COUNTING BEATS

Reviews and Recommended Jazz by Nick Bewsey

Category: Michael Dease

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

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.

TIM MAYER, RESILIENCE

It defies belief that “Resilience” (JLP Records) is a debut recording from the young tenor saxophonist, Tim Mayer, chiefly because he sounds so old — as in experienced, polished and professional. Cohesively constructed, the album suggests that Mayer has a crush on cool school sounds originally swung by guys like Zoot Sims and Frank Wess. This is exuberant stuff that’s given the full workout by its cast of players like pianist George Cables, bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Willie Jones III; all of them top notch talent. Also remarkable is Mayer’s guest list that includes trumpeters Claudio Roditi, Greg Gisbert and Dominick Farinacci, trombonist Michael Dease, guitarist Mark Whitfield and Don Braden on flute. Slavish to the groove, Mayer leads his all-stars through vintage jazz hits by Kenny Dorham, Lee Morgan, Fats Navarro (a juicy “Dance Of The Infidels”) and Thelonious Monk’s “Work,” where he cleverly echoes the great Charlie Rouse. Fresher still are hard-line showstoppers like Dease’s sublimely swinging “For Miles” where Mayer spins out notes with a delirious glee and Cable’s own “Klimo,” a bossa inflected bop tune that’s animated by its darting melodic lines and fusion of horns. Mayer’s effortless proficiency extends to ballads (the solid “I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry”) and his own rapid fire “Who Knew” that pairs the saxophonist with guitarist Whitfield, hammering their notes home in perfect unison. “Resilience” is a breathlessly exciting, straight-ahead recording. (10 tracks; 60:51 minutes)  Get it here.

MATTHEW RYBICKI, DRIVEN

I’m not sure what strings bassist Matthew Rybicki had to pull to get his first album made, but “Driven” is a rare bird – a memorable, sharply attenuated date with a steady momentum and standout solos. His collaborators include drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. and trombonist Michael Dease (the album’s co-producers), saxophonist Ron Blake, trumpeter Freddie Hendrix and the hotshot twenty-something, Gerald Clayton, a pianist who plays with grandeur and a deft touch that belies his age. Happily unpredictable, the band rips it up on boppish originals (“The Slow Stride,” “Seventh Sign” and “Mean Lean”) that comb through styles associated with Oscar Peterson, Ellington and a former teacher, Wynton Marsalis. It’s not easy to tread on Sonny Rollins’ turf, but the band takes what’s theirs on the languid calypso, “Yellow Bird.” Tight, swinging and breezily melodic, “Driven” is a winsome debut. Find it at www.matthewrybickimusic.com. (11 tracks; 67:05 minutes)

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