Greg Osby Quartet

The Basement, May 3 

greg osby resPrecious few artists who are youthful firebrands remain so in their maturity (Picasso being a notable example). Some extinguish themselves altogether (like Jimi Hendrix), while the majority burn down to glowing embers, making art of supreme assurance.

Greg Osby ostensibly falls into the latter category, although retaining evidence of crackle and spark. The imponderable is whether Osby, now aged 53, may have exhibited more crackle and less warm glow had he been playing with his own band rather than with locals.

As on his last visit in 2006 the US alto saxophonist was teamed with pianist Matt McMahon, and their was rapport was immediate and complete. That with the rhythm section of Alex Boneham (bass) and Tim Firth (drums) was less so, and sometimes one sensed a striving for cohesion that would not quite fall together of its own accord.

Were there more time for this quartet to coalesce the results would have been intriguing. At night’s end they revisited the crisp, switchback turns of Osby’s Truth (which had been essayed in the first set), and, with a greater clarity of intention on the table from all concerned, Osby launched into his most visceral solo of the three-hour concert.

That is not to say that they were collectively treading water until then. The saxophonist’s beguiling Please Stand By had a relatively exotic groove suggesting a journey, and both he and McMahon built solos with a keen ear for gradually unfolding drama. The other highlight was the pianist’s Inconsolable, which exemplified McMahon’s uncanny ability to free the pulse from any sense of gravity, and make the melodic lines float and melt in a rarefied atmosphere that magnified essences.

Osby’s playing, by contrast, was often spiked with intelligence and supreme craft levels, but the emotional content was veiled, emerging as a detached beauty or in sudden upsurges of raw energy.

This concert opened the Sydney Improvised Music Association’s International Winter Series, which includes the Joshua Redman Quartet, among