Blue Note Records
The pairing of saxophonists Joe Lovano and Greg Osby on Friendly Fire may never have happened were it not for Blue Note's 60th birthday. Therein lies the difference between Alfred Lion's day and Bruce Lundvall's; what was once a regular occurrence now requires high-profile anniversary-pegged special projects.
Granted, Lovano and Osby are not a pair one would automatically link for such a summit conference, more so for their disparate temperaments than any stylistic dissimilarities. Possessing enough of a sentimental streak to don a fedora for a Sinatra songbook album cover, Lovano has a winsome knack for giving knotty compositions a big-hearted glow. Osby thrives on edge, whether tapping hip-hop flavors or post-bop contours; nostalgia isn't in his mix.
Lovano and Osby made some excellent personnel and program choices. The teaming of Osby-affiliated pianist Jason Moran and Lovano's current trio mates-bassist Cameron Brown and drummer Idris Muhammad-produces a constantly shifting chemistry of contrast and confluence. Brown and Muhammad are always in sync with Moran's ability to quickly and effortlessly move between the pocket and the perimeter of a composition's structure, and Moran proves to have a sixth sense about when and how to pull back just a little to allow Brown's well-honed sense of line and the propulsiveness of Muhammad's smallest details to come to the foreground. In Lion's day, this trio would have been subsequently booked into Van Gelder's ASAP, with or without a front line.
The formula of the co-leaders each contributing a few tunes and rounding out the program with some chestnuts is rarely as well executed as it is here. Osby's three freshly penned compositions range from "Geo Jlo," an engaging mid-tempo theme brimming with Dolphyesque phrases that push and pull on each other until they suddenly pop effervescently, to "Silenos," a poignant ballad featuring the trio of Lovano, Osby, and Moran. Lovano's contributions include two lengthy compositions-"Idris," a jaunty two-soprano theme that recalls Steve Lacy's vintage exchanges with Steve Potts, and "Alexander The Great," constructed from well-turned boppish phrases, and punctuated with pungent rests. A sleek take on Dolphy's "Serene," a rousing version of Ornette's "Broadway Blues," and a fine Lovano-Moran rendering of "Monk's Mood" sustain the pace of the album through the crucial middle third of the program.
Track after track, Lovano and Osby confirm their marquee status. Consistently, their flinty exchanges provoke them to go beyond their usual high standards of passionate intelligence. As a result, this pairing has long-term potential. Hopefully, Lovano and Osby won't wait for the next Blue Note anniversary for a second session.