Greg Osby

Minimalism
(Inner Circle)

Alto and soprano saxophonist Greg Osby’s first album in 15 years is, as the title suggests, an understated affair. It offers a renewed focus on clear, uncluttered melody — both thematically and improvisationally — and on spaciousness for Osby as well as his collaborators.

Note that that’s “spaciousness,” not “space.” The former implies the latter, of course, but this album is really about giving the musicians, and the music itself, room to breathe. “Dedicato,” with its slow and fast sections, is an instructive example. Establishing the long-tone theme on his soprano, Osby treats every note as a pronouncement, buffered by interesting accents from pianist Tal Cohen, bassist Nimrod Speaks and drummer Adam Arruda. Once the double-time improvisations begin, however, the attention to detail does not subside. Osby and accordionist Joao Barradas’ contrapuntal lines are carefully constructed, designed for a common language between two very different instruments. Notes fly fast and furious but with deliberate intent.

This is especially true on the album’s four vocal tracks. Viktoria Pilatovic’s wordless delivery on “Minimalism” and “Once Known” (which is actually more minimalist, in the classical sense, than the title track) is overdubbed into lush harmony that commands attention even though it’s largely background stuff, and Osby’s pointillistic solo approach acknowledges it. Alessandra Diodati sings lyrics on Becca Stevens’ “I Forgive You” and Kendrick Scott’s “Journey.” On the often-gauzy Stevens piece, she stakes out an ethereal presence that haunts the ballad even when she falls silent; on “Journey,” she is determinedly an equal partner with Osby (who doubles her vocal) in an interchange that puts both players in their best light.

None of this is to say that the music is simple, per se; the opening “Minimalism” quickly shows the polyrhythms and metrical shifts that remind us of Osby’s co-founding role in the 1980s M-Base movement. It is, however, a thoughtful and clean approach to those complexities: a new maturity for Osby that makes his long-awaited return a welcome one.