It’s rare for a modern jazz musician to be equally comfortable in — and equally suited to — the roles of sideman and leader. This weeklong stint teams two such rarities, with rapidly rising pianist Jason Moran (who’ll headline the same club later this month) acting as a restrained but-resolute foil for saxophonist-bandleader Greg Osby, who’s been known to do an admirable job with the grunt work whenever a peer –often Moran — puts in a call.
Osby seemed to relish the chance to stretch out over the course of this 75-minute perf, introducing each number with a few bars of alternately mellifluous and punchy soloing. On the opening “Six of One,” he took the former approach, weaving a repeating melody around the earthy bass line laid down by Drew Gress with the speedy precision of a department store wrapper at holiday time.
While he’s generally known as a forward-looking player, Osby has long demonstrated a flair for retrofitting classic songs with ephemera that’s somewhat modern, but not so jarring as to take away the innate beauty of the original. He demonstrated that nicely on the set’s sweatiest number, a staccato take on Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz,” which delivered on the “sting like a bee” promise implied by the quintet’s “float like a butterfly” rendition of “Minstrale.”
Moran and guitarist Liberty Ellman took turns in the spotlight: The guitarist turned in a lithe, cinematic solo on “Ashes,” while Moran shined on his own composition “Repay in Kind.” On the latter number, Moran and Osby squared off in a friendly aural tug of war, the pianist slackening the melodic patterns ever so slightly every time the leader quickened the pace.
Despite a few shaky transitions — not all that surprising, given the that the quintet was road-testing some new material for the first time — the perf was marked by a smart-yet-visceral sense of play, one that smacked equally of the schoolyard and the classroom.