Home » Jazz Articles » Ulysses Owens Jr. Big Band: Soul Conversations


Album Review

Ulysses Owens Jr. Big Band: Soul Conversations


Sign in to view read count
Ulysses Owens Jr. Big Band: Soul Conversations
Drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr.'s Big Band comes out swinging on its debut recording, Soul Conversations, thundering through Michael Dease's incendiary arrangement of the Dizzy Gillespie/John Lewis flame-thrower, "Two Bass Hit." For more such heat, however, the listener must move forward to Track 5, John Coltrane's impulsive "Giant Steps," thence to Track 9 for Charles Turner III's earnest homage to "Harlem Harlem Harlem," on which he doubles as vocalist.

That's not to say that everything in between is less than pleasing, only more sedate. That includes a trio of charts by Owens ("Beardom X," "Red Chair," "Soul Conversations"), trumpeter Benny Benack III's sunny "London Towne," bassist Yasushi Nakamura's shapely ballad, "Language of Flowers," John Bettis/Steve Porcaro's multi-layered "Human Nature" (featuring guest vibraphonist Stefon Harris, as does "London Towne") and Neal Hefti's shopworn and patronizing "Girl Talk." Dependable as they are, one senses that the band is capable of more, but as Owens chose the material that must have been his purpose, and the outcome should be weighed on that basis.

Another aspect that must be considered is the circumstance under which the album was recorded: in concert at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola in New York. While that usually poses no problem, in this case the color and balance do the band no favors. The sound isn't for the most part displeasing; on the other hand, as with the choice of material, the over-all impression is that it could have been better. An accent here, a blemish there—it all adds up to a sonic cushion that may be tolerable but is at times less than supportive.

There is no doubting, however, the band's aptitude or enthusiasm. There's an abundance of musical talent in New York, and Owens has stocked the band with proven heavyweights, a benefit that is readily apparent from the outset. "Two Bass Hit" could have set the tone, with spirited blowing by the ensemble and vigorous solos by tenor Diego Rivera, bass trombonist Wyatt Forhan, trumpeter Walter Cano, trombonist Dease, baritone Andrew Gutauskas and Owens himself, but the leader chose another route, moderating the pace and ardor considerably on "London Towne," "Beardom X" and "Red Chair" before re-engaging the accelerator on "Giant Steps," wherein Rivera and tenor Daniel Dickinson trade sturdy blows before Owens and trumpeter Giveton Gelin add earnest solos.

Alto Alexa Tarantino is showcased on "Language of Flowers," Gelin on "Girl Talk," and there are admirable solos elsewhere by Benack, trombonist Eric Miller, alto Erena Terakubo and trumpeter Summer Camargo (muted on "Harlem"). It's a sometimes choppy maiden voyage but one whose strengths far outnumber its weaknesses. Recommended for the exuberant flag-wavers, first-rate solos and sizeable number of impressive moments on the less-than-emphatic numbers.

Track Listing

Two Bass Hit; London Towne; Beardom X; Red Chair; Giant Steps; Language of Flowers; Human Nature; Girl Talk; Harlem Harlem Harlem; Soul Conversations.


Album information

Title: Soul Conversations | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Outside in Music

Post a comment

For the Love of Jazz
Get the Jazz Near You newsletter All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

You Can Help
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.



Black Gold Orchestra
The Verb Not The Noun
James Sherlock
Anchor Points
Russell Kranes/Alex Levine/Sam Weber/Jay Sawyer


On the record

Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and upcoming jazz events near you.