Mike Osborne Trio – The Birmingham Jazz Concert
(Cadillac SGCD 010/011. CD Review by Chris Parker)
Recorded (on a Maxwell C180 tape) at the third session arranged by Birmingham Jazz in 1976, this concert features one of the greatest saxophonists in British jazz, Mike Osborne, playing alongside bassist Harry Miller and drummer Tony Levin.
The two sets, over 100 minutes of music, catch Osborne at the peak of his considerable powers, his gloriously uninhibited approach to soloing having been forged chiefly in his own trio (featuring Miller and drummer Louis Moholo) and in the three-saxophone line-up SOS (Surman/Osborne/Skidmore), but also in appearances with Mike Westbrook’s Concert Band, outfits formed by Kenny Wheeler and John Warren, and with Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath.
Based in the freewheeling bop of his main influences Jackie McLean and Phil Woods, but always open to the free improvisation that subsequently spawned such bands as Mujician and Dreamtime, Osborne’s alto sound is consequently able to add, to the tumultuous, tumbling effervescence of the former, the latter’s extended vocabulary of squawks, abrasive buzzing and passionate declamation – all neatly summed up, in Richard Williams’s Guardian obituary, as ‘scalding urgency’.
Here, after warming himself up with ‘Ossie’s Opener’, which hints at things to come by swiftly transforming itself into a brawling free-for-all, Osborne intersperses tempestuous visits to John Coltrane’s ‘Cousin Mary’, Thelonious Monk’s ‘Nutty’ and Sonny Rollins’s ‘Alfie’ with the considered, almost hymnic ‘Awakening Spirit’ (by Miller) and his own material, which includes a fascinating take on Thomas P. Westendorf’s nineteenth-century ballad ‘I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen’, here renamed ‘Almost Home Kathy’ and modelled into a perfect set-closer.
Other highlights include a lengthy workout on ‘Don’t Stop the Carnival’, and the trio’s fiercely interactive encore, an untitled improvisation, but this is a concert to be enjoyed in its entirety, two CDs of rambunctious, full-on improvised music spearheaded by a figure whose premature withdrawal from the jazz scene in the early 1980s was a bitter blow to UK music, ranking alongside the deaths of Joe Harriott and Tubby Hayes in the previous decade.
This live recording, previously unrelased, is not only a fine tribute to three late, great musicians, but also underlines the vital importance of Cadillac Records’ role in documenting British-based jazz.