At some point in their careers, most saxophonists decide to tackle the trio format and do away with chordal instruments, or pick up another linear front line player to provide either the implicit or explicit harmonies inherent in larger groupings. Greg Osby has waited longer than most to tackle the challenging context, but with Channel Three
, his 16th release as a leader, he creates a saxophone trio with a difference. That should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Osby's ongoing and intrepid pursuit of his own muse.
21-year-old bassist Matt Brewer, who makes his first recorded appearance with Osby on Channel Three, has been in his touring ensemble for the past couple of years; drummer Jeff "Tain Watts has a longer history with Osby, dating back to their days at Boston's Berklee School of Music. While respecting the classic antecedent saxophone trios, this group takes a different approach that includes a more vivid sense of composition and attention to groove, even as it exhibits the kind of freedom that keeps the disc sounding fresh on each listen. But with Osby's background in the M-BASE movement, these elements should really come as no surprise, even as he continues to assert one of its essential foundationsgrowth through creativity and experience.
M-BASE has always been more a philosophy than a particular style, and in that regard Osby continues to hold onto and expand many of its tenets. But, and this should also come as no surprise, there's little stylistically to tie Osby's recent work to Steve Coleman, arguably the collective's founding father. Still, with tunes like "Vertical Hold revolving around a complex and almost mathematical themewhere Watts manages to maintain forward motion while keeping on top of Osby's lengthy melodythere's a stronger tie than might be evident on first pass.
And while many saxophone trios are looser affairs, with the rhythm section leftother than perhaps some general discussion about approachto its own devices, Osby's take on the format demands more active involvement in overall orchestration. There's plenty of room for interpretation on the more groove-oriented "Viewer Discretion. But there's also a more specific role for Brewer and Watts, making their elasticity here and on the equally defined yet still open "Fine Tuning all the more impressive. Still, while Osby and the trio aim to be a more complete whole, rather than sounding like a quartet missing an element, it's remarkable that on the Osby/Watts duo of "Please Stand By, one can truly intuit what another player might have been doing if this were a larger ensemble.
On the groove-centric title track, where Brewer switches to electric bass, everyone contributes to a three-part harmony of wordless vocals, creating a harmonic foundation over which Osbywho leans more clearly towards the purely lyric than usualcan expand. But with that notable exception, Channel Three avoids any explicit multi-voiced harmonic movement, remaining a surprising combination of intended form and unrestricted freedom.
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