As Miles Osland says in the liner notes, Old Speckled Hen represents his “coming out” as a tenor saxophonist (he’s usually heard on alto, at least on recordings). As is the case on alto, he prefers doing things his way, assuming a stance that often is less than conventional if not unsparingly radical. While he never completely abandons customary melodies or rhythms, Osland stretches the boundaries in ways that might leave the more conservative listener unmoved. His “English Suite,” for example, incorporates bitonal harmonies, free improvisation and straight swing in a three–part work whose opening theme is based on composer Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Included in the suite is one of four “interludes” for saxophone or flute that serve to “weave” various pieces together much as a quiltmaker produces an over–all design from a number of unique patches. In this instance, the interlude (for flute) leads directly to the blistering third movement, “Jazz at the Cliff” (based on the standard “Speak Low”) wherein Osland smokes on flute and tenor while the trio is firmly anchored in a swinging post–bop groove. Osland plays it straight on “Chelsea Bridge,” offering a lovely reading of the well–known Strayhorn ballad, as he does his own “One for Wayne” (Shorter), another slow–moving piece on which Anschell contributes a persuasive solo. The mood is light–hearted on Bill Evans’ mid–tempo “Peri’s Scope” with Osland’s breezy tenor solo sandwiched between engaging choruses by Starkey and Anschell. There’s more free–form blowing on Anschell’s fast–paced “Watch Your Step” before the set ends with “Solo Saxophone #2” (which, as with #1, was conceived and performed by Bryan Murray). Not everyone’s cup of tea, to be sure, but Osland and his colleagues have much to offer the more open–minded connoisseur of contemporary Jazz.
Track listing: Red Reflections; Interlude #1; One More Mile; Chelsea Bridge; English Suite (An Old Speckled Hen at Snapes Malting; Coffee in the Crypt; Interlude # 2; Jazz at the Cliff); Solo Saxophone #1; One for Wayne; Interlude # 3; Peri’s Scope; Interlude #4; Watch Your Step; Solo Saxophone #2 (70:41).