What to make of tenorist Ralph Bowen’s embrace of minimalism for the packaging of his latest untitled effort for Positone, or is indeed Ralph Bowen the actual title? It’s a query that goes unanswered on the album, a batch of seven originals and three tunes from other composers, six of the former of which unify under the umbrella of a suite structure and indulge through their component titles in one of this writer’s favorite preoccupations, alliteration. A cloud of hand-sketched notes and a candid black& white pic of the artist, reed planted expectantly in embouchure are the only other clues to Bowen’s intent outside of the music.
The covers provide a clear indication of Bowen’s stylistic preferences for those unfamiliar with his substantial body of work as a leader and sideman. Dave Liebman’s “Picadilly Lily” and McCoy Tyner’s “Search for Peace” are each artifacts from the post-Coltrane 1970s and both get faithful renderings by the quartet under Bowen’s helm. Bassist Kenny Davis contributes “Aye”, a delicate ballad that gives pianist Jim Ridl room to shine alongside the leader. Drummer Cliff Almond’s cymbal work here and elsewhere is the epitome of poise and taste. With the rhythm bases cogently covered, Bowen is free to blow at will with a warm and expressive phrasing.
Three-quarters of the album gives over to the aforementioned Phylogeny Suite, a series of six interlocking compositions pairing fauna with alliterative descriptors. Linking the music to its titular referents swiftly becomes something of subjective cul de sac and the pieces work just as well apart, a lesson also intimated in the nominally distinctive album packaging. “A Rookery of Ravens”, for instance, balances humor and propulsive rhythm and finds each of the players synching smoothly into a well-oiled whole. Same goes for “A Flamboyance of Flamingos”, which takes flight on another complementary unison theme with Ridl plugging in a Fender Rhodes. Bowen may not give much in the way of background or annotation, but the music works just fine without it.
Ralph Bowen – Standard Deviation (Posi-Tone, 2014) Ralph Bowen is widely active in New Jersey and New York as a saxophonist and educator. This album finds him recording selections from the standard repertoire in the company of of Bill O’Connell on piano, Kenny Davis on bass and Donald Edwards on drums. Although the material on this album is quite familiar, they play the music with self-confidence and assurance. Opening with the medium tempo “Isn’t It Romantic” in which they pursue the music in a patient and thoughtful manner, the group uses the melodic material to unlock more of potential of the music like on the well known song “Yesterdays” where Bowen begins the song at a ballad tempo before slowly ramping up his solo to a fine faster statement. This album may not reinvent the wheel, but for fans of the popular songbook, this is classy and accessible jazz that is sure to please.
DISCLAIMER: ALL TRANSLATIONS BY GOOGLE
Steve DAVIS : “For Real”
Le tromboniste Steve Davis (né en 1967 aux USA) reste très attaché aux émanations du be-bop. Dans ce nouvel album il s’exprime avec verve et générosité sur ses propres compositions, essentiellement. Remarquablement entouré, il laisse de l’espace à des complices très aguerris. Si Abraham Burton se montre brillant, c’est Larry Willis qui impressionne par un jeu de piano qui apporte un punch revigorant à l’ensemble. Conventionnel, certes, mais jamais ennuyeux.
Steve Davis: “For Real”
Trombonist Steve Davis (born in 1967 in the U.S.) is still attached to the fumes of bebop. In this new album he speaks with verve and generosity on his own compositions, basically. Remarkably surrounded it leaves space at very seasoned accomplices. If Abraham Burton was brilliant, this is Larry Willis impresses by a piano playing brings a refreshing punch to the whole. Conventional, yes, but never boring.
Sarah MANNING : “Harmonious Creature”
Une découverte pour bien commencer 2014 ! Nous ne connaissions pas la saxophoniste-compositrice Sarah Manning mais ce disque ne peut que nous inciter à la suivre de plus près. Les choix esthétiques, les assemblages de timbres (sax alto, violon alto et guitare) donnent à cette musique une silhouette singulière aux lignes épurées et assez audacieuses, jamais hermétique. La saxophoniste (excellente !) a su fédérer un vrai groupe dans lequel nous repérons en particulier le guitariste Jonathan Goldberger (qui croise parfois la route de Jim Black, entre autres et compose pour le cinéma) et l’altiste “miniaturiste” Eyvind Kang. Une de nos références préférées du label californien Posi-Tone.
