Jacob Koller
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Jacob Koller

Band Jazz Avant-garde


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"The Jazz Pianist"

Jacob Koller is a jazz pianist from Phoenix, Arizona, a town not generally considered to be a hotbed of improvisational jazz talent. That in itself makes Koller remarkable, but what puts him on the jazz map is his sheer virtuosity and the vast expanse of the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic landscape his music creates. He performs Friday in Red Elephant's state-of-the-art concert hall.
A genuine prodigy, Koller began studying classical piano at the age of four. His professional career began when he was fourteen. His apprenticeships with established jazz piano luminaries helped him develop his own voice, one that is complex but crisp, at once obtuse and accessible.
Koller will be joined by a handful of Honolulu's heavies jazz thugs: trumpeter DeShannon Higa, bassist Dean Taba and drummer Darryl Pellegrini. The folks at Red Elephant have created one of the premier small venues to be found in Hawaii, an intimate space perfectly suited to capture and resonate the ethereal and lyrical tones and times Jacob Koller conjures from his piano. His is the kind of music that lingers, and keeps you from turning on the radio or the iPod on the way hom.

Jamie Winpenny - Honolulu Weekly

"Brian Allen and Jacob Koller"

Indie jazz? Well, I guess it could work. Sure, why not? After decades of settling for heavyweights and cash cows like Miles Davis and John Coltrane, it's about time someone stepped up and shattered the status quo! Down with being force-fed, right?
Okay, maybe not, but it was a nice idea. The thing is, I always sort of considered the great jazz commercial by default. It's not as if Miles pandered to the masses just because he recorded for Columbia, and the fact that he was signed by such a corporate entity may say more about the state of art and commerce forty years ago than about anything else. It's certainly not like that today. Sure, there are major jazz artists signed to big contracts by bigger labels (think the Marsalis clan, or Joshua Redman), but I've often wondered how this comes to be. From a label perspective, I can't imagine even the biggest names are bringing in too much capital, and that the biggest selling jazz (or some such) artists are people like Diana Krall and David Benoit says a lot. That's not a dis on D and D, but some rather depressing examples of what passes for jazz today among the greater record-buying public. So, maybe that is a dis, against big labels, D, D, and the public at large. Let me start over.

Indie jazz. This is not a highfalutin' concept. It basically boils down to the fact that big labels aren't willing to take a chance on music, no matter how artistically satisfying and/or creative, if it doesn't stand to make money. So, rather than sit at home, waiting for these labels to change their minds, many artists resort to releasing their own music, taking full responsibility for its distribution and production, as well as pocketing almost all of the money it does make. John Zorn does it, Tim Berne does it, and Brian Allen and Jacob Koller do it. Brain Killer is their first album, and it goes without saying that you're probably never going to hear this stuff from a major.

Brian Allen is a trombonist from Texas specializing in something similar to Zorn's postmodern take on jazz: that is, you'd be hard pressed to call it "jazz," or anything else during a particular moment, but when you step back, dozens of genres become apparent. His classical training comes through in the clear tone and precision with which he executes the heads on these relatively short tunes. A sly pop influence comes through in his melodies, which owe as much to Cobain as they do Coltrane (though may have the most spiritual connection to Monk). And of course, the avant-garde is written all over this recording-- just try getting through the angular strains of something like "The Unwelcome" without trying to find references to Bela Bartok and Zorn buried in his liner notes.

Pianist Koller seems to be coming at this music from a different angle. Although he's no less a style chameleon, I hear a tad more cinematic schizophrenia in his playing than in Allen's. What that means is that even though the two duet throughout the album, it often seems that a lot of the musical context is provided by Koller, as if he's creating the universe they exist in, and Allen is commenting, or perhaps just dancing around it. Koller wrote about half the tunes on Brain Killer, and after even a few listens, his pieces seem much less rooted in Allen's pop experimentation and closer to something from a surreal soundtrack. Idiosyncratic to say the least, and someone to watch out for in the future.

