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Critical Jazz reviews Ralph Bowen “Total Eclipse”…

Swing is rhythmic feel or groove created by the musical interaction or chemistry between the performers. Swing or this “groove” manifests itself in a visceral response essentially music your feel with your hips and feel with your feet.
With a total solar eclipse the Sun’s corona can be seen shining in all directions around the moon. This glimpse of the corona is breathtaking as this is the only time the corona can be seen.
While this somewhat academic explanation may seem odd as applied to Ralph Bowen’s Total Eclipse allow the idea of Bowen as the celestial body and his first call trio that passes through this release as the breathtaking corona that highlights the intense swing of Ralph Bowen.

There are a million tenor players in the naked city with many having the ability to play the notes but not make the music. Bowen is a master technician who blows with the precision of a surgeon while drawing an intense lyrical swing from a visceral place most players can play thirty years and still not find. Shying away from the word “sidemen” we have Jared Gold on organ who is the perfect musical visionary for his role on this or virtually any other recording I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. Mike Moreno adds texture and swagger to an ensemble that are far more than just a handful of some of the better “sidemen” you can find. Moreno may well be the equivalent of sonic glue in bringing the rhythm section together. Rudy Royston is perhaps one of the most underrated drummers working the scene today. If Royston is on a release the rhythm section will be tight and the pocket will be held firmly in hand by Royston.

Opening with the title track “Total Eclipse” the straight ahead power of Bowen will hit you right between the eyes. A hard edged lyrical sense of purpose as the groove laid down by the ensemble and especially the first rate solo turned in by Gold is a thing of beauty. Seemingly working without a harmonic net this 4tet goes for it and takes no prisoners. A release of all originals can be somewhat of a musical roll of the dice but not for Bowen whose tunes can take one make to the days of Blue Note and Impulse which was when real swing was king. Posi-Tone can lay claim to a huge chunk of that crown now. The somewhat soulful ballad oriented “The Dowsing Rod” differs totally in style. While the lyrical drive is never absent the intensity is transferred nicely to a tune that showcases Bowen’s versatility not only in compositions that can go slightly more post bop influenced but in his mastery of improvisational consistency that is seldom heard. Moreno clean single note runs move deftly in and out of a tune that develops its own organic pulse and finds a musical happy place between post bop and modern jazz. “Hip Check” has Royston checking in with an opening solo that is more of an instructional guide or masterclass for those with drumming aspirations. Bowen is on fire with an improvisational firepower most tenor players struggle to pull off with this kind of intensity and direction.

While there is no doubt Ralph Bowen can swing like a beast perhaps the most captivating aspect of Total Eclipse is the variety and texture. Taking a sonic page from the ECM playbook there is an ebb and flow that allows this release to give up a little something new with each subsequent spin of disc. This is not a release for the jazz faint of heart. This is meat and potatoes swing that you can sink your teeth into. At times Total Eclipse is the perfect example of controlled sonic fury. My sincere hope this is not the last we have heard from this particular 4tet. A swing that is hard, honest and with a strong sense of lyrical direction this my friends is what swing is all about!

5 Stars

Tracks: Total Eclipse; Behind The Curtain; Into The City; The Dowsing Rod; On Green; Arrows Of The Light; Exosphere; Hip Check; In My Dreams.

Personnel: Ralph Bowen: saxophone; Jared Gold: organ; Mike Moreno: guitar; Rudy Royston: drums.

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