On the day that saxophonist Greg Osby opened a weeklong stay at the Village Vanguard, he turned 50 years old. It's a nice, round number with which to reflect on a few other impressive numbers: 1983, the year when he moved to New York and played the Vanguard with Jon Faddis; 15, the number of CDs he made for Blue Note Records; 17, the number of artists currently listed on the website of his own Inner Circle Music company. WBGO and NPR Music were there when he introduced another number, four musicians, at the Village Vanguard.
The band sounded comfortable celebrating the occasion, even though it was the first time it had ever played together in that particular configuration. Osby is known for his interest in innovation in form and harmony, and it was there from the start, with a well-disguised "Night And Day." Tunes from pianist Marc Copland also gave the band members space to show off their individual soloing voices. In the second half of the set, the band's floating postbop let down a few recognizable anchors: Osby took an astounding solo on Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now," and the group closed with the head-nodding groove of "Please Stand By."
Osby comes from the generation where mentorship was still the dominant method of career advancement in jazz — where the most talented younger musicians cut their teeth in the bands of established stars. He continues that tradition himself, picking up a new band of promising newcomers and underheard musicians for his latest album, 9 Levels. The twenty-something guitarist Nir Felder reprises his role on the album in this particular band. But for his run at the Vanguard, Osby has also called on veteran talent: bassist Joseph Lepore, an Italian who has been living in New York for over a decade, and just recorded for Inner Circle; Copland, for whom greater recognition, but not lyricism, has proven elusive; and versatile drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, with whom Osby shared an apartment decades ago. (She also celebrates a birthday on Wednesday night of the residency.)
Osby grew up in St. Louis, studied jazz at Howard University and Berklee College of Music, and made his way to New York. It wasn't long until he met other young, like-minded experimentalists in Steve Coleman and Cassandra Wilson who were interested in pursuing original structures for improvising; the group of musicians and artists of that social circle were referred to by one of their original theoretical concepts, M-Base. At the same time, Osby was also performing as a member of drummer Jack DeJohnette's band. By the end of the 1980s, he was a solo recording artist; by the end of the next, he was raising talent like Jason Moran and Stefon Harris to greater attention.
With the launch of Inner Circle Music, Osby has also joined the ranks of the musician-entrepreneur. 9 Levels continues his labyrinthine, wide-ranging exploration of composition; as the first release on his label, it also allows him to assume full autonomy for the creative direction and the business around it. Like Osby himself, those investments were maturing notably this week at the Vanguard.
- "Night And Day" (C. Porter)
- "Autumn Wind" (M. Copland)
- "Round She Goes" (M. Copland)
- "Ask Me Now" (T. Monk)
- "Vertical Hold" (Osby)
- "Please Stand By" (Osby)
- Greg Osby, saxophones
- Nir Felder, guitar
- Marc Copland, piano
- Joseph Lepore, bass
- Terri Lyne Carrington, drums
- Josh Jackson, producer and host
- David Tallacksen, mix engineer
- Simon Rentner, recording assistant
- Alex W. Rodriguez, production assistant