Jazz pianist and composer Ellen Rowe currently serves as Associate Professor in the Department of Jazz Studies at the University of Michigan. Sylvan Way
is her first CD as leader; she has been a guest on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz
on National Public Radio and has performed with jazz artists such as Kenny Wheeler, Tim Ries, Tom Harrell, John Clayton, Ingrid Jensen and Jiggs Whigham.
On this effort she has surrounded herself predominantly with rhythm sections from the Detroit area. Andrew Bishop plays saxophone on three tracks; “Hymn,” written for Los Angeles’ John Clayton, provides a mellow vehicle for his singing arco bass and Joe LaBarbera’s percussion; and the concluding “Reminiscence” is unaccompanied. Both of these selections, plus the two openers and “The Phoenix,” are originals.
Rowe is a lyrical and expressive performer who is at her best in a contemplative mood, as illustrated by “Hymn,” “Shadow,” and the two waltzes, the pensive “Sylvan Way” and the wistful “Reminiscence.” But she creates a variety of moods: “Visa Blues” crackles with wry good humor, Hank Mobley’s “Funk in Deep Freeze” sashays in bluesy style, and “Phoenix” shimmers in mythic splendor. Rowe’s compositional skills are considerable – hers are melodies that I find myself humming hours later. Stylish, tasteful and swinging are words I’d use to describe her.
Two other standards complete the play list. “Love Is Here to Stay,” the last tune George Gershwin wrote, is taken brightly; Rowe shows her mastery of Milt Buckner’s locked-hand block chords, in addition to some tasty single-note melody lines, while Keller plays his best two-chorus bass solo on the disc. Burke and Van Heusen’s “It Could Happen to You” is likewise taken briskly, sounding like it was written for her, rather than for the 1944 movie And the Angels Sing. Here it’s Kolton who gets the bass solo, and Brown who trades eights with Rowe.
Ellen Rowe’s was a new name to me, but a welcome discovery.
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Personnel: Ellen Rowe (piano); Paul Keller or Dan Kolton (bass), Pete Siers or Tom Brown (drums), and
Andrew Bishop (tenor and soprano saxes), with special guests John Clayton (bass) and Joe