It's tempting to read the restrained playing and preponderance of ballads on Greg Osby's superb recent album The Invisible Hand (Blue Note) as a sign of newfound maturity. But the saxophonist grew up years ago, on the jumpy 1996 album Art Forum, where after years of bold but inconsistent experimentation he found a way to reconcile edgy jazz and hip-hop. On his '95 album, Black Book, Osby programmed beats, assembled a collage of samples, recruited rapper Sha-Key, and traded licks with a scratch DJ, but the fixed hip-hop rhythms ended up suffocating his tightly coiled postbop lines. For Art Forum he figured out how to extricate the components of the hip-hop aesthetic most complementary to his style of improvisation, and by the time he released the raw live album Banned in New York in 1998 he was flying: he'd adapted the staccato, off-kilter flow of his favorite MCs to his breathless improvisations, knotting his skeins of sixteenth notes with powerful stutters and sideways swaggers. He'd also devised an intimate cuing system with his young quartet: a few quick notes from his horn could trigger an entirely new direction, and their intuitive interactions sometimes dissolved the line between foreground and background. Now on The Invisible Hand, one of the strongest jazz albums of this year, Osby emerges as a complete player, finding common ground with a couple of his former employers, pianist Andrew Hill and guitarist Jim Hall, but retaining his freshly forged identity in more measured settings. His band here includes pianist Jason Moran--a like-minded innovator who contributed greatly to Banned in New York and applies some of its lessons on his own great new album, Facing Left--and is rounded out by bassist Lonnie Plaxico and drummer Derek Phillips. The opportunity to catch such an important player at the peak of his powers shouldn't be taken lightly--back-of-the-bar blabbers will be shushed. Friday, October 13, 9 PM, and Saturday, October 14, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. The quartet also plays a free set on Saturday, October 14, at 1 PM at Jazz Record Mart, 444 N. Wabash; 312-222-1467.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bill Douthart.