Reviews and Recommended Jazz by Nick Bewsey

Category: Ulysses Owens



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


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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After a bumpy start to his pop career, mostly involving the cumbersome process of making music in a major label sausage factory, the singer/songwriter Abiah (formerly Jeremiah Abiah) has crafted a sophomore album of emotive ballads, an audacious idea for a relative newcomer. But with delicacy and warmth, Abiah makes it work. To cement his vision Abiah adds pianist Robert Glasper, guitarist Marvin Sewell (Cassandra Wilson) and the accomplished drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. who co-produces as well. Having jazz musicians on board adds class to the project, but Abiah’s voice and music is the star.

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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) Owens maintain his own excellent site at: 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.


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 (11 tracks; 67:05 minutes)


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