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Mike Osborne: Force Of Nature - Part 2-2

Barry Witherden By

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Turning now to a session by a medium-sized group, which also took some years to surface. In February 1972 Osborne fronted a sextet comprising Surman (soprano and baritone), Skidmore (tenor), Moholo-Moholo and a formidable double double-bass section of Miller and Earl Freeman. 22 years later these recordings were finally issued on the FMR label as Shapes. The title track is a two-part, twenty-minute piece ... again, Coltrane's Ascension seems to have been a major inspiration on this and the other pieces ... and the album is completed by "Straight Jack" (a relatively conventional ensemble but the solos are wild and free) and "Double It," which kicks off with an alto, bass and drums prelude. As the trio becomes more agitated the other horns gradually fade in, interweaving free lines until they coalesce into a written theme statement, producing a nice fat sound underpinned by Surman's baritone, then Ossie is off and running, followed by burning solos from Skidmore and Surman.

Another group Osborne often participated in was Miller's Isipingo. Their Ogun album, Family Affair was re-issued as part of a 2-CD package alongside Miller's remarkable solo album, Children At Play. Less intense than their live performances, which sometimes bordered on the just plain terrifying, this nonetheless shows Osborne mixing it robustly with alumni of the bands of Westbrook, McGregor and Keith Tippett.

A good place to end is with a couple of sessions that have recently emerged on a bonus disc with the long- awaited CD re-issue of Westbrook's Marching Song. As well as a sextet track there are two performances from a quartet led by Westbrook, consisting of Osborne, Miller and that excellent drummer, Alan Jackson. These feature two of my favourite Westbrook compositions, "When Young" and "But It Must Get Better And It Will Get Better." These tracks date from June 1970.

Westbrook's opening passage sometimes has a romantic feel to it, slightly acrid harmonies and all. Osborne sidles in after around 2 minutes 35 seconds with a relatively sparse and bleak yet soulful and searingly emotional line. At times it evokes images of deserted rain-swept streets from some forgotten film noir., the sax wandering in and out of tempo as the protagonist walks between pools of lamplight. This episode proves to be the prologue of an exciting, formidably inventive improvisation (eight-and-a-half minutes in all) developing into a hard-bop-flavoured solo. This eventually gives way to Miller, who finally sets up a riff that leads into the previously-unstated theme of "When Young." ..." Get Better ... begins with an insistent ostinato doubled by sax and bass, over which Westbrook floats the melancholic but beautiful theme. In due course Osborne peels off for his solo. This beguiling tune inspires possibly the most lyrical and graceful solo he committed to record.

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