"Machines of Industry," for example, features lots of themes and dynamic changes, which in turn produces the illusion of textural development, and yet seems to be describing a scene or single idea. There are melodic phrases, but the piece doesn't seem so much a "song" as a tone poem. And when the two players go off the beaten path for the mid-section improv (free, as far as I can tell), the descriptive agenda remains intact. For me, one of the most impressive things about Koller's tunes is that, despite all manner of diversions and mood changes, the direction never seems to change. And when they're over, I feel like I've just been told a short story.

I don't hear this kind of narrative in Allen's "Bite," though there's no shortage of ideas. Again, it's the cut-'em-up aesthetic of bands like Naked City and Bloodcount that I hear most here, and whatever it lacks in classical construction (which may be the real difference in these musicians' writing styles) it more than makes up for in fearless playing and kinetic energy. The duo makes a complete turnaround with "All the Rage," featuring a calm melody, but an eerie chord progression that makes it seem like paranoia is never far behind. Koller takes a solo midway through, and it would be almost loungy in its relatively peaceful phrasing but for persistently discordant interjections. Maurice Ravel meets Cecil Taylor?

The albums ends with "D.O.P." which pulls out a few of the tricks presented earlier, but with a lower intensity, fooling me into thinking they'll end on a down note. - Pitchform media

"Brain Killer"

The winds of fate blew cold inside a Canadian airport where Brian Allen and Jacob Koller were tied up in red tape. Whatever the lack of merit in that infliction of figurative bondage, it did help to get the two closer together musically.

Allen and Koller are an interesting pair. There is an easy symbiosis, an oft-used term, but one that fits in well with this duo. What makes it all the more relevant is the way they pick up on each other, the mind and the ear tuned to the quick.

Allen roves a wide spectrum. In the quieter moments which are rife in the compositions, he shades the tune with a warm tone that is daubed in pastel shades. But he soon craters that terrain with abrasive jabs that shatter the rhythmic pulse and add a welcome edge. The dynamics are more pronounced on “U Can’t Stop The Train” where the turbulent bent of the trombone is matched by the churning explorations on the piano, quite the contrast to the mood captured becomingly on the gentle, lyrical “Don’t tell Me How To Feel”.

All through Koller proves to be a bountiful foil. He scampers lightly behind the ‘bone and then traipses a step ahead of the beat before falling back again on “Closer”. It is an enticing game, and one that perks interest. Adding to this is the way in which they go on to encircle, probe and dialogue.

Even as Allen and Koller explore diverse sonorities and take to the playing field with odd metres and catapulting sonorities, they gather all the elements and mould them into a nice fit.

Jerry D'Souza - All About Jazz


Self Titled Solo Piano 2005
Bridges 2006
Music for Bowlers 2007



Jacob Koller (piano)
A Phoenix native, Jacob began playing piano at age 4. At age 5 he gave his first recital and before entering high school had won over 10 classical piano competitions including the Arizona Yamaha Piano Competition.

At age 14 he discovered his true passion of improvisation and composition when he joined his high school jazz band. Due to his natural musical ability and proficient technique he picked up on jazz very rapidly and within one year was performing all over the Phoenix area with Arizona’s top jazz musicians including Dennis Roland and Jesse McGuire.

He attended Arizona State University on a full jazz scholarship where he studied classical piano with Reyna Aschaffenberg and jazz piano with Chuck Mahronic. He has studied privately with Kenny Werner, Fred Hersch, Phil Strange, Uri Caine and Angie Sanchez. He also attended The School for Improvised Music in Manhattan, The Henry Mancini Institute in Los Angeles and The Banff Summer Jazz Workshop in Canada all on a full tuition scholarship. In 2007 Jacob was selected as one of 5 finalists from all over the United States in the prestigious Cole Porter Jazz Piano Fellowship. He was also rewarded for his compositions in the “Julius Hemphill Jazz Composition Contest” in 2000.

Professionally he has toured, recorded and performed all over the world with musicians like Tony Malaby, Terence Blanchard, Mark Dresser, Brian Allen, Kohji Fujika, Coppe, DJ Kensei, Martin Denny, Ricky Woodard and Abe Lagrimas.