I know the bills at Blue Note are paid by Miss Norah Jones, but when jazz fans are looking for the sound defined by the label in the '60s, it's comforting to know that the Blue Note legacy can be heard on the label itself. In 2004, Joe Lovano, Jason Moran and Greg Osby are all keepers of the flame. And no one over the course of the past decade has done more to nurture young talent and carve a career that blends innovation and taste than Osby. At 44 and something of an elder statesman, his blend of traditionalism and the avant-garde has placed him securely inside the jazz mainstream even while his own vision has occasionally worked to alter its course. With his second live recording (Osby's first, Banned in New York, was recorded and released by Blue Note in the style of a bootleg), the altoist showcases his working quintet touring in support of last year's St. Louis Shoes, with Rodney Green on drums, Robert Hurst on bass, newcomer Megumi Yonezawa on piano and Nicholas Payton on trumpet rounding out the band.
"Summertime" is only briefly recognizable, with Osby's rich alto snatching at the melody before handing it off to Payton. The trumpeter is seductive, alternating quick runs with dirty, drawn-out notes that integrate beautifully with the rhythm section. When Osby returns, his sinuous lines methodically draw the listener into the familiar tune. This is why we need the jazz musician: he hears the music in a way we weren't able to before. Osby's original "Visitation" starts with an extravagant opening statement by Yonezawa that gradually gives way to Osby's establishment of the melody and rapturous rendering of the composition as it plays out. The bebop classics "Bernie's Tune" and "Shaw Nuff" offer nimble individual runs by Osby and Payton, while together they interweave and bounce off each other like beads on granite.
To close the album, the Osby quintet teams with singer Joan Osborne in a version of "Lover Man." Osborne's vocal yearns and is utterly guileless, and Osby's support is sensitive and stirring. She's been around for fifteen years, but Osby just might have found the new Norah.
This review originally appeared in AllAboutJazz-New York .