Here’s a genuine discovery that turns out to be honest, top-tier modern jazz from an artist deserving of wide recognition. Pianist, composer and arranger Ellen Rowe is a Professor and Department Chair of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation at University of Michigan’s School of Music in Ann Arbor who infuses her fourth CD, Courage Music, with colorful texture, palpable feeling and masterful interplay. Each of Rowe’s eight original tunes connects to one of the many personal milestones or experiences in her life, some marked by profound loss and others born of the joy of accomplishment, yet the impressive music is effectively melodic and gorgeously arranged throughout. The presence of trumpeter Ingrid Jenson is a key ingredient. Her precise, rounded tone has a sparkling quality in the style of Art Farmer, and her notes dance and leap off the charts. Jenson plays as if she’s singing along, highlighted by her voicing on Rowe’s quietly stunning “Circle Of Life” and later on the swinging “Summit Dog” where her upbeat and swaggering solo gives that tune an incomparable freshness.
Rowe’s arrangements intentionally flatter her quintet (the soulful horns distinguish “Leaves,” a Jensen original and one of the album’s best tunes.) As a pianist, Rowe is a convincing storyteller, tells stories with a style that’s resonant and tuneful. She adroitly comps behind her soloists and her own solos are immensely satisfying, such as the grounded resolve she brings to “If Time Stood Still.” Her band merit applause as well – saxophonist Andrew Bishop, trombonist Paul Ferguson, bassist Kurt Krahnke and drummer Pete Siers are perfect collaborators for the talented Ms. Rowe. (10 tracks; 65 minutes)