CD: Ralph Bowen “ Due Reverence” (PR8061)
There are many fine musicians who have found a home in academia, plying their trade by teaching and inspiring the latest crop of up and coming jazzers, occasionally coming out to play for the general public as a sideman or leader. Many seem to possess technical acuity that is almost mind-boggling, along with a healthy respect for those who have laid the groundwork before them. Ralph Bowen is one such educator who should definitely get out and play more often for all of our benefit. He has been an associate professor of jazz studies at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey since 1990. Along the way he has played with Horace Silver and Andy Bey as well as a myriad of other artists. On his latest Positone release, “Due Reverence” he continues where he left off from his last fine album “Dedicated”, both in thematic content and band personnel. He is once again joined by the formidable piano less rhythm section of Adam Rodgers on guitar, John Patitucci on bass and Antonio Sanchez on drums, with trumpeter Sean Jones joining him on the front line for one song , the powerful “Mr. Scott”.
Bowen’s masterful control, unerring tone and intelligent compositional talent are clearly impressive. The album’s five carefully crafted tunes run just a mere 43 minutes long, but there is never a lapse in the quality or execution. Each song is dedicated to a musician who in someway was influential to Bowen. The lead off song “Less is More” -a dedication to the guitarist Ted Dunbar- is introduced by Spartan guitar lines from Rodgers, a force on guitar that is clearly coming into his own. After the brief intro, we are lead into a beautiful duet, impeccably executed on arco bass line by John Patitucci accompanying a soaring Bowen on tonally flawless tenor. The main theme is a familiar refrain, again briefly stated, before Bowen climbs to his upper register with an ease and conviction that is purposeful and resolute. On “This One’s for Bob” – a dedication to saxophonist Bob Mintzer-Bowen rips out of the gate with a waterfall of bop oriented
crescendos that seem to flow from his horn like a geyser of saturated steam. Rodgers shows off some daunting speed and agility, as Sanchez’s oblique drumming carries the quick pace with an exuberance and grace that is a highlight. Bowen’s execution of the complex vamp is nothing short of breathtaking in its precision.
The bouncy “Phil-osphy” is a dedication to Canadian clarinetist and educator Phil Nimons. Bowen’s saxophone has wonderful buoyancy that glides over the changes in a most unselfconscious unpredictable way. Adam Rodgers' angular solos are quite fluid and inventive, but it is his def t accompaniment that has grown most impressively. Patitucci is clearly in his element on this tune, offering as grooving a bass solo as I have heard in a long time. Its just swings with a palpable passion, inspiring Sanchez’s to his own highly crafted syncopated solo. As the song returns to Bowen climbing up the chart at the coda, it is his leadership that rings out.
One the most memorable song of the album is the fiery “ Mr. Scott” with the addition to the front line of the incendiary trumpet of Sean Jones. Mr. Scott refers to James Scott another unsung educator that taught flute at Rutgers, Indiana and University of North Texas and pioneered breathing techniques on woodwinds. Here Bowen’s tone is pure and flowing. The cascade of notes he is able to pour from his horn demonstrates exceptional breath control. Sean Jones brings a high-energy, angular voice to the music that retains a compatible fluidity and inventive direction that contrasts nicely with Bowen’s own more sensuous voice . Sanchez and Patitucci move the music perfectly, creating a constant state of restlessness on which Bowen’s tenor can offer a forceful direction and a bit of a respite.
The final selection of the cd “Points Encountered” –dedicated to flautist, innovator Robert Dick, who was once described as the Jimi Hendrix of flute- features an extended solo by Rodgers, that takes us on a circuitous route up and down ascending and descending alleys of notes that he explores with no seemingly particular direction in mind. Bowen ends with a brilliantly executed, controlled flutter that fades into nothingness.
After two top notch releases “Dedicated” and now “Due Reverence”, Bowen is bound to become a better-known name to mainstream jazz fans who appreciate a dedicated artist of formidable ability and uncompromising taste.
Tracks: Less is More; This One’s For Bob; Phil-osophy; Mr. Scott; Points Encountered
Musicians: Ralph Bowen (tenor saxophone); Sean Jones (trumpet); Adam Rodgers( guitar); John Patitucci (bass); Antonio Sanchez (drums).
Recorded: Systems Two, Brooklyn, NY 2010
All Compositions by Ralph Bowen