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Charles Owens Quartet: New York, NY, November 18, 2012

David A. Orthmann By

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The band's keen support of Owens' saxophone heroics could not be ignored. Often looking at Owens for clues, in his body language, as to what was coming, Wilner's comping made a genuine contribution and never got in the way. His solos, more concise than the leader's, made for an interesting contrast. During the unnamed selection, Wilner's way with the blues wasn't as overtly emotional as Owens, and contained more of a sense of play, particularly during one passage in which the right hand blithely tinkled and the left found an ominous melody. Despite being under-miked, Murphy's sound and unadorned bass lines gave the music a firm foundation. Strasser's ride cymbal provided a constant source of energy and focus, and his insertion of propulsive fragments—like ringing hits to the tom-toms on "Evidence" and press rolls on "Body and Soul"—contributed to the music's personality. His effusive "You Don't Know What Love Is" solo offered an impressive array of agitated Latin rhythms and was structurally coherent, despite its extended length.

A changing of the guard on saxophonist Charlie Parker's "Segment," the set's final selection, threatened to throw the music off course. Drummer Kenny Gibbs' stiff, anxious, and unfocused time, as well his isolation from the rest of the band, drowned out bassist Hans Glawischnig and sapped some of the music's essence. Carrying on as if nothing had happened, Owens delivered another stunner—swinging, staggering and pounding out phrases as if wielding a hammer to a piece of metal, and imaginatively bouncing lines off of one another. In the end, pianist Jeremy Manasia, whose solo featured long, searching lines and ringing repetitive phrases, brought things full circle. A decade ago, Manasia contributed mightily to Live At Smallsand his presence, combined with Owens' continued vitality, comprised a fitting ending to an unforgettable set.

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