Review: Oz Experience at Ronnie's




Dave Jones enjoys the ensemble, groove and solo mastery of Omar Hakim's and Rachel Z's Oz Experience with Kurt Rosenwinkel and Linley Marthe

On Friday 6 April at Ronnie Scott’s, I had the pleasure of seeing the first gig by this line-up, with relative long-time collaborators (and husband and wife) Omar Hakim (pictured right) and Rachel Z being joined by the excellent Kurt Rosenwinkel on guitar and the heavy-grooving and sometimes explosive Linley Marthe on electric bass.

Bassist Marthe has a shared connection with former Weather Report drummer Hakim (who did three years of touring and three albums with them) in that he played alongside Joe Zawinul in The Zawinul Syndicate for five years and indeed the set that evening was to contain a number of Weather Report references.

Hakim himself has also collaborated with a bewildering range of artists from Miles Davis to Madonna, including Steps Ahead, Sting, Daft Punk, David Bowie, David Sanborn, Dire Straits, Hank Jones, George Benson, Chaka Khan, John Scofield and Michael Jackson, amongst others. It’s no surprise that he’s done so much high-profile pop and rock work as he must be one of the best, if not the best, groove-playing drummer of the past few decades.

Keyboardist Rachel Z, initially inspired to play jazz by hearing Herbie Hancock’s harmonies on Wayne Shorter compositions, later studied with jazz pianist Richie Beirach and has enjoyed a career playing alongside Miroslav Vitous, Mike Mainieri and Wayne Shorter. In the pop and rock world she’s toured with Peter Gabriel, as well as having a string of releases of her own projects. I first had the chance to hear her live at Brecon Jazz Festival a number of years ago with her own piano trio, but on this occasion here at Ronnie’s it was her synthesizer playing that caught my attention a little more.

Hakim described the gig as “a live rehearsal” (it was the first time the four musicians had played together as a band) and it turned out to be a substantial 90-minute set (which the band were to repeat later that evening) – a little more generous than we’re sometimes accustomed to for a main set at Ronnie’s.

The early part of the set settled into a tune called Humour And Nudity (which, according to Z are two things essential for a successful marriage), with a groove that was in rock/pop ballad-like territory, and it was the first instance of how seamlessly Rachel Z (pictured left by John Abbott) and Kurt Rosenwinkel were to work together, keeping out of each other’s way and allowing space, but equally at times almost morphing their sounds into the other’s, where Rosenwinkel would sometimes use a synth-guitar lead that sounded very close to what might be a Rachel Z synth lead sound. In either case, their solos were of the most effective slow-burn quality, building nicely into something more blistering by their close.

Rachel Z’s comping behind Rosenwinkel’s solos was, as you might expect, very accomplished on piano, but outstanding on synth, using the warmest of pad sounds with extreme sensitivity, responding as the solos progressed. A delicate, but at times powerful solo piano introduction then led to into Sensual, with Z moving from the piano to sampled voices until Hakim’s slow backbeat groove led to climactic solos on guitar and piano, the latter demonstrating Z’s Hancock (and perhaps in turn Kirkland) influences, leading to what became an explosive bass solo by Linley Marthe.

Next was a tune from Hakim’s appropriately titled 10-year-old album The Groovesmith, on which he did some trademark "elastic" groove playing - the elasticity always being placed within impeccably marked time, whatever the time signature, whether it be common or odd. The end of this number saw what was possibly a sign of this being a band on its first meeting, where Rosenwinkel appeared to miss Hakim’s cue for the ending, but it was duly covered by them resulting in an additional drum solo by Hakim, which is no bad thing, so nobody’s complaining.

After a tune by the late Victor Bailey (former bassist with Weather Report), the set moved towards a close with Lightness, a joint composition by the leaders featuring some delicate sequenced keyboard work, and then to the rousing closer These Days by Foo Fighters, with Rachel Z demonstrating an almost contrapuntal dialogue between her hands.


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