Discovery to start 2014! We did not know the saxophonist and composer Sarah Manning but this disc can only encourage us to follow more closely. Aesthetic choices, assemblies stamps (sax alto, viola and guitar) give this music a unique silhouette with clean lines and bold enough, never sealed. Saxophonist (excellent!) Was able to unite a real band in which we identify in particular guitarist Jonathan Goldberger (sometimes crosses paths with Jim Black, among others, and composes for film) and violist “miniaturist” Eyvind Kang. One of our favorite references Californian label Posi-Tone.
Brian Charette: “Square One”
Chess enthusiast and a black belt in kung-fu, Brian Charette is a determined musician who goes straight to the point. His music, direct and efficient does not lack subtlety. He brings a personal touch to the tradition (reborn?) Hammond organ in fairly conventional formula trio with guitar and drums. Musician who has worked with Lou Donaldson or … Chaka Khan, between jazz, soul, funk and pop, remains committed to the basic elements of jazz. It also deals with the theme of the train, recurrent in jazz, in a very personal way in “People On Trains”. It swings and it “groove”!
Jared GOLD “JG3 +3”
“Golden Child” (PosiTone-2012), the previous album by American organist Jared Gold, repeated the formula of the trio with guitar, in this case Ed Cherry former accomplice of Dizzy Gillespie. This time, it increases its new trio of a section of “blowers” that reinforces the “funky” dimension of Gold music that draws its material in a varied repertoire, from James Taylor (trio version of “Shower The People” ), Wayne Shorter, Cannonball Adderley and Michael Jackson. Effective!
Ralph BOWEN : “Standard Deviation”
Saxophoniste américain réputé pour sa maîtrise technique irréprochable,Ralph Bowen reprend ici une série de standards qu’il interprète avec une belle énergie, soutenu par une rythmique de haut vol. Une manière de se hisser au niveau des références du sax ténor mais sans vraiment apporter une touche de nouveauté. Un disque qui ne déroutera personne. Est-ce suffisant ?
Ralph BOWEN: “Standard Deviation”
American saxophonist known for his impeccable technical mastery, Ralph Bowen takes here a series of standards he interprets with great energy, supported by a rhythmic top flight. A way to reach the level of references tenor sax but really add a touch of novelty. A disc that will confuse anyone. Is it enough?
Walt WEISKOPF : “Overdrive”
Le saxophoniste Walt Weiskopf (né en 1960) a fait ses premières armes dans le big band de Buddy Rich avant de rejoindre celui que dirigeait la pianiste Toshiko Akiyoshi. De solides références auxquelles on ajoutera la participation au groupe Steely Dan de Donald Fagen et Walter Becker avec lesquels il joue régulièrement. Avec “Overdrive“, il passe la “surmultipliée” et emmène sa formation sur des thèmes simples et acrobatiques nécessitant précision et vélocité (et ils suivent !). Une musique “survitaminée” qu’on pourra apprécier si on est friand de jazz “high-speed” !
Walt WEISKOPF “Overdrive”
Walt Weiskopf saxophonist (b. 1960) made his debut in the big band Buddy Rich before joining one Toshiko Akiyoshi led the pianist. Solid references that participation in group Steely Dan Donald Fagen to be added and Walter Becker with whom he performs regularly. With “Overdrive”, it passes the “overdrive” and takes his training simple and acrobatic issues requiring accuracy and velocity (and they follow!). Music “supercharged” we can assess whether we are fond of jazz “high-speed”!
