Time to experiment? or time to have fun? Top musicians in small venues seem to be a growing phenomenon. Ian Siegal in Bad Godesberg, Sting in a Cologne church, and tonight Omer Klein in the Dottendorf Jazz Centre. Based on Klein’s set I would suggest that the motivation is 50% fun and 50% experiment. Knowing as much about what might happen next as the man onstage certainly made for an exhilarating evening.
A quick career run through for the man appearing before tonight’s full-house. Omer Klein was being heralded as one of Israel’s greatest musical talents as far back as 2005. What does a talented Jazz musician in Israel do in such a situation? He moves to New York of course. An audacious move though – becoming suddenly a small fish in a big pond. Klein survived, flourished even, succeeding in New York because there was no other choice – “we had to succeed” as he confided to ‘Die Zeit’.
Succeeded he has. So much so that Omer Klein is heralded now not merely as one of Israel’s best Jazz pianists, but indeed one of Europes finest. Tonight’s show will put that firmly to the test though. There is no trio to bounce ideas off of or to share the creative process. Just one man, one piano, and a zebra…
The zebra is only six inches high, “A toy belonging to my little daughter” Klein smiles. It’s the perfect ploy to break the ice and get the listeners on his side. Instant empathy. A smile and the piano stool awaits.
On the internet, Klein is a Steinway man. Tonight he’s sitting at a Yamaha proudly provided by Klavierhaus Klavins for the evening. For a moment or two, he just sits and bends towards the keys as if they will be an opponent this evening to be conquered. He begins tapping rhythms lightly on his legs that grow ever more complex. It’s more than a minute before the first notes ring from the black Yahama in front of him. Notes build, fall, run into one another and sometimes, suddenly and abruptly, they halt. every one of them is given a life of its own to be ‘killed’ as and when by its creators whim. The intensity is such that when Klein finally takes both hands from the keyboard he is left sitting momentarily like a puppet with broken strings.
“You may have noticed I looked up, and then forward, and finally above me whilst playing” he pointed out. Actually, I was watching his socks – like the zebra, a touch of cool. Klein’s point though made an interesting topic for between music breaks. Are we missing more than we are catching of our everyday lives?
Clearly, Omer Klein lives the moment of every note he plays, and ‘living the moment’ to it’s fullest is something the current generation doesn’t do enough of he observes. “I come from a generation that still remembers what it was like not to live every day with an internet connection permanently at hand” he points out. “Don’t look at your idols, be they musicians, sports heroes or whatever they may be as having an unattainable talent. you could be just as good as them. Just put the cellphone down, switch off the computer, and practice!” As his composition title states ‘Don’t be a Zombie’
The truth is that I could do both and practice 24/7 for ten years but I’m never going to approach the dexterity, let alone the emotional feel, of the man playing in front of me. I am sadly going to remain one of those musical ‘Walking Dead’.
Such discourse could turn the evening into a dry one indeed, but again that empathy with the audience shines through. In such an intense evening the announcement that “I’d like you to sing along on this with me” leaps out unexpectedly. Before you can say “Cole Porter” we are all hanging on the moment when we can chant out “Anything Goes!”. Audience participation wasn’t something I expected this evening but after the zebra introduction I’m beginning to realise I should be prepared for anything.
The sing-along and monologues are really releases for the pressure cooker intensity (the word of the evening for me) that Omer Klein brings to his playing.
A last beautifully mournful encore brings the two sets to an end. Klein looks thoughtfully into the ivory of his piano keyboard and then suddenly shuffles his feet to announce “I know, let’s try something different on this one now. Can you turn all the lights out in the hall please?” Bathed in the warm glow of light bulbs scattered around the stage Omer Klein is almost a silhouette in bronze. He’s enjoying the experiment and the intimacy of this ‘Klein aber fein’ little venue. I think he had fun too. We did.
Omer Klein will be back in Bonn with his trio at the Harmonie as part of the Beethoven Festival in September.