REVIEW: Dick Oatts Quartet at Pizza Express

Dick Oatts. Photo credit Paul Wood

Dick Oatts Quartet
(Pizza Express, Dean Street, 27th October 2016. Second night of residency. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

No need to read on here folks - just about everything that needs to be said to explain the fine artistry of Dick Oatts was said in a full and wonderful preview feature by Gareth Lockrane which we published last week.

It was Oatts' first time in London for a very long time. The last he could remember - when I asked him - having been "with Red Rodney at Ronnie Scott's, in the eighties?" So if anyone can put a date on that, be our guest.

What I found increasingly captivating about his playing as the evening went on was two things:

First was how endlessly fluent yet how concise his way of improvising is. There isn't a wasted note, everything is structural rather than decorative, and he thinks - metaphorically - in words that form into sentences that build to long paragraphs. These are not meanderings or excursions, more like a guided tour. It was particularly true of an astonishing closing cadenza to the ballad Meant for You in the first half which had the band in suspension waiting the final signal, and created complete attentive silence among the audience in the room. It was also true of a memorable and masterful solo on Cole Porter's Use Your Imagination . A highlight of the night. And for that matter of  the week/ month/ year.

My other observation was the sheer range of sound and timbre, and what that does for expression and communication. At the more forceful end was King Henry. He had conjured up the image of an implacable small child who screams through an aeroplane flight at a volume which will compete with aircraft noise "as if he had had a particularly bad flight in a previous life." What we got was a steady build-up, reaching a point on the dial which I clocked in at slightly beyond the full Sanborn. At the opposite extreme there was ballad playing of infinite tenderness with a tone as silkily smooth as Paul Desmond's - in particular on Darn That Dream.

Barry Green and Dick Oatts
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

Pianist Barry Green is on wonderful happy form right now (h/t Melody McLaren!). His fast explorations of the asymmetries and wilful quirkinesses of Charlie Parker's Cheryl stay in the mind. As do Stephen Keogh's stepping straight into a New Orleans marching groove for Gumbo G. And Mark Hodgson was finding an improbably natural, intuitive, rollicking way to propel Sophie's Dance - the tune is in a 7/4 or 7/8 time time signature, but it was so easeful it seemed counterintuitively danceable.

Come back Dick Oatts, and soon!

SET LISTS (Oatts originals unless stated)

One for Benny
King Henry
Gumbo G
Meant for You
You and the Night and the Music - (Schwartz/ Dietz)

One for Jacks
Simone's Dance
Use Your Imagination (Cole Porter)
Darn That Dream (Van Heusen/DeLange)
Cheryl (Charlie Parker)



L-R: Dick Oatts, Mark Hodgson, Stephen Keogh
Photo credit Paul Wood

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