Tenor saxophone ace Ralph Bowen had been such a non-stop record-making machine since he signed up with Posi-Tone Records around 2009, but he spent 2013 catching his breath, so to speak. And now, he returns with his fifth release for the label, Standard Deviation (out May 13).
Returning to the usual acoustic quartet format following his organ jazz encounter with Jared Gold (Total Eclipse, 2012), Bowen tears through a set of standards composed by all the usual suspects — Rodgers, Kern and Porter — with verve and heaping helpings of swing. Helping him out are Bill O’Connell (piano), Kenny Davis (bass) and Donald Edwards (drums).
In what might sound like a contradiction of the album’s title, Bowen’s take on these songs don’t deviate too far from the standard treatment of them, and certainly these timeless melodies aren’t diluted. But he does lots of little things of light a fire under them. “Spring Is Here” has an intro that feels like the end of winter transitioning into spring. “Yesterdays” is turned into a modern jazz delight replete with shifting tempos (and Bowen puts on a sax clinic). Even the ballad “You Don’t Know What Love Is” is barely contained as such, because Edwards livens it up with fills and bombs.
After a scorching or soulful Bowen solo, O’Connell is usually right there behind him cooling things down with an easygoing set of expressions.
If straight-up mainstream jazz is what you crave, you can’t go wrong with Ralph Bowen. Standard Deviation is a solid execution of the form from beginning to end.