Ralph Bowen – Due Reverence (2010)

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by S. Victor Aaron

The master tenor sax player Ralph Bowen has been around for quite a while, releasing his first album back in 1992. But plum sideman opportunities and a teaching gig at Rutgers has kept him plenty busy; it only been the last three or so years that his own solo recording has picked up the pace, despite having appeared in more than sixty recordings over the years. On the other hand, the time spent working and recording with the likes of Horace Silver, Orrin Evans and Michel Camilo has apparently done nothing but sharpen the leadership and composing acumen of this Canadian-born jazzman.

That’s the impression one gets from soaking in his laid-back but crackerjack release Due Reverence, which dropped last February 23. Even if you come to this knowing nothing about Ralph Bowen, the credit list should grab your attention: Adam Rogers on guitar, John Patitucci on bass and Antonio Sanchez on drums. A top drawer band, indeed.

For his second Posi-Tone release (and second in as many years), Bowen themed Due Reverence around five songs he composed where each of them is a salute to a different jazz musician cutting across different styles, eras and instruments, with their relative undeserved obscurity being the only common thread among them. Ted Dunbar was a guitarist more noted as an instructor and recorded only a handful of records before passing away a dozen years ago. Bob Mintzer is a fellow tenor saxman, bass clarinetist and a contemporary of Bowen’s. Phil Nimmons was a vastly overlooked clarinet giant from Bowen’s Canadian homeland. Professor James Scott is currently the Dean of the School of Music at the University of North Texas but as chair of the music department at Rutgers University, he was Bowen’s flute professor during Bowen’s studies there. Robert Dick is a flautist who often delves into the avant garde side of things.

Ultimately, though, these tributes bring attention back to Bowen himself, whose songs all possess depth, soul and a dash of swing. The Dunbar paean “Less Is More” gets thing going on a tapered groove, and Bowen wastes little time showing off his signature tenor style, which like Mintzer’s has more than a passing resemblance to the substantial, passionate style of the late Michael Brecker.

With such a powerhouse backing band, Bowen prudently allows these guys to be themselves, and they in turn assume their identities without obscuring the leader’s. Adam Rogers in particular shines on these sessions. His warm tones are largely responsible for the plushness that permeates “Less Is More” and a superb combination of Django Reinhardt and Jim Hall comes to fore on “This One’s For Bob (Mintzer),” a cut where Sanchez’s work on the tom-toms behind Bowen’s rapid lines are also a highlight. A lyrical Patittucci acoustic bass solo headlines the Nimmons eulogy “Phil-osophy,” while he takes a tasteful electric bass solo on the Robert Dick homage “Points Encountered.” Sean Jones drops in for “Mr. Scott” and combines with Bowen to deliver a hard-bop unison theme line and later improvises with the tone of Clifford Brown and the flair of Freddie Hubbard. Sanchez gets rewarded for all his hard work with a brief but effective Latin-flavored solo.

Through it all, Bowen seems in command. The songs he contributes are fine examples of the post-bop styles that are tailored well for the contributions of his bandmates, and Bowen himself delivers perfectly modulated sax lines that prove he more than belongs in such highly regarded company. You’re left with the distinct impression that the only reason Ralph Bowen isn’t mentioned as often as his rhythm section is because he simply hadn’t recorded as a leader much. But he’s remedying that situation, now.

To the benefit of all jazz lovers, I might add.

You can visit Ralph Bowen’s website here.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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