I’m out of my depth here, I’ll admit. The Derby Jazz initiative and the efforts of Corey Mwamba and company have been on my radar for a while now. I’ve been encouraged to spread my wings a bit and experience something other than post rock and indie – which I’ve no aversion to do – but jazz? It’s too big a beast and I’ve no idea how it works, not properly, so I’m a little apprehensive coming to experience Oobleck. Not as to whether I will like it or not, but more that if everyone gives a rapturous applause and I don’t understand why, is it still good?
Déda Cube is borderline sardined tonight, ample seating initially, but standing room only by the time it all begins. Radiators warm against the freezing fog that haunts the streets, there’s fast paced jazz with improvisations I can’t follow playing on the background sound system, and there’s some excellent abstract cityscapes up on display in the cafe worthy of popping in to Déda for on another day alone.
This is a whole other avenue of Derby music that I’ve never seen but there are many faces I half recognise as ‘proper’ musicians (read as ‘can read Western notation fluently’) in attendance. I anticipate a sickeningly high level of skill and virtuoso is about to hit my ears. The drum kit again has only two toms. What did I miss when I was out the loop? When did everyone sell their middle tom and why aren’t they on ebay? Was this always the case around here? I need educating.
Jason Marshall is the ring leader of Oobleck, lead composer of the mixture of funk, soul, blues and jazz that is about to flow forth. They assemble and open up strong with some upbeat funky rhythms and punchy saxophone solos. It all grabs your attention nicely, and immediately falls into that dangerous ground of being under-estimated. These guys are tight as a nut from the offing; consistent tempo and dynamics from the drums and a comfortable mix overall. The brass instruments aren’t amplified against the guitars, bass and keys, which shows the power and clarity the brass section has. When things are this good it puts it on a whole other level where the slightest error becomes travesty.
The second piece is much more laid back, smooth keyboard work is more noticeable now and a second synth is brought in for added texture. Over this and the rest of the first set we begin to see each of the instruments get their turn to shine with short solos which weave in and out of each other. The trumpet and saxophone play in unison on occasion with wild, complex descending note runs which are layered together seamlessly.
There are a few covers within the whole set, a Jessica Rabbit influenced Why don’t you do right? at a classy slow tempo. Gemma’s delivery is captivating as she isn’t just a talented vocalist, but also has the presence and dramatic eye contact engagement with the others on stage and in the audience to make it a performance and not just a recital. Oobleck‘s version of The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Take 5 took a while to sink in given they play it in 4/4. Really urgent.
There are clashes here and there as well. Occasionally in a couple of songs the rhythm guitar and keyboard chords pull over each other. It feels like different keys, but isn’t discordant. It flows structurally, but seems odd. Yet no one seems to bat an eyelid. Could it be a rush of stacked 7ths, 9ths, 13ths, 15ths in place? Again, it’s not unpleasant so it’s either accident or genius, but either way it fits in the performance. I’m splitting hairs, but as I said at the top, when it’s this good, you find yourself judging it in a whole different way.
The second set is much more technical and involves more specifically dedicated solo space for each musician. There are some lovely moments throughout including one track where the bass is pulling in sixes against a guitar riff over two bars of four and a glittering synth underpinning it all. Blues rock takes its place with two outstanding and aggressive solos thrashed out past the 12th fret on all six strings.
It’s really been an outstanding evening, and something I’m eager to witness again, and encourage you to do so, too.
Oobleck can be found;
Derby Jazz can be found;
Déda can be found;
Images by I C Things Photography.