With over 20 years experience as a recording artist and composer, saxophonist Ralph Bowen has a mastery of straight-ahead jazz that is immediately apparent on Power Play, his third album for the Posi-Tone label. Bowen’s first two Posi-Tone releases, 2009′s Dedicated and 2010′s Due Reverence were quintet recordings. For Power Play, he trims down to an all-new quartet lineup, but it still swings.
On the album’s opener, “K. D.’s Blues,” Bowen jumps straight in with a hard-edged tenor riff that soon develops into a powerful and melodic solo. Drummer Donald Edwards and bassist Kenny Davis, who was Bowen’s band mate for a few years in the ’80s group Out Of The Blue, also impress from the off, creating a driving rhythm that characterizes…
… much of the recording.
Pianist Orrin Evans matches Bowen solo for solo across Power Play. On the snaky “Drumheller Valley,” Evans delivers the opening riff with confidence, while his beautifully varied solo has a soulful vibe which contrasts well with Bowen’s more bop-ish approach. He’s equally stylish when he joins Davis and Edwards to underpin Bowen’s lead playing. It’s Bowen’s warm and lyrical playing that’s to the fore on Guy Wood’s standard, “My One And Only Love” but the performance is a genuine quartet affair, with the rhythm players’ relaxed, and relaxing, approach central to the mood of the song.
While Bowen’s tenor saxophone might be the most prominent instrument on the album—it’s also the instrument of choice for both of the CD’s cover photos—he delivers some of his finest playing, with soprano, on his lovely ballads “Jessica” and “A Solar Romance.”
Power Play is an apposite title: for saxophonist Ralph Bowen is certainly one of the most powerful players in contemporary jazz. But power alone is seldom, if ever, enough, and Bowen combines power with exceptional control, feeling and tone. The rest of the quartet shares Bowen’s characteristics, ensuring that this collection of tunes is constantly rewarding.