by Ian Mann
October 20, 2023
An enjoyable and entertaining performance that featured some excellent playing throughout. The programme featured a varied mix of Michael Brecker tunes, jazz standards, band originals and pop covers.
Time Is Of The Essence, Corn Exchange Jazz Club, The Corn Exchange, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, 19/10/2023
Ollie Weston – tenor & soprano saxes, Pete Oxley – guitar, Martin Pickett – organ, Rick Finlay – drums
The latest event at the recently established Corn Exchange Jazz Club was advertised as featuring the Ollie Weston Quartet. Oxford based Weston is a saxophonist who studied at Leeds College of Music and at the Guildhall School of Music in London. He is a busy session music who has performed across a variety of musical genres with artists including Amy Winehouse, Tim Minchin, Bonobo, Frank Turner, The London Jazz Orchestra, The Hackney Colliery Band, The Ambient Jazz Ensemble and The Nelson Riddle Orchestra.
Weston has previously appeared on the Jazzmann web pages as part of a quintet paying homage to the Blue Note record label and led by trumpeter Stuart Henderson. The Henderson quintet appeared at the Progress Theatre in Reading in November 2019 as part of an event billed as “A Jazz and Film Tribute to Blue Note Records”. The evening included a musical performance by the quintet plus a screening of Julian Benedikt’s documentary “Blue Note: A Modern Jazz Story”. The Henderson quintet subsequently recorded the digital album “Back To Blue Note”, which includes their interpretations of some classic Blue Note material by Horace Silver, Joe Henderson, Hank Mobley, Herbie Hancock, Sonny Clark, Lee Morgan, John Coltrane and Stanley Turrentine.
Guest contributor Trevor Bannister’s article from January 2021 includes a full review of the 2019 live performance and draws attention to the release of the digital album.
The line up of the ‘Ollie Weston Quartet’ had not been revealed in the pre-gig publicity and on arriving at the Corn Exchange I was pleasantly surprised to see that the group included guitarist Pete Oxley, another Oxford based musician, but one who has featured regularly on the Jazzmann web pages, often working in co-junction with his fellow guitarist Nicolas Meier. The Oxley-Meier Guitar Project has both duo and quartet incarnations and live performances by both versions of the Project have been reviewed elsewhere on these web pages.
I first recall seeing Oxley play back in 2002, before I started writing about jazz, and I’ve been a fan of his music ever since. He brought his New Noakes Quintet to Ludlow Assembly Rooms, a venue that the quartet version of the Oxley- Meier Guitar Project would visit some twenty years later.
In the early 2000s I also remember seeing Oxley’s Curious Paradise group, another excellent band that included bassist Raph Mizraki, saxophonist Mark Lockheart and pianist Richard Fairhurst.
Both Oxley and Meier were members of Eclectica, a string quartet with a difference that also featured classical cellist Bernard Gregor-Smith and genre hopping violinist / vocalist Lizzie Ball. This line up released the suitably quirky album “Flight of Fancy” back in 2011. Oxley is also well known as the proprietor of The Spin Jazz Club in Oxford.
Oxley is currently involved with Hejira, a seven piece band that describes itself as “Celebrating Joni Mitchell”. Fronted by vocalist and guitarist Hattie Whitehead (daughter of saxophonist Tim) the band also includes Oxley, Weston and drummer Rick Finlay. Taking inspiration from Mitchell’s live recording “Shadows and Light”, made with an all star band featuring Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius, Lyle Mays and Don Alias, Hejira was conceived as a one off project but has become so successful that it is now an ongoing concern playing larger venues than are usual in the jazz world. Guest contributor Colin May was lucky enough to see Hejira’s debut show at The Spin and was highly impressed. Review here;
Turning to tonight’s event, which actually featured a quartet co-led by Weston and Oxley and naming itself after “Time Is The Essence”, a Michael Brecker album dating from 1999 that is now regarded as being something of a ‘classic’. Besides Brecker on saxophone the album also features guitarist Pat Metheny and organist Larry Goldings, with the drum chair variously filled by Elvin Jones, Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts and Bill Stewart.
Hence tonight’s instrumental format with Weston and Oxley joined by organist Martin Pickett and drummer Rick Finlay, with Pickett playing a Nord C1 combo-organ.
In this co-led band the announcing duties were shared by Weston and Oxley, with the former explaining the inspiration behind the project as he introduced the opening number, “Timeline”, a Metheny composition from the “Time Is Of The Essence” album. This proved to be more of a straight-ahead groove based jazz piece than much of Metheny’s output for his own groups and tonight’s performance included fluent, sometimes powerful solos from Oxley on guitar and Weston on tenor sax. Finlay also enjoyed something of a drum feature as he roamed his kit accompanied by the high register sounds of Weston’s tenor.
Despite the band name tonight’s event proved to be far more than just a homage to the late Brecker (1949-2007) and the quartet’s repertoire also included a number of original pieces written by members of the band. The first of these was “Thanks, Pal”, Oxley’s tribute to fellow guitarist John Scofield. With its quirkily angular, but still propulsive, rhythms the piece had something of a Scofield feel about it with Oxley allocating generous solo opportunities to both Weston on tenor and Pickett on organ, including one passage that featured the group in sax trio mode as the composer temporarily sat out.
