Miles Osland, From One Vice to Another

cover 55671-MCD

COLLABORATIONS Vol. 1, FROM ONE VICE TO ANOTHER / LOBO: Pontelo.*1,3 PETERSON: Sonata for Alto Saxophone & Guitar.*2 DAILEY: Mu Dance.*1,3 monk by twelve.* WETTRE: Sann.+2 MINTZER: 3 Pieces.2 Duo.+2 LIEBMAN: Elvin.+1 PICKETT: Borneo Horns 2,4 / Miles Osland, 1s-sax/2a-sax/3fl; 4Lisa Osland, bar-sax; Dr. Larry Nelson, t-sax; *Dieter Hennings Yeomans, gtr; +Paul Deatherage, dm / Mark 55671-MCD

Miles Osland, the outstanding jazz saxist from the University of Kentucky whose “Stinkin’” big band I have praised in the past, first dipped a toe into classical waters two years ago with his Intrinsic album. There, he played works by Debussy, Hindemith and Stravinsky in addition to such third stream composers as Clare Fischer, Mike Mower, Anders Åstrand and John Williams. On this new CD he taps fellow UK musician Raleigh Dailey for two pieces and adds others by Eduardo de Góes “Edu” Lobo, Russell Peterson, Petter Wettre, and well-known jazz musicians Bob Mintzer, Dave Liebman and Lenny Pickett, none of whom I’ve heard of previously, in a collection of works for saxophone and guitar and saxophone and drums.

But these are not specifically classical works so much as third stream compositions: they have structure and are written, but they swing and have a jazz sensibility about them, much like the oeuvre of the late Russian composer Nikolai Kapustin. Annotator Ramon Ricker informs us that Osland is playing the soprano sax on this piece; that would be the only way I would have known it, because to my ears it sounds so rich that it could be confused for an alto. Towards the end of the track he switches to the flute, an instrument I didn’t even know that he played, and he’s superb on it. What impressed me more than anything, however, was the gutsy playing of guitarist Dieter Yeomans: no wussy, lounge-jazz picking here, but a full-blooded style that almost sounds like flamenco guitar. The piece itself largely sticks to two chords throughout, but what Lobo was able to do within that limitation is simply amazing.

Next up is Peterson’s Sonata for Alto Saxophone & Guitar, and in the first movement we hear a beat that is decidedly funky and has nothing to do with classical music. Moreover, some of Osland’s playing on alto in this track is so high up in the instrument’s range that it almost sounds more like a soprano sax than his playing on the first track, yet he retains the purity of sound of a classically-trained alto player while still swinging like a jazz pro. Jazz pedagogue Jamey Aebersold would be very proud of him. As for the music, it is developed more in terms of rhythm than in terms of theme in this movement, but this changes in the slow, sinuous second movement. Here, Osland plays some wonderful glissandi on his horn that Johnny Hodges would have been proud of; by the 1:30 mark, the duo switches over to a plaintive melody that Rodrigo might have written, and the music develops along classical lines. The last movement is primarily made up of a string of fast upward sixteenths played by the alto which are interspersed with long-held notes, mostly in the upper register. The beat as well as the harmony still retains a certain Latin feel to it, and again Yeomans plays with strong downstrokes on his instrument.

Dailey’s Mu Dance refers to what is called the “Mu chord,” an extended major chord which includes an added second played as a ninth. Basically, it sounds a bit like modal music, particularly since there are also some chromatic passages thrown in for flavor. The piece has a sort of pop-music feel about it (the Mu chord was developed by Steely Dan musicians Donald Fagen and Walter Becker), which for me devalued it just a bit (I like mixing jazz and classical but not pop and classical), although Osland, again on soprano, is simply phenomenal in his drive and swing. (Knowing that Dailey also writes jazz pieces, I wonder if some of this may not have been open to improvisation?) As in the case of Pontelo, Osland also switches to flute for one chorus on this one. I particularly liked the mini-chase chorus that emerges at about the 6:45 mark, which keeps getting shorter and shorter until it almost sounds as if they’re alternating single notes and not phrases.