If ever there was an apropos name for recording, “Overdrive” is the one. The brand new CD by saxophonist/composer Walt Weiskopf, his debut on Posi-Tone, is powered by the rhythm section of Donald Edwards(drums), David Wong (bass) and Peter Zak (piano). The leader, who sticks to tenor sax for this date, also utilizes the talents of Yotam Silberstein (guitar) and label mate Behn Gillece(vibraphone).
The program powers out of the gate with the first of 9 original compositions, “The Path Is Narrow.” The saxophonist heads straight to hard-bop territory but, to his credit, all the songs have solid melody lines. His insistent attack, powerful tone and forceful solos stand out on pieces such as “Like Mike” (the lightning fast melody line will pin you to the chair), the title track (where Edwards’ cymbals set a torrid pace) and “No Biz” (where Weiskopf delivers a Coltrane-esque solo and Silberstein channels Charlie Christian). The blend of Gillece’s vibes with the guitar, sax and piano on “Night Vision” stands out – the mix is so clear each instrument stands out.
The program includes several lovely ballads. “Jewel And A Flower” opens with a lovely melody and is notable for the harmony created by Zak’s left hand and the bass. The vibes serve to color the melody and frees Wong to create counterpoint to the sax. The blend of guitar and saxophone on the theme of “Waltz For Dad” fills out the sound, leaving both the piano and vibes to create the sumptuous background. The one non-orginal track, Michel LeGrand’s “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life“, a piece one might expect to hear as a ballad, is taken at a a medium tempo, giving the song a lighter feel.
Walt Weiskopf released 9 CDs for Gerry Teekens’ Criss Cross label (10, if you also count the season he co-led with saxophonist And Fusco), recordings that featured ensembles of various sizes, especially the 2 nonet albums. “Overdrive” displays his craftsmanship as both a musician and composer (his compositions all have very good melodies). This is good music to play with the windows open, bright and appealing. For more information, go to www.waltweiskopf.com.
“Standard Deviation“, the 5th Posi-Tone release for tenor saxophonist Ralph Bowen, is another recording that lives up to its name. The program is comprised of all standards, an approach that Bowen has yet to attempt in his discography. However, the saxophonist does not deviate from his style; he’s a powerful player with a full sound yet always keeps melody foremost in his music. Joining him in this venture is Donald Edwards (drums) and Kenny Davis (bass) – the rhythm section from 2011’s “Power Play” release – plus pianist Bill O’Connell.
The quartet has fun with these pieces, some of which are considered “evergreens.” The program opens with Richard Rodgers’ “Isn’t It Romantic” (originally performed by Jeanette MacDonald in the 1932 movie “Love Me Tonight”). The rhythm section pushes the tempo up while both Bowen and O’Connell swing the heck out of the piece, the former adding real muscle to his sound. Jerome Kern composed “Yesterdays” for the 1933 film “Roberta”. Here, the pianist’s arrangement adds a Latin feel and lets Bowen loose over the energetic drumming (Edwards’ ability to “drive” an ensemble has been well documented over the past few years, from his work with pianist Orrin Evans to the Mingus Big Band.)
One of the other better-known piece on the CD is “You Don’t Know What Love Is“, composed by Gene de Paul (music) and Don Raye (lyrics), was originally composed for a movie starring Abbott & Costello (!) but was eventually pulled. The movie studio, Universal, then placed the song in one its lesser productions (starring The Ritz Brothers). The movie is long forgotten but the song as been recorded by countless pop and jazz artists. Bowen and company play the song as a smoky ballad, with a most passionate reading by the leader.
O’Connell’s left hand joins with the bass of Davis to underpin the latin-inspired rhythms of Cole Porter’s “Dream Dancing“, the track with the longest and arguably, best tenor solo on the CD and that follows a wonderful solo by the pianist. Davis creates a furious walking line on the final track, “By Myself“, serving as a launching pad for a fiery tenor solo and rollicking work from Edwards.
“Standard Deviation” is anything but standard or deviant. What it is is good music, fine playing and a pleasure to listen to. For more information, go to www.ralphbowen.com or www.posi-tone.com/deviation/deviation.html.
