One thing that can be said about New Age trumpet maestro Jeff Oster is that no other New Age artist can groove like he can. Which means that his unique brand of that kind of music should translate well from the studio into the live arena. The just-released Jeff Oster Live! bolsters that notion, and but not just because Oster can groove. It’s for another, rather straightforward reason: Oster’s working band is downright tight. He’s joined by Celso Alberti on drums, Frank Martin on keys, Todd Boston on guitar and for a trio of tracks, Jeff Taboloff on sax. Bass? That’s handled by his longtime musical partner, the virtuosic Michael Manring.
Oster picks tunes almost entirely from his last three albums, but takes advantage of the occasion to stretch out the performances to the 7-10 minute range, and everyone gets a chance to show what they’ve got. But what does get carried over from the studio renderings are Oster’s big, atmospheric flugelhorn (or sometimes, trumpet) and a singularly funky brand of New Age jazz that values groove and improvisation more than his peers, setting himself apart and above them.
Manring’s contrapuntal bass line and Boston’s Theme From Shaft rhythm guitar establish a satisfying, Grover Washington Jr. groove for “Seregenti” and Taboloff’s sax is clearly inspired by the funk-jazz legend. Manring’s own solo is so harmonically lush even as he keeps it in the pocket. Boston and Martin get down when their turns come as well.
Bonnie Raitt’s heartbreaking hit “I Can’t Make You Love Me” is a very rare cover that Oster chose to include on last year’s next and he gives it no less an affecting treatment on stage, the lonely tone from his horn that only accentuates the anguish. His and Boston’s quiet passion sandwiches Taboloff’s uninhibited one.
Elsewhere we’re treated to Boston’s tasteful licks on “Voce Quer Dancar” and Taboloff’s soaring solo on “Once in a Blue Moonlight,” which also features Roberta Donnay contributing a wordless vocal that acts as a third horn. Oster’s ascendant flugelhorn cascades notes, creating a soothing sonic wash over Manring’s dub pulse on “Half A Cookie.”
Not content to go quietly into the night, Oster & Co. end the engagement with their funkiest number of the album, “The Man From Brazil,” and Oster shows off his 1974 Miles side; Martin’s electric piano is full of jazz colors and chops.
Jeff Oster’s Live! fully unlocks the energy that’s always existed in his brand of fusion. Surrounded by the right cast of characters, Oster replicates the sophistication of the studio as well as the immediacy of the stage.