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St. Louis Shoes (2003)

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Rodney Green

Saxophonist Greg Osby attacks a varied mix of jazz standards on St. Louis Shoes with results that sound both well within the "tradition" and utterly modern. Reminiscent of midcareer Wynton Marsalis, Osby seems to want to mix the Cotton Club-style swing of Duke Ellington with the angular bebop and calculated arrhythmia of Thelonious Monk. Backed by a stellar ensemble including trumpeter Nicholas Payton, bassist Robert Hurst, pianist Harold O'Neil, and drummer Rodney Green, Osby crafts interesting arrangements of songs including the barely recognizable Gershwin chestnut "Summertime" and the Dizzy Gillespie classic "Shaw 'Nuff" that are both harmonically challenging and rhythmically unique. Check out the quirky and angular Raymond Scott meets Monk written solo that Osby and Payton play in the middle of Ellington's "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo." Payton's playing seems more Marsalis-like than ever, featuring lots of off-kilter diminished lines, growls, and a general adventurousness that's lacking in too many young jazz musicians. Osby himself has never sounded more in charge of his abilities and even though this is by comparison one of his more conventional outings, he nonetheless achieves a level of creative individuality few of his contemporaries can match. ~ Matt Collar