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A Spirited New Album by the Charles Owens Trio Celebrates a Decade of Synergy

Joey Wharton

Saxophonist Charles Owens' Ten Years serves a dual purpose. While Owens is celebrating the first decade of his trio with bassist Andrew Randazzo and drummer Devonne Harris, he hopes that the album's contents, based on songs he heard growing up, will cultivate and expand the gig repertoire for younger musicians.

"I grew up with Anita Baker and Todd Rundgren, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix," Owens says in this installment of Let Me Tell You 'Bout It. "I make records for many reasons...and we need someone to step forward and present some different trio arrangements that [young saxophonists] can also learn and have fun playing on their gigs."

WBGO's Let Me Tell You 'Bout It/ w Charles Owens

The New York gigging community of the mid-1990s was vibrant, and Owens was in the midst of it. As Smalls Jazz Club in the West Village was opening, the absence of a liquor license meant the club could stay open into the early dawn hours. Owens found himself among exciting players such as Brad Mehldau, Peter Bernstein, Eric Alexander and Omer Avital. As a member of groundbreaking bands led by Avital and Jason Lindner, he was often onstage trading fiery ideas with fellow saxophonists like Mark Turner, Greg Tardy and Grant Stewart. As a leader, Owens held down the 2:30 a.m. time slot with his band on Friday nights, and for a brief period, he actually lived at Smalls.

"My main responsibilities at that time were to run the club when the owner couldn't do it, and practice, write and play," Owens says. "That was a period of massive growth."

After getting married and starting a family in 2002, Owens relocated to his home state of Virginia. He has remained active on both scenes, but with the move came some new relationships with key members of the musical community in Richmond, Va. In 2011 he settled in with Harris and Randazzo, who are now members of the funk-driven improvisational band Butcher Brown. The present trio configuration under Owens' leadership is as much about swing as it is about backbeat-driven grooves.

"I've certainly gotten the influence of New York's swing tradition of Black American Music in my playing, but moving to Virginia, I've gotten to a sound that is more groovy and a little more country," Owens shares. As a result of astute musical awareness and a common band language, the Charles Owens Trio is able to run a common thread through the masterful and diverse compositions of Coltrane, Hendrix, Anita Baker, and Duke Ellington.

Ten Years is available now on La Reserve.

Greg Bryant has been a longtime curator of improvisational music. At the age of 3 in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, he was borrowing his father’s records and spinning them on his Fisher Price turntable. Taking in diverse sounds of artistry from Miles Davis, Les McCann, James Brown, Weather Report and Jimi Hendrix gave shape to Greg's musical foundation and started him on a path of nonstop exploration.