Tuesday, 8 April 2008

THE MIKE OSBORNE TRIO: Now And Then, Here And Now


The second artist to earn a second BiA appearance, since All Night Long, the second and last album by Mike, Harry and Louis, has just reappeared refurbished on CD; recorded in Willisau in Switzerland in 1975, released on vinyl in 1976, and was this jazz-punk or punk-jazz since its scimitars cut far more harshly than the dry reverb of the Peanuts Club but even if it wasn't it came at the right time for me; a starting pistol fanfare on alto and there is no retreat, a vicious tricompartmental thrusting of hiss, slash, smoulder and squeal and don't even think of sleeping with or without the bean bag, and once again one realises that as far as sax, bass and drums in Britain were concerned in the seventies, well Back Door were nice enough fellows but really this is the other side of the unshatterable glass and only John, Barry and Trevor were as forcefully intimate - and to think this was only an overture to what the Jo'burgians would get up to with Brotzmann just as you thought the decade was through and all had been said, but already that's not too fair to Mike, who is audibly reaching the line of non-return but (still) (just about) in total, confident control.

They touch down for an alternately sizzling and reflectively swinging "'Round Midnight" and then off again with tunes called or felt as they emotionally come to mutual mind; "Scotch Pearl" like Tubby Hayes stowing away on the fast train to Wuppertal, "Ken's Tune," so simple and delightful, launching some of their most ball-enlarging interactions; Harry crucial, and the imperfect Willisau feedback aids him since he can be variously thrash guitar, constant drone, second horn and unbeatable rhythm player, but Louis' cymbals crack whip like burnished bomb ends and the sustenato of his chiming feedback are like clouds of impalpable but gut-containing swing. Notice how, about 12 minutes into the long track five medley, Osborne threatens to start playing "When I Fall In Love" before thinking better of it...melodies, inventions, cascading like the best Christmases.

On the CD version there is an extra four-minute coda where they return to "Scotch Pearl" and set themselves up for a final raid on expectations...will they stop? No, Louis slips neatly through the hole in the fabric and they resume playing again, perhaps forever. But here there is also a 23-minute extra track, not recorded at Willisau ("recorded in Europe," the sleeve says enigmatically) though sounding slightly earlier, more tuned to the Border Crossing age, with that same dry directness of sound. But again they prove that it's impossible to relax or assume; what starts out as a straitened bebop chart gradually dissolves into 500 mph howls, bending back down to allow the vital space, and then echoes of other tunes - a rephrasing of the "Stop And Start" melody, a lovely sway of a calypso tune (like Ayler, Osborne's lines sound so simple, though according to everyone who had to play them they were a bugger to read) and then back up to the heights and settling into a groove etching into the inaudible; a concluding and thoroughly satisfied cymbal calls time. It still sounds of the here and now.