Ralph Bowen – Standard Deviation (Posi-Tone)
With a title that risks accusations of the overly arch, tenorist Ralph Bowen’s Standard Deviation still telegraphs its intent with admirable economy. Eight standards parsed and pieced back together in deviously different forms by a quartet of equals. Bowen quotes Zappa in the gatefold sleeve, and that influence is tangentially audible in the sanguine irreverence he brings to the arrangements of the antiquated tunes. Pianist Bill O’Connell handles two, but Bowen’s modest ingenuity informs the others. Bassist Kenny Davis and drummer Donald Edwards complete the ensemble.
Blue-hair composers Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern and Cole Porter all make appearances starting with the opening rendering of “Isn’t It Romantic”, which wastes no time in celebrating Bowen’s crushed velvet tone and agile phrasing. O’Connell keeps the rhythm section moving, goading the leader into some coarser blowing before taking a jaunty two-handed solo and priming the others for the calm that returns on the close. The origins of “No Moon At All” are a bit more obscure, but it was a number popular with Sinatra. Bowen once again engages the theme with gusto, lacing his lines with upper register cries and sprinting to double-time mid-piece amidst boisterous cymbal splashes from Edwards.
“Yesterdays” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is” are the ballad equivalent of rib eye and green beans, the most standard of standards fare. O’Connell’s arrangement of the first adds some spice with some sharp comping under the Bowen’s melody statement and the brisk tempo helps, but the fossilized tune seems largely incidental when stacked against the energetic solos that frame it. Bowen takes a different approach on the second, slowing to a languorous lope and stretching his lines for heightened emotional heft. O’Connell opens up the accompaniment to enhance the sense of space.
Under O’Connell’s preparations “You Stepped Out of a Dream” gains an effervescent Latin rhythm and pivots on a tune-stealing solo from the pianist while “Spring Is Here” is also the territory of the rhythm section until Bowen’s soulful return in a barrage of register-leaping runs that littered with reed effects. “Dream Dancing” and “By Myself” carry over the momentum and are almost of a piece with shifting tempo signals and a steadying central thrust by Bowen on the first matching a communal propulsion on the last. Some of the saxophonist’s signature ornamentations begin to sound the same across the disc’s duration, but there’s no doubting the level of craft, drive and dedication behind the project.
Ralph Bowen: Standard Deviation (2014)
Track review of “Yesterdays”
Tenor saxophonist Ralph Bowen (Out Of The Blue, Horace Silver, Michel Camillo) is a highly regarded New York-based artiste and an idea man who can stand with the best of them. With his fifth solo venture for Posi- Tone Records Bowen tackles standards, and as the title intimates, he often deviates from the norm.
Jerome Kern’s “Yesterdays” receives a Latin uplift, sparked by venerable pianist Bill O’Connell‘s topsy-turvy opening statements and bristling unison choruses with the rhythm section. From this point onward, they spring into a buoyant romp as Bowen stokes the coals via a ferocious series of choruses. He adds enough bite to impart a distinct edge, yet interweaves his melodic flair into ultra-fluid lines and improvises within the lower to medium registers. But he doesn’t waste any notes and injects a few emphatic honks and squeaks into the upper-registers to raise the pitch with a stirring climatic assault while also infusing brevity into O’ Connell’s flavorful arrangement. Ultimately, Bowen and his first-class ensemble ruffle a few feathers and take matters into their own hands by not tendering literal readings of these rather shopworn works. (Zealously recommended…)
Track Listing: Isn’t It Romantic; No Moon At All, Yesterdays; You Don’t Know What Love Is; You Stepped Out Of A Dream; Spring Is Here; Dream Dancing; By Myself
Personnel: Ralph Bowen: tenor saxophone; Bill O’Connell: piano; Kenny Davis: bass; Donald Edwards: drums.
Saxophonist Ralph Bowen has made his mark on the New York jazz scene for over three decades with what he calls “casual perfectionism.”
