REVIEW: Oli Rockberger's Sovereign album launch at Pizza Express Live, Holborn

The Sovereign Album Launch
L-R: Oli Rockberger, Marijus Aleksa, Hannah Read,
Michael Janisch, Giorgio Serci

Oli Rockberger
(Pizza Express Live, Holborn. 19 October 2017. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Musicians find different ways to settle and centre themselves on stage. Some need to get rid of volleys of fast notes, and to get them out of their system; others reach for a tune with familiar contours; what Oli Rockberger did last night was a lovely short extemporisation at the piano, allowing each chord that he struck to be savoured as it faded. "I’m definitely a 'chord guy' ", he told Peter Bacon in an interview leading up to his current tour (INTERVIEW AND TOUR DATES). That first entrance set the tone for the evening: a lot of spaciousness, of respectful listening, and perhaps above all of soulfulness.

Rockberger described the long build-up to this moment of finally launching this album in London, roughly half way through a ten-date UK tour. He recorded it in 2015 with a mostly New York band - he had lived over there for sixteen years. He then got busy here as a member of Laura Mvula's band on keyboards and voice. So this album launch felt like a belated way to mark his homecoming to the UK.

The common link between the album and the current tour is singer/ violinist Hannah Read, Scottish-raised but now based in Brooklyn, who was also one of the ten musicians on Songs of Separation, best album at the 2017 BBC Folk Awards. She leads her own projects, but in this context unfailingly blended and dovetailed and enriched melodic lines all evening. Lithuanian, London-based drummer Marijus Aleksa is a strong and forceful player - who is equally capable of disappearing into a texture. Giorgio Serci in this context showed facets of his playing, notably wailing solos on electric guitar, that I have never heard before. Michael Janisch, on upright bass is another player capable of delivering both solo bravura or presence, or the most discreet and perfectly placed time and pitch.

But the limelight was inevitably on the leader and his songs. He has declared admiration for Sting and Peter Gabriel, but I kept wondering if there was also a shade of Randy Newman. These are strong songs, and if they sound good on the album, his way of lightening them, pulling them back is masterful. There  is a good example of that after 4:38 on this video of his break-up song Justify (HERE). There was an episode like that last night, an open section, ended with a nod of the head and a deeply positive and encouraging "Here we go."

This is a sound world where nothing is ever ponderous or forced. What a great and natural way to find equilibrium. And all the spaciousness and soul you could ever wish for.

Oli Rockberger takes a piano solo




BAND

Oli Rockberger (vocal/piano)
Hannah Read (vocal/violin)
Giorgio Serci (guitars)
Michael Janisch (bass)
Marijus Aleksa (drums)

FIRST SET

My old life
Vertigo
Right Through Me
Queen of Evasion
Old Habits (duo with Hannah Read) Let Go


SECOND SET

Let's stay home
Is Anybody Out There
Justify
The Garden
I'll go mine (Duo with Hannah Read)
Ridiculous

Encore:

Don't Forget Me

LINK: EPK for Sovereign

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