REVIEW: John O'Gallagher Quartet at Vortex Downstairs

John O'Gallagher . Photo source John O'Gallagher PR


John O'Gallagher, Hans Koller, Percy Pursglove, Jeff Williams
(Vortex Downstairs, 16th March 2015. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

This will have to be one of those if-only, what might-have-been, catch-it-next-time reviews. So first the positives. American saxophonist John O'Gallagher whom I had heard on CD but never live has a wonderfully sweet alto sound which is as focused, balanced, and every bit as beautiful and nourishing as, say, Bud Shank's. That first impression then gave way to an appreciating his immense resources of stylistic vocabulary as improviser.

But what came across most strongly was the way O'Gallagher was using these resources, combined with belief, authority, heft and immediacy, to demonstrate beyond doubt what a fine composer Hans Koller is. Once O'Gallagher had got hold of the contour and shape of each Koller phrase, and communicated it so completely, it was as if definitive proof had been given of its quality. Hearing O'Gallagher translate Koller's lines feels like an ideal partnership. The fact that Koller is never one to impose himself on an audience - where did he learn this British diffidence? - makes what O'Gallagher is able to do with his writing so powerful. The rhythm team of Percy Pursglove and Jeff Williams provided ideal support, the latter throwing out all sorts challenges and provocations, with a smile.

And then we get to the problems. This was a late booking, and the performers were obliged to fit the timings of their sets around a quiet gig going on in the main club upstairs. Yes, these are musicians who can adapt themselves to the requirements of pretty much any situation, but such irritations shouldn't really be happening to players at this level. The room isn't yet right either. To hear a quartet at ninety degrees to the ideal angle creates an inconclusive and unsatisfying experience. What I was hearing was drums (nearest), bass and saxophone (mid-range), and piano (furthest). For this room in its current set-up, I clearly need a better mixing desk in my head, and where do you get one of those?

This four-piece is a five-star group. These circumstances were second-best. Next time theyre on, I'll be right there, and - assuming I can hear them properly - in seventh heaven.

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