With Standard Deviation, tenor saxophonist Ralph Bowen, pianist Bill O’Connell, bassist Kenny Davis and drummer Donald Edwards deliver a program of standard tunes revised in novel ways. The revamped themes, harmonies and rhythms are not only different, they also propel Bowen the improviser to new heights.
A John Coltrane Quartet-like vibe emanates from “Isn’t It Romantic,” the leadoff tune, and throughout much of the album. Bowen’s arrangement, one of six on the disc, turns the melody angular and he solos forcefully, first with short bursts à la Trane and then with rangy, elongated sequences. O’Connell offers blockbuster rhythmic support and driving right-hand solo lines reminiscent of McCoy Tyner. “No Moon at All” has a skipping, loping feel, and Bowen solos with sweeping, sometimes swirling and squalling runs. “Yesterdays,” arranged by O’Connell, who has added a few extra notes to the melody, returns to the hard-hitting groove of the opener. “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and “You Stepped Out of a Dream” are more hard-edged than tender.
A modal-ized version of “Spring Is Here” offers a fat-toned solo by Davis. “Dream Dancing” and “By Myself” complete the album, with “By Myself” burning uptempo. Here and throughout the disc, Edwards proves he is the perfect drummer for this group. And Bowen proves he is a tenorman to be reckoned with.