Greg Osby’s Channel Three offers what he considers a long-overdue exploration of the saxophone trio setting, which he freely admits to never really fully understanding early on. According to the liner notes, he and his friends all erroneously assumed that either the session pianist had either just taken a really long break, or had been fired or just didn’t show up. Saxophone trios couldn’t possibly have been by design – they all seemed to have that sensation of “something missing” – obviously the piano. Only after years did Osby realize that saxophone trios are among “the most challenging instrumental configurations in existence.” In this current venture, all the writing for each instrument was directed to the strengths of the individual players, so as to offer something hopefully entirely new, and to avoid any rehashing of classic saxophone trio presentations from the past.
The opening and closing tracks are the disc’s only covers, Ornette Coleman’s “Mob Job” and Eric Dolphy’s “Miss Ann.” All the other tunes conform to the disc’s Channel Three theme (just check out the song titles). I particularly enjoyed “Diode Emissions,” which is essentially a long, hypnotic sax solo with only an occasional intrusion from either bass or drums. “Please Stand By” opens with a slow but steady vamp from bass and drums, and Osby adds comments throughout and maintains the slow groove established by the rhythm section. Whether on soprano or alto sax, Osby solos fluidly and melodically throughout – and although this disc offers more of a free jazz setting, things never get too far out there.
My only real complaint stems from the recording quality, which is just a bit lackluster. While the playing is unquestionably superb, the disc doesn’t offer the last word in openness and transparency. Dynamics seem a bit congested, and bass transients are somewhat restricted. I began my evaluation of this disc immediately after listening to the superb Andrew Hill disc “Time Lines” (also on the Blue Note label and reviewed here as well), and I kept doing A-B comparisons between the two. While the Andrew Hill disc is an exceptional listen, unfortunately, this one is just not in the same league sonically. But the performance is first-rate; you’ll just have to tune in to “Channel Three” and decide for yourself.
Tracks: Mob Job; Vertical Hold; Viewer Discretion; Diode Emissions; Fine Tuning; Please Stand By; Channel Three; Test Pattern; Miss Ann.
— Tom Gibbs