The inscription on saxophonist Ralph Bowen’s business card probably should read “solid citizen,” because his post-bop jazz conception has always been steadfast and dependable. With Power Play, he only adds to his stalwart reputation.
Together with bassist Kenny Davis, Bowen was picked, in the mid-1980s, to spearhead the return of Blue Note Records in the all-star band Out Of The Blue. Along with the likes of Michael Philip Mossman, Kenny Garrett, andRalph Peterson, OTB revived the classic post-bop sound. Bowen continued that language with discs from Criss Cross and his previous releases, Due Reverence (2010) and Dedicated (2009), with this century’s keeper of the flame, Posi-Tone Records.
On this release Bowen tackles eight originals and one standard. With the choice not to share the frontline with another horn, he carries the session on some very broad shoulders. He opens with “K.D.’s Blues,” a spirited and animated groove vehicle that captures the essence of his experience playing with Horace Silver, or with bluesy organ bands in Philadelphia.
Spending the majority of the disc on tenor, he does switch to soprano for the balladic “Jessica” and “A Solar Romance.” Where his tenor challenges all comers, his soprano playing is much softer, and his sympathetic sound floats, with no hint of the twitchiness the straight horn is apt to have.
As the title notes, this disc is about the urge and compression of a connected quartet working through some muscular pieces. The band flexes its collective muscle on “The Good Shepherd,” and bends intricate patterns on “Two-Line Pass.” Bowen seems to want to pack this outing with pieces that warrant standing ovations. He certainly does with his tribute to the two Johns, covering “My One And Only Love” straight from John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (Impulse!, 1963) , by playing both Johns’ parts with the sincerest and most flattering imitation.