The first “Sax N Drum” piece, Wettre’s Sann, opens with Osland shouting out the downbeat—then it’s off to the races. In this first drum piece, the accompanying percussion plays in a relatively conventional jazz style, with a few moments in which the tom-tom and bass drum is used in a counterpoint effect to what Osland is playing. The top line is relatively simple in construction, not using much in the way of harmony, but its continuation through various variations and the propulsive rhythm give it the feel of a perpetual motion piece. Drummer Paul Deatherage also gets a nice solo of his own in it, consisting mostly of paradiddles but also altering the meter within the beat, and when Osland returns we are in double tempo. It ends on a high note (literally and figuratively).

Mintzer’s 3 Pieces are short, swinging, and very intense; you’re going to need “fast ears” to catch everything that’s going on here. Essentially, Mintzer has the drums support the alto sax but also play in between the beats in simple yet rhythmically complex figures. The same composer’s Duo is in a medium tempo, but in some ways a more complex piece because of the extended bar lengths, asymmetric rhythm and tricky development section, which sounds fairly “regular” but is not. This is particularly true of the drum solo which, whether written out or improvised, is quite rhythmically complex. I hope he won’t take this the wrong way, but my impression of Deatherage is that he is an exceptionally well-trained drummer with a good technique who tends to avoid using flash, but somewhat more flash is exactly what would have made these pieces more interesting. Hopefully he’ll listen to some more of Chick Webb, Gene Krupa and Elvin Jones for an idea of what I mean.

This is particularly apropos when you get to Elvin, the Dave Liebman piece dedicated to him. Loosely based on Jones’ piece Three Card Molly, it is very much a showcase for the percussionist despite the interesting top line played by Osland on soprano. Deatherage has the right idea of Jones’ very complex style (he was one of the four greatest and most dramatic drummers I ever heard in person, the other three being Gene Krupa, Joe Morello and Buddy Rich) but just not quite his looseness of beat. It’s kind of like listening to Red Nichols after you’ve heard Bix Beiderbecke: both were interesting improvisers who used the harmony to create entirely new structures, but Bix had the ability to suspend notes in the air just a fraction behind the beat while Red played exactly on the beat. Although Liebman has stated that the drum performance could “be suggestive of Elvin’s style or something completely different,” I feel that by locking himself into a strict time frame Deatherage has defused some of the work’s excitement.

Meanwhile, however, Osland is stretching out the fairly simple but chromatic tune, not often straying too far from the original figure but occasionally (especially later in the piece) playing what sounds like an improvisation to me. Thanks to Osland’s increasingly dramatic approach, the piece becomes more and more intense towards the finish. Deatherage does play a nice solo cadenza, you might say, towards the end, starting on the snare but then moving to the bass drum, which propels Osland towards the finish line.

Dailey’s monk by twelve, oddly enough, has the drummer played in a nice, loose style, in fact sounding quite a bit like Morello. Indeed, though the piece uses some Monk-like figures, it sounds in places like the kind of music played by Morello and Paul Desmond when they were with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. A couple of minutes into it, however, Osland plays an extraordinary “outside” cadenza. Concerning the piece’s structure, Dailey notes that Thelonious wrote a dozen 12-bar blues in his life, all in the key of B-flat. Dailey then arranged the piece “in 12 sections (all 12 bars in length except for the middle two [6 and 7] which are open for improvisation, and final extended section uses 12 different textures between the two instruments.” Happily, you don’t necessarily need to know all this when listening to the music, although the rhythm played by both musicians here have more of a standard swing about them and a little less of Monk’s strangely stiff, Igor Stravinsky-like sense of rhythm.

Pickett’s Borneo Horns opens very dramatically, with rim shots and other sharp percussive attacks by Deatherage. This is a much more R&B-oriented piece, reflecting Pickett’s experience with both the Saturday Night Live band and the 1970s band Tower of Power. It’s probably the simplest piece on the entire album both rhythmically and structurally, but the counterfigures played by the tenor and baritone saxes (here played by Larry Nelson and Lisa Osland) are fun to hear.

By and large, then, a very interesting album with some marvelous music in a variety of styles. I can’t wait to hear Miles’ sequel albums!

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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