Tineke Postma & Greg Osby:
A number of things stand about about this excellent collaboration between Dutch saxophonist Tineke Postma (b. 1978) and the highly regarded US jazz artist Greg Osby (b. 1960). First off, the simple fact of a recording featuring two alto sax players (both also play soprano on the session) is in itself unusual; secondly, the diverse set-list presents bold contrasts in featuring tracks of a more traditional style (a cover of “Body and Soul” even appears amongst the nine selections) and others reminiscent of the cubistic M-Base style associated with Osby and Steve Coleman.
Sonic Halo is also significant for being Tineke's first recording as a co-leader, though it isn't the first time she's played with an American jazz artist: she currently fronts two working bands, The Tineke Postma Quartet, founded in 2005 and featuring all Dutch musicians, and The Tineke Postma International Quartet, founded four years later and featuring pianist Geri Allen, bassist Scott Colley, and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington. On the sixty-seven-minute date, the two saxophonists are ably supported by pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Linda Oh, and drummer Dan Weiss, all three of whom are up to the challenge of navigating the tracks' sometimes tricky pathways and following the saxophonists' leads.
Though Osby at one time mentored Postma (as did saxophonist David Liebman), the recording finds them interacting as peers, and the chemistry between the saxophonists is evident. In fact, it's often hard to tell which one's playing at a given moment, as their individual styles aren't totally dissimilar. When “Body and Soul” opens with separate solo turns by the saxists, it takes a few moments to identify Tineke as the one who appears first. That being said, listeners familiar with Osby's playing will recognize his voice the moment its sharp-edged attack appears.
The opening two pieces alone highlight the marked contrast in the album's compositional styles. “Sea Skies” offers a consummate example of small-group ensemble playing, with the rhythm section shadowing the fluid movements of the sax players. Osby and Postma don't alternate but instead play freely in both entwining and call-and-response manner, their interactions much like conversations involving eager participants who complete one another's sentences. Weiss then opens “Facets” with a solo whose jagged strokes anticipate the M-Base-like character of the group playing that ensues. Osby is naturally right at home in such obliquely funky territory, but his colleagues acquit themselves admirably, too. Mitchell in particular merits mention for the seeming ease with which he's able to ride the tune's roller coaster-like changes.
The pianist also makes a strong impression on the late-night ballad “Where I'm From,” as do Oh and Weiss, the former for a memorable solo turn and the latter for his elegant textural contributions to the setting. Elsewhere, the quintet digs into the bluesy free-bop of “Bottom Forty” and struts its tempo-bending chops on the album-closing “Pleasant Affliction.” Sonic Halo impresses as a set of high-calibre contemporary jazz that at times leans in the direction of tradition and at other times points in bolder directions. But while the instrumentation is firmly acoustic in its makeup, there's nothing old-school about the sensibility in play.