he has created the beginnings of an international profile.
His move to Melbourne some years ago and CDs featuring musicians from around Australia and New Zealand [drummer Frank Gibson] have assured him of a national profile.
Uniting with Melbourne pianist Sam Keevers in a duo format provided a concert of the highest standard of musicianship. The audience of about 150 provided a warm and enthusiastic reception. The support of JAZZWA and the WA Academy of Performing Arts is most commendable.
The duo format in jazz is highly demanding but also artistically satisfying, both for the musicians and the audience. In Australia we have witnessed the duo McJad – consisting of Keith Hounslow [trumpet, pocket trumpet] and Tony Gould [piano] (Tony has also united with saxophonist Graeme Lyall and guitarist Peter Petrucci at separate times in the duo format); Don Rader [trumpet] and the late Roger Frampton [piano]; Andy Sugg [saxophone] and Andy Vance [piano]. Internationally the saxophone/piano duo of Dave Liebman and Richie Beirarch has established a formidable reputation, while Chick Corea and vibist Gary Burton have recorded and performed together for over 30 years.
There is no doubt that Jamie Oehlers and Sam Keevers possess the talent, both as performers and as composers, to perform at the highest international level. As two leading Australian artists to emerge over the last decade, they have the ability and maturity to evolve to a superb world class duo.
The Music Auditorium at the Mount Lawley Edith Cowan University campus was built about 20 years ago and prior to the completion of the Music Theatre it was the main venue for any jazz performance connected with the university’s jazz program, both for students and staff and including visiting artists such as Red Rodney. The blending of tenor sax and grand piano at this venue was ideal. Add to this the fact that, as would be expected of a music auditorium generally reserved for classical music recitals, the grand piano is of a high standard and is kept well-tuned.
So, having heard [and in Jamie’s case having also played with] both musicians in a more traditional jazz setting – clubs, pubs and outdoor concerts it was a great pleasure to experience their musicality in the rarefied atmosphere of a music auditorium. Every nuance could be appreciated and the subtlety of Keevers’ touch and voicings were in evidence.
For the most part the repertoire was original. The problem for this in the regular jazz environment is that there is often too much background noise to properly concentrate on the logic of the composer’s creation. Not so the case at this concert. The audience was able to fully experience the ideas of the composer as well as, of course, the ensuing improvisations. Much of the concert repertoire was from their recently released CD – Grace.
Saxophone/piano duos in jazz are not common, but from the point of view of international festival presenters they provide the attraction of reduced travel and accommodation costs and the ability to create a contrast in programming.
These factors, combined with the outstanding musicianship of the pair, should provide them with the opportunity to develop both national and international touring opportunities that might be more difficult to achieve in larger formats.
Garry Lee writes occasional reviews for the Arts Section of the West Australian newspaper. He has written articles on Australian and West Australian jazz that have been published in Jazz Journal International [UK] and Jazz Educators Journal [US].
He performs on vibraphone and guitar and in 2004 released a CD of his own compositions recorded between 1989 and 2001 – Retrospective Lee – featuring a solo by Jamie Oehlers on the opening track [recorded in 1991].