He’s been documented on over 70 recordings, including those with Horace Silver, Kenny Garrett, Renee Rosnes, Michel Camilo and Steve Wilson. Bowen has appeared with Art Blakey, Michael Brecker, Ron Carter, Kenny Barron and Gary Bartz, among others of note.
For Standard Deviation, Bowen’s fifth release for The Posi-Tone label, Ralph comes together in a powerful quartet setting with pianist Bill O’Connell, bassist Kenny Davis and drummer Donald Edwards to reinvent eight standards to their liking.
Richard Rodgers’ “Isn’t It Romantic” and Jerome Kern’s “Yesterdays” show a tenor saxophonist at the top of his abilities, setting standards on edge, exploring all the possibilities this kind of experience affords.
This group has a comfort with one another giving familiarity a new face; a new energy possible, as you’ll hear on “Yesterdays”, one of two tunes arranged for this date by pianist O’Connell. Bowen’s lines explore to where this one could very well be renamed “Todays.”
The plaintive posture of “You Don’t Know What Love Is” has that casual perfection Ralph subscribes to as comfortable as a late night listen with a special someone you might be wondering about, with hints of a Dexter Gordon last set with Kenny Drew at Cafe Monmartre.
“You Stepped Out Of A Dream,” the other tune arranged by the pianist, sets a course for these four to realize a dream of their own, stating the theme, then exploring all possibilities lesser experience can only dream about.
Bowen’s arrangement of another Richard Rodgers gem, “Spring Is Here,” is a perfect springboard for O’Connell, Davis and Edwards to show their striking synergy, with the leader seasoning this one for a fresh encounter.
Some Cole Porter is in order next with “Dream Dancing,” where Ralph’ s tenor speaks new volumes, urged to dance by the trio’s call and response.
“By Myself” closes the date at a furious pace, with four as one, making us realize that everything old is indeed new again. The energy here makes us all wish we had picked up an instrument years back.
On the inside sleeve of this record, Frank Zappa is quoted as saying, “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”
For Ralph Bowen and his musical friends, the deviation is anything but standard. Rather, the listener is awash in the true essence of the jazz performance – making great music together in the moment. The time here has countless moments well spent.
Ralph Bowen’s Standard Deviation comes out May 20th.
Gary Walker, WBGO music director
RALPH BOWEN/Standard Deviation: Here’s an experiment that really works well. Sax man Bowen tackles the standards, one generally presented in mellow tones, but he changes things up and gives them a hard edge. Solidly swinging post-bop, Bowen and his crew get inside the music and find things generally never brought out on these tunes except in church basements, if at all. Hard hitting stuff that’s easy to take, sax fans will really dig the way he and his crew kick it out here. Well done.
Tenor saxophone ace Ralph Bowen had been such a non-stop record-making machine since he signed up withPosi-Tone Records around 2009, but he spent 2013 catching his breath, so to speak. And now, he returns with his fifth release for the label, Standard Deviation (out May 13).
Returning to the usual acoustic quartet format following his organ jazz encounter with Jared Gold (Total Eclipse, 2012), Bowen tears through a set of standards composed by all the usual suspects — Rodgers, Kern and Porter — with verve and heaping helpings of swing. Helping him out are Bill O’Connell (piano), Kenny Davis (bass) and Donald Edwards (drums).
In what might sound like a contradiction of the album’s title, Bowen’s take on these songs don’t deviate too far from the standard treatment of them, and certainly these timeless melodies aren’t diluted. But he does lots of little things of light a fire under them. “Spring Is Here” has an intro that feels like the end of winter transitioning into spring. “Yesterdays” is turned into a modern jazz delight replete with shifting tempos (and Bowen puts on a sax clinic). Even the ballad “You Don’t Know What Love Is” is barely contained as such, because Edwards livens it up with fills and bombs.
After a scorching or soulful Bowen solo, O’Connell is usually right there behind him cooling things down with an easygoing set of expressions.
If straight-up mainstream jazz is what you crave, you can’t go wrong with Ralph Bowen. Standard Deviation is a solid execution of the form from beginning to end.