The last week of November was a busy one for music fans in NYC. Phil Lesh & Friends performed to packed houses at the Beacon Theater all week long. In an added tribute event benefiting New York's emergency workers, Lesh & Friends held a sold-out concert on Monday night which delighted fans with special appearances by Lesh's former Grateful Dead bandmate guitarist Bob Weir and saxophonist Greg Osby. The two old friends from the Dead were visibily happy to be sharing a stage again as they coursed through material from their days together as founding members of the legendary group that set the stage for today's current jamband scene. Weir performed the entire evening with Phil's unit and sang a number of tunes that the Friends seldom if ever perform such as the set opening Sugar Magnolia" and Weir's spellbinding Cassidy".
Jazz alto saxophonist Greg Osby joined the band for the entire second set which found the group investigating the extended side of their personality. Performing a segued set of Playin' In The Band" > Bird Song" > Dark Star (pt. 1)" > "West L.A. Fadeaway" > Dark Star (pt. 2)". Keyboardist Rob Barraco and guitarists Warren Haynes and Jimmy Herring responded to Osby's serpentine lines with aplomb as Lesh, Weir and drummer John Molo kept propelling the rhythmic thrust of the material into a myriad of different grooves and textures. The set concluded with the crowd-pleasing sing-along Uncle John's Band" > I Know You Rider" before closing with the Sunshine Daydream" coda from the set opener.
This was Osby's third appearance with Phil Lesh & Friends having performed at The Beacon last spring and at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia in 2000. His latest record for Blue Note is entitled Symbols of Light (A Solution)" and features the Sojourner String quartet alongside Greg's jazz foursome. Lesh and Osby originally met after the bassist had mentioned in Rolling Stone that Osby's cd ZERO was one of his favorite recordings. Their music share some interesting rhythmic approaches and formal similarities. Both Lesh and Osby use aural cues to segue from tune to tune and talk little from the stage during performances. Seeing a set by either band ensures long stretches of improvised brilliance linking more familiar song structurees and melodies that are in turn, fractured and recast in a new light from night to night.
Earlier in the week, Phil and drummer John Molo spent their night off at the Village Vanguard. They took in the Greg Osby Four in the midst of their week at the venerable Village jazz club. Mike Gordon from Phish was also in the audience.
Osby's sets were incendiary all week long with fellow Blue Note recording artist Jason Moran at his usual piano spot and bassist Scott Colley and Derrek Phillips providing stellar support as one of Osby's most accomplished rhythm sections.
Choices were tough for jazz and jamband fans alike that evening with Jimmy Herring's Projekt Z filling the Mercury Lounge with their edgy, improvised fusion of jazz, rock and free music. At the Blue Note, jazz legends drummer Elvin Jones and iconoclastic pianist Cecil Taylor held court with a rare duo set. These masters showed why their individual approaches have made them amongst the most influential jazz artists of the last 50 years.
For more information on Greg Osby check out www.gregosby.com.