This is a commanding and impressive outing, but more importantly is simply excellent hard bop by a musician who is woefully overlooked

Hard Bop Records! HBR33012

Osian Roberts (tenor saxophone); Rob Barron (piano); Jeremy Brown (bass); Matt Fishwick (drums)

Recorded March 10th 2020

Osian Roberts is the co-founder along with brothers Steve and Matt Fishwick of Hard Bop Records!, a label that does exactly what you would expect. Releasing excellent contemporary jazz that takes its influence from the classic jazz sound of labels such as Blue Note, Contemporary, Prestige and Riverside; even down to the carefully prepared presentation reminiscent of the great sleeve designs of the 1950/60’s LPs.

Roberts is a big toned hard bop tenor saxophonist who has been making waves for a number of years. Sadly, mostly among fellow musicians, and Osian has seemed to fail to come to the attention of a wider audience. That is a real shame, because on the evidence here there can be few finer tenor saxophonists playing in this style in the UK or anywhere else for that matter.

While he has recorded on the albums of others, this is his leadership debut and very nearly didn’t happen. As Roberts points out in his Take Five Q&A, the recording session was scheduled for the day prior to lockdown in 2020 and was the last chance the musicians would have to get together for some time.

In a smartly presented programme the saxophonist, along with drummer Matt Fishwick, some lesser-known original compositions by Bud Powell, Tadd Dameron, and Shirley Scott to name check just three. That the material has not been done to death brings a sense of discovery to the music, and along with a top draw rhythm section the performances fair bristle with energy.

What is also refreshing is that Roberts doesn’t play in clichés and has taken time to study and master the hard bop vocabulary and delivers it with an authoritative manner and calm assurance that ensures the listener is in safe hands.

Thad Jones’s composition ‘Zec’ kicks things off at a quick tempo that the tenorist handles with ease and carves his improvisation with a biting yet flowing attack that ensures he has your attention. ‘Seein’ Red’ by pianist Barry Harris is a bebop number taken at a medium fast tempo while Shirley Scott’s ‘Big George’ dedicated to George Coleman nips along at a fair clip as the rhythm section swing hard and Roberts carves out another impressive solo.

The music though is not always edge of your seat excitement, and Osian shows his prowess and command of the ballad with a lovely reading of ‘Time Waits’ with echoes of Dexter Gordon, and a fine ‘I’ll Remember April’ and there is a relaxed and casual stroll on ‘Would You Like to Take a Walk?’

The rhythm section doesn’t put a foot wrong while taking their solos with aplomb, but this is the saxophonist’s date, and he wastes not a moment. This is a commanding and impressive outing, but more importantly is simply excellent hard bop by a musician who is woefully overlooked. A situation that we would do well to rectify forthwith.

You can read out Take Five interview with Osian here.