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Public (2004)

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Nicholas Payton

Greg Osby has certainly been prolific over the course of the last decade. His outings for Blue Note are always challenging, always extending one boundary or another in his own idiosyncratic jazz iconography that uses elements of the historical tradition, the mainstream, and the avant-garde> in forging that signature. Public was recorded in January, 2004 at New York's Jazz Standard. Osby was playing in support of 2003's excellent St. Louis Shoes album. That band -- trumpeter Osby on alto, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, bassist Robert Hurst, and drummer Rodney Green -- all make this gig. The only change is the replacement of pianist Harold O'Neil with Japanese prodigy Megumi Yonezawa. The material features live renditions of three tunes from St. Louis Shoes; there are the reinventions of the two bebop classics, "Bernie's Tune" and "Shaw Nuff," each with staggered, jagged harmonic frameworks that are alternately jaggedly and pristinely wrought. Osby recontextualizes the original melodies in his own fragmented lyric image with phrasing that skips off the one beats and into the shadowy rhythmic corners painted by Yonezawa. Osby's interaction with the pianist is near symbiotic, but it is the fireworks he and Payton engage in that take the tunes over the top. Payton is stretched to his own limit here, walking a fine line between his blazing legato style out of the Fats Navarro lineage and into a space he seems to be eking out on his own with dissonance and angles built into the scalar heights of his solos. Of the new material, "Visitation" builds on Osby's "Bluesette," with a staggered melody where the one-two frontline engage not only in the creation of a head, but in a contrapuntal framework for the solos to take place in as well. Again, the rapport between Osby and Payton is eyebrow-raising. The album closes with a guest appearance by pop singer Joan Osborne fronting the band for "Lover Man." With a brief yet gorgeous piano intro, and Osby evoking Ben Webster's smoky style, Osborne offers a restrained, wonderfully able and sultry reading of the classic tune. Osby's weaves steamy fills around her, and his rhythm section brings her rendering of the lyrics a poignancy we haven't heard in a while. She brings the longing in the lyric to the fore, in a style which echoes the emphasis Billie Holiday brought to it. Payton underscores the verse with his bluesed-out solo. It's too bad there aren't more tunes featuring Osborne fronting this fantastic band. "Lover Man" provides a wonderful end to a deeply satisfying, even electrifying live date. Osby's creativity is still white-hot, and his penchant for immediate-sounding live recordings is unparalleled. In addition, in showcasing Ms. Osborne in front of a jazz audience, he has, perhaps, given this fine singer a new aesthetic and career option. ~ Thom Jurek