I’ve come across a handful of recordings by German pianist Uwe Oberg in recent years, and I’ve liked all of them—particularly a duo with British reedist Evan Parker and an album by the trio Lacy Pool, which plays the compositions of singular soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy. In 2015, though, Oberg released two solo records that ensure I’ll seek out his albums from now on, instead of simply trusting that they’ll cross my radar eventually.
On both of them, Oberg deftly mixes original pieces with inventive interpretations of works by jazz iconoclasts—Lacy, Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Carla Bley, and Annette Peacock. He’s fully digested jazz history and brings his own introspective perspective to it.
In his liner-note essay for Twice, at Least (Leo), Oberg writes of the enduring influence of brilliantly individual pianist Paul Bley, who died on Sunday, to explain the importance of repetition in his own playing. On his version of Peacock’s “Touching,” a tune first recorded by Bley, his melancholic explorations balance tender melody and ambiguous harmony, ebbing and flowing like your breathing might after a run.
When Oberg takes on Monk’s “Pannonica” to close Twice, at Least, he conjures the image of Erik Satie interpreting the tune. He’s also good at working inside his instrument, something you can hear for yourself on the album’s opening piece, “Chant II/Kelvin.” That interest also helps explain his use of mbira on “Magnetic Wood,” where he creates sounds similar to the percussive clang he gets tinkering inside the piano.
Even better is Work (Hatology), which also mixes originals with jazz classics (and “Muddy Mouse” by Fred Frith and Robert Wyatt, appended to Oberg’s “Olo Olo”). Oberg blends “Fables of Faubus” by Mingus with “W.R.U.” by Coleman—an unexpected pairing that he makes work by imparting his own sense of time and phrasing, recasting its melodies with his touch. He presents another reading of “Pannonica” here, with a firmer touch that extends the playfulness of the original, adding all sorts of regal ornamentation. Below you can hear his rhythmically exhilarating spin on Monk’s “Work.”
As the new year begins, I’m eager to check out a couple of forthcoming Oberg releases: a duo recording with German saxophonist Silke Eberhard called Turns (Leo) and a collective quartet album with bassist Wilbert de Joode, saxophonist Frank Paul Schubert, and drummer Mark Sanders called Rope (Red Toucan).
Peter Ehwald, Double Trouble (Jazzwerkstatt)
John Surman, Flashpoint: NDR Jazz Workshop—April ’69 (Cuneiform)
John McAlpine, Jürg Frey: Klaviermusik 1978-2001 (Edition Wandelweiser)
Stan Getz, Early Stan (Prestige/OJC)
Gary Bartz Ntu Troop, I’ve Known Rivers and Other Bodies (Prestige)