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Thursday, April 28, 2022

The OGJB Quartet - Ode to O (TUM Records 2022)

By Gary Chapin

It doesn’t seem appropriate to have a feeling of nostalgia when listening to an autre disc such as this, but that’s what I had. Listening to the first tune, “Ode to O,” dedicated to Ornette Coleman, I was transported back to the mid-seventies Arista/Freedom records (think of Frank Lowe, for example) that would cover ground from Ornette flavored bop to energy music and non-idiom. Anthony Braxton’s Five Compositions 1975 began, for example, with “You Stepped Out of a Dream” before heading off to the places he headed off to. I’m not saying they all did it, or even most, just that it’s become embedded in my aesthetic as a beloved trope.

OGJB is a collaborative quartet of Oliver Lake, reeds; Graham Haynes, cornet and electronics; Joe Fonda, bass; and Barry Altschul, drums. They bring their collective 180 years of playing experience and bear equally the duties of composition.

The first piece, “Ode to O,” is by Altschul, a fairly straightforward head and solos structure. Like Altschul’s other piece on the record, “Da Bang,” it’s an entryway (or speed ramp) to improvisations. When Lake takes off, the ceiling for everyone is raised. Lake is constitutionally incapable of playing a boring solo. He’s like a kettle boiling over. His entire career is one creative explosive moment after the next. That remains true for all ten tracks, here.

“Justice” (by Lake) begins with what sounds like a drum-kit rolling down a hill (in the best way possible), with the horns playing reasoned, even, harsh arguments. The duet improv (cornet and sax) is a choreographed fight scene, an intricate partnership describing conflict. “The Me Without Bela” (by Fonda) is a suite that starts with skittering nature, small actions that emerge without apparent intention. We shift from the landscape to the ride, the regular rhythm of a train or a nighttime car ride. It’s a noir scene (warning, author bias might be intruding) where someone’s going somewhere, thinking and worrying.

As the recording proceeds it becomes more of a whole and less a collection of tracks. Two totally improvised tracks continue the tradition carried up from the quartet’s first album, Bamako . One new element is Haynes incorporation of live electronics into one of his compositions and one of the improvisation. It’s a light touch, but creates narrative possibilities for the group. A new space for everyone to play in. More room to breathe.

I’ve sung the praises of Lake already. Haynes, Fonda, and Altschul are predictably great at this. I’m not going to call it effortless, but there’s an ease to the group that comes from their decades of experience and the naturalness of their musical relationships. To me, OGJB represents a great time in the past, and a great time in the present.

More info: OGJB - Ode to O at TUM Records

See an older performance here.