The OGJB Quartet: Bamako (TUM)

A review of the album from Oliver Lake, Graham Haynes, Joe Fonda, and Barry Altschul

The OGJB Quartet, Bamako
The cover of Bamako by the OGJB Quartet

OGJB—Oliver Lake, Graham Haynes, Joe Fonda, and Barry Altschul—characterize themselves as a “leaderless” quartet. In that spirit, the compositions featured here serve as sketches to be built and elaborated on (and often entirely reconfigured), not as templates or structural frameworks.

Unison passages are tightly executed, yet with just enough raggedness to their edge that the individualism of each man’s expression remains paramount, reflecting the overarching theme of this project: the kind of collective freedom that demands full trust and faith, both in one another and in the outcome of the journey. Conversely, even the most unfettered “free” improvisations, in which horns, bass, and drums skitter, dance, clash, embrace, and pirouette with jubilant abandon, retain their sense of purpose, often resolving themselves into a final unison statement, as if in celebration of an inseparable bond.  

Lake’s tone on alto and soprano sax resonates with both ebullience and focused intensity, and his exploratory zeal is unquenchable. Bassist Fonda, though nimble and dauntingly quick, never sacrifices meaning or coherence for displays of dexterity; his solos are almost mini-EPs in themselves, each one with its own narrative arc, each one an inextricable component of the whole. Haynes’ cornet work is likewise precise and focused even at its freest, his tone full-bodied and resonant. Drummer/percussionist Altschul creates a soundscape that’s nearly symphonic in its breadth and depth but never overwhelming. 

Especially notable is Lake’s playing; in our age of electronic tweaking and Music by Frankenstein, he summons an array of textures, tones, distortions, ripples, abrasive brays, and surrealistic swashes solely through hard-earned craft—no electronic prostheses necessary. As his tone expands and morphs to invoke portals opening into new space, he embodies trumpeter Donald Ayler’s timeless admonition: “Follow the sound.”

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David Whiteis

David Whiteis is a critic, journalist, and author based in Chicago. He is the recipient of the Blues Foundation’s 2001 Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Achievement in Journalism. His books include Southern Soul-Blues (U. of Illinois Press, 2013) and Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories (U. Of Illinois Press, 2006). He is currently at work completing a book on contemporary Chicago blues and a co-written autobiography of the late soul singer Denise LaSalle.