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Anniversaries are a big deal, especially when they celebrate a notable achievement in the history of a contemporary jazz big band. So when the 25th Anniversary of the first recording of the Jazz Surge came along, Chuck Owen thought it would be a suitable occasion to acknowledge the past and continue to look forward, with the current release Within Us as an attestation to the collective identity of the band.
The 19-piece band that is directed by Owen and interprets the eight charts arranged by him, is a disciplined aggregation dedicated to bringing these compositions to life, beginning with Chick Corea's "Chelsea Shuffle." Corea, who died on February 9, 2021, had appeared as a guest artist with the band, as well as being an inspiration to Owen during his lifetime. This is a complex multi-layered composition, aglow with nuance throughout. Soloists, Steve Wilson on soprano sax, Warren Wolf on vibes and Mark Neuenschwander on bass, expand on what the framework of the piece has to say.
The other non-Owen composition presented in this outing is the Miles Davis gem "Milestones." Keeping the bop lines of the Davis number intact, Owen decided to "mash it up" with the first composition he wrote for the Jazz Surge simply entitled "Surge." Thus the tonal modes and the scale fragments were ideal jumping off points for tenor saxophonist Jack Wilkins and trumpeter Clay Jenkins's interjections. Drummer Danny Gottlieb whipped the band along showing his assertive drumming style.
The musical stories that Owen has developed for this release are anchored in life moments or other events that have shaped his ideas and values. "Sparks Fly," for example, is Owen's testament to all the musicians that have been in the band over its first 25 years. This arrangement is built on a variety of melodic shapes which have elements of both predictability and revelation on which violinist Sara Caswell, tenor saxophonist Jack Wilkins and altoist Steve Wilson structure the direction of their improvisations. Finally the closing and title track "Within Us" is, to a large degree, a continuation of the musical acknowledgement to his band mates that began with "Sparks Fly." The key figures in this composition are pianist Per Danielsson and tenor saxophonist Rex Wertz as they spin out their ideas over a very wistful and thoughtful arrangement by Owen. All in all, this is a very sensitive, original, and high concept release, that is reflective of the identity that this aggregation has developed over its first 25 years.
Chelsea Shuffle; Trail of the Ancients; American Noir; Milestones; Apalachicola; Sparks Fly; The Better Claim; Within Us (An Invincible Summer).