John Kelman, allaboutjazz.com, July 29, 2013
(…) Arriving late upstairs at Teatret Vårt Natt, it was immediately clear that something special was already going on. Already in the midst of a powerful solo, Polish altoist Maicej Obara was being driven by fellow Pole, pianist Dominik Wania and two Norwegians – bassist Ole Morten Vågan and drummer Gard Nilssen, playing a considerably downsized kit compared to his Bushman’s Revenge show from two nights previous. Clearly in deep concentration, Nilssen’s light touch was an almost polar opposite to his thundering grooves with Bushman’s, but that needn’t suggest a lack of power…only a different kind of energy.
Three-quarters of the quartet came together at the 2012 edition of Take Five Europe, where Obara, Nilssen and Vågan were participants. But it was when the saxophonist invited his two friends to Poland, where they met Wania, that Obara International came to be, recording Komeda: Absolutely Live! (For Tune, 2013) in Poland during the summer of 2012. A year later, the quartet was performing its own music rather than its debut – a tribute to the famous Polish composer Krzysztof Komeda that combined unfettered power and graceful lyricism. The cover sleeve of that recording has Obara’s writing: “I am presenting you here with a recording that is particularly important to me. I hope that you will hear what I hear in it: artists that understand each other without words, whose energy drives, inspires and motivates to act.”
All of these things and more were clear in the quartet’s set. Vågan and Nilssen are two of the busiest players of their generation in Norway, and for good reason. Vågan’s aggressive approach – slapping, plucking, hitting, scraping his bass strings – is the closest thing Norway has to a player coming fromCharles Mingus, though in some of the other groups with which he is involved, in particular Mellow Motifand, more recently, The Deciders, he’s far more outrageous and free. Here, while there was plenty of freedom, it was based around stronger structural contexts, and Nilssen was the ideal rhythm partner: loose, flowing – at times swinging, but equally strong at rubato playing. Wania’s major touchstone could easily be McCoy Tyner though, with his approach infused with classical ideations, it was, perhaps, moreRichie Beirach than John Coltrane’s quartet mate. Obara was nothing short of a revelation; an altoiost unafraid to try anything, but constantly listening to the music around him in order to find that shared understanding.
It’s no surprise that, after seeing the group a week ago in Munich, there’s some interest from ECM Records’ Manfred Eicher. Whether or not anything will come of it is yet to be determined, but if Obara International’s next record comes out on the lauded, internationally renowned label, it will only mean good things for the group – and for fans of music around the world who value the kind of music that comes from four musicians communicating on such a profoundly deep level.