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Greg Osby: 9 Levels

Mark F. Turner By

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Greg Osby: 9 Levels After ending a sixteen year tenure with Blue Note Records, leaving his signature as one of the most forward thinking, outspoken, and at times misunderstood artists in contemporary jazz, saxophonist/composer Greg Osby returns with 9 Levels, the first release on his new Inner Circle Music label.

The music which is based upon Osby's perspective on the Zen like principles of "The 9 Levels of Humanity," personifies the artist: geometric time signatures, hip modernistic imprints, blues and bop touches and some new surprises, delivered with the usual high level of musicianship. The sharp movements of Osby's horn and music are intact but the recording speaks of a freshness that is free from the constraints of normal conventions and is articulated by a new band of rising artists who are poised to leave their own marks.

Osby has many times surrounded himself and nurtured emerging talent (pianist Jason Moran, drummer Rodney Green, singer Joan Osborne, to name a few) and this new group of bright leaders is no exception.

Joseph Lepore (bass) and Hamir Atwal (drums) create the robust rhythm section that admirably handles the labyrinthine changes and deep grooves in "Principle" or the swing bop backbone in "Truth." Dual-chorded ensembles can be tricky at times but here, Adam Birnbaum (piano) and Nir Felder (guitar) deliver the goods with great aplomb by comping, soloing, and filling in the creative gaps with total ease.

The sextet's sixth element is found in the unique vocals of singer Sara Serpa from Lisboa, Portugal. Her voice a finely tuned instrument, serious scattin' on "Truth," choral phrases on "Humility" or wordless touches like a painter's brushstrokes on canvass on the lovely abstract piece "Tolerance."

Continued surprises are found in two non-Osby pieces, "Less Tension Please" and "Two of One." The former has a mix of European classic-like overtones and where each band member contributes beautifully; the later with rustic sounds of Felder's slide guitar and Serpa's soothing lyrics.

The complexity of Osby is found in his music—searching, trying new things, and fighting conformity. Even within individual compositions there is constant flux as heard in the stunning works "Innocence" and "Optimism"(which also contains a nice hidden track). Similar to any art-form, some will or will not appreciate or comprehend it. But for Osby fans and those seeking more than just the usual, 9 Levels is a welcome return of a conceptualist who is in constant pursuit of new ideas.


Track Listing: Principle; Tolerance; Humility; Truth; Less Tension Please; Resilience; Two Of One; Innocence; Optimism.

Personnel: Greg Osby: alto and soprano saxophones; Sara Serpa: voice; Adam Birnbaum: piano; Nir Felder: guitar; Joseph Lepore: bass; Hamir Atwal: drums.

Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Inner Circle Music | Style: Modern Jazz


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