The Greg Osby Quartet continued to enthrall audiences last night, 8/1, during its six-day stint at the Vanguard. Featuring Jason Moran on piano, Mark Helias on bass, Marlon Browden on drums, and Osby himself on alto sax, the group pushed the very boundaries of improvised music. The quartet played almost an hour and fifteen minutes of continuous music, with improvised interludes and extended codas connecting tunes. Also, each player had a very aggressive concept, making the overall sound of the group very exciting.
Aside from showing influences from Steve Coleman, Ornette Coleman, and, of course, Charlie Parker, Osby has developed a very personalized sound and improvisational approach to the alto saxophone. Osby often plays lines that divide the beat into seven, fourteen, five, and other time signatures. These lines call to mind Ornette's concept of "harmelodics," twentieth-century intervallic playing, blues licks, as well as traditional 7-3 be-bop resolutions. In fact, what makes Osby's group stand out from some other avante-guarde collections, is that he is a firm believer of innovation backed by tradition.
Pianist Jason Moran's sense of history especially shines through in this avant-guard context. Himself a student of Jaki Byard, Muhal Richard Abrahms, and Andrew Hill, Moran is no stranger to free jazz, but Moran has extensively explored the music of Art Tatum, James P. Johnson, Willie the Lion Smith, Horace Silver, Herbie Nichols, all the way up to Geri Allen, Bjork, and Radiohead. After all, Cecil Taylor himself, the king of avante-guard piano, recognizes the importance of tradition in free jazz, by citing Tatum and Ellington as influences. Rhythmically, Moran is umatched, and a perfect complement to Osby's playing. Unafraid to take chances, Moran's melodic lines are often very out, yet they always swing hard and solidify the groove.
Highlights of the first set included a rather free interpretation of Willie the Lion Smith's "Jitterbug Waltz", a funky version of Lee Morgan's "Sidewinder" that included daring breaks, and an Osby twelve-bar blues that harkened back to the rhythm-and-blues bands of the fifties. Throughout all this, Helias provided a Jimmy Garrison-like foundation to the band while Browden took Elvin Jones' concept and infused it with the funk stylings of the 1970s. Ultimately, however, it was Moran's powerful sense of time that kept the band unified and grooving. Check out Moran's trio album on Blue Note Records, "Facing Left," and look forward to his new release featuring Sam Rivers, "Black Stars."
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