The OGJB Quartet is an ensemble formed by alto saxophonist Oliver Lake, cornet player Graham Haynes, bassist Joe Fonda, and drummer Barry Altschul. (Disclosure: Graham Haynes has an album, Echolocation, out now on Burning Ambulance Music. Get your copy here.) Their first album, Bamako, was released in 2019. The follow-up, Ode to O, is out this week.
Bamako began with a nearly 15-minute track called “Listen to Dr. Cornel West.” That one piece ate up nearly 1/4 of the 63-minute disc’s running time, making it easy to read as a statement of artistic purpose. The four musicians came out swinging, throwing down riff-based, chordless improvisation that didn’t seem to pull from Ornette Coleman‘s 1959 quartet (the obvious referent) as much as Other Dimensions in Music, the 1990s group featuring trumpeter Roy Campbell, saxophonist Daniel Carter, bassist William Parker, and drummer Rashid Bakr. Haynes’ trilling, rippling lines and Fonda’s thick bass tone were particularly reminiscent of Campbell and Parker’s work. Altschul’s drumming had a bounce that seemed closer to the work of Hamid Drake than Bakr, honestly.
Of course, the members of the OGJB Quartet aren’t youngsters drawing inspiration from the musicians I just cited. Lake was a member of the Black Artists’ Group in the late 1960s and early 1970s; Altschul worked extensively with Anthony Braxton, Chick Corea, and Sam Rivers in the same era; Joe Fonda began his career in the 1980s and worked with Braxton throughout the 1990s; and Haynes, the youngest of the four, is still over 60 — he was a founder of the M-Base collective and has worked with artists ranging from Bill Laswell to Vijay Iyer ever since. These are men who’ve spent decades constructing their own individual creative languages, and their coming together in this context serves to combine their voices in a new collective effort.
That’s not to say that they ignore history, of course. Ornette Coleman is the “O” in Ode to O, and another track on the new album, “Da Bang,” is a tribute to the late violinist Billy Bang. That piece begins with an almost ritualistic drum solo from Altschul; he strikes the cymbals like they’re gongs, and marches across the snare and toms like he’s marshaling troops. When it finally ends, after just over three minutes, there’s a pause of two or three seconds before the rest of the quartet launch as one, the horns playing a complex series of short phrases over a restlessly twitching, static-yet-mobile groove from the rhythm section. Haynes takes the first solo, a lyrical bebop meditation; Lake’s turn in the spotlight, by contrast, is a collection of squeals and throaty growls, after which the two men journey through the complex unison melody again.
Haynes frequently uses electronic effects on his horn, but on the previous OGJB Quartet album, he stuck to acoustic instrumentation. This time out, he shows no such restraint, and it’s a relief, like he’s showing us his true face. On “The Other Side,” he pushes it through a distortion pedal that makes it sound like John McLaughlin‘s guitar sounded on Miles Davis‘s “Go Ahead John”; it’s awash in static and buzzing like a wasp trapped under a glass.
The mere fact that there’s a second album by this group makes me happy. They’ve got a unique sound, based entirely on the interplay between the four members’ personalities. Oliver Lake, Graham Haynes, Joe Fonda, and Barry Altschul all come from the world of “avant-garde jazz,” but that’s a broad umbrella, and there’s a significant distance between what each of them does in other contexts. So listening to them cross those spaces to find somewhere to meet is what makes this music interesting.