With Oxley still handling the announcements the quartet then paid homage to a guitarist of an earlier vintage with a performance of the Wes Montgomery composition “Mr. Walker”, a piece also sometimes referred to as “Renie” or “Jingles”. Oxley first heard it as “Mr. Walker”, so Mr. Walker” it remained. A tricky, boppish head spawned fluent solos from Oxley on guitar and Weston on tenor, with Finlay ‘trading fours’ with the other instrumentalists.
After starting the show with three energetic, hard grooving pieces the quartet slowed things down with a sublime rendition of the Leonard Bernstein composed ballad “Some Other Time”. This was ushered in by a passage of unaccompanied guitar from Oxley, subsequently joined by co-leader Weston for a beautiful guitar / tenor sax duet. The addition of organ and brushed drums led to more conventional jazz solos from Weston, Oxley and Pickett.
Pickett’s own “Birthday March” drew its inspiration from Beethoven and included nine key changes, one for each of Ludwig’s nine symphonies. Of course this would have passed the audience by had it not been explained to us! Easier to identify were the martial drum rhythms that helped to give the piece its name, these helping to facilitate expansive solos from the composer on organ, Oxley on guitar and Weston on soprano sax, the latter also giving the music something of a modal feel – at least to these ears.
A lengthy first set concluded with what Weston described as “a groovy take” on the Ian Dury song “The In-Betweenies”, which mixed funk and reggae grooves and included solos from Oxley on guitar, Weston on tenor and Pickett on organ. Great fun and an excellent way to round off a varied and very entertaining first half.
Finlay’s press roll kick started the second half as things resumed with “Arc of the Pendulum”, a second tune from the “Time Is Of The Essence” album and one written by Brecker himself. Weston and Oxley doubled up on the theme before diverging to deliver muscular individual solos, with Finlay also featuring at the drum kit. An attention grabbing, high energy start to the second set.
Weston made his compositional debut with “Tongs and Bones”, a tune originally written for a production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” but also inspired by the music of New Orleans marching bands. Martial rhythms underpinned the solos of both Pickett at the organ and Weston on tenor on an impressive piece of writing that still fitted neatly into the Brecker / Scofield groove band template.
Following the Ian Dury piece in the first half a second inspired pop cover featured in the second. This was a delightful arrangement of Paul Simon’s “I Do It For Your Love”, from Simon’s enduring popular 1975 album “Still Crazy After All These Years”. Simon’s songs seem to be becoming increasingly popular vehicles for jazz performers and for Time Is Of The Essence there’s a neat link in the fact that that Brecker was a session musician on Simon’s record.
Tonight’s interpretation commenced with a passage of unaccompanied guitar from Oxley, the guitarist subsequently joined by Weston for another lovely guitar / saxophone duet, but with Weston this time playing soprano. Organ and brushed drums were added as Weston embarked on a gently brooding soprano solo, this followed by Oxley’s inventive guitar variations around Simon’s melody. Weston then returned with further soprano sax explorations. This was an item that was particularly well received by the audience, with Oxley keen to praise Simon’s qualities as both a melodicist and a lyricist.
“I’ve got to follow that!”, Oxley exclaimed as he introduced his own “Suite Sixteen” as a “jaunty little tune”. With its mischievous shuffling beat it was precisely that, and saw Oxley trading solos with Weston, the saxophonist having now reverted to tenor. Finlay’s playful and colourful drum feature was very much in keeping with the spirit of the piece.
The light hearted mood continued as the quartet tackled the jazz standard “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”, with Weston declaring that they were “going to have some fun with it”. Ushered in by a guitar / tenor sax duet the piece later adopted a reggae style groove that underpinned solos from Weston and Oxley. As we had previously been informed this evening’s bass duties were being fulfilled by Pickett’s left hand and this piece featured an ‘organ bass solo’ that explored some seriously deep frequencies.
On a wet and rather unpleasant evening it was good to see so many people at the Corn Exchange with around fifty in the audience, a decent number for a small town like Ross. Numbers are holding up well after the initial surge of interest earlier in the year. The audience members gave the quartet a rousing reception for an excellent second half and after some discussion Time Is Of The Essence elected to encore with “Union Pacific”, a tune that some of the band members used to play at a residency at the Half Moon pub in Oxford. A fast moving blues shuffle this proved to be an excellent choice and included final features for Weston on tenor, Oxley on guitar, Pickett on organ and finally Finlay at the drums.
As a band Time Is Of The Essence has actually been going quite a while and in 2015 released the album “Half Moon Switch” on 33 Records, the title presumably derived from that Oxford pub. It features Weston, Oxley and Pickett with Mark Doffman at the drums. The album still appears to be available on line but the band had no copies with them this evening.
My thanks to all four band members for speaking with me during the interval and after the show, and also for an enjoyable and entertaining performance that featured some excellent playing throughout. I also liked the fact that despite the band name this was far more than just a ‘Brecker tribute’. The programme featured a varied mix of Brecker tunes, jazz standards, band originals and pop covers. The original compositions stood up well alongside the other material and although broadly classified as a ‘groove band’ the quartet’s music happily dipped into a variety of musical genres, while the beautiful performances of the Bernstein and Simon ballads were definite set highlights. The group was certainly very popular with the discerning Ross audience. My only quibble would be that the organ seemed to be a bit too low in the mix early on but that seemed to improve as the performance progressed. I couldn’t see a mixing desk so assume that the band adjusted that themselves.
All in all an excellent night out.
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