With ten previous Blue Note recordings now behind him, Greg Osby’s jazz ship still flies under jazz stardom’s radar. Perhaps it is because he has neither taken the Young Lion’s bebop-rehash approach to music, nor shunned popular appeal and played free jazz. His music, like Charlie Parker 45 years before him, has always been about taking the next logical step in jazz. In his early years, teamed with the M-BASE collective, Osby pushed the musical boundaries outward. Like bebop’s “Chinese music,” Osby’s saxophone conjured thoughts of complex math equations played over a post-James Brown funk. There was something appealing, yet ultimately intimidating about M-BASE’s approach to jazz. Since signing with Blue Note, Osby has explored funk and hip-hop as it relates to jazz and reconfigures bebop into a 21st century sound.
Lately, Osby seems to have found inspiration and an anchor in the music of Andrew Hill. His last disc, The Invisible Hand, recorded with Hill marked the transition of Osby’s calling from being a significant player into becoming a significant composer. Osby seems to be synthesizing the music and theories of his jazz idols Andrew Hill, Henry Threadgill, and Muhal Richards Abrams.
On Symbols Of Light (A Solution) he supplements his band with a string quartet. But this is no Charlie Parker With Strings. The strings do more than accent or act as background filler. Osby has arranged the music so the strings carry some melodies and/or counter the traditional jazz instruments. His integration of strings into a jazz setting utilizes the strings as either an extension of the bass of Scott Colley or as the ‘second horn’ to Osby’s saxophone. It’s only on the ultra mellow “M” that the strings play the traditional role as a contoured background.
Highlights include the ever-maturing piano of Jason Moran and Osby’s singular voice. Moran’s sound is that of a 21st century Thelonious Monk with a distinctive angular attack that is fully informed of today’s Brooklyn beats. Even as far back as the 1980s JMT recordings, Osby’s saxophone voice has been remarkable. His sharp ever-forceful approach, a modern Jackie McLean sound, is ever recognizable on disc. The strings headed by Christian Howes, a frequent collaborator with D.D. Jackson and David Murray, fit nicely into Osby’s arrangements. It seems of late, jazz composers shy away from the Western European influence in American jazz. Here Osby adopts a string tradition, adapting it to a jazz language.