OGJB is an acronym of the members’ first names: Oliver Lake (alto and soprano saxophones), Graham Haynes (cornet, electronics), Joe Fonda (double bass) and Barry Altschul (drums). All in all, an estimable lineup of musicians, well credentialed in avant-garde jazz.
But the music they make on Ode to O does not live up to their combined résumés. The quartet’s blend of dirge-like tunes and free blowing just doesn’t click. Sparks arise here and there, but not a full flame. Taken as a whole, the listening experience is akin to being covered in a lead blanket.
Each member contributes new originals — pieces that are by and large dark and dolorous — augmented by a couple of free improvisations. The melodies unfold slowly, sometimes maddeningly so, as Fonda and Altschul play free rhythm or faster grooves underneath. The rhythm mates do their level best to kindle a consistent collective energy, but ultimately come up short. Fonda’s handful of sturdy solos add a welcome element.
Altschul’s opening title track, an homage to Ornette Coleman, proves the exception to the rule, providing a bit of bounce. The rhythm section’s insistent swing prompts Haynes to deliver a worthy solo. On the hard-swinging section of Altschul’s “Da Bang,” the cornetist plays a concise, convincing solo, using space to good effect. When he turns on the electronics, though, it does little more than add a layer of static to his horn. On his own piece, “The Other Side,” Haynes pushes the effects to max level, rendering the second half an excruciating babel.
Lake, at 79 the eldest member, has made a significant contribution to free jazz over the decades, but on Ode to O he’s the weak link. His playing is largely an awkward assemblage of blurts, squawks, rasps and sing-songy lines that lack the verve or cohesion of his earlier work. — Eric Snider