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Mike Osborne: Force Of Nature - Part 2-2

Barry Witherden By

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He pays tribute to another of his musical heroes by including "Blue Rondo," an exciting tune by Jackie McLean which appeared on his superb 1963 Blue Note album One Step Beyond. This session also illustrates his penchant for throwing in quotes from various sources, especially on "Cherokee." (I once wrote that Osborne had the thematic ingenuity of Sonny Rollins, the melodic exuberance zest of Ornette Coleman and the naked emotion of Jackie McLean whilst sounding utterly individual and personal. I'm happy to stick by that.) "Blue Rondo" is given a more loping, initially leisurely, slightly Latin treatment than did its composer and, as well as quoting Charlie Parker, Osborne keeps transforming the theme into "That Old Devil Moon."

As indicated in part 1 of this article, Osborne had a close musical relationship with John Surman, and it's time to mention some of their work together. They had played alongside each other in the Westbrook band, and several groups of varying size, from quartet to octet, which they often co-led. In August 1968 Osborne took part in the sessions which formed side 1 of Surman's LP as leader, issued by Deram. These involved members of Russ Henderson's calypso band and, for that reason, were generally received unenthusiastically by the more purist/snobbish critics and fans. In fact, they contained some fine, fluid work by all concerned. Although the saxophonists slip into straight jazz time here and there, the tracks are dominated by a strong Caribbean dance flavour, and it is a pleasure to hear Osborne (and Surman) in this uncharacteristically relaxed and light-hearted context. The next Surman album including Osborne,How Many Clouds Can You See? (1970) was a more earnest proposition, but still included much exhilarating music. The line-ups on the album ranged from a duo to a twelve-piece, with Osborne featured on "Galata Bridge" and " Premonition."

One of their most notable collaborations was in a somewhat different trio to Osborne's usual outfit. This was S.O.S. ... as mentioned in part 1 of this article, probably the first all saxophonist, if not purely all saxophone, group. The same configuration had recorded a track called "Bouquet Garni" which came out on a mid-price compilation, Jazz In Britain:'68-'69 in 1972. Just two minutes 40 seconds long, its elegant counterpoint soon gives way to dense, jostling collective improvisation, then airily circling figures. Not a major work, but of value as the genesis of S.O.S. (The same LP also included the three saxophonists as part of an octet playing Surman's "Shepherd's Oak," a gorgeous track seemingly inspired/influenced by Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage.")

S.O.S. proper was formed in April 1973, and didn't appear live in the UK until April 1974. Most of their gigs were in Europe (it was quite customary then for British musicians, neglected at home, to work and even live mainly in Europe, where they were properly appreciated ... it was during a visit to Paris in June 1974 that Osborne's condition came to a head: see part 1 of this article) and they only released one, self-titled, album at the time, recorded in January (the electronics) and February (everything else) 1975. Along with a couple of BBC radio broadcasts, it gave a good impression of the range of the group's work, though their few live gigs were even more expansive. It was not until 2013 that other sessions recorded in 1974 and 1975 saw the light of day, thanks to US independent label Cuneiform, so often the saviour of musically-valuable unissued British jazz and fusion of the 70s. Looking For the Next One is a two-CD set, with Tony Levin guesting on drums on two tracks. I'd been fortunate to see them live three times in 1975 (on the second occasion Elton Dean substituted for Osborne) and one of those gigs is represented here. The performances on both discs easily equal and sometimes surpass other sessions. Often ferocious, always brilliantly conceived, adventurous and executed with stunning power and precision, repertoire staples like "Country Dance" share the bill with rarer pieces, including Rashied Ali's "Rashied."

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