COUNTING BEATS

Reviews and Recommended Jazz by Nick Bewsey

Category: Christian Sands

ULYSSES OWENS, JR, ONWARD & UPWARD

 

A TOP JAZZ RECORD OF 2014: Recently, there’s been no shortage of excellent, forward-looking jazz albums led by drummers. For jazz fans who put groove and swing in their plus columns, Grammy®-winner Terri Lyne Carrington, Kendrick Scott, Antonio Sanchez, Matt Wilson and Rudy Royston are taking music to new and satisfying heights. You can add Ulysses Owens, Jr. to this exceptional lineup – he’s a drummer determined to blaze his own trail with sonically inspired beats. Continue reading

CHRISTIAN MCBRIDE TRIO, OUT HERE

Out Here is a seriously entertaining and musically affecting trio record from monster bassist Christian McBride that also serves as an splendid introduction to two of the best up and coming players in jazz, pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. The Philadelphia-born McBride, whose solo career launched in 1995 with Getting’ To It (Verve,) has sideman credits on over 300 recordings in addition to 10 of his own as leader, but this is his first trio recording. Now fully acknowledged as a jazz standard bearer, an astonishing feat for the 41 year old, McBride has adroitly exploited his encyclopedic knowledge of music to find success as a bandleader, mentor, composer and producer.

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BEN WILLIAMS: LIVE AT THE JAZZ STANDARD

A recent business trip coincided with a remarkable week of jazz performances in New York City, coincidentally all taking place at the illustrious Jazz Standard, a room with pitch perfect sound and an award winning menu (courtesy of Blue Smoke, the exceptional BBQ restaurant located one flight up.) The club’s gracious host, the musician and bassist Rob Duguay, smoothly takes charge to guide you to the best seat available (and there are no bad seats at this club; only delicious food.) BTW, Rob’s got a new album out called Sea Dream Blues. Check it out: www.robduguay.com Continue reading

JAZZ NIGHT OUT: BEN WILLIAMS and SOUND EFFECT

Gig photos by me. Click on them to embiggen!

Bassist Ben Williams has hit the heights. Since winning the 2009 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Bass Competition he has joined the roster at Concord Records, which released his debut CD (State Of Art) last year, and landed high profile gigs on George Benson’s Guitar Man, as well as being a part of Pat Metheny’s new Unity Band. That new album features a quartet that includes saxophonist Chris Potter and drummer Antonio Sanchez. Not only am I anticipating a terrific recording, it’s the first time in more than 30 years that Metheny has included a tenor player in his front line (remember 80/81 with Dewey Redman and Michael Brecker?)
In March, I was in Los Angeles for the first time visiting my niece on spring break and while looking for some music to hear, see that Williams was touring in support of his record with an appearance scheduled at The Blue Whale – I was so there!  For those that know LA, it took me over an hour from my hotel in Westwood to get to the club in the Little Tokyo neighborhood.












In LA, Williams featured a stripped down band, a lean and mean groove-centric quartet called Sound Effect. SE features Philly saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, drummer John Davis and the marvelous, young pianist Christian Sands. And they delivered a groove bomb when I heard them.
The club was packed, the band was feeding off the vibe and they delivered the goods. Highlighting tracks off the album, Williams played his original tunes, “Home,” Dawn Of A New Day, “November” and a gorgeous cover by the soul singer Goapele (who was in the audience.)  Shaw was spotlighted on soprano and alto saxophone, blowing hard and keeping the audience rapt with his sinuous solos. At 22, Sands is something of a prodigy, composing since he was 5, and currently a master of jazz, blues and Latin rhythms that players like Christian McBride have noticed. Here, he played in a modern style, with some choice percussive chords that echoed Red Garland – in other words, he’s easy to appreciate and made it happen throughout the set. Williams and drummer Davis got “Dawn” off to a percolating start complete with a “Poinciana” lilt and the tune delivered an extended Williams solo that made us all understand his particular language on the bass. He’s super articulate, tuneful and uber-cool. Having had a chance to speak with him before this show and on one earlier occasion, it’s clear that this likeable young cat’s personality flows through his instrument. His sound makes every listener feel welcome and “State Of Art” is an ideal recording to share with anyone into modern jazz that’s painted with soul and R&B.
Courtesy of Concord Record
GO HEAR ‘EM IN NYC:  Williams and Sound Effect are scheduled to play at Smalls Jazz Club on Wednesday, June 13 in Greenwich Village (10th Street at 7th Avenue.) www.smallsjazzclub.com 

ULYSSES OWENS, JR., UNANIMOUS

Sometimes when a group gets together, like this one under the leadership of 28-year-old drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr., the intent isn’t about playing the most complex or challenging compositions. On “Unanimous,” an apt and righteous album title, Owens’ concept “was to hire a group who are tops on their instruments in jazz, and give them music that isn’t difficult.”  His band is both illustrious (Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Christian McBride on the bass) and wide open to this idea (alto sax player Jaleel Shaw, pianist Christian Sands and trombonist Michael Dease.)  Stocked with sleek, soulful originals (“Beardom X,” McBride’s “Cute and Sixy”) and vintage favorites like Wayne Shorter’s “E.S.P.” and Lee Morgan’s rollin’ “Party Time,” Owens lets his band mates do their thing – Payton has a withering good solo ala Woody Shaw on the original lead tune “Good And Terrible” and rising star Christian Sands solos mightily on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma.” “Prototype,” a tune by Andre Benjamin (Andre 3000), pops up as a moody highlight halfway through, adding to the eclecticism of the project. Owens switches to trio mode for the last three tracks, letting Sands and McBride deploy some affecting solos and exchanges on “Cherokee” and the splendid “You Make Me Feel So Young.”  Overall, the music on “Unanimous” sounds and feels good, qualities that guarantee repeat listening. Owens is a marvelous drummer with the wisdom to keep the music flowing – he’s got no time for extended head-rattling solos here – and it’s a credit to his reputation that he’s got friends like Payton, McBride and the others on board, making his debut a spirited and welcome hang. (9 tracks; 69:45 minutes) www.crisscrossjazz.com Owens maintain his own excellent site at: www.usojazzy.com In addition to playing on dates with Kurt Elling and Christian McBride (and many more) he’s produced notable recordings by bassist Matthew Rybicki and trumpeter Mike Cottone.

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