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Symbols Of Light (A Solution) (2001)

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Greg Osby

Saxophonist Greg Osby's previous efforts as a bandleader have included forays into song forms and jazz-funk, and have been notoriously uneven. This one, which prominently features a string quartet, is similarly frustrating. At his best, Osby demonstrates a talent that is not only open-minded but also structurally insightful; his playing on the head and in the quartet sections of "Repay in Kind" are both gorgeous, and his solos can be world-class. Similarly, the lush ballad "This Is Bliss" finds him integrating saxophone and string textures into a dense and kaleidoscopically lovely whole, layering syncopated rhythms on top of stately chord progressions and creating a work that continuously reveals itself. On the other hand, "3 for Civility" is a disaster, exactly the kind of self-indulgent noodling that drives intelligent listeners away from jazz, and "Minstrale Again (The Barefoot Tap Dance") demonstrates conclusively that Osby needs to spend less time trying to shatter expectations and more time pursuing compositional coherence. Unfortunately, the latter two examples are more typical than the former. There's no questioning either Osby's playing ability or his mastery of harmony and theory, but there's more to music than chops, harmony, and theory, and life is too short for music that's no fun. ~ Rick Anderson