Splitting his time over the past decade or so between Europe and the New York straight-ahead and avant scenes, Ugonna Okwego has developed a strong network of peers and collaborators on both continents (including pianist Bruce Barth, trumpeter Tom Harrell, trombonist Steve Davis, saxophonist Dan Faulk and international star pianist Jacky Terrasson). UOniverse
is the the first time the public has seen or heard Okwego as a leader, and his past studio experiece shines though in this performance on the Spanish Satchmo Jazz Records label (also Barth's label).
The material on the album is truly diverse in every sense of the word. It draws on several idioms in which Okegwo is equally comfortable. From free jazz to standards to the obligatory Monk tune, "Let's Call This," that few afficionados have taken the time to learn. Okwego's band takes fresh stances with its approach.
The group plays like a quartet should. They listen to each other and play off each other's strengths. Each player has a good idea of what he and the others bring to the table but they are all willing to change themselves to accomodate the leader's ideas and their own respective ideas in an extremely organic process.
Okwego's introductory solo bass figures on each tune truly set the mood for whatever type of piece he is trying to set up. His training on the straight-ahead and avant scenes is evident in the repertoire and in his technique, which has an austere, pure, yet simple tone.
Whether its an abstract collage of ambient sounds on Okwego's "Back to Zero" or two bop-inspired choruses of changes to set up a modern rendition of Ray Noble's "Cherokee," Okwego manages to make excellent transitions and adjustments to fit any mood. Also make sure you check out Wayne Shorter's "Infant Eyes." The band manages to show off its chops, elegant tightness, and allure as a group that melds many genres together into a cohesive work, while still providing plenty of dramatic highs to keep your interest piqued.
Bass players will love Okwego's approach to solo bass in the tradition of Mingus, Francois Rabbath, and Gary Karr, while at the same time calling on influences ranging from Sam Jones and Ron Carter to Charlie Haden and Christian McBride. Saxophonists will enjoy Sam Newsome's sensitive yet piercing soprano and pianists will appreciate Xavier Davis' artful treatment of otherwise hackneyed chord progressions. Needless to say, the rhythm of this group is impreccable, not only from the leader, but from his drummer and past collaborator Donald Edwards.
Personnel: Sam Newsome - soprano sax;
Xavier Davis - piano;
Ugonna Okegwo - bass;
Donald Edwards - drums.