Ulysses Owens Jr. is one of the handful of legitimate jazz triple threats working the scene today. As a performer, producer and educator you would be hard pressed to name another drummer whose talents could be on par with with Owens. Oh...and did I mention he is a Grammy winner as well? Ulysses Owens Jr. is indeed the real deal.
Unanimous is the most recent offering from Owens and is easily one of the years finest releases for a plethora of reasons. Owens has an all-star line up including Grammy winner Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Jaleel Shaw on alto saxophone, Grammy Winner Christian McBride holding down the bass chair and Christian Sands on piano. "Good And Terrible" kicks off the release and even as a more mid tempo tune, Owens has a distinct pop of vitality to his playing with horn players Dease, Shaw and Payton turning in superb performances. The old school working band sound from the Blue Note days is accentuated by the shifting harmonics of the composition itself thus old school becomes new cool without ever becoming pretentious or self indulgent. "Party Time" is deceptively subtle blues infused gem. A groove you can use where once again Jaleel Shaw absolutely slays this number. The finesse and swing of Owens drives this musical train along with a nice walking bass line from McBride. While Payton and Shaw only play of a combined total of six of the nine tracks their contributions alone are worth the price of the recording alone. Pianist Christian Sands is a perfect fit for the rhythm section with a deft touch and a keen sense of melody he pushes "Party Time" to a new level of swing. What's a straight ahead record without a standard? The eclectic choice of "You Make Me Feel So Young" plays right in the bands wheelhouse. There is a slight reharmonization of the melody but just enough to show an inventive musician not a musician trying to reinvent the musical wheel. Straight ahead jazz just kicked up enough to build a unique balance of texture to keep things interesting.
I tend to shy away from the overly technical reviews. I keep it simple. It works or doesn't. You can be a theoretical genius and lay an artistic egg but not here. Ulysses Owens Jr. firmly establishes himself as a name to remember and Unanimous as a release well worth checking out!
5 Stars and one of the sleepers of the year!
Tracks: Good And Terrible; Con Alma; E.S.P; Prototype; Party Time; Beardom X; You Make Me Feel So Young; Cherokee; Cute Sixy.
Personnel: Ulysses Owens Jr,: drums; Nicholas Payton: trumpet (1-5); Jaleel Shaw: alto saxophone (1,2,5,6); Michael Dease: trombone: (1,2,); Christian Sands: piano; Christian McBride: bass.