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Ellen Rowe Quartet: Wishing Well

Bruce Lindsay By

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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 for—and Wishing Well has certainly been worth the wait.

The album—Rowe'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 heard—yet 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.

Track Listing: 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.

Personnel: Ellen Rowe: piano; Andrew Bishop: soprano and tenor sax; Kurt Krahnke: bass; Pete Siers: drums; Ingrid Jensen: flugelhorn (1, 5); Andy Haefner: tenor sax (9).

Title: Wishing Well | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: PKO Records

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