Greg Osby: Banned in New York

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Greg Osby is a student. He’s analyzed the Charlie Parker live tapes, looking them over for what makes them tick. He records his own shows on minidisc, to hear what he’s doing, to try to improve it. These tracks, from a couple of 1997 dates at Sweet Basil, show him as he is, and everything about this (from the live sound to the “raw” graphics) seems to say “Ignore the package – hear the music.” He is right – this is thoughtful music, by turns pensive and fiery. Ignore it? Unlikely.

Osby opens “13th Floor” with a strong tone and confident surge as Jason Moran tremolos some tension on the piano. Osby starts stretching, and he gets less crisp, even squeaking on one occasion – to edit it out would be dishonest, and give you less than the whole picture. Once in the solo proper, the pace slows while Osby remains strong; the drums start crashing, which pushes the horn. He flutters about, meditates on a high three-note figure, and goes into overdrive as the drums go harder. He explores the lower register, while Moran comps over him, then goes all soft and warm. Moran’s solo is very soft and tinkly; the rhythm returns and he gets introspective, walking the notes around the theme. It meanders a little; as with Osby’s solo, the drums get into gear and Moran goes faster, at times sounding like Cecil Taylor and getting quite lush at the end. When the theme returns, Osby has the same forceful tone he did at the starts, his little notes at the close really setting the mood.

A couple notes at the end of this, Osby gets an idea, and without break launches into “Pent-Up House” slowly. Moran starts playing it fast, and the two tempos are held throughout the theme. Osby then takes off an extended solo full of zigzags, varied patterns, and lines that go forever. This sounds less calculated than the last number, and more intense. Moran’s solo brings the tune to a crawl, and does a slow build to Tayloresque proportions, similar to his bit on “13th Floor”. Fans shout, and the musicians are engaged.

Like its beginning, “Pent-Up House” ends with an abrupt segue, into the Ellington ballad “I Didn’t Know About You”. Osby sounds very warm on the theme, with Moran playfully suggesting “Pent-Up House” on part of his comping. Come his solo, Moran is gentle, his chords glowing, his hands fast but not frantic. While his earlier solos I found a bit show-offy, this one works, and is his best turn on the album. Osby sounds prettier on his return, his notes standing proud against the mellow background. When he launches into some muscular trills, we hear some applause, and the drums get active. The lyricism returns, and it comes to an end with a gorgeous send-off. Someone says “Yeah.”

Charlie Parker’s “Big Foot” gets two treatments, the second a two-minute fragment. The alto sound is firm, and Osby blows harder than he has so far. As he soars on a particularly juicy solo, he is intellectual and emotional. You hear him think ahead, and he plays with a fury not heard before now. You can tell his passion for Parker, and so does the audience. Moran starts off in little clusters, then develops a tear similar to Osby’s. He explodes at the end with the help of the drums; someone screams in admiration. The second “Foot” is graced with a duet: Osby and Atsushi Osada, in his only spotlight here. Osada walks and Osby blows slower than the last take, but with no less emotion. When the rhythm joins him, Osby breaks a speed record, and gives the end theme. The full “Big Foot” was better, but this was worth including.

The sign-off starts mournful and slow, then Osby stars a rapid-fire “52nd Street Theme”. Osby is again in Parker mode, and he sounds great as he races down the street. The show – and this disc – ends with a bang.

Title: Banned in New York | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Blue Note Records


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