Stan and Ozzie

Mike Osborne + Stan Tracey
Cadillac : 1973

MO, alto sax; ST, piano.

Perhaps the greatest saxophonist ever to spring from the British scene, Mike Osborne’s music is sadly little known. Osborne has been a part of many of the most thrilling developments in UK jazz, including Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath band, and (the recently reissued) SOS, with John Surman and Alan Skidmore, not to mention his turn on the lamentably rare Ric Colbeck date, The Sun Is Coming Up.

His absence from the scene still casts a shadow, a lingering legacy of what could’ve been. Due to a deteriorating mental condition, Osborne doesn’t play in public anymore. Athough he’s unlikely to make a comeback, the music is ripe for rediscovery.

Tracey was no slouch himself, having warmed the piano bench at legendary UK club Ronnie Scott’s for the better part of the Sixties, and if you’ve heard the Sonny Rollins-led soundtrack to the original Alfie, starring Michael Caine, you have heard Tracey’s work. The early Seventies found Tracey somewhat at loose ends, though, career-wise, and around the time of this recording he was probably at his most outward-bound.

Original is basically one long performance, recorded live in April 1972, and halved over two sides. We don’t usually post such long tunes, but this one should hold your attention over the long haul. It’s a highwire balancing act between Osborne and pianist Tracey, the listening is intense and impressive. Osborne alternates between lyrical and fiery passages, sometimes managing both simultaneously. There’s something of the go-for-broke fire, the emotional openness, of Karou Abe, but it’s more refined, more… English, you might say. Tracey for his part reveals some massive ears.

Thanks to Doug S. from WFMU for providing us with this gem. There are no doubt folks who can speak with more authority about Osborne’s personal history and other nooks in his discography waiting to be rediscovered. See you in the comments.

Category Mike Osborne, Stan Tracey

9 Responses to Stan and Ozzie

  1. Thanks for posting the Osborne! No discussion of that altoist–surely one of the finest England produced and, in my mind, somewhere in the top tier of post-free saxophonists–is complete without mention of his fantastic work with Harry Miller and Louis Moholo-Moholo, fairly well-documented and consistently engaging. At least Border Crossing, a hard-charging Ogun date in a pungent, rhythmically direct sort of freebop, and the quintet date Outback (adding Chris McGregor and a singing, transcendent Harry Beckett) are in print.

    Interesting comparison with Kaoru Abe, who was perhaps the more aggressive player but, at least in practice, less controlled and doubtless a more chaotic, strident voice. As forceful as Abe was, I’d hand honors to Osborne for being the more dynamic voice. Kaoru seemed to start at 11 and go from there, whereas Ozzie was all about motion, chugging along…

    I’ve always heard Ozzie as somewhat more rhythmically rigid than the “average” American free altoist, bound to conventions in phrasing more typical of the Coltrane-beholden tenor than an Ornette-influenced player. Despite what the “free” appellation might suggest, Ozzie’s sense of melodicism sounds tied up in a sort of open modal, scalular sensibility rather than the motivically-oriented habitus that prevails among many of his peers. Perhaps this is why I hear Ozzie as having a particularly powerful linear momentum… paired with a mastery of extended range and that tart, sharp tone, Osborne’s phrasing had that cutting, insistent effect, a “forward edge”. In terms of the Brotherhood of Breath–Dudu sounds like a dancer, whereas Ozzie has the character of elocution.

  2. I’d also recommend Border Crossing (terrific), and while we’re making the connections Tracey’s duo with Moholo Khumbula (also on Ogun) is excellent.

    Serendipity plays its part as well, as I have just posted an interview with Cadillac Records owner John Jack on wallofsound ( Itâ??ll give you some sense of the scene that Osborne and co made their music. Iâ??m working on a way to try and make some of this hard to find music more available.

  3. i would also also recommend border crossing :)

    thanks for this guys!

  4. The other fine complement to this is the Tracey/Osborne duos recorded live a little later and issued as Tandem. Time travel made real for me, as I heard the main set on this old vinyl LP live and have managed to hold on to it for (good grief) thirty years.

  5. Love Osborne’s playing. He’s also on a couple of really great early FMR records.

    Agree it’s a real pity he’s not around and gigging. And although people with make their cases (with considerable persuasive force…) for Messrs. Parker and Coxhill, it’s great to see Osborne still enough in the imagination to be called ‘perhaps the greatest’!

    English-based altoists in this music have some monster tones – Harriott, Osborne, Dudu Pukwana, Pete McPhail, Alan Wilkinson, Jason Yarde…

  6. Hey there,

    I’ve been enjoying your blog very much and was hoping you’d be gracious enough to add mine to your links list in return. I’m new to the whole blog scene, so I apologize for the solicitation. Of course I’ll return the favor.


    Seth Watter

  7. I like Osborn to, but to called it “the greatest”!?
    Thank you for Evan Parker, Lol Coxhill, Trevor Watts, Dudu Pukwana and a handfull of others contenders who, if theystop to play for any reason decades ago like Osborn and never came back again, will be considered by you (or similar) as the “greatest”, I suppose.
    Old (odd) romantism strikes again.
    And by the way, even when he was in activity, Mike Osborn wasn’t the “greatest” sax player to come from the british scene, sorry.

  8. Absolutely fallen in love with his music. Mesmerizing. Any chance of getting part 2 as well?

  9. Majorram – Glad you like it! Stick around and we’ll get to posting Part 2 before long.