THE INVISIBLE HAND GUIDING GREG OSBY
May 14 2015
For The Invisible Hand, his ninth Blue Note session which was released in the year 2000 as jazz entered its second century, the alto saxophonist Greg Osby joined forces with guitarist Jim Hall and pianist Andrew Hill, iconoclastic legendary elders who remarkably had never played together previously. Osby added three state-of-the-art contemporaries -- Gary Thomas on tenor sax and flutes, malleable bassist Scott Colley, and innovative trapsetter Terri Lyne Carrington. All musicians with deep knowledge of fundamentals, extensive idiomatic experience, and an abiding interest in pushing the envelope, they interpreted a reflective program with a sense of wonderment and limitless possibility that characterized the 1960s zeitgeist.
Hill's discography had cited only two sideman appearances since 1965, while the session marked Hall's first since 1964. Both were effusive about the leader's qualities. "What I love about Greg is that he has a love and understanding for the music that differentiates him from a lot of younger musicians," remarked Hill. "He has an incredible sense of rhythm and harmonic accuracy, and picks the right notes with [a precision] that isn't common to people with his technical versatility. He's developed into a full-rounded artist who can play various styles extremely well, better than most. He has a love of the art that transcends the style of music he's playing. This session was to me like an old-time session where people with different sensibilities and talents came together under a loose-knit structure for creative contact."
Hall commented: "I think Greg is incredibly bright. Not only bright, but he has a searching mind that's evident in his playing. My regard for him grew at the date and even at the rehearsal. He was completely in charge of things, even though he has an almost Duke Ellington approach, giving us a sense of the pieces and then saying, 'Well, do the best you can.' He doesn't like to over-direct people. I have a lot of respect for him as a man and as a musician -- and as a brain!"
Osby developed a penchant for doing things his way during teenage years in St. Louis, when he worked through high school in a variety of R&B, Funk and Blues bands. He attended Howard University, then enrolled in and matriculated from Berklee, going on to prestigious sideman gigs with challenging musicians like Jon Faddis, Jack DeJohnette, Hill, Herbie Hancock and Muhal Richard Abrams, and mid-'80s exploratory collaborations with contemporaries Steve Coleman, Geri Allen and Cassandra Wilson as part of the loosely organized musicians coalition known as the M-Base Collective. During those years he met Gary Thomas and Terri Lyne Carrington, who appeared on Daigoro, his first CD, recorded in 1987.
Shortly after Osby began his solo recording career, he recorded on two of Andrew Hill's Blue Note sessions: Eternal Spirit (1989) and But Not Farewell (1990). "Andrew has total elastic time,” Osby explained. You have to be agile and fleet, be game to push in the beat and pull it back – compression-expansion I call it. Otherwise, you'll get tossed. I've seen it happen. Andrew is a mastermind of conceptual theory, a real structuralist who builds music from small cells, which is the way I've always thought. His writing and playing sound like geometry to me. He's one of the most unique and creative cats in the jazz scene, equally adept in the classical environment or any other highbrow musical situation."
Osby's relationship with Hall was equally meaningful. "To get in Jim's arena, you have to deal with subtlety and coloration and phrasing and sound," he commented. "He's a master of making the melody his own, almost as if he wrote it. Jim's experience and aptitude personalizes everything he touches. He taught me a lot about space and brevity. I have a tendency to lack editing skills, so to be around him on recordings or on the road and see how much he can get from so little has been invaluable."
Hall wrote "Sanctus" for the date. "I just tried to do justice to the song,” said Osby, “because it's so beautiful, a through-composed and arranged composition with a definite theme and development and motives. He wrote the melody based upon the way he thinks I play -- which flatters me. It's custom-made, and I hope I satisfied him with my interpretation of it."
Hill wrote "Ashes" for the session as well. "I really get into Andrew's world when I play with him," Osby stated. "I've dissected and studied his music. Actually he's the single most profound influence on me as a composer. Jim mirrors the melody; I told him not to play it as written, but to trail me almost like a shadow. His solo is masterful. He didn't play a ton of notes. It's not chops-ridden, as a lot of young people might like, but it says a lot more than just about anybody picking up a guitar.”
The two thoughtful Osby-Hill duos on the leader's "The Watcher" reflected the symbiosis between mentor and disciple. "I often feel that I am being governed silently by the watchful eyes of people whom I respect," Osby confided. "That's what I mean by the title, The Invisible Hand. I always try to do justice to their example by not violating the rules. If I'm playing a ballad, say, or an older piece, I try to do justice to the music's lineage and history and the value systems that have been established, and stay in the character of the piece. I think it was fitting that I do this as a duo with somebody who is directly an influence while he's still around."
Osby tackled the standards from a perspective at once idiomatic and forward-looking. The quartet with Hill deconstructed Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz," while Osby conjured brilliant inventions with a pianoless trio on "Indiana," overdubbing intriguing clarinet counterlines. The quintet with Hall -- whose solo is perfection -- performed a memorable arrangement of "Nature Boy," guitar framed against overdubbed flutes and clarinets arranged by Osby; Osby also invoked the woodwinds on an evocative treatment of Quincy Jones' "Who Needs Forever" from the film A Deadly Affair.
For Osby, as it was for Jim Hall and Andrew Hill, music is as serious as his life, transcending generation and place, inhabiting an area that touches the aura of pure spirit.