[For a description of the remarkable old, old-school rococo, slightly funky Chicago institution The Green Mill, please refer to my concert review of the Matt Wilson Quartet elsewhere on this very site.] The 40-something Greg Osby is one of the premier alto saxophone wizards of his generation, that generation of musicians whose commitment to jazz is unwavering, but open to the influences/inspirations of not only hard bop and the jazz avant-garde but to pre-bop styles and even [gasp] non-jazz music. On his latest album St. Louis Shoes, Osby presents some relatively unusual cover choices Duke Ellington’s "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo" (also covered by Steely Dan on their magnum opus Pretzel Logic), Dizzy Gillespie’s "Shaw Nuff") and Fletcher Henderson’s "Soft Winds," presented in a sleek, gleaming, linear, cliché-free post-bop quintet context (recalling somewhat the work of one of GO’s former employers, the great Andrew Hill). In order to spread the gospel, he got a quartet together and hit the road on to Chicago
Greg Osby took the stage with his touring quartet: pianist Megumi Yonezawa, bassist Matt Brewer and (local) drummer Ted Sereta [I hope I got his name right] (subbing for Eric McPherson). All played superbly: Yonezawa stuck to the middle and lower registers of the piano, taking spare, punchy solos, providing a perfect foil for Osby’s brainy cool/avant/bop style. Brewer plays with a nimble, rippling bass tone (recalling a super-caffeinated Charlie Haden) and Sereta was crisp, crackly and buoyant, providing extra oomph for the entire ensemble. Osby has a sound that’s truly his own - true, there are signposts: the piquant, bluesy bop-wallop of Cannonball Adderley, the linear, reserved intellectuality of Lee Konitz, the unfettered earthy "cry" of Ornette Coleman, the T. Monk-descended angularity of Andrew Hill, but they’re fully integrated into a taut, measured approach that never "burns and wails" merely for its own sake. The high points of the evening were many (including a vivacious take on Fats Waller’s "Jitterbug Waltz"), but one particular stands out, a Ramsey Lewis-style soul-jazz tune that starts off in the vein of many a soul-jazz tune, with a groovy, glad ‘n’ greasy riff like "The Sidewinder" but as the tune went on, the musicians upped the ante by discreetly doubling the tempo until it resembled a tune-within-a-tune, a dizzying Twilight Zone version of mid-60s Blue Note/Argo/Chess R&B/funk/soul jazz. Yeah, the joint was cookin,’ the place was packed a fact to which Mr. O graciously acknowledged from the stage, and the crowd appreciated his appreciation as well as the Osby 4’s look-sharp sounds.