Alto saxophonist Greg Osby is a legitimate rarity in jazz: a major-label artist who makes challenging music.
Public was cut live at New York's Jazz Standard during two nights in January, but it's no throwaway souvenir. Despite the club setting, the sonics are superb, and the playing by Osby and a gifted gaggle of accompanists, including trumpeter Nicholas Payton and drummer Rodney Green, is thrillingly spontaneous yet surprisingly accessible. Osby originals such as "Rising Sign" and "Visitation" remain true to the music's traditions without feeling hemmed in by them. Likewise, the combo's allergy to predictability helps warhorse standards such as "Summertime" wind up in the winners' circle.
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Even seeming missteps manage to stay on track, including a version of "Lover Man" featuring vocals by current Dead associate Joan Osborne. At the conclusion of the tune, which works better than anyone has a right to expect, Osborne says, "It's a real privilege to be here." Listeners are apt to feel the same.