ORIGINAL: Mike Osborne (1941-2007)

Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath
Travelling Somewhere
Cuneiform : 2001 (rec. 1973)

CM, piano; Mike Osborne, alto sax; Dudu Pukwana, alto sax; Evan Parker, tenor sax; Gary Windo, tenor sax; Harry Beckett, trumpet; Marc Charig, cornet; Mongezi Feza, pocket trumpet; Nick Evans, trombone; Malcolm Griffiths, trombone; Harry Miller, bass; Louis Moholo, drums.

Mike Osborne and Stan Tracey
Cadillac : 1973

MO, alto sax; ST, piano.

Ric Colbeck
The Sun Is Coming Up
Fontana : 1970

RC, trumpet; Mike Osborne, alto sax; Jean-Francois Jenny-Clarke, bass; Selwyn Lissack, drums.

We haven’t always been paying attention with the same focus we’ve brought to bear while working on D:O for the past year and a half, but 2007 strikes us as a particularly hard year when it comes to the cumulative loss of jazz luminaries. We’ve been reluctant to turn the site into a stream of memorial posts — it can seem at once too morbid and too tackily opportunistic — but at the same time, attention must be paid. And nothing focuses attention like a hole in the ground. Or as John Jack, head of Cadillac Records put it, “there is no better way to honour his memory than to keep and spread the joy of his work to the world.” Here we honor, and celebrate, the late British altoist Mike Osborne.

The Guardian obit by Richard Williams highlights the “scalding urgency” of Osborne’s tone, which can be heard it all of its glory on the three tracks above, showcasing Osborne in a few different contexts. “Think of Something” is an Osborne tune, given a rousing live interpretation by the Brotherhood band in full swing. “Original, part two” presents the flip of this intense and sensitive Tracey/Osborne duet; we presented side one not so long ago. (The comments there include many good recommendations, and a tip-off to this context-setting interview with Cadillac head Jack.) And then there’s “Lowlands,” a slow, elegiac poem from a rare, seldom heard album that seems to recognize its own elusiveness in real time.

We asked Doug Schulkind, WFMU dj and our go-to guy for Osborniana, for a few thoughts in the wake of Osborne’s death:

It’s the sound of Ossie’s horn that gets to me. Reedy and strained with a touch of pinched squeak. Not exactly a pretty sound, but a deeply compelling human one, delivered with an intense clarity, and despite its occasionally scorching presentation, a measure of emotional restraint. No matter how incendiary his runs, there is always a sense that he’s holding something back. And this draws you closer to him. His delivery can be rapid-fire, but is never rushed. Jagged phrases come spilling out and are complete thoughts full of thrilling drama. There is an urgency to Ossie’s flow that provides an electric charge. You could almost say that he played like he knew his candle was going out — mental illness snuffed his creative soul back in ’82 — but that would be romantic piffle. He was a simply genius improviser operating at another level.

The London jazz scene in the ’60s and ’70s, with the South African expats roiling at its molten core, produced some of the most riveting performances in the history of creative music. (How outrageous that Ken Burns denied the existence of an international presence in the music for all 19+ hours of his red-white-and-blue whitewash “Jazz.”) The mashup of tenderness/madness emanating from the Brotherhood of Breath bandstand (and with SOS and Isipingo and the Stan Tracey duets and Mike Westbrook’s Concert Band and Mike Cooper’s folklyric explorations and his own searing, soaring combos) was just the right platform for Ossie’s magnificence, and we have nearly four dozen vital recordings to confirm it.

Look for Doug’s Osborne show on ‘FMU Friday, 28 September, what would’ve been the altoist’s 66th birthday.

Also, you might consider buying Travelling Somewhere here.

Category Mike Osborne, tributes

4 Responses to ORIGINAL: Mike Osborne (1941-2007)

  1. Rest in Peace. I always hoped there’d be a late comeback one day.

    All there is to do is make us appreciate the masters from that era who are still with us- Keith Tippett, Mike Westbrook, Evan Parker, Louis Moholo etc.

    The track that made me fall in love with Mike was ‘Straight Jack’, from the album shapes. Sounds like a viciously funky satanic teddy bears picnic.

    PS- Destination Out- when will there be Keith Tippett post?

  2. yes, quite a year we’re having isn’t it… thanks for this, a very nice tribute to a very exciting player.

  3. Here is a link to the obituary in today’s Independent:


  4. Beautiful that you’re supporting this music. Osborne was one of the lights of the English scene and no doubt one of the finest alto players of any stripe. It’s a shame his career was terminated so prematurely, but a wonderful, beautiful thing that we have so much of this music to enjoy and learn from.