Ralph Bowen: Due Reverence (2010)
Due Reverence is a gem of an album from beginning to end. All five compositions by its protagonist, tenor saxophonist Ralph Bowen, deserve high praise for outstanding invention and impeccable execution. These are erudite compositions, delving not just into musical characters, but more than anything else, empathizing with them, emoting with them by taking turns on a trapeze of highs and lows with swooping changes in tone and manner. And best of all there is incredible rhythmic invention in each of the musical elegiesfrom a walking and trotting swing to a challenging shuffle-skip-and-fly rhythm executed in a most unfettered way.
It would seem that Bowen is a magnificent observer and digs deep into the musical minds of those of whom he wishes to sing praise. His spry song "Less Is More," dedicated to the esteemed guitarist Ted Dunbar, begins with a parsimonious statement of the theme by guitarist Adam Rogers. This is followed with a wonderful ensemble offering that includes spectacular arco bass from John Patitucci, subtle shading from the guitarist towards the middle passage of the song, with drummer Antonio Sanchez last to enter the proceedings gracefully and superb throughout. It's such a wonderfully warm and gushing start to this set. "This One's For Bob," the tribute to renowned reeds player and big band star Bob Mintzer, is a breakout composition, full of delightful rhythmic twists and turns and features an especially stellar turn by Sanchez.
"Phil-osophy" is a tribute to revered Canadian composer and clarinetist, Phil Nimmons. The song dissects Nimmons' art with great warmth and a fine sense of aestheticism. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the song is its use of tonal colors, with the tenor saxophone playing gravely against the fluttering extravagance of Rogers's guitar while the rest of the band provide vivid background shades. "Mr. Scott" is remarkable too. Against the swagger of its swing Bowen develops a truly memorable encounter with Professor James Scott, his flute teacher at Rutgers University, whose spirit pervades the shadows of the song. Here at last is the vehicle for trumpeter Sean Jones, who rises to the occasion with soaring grace. "Points Encountered" tells the story of how flutist Robert Dick re-invented the art of breathing to influence a whole generation of horn players that came in his wake.
Throughout the album Bowen is an imposing voice whose luscious tone bounces off stentorian canvases of sound. He is graceful and erudite, playing long lines with class and such superb control that there is no telling where he will leap next. He is involved in his statements that move in a linear manner, but often leap about vertically and sometimes with such great flights of fancy that they are breathtakingly memorable. This is a courageous record that sticks to its narrow corridor achieving great depth and scope by drawing attention to hidden aspects of music so apt to be lost in the glitz and glamor of commercialism.
Track Listing: Less is More (for Ted Dunbar); This One's For Bob (for Bob Mintzer); Phil-osophy (for Phil Nimmons); Mr. Scott (for James Scott); Points Encountered (for Robert Dick).
Personnel: Ralph Bowen: tenor saxophone; Sean Jones: trumpet; Adam Rogers: guitar; John Patitucci: bass; Antonio Sanchez: drums.