Ernest Barteldes, allaboutjazz.com, July 8, 2015
Obara International Quartet
Dizzy’s Cub Coca-Cola
June 30, 2015
New York, NY
On their US debut, the binational (Polish/Norwegian) quartet led by alto saxophonist Maciej Obara kicked off their early set with an up-tempo piece that began with a screaming solo from the leader, who played a flurry of notes before passing the solo duties to pianist Dominik Wania (both are former members of legendary trumpeter Tomasz Stanko’s band) while bassist Ole Morten Vagan and drummer Gard Nilssen kept a steady backbeat. Their sound alternated from a very subtle to a louder dynamic depending on the direction of the music. At one point, the entire quartet seemed to go into an extended improvisational mode, feeding from each other’s grooves.
The second number was initially more downtempo for a few measures until Nilssen switched into a rock-based beat. The melodic line was very simple, which allowed the musicians to be highly creative throughout. Wania alternated between single-note and chord-based solos. They completely switched gears for the third number, a syncopated theme in fast 12/8 tempo with a train-like beat reminiscent of the work of Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonti. At one point the music became a cacophony of sounds masterfully held together by the tight chemistry of Vagan and Nilssen.
The quartet had the distinction of not doing any talking (with the audience or with each other) between tunes—they simply looked at other and began playing with no counting—one member would begin and the others followed, usually with Obara starting out. They took the audience by surprise when during their fourth number the drums stopped and Nilssen took a bow to create a melody on the cymbals.
The set closed with a fast-paced tune kicked off by a long solo bass intro. Nilssen played a samba-inspired beat that later switched to a more complex dynamic. It was one of the least complex tunes in the set, with simple changes and an overall more melodic structure.
The Obara Quartet’s performance served as an introduction of an upcoming collaboration between Jazz at Lincoln Center and Jazztopad Festival in the city of Wroclaw, Poland. The concept is to create an exchange between American and Polish performers, which includes a plan of having a Polish jazz festival in the US and also featuring U.S. artists in Poland beginning in 2016.