WBGO Radar

Ralph Bowen: Standard Deviation

Cover of Ralph Bowen's album Standard Deviation

Saxophonist Ralph Bowen has made his mark on the New York jazz scene for over three decades with what he calls "casual perfectionism."

He's been documented on over 70 recordings, including those with Horace Silver, Kenny Garrett, Renee Rosnes, Michel Camilo and Steve Wilson. Bowen has appeared with Art Blakey, Michael Brecker, Ron Carter, Kenny Barron and Gary Bartz, among others of note.

For Standard Deviation, Bowen's fifth release for The Posi-Tone label, Ralph comes together in a powerful quartet setting with pianist Bill O'Connell, bassist Kenny Davis and drummer Donald Edwards to reinvent eight standards to their liking.

Richard Rodgers' "Isn't It Romantic" and Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays" show a tenor saxophonist at the top of his abilities, setting standards on edge, exploring all the possibilities this kind of experience affords.

This group has a comfort with one another giving familiarity a new face; a new energy possible, as you'll hear on "Yesterdays", one of two tunes arranged for this date by pianist O'Connell. Bowen's lines explore to where this one could very well be renamed "Todays."

The plaintive posture of "You Don't Know What Love Is" has that casual perfection Ralph subscribes to as comfortable as a late night listen with a special someone you might be wondering about, with hints of a Dexter Gordon last set with Kenny Drew at Cafe Monmartre.

"You Stepped Out Of A Dream," the other tune arranged by the pianist, sets a course for these four to realize a dream of their own, stating the theme, then exploring all possibilities lesser experience can only dream about.

Bowen's arrangement of another Richard Rodgers gem, "Spring Is Here," is a perfect springboard for O'Connell, Davis and Edwards to show their striking synergy, with the leader seasoning this one for a fresh encounter.

Some Cole Porter is in order next with "Dream Dancing," where Ralph' s tenor speaks new volumes, urged to dance by the trio's call and response.

"By Myself" closes the date at a furious pace, with four as one, making us realize that everything old is indeed new again. The energy here makes us all wish we had picked up an instrument years back.

On the inside sleeve of this record, Frank Zappa is quoted as saying, "Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible."

For Ralph Bowen and his musical friends, the deviation is anything but standard. Rather, the listener is awash in the true essence of the jazz performance - making great music together in the moment. The time here has countless moments well spent.

Ralph Bowen's Standard Deviation comes out May 20th.

   Gary Walker, WBGO music director

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