A Fireside Chat With Greg Osby
“ I don't believe in living up to expectations or accommodating desires or needs. ”
Every so often, Greg Osby goes through a ronin phase. He hermits himself from the public microscope and works on his craft. With great introspection and exploration, Osby returns with a renewed sense of artistry that kicks my ass. Oz's latest release, Inner Circle, has been lauded as his "best" by many.
Since I'm not him, I certainly am not qualified to quantify anything he's done as being the "best," but there are a handful I would say are in the running. The Invisible Hand record with Andrew Hill is choice, Zero with Jason dabbling on the organ is kick ass, Further Ado with Tim Hagans is good ear candy, and his Sound Theater record originally on JMT and reissued by Winter & Winter with a big ass "G" and "S" on the cover is chill too. But the jazz know-it-alls like Banned in New York and Inner Circle, both fine performances and are pretty straightforward, but lack the drama of a Zero. And don't let me forget the Symbols of Light date where Greg weighs in on strings records and turns the whole concept on its head.
I am always curious as to what Oz is up to next. With both Joe Lovano and Dave Holland tinkering with big band material, maybe Oz is looking to take on a large ensemble work? To get it from the source, I sat down with Greg for another candid conversation (I doubt Oz knows how to give any other kind), unedited and in his own words.
Fred Jung: It's been about six months since we talked last, what have you been up to?
Greg Osby: Oh, man, Fred, I've been up to a lot. Primarily, I'm just figuring how to revamp my group sound, trying to find a host of engagements that would take the sound of the music to the next level, and that will propel me into some unknown or uncharted territory as an improviser. And also to write some challenging compositions that people would have to give a great deal of thought to before they attack them. I don't like to write songs that encourage people to rely on the familiar or familiar content or familiar approaches.
Usually, you have to engage in a great deal of discussion and decipher the music just so we can come up with a host of variables that fit that particular direction as opposed to relying on stock phrases. That is not challenging to me at all. That's not even interesting. I'd rather not be a part of something that's merely a paint by numbers enterprise. That and I've been doing a couple of film scoring things, a couple of small films, independent documentaries and things like that.
My playing has undergone a dramatic overhaul as I just one day got up and decided to dismiss the logic I had adhered to for years, just so I could satisfy myself. There had been a lot of loose ends that needed tying up and so I just cracked open a lot of my theory books, a lot of my journals and things that I had been working on when I'm on the road and just decided that I take a couple months off, no touring, no playing, no public performances at all, just so I could really work on this music. It's been a fertile period.
FJ: In the meantime, Blue Note has released another record, Inner Circle.
GO: Right, well, I shelved the album upon its completion because I didn't think the general public would be ready for it. I've endured this scenario a few years back with the release of a CD of mine called Zero, which was another highly conceptual composition record and people just really didn't get it. It was one of my most proud moments, one of my proudest achievements and people just weren't getting it, and they really didn't get it.
It was kind of a retroactive response to it after I put out a live CD called Banned in New York maybe four months after Zero was released. People heard that. They heard what I was playing over familiar standards and things in an environment that people could take to readily and they went back and Zero started selling again.
So upon the completion of Inner Circle, I said that I'm really proud of this. This piece represents nine distinct approaches to group logic, to improvisation, to communication within a band unit. It's the best detailing of how a band can talk to one another on the bandstand as a result of steady work because we had been on the road a great deal, all of us. So that's why I call it Inner Circle, because there was a lot of intuition. There was a lot of telepathy as well as the science behind each composition. Each composition represents a different facet of approaches that I had been working on for a long, long time.