Florida's Chuck Owen has been a jazz educator for over 40 years, led his big band, The Jazz Surge, for 25 years and earned seven Grammy nominations along the way, so he cannot be called an unknown. Still, it seems that he is nowhere as well known as he should be, going by the quality of the music on this CD which celebrates The Jazz Surge's 25th anniversary.
The band's music has some of the brassy punch of conventional big band jazz but uses it with a lighter, more flexible approach. It has a cinematic sweep with layers of brass and reeds creating evocative pictures with Sara Caswell's violin a featured instrument throughout. That shows in "Time of the Ancients," as she leads the entire group's busy Pat Metheny-like traveling motion, as well as taking a careening folk-flavored solo alongside LaRue Nickerson's drawling slide guitar. The swooning emotion of her playing powers the elastic buoyancy of "Sparks Fly" and sets the mood on the dramatic "Apalachicola," a brooding lament about the state of the environment which also features low, bluesy cries from the horns, flinty blues guitar from Corey Christiansen and measured floating drum beats by Danny Gottlieb.
Other members of the ensemble step into the spotlight elsewhere. "American Noir" is an expansive piece of late-night brooding which spotlights Jerald Shynette 's trombone and Tami Danielsson's lonely alto sax. A version of Miles Davis' "Milestones" pops with quick-firing sass and is anchored by a baritone sax line from Matt Vance, straight out of Charles Mingus. The graceful beauty of "The Better Claim" is mostly a showcase for the luminous mixture of Warren Wolf's vibes and Clay Jenkins' trumpet, while the best summation of the band's sound may be the airy but surging weave of "Within Us," built around the dignified piano soloing of Per Danielsson.
The Jazz Surge has a more restrained sound than similar ensembles. Chuck Owen creates quietly powerful compositions and arrangements which build slowly and openly evoke emotion. He is also blessed to have a wonderful band that expresses his ideas in memorable and dramatic fashion. This CD is an excellent introduction to his sound.
Chelsea Shuffle; Trail of the Ancients; American Noir; Milestones; Apalachicola; Sparks Fly; The Better Claim; Within Us (An Invincible Summer).
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