Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Capsule: Oli Rockberger

Oli Rockberger bounds on to the stage at Pizza Express Soho, London, and does something unexpected: he takes off his big, heavy workboots, and gets ready to pound his piano's pedals in his socks.

This small act is a neat encapsulation of what Rockberger achieves in his music: a toughness and robustness to underpin the lightest of sweet and melodic inflections.

Rockberger is over for one night only as the promoters might say, from his New York base, and is keen to impress and please the sold out club, playing two sets both at least an hour long.

He and his trio - Tony Grey on bass and Jordan Perlson on drums - are joined by Paul Booth on saxophone. It is, Rockberger claims, the first time that Booth has played with them, but the fluency and understanding on display make that a hard claim to believe, not least the melodic conversations that bounce back and forth between piano and sax on 'Heart and Soul'.

But the sets are not merely exercises in traditional indulgences. Rockberger eschews excess for a direct simplicity, a convex at which improvisation meets a delicious authority. He is even able to deftly incorporate the crash of a wine bottle to the floor into a run up his keyboard.

For newcomers to jazz, this is a land that is sonically familiar - think Ben Folds with sugar instead of spice, the aching soul of Lewis Taylor - and there is an attractive, sunny Californian tinge to his melodies which, in their pure poppiness, remind one of Gregg Alexander of The New Radicals.

Lyrically, his stories are of love and its challenges, met with an unfailing optimism. Any introspection, psychic or rhythmic, is normally quickly swept away. And at his best, Rockberger does sweep you away: 'Shaking the Shadows' is a controlled riot of kinetic energy not once, but twice this evening, and he even gets away with a cheeky little quote from 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' in 'Queen of Evasion'.

There is a smile on his face throughout the entire evening, presumably because he knows that he's putting a collective smile on the audience's. Because there's no bigger promise that can be made by any musician playing any type of music than the ability to make you smile. And because Rockberger keeps this promise convincingly, with a passionate certainty.

He finishes, puts his boots on and leaves the stage, happiness trailing in his wake.

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