Strings and woodwinds make an alluring jazz combination. On his most recent exploration into the possibilities of improvised music, adventurous alto and soprano saxophonist Greg Osby enlists a string quartet to complement the conventional jazz rhythm section.
Osby has as an essential goal the organic integration of strings into the program. And the pieces that exude the most distinct sound are the ones where the strings play a primary role in melodic development. “Repay In Kind” is the strongest example on the set: here the strings exclusively control the melodythey state the opening theme and closing reprise. On “The Keep”, they act as a second lead instrument and participate with Osby’s horn to express the rhythmically bright melody. At other points the strings revert to a subordinate role, adding harmonized support.
Whether the strings contribute directly to thematic development or merely provide atmosphere, Osby’s acerbic voice remains the focus of the music. On his solo on “The Keep” he weaves sinuous notes into extended phrases that reflect a smooth development of ideas. It is a pleasure to the listener to experience Osby’s continuous stream of extemporization. He chooses shorter, angular phrases on “This is Bliss” pushing his alto to emit on the one hand low buzzes, on the other, high shrieks.
Despite the addition of an array of new instrumentation, the format of the program remains remarkably consistent: the ensemble establishes a melodic structure then Osby rips into improvisation with strings and rhythm section backing. On no selection does Osby allow the strings an opportunity to solo. Given that improvisation is a defining element of jazz music, this experiment does not realize the full potential that pairing a Western European classical tradition with jazz can afford.