Giving underappreciated jazz artists their due is one of the perks (and responsibilities) of writing about the music. The frustrating thing is the sheer number of outstanding musicians flying under the radar of most listeners. These three saxophonists, all New York-area players recording for the LA-based Posi-Tone label and all checking in at various places along the post-bop continuum, are prime examples.
Canadian-born tenor saxophonist and educator Ralph Bowen is the elder statesman of the three, with a recording career dating back to the '80s. Like his previous Posi-Tone release Dedicated, Bowen's new one, Due Reverence, features tributes to friends and mentors, including the austere opener "Less is More," written for guitarist Ted Dunbar, and the soaring, exuberant "This One's for Bob," fêting saxophonist Bob Mintzer. While he's no stylistic trailblazerthe influence of modern masters like Coltrane, Shorter and Michael Brecker is evident in his playingBowen is a commanding soloist with exceptional control of his instrument. Backed by a hard-hitting quintet (trumpeter Sean Jones, guitarist Adam Rogers, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Antonio Sanchez), Bowen proves he's near the top of the tenor sax heap.
Mike DiRubbo emerged on the New York scene about a decade after Bowen and has carved out a place for himself as one of the top straight-ahead alto saxophonists. Repercussion is a strong effort that highlights DiRubbo's sharp alto tone and intense approach, both of which recall his former teacher, the late, great Jackie McLean. The album's standout track, the title tune, with its simple bluesy riff leading into enticing solos by DiRubbo, vibraphonist Steve Nelson and the late drummer Tony Reedus, wouldn't sound out of place on one of McLean's vintage Blue Note sides. DiRubbo also excels on the jaunty Dave Brubeck tune "The Duke" and on a heartfelt reading of the ballad chestnut "Too Late Now." Nelson's contribution is notable throughout, particularly his scorching improvisations on "Nelsonian."
Although he's active in a host of other styles, including funk and fusion, tenor saxophonist Sean Nowell's The Seeker follows a direction similar to DiRubbo and Bowen. The Alabama-born Nowell, who also plays clarinet and flute, proves himself a forceful improviser on the energetic "New York Vibe" and the rollicking klezmer tune, "Oy Matze Matze," which features some lovely work from cellist Dave Eggar. Nowell also shows he has a subtle hand with ballads on covers of the Beatles' "I Will" and the standard "You Don't Know What Love Is." It's a fine outing by yet another undervalued performer.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Less Is More; This One's for Bob; Phil-Osophy; Mr. Scott; Points Encountered.
Personnel: Ralph Bowen: tenor saxophone; Sean Jones: trumpet; Adam Rogers: guitar; John Patitucci: bass; Antonio Sanchez: drums.
Tracks: Repercussion; The Duke; Lunar; Highbridge; Nightfall; Déjà vu; Too Late Now; Nelsonian; Pisces Rising.
Personnel:Mike DiRubbo: alto saxophone; Steve Nelson: vibraphone; Dwayne Burno: bass; Tony Reedus: drums.
Tracks: New York Vibe; You Don't Know What Love Is; Oy Matze Matze; Dunavski Park; Jamie's Decision; For All Intensive Purposes; I Will; I Remember You.
Personnel: Sean Nowell: tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute; Art Hirahara: piano; Thomas Kneeland: bass; Joe Abbatantuono: drums; Dave Eggar: cello; Nir Felder: guitar.