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Chuck Owen’s Florida–based Jazz Surge charts an adventurous course on its second album for Sea Breeze Records, and while it doesn’t always strike the target it does so often enough to keep one’s mind from wandering too far from the action. The Surge, some of whose members are students or faculty members at the University of South Florida in Tampa, where Owen teaches, is helped along the way by four prominent guest artists — guitarist John Abercrombie, trumpeter Tim Hagans, saxophonist Mike Smith and drummer Danny Gottlieb. Abercrombie, one of Jazz’s most influential guitarists in the 1970s and early ’80s, is bold and saucy on Owen’s mercurial “Madcap,” lucid and tasteful on the ballads “Magic Light” and “But Beautiful.” Trumpeter Hagans, an alumnus of Cincinnati’s renowned Blue Wisp Big Band and present conductor of Sweden’s superb Norrbotten ensemble, brandishes his exceptional chops on Owen’s African–centered “Tawarthi,” and he and soprano saxophonist Smith are typically sharp on another Owen original, the rhythmically intense “I Don’t Hear Nothin’.” Smith moves to alto to solo alongside trombonist Keith Oshiro and bassist Mark Neuenschwander on a slower–than–usual reading of “Beautiful Love,” one of three numbers on which Gottlieb sits in for the Surge’s regular drummer, Dave Hardman (the others are “Tawarthi” and “I Don’t Hear Nothin’”). Besides Oshiro and Neuenschwander, the Surge’s company of capable soloists includes tenor Jack Wilkins, co–director with Owen of the USF Jazz Ensemble (“Madcap,” Tawarthi”), guitarists Corey Christiansen and Barry Greene (“Tawarthi”), trombonist Jerald Shynett (“Tawarthi”), alto Valerie Gillespie (“Magic Light”) and trumpeter Tom Parmerter (“But Beautiful”). An earnest narrative that is less than remarkable but better than average.
Contact:Sea Breeze Records, P.O. Box 11267, Glendale, CA 91226–7267. Phone 818–242–2093. Web site, www.seabreezejazz.com
Track Listing: Madcap; Tarwathi; Beautiful Love; I Don
Personnel: Chuck Owen, conductor, composer, arranger, keyboards; Valerie Gillespie, Tami Danielsson, Jack Wilkins, Rex Wertz, Matt Vance, reeds; John Robinson, Ron Turner (1, 5, 6), Jay Coble (2