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There's no mistaking the potential of the lineup on OH! It's the sort of superstar quartet that should make most jazz fans trembleand cynical reviewers cringe. I'll admit I fell into the latter category. Too many all-star groups have made one-off records that fall into the "solid" category without shooting any higher. The era of Blue Note's house band is long over, so when something like this appears on the horizon, it's a rare event indeed.
Fortunately this record lives up to its high expectations. The thing that makes it work is the strong rapport among the musicians. They have a history of working together: John Scofield and Joe Lovano formed an extremely productive unit in Scofield's early Blue Note days; three of the four musicians here worked for Miles Davis; and all but Lovano played together with Joe Henderson. And they've done two tours as a unit: one in 1999; the other in 2002, just before this record was cut.
So naturally the band with the silly name has no trouble getting along, and the result is satisfying. Each player contributes equally, both in terms of composition and performance. Scofield, who's had a rough few years trapped in the funk groove, proves he can still hold straight-ahead ground with the best of them. His soloing on the blistering "Shorter Form" manages to squeeze in enough off-center energy to raise your pulse. And toward the end of the piece, each of the players participates in a clever group conversation that seems completely natural and fresh (ie: improvised on the spot). It's nice.
Lovano's sprawling "New Amsterdam" offers the kind of space these players need to stretch out. The saxophonist himself seems to prosper most on open ground, where he has a chance to properly develop his ideas. Accents by the other players help move him along, and his intimate musical relationship with Scofield harkens back to their work together. "The Winding Way," a Holland tune, has an off-kilter bumping rhythm that showcases these players' affinity for playing around the edges.
It's satisfying to see big names get together and play as a collective. For these four, anyway, ego doesn't seem to get in the way. This is very strong straight-ahead jazz: creative and inspired, fresh and involving. It would be nice to hear these players take the music a bit more "out," but that's not what OH! is all about.
Track Listing: Oh!; Right About Now; The Winding Way; Bittersweet; Shorter Form; New
Amsterdam; In Your Arms; The Dawn Of Time; Brandyn; Faces; Oh I See.
Personnel: Joe Lovano, tenor and curved soprano saxophones; John Scofield: guitar;
Dave Holland: bass; Al Foster: drums.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.