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Keith Oxman Quartet at Nocturne

Douglas Groothuis By

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Keith Oxman Quartet
Nocturne
Denver, CO
March 10, 2017

Jazz is enjoyment. Lent is denial. Or so it seems. Can the twain meet? Yes, for me. I am observing Lent for the first time in my sixty years. The significance of Lent is clear and compelling. My church has taught and celebrated this eloquently. We set aside what does not give us life and embrace the Cross of Christ and his life. Few are the times I have attended a jazz club and have not imbibed an adult beverage. One of those few times was recently when I visited Nocturne, a two-year-old club in Denver, to see Keith Oxman's quintet. The venue is definitely hip, festooned with jazz elegance. It is a large open space, with a high ceiling—bigger than Dazzle, Denver's premier jazz club and my favorite. However, there is but one room, which is not a listening room. Most attenders were not close listeners. They applauded too little and missed too much. For me, jazz is not background music. Nevertheless, the noise of voices did not reach a music-crunching level. A few jazzists listened intently and kept time with one or more hands. We also applauded after most solos, unlike about two thirds of the audience.

Mr. Oxman is a brilliant, local tenor saxophonist. He was accompanied by Todd Reid on drums, Derek Banach on trumpet, and Jeff Jenkins on organ. Jenkins has the odd ability to hold down the bass, not with his feet (as is the case with those playing the Hammond B3 organ), but with his left hand. His right hand was left to play everything else. Somehow, it worked. Keith Oxman has a clear, bright, and authoritative tone. I hear the cry of Coltrane in it, but with no copying. He is his own man. Oxman plays mostly inside the tune, but ventures outside in measured doses, creating a sense of immanence and transcendence. He is in the turn, but out of it, too. It works. I felt that he could have exploded into the free jazz atmosphere at any time, but he only touched its edges, since this is a straight-ahead band. He inserted fast, smart run even into ballads without breaking the mood. Oxman knows how to use space as well as fast runs. The combination—never out of balance—is wonderful.

The rhythm section (drums and the left hand of Jenkins) swung well at all times. Banach's playing was sweet, and pure, but insistent. The unit played several standards and a few originals by Oxman. Each tune gave space for soloists to stretch out in mostly inspired improvisation. Improvisation, though, was not left to solo recitals. In true jazz, the groups improvise as a whole as each player listens to the others and responds accordingly, but within the soul of the piece. They had big ears and ready chops.

With others drinking and carrying on with friends, I felt a bit left out sitting alone and alcohol-free. Yet my waitress had a beautiful smile and attended to me well. I went up to the stage after the last number to compliment the band and buy two of their CDs: Keith Oxman, "East of the Village" and Derek Banach Quintet (with Oxman), "Tugende" (a Kenyon word meaning "let go"). (Both are excellent.) I made a few comments to Mr. Oxman about what I liked in his playing. He smiled in a somewhat surprised way. What I said was true, but how many people there noticed? Thinking of Christ's denial for us, it is right to abstain from something meaningful for Lent. However, I also remembered the gifts of creation and culture as I enjoyed richly my favorite music, jazz.

Lent at Nocturne? I think it worked, thanks largely to Keith Oxman.

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