Wishing Well is a beautifully crafted second album from the Ellen Rowe Quartet. Composer, arranger and pianist Rowe, a faculty member at the University of Michigan School of Music, formed the quartet in 2002, releasing her debut, Denali Pass (PKO Records), in 2005. Two albums in an eight-year history ensures that the band will never be labeled as prolific, but sometimes the best things are worth waiting forand Wishing Well has certainly been worth the wait.
The albumRowe's original compositions plus a version of Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz' "Alone Together"is a master class in small-band, straight-ahead, jazz. All of the musicians are outstanding, but no single player ever attempts to overwhelm the others and, as a result, this album is characterized by exceptional ensemble playing. Guest players Ingrid Jensen on flugelhorn and Andy Haefner on tenor sax slip perfectly into the ensemble, as well as producing beautiful solo performances. The album has a late-night, laidback feel in the main, though occasional faster numbers like "Seven Steps to My Yard" up the tempo while still maintaining the mood.
Right across the album there are moments of pure magic and the occasional surprise. Andrew Bishop's soprano solo on "Alone Together" is a hard-blowing performance that also demonstrates a fine ability to create a real emotional connection with a tune. Pete Siers' drumming on "Sanity Clause" is oddly reminiscent of the drum style of the White Stripes' Meg White (although Rowe's sleeve notes actually reference Art Blakey)a solid, hard rhythm that suits this funny and joyful tune exactly. Bassist Kurt Krahnke, whose own playing on "Sanity Clause" is rich and funky, delivers a gorgeous bass line on "Night Sounds," while playing of Siers and Rowe are at their most delicate and sensitive. Most magical of all is the duet between Bishop and Jensen on "For That Which Was Living, Lost"plaintive and delicate, it's a most affecting interplay.
The production quality is just as high as the album's musical quality, ensuring that even the instruments' subtler nuances can be clearly heardyet another credit for Rowe, as producer. The musicians bring creativity to their playing and Rowe's writing stands comparison with the best contemporary jazz composers. The Ellen Rowe Quartet deserves wider recognition, with the beautifully realized Wishing Well a rich and engaging testament to this band's talent.
For That Which Was Living, Lost; Lewisburg Bluesy-oo; Night Sounds; Tick Tock; Longing; Sanity Clause; Wishing Well; Seven Steps to My Yard; For Donald; Alone Together.
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.