Greg Osby - 9 Levels (Inner Circle, 2009)
Equal parts smart and savvy, saxophonist Greg Osby seems like a natural to start his own record label. His first record on the new Inner Circle imprint carries on the musical exploration path he set out upon with a very successful series of recordings for Blue Note records. Joining him on this recording are Sara Serpa on vocals, Adam Birnbaum on piano, Nir Felder on guitar, Joseph Lepore on bass on and Hamir Atwal on drums. The title of the album and of the individual compositions seem to suggest a spiritual quest, or a statement of philosophy that Osby is going to follow in his music. if so, it seems to work as the album is well played and generally successful. I have always liked Osby's music, but at times I have found it overly intellectualized and complex, and lacking in emotional commitment. It was music that I admired more than I viscerally enjoyed. This album seems equally positioned toward the head and the gut, and was easier to connect with. "Principle" opens the disc with prominent piano and then saxophone and wordless vocals operating together. Felder adds a fleet solo of modern liquid sounding guitar. "Tolerance" has a gently melodic feel with Serpa's wordless vocalizing along with mild saxophone. "Humility" features Osby on soprano saxophone, he has a limpid and pastel tone akin to Branford Marsalis's soprano playing. The pace picks up with the mildly boppish "Truth" that has a swirling saxophone solo and some fine guitar. "Resilience" was the key track of the album for me, it opens with a dark and stormy feel, like a parable of a trial through trouble. There is a strong and impressive saxophone crescendo. This reminded me of some of John Coltrane's meditative performances like "Wise One" or "Crescent." "Two of One" is a feature for Sara Serpa with delicate lyrical vocals. Despite some nice soprano saxophone soloing, this was a little too gentle and poppy for me. "Optimism" ends with disc with a very good performance, a lengthy improvisation of over thirteen minutes. This thoughtful and meditative album works well as a whole, with good solos and fine ensemble playing. Fans looking for daredevil thrill a minute soloing may be disappointed, but this is not the band's mission. By paying careful attention to both form and improvisation, the group has produced carefully reasoned music that bodes well for the future.
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